Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Doongalla beauty & a 100th birthday

Yellow-tailed black cockatoo, Doongalla Reserve, The Dandenongs
The last time I posted from Doongalla was in early September (a Spring morning). Last Sunday afternoon the feel was decidedly different as we had our first warmer day of the early Summer. Birds could be heard but seemed harder to spot. Golden whistler in particular seemed to have retreated to the canopy perhaps less interested in courting than they were in Spring.

It was during a birding walk away from the main group that my companions Richard and Moses pointed out my birding highlight of the afternoon (see Moses video of the YTB and a Crimson rosella at its nest here):

Richard then located this cheeky Golden whistler that had been teasing us for several minutes.

Golden whistler
I can claim that I located the White-browed scrubwren and Fan-tailed cuckoo unassisted!

Dreamy Doongalla
This botched out-of-focus iPhone shot does actually convey the dreamy feel of the afternoon!
(added a blurred vignette later on)
The birding ramble was an aside for an interested trio - the main event was a family 100th birthday after-party! In the photo below we see our 100 year old "Greatie" seated second from left. Her siblings, all seated, had travelled from Sydney for the party the day prior and witnessed the Queen's letter etc. Her two daughters, one who had travelled from Finland for the occasion, are standing.
If we forget about the two ankle-biters at the back, we have 370 years of sibling experience in this one picture!
A further 98 year old sister couldn't make the trip from Sydney.
The Doongalla homestead burnt down, the land reclaimed by government and the bush allowed to re-grow but at the time of Greatie's birth Doongalla apparently looked like this.

Bird on (for many a year)!

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Only dropped in for a Chat, but I'll be back!

With a couple of young teens in tow I managed a truncated reconnaissance visit to the Wonthaggi Heathlands last weekend. The car is left at a small car park at the southern end of Chisolm Rd and we blundered on down the track that heads for Cutler's Beach. There has been much rain in the area and our chosen track was one of the many that had become waterlogged.

White-fronted chat, Wonthaggi Heathlands

We were forced to turn around when the track turned into a quicksand-like slurry. This was not before a nice feeling about the place had fallen upon me. The habitat and scenery are pleasing. The place has an unspoilt feel about it and with such species as Southern emu-wren on the target list I'll be back!

As we left I noticed a sign announcing two Heathland Circuit Walks (short and long, 1.6k and 4.2k) which may have been a better choice! Next time I'll go better armed perhaps with the Eremaea bird list for Wonthaggi Heathlands (91 birds over 16 lists). It also contains this useful advice:
Fire dam is a great place to sit down and let the birds come to you.
Of course this may not apply at the moment as there is no shortage of watering spots!

A stone's throw from such interesting human interventions as the Wonthaggi Wind Farm and Victorian Desalination Plant
Sharing with Wild Bird Wednesday
Bird on!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Shearwater wreck

On my first visit to a surf beach since this year's arrival of migratory Short-tailed shearwaters there is still evidence of the massive wreck. There were shearwater carcasses every 5-10 metres at Phillip Island's Woolamai surf beach. Their migration from eastern Russia and western Alaska is generally complete in late September but the birds need the next month or so to replenish and energise for the breeding season. It is not until late November that Phillip Island's one million birds settle in to their breeding territory.

Over the last few years a cultural festival has developed around the arrival of the birds at Phillip Island for breeding. Shearwater Soundfest's Facebook page tells more (and the chronology of this year's Wreck is detailed with links to newspaper articles etc).

The November 3rd post on the Facebook page carries a nice video (albeit a little lengthy at 7 minutes) featuring last year's festival. The first 15 seconds has some nice dusk footage of the amazing swarm of shearwaters - a great thing to experience!

We hope this year's breeding season fares better than the migration.

Bird on!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Spoonbill enjoys the support of hunters

We live in an interesting state! At at time when the governments of several Australian states have banned recreational waterfowl hunting the current Victorian government is actively promoting the activity.

We live in a democracy and I believe there are some 42,000 recreational shooters in Victoria. Game hunting of waterfowl and Stubble quail is an activity that goes back generations in many regional communities. Member organisations such as Field and Game Australia (FGA) have a considerable voice. Interestingly one founding focus of the FGA was the conservation of dwindling and damaged wetlands (with the consequent loss of game to shoot). The FGA continues this work and I am often confronted by this irony when enjoying my own recreational pursuit.

Royal spoonbill, Phillip Island
This happened again when I turned from photographing this spoonbill to take a scene shot. I find that the wetland is owned / sponsored by the local branch of the FGA. There are many such examples across the state.

Is this the longest wetland name ever?
An example of how entrenched the hunting culture is in this state is that many of Victoria's best known bushland reserves are classified as State Game Reserves, many of which are available for shooters to hunt (within prescribed seasons).

The current government has set up a new authority called Game Victoria to supervise the duck season. This used to be done by the Department of Sustainability and Environnment. It is my understanding that the new body is filled with affiliates of FGA and the Sporting Shooters Association as outlined in this Melissa Fyfe article in The Age.

Generally speaking the trends are towards facilitating the licensing of shooters (with more flexible licence packages etc) and the "development of improved hunting opportunities" as expounded in the Government's media release Creation of Game Victoria signals new era.

Tucking in! Royal spoonbill
Black swan and cygnet also enjoying the wetland
While I do not understand the attraction of shooting birds as recreation I am not against the concept of sustainable hunting that puts a meal on the plate. I have no problems with anything that is proven to support regional communities.

The final link is to Birdlife Australia's position statement which has changed in recent years and concludes:

Position Statement

BirdLife Australia considers that recreational waterfowl hunting should not be allowed in Australia and its Territories.

This Policy supersedes RAOU Policy on Waterfowl Hunting (2) adopted by Council on 29 May 1994. The scope of this policy is limited to the hunting of waterfowl for recreational purposes, and not where hunting is for traditional food or ceremonial functions, or to mitigate the effects of agricultural or environmental damage.

Reasons for the change of Policy

  • We believe society in general, and our Members in particular, consider the killing of native birds for recreational purposes is an inappropriate interaction between people and their natural environment,
  • It has a potentially negative impact on bird conservation through: killing of non-game species, damage to wetland habitat, and disturbance of birds; these impacts are not likely to be adequately off-set by shooting industry-funded habitat protection and restoration programs, 
  • While BirdLife Australia is not primarily concerned with animal welfare issues, we cannot support an activity that on the balance of probability causes pain and suffering to animals, for no purpose other than recreation.
  • The pro-waterfowl hunting lobby has not shown sufficient commitment to ensuring or demonstrating sustainability of the resource.
Bird on!

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Silverleaves Snipe and Spoonbill Style

Now that we have that necessary bit of alliteration out of the way here's a little update from Silverleaves, Phillip Island.

It's Spring - and it's wet.

The low-lying land is a wetland once again, now deep enough to get Royal spoonbills interested. I counted four there recently and I took the chance to photograph them even though yet another Bass Strait squall was pushing through.

All birds demonstrated bleeding plumage. I read that the males and females look similar
I was pretty happy with some of the angles this bird gave me, showing off its aigrette plumes.
"Oh my! Would you look over there at Reg. What is he thinking? He's been seeing that new stylist"
Rachel couldn't bear to look at him
Quelle horreur!
Here is a Royal spoonbill having an itch in a stiff breeze! 
In other breaking news… The Latham's snipe have returned to Honeysuckle Grove.

I have been driving past this marshy paddock for 26 years. It was not until the 27 November 2011 that the car was brought to a sudden halt one evening (might be dramatising a little, it is a 40kmh road shared with pedestrians) ...

Latham's snipe - such gorgeous markings!

As with the November 2011 experience these photos were taken from the car. On this occasion there must have been at least 20 birds.
Bird on!

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Observation Point beach walk

Every few weeks or so I found myself trudging along the sand heading east from Cowes to Observation Point. The aim is to walk either side of the high tide when waders and other shorebirds are brought closer together.

I remember several still, sunny late afternoons, walking along with the sun at my back looking forward to seeing what birds are roosting or feeding at the end of the spit. Today's post features the walk as I saw it last Sunday morning 10th November.

We start with one of the many bush tracks through to the beach from the streets of East Cowes or Silverleaves. From the eastern end of the residential area it is still 2.5km of beach walking to the Point.
Surrounded by the calls of Grey fantail, Rufous whistler and Grey shrike-thrush
A little way along the beach, the first bird I catch up with is my "Hoodie Hero" Thinornis rubricollis.
This couple were among several groups of Red-capped plover seen 
I caught up with them again on the way back - with the sun out! Red-capped plover Charadrius ruficapillus
iPhoto geotags - the blog post is tracking from left to right!  This next photo of the beach is taken at the "2nd-from-left" stickpin & looking back west (from where I have come)!
Every few months the shoreline changes. I love the tidal lagoons we have at the moment - they make for great toddler pools! This is a good two hours after high tide (note the high tide level is marked by seaweed and also the tracks from the Nature Park staff quad bike - out to check their feral cat traps)
Observation Point and this section of beach are designated part of the Phillip Island Nature Reserve. As one approaches the spit there is signage indicating its importance as a refuge for migratory waders. It is important to not disturb the birds and good views can be obtained with binoculars and long lenses without a single bird taking flight. Well before the spit care must be taken during the beach walk as local shorebirds may be nesting above the tide line.

Pied oystercatcher - now we are at the end of the spit looking in towards the Rhyll Inlet
Caspian tern (and Pacific gull)
Pacific gull
iPhone shot of the end of the spit (the black dots are the group of godwits shown below)

Incoming! Red-necked stint join the Bar-tailed godwits
"OK fellas, I think we got this lot all rounded up!" Red-necked stints appear to be herding Bar-tailed godwits, Observation Point, Phillip Island
Bird on!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Red-necked stints harbouring sandpipers

These amazing small migratory waders are climbing very quickly up my favourite species list! I had cause to find out more about Red-necked stint Calidris ruficollis after spending some time with a group at Observation Point, Phillip Island last weekend.

"You know what Reg? I'm beginning to think that he can still see us even when we do hide our heads under our wings!"
Red-necked stint Calidris ruficollis "winter plumage"
It titillates me to think that these little guys endure the extremes of Siberia and Alaska (albeit in the northern summer) only to form sheltering rafts behind driftwood on a balmy Spring morning in Victoria, Australia. OK so it was only about 11'C but the sun was shining and there was only a zephyr of a breeze!

Red-necked stint. There was a group behind every bit of driftwood. Caspian tern and Pied oystercatcher can be seen in the distance.
While I was photographing this group one bird stuck its head up for a better view…
A stint on steroids? or Curlew sandpiper Calidris ferruginea
Looking at my photos later on I noticed a second sandpiper to the right of the first bird noticed.
Lots more information about these little travellers at:

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Bird on!