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 woodlands.
Day 2 – Toolangi Black Forest
I have a favourite species of tree. Does that make me weird, or do you also have a special attachment to a type of tree? My favourite tree is Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) – the world’s tallest flowering plant. These giants grow to heights that rival Californian Redwoods, with the tallest living specimens (in Tasmania) reaching a staggering 100m. Mountain Ash favour cool, wet, mountainous areas of south eastern Australia and Tasmania, but due to extensive logging, they only persist in small fragmented stands. There are still many Mountain Ash in the Toolangi Black Forest, and for this reason, I was really looking forward to my second visit to the area – the first being in 2013.
The Toolangi forests are located about 80km – a pleasant 1.5hr drive – to the north east of the Melbourne CBD. A good toilet stop is at the shopping centre in Healesville (look for the Coles Supermarket), and from there it’s just a half hour drive to the Wirrawilla Rainforest Walk. This is the best map that I have come across online, since it clearly shows the walking tracks as well as picnic areas (read: toilets).
It’s worth noting that the birding action actually begins as soon as you turn on to Sylvia Creek Road. We found a Grey Currawong in a lone tree overlooking the paddock on both both visits, and the bird songs coming from the forest on the right-hand-side was always deafening! On this visit, Imka spotted a Gang-gang Cockatoo high in the trees (where the forest began on the left-hand-side of the unsealed road), and we both saw two Swamp Wallabies plus a Superb Lyrebird a couple kilometres further along the road. The Lyrebird flew across the road from left to right and was only visible for a couple seconds, but its identification was straightforward, even for us novices! We pulled to the side of the road and tried (unsuccessfully) to relocate it, but instead, we stumbled upon a very vocal Lewin’s Honeyeater in the process. How often have you chased a particular bird, only to find an unexpected bird that’s even more exciting than your original target?
When we drove into the Wirrawilla Rainforest Walk Carpark, two gentlemen were donning their rucksacks to start a 6hr (return) hike along the Tanglefoot Track. Our ambitions were far less lofty, and our aims differed greatly: we were here to find Pink Robin, Rose Robin, Pilotbird and Crescent Honeyeater. After a quick pitstop at the less-than-sanitary ‘drop toilet’, I quickly located a Brown-headed Honeyeater and an Eastern Yellow Robin in the trees adjacent to the carpark, as well as a myriad of small, fast-flying, unidentifiable birds. We chose to do the Wirrawilla Rainforest Walk loop before tackling the Tanglefoot Track, since it was at the former that we saw a Pink Robin the previous year.
I lingered at the start of the boardwalk because I kept hearing new bird calls, but Imka decided to walk ahead: what a huge mistake that was for me! Five minutes later when I caught up to Imka, she proudly showed me a photo on her camera’s screen of, and I quote, “an interesting bird”. The bird was actually a Bassian Thrush – a species that neither of us had seen before! Imka claimed that she was calling me to see it but I didn’t hear her, so I vowed there and then to buy walkie-talkies for us to use when out birding. I searched for ten minutes, but never found it, and although it’s on Imka’s year and life lists, the species has eluded me at the time of writing. A poor consolation was that I heard the soft call of a Pink Robin, but the closest I came to seeing one was a fleeting glimpse of a possible Rose Robin and what looked like its young. I wasn’t happy with this sighting, so didn’t tick it, or the possible Pilotbird (read: brown bird) that I briefly saw foraging in the undergrowth.
The loop walk is just a few hundred metres long, so it can be covered in fifteen minutes without stopping to look for birds. However, we walked slowly and deliberately, and returned to the carpark after about an hour and a half. We had a most excellent home-made, mid-morning snack of sandwiches before tackling the Tanglefoot Track. We walked a couple hundred metres up the track only to find a clearing where a very large tree had fallen and was subsequently sawed into pieces, I assume, by Forest Rangers. Imka suggested that it was a perfect place to stop to look for birds, but I secretly suspected that she was just exhausted. 🙂 I obliged, and we were immediately rewarded by a little blue and white bird calling loudly and incessantly from a leaf-less tree branch: it was a male Satin Flycatcher – a wonderful bird to be the first lifer for the day, and my 165th bird for the year, equalling 2013’s total. Where there’s a vocal male, there are often other males or females, and lo and behold, we saw a female hopping around on the forest floor. Bird calls were coming from everywhere, and not surprisingly, there were many a Golden Whistler (both adults and juveniles) around, and we even picked up an Olive Whistler (another lifer) and a little skink on a fallen log. We were very happy with our bird tally thus far, and decided against venturing further up the track, in favour of trying our luck at another Toolangi picnic ground.
Other birders advised us that there was excellent birding to be had at the intersection of the Myrtle Gully and Tanglefoot Tracks, so, as per the map referred to above, we drove about 6km north along Sylvia Creek Road to the Myrtle Gully Carpark. To call it a carpark is misleading, because it was just an overgrown clearing that you couldn’t drive into. We abandoned this plan and made our way to the Tanglefoot Carpark, where according to the map, a toilet was located. From our experience, carparks are very profitable for birding, so we decided to work the carpark: Imka scanned the trees to the left, and I went to the right. Within a minute, Imka excitedly exclaimed “Pink Robin! Or Rose Robin! I’m not sure, but it’s some kind of robin!” And how right she was: it turned out to be a very obliging male Rose Robin – my third lifer for the day – that was hunting for his lunch. Through the corner of my eye, I saw the movement of a little brown bird, which we were pleased to discover was a nest-building female Rose Robin. We were so stoked by our prolonged views of this lifer, that we quit while we were ahead, and decided to head home.
The GPS gave us three possible routes for our return trip, and I (naively) chose the route through Kinglake. This was a big mistake, because the route took us over the hills along a very narrow and winding road, often hemmed in by a cliff-face on one side and a deep valley on the other: a stressful drive is not what you want after a long day’s birding! On a slightly sadder note, our roadkill tally for the day was massive: we saw dead wombats, wallabies, kangaroos, foxes, birds, possums, rabbits, and even a Copperhead Snake that had been run over minutes before. The only positive conclusion that we could draw from the carnage, was that at least there’s wildlife aplenty on the outskirts of a city of four million people. So let’s slow down and keep and eye out for our furry, feathered, and scaly friends!