Serendip(itous) Sightings of the Avian Kind…
By Steve Waller
Our visit to Serendip was always going to be a dicey affair.
The weather forecast was somewhat dire for birders with expensive electronic gadgetry hanging from their necks. Rain was forecast; lots of it. However, the optimists were cheered by the prospect its timing would be delayed until after lunch. After all, a whole morning’s birding in such a top location could be had and so carpe diem!
It was thus that the BMPG convoy gathered in the Serendip carpark under sullen skies, but thankfully with only light winds .
Serendip sanctuary is a 250 ha protected area close to Lara and the adjoining You Yang range. It is managed by Parks Victoria to specifically conserve flora and fauna found on the volcanic plains west of Melbourne and has also previously had a role in the breeding and conservation of rare or endangered species. From a birding viewpoint, it not only has typical bush habitats, but also areas of wetland and lake habitat. The ebird list for Serendip includes some 202 species, and individual records of 30-40 species are not uncommon.
Completing the formalities and introductions, the group wandered off into the reserve. Reports from the reconnaissance team were encouraging; they had seen multiple species of lorikeets and honeyeaters nearby. These early reports were confirmed as the first grove of flowering Eucalyptus leucoxylon was entered. Rainbow, Musk and Purple-crowned Lorikeets flew noisily in all directions, accompanied more discretely by the less raucous Red Wattlebirds, White-plumed, New Holland and Brown-headed Honeyeaters.
Walking along the track to the first wetland area yielded sightings of Yellow-rumped Thornbills, the ubiquitous Superb Fairywrens, Red-rumped Parrots & Eastern Rosellas.
Expectations were high as we entered a series of wetland bird hides. However, there were numerically few birds present on the wetlands. Despite this Welcome Swallows, Tree Martins, Dusky Woodswallows, Australian Reed Warblers, nesting Willie Wagtails, and a couple of timid Black-fronted Dotterels were observed. Ducks were largely absent, except for a few Australian Wood Ducks. Also observed were White-faced Herons and Masked Lapwings. The group moved on to the ‘big lake’ and was rewarded with sightings of both Yellow-billed and Royal spoonbills as well as a few Black Swans, Pacific Black Ducks and Chestnut Teal. In a reed bed offshore there were dozens of Tree and Fairy Martins enjoying an insect feast.
The next exploration was along a south-facing bush track adjacent to the lake. By this time dark clouds were gathering overhead and people were complaining of hunger, so this would be the last chance to get that prize-winning shot before lunch. The walk turned out to be remarkably fruitful. A Shining Bronze-Cuckoo was heard and then seen. A Whistling Kite hunted overhead and a White-winged Chough family chortled and scratched around on the ground. The Purple-crowned Lorikeets entertained us with a brief affray in the treetops before the first raindrops spattered on the ground and the group turned back to the carpark for shelter and the promise of food.
During lunch it was reluctantly decided to abandon the afternoon’s program at the You Yangs. The rain was increasing in intensity and it was deemed that the birds would all be sheltering as well. So after the bird call (a not-bad total of 48 species observed for the morning) everyone ran to their cars and began their journey home.
As a general comment, the relatively few birds seen during this visit seem to be part of a broader trend. The very wet seasons have left large amounts of water in the landscape and so the avifauna is well spread out. This, and the low light and deteriorating weather, made for difficult photography. Nevertheless, some good photographs were obtained and, as usual, being in the company of fellow photographers is always highly enjoyable.
Thanks to Peter Bennet and John van Doorn for both reconnoitring and organising such a successful and enjoyable visit.