New Year's Day birdwatch

To: ausbird <>
Subject: New Year's Day birdwatch
From: "Hicks, Roger" <>
Date: Thu, 5 Feb 1998 07:01:00 +1000
First, many apologies for this late posting. I hope you still enjoy the
read as much as we enjoyed the birding.



As has become a Hicks family tradition we spent the first day of 1998
and our second New Year+s Day down-under on a bird-watching +big-day+.
Usually we limit ourselves to an area within 10 km of home but as we had
moved during 1997 (albeit only      5 km from Seaholme to Altona
Meadows) we decided to use the same search area as last year. Seaholme
is a small suburb, sandwiched between Williamstown and Altona, to the
west of Melbourne, Victoria. Taking Seaholme Station as the centre of
our home range, Melbourne+s western suburbs occupy the north-eastern
quadrant while much of the south-eastern quadrant is covered by the
waters of Altona Bay. The coast and Marybyrnong River form the southern
and eastern boundaries with Point Cook R.A.A.F. base the southernmost
point. The western border was formed by the Derrimut/Hopkins Road (north
of Werribee) while to the north we did not cross the Western Highway.
This area offers a range of habitats including  suburban gardens,
grassland, wetlands and coast but little in the way of woodland.

Last year we recorded 74 species but felt we could have done better with
a bit more local knowledge and more experience of Australian birds. Our
aim was to beat last year+s total and if possible push on to the magical
ton although to achieve this total we would need to be exceedingly

New  Year+s Eve had been warm and sticky and it did not seem much cooler
when the alarm roused us from a deep slumber at 05:05. It was still dark
outside but the first bird of 1998 was heard before we were out of bed
when the distant strains of a Skylark wafted through the open window on
the light morning breeze (poetical aren+t I?). As night gradually gave
way to day, a Willie Wagtail was the second bird to join the dawn chorus
quickly followed by a tuneful Blackbird, noisy White-plumed Honeyeaters
and even more raucous Common Mynas. A little later the dulcet tones of
an Australian Magpie and the more strident calls of a Red Wattlebird
were heard. With the light improving and the eyelids gradually
unsticking a flock of Silver Gulls drifting over the house became the
first birds seen on New Year+s Day.

It was 05:40 and time to get out and about. House Sparrow, Starling and
Spotted Turtle Dove were seen in neighbours+ gardens as we made our way
to Truganina Swamp, my local patch. The swamp forms part of Melbourne
Water+s drainage system acting as a retarding basin to prevent flooding.
Laverton Creek flows through the middle of the swamp and has been
widened to facilitate flood control. Much of the area is currently dry
grassland due to lack of rain but there are areas of salt marsh and
reed-bed; the latter mainly to the east of the creek. There is a small
freshwater pond/swamp behind Mount St. Joseph+s school which is also in
the processing of drying out. Kooringal Golf course, to the south-east,
is well wooded but there is no access from the swamp.  The Western
Purification Plant, to the south-west, is similarly out of bounds but
the settling tanks can be viewed through the fence and often hold
concentrations of ducks and gulls. Since moving to the area, in May
1997, I have recorded 91 species here and over recent weeks have
regularly seen over 50 species in a two-hour walk. We were hoping for a
similar score today.

As we neared the swamp a pair of Magpie Larks foraged on the grass
reserve but more birds were being recorded by sound than sight; the
buzzing song of several Golden-headed Cisticolas were heard from the
first reed-bed while a Greenfinch wheezed and Superb Fairy Wren
twittered nearby; the disjointed jangling notes of an Australian Reed
Warbler came from the reed beds alongside the upper reaches of Laverton
Creek. All this was a bit frustrating for Andrew and Matthew who wanted
to see some birds. On cue, three Little Black Cormorants flew towards
the coast, following the line of Laverton Creek while a solitary
Australian Pelican and a squadron of Straw-necked Ibises glided towards
the settling ponds of the Western Water treatment plant. Little Ravens
flew over; Purple Swamphens and Dusky Moorhens streaked for the cover of
the creek-side reed-beds. Black Swan, Pacific Black Duck and
Hoary-headed Grebe inhabited this narrow, reed-fringed, section of
Laverton Creek and the whistled call of Little Grassbird came from the
reeds. Where the creek widened and the water became shallower a single
Great Egret and White faced Heron fed beside 15 White-headed Stilts.
They were joined by 72 Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, 28 Curlew Sandpipers and
3 Greenshank, while overhead flew Welcome Swallow and Whiskered Tern,
the majority still in breeding plumage although some are beginning to
look scruffy. On land a female White-fronted Chat searched for food on
the cinder track and a couple of Goldfinches feed from the seed head of
a giant thistle. Stubble Quail had been heard calling from the grassland
west of the creek for the first time in mid-December and we were
fortunate to flush one from near the track on New Year+s day.

As expected the settling ponds and surrounds of the Western Water
treatment plant brought a rush of species. Masked Lapwing, Feral Pigeon
and Australian White Ibis foraged on the grassy banks while the tanks
themselves held numerous Australian Shelducks, Eurasian Coots, Chestnut
and Grey Teal. I was particularly pleased to pick out a pair of
Australasian Shoveler. These had first been noted on 27 December and I
was hoping they would hang around. Little Pied Cormorants sat on the
pontoons separating the ponds and a small flock of White-eyed Duck
(Hardheads) swam and dived on the pond closest to the road. Three Galahs
flew from Kooringal Golf Course, where we think they roost, to feed on
the short turf of the water works and a Royal Spoonbill flew down the
creek. At 07:08 Yellow-rumped Thornbill became our 50th species
(approximately an hour earlier than last year).
We crossed Laverton Creek and headed north beside the golf course fence.
Grey Fantail and New Holland Honeyeater were seen in the bushes. By now
the sun was up and had burnt off the early morning haze sending
temperatures climbing. Marsh Sandpiper and Red-capped Plover were the
only new birds seen on the shallow salt marsh on the east side of the
swamp but there were a pair of White-headed Stilts with three young
about half adult size. Mount St Joseph+s pond, situated behind the
school of the same name has been slowly drying out over the last month
and has been home to several Australian Spotted Crakes and a couple of
Latham+s Snipe. Fortunately, the muddy margins had not dried out
completely and both the crake and snipe found their way onto our list
without too much hassle.

With the rise in temperature bird activity had dropped off and as we
headed homewards across the north end of the swamp we were bothered more
by flies than birds, only Black-shouldered Kite, hovering laboriously
over the dry grassland and a Brown Falcon perched on the railway+s
overhead lines were added to the new year+s day list. Back home, our
resident Tree Sparrows were up and about having been conspicuously
absent when we set out, they must be late risers. Over breakfast in the
garden Purple-crowned Lorikeets fed in some flowering eucalypts on the
other side of the road and a Song Thrush visited our vegetable patch
searching for snails. We had scored well on my local patch recording 61
species and were beginning to think the ton might be possible.

By 09:30 breakfast was over and we were on the road, heading for Point
Cook Metropolitan Park. Richard+s Pipits were common in the roadside
fields. Spectacle Lake, in the Point Cook Metropolitan Park, was even
drier than when we had last visited on Christmas Day, with even fewer
birds present. Red-necked Stint was the only new bird amongst the small
numbers of waders. A male Red-rumped Parrot bursting  past the narrow
windows of the hide in a kaleidoscope of colour was a nice bonus. From
the homestead, we walked through the coastal scrub, hearing first then
seeing Silvereye, before following the shore to Point Cook. An immature
Pacific Gull and, Crested Terns were perched on the rocks while a
winter-plumaged Common Tern patrolled off-shore. The buzzy calls of a
White-browed Scrub-wren were heard from the brush at the back of the
beach where  a Singing Honeyeater was also seen. Further round the
coast, also perched on rocks exposed by the falling tide were Pied
Cormorants and a solitary Pied Oystercatcher. At 12:45 with the sun high
in the sky we headed home for some shade and a late lunch. So far we had
recorded 72 species, only two less than last year+s total.

Only Andrew and I ventured out after lunch, the others deciding to
remain at home in the shade. In the dry conditions the Fairy Martins had
abandoned the only colony, of 5 nests, that I knew of within the area,
so we dipped out there. Our first new  bird of the afternoon was a
Singing Bushlark, doing a very passable imitation of a Galah, while
perched on a fence in the grasslands to the north-west of Laverton.
Nearby, in the same fields we had first seen them on New Year+s Day
1997, were a flock of 16 Banded Lapwing which included four juveniles.
While scanning a mixed flock of Starlings and House Sparrows, one bird
parachuted down to the fence with its legs extended, most
un-starling-like. Closer examination revealed it to be a male Brown
Songlark. This was a lifer and quite a bit bigger than I had expected.
Not a bad way to go past last years total. The time was 15:10.
Continuing through the grasslands we found a pair of White-browed
Wood-Swallows along Woods Road (near Truganina homestead). I had not
previously seen either the songlark or the wood-swallow  in this area
before and wondered whether the inland drought conditions had pushed
these birds further south than usual. Nearby an Australian Kestrel
hovered over the desiccated grasses.

Now it was time to try and pick up species we had so far missed.
Australasian Grebes, in breeding plumage were found at Newport Lakes and
two Swamp Harriers terrorised the gulls and ducks at the Williamstown
wetlands on the north shore of Kororoit Creek. A walk along the levee
between Cherry Lake and Kororoit Creek produced a Crested Pigeon, our
80th species at 17:15, Red-browed Firetail and a Horsfield+s
Bronze-Cuckoo, but the water level was high in the pool where the creek
widens out so no waders were present.

Finally, we returned to Point Cook where the Black-tailed Native Hens
still refused to show themselves at Spectacle Lake but we were
compensated with an Australian Hobby dashing past. Near one of the
picnic sites we came close to running over a covey of six Brown Quail
that decided to cross the road right in front of the car - at least they
got themselves noticed and on our list. A Little Wattlebird, flying from
a flowering gum tree was our 85th and last species of New Year+s Day

Is it possible to see 100 species within a 10km radius of Seaholme
station? Well, it should be. In December 1997, I saw 12 species in this
area that we did not record on New Year+s day. These were Great
Cormorant, Little Egret, Black-tailed Native Hen, Red-necked Avocet,
Black-fronted Plover, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Arctic Skua, Rainbow
Lorikeet, Fairy Martin, Tree Martin, Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike and
Striated Fieldwren. As we get to know our home range better, there is
more chance. Maybe next year - if my contract is renewed!

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Roger Hicks                     Tel :   03-9369-6023 (home)
4 Hakea Court,                          03-9865-8613 (work)
Altona Meadows  
Victoria 3028                   E-mail: 
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