By Phil Marley
We welcomed 2018 with our first outing of the year – to suburban wetland and parkland habitats. Dandenong Creek was the focus for the day and, with 30 or so birders in tow, we ventured forth in glorious sunny weather.
First stop was Dandenong Valley Wetlands – otherwise known as Rigby’s or Corhanwarrabul Wetlands (since it is also fed by the Corhanwarrabul Creek). Created about seven years ago, this collection of large ponds is managed by Melbourne Water and is at the southern end of a string of parks and wetlands along the Dandenong Creek, stretching 8km or so from Boronia Road in the north to Wellington Road in the south.
What a great location to start to year, one that was new to many in the group. The wetlands had many kilometres of well-maintained concrete and dirt paths between its four main lakes, whilst grassland separated the folds of the serpentine ponds offering excellent water-front viewing.
In spite of low water levels, some good sighting were made. Many saw Spotless Crake, Red-kneed and Black-fronted Dotterel, Black-winged Stilt, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Golden-headed Cisticola, Reed Warbler and White-faced Heron. Evocative calls from Bell Miners echoed across the ponds from many directions, while low-level aerial gymnastics from Fairy Martins and Welcome Swallows competed for our attention with high-level flocks of Australian White Ibis drifting overhead.
Those arriving early also saw a Mistletoebird and a couple of Gang-gang Cockatoo, while a couple of the group were lucky to see a solitary Wood Sandpiper.
After a few hours and with the day warning up, we adjourned to the Jells Park East Picnic Area for lunch in some welcome shade. The bird count for the morning yielded a healthy 56 species.
Jells Park was our venue for the afternoon. Opened in 1976, the 127 hectare park is named after Joseph Jell, one of the earliest settlers who grazed cattle in the mid to late 1800s. The park was utilised as a piggery in the late 1930s to the 1960s and even a storage area for the American Army during the Second World War.
We focussed on the conservation area on the east side of the man-made Jells Lake, which included a bird hide looking out to an ibis rookery island. However, the Australian White Ibis were having a tough time competing with a hundred or so Little Black Cormorant (and a single Great Cormorant) that had taken up residence in the island’s trees.
The lake provided good sightings of Australasian Darter, Pink-eared Duck, Hardhead, Royal Spoonbill and the ubiquitous Eurasian Coot, while the edges of the lake provided good foraging for Australian Wood Duck and Australasian Swamphen.
The stroll in the woodland around the lake also provided good habitat for many birds, in spite of the million or so visitors using the park annually. Golden and Rufous Whistler, Black-faced Cuckooshrike, Grey Butcherbird, Brown Thornbill and Red-browed Finch were some of the interesting sightings.
Overall, the summery conditions yielded 70 species across the two sites – an excellent start to the year. Warm thanks to John Van Doorn for hosting the outing and to Peter Bennet for the organisational logistics. Next month, we’re off to bigger ponds – WTP!