By Phil Marley
The forecast was not encouraging – overcast and windy, with showers developing. Even so, 25 optimistic birders met up at the Stringybark Picnic Area at the Cranbourne Gardens, hopeful of good things.
But it was hard going. After half an hour we spotted our first bird. Perched on the top of a dead tree limb, the New Holland Honeyeater allowed everyone to take photos, seemingly too afraid to let go and be at the mercy of the wind.
The next birds, half an hour later, were two Eastern Yellow Robins. They put on a merry dance around us – but by then we were 30 minutes into light rain and all cameras were safely stowed under cover.
So it went on. The group followed the Possum Gully Track up to Trig Track, then down Wetlands Walk to the Wylies Creek Wetlands. When the rain finally eased off and the sun momentarily broke through, birds started appearing. White-eared and White-plumed Honeyeaters, Superb Fairy-wrens, Brown Thornbills, calls from more Yellow Robins – things looked a little better.
Out by the lakes, Australasian Swamphens and Masked Lapwings were grazing in the paddocks. Eurasian Coots, Australian Wood Ducks, Pacific Black Ducks, Australasian Grebes and a couple of Hardheads paddled on the water. And Pacific and Silver Gulls circled overhead – seeking inland refuge from the exposed nearby coasts.
Overhead and far, far away, solitary raptors were doing their best to soar while being battered this way and that – a Whistling Kite, a Black-shouldered Kite and a Little Eagle. A few Rainbow Lorikeets and Crimson and Eastern Rosellas sliced through the wind while a Grey Butcherbird stayed low down in sheltering trees.
The wind made things tough. The bustles in the hedgerows weren’t the birds we sought, just breeze.
After two hours, we adjourned for an early lunch in the covered picnic area to lick our wounds and thaw hands on mugs of hot drinks.
Fortified and refreshed, we drove round to the Australian Garden. But by now the wind had also fortified and refreshed itself. At 40-45kph, it chilled hands, shook cameras and moved foliage creating big challenges to capturing good bird photos.
In brief episodes of sunlight, New Holland Honeyeaters and Little and Red Wattlebirds played chase through the flowering gums and banksias, and some ducks, coots and a solitary Little Pied Cormorant found refuge on the ponds protected by surrounding the bushes.
Enough was enough. After 40 minutes, our gang sought its own refuge in the coffee shop, happy to swap wind-chill for coffee and cake. Good decision.
This was a day for the dedicated birder. The tally of 40 species recorded for the day is a testament to sharp eyes and steady binoculars, and some true grit in the wind.
Thanks as always to Peter for coordinating things and maintaining morale in the group while guiding us through the testing times.