First stop for our first weekend outing of 2021 was Reef Island, a tidal island in Coronet Bay near San Remo. This stunning location offered vast vistas across Western Port Bay to Philip Island and French Island and along the Western Port Intertidal Coastal Reserve beach front.
The beach offered dramatic scenery – and superb birding. The air was filled with over a dozen Eurasian Skylarks practicing for the Eurovision Song Contest, while the tidal flats and shallow water sported good numbers of Black Swans, White-faced Herons, Royal Spoonbills, Great Egrets and Silver Gulls. Masked Lapwings seemed to be holding their annual convention there with over 50 foraging. Some well-camouflaged Double-banded Plovers were well-spotted around puddles on the foreshore, while a couple of Australian Pied Oystercatchers, a couple of Common Crested and Caspian Terns and a single Grey Butcherbird were also sighted.
After strolling along the beach to Kennedy Point, our group of 24 headed out to Reef Island. Luckily, the causeway to the island was fully out of water (actually, someone had correctly interpreted the tide tables – thanks John). But this did not diminish the challenge of the stony link whose coarse angular fragments of ferruginized basalt and sandstone provided a good workout for the ankles. Mangroves had also obliterated most of the thin sandy track on the island, necessitating some deft footwork through a complex mosaic of salt marsh, mangroves, silty mud and gravel ridges.
But Reef Island provided a good base from which we observed Short-tailed Shearwaters in flight, Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants sitting on rocks, Cattle Egrets perched on mangroves (there being no cattle on the island), a Whistling Kite standing on the beach and – a definite highlight – a pair of Grey-tailed Tattlers wading in a shallow lagoon.
Thoroughly invigorated by the exercise and 41 species recorded, we retired to the San Remo foreshore for lunch and much-needed coffee – and the sight of a White-bellied Sea Eagle soaring over the bay.
Our afternoon location was the Wonthaggi Heathlands Nature Conservation Reserve. On the drive there, sharp-sighted observers glimpsed twin spectacles of 30 Cattle Egrets flying overhead and a further 50 or so in a paddock pretending to be sheep.
Wonthaggi Heathlands cover an 811 hectare area abutting 10 kms of unspoiled and secluded coastland between Kilcunda and Cape Paterson. The heathland habitat provided a change in birds, with an emphasis on honeyeaters – New Holland, White-eared, White-naped, Crescent and both Wattlebirds. A Brown Goshawk and a Fan-tailed Cuckoo were also seen. But the afternoon highlight was certainly a Southern Emuwren which a few were lucky enough to glimpse.
Halfway through the heathlands stroll the group split into two, with some opting for the longer walk down to Cutlers Beach, while the remainder opted for a “track” offering a “short cut” back to the car park. With the Trade Descriptions Act in abeyance, the latter group arrived back at the cars later than the beach party and with tall stories about their adventure.
Fortunately, the next stop was the Inlet Hotel in Inverloch for dinner, where the birds, adventures and tall stories of the day were shared over excellent food and drinks. Our special thanks to the hotel staff for looking after our dinner group of 14 so well on a very busy night.
Sunday dawned with light drizzle and dull conditions, but by the time we reconvened at Point Smythe the drizzle stopped and the skies slowly cleared to sunny conditions. Part of the Cape Liptrap Coastal Park, Point Smythe faces Inverloch across Anderson Inlet and offered exquisite coastal bush with tall tea tree and abundant coastal banksias in full bloom.
With a 6 km network of protected sandy paths, our group of 18 split into multiple parties heading to the beach or the point or staying in the bush. Everyone saw Silvereye which threatened to deafen us with their frenzied calling, many saw Crescent Honeyeaters and Olive Whistlers and a few saw Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos flying over. But the special sightings seen by a select few were two Pink Robins, two Hooded Plovers and an Eastern Whipbird.
Point Smythe was a standout. The birding was so good the 12pm lunch break at the Fisherman’s Jetty in Venus Bay ended up being 1.15pm as most were reluctant to move on.
With a long drive back to the city ahead, only 12 ventured on for the afternoon site – Bald Hills Creek Wildlife Reserve, near Tarwin Lower. Created in 1987 and now near the moving shadows of a windfarm, the reserve provided a completely different habitat with tall gum trees – bog gum, messmate, narrow leaf peppermint, blackwood, and swamp and scented paperbark. And a freshwater wetland with hide. The highlight from the 28 species seen in the short visit was some Varied Sitellas seeking insects in the tree bark.
What an excellent weekend escape! With a final tally of 74 species over the two days and some good birds in the mix, several of the group extended their stay for an extra day to do more on the Monday while the rest headed home thoroughly happy. Our thanks as always to Peter and John for an excellent choice of locations, keeping the rain at bay, wrangling the birds to put in appearances and chaperoning the troops on the ground.