Happy new year! May all your birding dreams come true – whether it’s ticking a Night Parrot in Australia, an Imperial Woodpecker in the USA, or a Great Auk in Europe.
In the dying days of 2014, Imka and I planned three birding day-trips to try to push our year’s total to 175. Based on our online research and advice from other birders on the ‘Victorian Birders Facebook Group’, we decided on the following strategic outings, each of which will be covered in an independent blog post:
- Day 1: Seymour – A reliable spot for some inland birds at the southern edge of their ranges;
- Day 2: Toolangi Black Forest – A popular birding spot for species that prefer wet, temperate, mid-altitude forests;
- Day 3: You Yangs Western Plantation and Serendip Sanctuary – A good spot for birds that prefer drier forests.
Day 1 – Seymour
This small country town along the Goulburn River is approximately 120km north of the Melbourne CBD. It’s just a 1.5hr drive though, helped in no small part by the journey being mostly on the Hume Freeway at maximum permissible speeds of 110kmph along many stretches.
Our first stop was at ‘Lions Park‘ for the popular ‘Seymour River Walk‘. A few days prior to our trip, Dollarbirds and Little Friarbirds were reported along the river, and since both would have been lifers, we were very keen to tick them.
Manners Road is a cul-de-sac/dead-end, but instead of driving to the end of the road, we parked next to some small trees near the little roundabout overlooking the boat ramp. When we exited the vehicle at 9am we were overwhelmed by the cacophony of different bird songs coming from the trees all around us. We didn’t waste time donning our jackets (because we thought they would all fly away, which of course, they didn’t) and we quickly ticked Brown Thornbill, White-browed Scrubwren, Willie Wagtail, Grey Shrike-thrush, and Silvereye. Suddenly Imka shouted “Kingfisher!”, and there, on a branch, almost at eye-level and just 10m away, was a magnificent Sacred Kingfisher: our first lifer, just five minutes into the day!
Our first task was finding the Little Friarbirds that were, according to reports from the day before, “about 60m back along the access road (i.e. Manners Road)”. We expected to hear their distinctive calls, but the trees were eerily quiet. After fifteen persistent minutes of staring skyward, we spotted one adult, then two juvenile Little Friarbirds: our second lifer in half an hour, and we had barely left the carpark! Although they were quite high up in the trees and kept flitting from branch to branch, the Little Friarbirds didn’t seem too bothered by our presence or the cars driving on the unsealed (and dusty!) road. We enjoyed their company for another ten minutes, before making a pit stop at the toilet block which was just 100m further along Manners Road. (It’s worth noting that there are toilets at the service station on the Hume Freeway just south of the Seymour turnoff, and there is a McDonalds Restaurant in the town centre.)
We then walked to the small jetty next to boat ramp, and right on cue, we saw the distinctive flash of white flight feathers of a small bird performing aerial acrobats above the trees on the opposite river bank. Imka was sure that it was a Dollarbird, but since we had never seen one before, I wasn’t prepared to tick it from a fleeting glimpse of a distant bird, especially since I secretly thought that it could be a Common Myna. Consequently, we commenced the ‘river walk’ in an easterly direction from the car park, but not before snapping the most adorable photo of a Willie Wagtail on a tiny nest. Less than twenty minutes into a casual walk adhering to our new mantra of “look, listen, stop”, we saw a White-throated Treecreeper, a couple of Laughing Kookaburras, many Crimson Rosellas, as well as another Little Friarbird and Sacred Kingfisher – two species that eluded us until an hour prior!
We were determined to get a clear, prolonged view of a Dollarbird, and after an hour of scanning the trees on the opposite river bank, we finally found one perched on a bare branch: lifer number three! It was so far away that it could only be fully appreciated with binoculars or Imka’s new Tamron 150mm-600mm lens. Still, a tick is a tick.
After a hearty packed lunch at one of the many picnic benches, we made our way to the Mangalore Flora and Fauna Reserve to chase the Hooded Robins that were reported days earlier at the “northern end, overlooking the horse paddock”. A fifteen minute drive turned into thirty minutes of frustration, because we (read: I!) relied on the GPS instead of following the signs to the reserve. Eventually we got to the end of the unsealed Mangalore Road via Magpie Lane but weren’t sure if it was ok to drive into the park as the tyre marks suggested, or whether to park near the first fence. We erred on the side of caution and decided against driving into the park. What we didn’t realise was how massive the park was, and after a twenty minute walk in a northerly direction that was distracted by dozens of very active White-browed Woodswallows, we weren’t even half-way to the northern boundary! With the sun peeping through the clouds, the temperature rising, and no Hooded Robins in sight, we admitted defeat and left the park dejectedly. (Note: I only realised how small the park actually is when I did some measurements on Google Earth while writing this blogpost: it covers less than one square kilometre, so we really should have persisted!)
Despite our best efforts, the interior of the car was already covered in a thin layer of dust, so we kept the windows down to listen for strange bird calls. On approaching the corner of Magpie Lane and Mangalore Road, we heard a very loud, unfamiliar call (as most bird calls are to us!), so we quickly pulled to the side of the road and jumped out, cameras and binoculars at the ready. Imka pointed to a bird in a tree, which, with the aid of my binoculars, I confidently and dismissively ‘confirmed’ to her was a White-naped Honeyeater – a bird we had seen many times for the year. I was thinking “it’s a rather large White-naped Honeyeater though” when I was rudely interrupted by a similar call from a nearby tree.
I disinterestedly put the binoculars to my eyes and almost dropped it in surprise: the bird was an adult Blue-faced Honeyeater! Then the penny dropped: the other bird wasn’t a White-naped Honeyeater, but instead was a juvenile Blue-faced Honeyeater. Since we began birding a few years ago, we have dreamed of seeing this species of honeyeater, but we always assumed that they were only found to the north of Victoria. We were absolutely elated to tick the day’s fourth lifer, and we spent at least fifteen minutes taking not-so-great photos. Despite my warnings about the prevalence of snakes, Imka went trudging through the dry grass on the side of the road to find a better spot for photography. Consequently my heart skipped a beat when I heard a soft scream and a request for me to “come see this – it’s better than the honeyeater”. It turned out to be a most fascinating and colourful spiny spider, but we agreed to disagree on which was the more interesting species.
Our final stop was the Seymour Bushland Reserve along the Goulburn Highway, about ten minutes drive from the town centre. The reserve does not appear on Google Maps, but online research suggested that it was opposite the Modular Concrete Sleepers compound, so we just input “6 Lighthorse Drive” in the GPS and we were on our way. Our target species were Western Gerygone, Leaden Flycatcher and a Brown Goshawk that was photographed two days prior (but, spoiler alert: we didn’t see any!).
The carpark was well-maintained, and there appeared to be a toilet of sorts near the picnic area. On the undulating walk to the small dam, birds were few and far between, and other than the more common birds like Magpies and Brown Thornbills, the only ‘interesting’ bird we saw was a Rufous Whistler, which was a first for us for the year. We were surprised by the deathly silence at the dam, and not a single bird was in sight, most probably because it was the hottest part of the day (around 4pm). We were exhausted by now and were dreading the long walk back to the carpark along paths devoid of birdlife. However, we were pleasantly surprised when we saw a small party of Red-browed Finches (adults and juveniles) followed by a pair of Gang-gang Cockatoos in the canopy (where the track to the dam met the ‘short loop’). And then finally we had our fifth lifer for the day – a Buff-rumped Thornbill – which made the trip to the reserve worthwhile. We had ticked more than fifty species in Seymour and saw six new birds for the year, of which five were lifers – a most excellent way to start our end of year birding push.