Some memories of the Western Treatment Plant

By now we’ve spent hundreds of hours birding and have seen 359 species (yes, I should update the official list). My favourite place by far is still the Western Treatment Plant (WTP) in Victoria, Australia. It requires a permit and it’s just for birders. It smells like sewage at times, but what I wouldn’t give to smell that sewage once more.

Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena)

One of the first birds we saw here is Welcome Swallow. These can be seen in many places in Australia from parks in Melbourne all the way up to Northern Queensland. The Western Treatment plant is the first place I saw them by the thousands eating freshly spawned insects. It was also the first place I saw them perched.
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Melbourne’s Yarra Bend Park

Site Location: Melbourne, Australia

The Yarra Bend Park is the largest green space in Melbourne. Although it is urban, you can find quite a lot of fascinating things there.

Not just for birds!

Having once lived only a few minutes walk from it, we quickly became the eBirders with the highest number of submitted checklists for the park. I suspect that will change in the next year or so. Given that we’ve been so many times (far more tha indicated on eBird), this location post will be a little more detailed than the typical one. Due to where we walked, I will be talking about the following areas indicated by numbers on this map:


Before going to this park, I must emphasise that this park is a little seedy at times, with graffiti artists doing their thing and other odd elements. This is also a dog-friendly park, and sometimes there can be a lot of dogs, including many poorly-trained ones. The best times to avoid the dogs is definitely in the morning. However, many dog owners in this park also don’t pick up their dog feces, and we’ve stepped in it more than once despite trying to be careful.

Despite that huge warning, this park is definitely worth a look. You can minimise the weird stuff by going on weekdays, early in the mornings, during colder months, not during school holidays and definitely not around christmas.

Grey Butcherbird is one of four butcherbirds that can be seen in Australia, and it is the only one that can be seen in Melbourne.

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Britannia Conservation Area and Mud Lake

Site Location: Ottawa, Ontario (Canada)

I didn’t have high hopes for Britannia Conservation area, which is a 2.5km trail around Mud Lake. About 15km west of Parliament hill, Mud lake is a surprisingly good find for us. Here is the trail map that is also displayed at points along the trail:
When we first arrived here on a Saturday, there were dozens of cars parked along Cassels street. It looked so crowded I was convinced it would be a bust and I was half-ready to just go home and not even check it out. Luckily we tried anyway. It turned out that most of the people there (which I believe was a bunch of birdwatching groups) were sticking mostly to the trail north of Cassels street.

We parked at the water treatment plant parking lot, and went clockwise around the lake. As soon as we started, I was pleasantly surprised at how few people were on the trail, which to me hinted that not all the birds would be scared away. Right at the beginning, we found Hooded Merganser. We read that this place attracts ducks during fall migration, and Hooded Merganser is certainly not a bad start.

A little bridge at the beginning of the walk is a good place to see Black-capped Chickadee.
The path around the lake is excellent, and gives a surprising illusion of wilderness for such an urban area. There are several good lookout points along the way, and it makes good sense to look for any unusual species. We found American Wigeon for the first time here.
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The Wet Northern Queensland

We just came back from Northern Queensland, targeting three areas: Cairns, Kuranda, and Cape Tribulation. Our trip spanned March 10-17, which is near the end of the wet season. We had a few near planning mishaps: the Daintree ferry was out of operaton the previous week and heavy rains made many roades impassable. Thankfully, by the time we needed to use these roads, the flooding had receded.

Cairns

We spent two nights in Cairns.

We went to the Jack Barnes Mangrove Boardwalk after picking up our rental car. It was a great way to stretch after our flight. There are two walks, both providing wonderful views of the mangroves, crabs, and mudskippers.

We found this colourful crab in the mud of the mangrove forest floor.

Possibly because we did these walks in the middle of the day, we didn’t find many birds. We did get one new one: Pacific Golden Plover, feeding in the small field next to the start of the shorter walk. However, had we come earlier, we might have missed the crabs because of the higher tide.
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Wyperfeld and Little Desert NP

In October we visited two national parks in Northwestern Victoria: Little Desert and Wyperfeld. Both parks have many beautiful walking-only tracks and can be reached from Melbourne in five hours. Spring is a good time to go because of the wildflowers, and Wyperfeld is a great place to see some inland parrots. I would say that these two parks are probably the best parks in Victoria.

Little Desert NP

Kiata campground is close to many of the walks. We picked up our first new species on the short loop near this area: the White-browed Woodswallow. We also saw White-browed Babbler, Crested Pigeon, and Diamond Firetail, Weebill, and Brown-headed Honeyeater.
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Kakadu Yellow Water Cruise and Platform Walk

The Yellow Water is a massive river-wetland habitat in the heart of Kakadu. Visitors to Kakadu are privileged to have two ways to see it: there is a short walk of a few hundred meters along a platform that gives great views of a limited portion of the habitat, and the two-hour Yellow Water Cruise that gives extensive views of the habitat.

However, even though the platform walk is short, it actually gives pretty good views of wetland birds. On this walk, you can see Great, Intermediate, and Cattle Egret in large numbers. Other waterbirds like Magpie Goose, Nankeen Night Heron, Plumed Whistling Duck, Green Pygmy Goose, Australasian Darter, Comb-crested Jacana, Radjah Shelduck, and Royal Spoonbill are pretty much guaranteed. We even saw two Brolga mates. If you also visit other wetlands on a NT trip like the impressive Fogg Dam, Mamukala, and Anbangbang, you’ll probably see around 90% of all the possible wetland birds you could theoretically see without actually having to go on the cruise.

We had a great view of this Nankeen Night Heron right from the end of the Yellow Water Platform walk, with no need to go on the cruise.

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Melbourne’s Royal Park

My favourite birding site in Melbourne is Royal Park. It is less busy than Royal Botanic Gardens and not at all seedy like Yarra Bend Park. It is also one of the largest areas of green space in Melbourne and is one of the few places where you can see a few honeyeaters besides Noisy Miner and Red Wattlebird. On a typical hour visit we see around thirty species.

Much of the park is not interesting. In fact, when I first went to Royal Park I thought it was a waste of time, and that is because I went to the wrong spot. The right spot is the area starting from Royal Park Station heading to Trinwarren Tam-Boore wetlands and is a goldmine for birds. Start along the shared bike-pedestrian Capital City Trail, where one of the first birds you’ll probably see is Bell Miner. Crested Pigeon is also common along this path.

Bell Miner (Manorina melanophrys) is easy to find and is a pretty much guaranteed sighting. Just follow the unmistakeable bell-like calls. Photo by Jason Polak.

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Quick Top End Trip Summary

We recently took a twelve-day trip to the Top End of the Northern Territory: three days in Darwin, then the rest mostly in Kakadu returning with a stop at Pine Creek and Litchfield before returning back to Darwin to fly to Melbourne.

The Magpie Goose is rare in Victoria, but seeing hundreds is guaranteed in the Top End. Photo by Jason Polak.

Although I plan to write more posts on the trip including a detailed guide of Kakadu NP, readers may be interested in our complete bird list to get an idea of what is possible:
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Point Addis: Hey Rufous Bristlebird

Coming from the east, Point Addis is the first stop along Great Ocean Road. Surpisingly for such a small little area, it provides all sorts of outdoor entertainment: ocean cliff views, a sandy beach, and great birding. Point Addis is so nice that it would be a great place to go even without any birds.

Let’s take a look at the great features of Point Addis:

1. A Superb Lookout Point

This lookout point has a lovely walk to the edge where you can see pure ocean.

Just look at that inviting view! Photo by Jason Polak.

Some of the sights here and at the nearby Airey’s Inlet Coastal Reserve already give a pretty great sample of some the Great Ocean Road views. The lookout point is reputed to be a great seabird-watching area. As a matter of fact, we did see Black-browed Albatross, our first albatross! It was not easy to see much detail, and you might need a spotting scope or a 600mm lens to get a good view. The succulent scrub pictured is a good place to see New Holland Honeyeater as well. The star of the birding show is of course the Rufous Bristlebird, one of only three birds in the family Dasyornithidae in the world, and all three are in Australia!

Us: Hey Rufous Bristlebird, we woke up at 7AM for you! Rufous Bristlebird: Yum yum yum. Photo by Jason Polak.

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Warby-Ovens National Park

Warby Ovens is a beautiful park located about 230km north and slightly east of Melbourne. It has some great walks like the Friends track, a nice walk up to the summit of Mount Warby. This walk features interpretive signs along with a variety of habitats and good specimens of the slow-growing Austral Grass Trees, some of which are over a hundred years old! We also tried Pine Gully track. It has a nice view of the forest of the park without any glimpse of the endless farmland that covers much of Northern Victoria.

At Warby-Ovens we saw six new birds. We found Buff-rumped and Striated Thornbill. In typical thornbill fashion, these were hard to see clearly. Without taking several pictures of each we would not have been able to identify them. The thornbills are typically in the higher elevations of the park: a good place to look for them is along the Friend’s track and the driving tracks at higher elevations.

At Forest camp we also found Yellow-tufted and Fuscous Honeyeater. Although somewhat slower moving than the thornbills, these also were elusive, preferring the high canopy of the ironbark forest. I couldn’t get satisfying shots of them, but we got fairly good looks including a head-on view of the Yellow-tufted Honeyeater that really shows the tufts.We saw Grey Shrikethrush. It’s supposedly quite common closer to Melbourne but we’ve never seen it there.

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater. It has tufts! Photo by Jason Polak.

Our final find was a little controversial in my mind: two emus. Can anyone claim these fine creatures? They were quite curious and friendly. Since they were in a fenced field, I wasn’t sure if they were wild and hence counted for our list. Quite a few nice individuals responded to a message I posted on the Bird-Aus mailing list about it, and most agreed they were sufficiently wild, even if they might have long ago descended from some captive Emus. Although there is no way to be sure in a case like this, with a little reluctance I added them to the list.

Getting back to obviously wild birds, what about the key species of Turquoise Parrot? Sadly, we saw neither the Turquoise Parrot nor the Swift Parrot. But we did see Galah, Australian King Parrot, Crimson and Eastern Rosella. Besides parrots we also saw Pied Currawong, White-winged Chough, Eastern Spinebill, Jacky Winter, and Laughing Kookaburra.

If you can’t see birds, look at the stars! Photo by Jason Polak.

There were also some gems in the farmland bordering the park. As we were leaving, we saw White-faced Heron in the grass, and nearby was a Masked Lapwing and few Australian Wood Ducks. Another field had dozens of Straw-necked Ibis: an odd and pretty sight. Sometimes we saw an ibis near a cow. Now that’s weird. A multitude of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos were also present, and flew away unusually quickly when we tried to observe them. Maybe they thought we were going to shoot them?

Warby-Ovens is definitely a nice place to visit, and we hope to return one day to find the Turquoise Parrot. Highly recommended!

These currawongs were sad to see us go. Photo by Jason Polak.