The early weather predictions sounded unfavourable but as the date approached the rain was to fall on either side of the 12thand this certainly encouraged birdwatchers to turn out, be they new to the challenges or long-experienced. Twenty-four gathered in the car park between the archery field and the aero club where other enthusiasts followed their choice. Elsmaree Baxter led our group and commented how the day was less flooded than she had once experienced it, though a small dog of the archery group had to be lifted out of a too-deep wet ditch. Not many birds on the open grounds – the ‘usual suspects’, Australian Magpies, several Magpie-larks and a couple of Crested Pigeons used the grassed areas with visits from Galahs and a solitary Masked Lapwing.
Little Ravens perched on a near tree while Rainbow Lorikeets flew over. We headed into the bush area where the party became a long skein of watchful birdos. Common Bronzewings were a welcome sight and the piercing calls of Grey Currawongs were new for several people and were compared with the Pied calls.
A few Noisy Miners were detected near the edge of the bush and the tinkling calls of Bell Miners sounded round the water’s edges. Tiny calls from tiny birds marked the location of small groups of Silvereyes and Grey Fantails foraging acrobatically high in the foliage. Waterbirds were mostly noted as fly-overs – a Silver Gull, a female Australasian Darter, Australian White and Straw-necked Ibises – while a small pond yielded our only Pacific Black Duck and White-faced Heron.
No raptors were seen though the bill of a Grey Butcherbird looked formidable. By walk’s end we had a bird list for the group totaling 49 species and we thanked Elsmaree for all her preparation which had given such a satisfactory result for a site so close to the city .
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.
The previous weekend’s deluge did not deter 23 people from assembling. An erroneous cancellation notice in the website may have worried others but we do NOT cancel except when a fire ban is declared in the area of the walk. It takes more than rain to stop birders.
The weather was reasonably fine with only some light drizzle and our stand-in leader, Elsmaree Baxter, had already checked that walking was feasible for a good distance along the main river trail, (and was prepared to access detours if any of the weekend flooding remained near the billabong). Birds were soon recorded and it was reassuring that the preceding weather had not diminished their activity. The car park area had flyovers of Silver Gull and both Australian White and Straw-necked Ibis. Bird numbers rose as the party reached the bush beside the water. Fan-tailed Cuckoo and Shining Bronze-Cuckoo were both heard as were Common Bronzewing and Spotted Pardalote. Water’s edge yielded White-faced Heron, Australasian Darter and both Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants. Two families of Tawny Frogmouths were spotted by sharp eyed members of the group.
Delight was universal when a group of Scarlet Honeyeaters was seen high in a tree beside the path. “Lifers” for some and still greatly appreciated by the rest. Fortunately the flooding near the billabong had cleared, but damp ground and flattened grass showed where the river had flowed across the path to fill the billabong. Pacific Black and Australian Wood Ducks were there, as were Grey and Chestnut Teal, undoubtedly avoiding the (still) turbulently flowing waters of the river.
Unfortunately a low point was the observation of an Indian Ringneck in the company of some Galahs. It was possibly an aviary escape but they are a declared noxious pest, becoming very successful invasive hollow nesters wherever they have become established. They have displaced native birds in the UK and Turkey, among other places.
All agreed that the area had provided excellent birding and thanked Elsmaree for proceeding with the outing.