An Ode to a Flock of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos

As I look out of my window at my desk, I hear a glorious high-pitched shriek. There – at the top of the tallest fir tree – are five yellow-tailed black cockatoos.

The birds leap into flight, careening through the air with a devil-may-care path. They swoop over my window with their yellow cheek patches flashing like a logo on a fighter jet. Their beaks open in a classic cockatoo smile.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen them this winter in Melbourne, but still something leaps in my chest, not unlike joy.

The first time was at the beginning of June. Our building’s gate wouldn’t open and we had to make an impromptu walk through Yarra Bend park. My mood was bitter and cross.

Suddenly, soaring across the trees, a flock of fifteen yellow-black cockatoos screamed into sight like a noisy team of gulls. They flew across the property and looped back into the park.

We raced after them – forgetting our earlier irritation with the gate – and ran across the wet grass. They settled in a group of eucalypts and turned perfectly silent, listening to the bark for tasty grubs.

Each time I see these birds, I experience the exhilaration of flight, because in Australia you don’t need any wings at all to fly.

 

How to Spot the Musk Lorikeet

So those of you who are regulars on “Bad Birding” will remember that I heavily lamented the lack of lorikeets besides the ever-present rainbow lorikeet in the Melbourne Area. Recently, Jason and I added musk lorikeet to our list.

Now I shall divulge our secrets so that you too can see the musk lorikeet! Yay!

1) Go to Royal Park. The most diverse area of the park to see birds is by far the wetland area. However, to spot the musk lorikeet I suggest starting in the area behind the Melbourne Zoo. This is the only place that we have seen this bird, and although we have seen it in other areas of the park, this is the location that we have seen it with the most consistency.

2) Next, check the flowering eucalyptus trees. If you see movement, check out what bird it is. The musk lorikeet is smaller than the rainbow lorikeet and blends in with its mostly green colouring, so you may have to look a bit harder to spot it. Also, don’t discount a tree just because you see rainbow lorikeets feeding on it. We have spotted musk on trees with rainbow lorikeets and noisy miners as well.

3) Listen. The musk lorikeet has a squawk that is higher pitched than the rainbow lorikeet. (This has actually helped me find it, so I mention it here.)

4) If you don’t spot it using the first three steps, don’t despair. Take a walk to the wetland area, look at other stuff, and come back to the area behind the zoo and try again. Sometimes we don’t it at first and then see a small flock flying to a tree later in the day.

Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens

Located near Melbourne CBD, the Royal Botanic Gardens consists of a variety of habitats such as lakes and different forests and plant collections from different parts of the world.

When’s a good time to go? Probably any time of the year will result in many of the birds mentioned below.However, I recommend going in the cooler months, as in the peak of summer the grounds get so crowded with tourists that it pretty much negates the enjoyment of seeing the plants and birds. And speaking of the birds…

The gardens has a stable Bell Miner colony in the northwest corner near the ornamental lake and seeing one is not difficult. You’ll know you’ve found the colony by the multiple short, bell-like calls that emanate from it. The ornamental lake is also a great site to see waterbirds, the most common probably being Purple Swamphen, Dusky Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Pacific Black Duck, and Grey and Chestnut Teal. Less numerous are Australasian Grebe, Hardhead, and Little Pied Cormorant. We’ve seen the Nankeen Night Heron twice.

The Australasian Grebe is often found in the ornamental lakes. Photo by Jason Polak

The most common parrots are Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and Rainbow Lorikeet. The other day someone on eBird saw a flock of Long-billed and Little Corellas, though this isn’t very common.

We’ve seen a few interesting species near the bathroom directly east from Rose Pavillion, including White-browed Scrubwren and Little Wattlebird. White-browed Scrubwen seems to keep to the forest floor and can be found under small bushes and around trees. Silvereye is often around, but difficult to see well because it moves around quickly. A good place to see it is near the glasshouse and Nymphaea Lily Lake. Eastern Spinebill is not always easy to find but a good time to see it could be May-June, when we’ve seen many.

The sneaky honeyeater Eastern Spinebill is a quick moving bird that seems easiest to see in the fall and early winter. Photo by Jason Polak.

There are also supposedly several other common small birds in the gardens that we’ve never found: Australian Reed-Warbler, Song Thrush, Golden Whistler, and Brown Thornbill. Oh, and of course the sneaky Spotted Pardalote! That’s not surprising though since it’s friend Striated Pardalote also gave us the slip in Terrick Terrick NP.

The Western Treatment Plant

The Western Treatment Plant, also known as ‘The Sewage Farm’ is one of my favourite places in Victoria, and it’s not because of the sewage. In fact, a lot of why I like this place is not even because it’s one of the richest birding spots in the south. I like this place because it’s quiet. Although popular with birders, it has fewer visitors than the average park and most of the time it has no people at all. And even when there are a few, birders mostly keep to themselves anyway.

The Western Treatment Plant has great scenery. You can sit by the ocean and appreciate the vast expanse of succulents and scrub, and if you’re there early in the summer you can see the huge purple thistles. Yes, this is indeed a peaceful place, and that’s probably why there are so many birds. In my mind there are three main types of birds around: the waterbirds, the raptors, and the skulking grass birds.

A typical view of the ocean at the plant: there are Black Swans, Silver Gulls, various ducks, and migrating shorebirds in the summer. Photo by Jason Polak.

The main birding attraction is probably the waterbirds such as the migratory shorebirds in the summer. There are hundreds of Red-necked Stints, and if you’ve got time to look you could probably identify several more in their feeding frenzy. Also present mostly in the summer are the difficult-to-identify terns. I suggest taking lots of pictures and examing them at home.
Continue reading “The Western Treatment Plant”

Why does this blog exist?

It might surprise you to know that a year ago, I wasn’t interested in birds. Coming to Australia changed that. Pretty soon after Emily and I arrived, we started ranking up species, starting with the Common Mynah and Rainbow Lorikeet. Now we’ve been here for nearly a year and we’ve got 138 species, the latest being the Crested Shrike-tit.

Birding is something we do in our spare time and we’re only here for two years in total, so we want to see as many birds as possible. One of our goals is to see 200 species, so we have 62 more to go. I hope we’ll probably see more than that.

This blog exists to chronicle some of our efforts. So do check back every once and a while and follow our progress!

Our Visit to Terrick Terrick National Park

Terrick Terrick National Park (TTNP) is located just over 200km north of Melbourne, and comprises of light forest and grasslands. There is a single campsite along with an outhouse and picnic area situated near a large rocky hill called Mount Terrick Terrick.

So how’s the birding? The picnic area abounds with little brown birds like Jacky Winter and Brown Treecreeper. Near the cemetery not far from the picnic area we saw White-browed babbler, Red-capped Robin, and one of either Brown Goshawk or Collared Sparrowhawk.

Reigel’s Rock – It’s a big rock.

Now there are two large rock formations in the park aside from Mount Terrick Terrick: Bennett’s Rock and Reigel’s Rock. In fact from the top of any of these, you can see the other two. Both sites are a meeting of the forest and rockier habitats and proved to be great birding. Reigel’s Rock was first on our list, and on the way we saw a kangaroo drinking site. This region is a little different than the more forested area of the park, being more sparse and rocky.
Continue reading “Our Visit to Terrick Terrick National Park”

Finally Tawny Frogmouth!

 

Our bird books all say the tawny frogmouth is a common bird in the Melbourne area and I’ve been keen to see it for a while. Whenever we go for a walk in Yarra Bend Park I always look at trees and point to a small piece of wood sticking up, believing that I’ve spotted it. Since, after all, the tawny frogmouth’s ability to blend in with eucalyptus bark is nothing short of legendary. Continue reading “Finally Tawny Frogmouth!”

Review: Pizzey and Knight’s “The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia”

Under review is the 9th edition of “The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia” by Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight, edited by Sarah Pizzey. It describes virtually every bird that can be seen in Australia including vagrants. Chances are, any bird you see will be in this book.

It contains excellent colour illustrations by Frank Knight. Each species is accompanied by a description of its appearance, voice, habitat, breeding times, eggs, and range and ecological status. The range is supplanted by a clear distribution map. To aid in finding a bird, the front and back cover contain a quick finding guide. The last part of the book contains short descriptions of all the bird families in Australia, which makes for interesting reading and can give additional valuable clues for identification. At 608 pages, it is perfect for short walks or the car, though it may be too heavy for some on longer backpacking treks into the outback.

Finding a species is usually easy. When the illustrations don’t provide enough for identification, often the hints in the text do. There were only a few types of birds that were difficult to identify. One is the family Charadriidae. For example, I could not distinguish between the Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers and I only came to a conclusion after consulting a specialised shorebird book.

Another type of cryptic birds are terns. Distinguishing terns is notoriously difficult and most of the time I give up. In the book, some of the terns are illustrated standing, flying from above and flying from below, but not all, which is frustrating. Then again, tern plumage is varied and never constant on an individual, so even illustrations from a given angle may not be enough for a definitive answer. To this end I have ordered an additional book on seabirds to see if I can improve my luck with terns. Ideally, I’d love an additional section for these tough groups including additional illustrations, descriptions, and photographs, though I understand that this may make the book too large.

Despite these few difficulties, the guide is detailed, accurate, and fun to browse. In summary, it is superb for anyone interested in finding and identifying Australian birds. Highly recommended.

Pied Currawong in Melbourne? Go to the cemetary

Some books will list places to find the more elusive species such as the Gang-gang Cockatoo or the Cape Barren Goose. For species like the Pied Currawong, usually only its preferred habitats are listed. However, I believe in listing some good locations for even the most common species, which can come in handy especially for visitors.

So where can you find the Pied Currawong in Melbourne? Try the south-western area of the Melbourne Cemetary. Although the Pied Currawong can be found or at least heard all over Melbourne, it’s often high in a tree refusing to pose for a picture. Not in the Melbourne Cemetary. Just past the south-west entrance there are a few smaller trees that are often visited by Pied Currawongs.

If you can’t find it there, try the south lawn of the University of Melbourne just after a light rain. Besides the Pied Currawong, there will probably be Magpies, Magpie-Larks, and even a couple of Masked Lapwings.