Clarkesdale Sanctuary – the Saturday Report By Peter Bennet
The BirdLife centre at Clarkesdale nestles amongst a cluster of blocks of land reserved in various ways for the conservation of birds. Most of it is ex-farmland in various stages of regeneration so there’s a patchwork of different habitats within easy reach. While it would probably be more active in spring, there was plenty going on for us during the campout weekend.
Several people set up camp on the block itself, near the very well-set-up information centre (birders are welcome to camp, contact the manager, details on the BirdLife website). Others stayed in various places nearby or came up for the day. The ordinary, run-of-the-mill, everyday non-photographic BirdLife group were camped down the road but there is plenty of birding space and we hardly saw them (apart from Ruth and Mike, who were living a sort of double life between the two).
Saturday morning was spent walking up the valley from the camp, in search of a mythical tree full of honeyeaters (either mythical or highly mobile, no clamorous canopies were spotted). However the big dam held a smattering of waterbirds (including on overflying odd couple of spoonbills, one of each sort) and as the sun warmed things up the bush birds became more active. Several thornbill species – brown, yellow-rumped, striated and weebills – were scattered through the open forest and we did eventually turn up a half a dozen honeyeaters, including brown-headed, white-eared and white-naped. There were sittellas scurrying about, and robins – flame, scarlet and yellow.
The hard work being done we adjourned to the centre for lunch, very comfortably taken on the broad verandas overlooking the small dam. The entertainment was provided by numerous superb fairy wrens and New Holland Honeyeaters, with guest performances by scarlet robins.
The afternoon saw us head over the road to the bird paddock. It was pretty quiet, being afternoon and all, but there were various small bush birds about and eventually we built up a reasonable list. Again we transited a range of habitats and I’d guess that in spring and early summer the place would be buzzing. There was almost nothing on the dam, even though it was agreed by all to be very promising bird environs – we must remember to let the birds know beforehand next time! It’s very pleasant walking though, with various tracks through the bush and the Ballarat-Skipton rail trail crossing the land.
Having covered an exhausting, oh, 4 or 5 kilometres we were pretty much done in so next stop was a visit to the normal bird folks’ camp for birdcall. With such a large group they’d covered a lot of species, although we were able to add some as well. As the light faded a very large flock of black cockatoos flew by, always an enchanting sight (and sound).
A small but hardy group made it to the Railway Hotel in Linton for dinner, which we can strongly recommend for huge country serves and a congenial atmosphere – we regret the serious effect on local livestock populations of the enormous mixed grills served to Steven, John V and me, though. And the evening finished well with the calls of mopokes and frogmouths drifting through the camp in the small hours.
Clarkesdale Sanctuary – the Sunday Report By John Van Doorn
One of the joys of camping at a birding location is that you’re already there. You get to hear Boobooks at night if you’re lucky. And, as soon as it’s light you can go out birding with your camera. Well, technically you can go out while it’s still dark but it’s a bit harder to get good pictures.
While some were still at their accommodation until the official muster time, those camped at Clarkesdale were out at first light, worming around trying to catch the first bird. Some of the group wandered around near the centre while others had another look at the bird paddock across the road. Robins, Scarlet and Yellow were seen plus a pair of Jacky Winters. A flock of about ten Varied Sittellas flew through. The usual assortment of Honeyeaters were seen again but it did seem there were more than twice as many birds around than the day before.
It was time for muster and then drive in convoy to the next location at Happy Valley Streamside Reserve. Initially quiet, even though it looked like great bird habitat it seemed that we were not going to see too much there. However, patience has its rewards. A Falcon flew over. It had some of us thinking Peregrine for a little while until someone was able to provide photographic evidence that it was really a Brown Falcon. A Whistling Kite flew over with its distinctive call. Other birds seen were Crimson Rosellas and Yellow-faced and White-plumed Honeyeaters.
And then it was time again for another convoy to Devil’s Kitchen, site of gold mining in the 1860’s and with interesting basalt rock formations. Now just a locality name, there was once a sizable town called Piggoreet nearby. We were more interested with its reputation as a Peregrine residence. Not expecting to actually see one we noted its nesting location. But there was one there. Someone scanned the cliff properly and there it was, preening in the sun. The sun was out, it was feeling nice and warm, and a flock of roughly one hundred Yellow-tailed Cockatoos flying by helped us have a very relaxing lunch.
After lunch people went their own directions. All in all Clarkesdale and district proved to be a great place to visit for birding.