By Phil Marley
Claire Lowe, the Visitor Experiences Officer at the LTU Wildlife Sanctuary, should have been having a well-earned sleep-in on Sat morning – but she had kindly volunteered to open up the Sanctuary to our photo group on her day off. We rewarded her generosity with a strong turnout of 25 or so to explore the sanctuary without other visitors. And she organised perfect weather too.
The Wildlife Sanctuary was created 51 years ago in 1967. The site had been sold and cleared for grazing in the late 1830s. Between 1910 and 1965, it formed the farm providing provisions for the Mont Park Hospitals which treated patients and returning soldiers with psychiatric illnesses.
A large slice of the hospitals’ reserve was excised in 1965 to create the site for the newly-founded La Trobe University. A small part of this was used to create the sanctuary in 1967 and this has since grown to just under 30 hectares. It is La Trobe’s outdoor laboratory.
La Trobe also manages the neighbouring Gresswell Forest Nature Conservation Reserve, the Gresswell Habitat Link and the Gresswell Hill Nature Conservation Reserve.
It was very special for our group to be let loose in the sanctuary on our own. True to form, on entering the group scattered in all directions to meander through the extensive bushland. The networks of connected lakes provided good sightings of water birds – Australian Wood Duck, Pacific Black Duck, Hardhead, Australasian Grebe, Dusky Moorhen, Australasian Swamphen and the ubiquitous Coot were all accounted for. Straw-necked Ibis, White-faced Heron and a Little Black Cormorant also put in an appearance.
The most prominent birds were Bell Miners, whose constant pips were ever-present ever where we went, and Laughing Kookaburras, whose cackles echoed throughout the bush from all directions. Noisy Miner tried hard not to be outdone in the sound stakes, while occasional Emu strolled by nonchalantly, ignoring pips, laughter and noise as they hoovered up the vegetation.
Interesting finds included a Sacred Kingfisher, some Scaly-breasted Lorikeets, a few Eastern Spinebill and Australian Reed Warblers. Musk Lorikeets were also seen by many.
The sanctuary is large and an easy place to lose oneself in, so lunch at the picnic area back at the visitor centre was a chance to regroup and record the 50+ species seen. Then onwards to the La Trobe University wetlands south of the campus and a stroll down to the Darebin Creek.
Unfortunately by early afternoon the wind had picked up, which reduced the post-lunch bird sightings. However, the group still found a things of interest. The first was a Mudlark (Magpie Lark) sitting on its large pudding-bowl mud nest high in a dead tree in the middle of a lake. Next was a bird only seen from behind, finally identified as a female Mistletoebird from the red colour around the vent.
And finally, the group took three stabs at identifying the large black bird in Mudlark’s tree. Was it a Little Raven? No. A Little Black Cormorant? No. A Great Cormorant. Yes! It was a little embarrassing that our large group of experienced birders took three goes to nail this one, in plain sight of many powerful binoculars at fifty paces. Obviously time to go home and rest up, to be ready for the end-of-year social on 13 December!
A big thank you to Claire Lowe for giving up her day off to allow us the pleasure of visiting the Sanctuary on a Saturday, when it is usually closed. And to Peter for marshalling the troops for the last outing for 2018.