By Peter Bennet
Extraordinarily, Saturday dawned bright and fair, the promised rain clouds having been sent (as a result of some last-minute high-level negotiations) to Queensland for the duration.The Mostly Subaru BirdLife Photo Group of about 25 people convened amongst the basalt lumps at the end of Beach Rd where the management had thoughtfully provided a number of camera-ready Cisticolas, Kites, Swamphens, Ibis and so on beside the car park to keep the early arrivals occupied until things got officially underway. And our birders did what they do best – scattering to every known corner of the visit area within five minutes.
Kirk Point was a good early kickoff with the high-tide roost filled with (mostly) Little Black Cormorants, Silver Gulls, Crested Terns and a substantial flock of the big three waders – Red-necked Stints, Curlew Sandpipers and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. It was very pleasing to see some of them beginning to colour up (perhaps no-one told them they still have to fly 10,000 km before the naughty bits happen) – a few Curlew Sandpipers, in particular, wearing a rich rufous hue. A dozen or so Great Crested Grebes, well out on the bay, were a welcome sight. Having come without a tern expert, the small Terns present sat patiently displaying various profiles while all available guides were consulted, eventually agreeing they were almost certainly Fairies, thus confirming the old saw about what’s at the bottom of the garden. In the calm, balmy conditions it was magical to have such a good look at all these birds, and Messrs Kodak and Ilford are seriously ruing the invention of digital photography.
Others took to the T section, which although rather quiet at the moment produced the full set of Stilts and Avocets, and likewise small flocks of both Spoonbills. There are 50+ Masked Lapwings in residence, a couple of Little Egrets, lots of Coots and Teal and Swans as usual, but nothing in the rakes and crails department. A pair of Brolga near the entrance gate are always a good viewing opportunity.
The Lake Borrie coast still has good numbers of the same three waders, but no other species were identified. Here the Pink-ears come into their own, along with large numbers of Swans and Teal, mostly Chestnut. Offshore there were a couple of large (500+) flocks of Silver Gulls as well as rafts of Little Black Cormorants, so obviously some good fishing to be had. A couple of Buff-banded Rails were spotted along the road. Good numbers of Musk Duck were in both the lake and the Little River, and a few Blue-bills as well. At the hide itself there is a cheeky Fairy-wren family in the bushes at the door; on the float offshore we were able (retrospectively, from the photos) to identify both Little and Fairy Terns, as well as some White-winged Blacks, with a few Crested also fishing up and down the coastline. The Whiskered Terns, on the other hand, seem to have left the building altogether – Lake Eyre perhaps?
Lake Borrie itself still has some patches of bare water, although not many, so get in quick if you want some. The rest is carpeted with the usual cacophony of Teal, Shelduck, Swans, Pink-ears, Pelicans and so on; a few welcome Shovelers scattered amongst them, with one juvenile Sea-eagle reported from the platforms. Hundreds of Hoary-headed Grebes are present, particularly in the middle section. And on the usual rock in the southernmost pond, half a dozen faithful Freckled Duck (we really must renew those stuffed birds, some are looking a little ragged.)
Western Lagoons is pretty dry at present, but there was a gaggle of Cape Barren Geese at the eastern end, and on the beach past the outlet plenty of small beach waders gave good photo opportunities high up near the saltbush – Red-capped Plovers, Black-fronted Dotterel, Stints and Curlew Sandpipers, and those old faithful waders the White-fronted Chats. There was a solitary Greenshank in the ponds, and both Aussie and Hoary-headed Grebes, but generally numbers of birds and species are way down. Welcome Swallows and Fairy Martins on the wire fence were very tolerant of cars and gave some excellent shots.
The northern end of the plant yielded a glossy ibis in Paradise Ponds, and Lewin’s Rail and Black-tailed Native-hens at the Little River ford. A Spotted Harrier was, well, spotted along towards the Borrow Pits.
Not a big day for raptors, with small numbers of Black and Whistling Kites, some Swamp Harriers, a Black-shouldered Kite, a couple of Brown Falcons and a single Hobby joining the list.
A good total of 85 species for the day; mostly old favourites, but the good weather and the carpet coverage has hopefully produced some good photos, which the team are – even as I write this – madly processing so they can be sent in to illustrate the blog. Thanks to everyone who joined in today, especially those who shared their vehicles and their experience with others.
PS, we cannot finish without mentioning that knock-‘em-dead nomination for the Nobel Prize in Irony, the inability of Melbourne Water to get a toilet operating within the treatment plant. Would a Portaloo not have done the job? Heaven help us if they ever decide to install a drinking fountain.