By Phil Marley
It was a little disconcerting to arrive at Grants Picnic Ground for our 9.00am start to find 100 cars in the car park. Had our bird photography group finally hit the big time? Actually, no. It was the first of this year’s lyrebird surveys, whose 80 volunteers had just finished after their 6.00am start.
The three 2017 surveys aim to update last year’s count of 66 males. With the forest essentially at capacity, there are hopes the lyrebirds will seek new territories to colonise, including Sassafras and Perrins Creek, Olinda and Ferntree Gully forests. And there is already evidence from banded birds showing this is happening.
We were very fortunate that the leader of the Sherbrooke Lyrebird Survey Group, Alex Maisey, also led our photography outing. Having spent his whole life in and out of the forest, he was a mine of information about lyrebirds and everything else to do with the local habitat – from fox and deer control, to lyrebird predators, to why building your nest on the top of tree ferns is not a good idea (not only easily seen by areal predators, but also the new fronds push the nest off in early spring), to the mosses and lichens carpeting the wetter areas.
Peter of course had promised everyone would see Superb Lyrebirds. For once, this was not an empty promise. I think we all did. The whole forest echoed to their loud calls all morning – they seemed to be everywhere.
Alex used his laptop to show recent footage from GoPro cameras trained on known lyrebird display areas. Together with Ian Wilson, he also led several small-group sorties out into the forest tracing territorial calls of male lyrebirds, to find the bird responsible. These led to some excellent close encounters and photo opportunities.
Ian also made his group stop and listed to a nearby male’s song. In sequence it provided its territorial call and then excellent impersonations of a Laughing Kookaburra, Pied Currawong, Grey Shrikethrush, Crimson Rosella, Common Blackbird, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo and Whipbird, before repeating its territorial call – a fabulous experience to have Ian identify each bird call as the lyrebird went through its routine. Thanks Ian!
We were certainly impressed by the male lyrebird’s impersonations. Hopefully the female lyrebirds were too (and that females of other species could tell it was an imposter).
Of course, this puts in serious doubt the identity of any bird on our morning list that was identified solely through its song. Fortunately, our gentle stroll along Lyrebird Walk, Neuman Road and Paddy Road provided some excellent sightings – including Brown Gerygone, King Parrot, Crimson Rosella, Grey Shrikethrush, Brown and Striated Thornbills, Grey Currawong, both Corellas, and about 3000 Sulphur-crested Cockatoos.
Lunch was wisely taken in the covered pavilion at Grants Picnic Ground, which provided a semblance of protection against the hungry mob of cockatoos, kookaburras, rosellas and parrots.
The afternoon saw the group move 10 minutes down the road to Birdsland Reserve in Belgrave South. The name turned out to be an open-and-shut case of false advertising – named for the Birds family who owned the land from 1940 and used it for sheep grazing. Sherbrooke Shire purchased it in 1981 and opened the 75 ha site as a public bushland reserve in 1984. It has been progressively replanting natives to create a variety of habitats and, with over 130 species of birds identified in recent times, perhaps it is now living up to its name.
Several walk options were available – most followed the easy, level track along the creek and around the two lakes, taking in the collection of water birds – Eurasian Coots, Dusky Moorhens, Purple Swamphens, Australasian Grebes and Pacificus Blackus Duckus. But the star attraction was an Australasian Darter that insisted everyone photograph it. Sitting on a strategically placed dead tree very near the edge of the second lake, it spread its wings in the afternoon sun, stretched its neck this way and that and, occasionally, made a series of calls. What a poser.
The afternoon also provided some good sightings of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Grey Butcherbird, Eastern Yellow Robin and Grey Currawong. Several Laughing Kookaburras also vied for photographic attention (and sausages) in the picnic ground.
A hearty ‘thank you’ to Alex for guiding our morning session (especially after the survey) and to Ian for help and also for his briefing on the Birdsland Reserve in the afternoon.