Club weekend trips are always eagerly anticipated affairs. The South Gippsland weekend based in Yarram was no exception. The opportunity to observe and photograph birds in such a diverse landscape was highly tempting and so by kick-off on Friday April 14th 2023 we had some 18 people registered. Some would be there just for the weekend, whilst others would stay for the entire long weekend. A few hardy souls elected to camp, whilst others found more luxurious accomodation in the region’s various B&Bs and motels. What everyone had in common was an enthusiasm to get out amongst the birdlife in this most beautiful part of the world.
So let’s start on Friday morning. Early.
Friday 14 April 2023
The small Friday morning crowd assembled in the parking area of the Bald Hills Wetland Nature reserve. It was rather chilly, but the sun was out and forecast to stay that way for most of the day. The birds were relatively quiet along the attractive bush walk that ends on a bird hide looking out over a shallow, but extensive wetland area. The highlight was the sighting of some Cape Barren Geese in flight to the north, although a smallish number of other bush and wetland birds were also noted such as White-eared and White-naped Honeyeaters, Golden Whistlers, and several White-faced Herons.
Having re-assembled, the group drove to the next location; Macphersons Ridge off the Walkerville South Road. The highlight here was watching at least two Wedge-tailed eagles soaring high above the hills and adjacent coast. However, despite walking along the ridge for an hour or so, only a small number of other species were sighted. These included European Goldfinches and New Holland Honeyeaters.
The next stop was a new one. While doing reconnaissance for this trip, a new and promising location had been found on Corner inlet. So the group plunged off the road into the coastal bush off Charles Hall Rd and was soon tramping along the edge of an extensive mudflat and samphire area. Notable in this area were substantial numbers of white-faced herons, both adult and sub-adult. We surmised that there had been a very successful breeding year and these were aggregating and feeding prior to dispersal over winter. Another Wedge-tailed Eagle was observed, as were large numbers of Australian White Ibis.
But now it was time for food. So it was back to Toora, past the white sentinels of the Bald Hills Windfarm, for a restorative coffee and lunch in the park. Then, not too far down the road was the Toora Bird Hide, our next stop. We filled up the carpark with our vehicles and walked the short distance to the excellent bird hide that overlooked the Corner Inlet Marine Park a Ramsar wetland. Despite its excellent bird list, the tide was far out and consequently so were the birds. Even those with scopes were challenged! However, both Sooty and Pied Oystercatchers were spotted, along with Masked Lapwings, Silver & Pacific Gulls and White-faced Herons -again! A Copperhead Snake made an appearance in the sun, crossing the track.
Notable were the large numbers, over 100, of Black Swans feeding on the flats. We proposed to return to the hide later when the tide was somewhat higher.
This was the last stop for the day. Time to drive to Yarram, secure our accommodation and get ourselves settled in. There is a small park and wetland in Yarram that was visited by some of the group in the afternoon and this yielded a good number of species. Although most were the usual ‘park birds’, a small flock of Gang-gang Cockatoos was observed, as well as Little Pied Cormorants, Masked Lapwings and Crested Pigeons (uncommon in this location).
Saturday 15th April 2023
The forecast was somewhat dire for today. A windy and cold morning gradually degenerating into heavy rain. Given that we were heading up to the hills, to Tarra Bulga National Park , it was probably advisable to start early and get as much birding as possible. On the way up a few stopped at the Cyathea Falls walk where Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos and both Olive and Golden Whistlers were observed from the Carpark. At Tarra Bulga after the ‘official’ welcome and admin session, the Group split and set out in a number of different directions from the Carpark. Excitement was rising as Lyrebirds and Pilotbirds were a distinct possibility here.
The forest at Tarra Bulga is Wet Schlerophyll dominated by the impressive Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) that towers over an understory where Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) is very common. In gullies one can find remnants of the once-widespread Gondwana forests, including the Myrtle Beech (Nothofagus cunninghamii). While our surroundings were majestic and awe-inspiring, unfortunately its birdlife was already hunkered down for the storm! We only recorded 11 species for the morning. Despite this, some were fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of a Lyrebird, and others had good views of a Lewin’s Honeyeater and a Pink Robin.
Having had a congenial lunch near the visitors center and under darkening skies, we departed for the coast; Nooramunga Marine Park to be precise. Near Old Port Albert. The arrival into the car park was fortuitous, with early arrivals fortunate enough to observe the comings and goings of 4 to 5 Flame Robins in the Banksia scrub. The group then walked through the mosquito-infested foreshore forest to an exposed beach location where we could overlook the extensive mudflat and beach area of the Port. In the bush White-eared honeyeaters, Red Wattlebirds, Eastern Rosellas, and Brown Thornbills were noted, while from the beach were spotted Australian Shelducks, Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants, a Great Egret, Royal Spoonbills and lots of White-faced Herons – again! 24 species in all were observed at this location.
Heading back to the carpark, the drizzle began. By the time we made it to New Port Albert (really it’s just called Port Albert), the rain had truly arrived. Our group must have presented a sorry spectacle as we crowded together under the sparse cover of the foreshore Norfolk Island Pines with our binoculars. But it was worth it for the sighting of 5 or so late-migrating (or possibly resident) Eastern Curlews on the distant mudflats, along with over a hundred Black Swans, both Pied and Sooty Oystercatchers, Crested Terns, a couple of Australian Pelicans and a lot of White-faced Herons – again!! Not much photography was done through the teeming rain, but it was great to see this variety of birds
As Port Albert was our last spot for the day, we drove back to Yarram. Looking forward to wining and dining together at the Commercial Hotel. Having donned our formal dress and putting on our best manners we thoroughly enjoyed the genial hospitality of the Commercial Hotel and each other’s company and retired back to our respective lodgings through the pouring rain. With high expectations of our next days birding.
Sunday 16 April 2023
The rain eased off in the early morning. But it was still cold and damp underfoot. Undeterred though we rolled into the White Woman’s Waterhole campsite in the Won Wron State Forest to the sight of King Parrots and Crimson Rosellas gambolling in some hay that had been strewn across the campsite. Providing a red-hued visual feast for the arriving photographers.
Shortly thereafter we departed on the adjacent Forest and Waterhole walks. First stopping briefly to photograph a pair of Grey Butcherbirds posing dutifully at the edge of the bush. Although not so productive bird-wise, the walks offered good views of White-throated Treecreepers, Black-face Cuckoo-shrikes and a raucous Laughing Kookaburra.
McLoughlins Beach was the next location. We arrived in the pouring rain and sat in our cars awaiting a weather break. When one was not forthcoming some foolhardy individuals donned their wet weather gear, covered their cameras and set out across the estuary bridge for the beach. The back-dune forest was surprisingly active: Eastern Spinebills; Yellow-faced, White-eared, and White-naped Honeyeaters; Little and Red Wattlebirds; as well as Pardalotes and Musk Lorikeets. Arriving at the beach a small group of Little Terns was spotted through the rain, and later some Hooded Plovers.
We turned back to the cars. The rain stopped a few minutes later. The sun came out and the birds returned. There is a small tussocky plain between the dune and the estuary and it was there we observed hunting Swamp Harriers and Whistling Kites. In the grass and rushes Striated Fieldwrens were observed and there were numbers of Welcome Swallows over the water and grassland. In the estuary, Royal Spoonbills and Hoary-headed Grebes were present. With a checklist of some 26 species this was our best location yet!
Quite a few members of the group had to leave after McLoughlin’s Beach. The remainder assembled again at the Commercial Hotel in Yarram and reprised the excellent food and spirited conversation of the previous night. There was some anticipation that, with the return of the better weather, the birds would be out in force tomorrow!
Monday 17 April 2023
Today was a half-day (well, a three-quarters day really). It would start with a return to the Toora bird hide. We had taken note of the tide and carefully calibrated our visit for maximum bird viewing! The omens were good. We were sitting in the car when we saw an unidentified Crake strut in front of us. It was the last we saw of it despite searching, so it remains unknown and unlisted. The tide was now too high at the hide – the time was right, but the tidal range here is close to 2 metres and we had not anticipated the extent of its coverage. Still, we saw Black Swans, Australian Shelducks, Hoary-headed Grebes and both Pied and Sooty Oystercatchers from the hide. Brown Thornbills and Grey Shrike-thrushes were both observed in the mangroves; not a common habitat for these bush birds.
Walking along to the nearby wharf yielded vast numbers of Silver Gulls, around 120 individuals, as well Pacific Gulls, Crested Terns and Little Pied Cormorants. In the surrounding Melaleuca scrub, Forest Ravens, Eastern Rosellas, and European Goldfinches were photographed.
But fate had reserved the best for the (nearly) last. On the way back we stopped at the Meeniyan bird hide and treatment plant. While only Australasian and Hoary-headed Grebes, Chestnut Teal and Pacific Black Ducks were seen in the ponds, a walk along the Nyora to Foster Rail Trail was very productive. A variety of species kept the shutters clicking. White-throated Treecreepers, Black faced Cuckoo-shrikes, Brown and Striated Thornbills, Eastern Yellow Robins, Red-browed Finches, and Mistletoebirds kept everyone busy. Of particular mention was a Grey Shrike-thrush who, in concert with a Juvenile Golden Whistler, took out the joint ‘posers of the day’ award! In all the 27 species noted here made it the best stop of the weekend.
Korumburra Botanic Park was on the way home. After scoffing our lunch at a creekside table, we went on a short walk around the Gardens. Some 11 species were noted here, including Crimson Rosellas, Brown Thornbills, Spotted Pardalotes and a Laughing Kookaburra.
And that folks, as they say, is that! The weekend had provided opportunities for birding across diverse landscapes. From ancient beech and Mountain Ash forests to the beaches and mudflats of Bass Strait. We had observed a very creditable 83 bird species for the weekend. Importantly, it had also provided an opportunity to spend more time with fellow birders and friends. The weather wasn’t great, but it hadn’t taken away from a very enjoyable long weekend of bird photography. Thanks to John and Peter who did the recce and did such a great job to organise the weekend.