It was great to escape the city and take a drive down to the Bellarine for the day. A few light showers on the road quickly cleared to a lovely day and excellent birding for our group of 16.
First stop was the Ocean Grove Nature Reserve, just north of the coastal township. The local bushland had been used for harvesting of wattle bark for tanning leather for over 100 years until the late 1950s. The reserve was created in 1968 following purchase of 81 hectares of the former Cuthbertson family estate after a fund-raising campaign driven by the Geelong Field Naturalists Club. The focus even then was preserving a great habitat for birds.
Extensive work was done to create a lake, build dams and rabbit-proof boundary fences, form 10km of walking tracks and plant native trees and shrubs indigenous to the area. The OGNR was opened to the public in 1971 and a further 62 hectares added in 1973.
We left the information centre and headed westwards along the north track, with open paddocks beyond the fence. Bush birds were the order of the day – Rainbow and Musk Lorikeets, Red-rumped Parrots, Common Bronzewings, Brown Thornbills, Eastern and Crimson Rosella and Honeyeaters – White-plumed and New Holland. But nothing much on the pond in front of the north bird hide.
Over the farmland, Eurasian Skylarks were heard, while the skies offered some Australian Pelicans and Straw-necked Ibis.
Turning the corner down the west track, the open farmland presented a couple of far-away raptors – Brown Goshawk and Collared Sparrowhawk – while the bush echoed to the calls of Grey Butcherbirds, Golden Whistlers, Silvereye and Spotted Pardalotes.
The pond by the second bird hide was also devoid of birds, but a nearby dam in the farmer’s field was populated with Pacific Black Ducks, Australian Wood Ducks and Shelducks, Chestnut Teals and an Australasian Grebe.
Along the south track, a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater and a pair of Tawny Frogmouths were well-spotted fully emersed in foliage and Grey and Pied Currawongs were seen and heard.
After a couple of hours, we regrouped for lunch at the picnic area next to the information centre. A hopeful Australian Magpie kept close watch for crumbs while four raucous Galahs played in the gums above. Collectively almost 50 species were seen during the morning.
Post-lunch we motored 1.5 kms south to Blue Waters Lake Reserve – a visually stunning place created from another part of the extensive Cuthbertson family estate. This bijou 7 hectare site is essentially all water, with a thin dirt track running around the perimeter, separating it from 190 houses that back onto the lake. The lake plays an important role in the Ocean Grove drainage network, filtering pollutants and nutrients from stormwater before it enters the Barwon River.
In glorious sunshine, it was a magnet for water birds. All the common ones were there – Australasian and Hoary-headed Grebes, Black Swans, Cormorants – Great, little Black and Little Pied – Eurasian Coots, Dusky Moorhens, Australasian Shoveler and Swamphens, Great Egret, White-faced Heron and Australian Pelicans.
A flock of Royal Spoonbills was a potential showstopper, but the highlight for most were seven Nankeen Night Herons trying to sleep the day away in a willow. Some took off for an aerial survey of our photo group before settling again and posing, grudgingly, for portraits.
Most of the group continued to our third spot for the day – Lake Lorne Reserve at Drysdale, 10km north. Another freshwater lake, this one of 12 hectares, Lake Lorne is connected to the groundwater system and its level can fluctuate dramatically – often with a significant lag after rain. On this visit, the lake was brim-full of water and of birds.
The lake added some extra species to the tally, including Pink-eared and Blue-billed Ducks, Hardheads, an Australasian Darter and a Black Kite. And a great photo opportunity with some cygnets.
With about 70 species for the day, the group headed home well-pleased with the Bellarine, a place we should return to more often. Our thanks to Ian Smissen for surveying potential locations for our visit and to Peter for chaperoning the group through the extended three-site day.