Bird Boxes in Bendigo

It was some months since we last did a ‘big birding day out’ so we were really looking forward to the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in early June. I had read intriguing bird reports from a small reservoir on the outskirts of Bendigo, so I was eager to try my luck.

‘Crusoe Reservoir’ and ‘Number 7 Reservoir’ are located a few kilometres from the Bendigo CBD and 150km from our house. Since the drive is mostly on the freeway, it’s a pleasant 2.5hr journey from the Melbourne CBD. Our targets were Australian Owlet Nightjar, Southern Boobook, Crested Bellbird and Chestnut-rumped Heathwren, but even though a kind birder emailed me a map with ‘dropped pins’ for where the birds could be found, the vastness of the bushland suggested that we would have no hope of finding them on our own. I knew that about ten members of the Victorian Birders Facebook Group were meeting at “9:30am in the Harvey Norman Department Store carpark on Furness Street”, so we decided to surprise them and tag along – Facebook stalking at its best! 😀

Crusoe Reservoir at the top and Number 7 Reservoir at the bottom (see orange marker)

Crusoe Reservoir at the top and Number 7 Reservoir at the bottom (see orange marker)

After exchanging pleasantries on the very cold, cloudy morning, our convoy headed off to Crusoe Reservoir, led by a local birder/volunteer with the reservoir’s preservation society. We parked, alighted, and were still donning our coats when someone shouted “Mistletoebird!”. This has been a bogey bird for Imka and I, and before I could put my binoculars up to my eyes, it was gone! After using the remarkably clean on-site toilet, the bird reappeared and I got a rear view of its shiny black back before it flew away. I added it to my list as a ‘technical tick’ because everyone in the group had seen and heard it clearly (and I did see it), but it was not a fulfilling tick because we did not see its bright red chest, which to me, is like seeing a Pink Robin from behind and not appreciating its discerning feature. And so, we had our first lifer – sort of – before even leaving the carpark.

Approaching Crusoe Reservoir (carpark to my rear)

Approaching Crusoe Reservoir (the carpark is to my rear)

The local birder suggested that we do a clockwise loop of the reservoir, which if I recall, was an easy two-hour, 3.5km walk. From the vantage point of the retaining wall, we ticked a handful of birds, including Australasian Darter, Dusky Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Grey teal, Hardhead, Australasian Grebe, Little Black Cormorant, as well as Galah and Red Wattlebird in the trees to the left of the wall near the disused structures.

Birding group

Birding group

To the left of the retaining wall - disused structures

To the left of the retaining wall – disused structures

Australasian Darter

Australasian Darter

As we left the reservoir behind and entered the forest, the local birder regaled us with fascinating stories of the reservoir’s past. To be entirely honest, I was distracted by the numerous Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters flitting about the trees, and so didn’t absorb much of the talk. These honeyeaters are the dominant honeyeater at the reservoir and one would be extremely unlucky not to see one here. With their bright yellow tufts on their jet black black faces, they are perhaps my favourite honeyeater – I’m no Marvel fanboy, but they remind me of Wolverine’s costume…

A gravity-fed channel (honeyeaters in the trees)

A gravity-fed channel (honeyeaters in the trees)

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Very yellow tufts!

Very yellow tufts!

Wolverine (Source: Marvel website)

Wolverine (Source: Marvel website)

Further along the path we saw a fast-flying, noisy flock of about a dozen honeyeaters flitting from shrub to shrub. Upon closer inspection with my binoculars, I realised that it was a mixed flock of Yellow-tufted, Brown-headed and White-naped Honeyeaters. Imka decided to trail-blaze and walked about 20m ahead of the group, and I’m pretty sure you can guess where this is heading. A couple minutes later, Imka returned to the group and triumphantly announced that she had seen a Crested Bellbird, which had (of course) since disappeared. I was happy to know that it was in the area, but fuming at the same time! As you may recall, Imka had seen a Bassian Thrush some months before at Toolangi and neglected to call me over to see it. I then bought us walkie talkies, and yet she still didn’t radio me to see what would have been my second lifer for the day! The local birder said that they are very flighty birds, and once spooked, very rarely reappear in the same area. Although another birder got a photo of a specimen an hour later in a ravine, I never did see it, and have added it to the growing list of birds that Imka chose to keep to herself. >:-I

For a slightly older gentleman, the local birder was remarkably sprightly, and kept the large group in check and moving at a decent pace. Our first target was a resident Australian Owlet Nightjar that called a nesting box home during the day. The local birder knew its location, and we made a beeline through the bush. I exaggerate slightly, because another birder in our party and I got distracted by a couple of Flame Robins, while Imka wandered off to photograph a ‘Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike’.

Flame Robin (male)

Flame Robin (male)

The local birder wrangled us up and we were back to bush-bashing. Ten minutes later we all fell silent as we approached a nesting box with a relatively large round hole. I was pretty sure that I was seeing (with the aid of my binoculars) a well-camouflaged little head poking out of the box some 50m away and insisted that Imka took a photo with the 600mm lens. As we approached the box, the local birder said that the bird “wasn’t home”, and it was then that Imka corrected him, for there on her camera screen was an image of an Australian Owlet Nightjar! Despite waiting for 10mins, the bird never showed, and the rest of the group dejectedly had to make do with admiring Imka’s photo. I was elated with my second lifer for the day – there was no way we would have ever found the bird without the help of the local birder.

Australian Owlet Nightjar nesting box

Australian Owlet Nightjar nesting box

Australian Owlet Nightjar

Australian Owlet Nightjar

On our way back to the main path, we stopped to get a better view of a ‘cuckoo-shrike’ high in the treetops which the group dismissed as a Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike. I thought that its face wasn’t very black, so I asked Imka to take a few photos for later analysis. To my delight, upon further examination the next day, the bird turned out to be a White-Bellied Cuckoo-shrike – another lifer!

White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike

White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike

We were off again, this time to find a Southern Boobook Owl, and once again, the local birder came up spades as we saw a gorgeous bird staring back at us from a nesting box exactly where he said it had been for some weeks. I was amazed that the box was so close to the busy main path, and even more amazed when the local birder explained that the box was meant for a Powerful Owl that had been evicted by an owl species that was half its size. The owl was my fourth lifer for the day, and Imka’s fifth. >:-I

Southern Boobook in a Powerful Owl's nesting box

Southern Boobook Owl in a Powerful Owl’s nesting box

Southern Boobook Owl

Southern Boobook Owl

On our way back to the carpark, we ticked Eastern Rosella, Crimson Rosella, Eastern Yellow Robin, Golden Whistler, Spotted Pardalote, Grey Fantail, Grey Shrike-Thrush and a Swamp Wallaby. The local birder also pointed out a Mistletoebird’s nest that was constructed at eye-level just off the path – they are amazing creations, but no substitute for (not) seeing the bird. 😀

Swamp Wallaby

Well-camouflaged Swamp Wallaby

No anti-social behaviour sign. What does it mean?

No anti-social behaviour sign. 😀

At the carpark, we bid our farewells to the group who then continued on to the Quarry Hill Golf Course (where I later learnt that they got Noisy Friarbird and Blue-faced Honeyeater) and Kamarooka (Shy Heathwren). Imka and I, however, decided to stick to our original plan and try for Chestnut-rumped Heathwren (armed with excellent directions from the group) at Number 7 Reservoir.

The reservoir does not appear on Google Maps’ map view, but is visible on satellite view as a small lake to the south of Crusoe Reservoir. Access is gained from the ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ Granter Street that runs parallel to the freeway, and we spotted a flock of hundreds of Long-billed Corellas and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos in a paddock along the way.

Corellas and Cockatoos

Corellas and Cockatoos – scores were on the trees behind me

Corellas and Cockatoos

Corellas and Cockatoos

Long-billed Corellas

Long-billed Corellas

The reservoir is at the very end of the street and I was pleasantly surprised by the facilities: toilets, ample parking, and excellent picnic sheds. We ticked Weebill and Yellow Thornbill in the carpark before heading towards the reservoir. Amazingly, the only birds on the water were some Little Black Cormorants – I later learnt from the local birder that during a drought some years ago, the cyanide used in gold mining back in the day leached to surface, resulting in a toxic lake when the rains returned.

Gloomy Number 7 Reservoir

Gloomy Number 7 Reservoir

Little Black Cormorants

Little Black Cormorants

Nonetheless, we walked to the end of the retaining wall, and spent an hour trudging through the somewhat muddy bush between the path and the lake, but never did find any heathwrens. We did see a low-flying Black Kite, which was the highlight of the reservoir. We made our way back towards the carpark, veered slightly off-path and stumbled upon a bizarre disused ‘basin’. The trees around it were teeming with birds, and we ticked our first White-eared Honeyeater for the day.

Mate, you're looking in the wrong direction!

Mate, you’re looking in the wrong direction!

Black Kite

Black Kite

The Basin - no one knows what it was used for!

The Basin – no one knows what it was used for!

White-eared Honeyeater

White-eared Honeyeater

When we got back to the carpark, we bumped into none other than the local birder and his wife who popped by to see how we fared. To my dismay, he explained that the heathwrens were to the left of the path in the gullies: we spent more than an hour looking in the wrong place because I misunderstood the original directions! We vowed to return in spring to see even more bird species, and thanked the local birder for his kindness. As a parting ‘gift’, he directed us to a nearby shopping centre where we managed to find some edible Chinese food in the ‘food court’ – rice and noodles weren’t a bad way to finish an exciting day of ticking dozens of species with new friends, including four or five lifers (depending on who’s telling the story) !

And yes, I am quite proud of the witty title to this post. 😀

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