It never ceases to amaze us that forests teeming with wildlife still exist so close to Melbourne. Take the Warrandyte State Park for example: just 30 minutes drive from the CBD is an almost alien world (to city slickers) of crisp, unpolluted air, rich history, thick forests, a multitude of bird species, and even koalas!
Based on bird lists posted on Eremaea, we set off on a day trip with three scheduled stops to find Mistletoebirds at Pound Bend, a pair of Powerful Owls at Jumping Creek Reserve, and Brown Goshawks at Mount Lofty. We didn’t spot a single target species, but we had a wonderful time nonetheless. There’s no rule stating that failure can’t be enjoyable, right?
Back in 1870, a mining company had a bright idea to cut a 200m tunnel through hard rock at Pound Bend to divert the Yarra River, thereby exposing a few square kilometres of riverbed that could be easily mined for gold. The tunnel remains to this day, but the mighty Yarra wasn’t tamed, and the company went bust soon after.
The tunnel was a mere 50m walk from the carpark/well-maintained picnic area, and during the two-minute walk, we recorded Rainbow Lorikeets, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Pied Currawongs, and Grey Fantails, to name just a few species. No Mistletoebirds yet, but the day was young (or so we thought).
The rocks were sharp and were no doubt slippery when wet; the raging torrent of water was quite intimidating to non-swimmers like us, but luckily my stunt double was brave (foolish?) enough to seize the photo opportunity on my behalf.
We then walked in the opposite direction, back past the carpark, and along the Yarra for about 45 minutes to see if any birds were still about at 11am. It was a pleasant walk, helped by the bright sun, cool temperature, still air, and flat surface. I remember noting to myself that this was a fantastic short walk for the mobility-impaired and parents with baby strollers.
Although quite common, Spotted Pardalotes and Striated Pardalotes are notoriously difficult to see because they are some of Australia’s tiniest birds, they fly very quickly, and they usually stick to the canopies of tall trees. Consequently, we were extremely pleased to see scores of them in fantastic lighting on low branches. Unfortunately, all of the photographs we took of the birds were out of focus!
Some of the less common birds ticked during the riverside walk included Eastern Yellow Robin, a very vocal Grey Shrike-thrush, a well-camouflaged Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, and an energetic White-eared Honeyeater – the latter kept flitting from one branch to the next, making photographing it near impossible.
The honeyeater was a lifer (i.e. a bird we had never seen before), so we were happy to leave Pound Bend, despite not seeing a Mistletoebird. (A birder later posted online that Mistletoebirds were out and about that day behind the toilets, so we were a bit disappointed that bodily functions were the only things on our minds when we made pitstops before heading off.)
Jumping Creek Reserve
Fifteen minutes later and a few kilometres further up the Yarra River at Jumping Creek Reserve, we were on the hunt for Powerful Owls. We walked along the Yarra for half an hour and barely saw any birds, bar the ubiquitous Brown Thornbills, so we decided to turn back and call it a day. With the carpark just 100m away, I stopped suddenly, looked down on the forest floor, and then carefully began scanning the treetops. The reason for my strange behaviour, was that I had seen fresh gum leaves on the floor, surrounded by slightly elongated poo that was larger and lighter in colour than possum poo: tell-tale signs of a Koala being nearby! Soon we were rewarded with the wonderful sight of a lone koala swaying in the wind at the top of a gum tree. Upon closer inspection, we realised that a bird was constantly pecking away at his rump, then flying away for a second, only to start tormenting the koala again. The villain was none other than a White-eared Honeyeater – a species we had seen for the first time only hours earlier!
Although we didn’t see the Powerful Owls, we headed off to Mount Lofty with smiles on our faces, pleased with the fact that one of Australia’s most iconic marsupials can be seen just 30km from Federation Square.
Having not seen the Brown Goshawks yet, we decided to make the exhausting climb to the top of Mount Lofty. The view from the top of the hill was breathtaking, which compensated only slightly for the lack of birds. To be fair though, 3pm on a sunny day is probably the most unproductive time to be out birding, though it’s a great time to see Eastern Grey Kangaroos lounging.
I snapped a few shots and was reviewing them on my camera, when Imka cried out “raptor behind you!”. By the time I had spun around, all I could see was the rear-end of a brown raptor being chased by a pair of angry Australian Magpies. They weren’t the only angry ones, because I was fuming that I had missed the opportunity to get a clear view of the bird, and Imka wasn’t pleased that she couldn’t identify the bird due to the glare. (Note: in bright sunlight, birds often appear as silhouettes, making their colourations and feather patterns impossible to ascertain.)
With more than thirty species of birds, a koala, and a mob of kangaroos recorded in half a day’s worth of leisurely bushwalking, Warrandyte State Park is a refreshing escape from the city and suburbia. Although we didn’t see any of our target species, we had a wonderful day out, just twenty minutes from home.