… John Newman & Craig Morley
As the Barwon River flows downstream from the Otway Ranges across the western plains to meander through Geelong and into Lake Connewarre, finally emptying into Bass Strait at Barwon Heads, it provides many types of ideal habitat for a great diversity of bird species. Each different part of the river’s course is worthy of time spent sitting, watching and marvelling at the complex interplay between the river, the vegetation and the wildlife. This month we highlight many records that are intricately tied to the Barwon River in different areas.
Near Winchelsea is a riverside billabong that has attracted a lot of keen observation over many years. Known as Karngun Bridges Swamp https://ebird.org/australia/hotspot/L3039410 conditions vary markedly as the seasons change. The higher rainfall of recent months has provided good breeding conditions for numerous species. Great records of juveniles of Yellow-billed Spoonbill, White-faced Heron and the rarely noted juveniles of White-necked Heron all represent local breeding in a mass event more reminiscent of occasional breeding in the Murray River wetlands. A gloriously plumaged Great Cormorant, resplendent in breeding flush with white thighs, cheeks and short nuptial plumes and vivid yellow bare facial skin is surely evidence of this species breeding at the site though other birds attending nests could not be found amongst the Australasian Darters, Little Pied Cormorants and Little Black Cormorants with active nests in the wonderful River Red Gums at this delightful site.
Nearby, a vast flock of 3500 Little Corellas with a few closely related Long-billed Corellas was seen in the vicinity of the Barwon River at Winchelsea, only to disperse over the next fortnight. They were presumably enjoying food resources provided in the riverside area rather than the more predictable grain stores nearby. Closer to Geelong, Gang-gang Cockatoos have been recorded, since late January, at several sites in Newtown including Balyang Sanctuary https://ebird.org/australia/hotspot/L2549672 adjoining the Barwon River. We always look forward to the movement of these wonderful birds into our suburbs as the days shorten towards the autumn equinox.
Our wetlands continue to provide many great records and the news of Pink-eared Ducks breeding at Lake Lorne provides evidence of a rarely recorded local event for the species and a beautifully plumaged Gull-billed Tern at Lake Gnarput, during an extensive survey of the western lakes, was very satisfying as this is a species rarely recorded from our wetlands and lakes. The Little Egret colony at Princess Park in Queenscliff https://ebird.org/australia/hotspot/L5250994 has continued to attract observation with up to 34 birds, including at least 22 juveniles, recorded in February. Good records of Brolgas coming from wet areas to the west as well as the usual Lake Connewarre complex of wetlands are always sure to be a highlight of any birding outing!
The summer wader count saw many locations surveyed and some highlights included 381 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers at Lake Modewarre and at Sand Island near Queenscliff nine Eastern Curlews, 38 Grey Plovers and a very locally rare Greater Sand Plover. A noteworthy 388 Curlew Sandpipers were recorded at Lake Victoria. The Point Impossible Whimbrel is still in the area and nearby a Latham’s Snipe in the saltmarsh at Bancoora was unexpected. A Hooded Plover on the shore of Lake Victoria was a good sighting also and an adult Black-fronted Dotterel with 3 tiny chicks, at Marcus Hill, was a thrill for the patient observer. Before we leave wetlands and, in particular shorebirds, we must note the December record of a vagrant to our region an Australian Pratincole at Lake Victoria https://ebird.org/australia/checklist/S101983475 .
A small group of Dusky Woodswallows was found breeding at Marcus Hill and, in December a keen observer recorded Spotted Pardalotes with a nest tunnel off the side of a rabbit burrow and a good flock of nine Weebills at Wallington was a rare record of the species on the Bellarine Peninsula. And some diligent and persistent observers have been kept busy over recent months carefully watching and recording the progress of several Blue-winged Parrot nests, in fence posts, in the Brisbane Ranges.
The presence of Forest Ravens https://ebird.org/australia/species/forrav1 well inland, north of the Otway Ranges, was further supported with a record at Kariah, north of Camperdown. The very deep baritone call is quite different to the calls of its corvid relatives the Little Raven https://ebird.org/australia/species/litrav1 and Australian Raven https://ebird.org/australia/species/ausrav1 .
Records of Rainbow Bee-eaters were submitted this month were most welcome. One from the You Yangs and a second very interesting record of at least two birds calling high overhead flying north over Ceres. Stubble Quail are still calling in crops west of Geelong and small flocks of Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos are being seen across the region.
There have pleasingly been many records of Australian Hobby from varied sites across the western farmland, inner Geelong suburbs and the Bellarine Peninsula. These masters of flight and hunting are a joy to watch as exemplified by two juveniles hawking for flying insects over a meadow of Bolboschoenus fringing a wetland during a recent Sparrovale survey. A glorious white morph Grey Goshawk at Cressy held the attention of three observers as did an adult pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles sharing a fresh rabbit kill at Inverleigh and a juvenile White-bellied Sea-Eagle feeding on the wing at Collendina.