By Peter Bennet
Despite selecting a day with the perfect weather conditions for birding in a treeless habitat (35 degrees, humid, windy) the usual suspects and a number of new members, 28 in all, faithfully showed up at the Paradise Road gate – quite an impressive convoy even after rationalising the transport. There was a palpable air of excitement as a number of people hadn’t visited WTP before, and with an international visitor to impress (Karthik from Bangalore) John Barkla duly set out to find the goodies.
Golden-headed Cisticola – Merrilyn Sarong
First stop was a visit to the Banded Lapwing colony near Avalon. From the rear the birds were effectively camouflaged among the cowpats but front-on views showed their distinctive bands clearly, a new species for a number of the group so quite exciting even though rather distant. We soon got used to long-range viewing, a characteristic feature of WTP birding.
Entering the Beach Rd gate we were soon on the trail, or perhaps tail, of the waders in which WTP excels. Hunting up and down the coast with the tide out, among the plentiful Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Red-necked Stint, Red-necked Avocet and Black-winged Stilt several more unusual species were found – excellent views of Pectoral Sandpiper (another newie for several people), along with Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew Sandpiper, although a rumoured Long-Toed Stint missed the appointment.
White-winged Black Tern were another highlight here, although with good views of so many species it seems unfair to single out just a few. Little Grassbird called frequently, Cisticola and White-fronted Chat entertained around the water margins, Striated Fieldwren called from vantage points in the scrub and although Pelican are so common here, their frequent low formation passes rendered entirely superfluous the following weekend’s Avalon airshow.
As always a good range of waterfowl were on display – Australian Shelduck and Pink-eared Duck in thousands, and at the opposite extreme good views through the scope of 3 Freckled Duck.
Lunch at the Hide allowed a sustained performance by a pair of Australian Spotted Crake on the adjacent small saltpan. Blue skies and sea, white sand and red-to-green saltbush create a stunning scape here, with accompanying birdlife ranging from Superb Fairy Wren in the scrub at our feet to Australasian Gannet fishing offshore.
Raptors were not trying particularly hard – Whistling and Black Kite were frequently about and Swamp Harrier were almost constantly in view, but Black-shouldered Kite and a single Brown Falcon were the only others to make an appearance.
In the afternoon we moved down to T Section. No Brolga today but a small group of Cape Barren Geese were well-received; Zebra Finch and Common Greenshank were also spotted.
Zebra Finch – Ron Garrett
Finally a visit to The Spit gave a view of a spectacular panorama of waterbirds. Great and Little Egret posed conveniently together; both Yellow-billed and Royal Spoonbill were there amongst cormorants, ducks, Black Swan and Pelican. Pied Oystercatcher are always worth watching and a single Eastern Curlew made a great closing highlight.
Welcome Swallows – Mike Gage
An excellent species tally for the day of 85, underscored by lifers for a number of the group, ensured the memories of the day will be treasured for some time. Many thanks to John Barkla for leading the day: there’s no substitute for a lifetime of passion for the birds of this fabulous area and without his experience we wouldn’t have had nearly such good birding. And of course the end credits go to Melbourne Water for allowing access to this premier birding site, so highly valued by the birding community – and by the birds!