…John Newman and Craig Morley

 This month has revealed a dazzling array of bird sightings across many haunts throughout the region.

The inspirational Sparrovale Wetlands has been a most welcome addition to our Lower Barwon wetland system. They have been stunning these past few weeks and whilst still a restricted access site while development is ongoing, there is satisfying viewing from surrounding access roads and surveys do occur semi-regularly. This month several new species have been detected for the site – two Blue-billed Ducks and more than 300 Pink-eared Ducks were a sight to behold as was the solitary Cape Barren Goose - all new species for the site. A formal region-wide Brolga survey saw eight Brolgas at these wetlands with two families each with a dependent young and a third pair. High numbers of Eurasian Coots at Sparrovale, some 391 birds, were unexpected and 62 Cattle Egrets with grazing nearby with cattle was probably the largest flock reported since 156 in Drysdale in July 2022 and up to 200 at Deans Marsh in October 2022. Cattle Egret were also notable with five seen on the beach at Blue Rocks with 21 White-faced Herons – what an unusual site and noteworthy. Nine Cape Barren Geese was a noteworthy find from Cundare Barrage.

The nearby Hospital Swamps which are intricately connected to Sparrovale have had a gradual drop in water levels and suit the many birds seen there. Australian Spotted Crakes have been seen readily along the narrow muddy margins in several areas within this system. It was great news to hear that a Buff-banded Rail has been seen back at Deakin University Waurn Ponds campus after perhaps a 10-year absence likely to be due to feral cat eradication efforts more recently. Gang-gang Cockatoos are regular at this location at this time highlight with 8 noisily moving around the campus. Weebills, Australia’s smallest bird, were again seen and heard there this month and are semi-regular on the campus grounds.

As Cattle Egrets are drifting into the region, we are also seeing the continued arrival of altitudinal migrant birds coming into and through Geelong. As described last month, the Rose Robins and Rufous Fantails of the reliable Geelong Botanic Gardens have continued to appear with at least two of each. A Pink Robin is reliably seen there in recent weeks. An intriguing female type flycatcher of the genus Myiagra in first immature plumage had the experts uncertain and was left as Leaden/Satin Flycatcher. A Rufous Fantail has also been seen quietly foraging at Queens Park in the riparian habitat provided by deciduous trees. It is a good example of the need to keep your eyes open wherever you may be walking or travelling because interesting things do turn up. Flame Robins are moving into the lower altitude areas after breeding in the forests of the Otway Range and beyond. Birds have been seen at Balliang, Connewarre, Pt Henry and Moolap. Yellow-faced Honeyeaters have been well documented this month moving through the suburbs and across the Bellarine Peninsula in small numbers from single birds up to 100+ mostly moving noisily through treetops. As the last week of March rolls into mid-April the number of White-naped Honeyeaters in these movements increases. The exact destination of these birds is unknown though there is wholescale movement of large numbers up the eastern coast of Australia over late March and into April.

Dusky Woodswallows are favourites to many birders with their endearing calls and close-knit family groups, so it was very pleasing to have reports of this species from Wingeel, Leopold and Connewarre – most likely banded together before or on migration. The record of two Diamond Firetails at Anakie Gorge was a wonderful as these small woodland gems have been disappearing from our dry woodlands for years now and they are very rarely seen in any of the once-reliable locations. They are often given away by their distinctive plaintive drawn-out whistle and so being familiar with this call may enable other birds to be found. An Australian Owlet-nightjar was seen in daylight hours at the hollow of a tree at Anakie and several others heard calling in the same area.

Very large mixed flocks of Fairy Martins with a smattering of Tree Martins have been seen at Sparrovale and also at Hospital Swamps this month with high proportions of juvenile birds. They were accompanied by Welcome Swallows a high proportion of which were juvenile. Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos are also firm favourites for our local birders and have continued to be noted moving around locally.

Very interestingly there are still signs of breeding despite the lateness with day length rapidly shortening but presumably indicate adequate food supplies and mild conditions to enable young to be reared. An Australian Pipit was seen at Connewarre carrying food and ‘freezing’ in its paddock habitat. They are masters of keeping their ground nests well-hidden in long tussocks of grass. A Striated Fieldwren was seen in the same area with a beakful! Similarly, an Australian Magpie male was seen with a very full beak of worms heading off to presumably feed dependent young. Black-shouldered Kites have dependent young on the edge of Lake Connewarre with the adults feeding free-flying young and warding off a threatening Brown Falcon.

A most amazing sight of two Arctic Jaegers flying along the Lake Connewarre edge on a particularly bleak and dismal autumn day were probably taking a short cut from Corio Bay to Bass Strait.

For the migratory Sanderling, a rare bird along our coastal beaches, a record of six, in non-breeding plumage at Blue Rocks, with Red-necked Stints, Red-capped Plovers and Double-banded Plovers was important and reinforces the point that Blue Rocks is something of a “hotspot” for this species especially in April/May and October two weeks earlier, six Sanderling were seen at Mud Islands though mostly in varying degrees of breeding plumage.

Once more a sincere thank you to all who get out and about and then chronicle our birdlife.