The Bureau of Meteorology had promised 0-1 mm of rain for the day, not enough to deter the thirty or so souls who ventured down to Phillip Island. But by the time we congregated at the Nobbies car park at 9.00am, we had already had five times that. At least we arrived with some sun to provide encouragement. But there was more rain to come.
The drive across Phillip Island was a bit of a slalom to avoid thousands of Cape Barren Geese grazing in pairs on the grass verges and meandering across the road. The Nobbies Centre, on Point Grant at the western tip of the island, reopened in 2007 after major repairs due to storm damage to the former Seal Rocks Sea Life Centre (and an expensive lawsuit with the State Government). The car park and extensive boardwalk provided spectacular views of the coastline and the adjoining Nobbies’ Round Island and to Seal Rocks further out to sea.
A few thousand Crested Terns and Silver Gulls were sitting on the rocks on Round Island, together with a single Great Cormorant, one Little Pied Cormorant and a Sooty Oystercatcher. Good eyes and steady binocular hands were needed to spot several large flocks of Short-tailed Shearwaters skimming the water a kilometer or two offshore – almost invisible. Closer to shore but up in the sky, a pair of Australian Gannets provided an aerial ballet, twisting and turning around each other on several flypasts with their long, flexible, bent wings. Kelp Gulls provided more frequent and closer flyovers. Meanwhile, on the ground, a couple of Little Penguins poked their noses out of their nesting boxes around the boardwalk to see who was making all the noise – just us!
After an hour or so, we motored on to stop two, Swan Lake, a couple of kms inland from the Nobbies. The only permanent freshwater lake on Phillip Island, Swan Lake was created as a Fauna Reserve in 1924 to protect the Short-tailed Shearwaters in their nesting burrows. The location offered a gentle walk through bushland leading to a raised boardwalk over sand dunes (with the Shearwater burrows), leading to two hides on the lake’s edge. The walk to the hides was just long enough to see lots of New Holland Honeyeaters and a couple of Whistling Kites, and for everyone to get properly soaked by the next light rainfall.
The low water level in the lake, normal for this time of year, provided plenty of water’s edge grazing for a few swamp wallabies, as well as Cape Barren Geese, Masked Lapwings, Black Swans, several types of duck, White Ibis, a White-faced Heron and a Black-fronted Dotterel. Many thought they positively identified a flock of Red-necked Stints, others were more doubtful – with limited visibility due to a land spit, it was mostly a matter of confidence (or faith).
But the find of the day was a Banded Lapwing 300 meters away, half the size of its numerous masked cousins and with an annoying habit of facing away from all the cameras and binoculars. It made up for the soaking on the way to the hides (and a third downpour while we were safely inside them).
The walk back to Swan Lake car park was in warm sunshine and, for once, Grey Fantails did not dominate the bushland – Silvereyes did. Close encounters were provided as they flitted out of the scrub to feast on red berries on shrubs all along the boardwalk. A Swamp Harrier flew over, keeping an eye on us.
So, on to the Rhyll foreshore, where we regrouped for lunch, some welcome sun, a hot coffee from the local shops and a couple of Sea Eagles lazily circling overhead. A lone Royal Spoonbill provided a point of different on the shoreline amongst the Masked Lapwings and Silver Gulls.
After lunch and with continued sunshine for the rest of the day, we bypassed Rhyll inlet (another boardwalk) and headed inland to the Oswin Robert Reserve, about 5 km along the Rhyll-Newhaven Road. The Reserve is the last remaining remnant bushland on Phillip Island, offering eucalypt woodland and a variety of walking trails. Our short stroll found plenty more Silvereyes, some Thornbills (Brown, Striated, Buff-rumped? – hard to tell in the shadows), Red Wattlebirds and a pair of Galahs. And an echidna, who paid scant attention to the 30 or so passers-by as it wandered back and forth across the track several times.
The final stop for the day was Fisher’s wetland, just before the causeway over to Churchill Island. Our arrival caused a mass movement of birdlife to the middle and far side of lake, but not before a small group of Freckled Ducks had been spotted. The track and boardwalk around the wetlands provided the chance to get a little closer. Numerous ducks, coots, swamphens, ibis and other waterbirds provided plenty of shutter-fodder, while Welcome Swallows provided their usual aerobatics overhead. Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, Red Wattlebirds and Superb Fairy-wrens provided more challenging shots in the surrounding bushland.
A wonderful day, in spite of the early shower, and lots of variety – thanks to Peter and John V for coordinating another great day’s bird photography.