Our group of 27 assembling for a stroll in Plenty Gorge Park was met with unusual weather – no rain. This boded well.
As the light cloud started to clear, we set off from the east end of Winton Vale Road, serenaded by Musk and Rainbow Lorikeets in the flowering gums along the track.
After a few hundred meters the group split, with mud-lovers heading north-east for an “adventurous” track along the Plenty River and the rest continuing east to a less slippery part of the river.
The adventure group were rewarded early with flashes of fleeing Yellow-rumped Thornbills, a coloured streak from a male Flame Robin and the haunting trills of a couple of Fan-tailed Cuckoos.
As we entered the bush along the river’s edge, Brown Thornbills were seen and then an Australasian Darter appeared, posing on a log in the middle of the river. “Take my photo”. We did.
The walking was indeed adventurous – a mud-rollercoaster track, at times down at the river’s edge and at others ascending to lofty heights with precipitous drops into the river for the unsteady.
As we slid along in single file, we experienced some excellent photo opportunities. Pairs of Musk Lorikeets, Australian Wood Ducks and Gang Gang Cockatoos and a very relaxed Grey Butcherbird sequentially appeared at eye-level on trees lower in the gorge.
Those at the back of the line had their own show from some Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes, and all were taken aback by the sight of 20 Eastern Rosellas (and a few Crimsons too) perched on a tree on the other side of the river.
The adventure group eventually re-joined the track taken earlier by the unmuddy group and headed around the south of Plenty Gorge Park Lake and the Morang Wetlands. Now in full sun, the lakes offered abundant sightings – Blue-billed Duck, Chestnut and Grey Teal, Eurasian Coots, Dusky Moorhens, another Darter, Australasian Swamphens and Grebes and Masked Lapwings. And lots of kangaroos.
Along the edges of the lakes, Bell Miners, Superb Fairy-wrens and a variety of honeyeaters added colour and sound to the bush. Not to be outdone, a large flock of Corellas, Long-billed and Little, took up residence in a gum across the water making their own racket.
The morning was excellent. Our small excursion within the extraordinary 1350-hectare Plenty Gorge Park, which extends around 11km along the Plenty River, provided over 50 species of birds in a little over two hours. This reflects the parkland having the greatest diversity of habitats of all parks in Metropolitan Melbourne. The area was largely agricultural in the 1840s, including two flour mills powered by the river, but was also the source of timber and basalt and even had a couple of gold mines.
We adjourned for lunch at the excellent Hawkstowe Picnic Area in the park, next to Le Page homestead. The latter is part of the larger Hawkstowe Farm established in the 1850s by the Le Page family. It remained in the Le Page family until the 1940s and was later purchased by Parks Victoria in 1986. It is now the home of the Plenty Valley Arts Inc.
After lunch, and still in glorious sun, we motored 5km west to the Mill Park Lakes. What a change of setting – gone were the woodlands, grasslands, wetlands and dramatic river and gorge scenery, all replaced by several compact lakes surrounded by a shopping centre, residential housing and busy main roads. Also surrounded by mud.
But the birds didn’t seem to mind. Crested Pigeons, Black Swans, White-faced Herons, Straw-necked Ibis, Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants, a Great Egret and a Little Grassbird, even Spotted Doves – all were seen happily enjoying the water within this suburban idyll. Very quickly, we amassed a list of over 30 species.
What a brilliant day for bird photography. Lots of species (c 60 for the day), warm, sunny, no wind, excellent company. Who could ask for more.
Thanks to Peter, who drove all the way back from Queensland just to show us his favourite Plenty Gorge haunts. Thanks too for hosting afternoon tea at his place afterwards.