By Peter Bennet
It was a brisk early morning as we assembled (the group, that is, most of the individuals were reasonably together already) in the Somerset Road carpark. Any doubts about the wisdom of the 8AM kick-off were rapidly dispelled by the cacophony of Rainbow and Musk Lorikeets in the trees about, Magpies and Grey Butcherbirds carolling in the distance and the unmistakeable wails of yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos as they drifted over in apparent defiance of the laws of aerodynamics.
Heading first to the Grotty Pond we examined a group of Red-rumped Parrots feeding on the oval (good of the council to maintain the facilities for the birds). The pond was truly grotty with litter from the surrounding suburb, but Swamphens and Grey Teal seemed unfazed. No sign of Rails or Crakes, unfortunately, although they can be seen here if you’re lucky.
Then braving the joggers who seemed to think we were on their path, we overlooked the lake and eventually reached the viewing seats. Quite a reasonable selection of water birds: the Swans are back (regular breeders here), Black-winged Stilts threading their elegant paths through the shallows, a quick flash of grey from a passing Black-shouldered Kite; both Aussie and Hoary-headed Grebes and various waterfowl. Beautifully calm as the sun rose high enough to cast some welcome warmth, a surprising variety of birds given the encirclement of housing.
From there we made our way across paddocks to the Yarra River. The Twittering Trio (Brown Thornbill, Superb Fairy Wren and White-browed Scrubwren) doing their business in the undergrowth; the calls of the dominant honeyeaters, Red Wattlebird and Noisy Miner, carrying across the area; numerous other small birds such as Silvereye, Red-browed Finch, Goldfinch in evidence. At one point Karthik asked, “Is that something in that bush?” “No, just a piece of bark,” I wisely replied, whereupon it turned out to be the highlight of the day, a Southern Boobook, perched in a bush only a metre off the ground. There followed the edifying sight of 30-odd photographers all trying to stand on the same square metre of ground to get a shot. We weren’t really discreet enough, perhaps understandably; after a time it tired of the attention and flew up to a eucalypt branch where at least the view was clearer.
Anthea showed us a Mistletoebird nest, a delicate capsule in hanging foliage only a metre or so off the ground. Deserted now of course, but we did spot a Mistletoebird shortly afterwards in the East Paddock plantation.
We continued along the river bank as far as the Plenty River junction. Along the way a couple of us were lucky enough to glimpse a Rufous Fantail, but excellent viewing and photographing of two Tawny Frogmouths was had. This stretch is often good for the big diving birds such as Darter, but today only a Little Pied Cormorant was seen.
Thence back to the carpark with an excellent total of 59 species, which seemed surprising considering what a pleasant and relaxed morning stroll we’d had! But a toilet stop and lunch were calling so we rapidly drove to Wilson’s Reserve in Ivanhoe, fortunately unoccupied by cricketers this day. Lunch by the billabong was supervised by a pair of amiable Tawny Frogmouths while Chestnut Teal and Moorhens pottered about among the weeds.
After lunch we made a circuit of the reserve and the Yarra riverbank. A bit quieter birdwise than the morning, but a fine collection of small bush birds was recorded. No Powerful Owls today but Bell Miners clearly audible, a single female Golden Whistler, Eastern Spinebills and Spotted Pardalotes cavorting in the red gums. Total list for this site was 33 species, making 66 for the day, very respectable in itself – but the day was probably more memorable for some good sightings and hopefully photographs,the perfect weather and the extremely pleasant and sociable stroll through what is, despite the surrounding suburbs, a very pleasant patch of bushland.
Thanks to Anthea for her extensive preparation (including maps, aerial photographs and historical summary – we others will have to lift our game!) and knowledgeable leadership on the day – a clear benefit of a long interest in the area.