You can absolutely see many birds without ever getting up early. It’s true that birds are often more active in the earliest of mornings, and some species might only be seen then, but there are also hundreds of species that you can see at 11AM as well. As long as you travel around a bit, you can literally find new species for years before having to get up early.
2. You must travel to exotic locations
Definitely false! Of the 219 species we’ve seen in Australia so far, we’ve seen 61 in Melbourne, though Melbourne was not always the first place we saw them. Just check out eBird and see how many cool birds are spotted just around the corner. Birds are everywhere. That’s the cool thing about them.
But don’t expect to see the Night Parrot in Melbourne. Eventually you’ll probably want to travel a bit: we’ve driven almost 5000km just to get up to 219 species (and counting)!
3. You need to know the difference between scapulars and tertials to be a birder
That is, you need to know about bird anatomy. A little technical knowledge can enhance bird appreciation but it is not at all necessary for the vast majority of bird identification problems. Most birds are easy to identify. All it takes a field guide and some patience.
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.
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.
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!
Long-time readers probably know that we only have two guaranteed years in Australia, so I’ve been strict with myself with regard to buying books. I know that any book I buy will be one I’ll have to take with me or get rid of, and getting rid of books is not something I do easily. So, it must mean something when I bought “Finding Australian Birds” by Tim Dolby and Rohan Clarke.
This book is a summary of hundreds of birding sites across Australia, including those crazy little islands I’ll sadly never visit. I found it in a public library, and after taking it out and renewing it about a dozen times I finally decided I had to buy it.
Yes folks, this book is good. It’s primary purpose is to give you a solid idea of some great birding sites around different places you might visit or live in. Each site starts with a list of “key species” (i.e. species we never see) and “other species”. The description itself usually say something cool about the place, a little about how to navigate it, and what birds you can find. In short, Finding Australian Birds is an excellent first approximation to all your birding adventures. With pictures on almost every page, it also provides a nice mind-trip to those spots that you might not ever get a chance to visit.
Is a book like this still relevant in this day and age of eBird? Absolutely. A book like this is an excellent complement to eBird. Unlike eBird, Finding Australian Birds gives a compact but detailed overview of an area, its birds, and its general feel. eBird then can be used to fine-tune plans with its continuously updated data. In my mind, this book and eBird make a superb team.
Along with a field guide, Finding Australian Birds should be on every birder’s shelf in Australia. Will it help you find the Night Parrot? No. But it’s a good start!
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.
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.
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!
Want to know my favourite Australian bird? White-throated Needletail? Sure, that was a cool chance encounter that lasted all of five seconds, but it wasn’t my favourite. What about White-winged Black Tern? Again, neat, but it looks like all the other Terns except it turns black sometimes. In fact, my favourite is the Purple Swamphen!
Although common, the Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) has a lot of character. Once at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens we saw it slowly advance on a Dusky Moorhen until the moorhen was forced backwards off the lawn into a pond. Another time we flushed one and it ran like hell into the reeds, instead of flying like a typical bird. Just take a look at this Purple Swamphen party at the Western Treatment Plant:
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.
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.
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 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.
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, 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.
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”