Weather forecasts gave high winds and possible storms so the park was closed for safety reasons. Early arrivals birded in the car park and Susan Clark and Pam Hearn, our leaders from BirdLife Mornington Peninsula, checked with the ranger who confirmed the gates were locked. A fall-back walk had been planned for just such a situation and so we continued car park birding till all the group had assembled. We were 11 people (5 from Mornington and 6 from Melbourne) and the car park bird list included Australian Wood Duck, Noisy Miner, Crested Pigeon, Eastern Rosella, Rainbow Lorikeet, Masked Lapwing and Little Raven.
In clear weather we set off on the Balcombe Creek trail, partly boardwalk and partly track, heading towards Nepean Highway. Along the way we added Straw-necked and Australian White Ibis overhead and Australian Magpie in the open country. The path passes under the highway, reassuringly, and runs beside the creek where different water plants were growing in its bed and waving in a good flow of water. Off-leash areas for dogs were popular and the dogs and their owners were quite interested in us, too. Brown Thornbills and White- browed Scrubwrens were initially heard then quickly seen by some. Other watchers had to persevere for their sightings.
Human use of the area included water extraction and we passed numerous pipes. An old quarry seemed well overgrown. It had provided stone for Nepean Highway and then been taken over as an army rifle range in WWII. After the war army apprentices had used it till they were moved to Albury in 1982. It languished until the Balcombe Estuary Reserves Group (BERG) took over weeding it in 2011. This was enhanced by spraying for blackberries which allowed successful planting of indigenous vegetation. Wildlife habitat returned, especially for small birds which had previously been using the blackberries. The planting now appears quite natural and we wouldn’t have guessed the amount of work BERG (formerly the Balcombe Estuary Rehabilitation Group) had poured into the area.
We headed slowly toward the beach, turning off the main track to visit the Ferrero Reserve where the open area of the sports grounds yielded Galah, Straw-necked Ibis, Crested Pigeon, Australian Magpie and Noisy Miner. A pair of Grey Butcherbirds called melodiously from the top of the cricket nets. Now elapsed time indicated that lunchtime was quite a walk away so we started our return. The creek estuary broadens in the lower reaches and information boards indicated the fish which might be seen. Not today, unfortunately. Superb Fairy-wrens ran around in the low vegetation quite near the houses across the track. Further back toward the park there were areas of open small trees which “fair cried out” for some Eastern Yellow Robins and there the birds were seen. The boardwalk sections of the track are marked as “slippery when wet” but today they were dry and no challenge. Once everyone reunited at the information centre there was lunch and bird call. Twenty-five species had been seen: a very creditable result for a day of approaching storm. The wind was starting gust though the sky was still blue so we decided to stop there to give people a chance to drive home before any storm. We thanked Susan and Pam for their careful planning which had resulted in a good morning’s birding in the teeth of Victorian weather.
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.
Thirty-six members met at the Visitor Centre on a fine but cool day and began the walk into the feral-fenced wetlands area. The larger of the two hides provided the most interest, including Australasian Grebes and Eastern Great Egret. Continuing uphill to the lookout on the Woodland Track, highlights were a pair of Eastern Yellow Robins, a White-eared Honeyeater and several New Holland Honeyeaters. Old gum trees provided many hollows, already being investigated by Galahs, Eastern Rosellas and Rainbow Lorikeets. The mournful call of a female Fantail Cuckoo was heard whilst Spotted Pardalotes and Grey Shrike-thrushes quietly foraged in the tree canopy. Back at the car park 60+ Little Corellas were feeding close by.
After lunch most of the group walked up to the Homestead disturbing, en route, a mixed flock of Australian White and Straw-necked Ibis which gave a wonderful display of silent formation flying. In contrast, a huge ragged flock of wailing Little Corellas temporally deafened some of the group, one of which likened the experience to rush-hour in an East Asian capital city. A Black-shouldered Kite and a Nankeen Kestrel were seen over nearby paddocks and a family of Wood Ducks moved aside as we headed back to the cars.
A total of 50 species was recorded at the end of a relaxed and enjoyable outing.
Starters numbered 18 as we met in the car park under low grey skies. John Bosworth led and the former quarry site was an eye-opener to those who hadn’t visited before. Quarry bottoms were now rush-fringed ponds. Quarry edges were covered with extensive established plantings of native and introduced vegetation except where the steepness afforded views of the underlying basalt geology. Birds were numerous despite the proximity of housing and we started well with numerous Eastern Spinebill around the car park, a life species for some of us.
Other honeyeaters were White-plumed, New Holland and Little and Red Wattlebird. Waterbird species were limited to Pacific Black Duck, a couple of Hardhead, numerous Eurasian Coot, a few Dusky Moorhen and several grebes which caused intense observation and some discussion before it was accepted that there was a mix of Hoary-headed and Australasian Grebe.
Up and around we walked, taking in the view from the Hoo Hoo Tower despite the grey day. No raptors were observed but an obliging Common Bronzewing pleased many. Down to the visitor centre for lunch followed by a bird call recording 33 species for the area before some of us needed to leave.
The wetlands south of Golf Links Road, Narre Warren, which is a Melbourne Water survey site, was next visited. This is a grassed low-lying area with scattered plantings of trees beside a housing development. Here recent rain had brim-filled the low levels and frogs were calling (as they were at Wilsons). No mud was visible and naturally no mud feeders, though the ducks were numerous and included Grey and Chestnut Teal and ‘dinner’ ducks of indeterminate parentage. A pair of Black Swan was displaying to each other and giving us a good view of their white plumage. Our only raptor today was a Black-shouldered Kite perching and hovering.
Masked Lapwing and White-faced Heron flew. Then a flock of Straw-necked and Australian White Ibis was examined unsuccessfully for spoonbills and some saw an Australian Pelican soaring high. Introduced birds included Common Blackbird, numerous Common Starling, a few Common Myna, a small flock of European Goldfinch and a solitary Common Greenfinch. More appreciated were brief views of a Golden-headed Cisticola and a male Superb Fairy-wren in full breeding plumage. Back to the cars and a bird call which recorded 40 species for the site. This gave us a total for the day of 52 species and we thanked the leader for showing us areas so unexpectedly rich.
Sixteen gathered under grey skies but the morning stayed dry. Leaders were David and Sue Ap-Thomas and the car park included Crested Pigeon and Eastern Rosella.
Noisy Miner and Rainbow Lorikeet were plentiful and the vineyard contained a large gathering of Common Blackbird but these commoners were dismissed when we started walking the wetland walk and sharp eyes spotted an extremely well-camouflaged Tawny Frogmouth. Scat on the track alerted us to the presence of Emu (three birds have been introduced to the reserve).
At the bird hide we initially thought little present except a few Pacific Black Duck, but as we waited behind the one-way windows the list grew to include Australasian Grebe, Great Egret, White-faced Heron and Purple Swamphen with a fluffy youngster.
A single Emu approached closely and then the deep drumming note was heard (for the first time by several of our group). Bush birds were distant here but Eastern Yellow Robin, New Holland Honeyeater and Grey Fantail joined our list. Spotted Pardalote called persistently and finally we started seeing them though Mistletoebird was only detected by its call. A Black-shouldered Kite was the first raptor of the day.
White-eared Honeyeater added to the honeyeater collection and Superb Fairy-wren called from the bracken understorey. Cockatoos were Galah and Sulphur-crested Cockatoo joined at lunchtime a lone Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo flying past. Walking the boardwalk we added Red-browed Finch and Golden Whistler. Brown Thornbill was the only thornbill observed. Alarm calls alerted us to the possible presence of raptors during the walk. On the first occasion only one person caught a brief glimpse of a low swooping raptor but on later alerts we added Whistling Kite and Brown Goshawk while some also saw Nankeen Kestrel.
The skies darkened and rain started after lunch, making birding difficult as binoculars were sheltered and raindrops spattered on glasses. Birds seemed undeterred and Brown-headed Honeyeater challenged identification skills as they moved swiftly in a monochrome world of leaves. Back to the shelter of the visitor centre and an early bird call.
The final total was 52 species, several people had listed ‘lifers’ and numbers of us resolved to revisit soon. It was smiles all round as we thanked David and Sue for a great day.