By Phil Marley
This must be a first – asking our group to meet at a winery at 9.30am. But we’ve always said the group is up for a challenge and this was one they eagerly embraced.
Our location was the Tahbilk Wetlands near Nagambie, 90 mins from the city. The wetlands eco trail area has been a 28-year effort by Tahbilk Winery, planting understory vegetation, developing nature paths and building boardwalks along their 8km of permanent billabong adjacent to the Goulburn River. The result is a magnificent habitat for native birds and animals – and stunningly beautiful. It’s been open to the public since 2005.
Our group of 25 started at the restaurant carpark in glorious sunshine. Even in the carpark, we heard Fan-Tailed Cuckoos, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos , Pied Currawongs and Corellas and saw Crimson Rosellas and New Holland Honeyeaters. This boded well.
We headed off to the Long Bridge over the billabong. Originally built in 1889 with timber hewn on the estate, it was rebuilt in 1966 again with estate-grown timber. The bridge provided good sightings of Welcome Swallows, Dusky Moorhens and Australasian Swamphens (and some odd grey freckled ducks that we couldn’t find in the bird guide – perhaps because they were made of plastic). Just before the bridge, a Tawny Frogmouth kept a watchful eye on passersby, while Red-browed Finches roved in packs along the path edges.
Once in the bush on the far side, we followed the well-signposted trails past the four boat landings and two bird hides along the shore of the billabong. The bush offered many good views of White-plumed Honeyeaters, Eastern Rosellas, Brown Treecreepers, Brown and Yellow-rumped Thornbills, White-browed Scrubwrens and an Australian King-parrot.
Many other species were clearly seen and heard – including a large flock of noisy Pied Currawongs, many Silvereyes and Striated Pardalotes and a couple of Laughing Kookaburras, while a Peaceful Dove was heard but not seen. The water presented other photo opportunities, including White-faced Herons, Masked Lapwings and an Australasian Darter.
The morning highlights were Crested Shrike Tits and Olive-backed Orioles – and the sheer beauty of the lily-fringed billabong.
The two-and-a-bit hour morning stroll was not nearly enough to do it full justice. But we eventually dragged ourselves back to the winery and set up chairs for a picnic lunch in the orchard, immersed in the enticing aroma of fermenting grapes and overseen by Crimson Rosellas and Red-browed Finches. The midday bird list was an impressive 53 species.
After lunch we motored 7km down the Goulburn Valley Highway to the Mangalore Nature Conservation Reserve, a flora and fauna reserve near Seymour. Compared with the 1200-hectare Tahbilk estate, the 78-hectare Mangalore NCR is small but boasts a slightly larger bird list.
But the afternoon birding was challenging. After 30 mins, almost none in the group had seen a single bird. Then, a male Flame Robin popped into view. Everyone became excited. With two females also flittering around, hundreds of photos were taken in a matter of minutes.
And then other species put in appearances – Varied Sittella, Buff-rumped Thornbill, Black-faced Cuckooshrike, White-winged Cough, Golden and Rufous Whistler, female Scarlet Robin, Jacky Winter and Fan-tailed Cuckoo. And, the icing on the cake, a Restless Flycatcher.
But wait, there’s more. A Singing Honeyeater was spotted and photographed by two in the group – the first ever reported sighting of the species at this location according to eBird. Well done Anthea and Scott!
Not as plentiful as the morning, but Mangalore gave us 27 species, bringing the day’s tally to 64.
What a wonderful day! Our sincere thanks to Suzy and the team at Tahbilk for making us so welcome at the Tahbilk Wetlands, to Peter for scoping the outings and to John for leading the group on the day (while Peter swans around Queensland bagging lifers – over 60 at last count!).