By Peter Bennet
Well, as promised, we began the day with the sun blazing from a blue sky – at least that little patch behind John Barkla’s head as he gave a briefing to some 30 intrepid birders at the Paradise Road gate. The grey clouds and biting wind were hardly enough to dampen our enthusiasm (although there was a scurry for beanies and gloves) as we began by noting a distant Spotted Harrier. An excellent start was the pair of nesting brolgas in T Section – although rising water levels may be a sub-optimal success indicator in this case.
Initially it seemed that not much was about but as we made a slow progress around the Section a surprising number of species (if not individual birds) began to appear. An immature White-Bellied Sea-eagle gave us some lazy loops, skylarks performed (“Hail to thee, blithe spirit! Bird thou never wert,” someone muttered, proving Shelley was no ornithologist), Swallows and both Martin species zoomed around us; but apart from swans and swamphens, there were few actual waterbirds. An interesting sighting was a group of Willie Wagtails adorning a blossoming Prunus – on their way somewhere perhaps?
As we headed back down Beach Rd the raptors were in evidence – Whistling and Black-Shouldered Kites, Brown Falcon, Nankeen Kestrel and Swamp Harrier, while John maintained his ornithomagician’s reputation by producing a pair of curious Black Kites on command near a row of cypresses beside the road. Also here was flock of Zebra Finches, feathers well-fluffed against the wind (which had graduated from biting to chewing).
A short trip southwards at Kirk Point produced a large flock of roosting Little Black Cormorants and a couple of pairs of Pied Oystercatchers. A distant bush provided a calling Horsfield Bronze-cuckoo and Crested and Fairy Terns were over the water. The highlight here, though, was a flock of a dozen Blue-winged Parrots feeding in the saltbush and giving very good views.
Next major stop was the Borrow Pits, a reliable spot for birds – again not many individuals but a number of species: both Stilt species, Black-fronted Dotterels and five brave (and indeed colourful) Red-necked Stints. In the shelter of the scrub nearby were a number of small passerines including Brown and Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Silvereyes, Fairy Wrens and (ahem) House Sparrows. Lunch was a very welcome break (wind starting to move to gnashing phase).
Still very few waterfowl – the odd Musk Duck, some distant Shelduck, Chestnut Teal, the odd Black Duck – until we headed back along Paradise Rd past Lake Borrie, when at last a moderate flock of ducks including Pink-ears, Hardhead, Grey Teal and Shovellers was observed, in addition to the species seen earlier. Small numbers of both Spoonbills, Great Egrets and White-faced Herons also seen near here.
We ended the day with 84 species so quite a reasonable total, although as mentioned numbers of each species were very low. John Barkla’s expertise and experience were vital, as usual, as were his immense patience in dragging around a large group and explaining each sighting a dozen times as each car pulled up – it’s just as well the Treatment Plant exists, otherwise one would have to be invented to give him an interest in life!