5 September 2017
Photographs by Bevan Hood, member BirdLife Melbourne
The weather forecast could best be described as dire, with rain, hail and wind among the expected attractions. Still, there were nine slightly apprehensive birdwatchers gathered by the reserve entrance. Graeme Hosken was leader and his experience from several years of surveys allowed him to take an optimistic stance. The reserve is in a rain shadow which results in mixed flora, including Mallee due to the dry conditions. The creeks have cut through the sedimentary rocks and the resulting valleys were sheltered from the strongest of the wind gusts. Still there were few birds around the entrance and we walked some distance before the occasional calls of Superb Fairy-wren and Spotted Pardalote gave way to glimpses of Brown-headed Honeyeaters and Grey Fantails. An Australian Raven called in the distance and the closer calls of a White-eared Honeyeater were not the usual “chock” but more complex so both of these caused some discussion. Recent rain had fallen, if the greening of moss in patches was any evidence and Echidnas’ broad scratches showed in many of the ant mounds we passed. The ‘Steep Track’ lived up to its name and required careful planning and placement of feet. However the creek at the bottom was actually flowing and bird twitters were frequent though sightings were mostly of fairy-wrens and fantails. A lone Australian Wood Duck was the closest to a water bird for the walk. Our walk was cut short, however, when we arrived at the ford to find it well covered with water – gum boots might have crossed but no one was wearing them – so we turned back and eventually lunched by the entrance. Here the birding had improved compared to the morning and small flocks of honeyeaters flew past us while we sat.
After lunch we drove the few kilometres to Lake Merrimu where the wind was whipping up white caps on the water surface and scopes would have been made useless by excessive wind judder. Initially few birds were seen but then flocks of cockatoos, Little Corellas and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, flew over calling. Then we started adding more – Common Starlings on a wooden gate, Magpie-larks in the paddock, a flock of Little Ravens against a stormy sky. Welcome Swallows demonstrated their aerial ability as they swooped near and through a wire fence. Then we watched carefully as two White-plumed Honeyeaters harassed a Red Wattlebird. Were they defending a nesting site? A Willie Wagtail foraged near a grazing cow. The western sky looked threatening and so we called it a day.
The bird count was 30 species in total – 22 for Long Forest and 11 for Lake Merrimu – and we thanked Graeme for sharing his knowledge of this unique area. By the way, it didn’t rain on people till they had left the reserve well behind.
Diane Tweeddale, coordinator BirdLife Melbourne weekdays outings