… John Newman and Craig Morley

It is always with much excitement that March sneaks into our birding calendar. The late summer/early autumn is a wonderful time of anticipation of the arrival of migratory birds into our district and this year has not disappointed. It has also been particularly interesting to see continued breeding records of several species seemingly making the most of persisting good conditions in our wetlands, forests and riparian areas. 

After a summer of breeding in the higher altitude, cooler forests of the Otway Ranges, numerous passerine species move to the lower elevations with more moderate conditions on the Bellarine Peninsula to escape the cold and very wet winter. Some of these are transient visitors - ‘passage migrants’ - heading further north to seek the relative bounty and conditions to our north - NSW, Queensland and even PNG – while others seem to roam the district for most of autumn and winter. Local populations of other species, particularly the Grey Fantail and Silvereye, are bolstered by the arrival of birds from Tasmania which are also seeking more moderate winter conditions.

The Rufous Fantail is one such passage migrant and numerous records have been lodged this month from the Otway Ranges, urban Belmont, and Geelong Botanic Gardens. This last site is a regular stopover for these richly plumaged birds though they will soon disappear as they continue moving north. Rose Robins arrive predictably every year in the Botanic Gardens. A female Satin Flycatcher, journeying much further north to PNG in coming months joined these migrants and the arrival of a Pink Robin in recent days completes this cluster of exciting migrants. Many Grey Fantails, for at least a brief moment in time up to 20, were also present and beyond Geelong a flock of Brown-headed Honeyeaters has been seen moving along the Barwon River at Pollocksford.

Banded Stilts have returned to the region after the deluge in arid Australia with up to 500 birds at Moolap Saltworks, 35 at Cundare Pool in the Corangamite system and 16 at Lake Victoria. The migratory Double-banded Plover which arrives in autumn from New Zealand for the winter has already been seen in low numbers at Lake Victoria and Sparrovale.

Records of breeding birds have continued, perhaps later than is typical indicating continued good conditions or perhaps, in the case of the Australian Reed Warblers feeding young at Rice Reserve, in response to the disruption and dislocation of earlier breeding attempts caused by the floods in our water courses through October-November 2022. White-naped Honeyeaters were seen feeding dependent young at Inverleigh and Dusky Moorhens have successfully raised late season young also at Rice Reserve.

Huge flocks of Little Corellas at Winchelsea and on the Bellarine were noted – 1000 birds in the riparian area of Winchelsea including two possible Little x Long-billed hybrids and an astounding 2000 birds seen flying at dusk at Moolap. On the theme of parrots and cockatoos, vast numbers of Rainbow Lorikeets – up to 650 – were seen coming in to roost in the trees in the shopping centre car park at Waurn Ponds. Little Lorikeets, always a highlight were seen in Ocean Grove. Hopefully Swift Parrots will also be recorded there soon. Two vocal Weebills at St Leonards was most unusual away from the dry woodlands to the north and west of Geelong. At least one White-eared Honeyeater at Inverleigh was heard producing a call most reminiscent of the ‘machine gun call’ of the Lewin’s Honeyeater, a species that does not occur in our district – just a little bit curious!

A solitary White-throated Needletail over Newtown is one of the very few so far recorded this year locally. 

Our local wetlands are certainly starting to dry out now and many fascinating records of varied wetland birds have been recorded and submitted by local observers. White-necked Herons are returning with recent records of up to 20 at Barunah Plains, 12 at Hospital Swamp and 11 at Shelford hopefully indicating successful breeding further to the north and west or perhaps beyond our region. Writing of wetland birds a record of six Black-tailed Nativehens in recent weeks, also at Barunah Plains, is most welcome! Brolgas in the Breamlea Saltmarsh have again been seen in this slightly atypical habitat and a Black-faced Cormorant at Limeburner’s Point right in Geelong is a rare record for inside Corio Bay. An Australasian Darter at Limeburners Lagoon was a great sighting as was the Australasian Bittern seen at Hospital Swamp.

Thank you to each and every observer who has submitted their records to our club web-site https://www.gfnc.org.au/observations/bird-observations  and to eBird https://ebird.org/australia/home you continue to make an invaluable contribution to furthering the knowledge and understanding of our birds! Remember to log-in to make best use of each of these resources.