By Peter Bennet
At the end of a dead-end road in the backblocks of Yarrambat, on a misty autumn morn, the team assembles. The fog deadens sound, not much is moving, but as we drift into the trees small cheeps and warbles begin to filter through and the first feathery flitters appear – Willie Wagtails, Grey Fantails, Fairy Wrens. A sudden bright flash and a male Scarlet Robin quivers on the end of a dead branch – head cocked, a flick of the wings, and he’s gone. But the female is not far off with her subtler shades. A small party of Red-browed Finches weets its way through a tumbled dead Acacia, and an abrupt burst of sound from above heralds the passing of a pair of Weebills.
Down the cleared ride, indistinctly, a large party of Choughs cavorts about, chuckling and wheezing and sticking their noses into everything, to the bemusement of a couple of brace of wood ducks, much more sedate. A Golden Whistler bursts into song and then appears; in the distance grey kangaroos prop, radar ears turning, then streak off into the mist.
Along the edge of the gorge it’s beginning to brighten a little and there’s more activity. White-eared Honeyeaters, Grey Shrike-thrush, White-throated Treecreepers, more Robins. Galahs comment derisively from a dead tree across the creek. A couple of White-faced Herons circle and land awkwardly in a big old gum as an arrowhead of black duck rockets up the gorge. Bell Miners in the distance; Spinebills close at hand, and the treetops a-quiver with striated and spotted pardalotes.
The sun peering through at last as we check out a couple of old Wedge-tailed Eagle nests. Rainbow Lorikeets and Eastern Rosellas are calling, more Honeyeaters, a brightly-hued pair of mountain-bikers spots us and slides warily off down a side path. We’ve only covered about two-thirds of the planned route as we climb back to the cars in increasing sunshine. As a finale, a couple of the group find a Rufous Fantail in the trees beside the carpark (where else?)
After a dreary trek through Saturday lunchtime traffic we emerge into the Mill Park Lakes oasis, to a leisurely lunch overlooking the main lake (and handily located for the café). Dozens of coots and Black Duck, with a few odd Swans and Hardheads, congregate round the popular feeding spots but overhead half a dozen Darters are circling. Within minutes the group has dissipated into the labyrinth. The Darters have settled, some comfortably on nesting boxes but others inexplicably attempting to share a slender, bucking branch in a nearby eucalypt. A lone freckled duck appears and is instantly the subject of 20,000 portraits; a handful of cormorants are perched on the central rocks. New Holland and White-plumed Honeyeaters are very active; a couple of hoary-headed grebes, a great egret, the odd heron and ibis.
In the back ponds a small group of Straw-necked Ibis are magnificently iridescent in the now-warm sunshine, while a couple of dozen Chestnut Teal relax on the water. There are Red-rumped Parrots and Fairy-Wrens feeding on the paths, a couple of Goldfinches, a Little Wattlebird. Despite the houses built right up to the edge of the lakes, they support a great variety of birds, although early afternoon on a sunny day is possibly not the most active time.
The day was closed out with a convivial afternoon tea at Peter’s place, which (with the regular denizens hiding) was at least quiet enough to do the birdcall without shouting, a very respectable 67 species for the day (excluding the chooks).