The day was very warm with clear skies and a light breeze when 20 of us gathered in the car park. Elsmaree Baxter led our group and, as frequently happens, the car park birding was extremely rewarding. Here we recorded quite a list including Little Raven, Red Wattlebird, Galah, Noisy Miner, Australian Magpie, Rainbow Lorikeet and Long-billed Corella as the more frequent birds, though early arrivals added at least a further six species. The highlight sighting was a Collared Sparrowhawk persistently quartering the trees hoping to flush small prey. Little wonder that some time elapsed before we left the area. We headed initially to the nearer ford where the only waterbirds were Dusky Moorhen and Pacific Black Duck but wattlebirds and the occasional White-plumed Honeyeater were dipping to drink from the surface. The ducks amused by using the concrete fish ladder as a swim course or maze. Piles of flow debris indicated the past river height after recent rain. At another ford there were slightly skittish Red-browed Finches and an unexpectedly late, silent, Australian Reed-Warbler.
Superb Fairy-wrens called mostly from shelter and Spotted Pardalotes were also vocal while Willie Wagtails chattered, warbled and generally took little notice of the large, slow insect stirrers, aka humans. White-browed Scrubwrens could be heard occasionally and some watchers eventually “nailed” sightings, Grey Fantails were considerably more obliging and Brown Thornbills were present in forested areas. Heading out of a treed section on our way back to lunch we were awed and delighted to view a Wedge-tailed Eagle being harassed by a much smaller Brown Goshawk.
These were our second raptors for the day and with the earlier sparrowhawk made great memories. We decided that the most successful breeding season award went to the Red Wattlebirds, with Silvereyes coming in second. Some House Sparrows in small groups or singly were seen, though this species has declined or disappeared from former locations. After lunch we kept an eye out for a Tawny Frogmouth but a single sighting was not to be – first one, comparatively easy to see, then a second, pretending to be a dozing possum and initially looking furry, not feathery, then the most challenging of all. The third was truly bark-like and extremely well camouflaged and had eluded even experienced “froggie finders”. Well done to Pearl for penetrating its disguise.
The day was now quite warm and bird activity had understandably almost stopped so we decided to wrap up the day. The bird list for the group totalled 44 species and we thanked Elsmaree for all her careful planning which had produced such a satisfactory day. It was the first time we had returned to Brimbank in five years and memories of earlier walks had dimmed. What a way to refresh them.
The final 2016 Education Activity was on 21 December when Janet Hand addressed the ladies and gentlemen of The Probus Club of Donview Heights in Doncaster East. She spoke about the birds that are seen locally and particularly in the nearby Ruffey Lake Park. Forty-five people attended this meeting and many were surprised by how many species can be found locally.
2017 has started with us receiving many bookings, spread right through until the end of October.
On Wednesday 22 February, Janet visited the residents of Rylands of Hawthorn. 21 people attended this morning presentation on ‘Discovering birdlife in the backyards of Melbourne.’ After viewing the PowerPoint they were interested in seeing eight skins from our BirdLife Skins Collection. These included the tiny Spotted Pardalote and the large Tawny Frogmouth.
‘The associations between birds and plants’ was presented to the Field Naturalists of Victoria Day Group at Blackburn on Tuesday 28 February. Twenty-eight people attended this morning, some of whom were visitors to the meeting. Janet also did this presentation and noted how many people were surprised by the different types of foods that are needed to cater for our wide range of birds.
Note from Janet Hand
The Education Speakers Group has eight people who are happy to address Community groups within our area. Unfortunately all these people live in the Eastern or South-eastern suburbs. Is there anyone interesting in joining our group from other areas of Melbourne? As most of this group are retired or semi-retired we know there will be periods when several people are unavailable because of their holidays and travels. This is why I need a larger group than may be needed at any one time.
Although I am doing the first three bookings this year you will notice new names appearing in our Education Activities Calendar (on our website soon) and my monthly Blogs as the load is shared around.
We are always looking for bookings so we can share the joy of bird watching. We do ask the organisations for a donation to speak to their groups and use this as a fundraiser (or as a speaker’s expense venue if they request it).
Janet Hand BirdLife Melbourne Education Coordinator 9842 4177
Leaders: Hazel and Alan Veevers; Species count: 50
Musk Lorikeets and Noisy Miners were plentiful near the car park as 38 members arrived in perfect weather conditions at Yan Yean Reservoir. From the top of the dam wall a scope was useful in identifying a pair of Australasian Darters perched on a log, in typical wing-drying pose, on a distant shore. Hardheads and Eurasian Coots were numerous, but were also on the opposite side of the reservoir!
The group then drove in convoy to the car park adjacent to the main wetland area. Bird life was plentiful, with Little Grassbirds watched for several minutes whilst an adult fed its chick in the shadows at the water’s edge. Superb Fairy-wrens and White-browed Scrubwrens were also foraging in the dense undergrowth. On entering the fenced area across the road, Eastern Rosellas and Red-rumped Parrots were perched in trees, and on the first pond there were several immature Australasian Grebes, still showing some baby streaks in their heads.
On the second pond were several Black-winged Stilts, both adult and juvenile. On the third pond the highlight was a Common Sandpiper seen feeding at the water’s edge and bobbing its tail in its typical manner.
Leaving the fenced area and crossing back over the road, a pair of Australasian Shovelers and several other species were observed. Suddenly, a flock of Nankeen Night-Herons, mainly juveniles, flew up from a hidden roost and circled, for some time, high above us.
Lunch was eaten up near the old keeper’s cottage where members enjoyed the beautiful view across the reservoir to the distant hills. A very old Canary Island Pine was the roost for another flock of Nankeen Night-Herons, mostly adults, and these were closely observed by members.
Walking down the hill to the boundary fence revealed two Great Crested Grebes and a male Musk Duck, repeatedly diving and staying submerged for several minutes, which provided a challenge for beginners to try to find them again.
A final short walk was taken at the opposite end of the park, but no additional species were seen. The day’s total remained at 50, recorded at the previous locations. It was a very successful day, with some unusual sightings in a most attractive setting, in ideal weather conditions.
One of the most challenging birds to see in Victoria is the Regent Honeyeater, so members were keen to hear from Dean Ingwersen about their current status. Dean has been at Birdlife Australia for 10 years; first as Threatened Bird Network Manager and now as Woodland Bird Project Manager. He is Coordinator of the Regent Honeyeater Recovery Program and also serves on the recovery team for the Swift Parrot.
The striking Regent Honeyeater can be found from the Mitchell River near Paynesville, Victoria; north to the Capertee Valley, west of Sydney and the Barraba area in NSW. They rely heavily on nectar, the favourite sources being big, old Mugga Ironbark, E. sideroxylon, but also White box, Yellow box and stringybark species (e.g. E.macrorhyncha). When these are not blooming, flowering Box Mistletoe and Needle-leaf Mistletoe in River Oaks along the NSW rivers can sustain them. They have been seen at the flowers of exotics. Lerps also form an important part of the diet. Regents are often seen with other species such as Fuscous Honeyeaters, White-naped and Black-chinned Honeyeaters, Little Lorikeets; and they favour the largest trees.
Historically there are records from Brisbane arcing south and west as far as Adelaide; but now western Victoria is their limit. Flocks of 1000 birds were seen 100 years ago. Dean says it is difficult to get the current number but it could be as little as 500 nationally and 50 in Victoria. They are highly motile but regular movement patterns are emerging, birds moving between Chiltern-Mt Pilot NP (wintering) and Capertee Valley (breeding). The Bingara-Barraba area west of Armidale is currently in decline due to drought, but the Hunter Valley is producing good sightings.
Why are Regent Honeyeater endangered? Largely it is due to loss of habitat to farming and forestry. Competition from Noisy Miners is a major threat, also possibly bees. Climate change and its effect on habitat is emerging as a problem. The recovery plan for Regent Honeyeaters has recently been redrafted and it includes:
Improve the quality and extent of habitat
The Captive Breeding Program
Increase the knowledge of birds’ ecology
Increase community awareness and assistance
Most people would know of the tremendous habitat restoration work done by Ray Thomas in the Lurg area of Victoria. Since 1997 500,000 trees have been planted at 500 sites, with 30,000 people involved. 1,400Ha of habitat has been rehabilitated. At Capertee approximately 110,000 plants have been added to a valley which has been largely cleared for agriculture. Most importantly, Birdlife Australia has been able to secure covenants on parcels of private land which have good sighting records for Regent Honeyeaters; one such property, ‘Iomar’ in the Hunter Valley, has reserved 47Ha where birds have been sighted for 8 out of 12 years.
The captive breeding program has occupied much of Dean’s time in the last few years. There are seven breeding centres (e.g. at Brisbane and Adelaide Zoos, Taronga, Healesville). So far there have been four releases of captive bred birds, all at Chiltern-Mt Pilot NP, each time approximately 45 birds. After the first release in 2008, the initial 10 week monitoring showed a 75% survival rate. Each subsequent release also produced a better than 70% 10 week survival rate. In 2008, within five months, breeding involving released birds had occurred, but no live young were recorded. A currawong predated one fledgling. The overall result was encouraging and captive-bred birds had been seen to be integrating well with wild birds. In 2010 a wild male paired up with a captive-bred female though without nest success. In 2013 conditions were such that there was immediate breeding after release. Surveys between releases showed that released birds were travelling away from the release site and returning. 2015 saw the largest release of 77 birds followed again by successful breeding post release.
However offspring from these breeding attempts were not surviving. A PhD student started last year to study, in part, the cause of these losses. Cameras were set up to record nest activity and to the teams great surprise caught taking eggs were a Sugar Glider, a Squirrel Glider and a House Sparrow. In addition a Magpie attacked a pair of chicks and devoured one. In 2015, 26 out of 28 nest attempts failed. Fifteen nests were abandoned, predation was high and it is strongly suspected that excessive heat can cause nest failure.
To further the ecological knowledge of wild Regent Honeyeaters surveys have been ongoing since 1989, and show that an estimated 1500 Regent Honeyeaters in 1995 has dropped to 130 in 2015. But there are unexplainable yearly variations – even good spots in Capertee Valley vary from year to year. So the big question is where do they go? Colour banding begun in early 1990s has revealed that birds banded at each of Chiltern, Mitchell River and northern NSW all passaged to Capertee. This ability to fly 400-500km creates challenges for study and conservation of this species.
In order to check whether birds from different areas were different genetically, blood samples were taken from 1989 to 2012 from both wild and captive-bred birds caught in N-NSW down to NE Vic. No difference was detected between areas, or over time (though the time span was very short), between captive-bred and wild birds, and no dispersal of female genes from male.
The four releases have been well bolstered by community support, to the tune of $500,000 in voluntary man hours, which Dean deems as priceless. The tree plantings form an enormous contribution by the community. Workshops are held to help people recognise Regent Honeyeaters and increase reporting. Dean responds gleefully to every promising report, dashing to confirm any potential sighting. Media coverage has also been worthwhile.
Since 2002, 65% of Regent Honeyeater sightings have come from private land. Management of these sites is critical to the survival of this species. Significant 10 year funding was obtained by partnering with Taronga Zoo, the Nature Conservation Trust of NSW and arms of NSW Government for a Regent Honeyeater recovery program. The Nature Conservation Trust has been instrumental in getting covenants on 150 parcels of prime Regent Honeyeater habitat, seven properties in the Capertee Valley. The total comprises 1300Ha of high priority habitat in NSW. Noisy Miners have been identified as aggressive competitors in the Capertee Valley. Funding has been obtained to cull some populations of Noisy Miners.
Dean summed up by saying that there has been a significant decline in Regent Honeyeaters over the last century. There is a long running recovery plan in place which includes a successful captive breeding program. Subsequent predation control must be targeted. Finally, there is a great need for more observers on the ground doing surveys. Get in touch with Dean or Caroline Wilson if you can help.
Many members of Birdlife Australia, and particularly those of Birdlife Melbourne’s Weekdays Outings group, will be saddened by the death of Norman Eyre-Walker on 27th December 2013 following many months of deteriorating health.
Norman was a stalwart of what we now know as Birdlife Australia, joining the then Bird Observers Club after his retirement. He enjoyed both the monthly meetings and the Weekdays Outings, of which acted as co-convenor for several years. He led many outings for the group and his meticulous research and knowledge of the chosen area and its birds was always a highlight.
He carried his birding knowledge and enthusiasm into several areas of his life, especially enjoying private trips with experts like John Barkla and the late Fred TH Smith. Another great friend and birding mentor has been Graeme Hosken.
Together with his wife Bonnie, a knowledgeable plantswoman and a keen-eyed birder, Norman relished life at their holiday home at Kennett River and the two explored most of the Otway Ranges as well as much of Australia.
He was always a low-key birder and even when his personal bird-list was well past a total aspired to by many, he took as much pleasure in showing newcomers the brilliance of an Eastern Rosella in bright sunshine or an Eastern Yellow Robin perching quietly on a tree trunk as he did in adding something new to his own list.
Norman and Bonnie at Kennett River.
(Photographer: Roy Huse; Obituary by Leonie Robbins, Weekdays Outings BirdLife Melbourne)
Bird lists from outings have been posted on the MELBOCA Website (revised to the BirdLife Melbourne Local Website following the amalgamation) since Outing No 1 at Yellingbo on 4 February 2007. This outing produced a list of 37 species. For many years the total number of species seen on outings was always greater than the number of outings. This was undoubtedly helped by the Photography Group venturing to Bendigo and Echuca for extended outings. However, slowly but surely, and finally on Outing No 270, again at Yellingbo, on 3 June 2012, the number of outings and the total number of species seen became equal. Since then the gap has widened, with the number of outings (now 370) steadily surpassing the total number of 295 species seen.
But it hasn’t all been bad news as outing participants have seen some great birds to add to our list in 2013. These include Northern Shoveler, Southern Giant-Petrel, Grey Goshawk, Arctic Jaeger, Orange-bellied Parrot and Sooty Owl.
As I post bird lists from recent outings I now wonder when we will get the extra 5 species to take us from our current number of 295 to 300. I look at the list of species seen and wonder what is so hard, with a bit of determination and a few extra kilometres, in finding a Terek Sandpiper, a Ruff, a Gull-billed Tern, an Eastern Koel, a Dollarbird, a Grey-crowned Babbler or a Spotted Quail-thrush, 5 of which are probably the most likely to get us to 300.
Of course if one of the outings was to venture on a pelagic we could get them all in one go. It would just need a couple of the frequently seen Albatrosses, a Storm-Petrel, a Petrel and a Shearwater other than Short-tailed Shearwater. Not a big ask for a more adventurous outing.
The BirdLife Australia Working List of Birds now includes Greylag Goose and Muscovy Duck, but I am not that desperate to accept these species without concrete evidence that these aren’t just stray ferals and are in fact a member of a sustainable wild population. I have just about dismissed these species as potential additions.
So that is the challenge for outing leaders – another 5 species to get us to 300. When will it happen?
At the invitation of the South Alphington & Fairfield Civic Association, BirdLife Melbourne participated in the Alphington Wetlands Music Festival on Sunday 17 November. Fortunately our role was not to perform on stage but to staff an information marquee with other environmental groups, including the Friends of Merri Creek and the Darebin Parklands Association who had their own marquees.
After a horrific few days weatherwise in the lead up week, the weather was great – blue sky, low 20’s, lots of sunshine and a very gentle breeze. This no doubt contributed to the high numbers who attended the festival. I estimate that we had up to 300 people stop at our marquee. Many were families, the kids enticed to stop with the offer of some bird swap cards and the parents then checking out the display of BirdLife Australia material that was on show. The Victorian Birds in Backyard A4 handouts were probably the biggest hit with the adults, many checking through the birds displayed pointing out to one of our volunteers all the birds they had seen in their garden.
The several BirdLife Melbourne Committee Members who worked shifts throughout the day answered numerous questions, promoted BirdLife Australia and BirdLife Melbourne and tried to identify birds seen by many from some very vague descriptions.
It was a great community day with many families sitting on the grass to listen to the music, but more importantly for BirdLife Melbourne, gave us exposure to many people who expressed some interest in birds.