“A misty, moisty morning in the merry month of May” did not really apply to a cold foggy start to the day but still 15 people met at the Troups Creek car park. John Bosworth led our group and the incessant traffic noise from the adjacent Hallam Road faded slightly as we walked out. Recently the grass had been mowed – so considerate – and we greatly appreciated the shorter grass which meant minimum water on trouser legs.
Both areas, Troups Creek and River Gums, are part of the flood mitigation planning by Melbourne Water and BirdLife Melbourne has succeeded BOCA in performing the monthly surveys of the birds living in and around the plantings and ponds. The nearer ponds were not crowded with birds but a few Purple Swamphens and Eurasian Coots foraged around the edges and Welcome Swallows and Rainbow Lorikeets flew over. A Spotted Pardalote was heard from the garden trees to the south. Heading north initially we heard, then saw, Superb Fairy-wrens in the reed beds while Masked Lapwings were unexpectedly common – at least eight adults were sharing one grassy area. Further on a “conference” of about 20 Australian Magpies took place on the short grass where grubs were accessible but the birds dispersed as we approached.
There have been extensive plantings to generate patches of bush in the zone and a recent one of these hosted numerous European Goldfinches. Some of the ponds carried Hoary-headed Grebes but it was not till after lunch that we encountered Australasian Grebes at the River Gum wetlands. The morning, in contrast, had Red-browed Finches flitting between the bushes beside the ditch by the surfaced path. Both the ditch and its sides showed the flood levels of the rain about three weeks previously when the flood mitigation design of the basin had been tested and passed with flying colours. Ducks were Pacific Black, Chestnut and Grey Teal and Australian Wood Duck plus a few Black Swans, including a nesting pair. Other waterbirds included Australian White and Straw-necked Ibis, a Great Egret and both White-faced and White-necked Herons. Both male and female Australasian Darters were present at Troups and a pair of Black-winged Stilts at River Gum was interesting as we could compare the adult plumage with that of the immature.
The highlight for many started with the call of “Bittern!” It really was an Australasian Bittern which flushed and then flew around us in circles giving everyone excellent opportunities to study its markings under differing light conditions. It was a “lifer” for at least four people (including one who’d given up and consigned the species to the mythical category). Happily walking back to the cars, we then moved to River Gum Creek and lunch. Our numbers were reduced in the afternoon as several had other afternoon activities scheduled.
Raptors had not been common as the early fog would not have produced useful thermals but several species flew in the sunnier afternoon – Black-shouldered Kite and Nankeen Kestrel were seen by most and Peregrine Falcon and Brown Goshawk by a couple then the “Bird Call bird” appeared – indubitably an Australian Hobby pair – as we totalled up the day. Quite a finish for a day as we counted 54 species for the group. We thanked John enthusiastically for sharing his knowledge of the zone.
Thirty-three members gathered at the Visitor Centre in overcast conditions and entered the wildlife enclosure where a female Golden Whistler, a Grey Fantail and Brown Thornbills were seen just inside the gate. From the bird hides several species were recorded, including Hoary-headed Grebe, Black Swan and White-faced Heron. An Eastern Grey Kangaroo and a Swamp Wallaby added to the interest as the members began the walk up towards the Wetlands Lookout.
Swamp Gums were flowering alongside the track which attracted several species of Honeyeater, including Yellow-faced, White-eared and New Holland, as well as Red and Little Wattlebirds. Unfortunately rain started to fall heavily as the group followed the Woodland Walk. Few birds were seen until a lone (captive) Emu was spotted as we approached the gate leading back to the car park.
An early lunch was taken under the veranda outside the Visitor Centre, during which the rain-clouds cleared, giving way to some welcome sunshine. Noisy Miners were evidently very interested in our food but a pair of Masked Lapwings took no notice whatsoever and continued their foraging in the adjacent paddock.
Afterwards, the group walked up towards the old homestead where several Parrot species were observed at close quarters. Eastern Rosellas and Rainbow Lorikeets were the most colourful, enhanced by the bright sunlight. Walking along the Farmland Track members were entertained by two litters of young free-range piglets which came rushing up to the fence. Shortly afterwards a Black-shouldered Kite was seen perched on a nearby dead tree, enabling everyone to get a good look.
After returning to the car park another track was taken alongside Balcombe Creek, where a pair of Eastern Yellow Robins provided members with a great view as they repeatedly darted from the shrubs to the path for food. A Grey Shrike-thrush, a Common Bronzewing and Numerous Superb Fairy-wrens were amongst other birds seen on this final walk.
The day’s tally was a creditable 50 species (not counting the Emu), which was felt to be very good for an excursion at this time of year in less than perfect weather conditions.
The forecast of a day of 30o did not deter 23 bird watchers from meeting. Our leader was Bill Ramsay whose timing ensured that a falling tide allowed us to walk out along the causeway to the island almost dry shod. The car park sounded with calls of wattlebird and raven while Black Swans paddled by in small groups, apparently unfazed by the early morning salt water exercising of horses from the near horse farms. The beach north of the car park was noteworthy for the crowd of about 100 Masked Lapwings which vastly outnumbered the few Silver Gulls.
We concentrated on the beach but the adjacent heathy grassland sounded occasionally to calls of Superb Fairy-wren, Australian Raven and Striated Fieldwren. A young Black-shouldered Kite perched distantly on a dead tree and a male and female White-fronted Chat foraged at the upper end of the beach. Walking was variable and more challenging when we reached the rockier sections. The vegetation was interesting with sea grass draping the lower sections of the mangroves and salt bushes. Near the causeway Black Swans congregated, at least 100 of them in the shallows. Distant views of a pair of Australian Pied Oystercatchers and a solitary Eastern Curlew took some work.
As we reached promising areas we added Little Pied, Little Black and Pied Cormorants with list highlights of Great Egret, Royal Spoonbill and Pacific Gull. Then we reached areas of shallow ponds and waders. Scopes up again! Double-banded Plover, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Red-necked Stint came first and then Red-capped Plover and Curlew Sandpiper were added later.
Much discussion occurred over the identification of a godwit but eventually the bird changed position and a confident call of ‘Bar-tailed Godwit’ rang out. Out to the end where we were delighted by a flock of about 20 Pacific Golden Plovers (a few in traces of breeding plumage) and about 20 Ruddy Turnstones with a solitary Grey-tailed Tattler perched on a rock at water’s edge.
Lunch seated on driftwood or seagrass drifts was a welcome relaxation and then the party divided into the northern ‘rockhoppers’ and the southern ‘gentle walkers’. The former did not add more species but the ‘gentlefolks’ succeeded in locating a previously elusive Red-capped Plover definitively. Not an addition to the group list but personally satisfying to those who’d missed it before. A welcome cool breeze rose about 1pm and fanned hot brows on the return walk. Back at the cars a few departed but most stayed on for bird call where a gratifying total of 45 species was recorded. Not only the total but the composition was much appreciated and we thanked Bill for his work and preparation which went into this successful day.