Over the last week I have been hearing a novel sound; a new bird call for this neck of the woods. I am a novice birder and upon hearing it I grabbed my binoculars and went out to look for the source. My neighbours knew exactly what I was trying to do, because they too had been hearing this peculiar sound – definitely a bird call, but out of place where the standard bird fare is Magpies, Red Wattlebirds and Pigeons.
No luck on the first day, but on the second day I recorded it and sent it out to some people who would know the answer. Long time BirdLife member, Bill Ramsay, got back straight away with the answer – an Eastern Koel. Since then I have been learning all about this bird with the big sound, including how some people regard it as one of the most annoying bird calls, as this amusing article by Justin Huntsdale, Wollongong portrays.
However, this little bird call brings a smile to my face every time. Judge for yourself:
Celia M Browne wrote an article in late 2007 summing up a series of walks that she led along the Yarra in the previous three years. These were repeated again in the following three years, off-set by six months so there were different seasons at each location. The reports were originally published in BOCA magazine.
The article is reproduced below with the author’s permission in the hope it will inspire others to repeat the walks or be aware of these locations are birding sites.
The 3-year program of bird walks entitled ‘Wednesday Wanderings – Warrandyte to Westgate, Exploring the Yarra’ came to a fitting end when we cruised down the river from Docklands on board the historic Nepean on a recent winter morning. Commencing in June 2004 the walks aimed at exploring the numerous reserves and parks, creeks and billabongs along the Yarra River between Warrandyte and the Westgate Bridge. The outings were voted a great success by Melbourne birders who were looking for bird walks within a 24km radius of the city. The average size of the group was 25 members, proving that local, morning-only walks are popular.
An article in the April 2004 The Melbirdian predicted that, as well as observing many bird species along the meandering stretch of the river, we would also see kangaroos and koalas, platypus and possums, Common Wombats and Short-beaked Echidnas, lizards and snakes. And indeed we did.
A walk led by Marlene Lyell at Parks Victoria’s Glynn Reserve in North Warrandyte produced a great bird list of 49 species as well as three snakes, several rabbits, three Eastern Grey Kangaroos and one Common Long-necked Tortoise. An Australian Owlet-nightjar peeping from a nest box was the highlight of that walk.
Longridge Farm, Warrandyte was opened especially for us by Parks Victoria, and yielded another Koala, five Eastern Grey Kangaroos and a good list of birds. The layout of this peaceful reserve is most impressive with its attractive riverine camping ground and excellent facilities which, unfortunately, caters for tents only.
The walk at Tikalara Reserve, Templestowe on 2nd February 2005 will be long remembered for its torrential rain all morning. (This may have been the last time some of us can remember a really good downpour) Despite the rain, ten members birded with umbrellas from Beasley’s Nursery to the confluence of the Mullum Mullum Creek and the Yarra, and managed to log 25 species including an Azure Kingfisher. Staff at the nursery tearooms weren’t too happy when ten bedraggled birders sloshed in at lunchtime for hot soup. In February!
At Sweeneys Flats Reserve, Eltham, a Peacock was added to the bird list of 37 species; we also saw a Buff-banded Rail, five ‘roos and a Koala at this little known and surprisingly pleasant reserve where we walked downstream to Griffiths Park.
In April 2005, 38 members walked from Westerfolds Park upstream towards Candlebark Park, crossed the river by the new footbridge and enjoyed some peaceful birding from the new observation platform at Lenister Farm on the north bank of the Yarra. Forty-five bird species were listed on that occasion.
Tawny Frogmouths were observed on no less than 13 (out of 34) walks; usually spotted by Geoff Deason who has eagle eyes (or should that be ‘Frogmouth’ eyes?) for this bird. Australian Wood Duck 32/34; Pacific Black Duck 33/34.
Stunning views of Azure Kingfishers were enjoyed on four walks. Other birds of note were a Barn Owl at Banyule Flats, a female Rose Robin at Fairfield Park and a Pied Oystercatcher seen from the Nepean in June.
Two Australian King-Parrots were observed at Banksia Park, Bulleen in November 2005 – much further downstream than would have been expected. The closer we got to the City, the shorter the bird lists and, naturally, more exotic birds were seen and fewer native species. Sadly Eastern Yellow Robins weren’t sighted after Bellbird Picnic area in Kew and Grey Fantails weren’t observed after the Royal Botanic Gardens. The reserve which yielded the most bird species was Bulleen Park which included Little Bolin and Bolin Bolin Billabongs. Sixty-three species were observed here in February 2006 and the list included three Latham’s Snipe in Little Bolin Billabong. Surprisingly, this park beat Banyule Flat’s score of 58 species.
Thirty-seven birders arrived at Como Landing in February this year for the ‘voyage’ across to Herring Island, opened especially for us by Parks Victoria. We conducted a bird survey and the list was forwarded to Parks Victoria following the excursion. Despite the very small area and the drought, the morning turned out to be far more successful than was predicted and the bird list of 35 species was pretty remarkable – almost one per member. One member joked that two people weren’t really trying! A highlight was good views of a Nankeen Night-Heron seen on our return journey across the river by punt.
The Royal Botanic Gardens were visited in March this year and, combined with a walk along the Yarra into the city afterwards, yielded 40 species which was a pretty good effort for a warm, blustery morning. Sadly, no Superb Fairy-wrens were seen on this visit to the gardens.
Perhaps the highlight of the series was the cruise on board The Nepean from docklands down the Yarra past the Westgate Bridge and round the top of Port Phillip Bay on 6 June. Thirty BOCA members thoroughly enjoyed the 3 hour boat trip during which 33 bird species were listed and we enjoyed lunch on board the vessel. It was most pleasing to welcome three country members on this trip: Val and Peter Blake from Warrnambool and Marlene Lyell from Axedale.
I would like to thank all who attended the 34 walks for making them so successful and my special thanks to guest leaders who stepped in when I was away or indisposed: Geoff Deason who led three walks, Anthea Fleming for two walks, Marlene Lyell, Lyn Easton and Andrew McCutcheon who led one each. The total bird list for 34 walks is 123 species.
Due to popular demand the series of Wednesday Wanderings was repeated, commencing in February 2008.
On 9 March 2020, my wife Shirley and I flew to Auckland to commence a 25 day self-drive tour of the North Island of New Zealand. It was to be basically a sightseeing tour with several birding sites included.
NZ does not have an extensive list of endemic birds. Excluding extinct and formerly present, the NZ list is about 369 species. Deducting all introduced, migratory, visitors, pelagic species, and species only found on NZ’s Sub-Antarctic Islands, this leaves about 52 endemics, some of which are only found on either the North or South Island. Not a big list, but if you want to see these endemics, you have to visit NZ.
All the photos were taken by me and when known I have included the Maori name of the bird in brackets in the captions and the text.
Our first birding site was Tiritiri Matangi Island, a 75 minute ferry trip from Auckland. In 1974 the island became a recreation reserve. Since then, 280,000 trees have been planted by volunteers known as the ‘spade brigade’, all mammalian predators have been removed, and a number of endangered bird and reptile species introduced. Twenty NZ bird endemics have been recorded on the island, 12 of these introduced and eight have found their own way. The island is managed by the Department of Conservation in conjunction with the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi Inc.
On arrival at the island, the visitors were sorted into groups of 10 to12 for a guided tour, led by a volunteer. The first bird we saw on the walk was a male Brown Teal, which was a bit of a surprise as they are described as timid, skulking and nocturnal, with a habitat of tidal creeks, lagoons, swamps and adjacent wet pasture.
Walking along the track there were many smaller birds to be seen such as Silvereye (Tauhou), Grey Warbler (Riririro), Whitehead (Popokatea) and North Island Robin (Toutouwai). There were numerous nesting boxes for Blue (Little) Penguins (Korora), some with glass windows in the top so that the birds could be viewed.
We left the coastal track and started the ascent to higher ground through wet forest, using the extensive boardwalks provided. There were several NZ Pigeons (Kereru) to be seen. Being the only mainland native pigeon, this species has the unique and important role in the forest ecosystem of dispersing the fruits of native species.
Further along the boardwalk we were able to observe a Red-crowned Parakeet (Kakariki) feeding in the leaf litter – they feed from the canopy down to ground level. They are now extinct in the wild on the mainland and rated ‘at risk’.
There are three ‘honeyeaters’ found in NZ. All were present on the island. Feeders were provided. In the forest they were of a clever design with small openings so that the bigger Tuis could not access the food. Tuis had to feed from the flat bed feeders at the feeding station at the Visitors Centre. The two smaller honeyeaters, Stitchbird (Hihi), Bellbird (Korimako) and other smaller birds, were able to feed from the forest feeders.
At the top of the ascent, the vegetation opened up and we walked along a road with wide grass verges. We were excited to see several Takahe – Purple Swamphens on steroids. They are flightless and can weigh up to 3kg. This species was thought to be extinct for about 50 years until a small population was found in the south west of the South Island in 1948. They feed all day on fern rhizomes and leaf bases by pulling them out with their bill. They hold the extracted plant on their feet, macerate the base digesting only the plant juices, not the fibres, which remain as typical green thin sausage-shaped droppings of largely unaltered fibres. Takahes can produce up to 6m of droppings in a day.
We were even more excited to look up a side track and see a North Island Kokako. The bird is shy and our guide was amazed when our bird was on the ground out in the open. There was a South Island Kokako, but that is now extinct. The bird we watched seemed quite content to let us photograph it for a short time, but when it decided to move, it took off and pronked like an antelope with quite high jumps. To see one on the ground was unusual, but to see it pronk, was a real treat.
We lunched at the island’s excellent Visitor Centre. No food was available, but there were numerous outdoor tables and benches, very comprehensive information boards for all the endemics, and flat top feeders that the Tuis had taken over.
On the walk down the hill back to the ferry we had good views of a North Island Saddleback (Tieke) feeding in one of the trees. I think the Kiwis are trying to get their species count up. There is a very similar South Island Saddleback, which is distinguished from the North Island Saddleback by the lack of the narrow faint yellow line on the back between the black and the chestnut.
We left the island and returned to Auckland by ferry. Tiritiri Matangi Island is impressive for the birds and the management and should be No 1 on any birder’s visit to Auckland.
The next site on our list was the Firth of Thames, which is a Ramsar Site. It is a large coastal reserve, bounded by a peninsula and mountains, consisting of shallow marine water, mud, grass flats, mangrove swamp, saltmarsh and swampland. It includes a globally rare land formation of graded shell beach ridges which support grazing. It is an important site for roosting, wintering and staging wading birds. What more could a birder keen on waders want?
We moved to accommodation in Thames, and checked out the west coast of the firth on the first day, plus a brief tour of the Coromandel Peninsula.
We drove around a corner and there was a huge flock of South Island Pied Oystercatchers (SIPOs) with the Maori name of Torea. The flock in the photo extended just as far back to the left. Several cars stopped and many photographs were taken, but the SIPOs just stood there unconcerned. SIPOs breed on the estuaries of the braided rivers on the South Island and migrate to the estuaries of the North Island for the winter. These were early arrivals. My app notes that they occasionally get lost on migration. I looked very hard to see if any of the SIPOs had a red leg flag with 1N (the bird that we, and many others twitched at Jam Jerrup in 2018) but I couldn’t find one.
The SIPO with aberrant plumage definitely stands out from the pack.
We stopped for a picnic lunch at a roadside park, overlooking a spit. There were numerous Red-billed (Silver) Gulls (Tarapunga) and White-fronted Terns (Tara) resting on the spit. The Maori name for this species is only the generic name for Tern. This might be because White-fronted Terns are the most common terns in New Zealand.
The No 1 target species for this trip was a Wrybill. On our visit to the South Island in 2013 we were too late and they had all moved north. People who know me won’t be surprised by the following. I had done my research, and the Miranda Shorebird Centre was an excellent chance. Previous March records indicated good numbers. Either side of high tide was best for viewing. This was not a problem as the trip itinerary had been planned around a mid-morning high tide at Miranda. To make sure of good viewing, a scope and tripod had been booked for hire from Miranda three months previously. On the morning the weather was perfect (not pre-planned), and after picking up the scope we went to a hide overlooking a pond that was covered in waders. There were hundreds of SIPOs, Bar-tailed Godwits (Kuaka), Pied Stilts (Poaka), and of course Wrybills (Ngutuparore) – 1,400 being the official count. There were also lesser numbers of Red Knot (Huahou) and Pacific Golden Plover.
Wrybill is the only species in the world with a bill that is bent sideways, and it always bends to the right. A Wrybill is about the same size as a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. The Maori name is straightforward (pardon the pun) – ngutu means ‘bill’ and pare means ‘turned to the side’.
We left Miranda very happy and continued on our way, mainly sightseeing, but a bit of birding en route. But on the way to Napier, on Day No 10, we received a text from our elder daughter, quickly followed by a telephone call, advising that due to Covid-19 issues, DFAT was considering closing the border and we should return home. We booked a return flight, departing Auckland early morning Day No 12, and returned to 14 days of home quarantine. So our holiday and birding was cut well short. We loved what we saw and what we did, and hope one day to return and complete our holiday, perhaps including return visits to Tiritiri Matangi Island and Miranda Shorebird Centre.
We finally assembled after numbers of our group had encountered traffic jams at different stages of their drives. Bill Ramsay was leader and had carefully chosen the date to coincide with a low tide which allows people to walk across to the island on the stony causeway. Twenty-four started the day under cloudy and humid conditions. There was no wind and the light cloudy conditions were very good for seeing birds. Before we reached the causeway we noted numerous Black Swans and Silver Gulls. And then a Striated Fieldwren called from the coastal heath. Excellent views were achieved.
A couple of Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes were also present nearby. At the start of the causeway we encountered a highlight of the walk – several Pacific Golden Plovers roosted and foraged at the water’s edge with the bonus of a couple of Ruddy Turnstones beside them. Other sightings included the more-expected Crested and Caspian Terns, Australian Pied Oystercatcher and Little Pied, Little Black and Pied Cormorants. At water’s edge we watched Red-necked Stints and Red-capped Plovers and quite a few people also added Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpipers. Both adult and immature Pacific Gulls were present, close to a few White-faced Herons and an occasional Great Egret. Ibises were only represented by Australian Whites and spoonbills by a few Royals. A group encountered Cape Barren Geese which then joined the list. A male White-fronted Chat flew over as we settled into lunch.
The afternoon walk saw the party separate into smaller groups as people found their comfortable afternoon speed. The advance party recorded Grey-tailed Tattlers which was a first for many. If measured by “lifers” the day was well rated as several people were smiling broadly as they realised they had seen three, four or even five new species. By bird call we had 44 species and we thanked Bill enthusiastically for introducing many to the location.
Leaders: Hazel and Alan Veevers; Species count: 39
Photographs by Eleanor Dilley
Perfect weather conditions for birdwatching – sunny, little wind and temperatures in the low 20s – greatly added to the enjoyment for the 38 members who attended the outing to Pound Bend.
From the carpark several parrot species were heard calling loudly, at times drowning out the efforts of the leaders to explain things, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos were the major culprits! Rainbow Lorikeets were also plentiful, with the bright sun showing up their brilliant colours.
Walking along the river track it was pleasing to see several Eastern Yellow Robins and a pair of White-throated Treecreepers as well as numerous Grey Fantails and Superb Fairy-wrens.
Several ducks were on the river, including a pair of Chestnut Teal which is a very unusual sighting in this location. There were also three Little Pied Cormorants, one perched and others feeding in the river.
A Tawny Frogmouth perched close to the track with its beak thrust in the air in camouflage pose was a delight to all, especially the photographers. There were fewer birds to be found after the track left the riverside, heading for the higher, drier ground. Laughing Kookaburra and Magpie Lark were amongst the few species seen there. As the return track approached the river the pleasing sound of small birds could again be heard and Grey Shrike-thrush was added to the list.
Lunch was eaten near the carpark and surprisingly no birds arrived to steal the sandwiches! After birdcall about half the group walked along the river track towards the tunnel and they were delighted to see a magnificent Australasian Darter perched on a log in the river with its deep chestnut breast shining in the sun. Members also enjoyed watching numerous Welcome Swallows flying in and out of the tunnel. A total of 39 species was recorded for the day which was a reasonable tally for this time of year.
Many thanks, once again, to Eleanor Dilley, who provided all the above photographs.
The car park birding kept people on their toes as our party assembled under the leadership of Elsmaree Baxter. Clouds dripped a little drizzly moisture but the day remained fine if muggy. The usual car park suspects were present – Common Mynas and Starlings, Red Wattlebirds and Superb Fairy-wrens used the trees and bushes while the occasional Australian White Ibis and Rainbow Lorikeet flew over. The nearby sports oval held at least ten Magpie-larks plus a couple of Australian Magpies and several Crested Pigeons, while a couple of very high-flying Welcome Swallows were only confirmed after considerable study. An unexpected sight was an adult Nankeen Night-Heron flying into a roost west of Oak Road across from the car park. Despite subsequent searching we were unable to locate its roost.
The western lake was designated “Grebe City” when almost every bird seen was an Australasian Grebe, though a couple were Hoary-headed. The usual discussion about the identity of brown teal ensued till the final decision was “Chestnut Teal, mostly juveniles or males in eclipse plumage”. A pair of young Eurasian Coot begged noisily from an uninterested adult. As we circled the lake we noted New Holland and White-plumed Honeyeaters in the trees. House Sparrows were present near the northern end of the walk and were welcomed by those who no longer had populations near their home area. Though a careful watch was kept, no Eurasian Tree Sparrows were seen, this species has been in steeper decline for several years.
The eastern lake showed only a couple of ducks as a large part of the lake was netted against birds to allow the weeds to establish well. The nets were clearly welcomed by Willie Wagtail and Superb Fairy-wren which were running after insects across the nets’ top. Back to the cars for a prompt lunch which enabled those with afternoon appointments to say goodbye. The walk along the section between the railway line and the industrial complex of CSL needs care and attention to the cyclists along the Capital City Trail section. In the past there was a population of small birds in the bush by the rail line but electricity maintenance has pruned away the bush to such an extent that there is no shelter and no birds. The only raptor sighting today was a Brown Goshawk glimpsed by a couple of people so the lack of the small birds for prey reduces the predator population too.
The afternoon walk yielded only one extra species, a Little Wattlebird near the gardens on the western side of the west lake. Bird call gave a total of 40 species. The result for a small manufactured water purification area was eye-opening and we thanked Elsmaree enthusiastically for introducing many and reacquainting the rest of us with this surprisingly well-populated urban area.
Leaders: Hazel and Alan Veevers; Species count: 54
Photographs by Eleanor Dilley
Parking at Banyule Flats was even more chaotic than usual as the whole carpark was sealed off for resurfacing so parking spaces had to be found in the surrounding streets. Whilst waiting for everyone to arrive, Musk Lorikeets were seen feeding in a callistemon tree and a Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike flew overhead.
Once assembled, the group set off to the Lagoon where they were rewarded with many interesting sightings.
There were male and female Red-rumped Parrots; a pair of Sacred Kingfishers flying up and down from a tree on the opposite bank to snatch insects from the water; Pink-eared Ducks and Pacific Black Ducks, both with young; a Tree Martin perched amongst many Welcome Swallows on top of an old dead water-bound tree; four large Cygnets without any adult Black Swans to supervise them; and, finally, both Hoary-headed and Australasian Grebes.
The day’s highlight occurred when a Nankeen Night-Heron suddenly flew, right to left, across the lagoon giving everyone a great view. Members then walked to the river track where there were several small bush birds including Red-browed Finch, Eastern Yellow Robin and White-browed Scrubwren. The only raptors for the day were two Brown Goshawks seen near the river.
Close to the windmill a Sacred Kingfisher was calling loudly yet could not be seen, but a Male Mistletoebird kindly perched on a tall dead tree causing much excitement. Members then headed back towards the carpark and watched a Grey Currawong being harassed by Australian Magpies.
The group then continued along the higher section of the Yarra Trail which gave good views over the Lagoon and a few more species were seen including both Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants perched on a dead log.
About half the members then drove the short distance to Warringal Park for a well-earned lunch. A short stroll down Sills Track led to the Yarra River where two pairs of Australian Wood Ducks were very well camouflaged on a large tree branch high over the river.
The nearby wetlands were visited next and found to be completely dry despite the recent rains. There were good views of a Common Bronzewing and a Grey Butcherbird beside the track. Sadly this area seemed to be overrun by Common Mynahs and Noisy Miners which were keeping all the smaller birds at bay.
A creditable total of 54 species was recorded for the day. It had been a most enjoyable outing in pleasant weather conditions. Many thanks, once again, to photographer Eleanor Dilley for providing all the above images.
Twenty-three people started walking in misty showers of rain. These soon eased and patches of blue started appearing. Around the car park and near the picnic shelter of the “dragonfly” structure the dominant birds were, unsurprisingly, Noisy Miners and Australian Magpies keeping their attention on the possibility of picnic scraps.
A brief walk along the dragonfly’s tail allowed those who had not visited the park before to appreciate its size and layout and to turn binoculars towards the various lakes. The reed-fringed inlet of the main lake seemed only to host a Eurasian Coot and a Dusky Moorhen but as we crossed the small bridge we heard Australian Reed-Warblers calling and a couple were glimpsed by fortunate watchers.
Birds flying over had added Rainbow Lorikeet, Silver Gull and Little Raven to a list which included Magpie-lark, Galah, Red Wattlebird and Welcome Swallow.
Walking toward the lake we passed by a pair of Australian Wood Duck with 4 “teenaged” young, all well habituated to humans walking near. The walk along the western side of the main lake did not yield many new species though Superb Fairy-wren and Red-browed Firetail were much admired, especially the former with an active blue male and brown female. The high mournful whistles of Little Grassbird proved challenging for many to hear as we passed close to another reed bed. The large untidy nest of a Little Wattlebird was noted in a tree fork in the north-west of the park.
Birds were fewer on the southern side of the park though House Sparrow was added near the horse paddock of the harness club. A relaxed lunch was enjoyed after we returned to the “dragonfly” before we headed off to the western lakes.
This is usually a rewarding area and today did not disappoint. Swans were not seen but Hardhead and Grey and Chestnut Teal were added here. One highlight was the Latham’s Snipe which flushed briefly. An Australian Pelican flew over, very high, while a Nankeen Kestrel hovered far below it.
A Hoary-headed Grebe seemed to be alone but the shape of the small lakes and the vegetation around the edges meant counting birds was challenging. Many considered the highlight of the day was the pair of Freckled Ducks roosting quietly at the reeds’ edge.
Back to the car park and bird call where the total was 46 species, a very creditable total for a small created suburban site with a history as a sand quarry and the practical function as a water purification zone.
U3A Hawthorn Birdwalk on Friday 15th November was at Wilson Reserve in Ivanhoe. Twenty one people attended, and 35 species were seen, on a lovely sunny morning with lots of water in the billabongs and yellow irises making a great display. Species showing themselves well for photography (by Jim Sharpe) were an Australian White Ibis with lots of neck plumes showing his/her breeding status and several Red-browed Finches feeding in the grass. Noisy Miner, Mudlark and Chestnut Teal all had nests and/or young, and the Bell Miner calls were deafening at close range. This group was again led by Pat Bingham and I thank Jim for his photographs.
On Tuesday 19 November 2019Sally Heeps gave a presentation to the Salvation Army Companion club at Waverley. There were about 30 people and she spoke about encouraging birds to their gardens and the species of the area. I am told they were a friendly group and happy to share their bird stories.