The group got 2019 off to a flying start with a trifecta of wetlands and coastal locations on the Mornington Peninsula for its Feb outing.
Over 35 turned up to kick things off at the Balbirooroo Wetlands in Balnarring. Officially opened in 1995, the wetlands were developed by the Balnarring Primary School and local environmental groups. Its name comes from the Koori name for Ibis. At 12 hectares, it’s quite compact but manages to pack in a large lagoon, smaller lakes and ponds, interpretative signs, boardwalks, footbridges, bird-hide, lookout, picnic tables and viewing platforms and plenty of bush.
With the lack of rain, the lagoon was fairly dry, but still offered some interesting waterbirds, including Latham’s Snipe, Great Cormorant, Freckled Duck, Australian Shelduck, both Black-fronted and Red-kneed Dotterels and even a Spotless Crake. The completely level tracks allowed the group to spread out and meander through the bush around the various ponds. The good native vegetation provided sightings of several honeyeaters – White-eared, New Holland, White-plumed – Black-faced Cuckooshrike and Grey Butcherbird, as well as Musk Lorikeet and Red-rumped Parrot.
Two and half hours there was really not enough to do justice to this excellent location (60 species!), but lunch was a powerful drawcard to make everyone leave and motor the eight minutes to Coolart Wetlands and Homestead.
The Coolart Wetlands were also suffering from the dry, with essentially no water in any of its lakes and nothing much visible from the hides. But strolling around the tracks the group encountered Eastern Yellow Robin, Grey Fantail and some noisy Musk Lorikeets up in the canopy. The imposing homestead, built in 1895 by the Grimwade family, offered an interesting aside and a chance to get out of the midday sun.
The afternoon saw the group move on a further 10 mins to the Bittern Coastal Walk and Jacks Beach Reserve – named after the Jack family who purchased the beach in 1908, built a jetty and the stone tanning pit to preserve their nets and lines. There was no shortage of water here, with the vast expanse of Western Port Bay occupying the whole panorama from Hastings to the far left, French Island straight ahead and Crib Point to the extreme right.
The mangroves were fully exposed with the tide out, which meant few birds amongst the shrubbery, but the mud flats offered a large number of Australian White Ibis evenly spread out, together with lots of White-faced Heron – and a few hundred Black Swans just swanning about, as only swans do. The vista was picture-perfect – glorious sunny conditions, magnificent coastline and the lurking presence of HMAS Otama Submarine, a retired Oberon class submarine moored off Crib Point awaiting conversion into a museum.
In search of more birds, some ventured back through the bush to start the Bittern Coastal Wetlands Boardwalk, which continues all the way to Hastings almost 4km away. The boardwalk offered further interest with terns in the distance diving into the bay and many Grey Fantails trying very hard to keep the walk insect-free.
A great start to 2019 – our thanks to Peter and John for checking out these locations for us and to Peter who ran a tight operation to keep everyone connected across three locations.