By Phil Marley
Never underestimate the value of forward planning.
A recce was undertaken to the Western Treatment Plant in the first week in March, to scope what we might expect for the mid-March photo-group outing. What we didn’t expect was the outing being cancelled due to a total fire ban. A more recent recce – to Warrandyte, where we had planned to go for our July outing– found so few birds that the outing was relocated to the WTP. So the March recce came into its own after all – forward planning at its best.
Predictably, the WTP – Victoria’s hottest hotspot – put on a magnificent display for our cameras. With 264 species recorded from almost 4500 checklists on eBird, we were treated to a wonderful range of avian inhabitants in superb photographic conditions.
Our group of 30 or so assembled at the Beach Road car park, repackaged itself into a few cars to keep convoy sizes down and then scattered to the four points of the compass throughout the plant.
Some first went to the crake pond in the T-section lagoon, others headed to the nearby Kirk’s Point on the coast, some went to the Little River Bird Hide, still others went to the far end to the Borrow Pit. It was a good plan, since each group saw different things.
Reconvening at the car park for lunch, each reported back on their best sightings, whetting the appetite for others to go and find in the afternoon.
Not everything could be a highlight – that would be an oxymoron – but highlights were numerous. Near the top of the list must be the raptors. They were everywhere. In large numbers. Whistling, Black-shouldered and Black Kites vied for aerial supremacy with Swamp Harriers, Nankeen Kestrels, Brown Falcons, a Peregrine Falcon, a Brown Goshawk, a Wedge-tailed Eagle and a White-bellied Sea Eagle. The mice didn’t stand a chance.
On the seashore, dozens of Red-capped Plovers foraged amicably amongst dozens of Red-necked Stints. Four Pied Oystercatchers avoided the scrum, foraging in water too deep for the smaller waders. A flock of Pied Cormorants had commandeered the pier, but the inland ponds offered plenty of space for large numbers of Musk Ducks, Australasian Shovelers, Red-necked Avocets, Hoary-headed Grebes, a pair of Cape Barren Geese and half a dozen Yellow-billed Spoonbills.
In the T-section, two Brolgas were spotted grazing in the far-off grasslands, almost overlooked as Australian Spotted Crakes, Red-kneed Dotterels, White-fronted Chats and Little Grassbirds demanded closer attention.
A Glossy Ibis photographed near the Little River mouth was an exceptional get.
For mid-winter, the 88 species recorded were an excellent haul and, with many migratory waders enjoying balmy (barmy?) times in Siberia, the thousands of birds still present were pleasing. The group was excited by the great photo opportunities and disappointed that we called it a day after only seven hours in the field: with only 33% of reported WTP species being sighted on the day, there was clearly unfinished business here.
As one wag said, if we decided to move all our outings to WTP there wouldn’t be any complaints (thanks John). A special tip for next time for two of our eager participants – do fill your petrol tank before going – it’s a very big place.
Once again, our thanks to Peter and Phil for the early March recce, and to Peter and John for separate (ie, uncoordinated) recent recces, and for chaperoning events on the day.