The second day of Victoria birding with Simon Starr focused on the dry woodland habitat NW of Melbourne.
On day two of our Victoria bird blitz, we awoke at dawn to heavy overcast with some spits of rain, but birds were up and active. We had two Brown Falcons perched on wires near the house and parrots were streaming over—lots of Sulfer-crested Cockatoos with Gallas, corellas, Rainbow Lorikeets, and Red-rumped Parrots. After Simon fed us a great breakfast with all fresh and organic ingredients, we headed out. The tire had to be dealt before we attempted a long drive but our first priority were some key birds of the local bush that we could only get in this area.
Parrots streamed over the house on morning two of our trip including these Gallahs.
On the previous evening, we had done a night drive and heard, on a couple of stops, Austtralian Owlet-Night. We also spotlighted Common Brush Possums and Common Ringtails (endemic Australian mammals). So, as we started our day we went back to some of the same roads at the edge Heathcote-Graytown National Park where we had driven in the dark the night before. Simon played a scolding call and very soon we had great looks at Speckled Warbler and Band-rumped Thornbill, two life birds for both Becca and me. At the edge of the forest, actually in the backyards of some houses, there was a large flow of White-winged Choughs. It was a great start to our birding day.
In the dry scrub of Inglewood Flora Reserve, we got all of our target birds including Gilbert's Whistler (top image), Whte-eared Honeyeater (middle), and Tawny-crested Honeyeater (bottom).
We next went to an area of dry scrub in the Inglewood Flora Reserve and in rapid succession got all of our target birds. Shy Heathwren was the star of this show and Simon managed to tape a bird into great views for Becca and me. Then came a stream of new birds. It started with Simon calling in Gilbert’s Whister. Although several adult Gilbert’s Whistlers were calling around us, we managed to call in an immature plumaged bird right in front of us for fanastic views and photos. That was followed by Inland Thornbill, White-backed Swallow, Tawney-crowned Honeyeater, White-fronted Honeyeater, and White-browed Wood-swallow. Simon thought he might have heard “Variagated Fairy-wren” and when he played the tape, sure he pulled Variagated Fairy-wren right in front of us. I put “variegated” in parentheses because there is a likely split coming in Variagated Fairy-wrens. Birds east of the great dividing range will remain “Variagated” while birds west of the great dividing range, where we were birding will become “Purple-backed Fairy-wren”. Since I had seen Variagated Fairy-wren on my last trip to Australia, Purple-backed Fairy-wren was a potential future life bird.
Flying Foxes were the stars of the show at the Botanical Gardens in Inglewood.
It was getting close to lunch time and the tire problem had to be dealt with. Instead of having us wait at the auto repair shop, Simon dropped us at the botantical garden in the town square of Inglewood. The first thing we noticed were Flying Foxes—the largest species of bat in the world—and lots of them. The filled the trees in the center of the Botanical Garden and it was amazing to watch them covort and launch out for short flights from the trees right above our heads. It was the best look at big fruit bats I’ve ever gotten. Beyond the Flying Foxes the birds in the botantical garden were what you would expect for a town center in Australia. Still, the birds were extremely tame and we got as close as we wanted to Australian Magpies, Red-rumped Parrots, Rainbow Lorikeets, and Magpie-larks.
We got close-up views of Red-rumped Parrots in the Inglewood Botanical Garden.
The tire repair didn’t take very long, and very soon Simon picked us up and after a quick lunch we were back on the trail of life birds. Our next stop was at the hot and dry Mount Korong Nature Conservation Reserve. Simon knew of a water hole where birds were coming in to drink but we were disappointed that the water hole seemed too dry to attract birds. Turns out, it didn’t matter. As we stood near the dry water hole contemplating what to do, our main target bird, Painted Honeyeater flew into a tree right next to us. In the scrub right below the honeyeater was another target bird for the park: southern whiteface, an odd and little-known passerine of day woodland. On the way back to the car, Simon put a striking young male Diamond Firetail in the scope. Once again we left a birding stop having seen all of the special birds for that patch of habitat.
Painted Honeyeater is one of the hardest honeyeaters to see in Victoria. Simon found them for us in at Mount Korong Nature Conservation Reserve.
We had to do a bit of driving in the afternoon to get into position for coastal birding the next morning. About 5pm in the evening we arrived at the town of Castlemaine to the NW of Melbourne, and Simon said the Botantical Gardens near the center of town could be good for Powerful Owls. We parked and started across the park when we were hailed by a man with binoculars. He had seen that we were birders, and he was already looking at a pair of juvenile Powerful Owls. We walked over and stood next to him and he pointed out the owls—which would be very easy to miss. He told us that the owls had been breeding in the park for many years, and this year’s output was two juvies, hunched together in a conifer.
Powerful Owls were waiting for us at the botanical gardens in Castlemaine.
We finished the day in the town on Lara, a stone throw from our morning birding sites for scrub birds. We once again stayed in a nice little eco-cabin with good internet connection. Our tally for the day was again over 60 species and Simon told us the diversity dam would break the next day when we got to the Western Treatment Plant and its clouds of ducks