Birding down under 3.

Subject: Birding down under 3.
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Thu, 02 Aug 2001 16:21:58 +0200


Birders have their own weird priorities when traveling, and often, to the
horrified surprise of other people, sewage farms are high on their list; I
have in fact visited sewage farms in four continents and have generally
found them very birdy places. So it is also in Melbourne, where the
Werribee Sewage Treatment Plant is justly famous among birders; even I had
heard about its stunning wealth and diversity of birdlife, especially
during the northern winter when the shorebords move south.

But this is southern winter, so there were few shorebirds around: a
lone  Black-tailed Godwit, a small flock of Red-necked Stints and Curlew
Sandpipers, with a few Red-capped and Double-banded Dotterels mixed in,
some of the latter already in their stunning summer finery, and of course
the ubiquitous Masked Lapwings. But even without shorebirds Werribee is a
glorious place--particularly if your sense of smell is somewhat dulled--,
and this Wednesday afternoon we had moreover a beautiful calm day with the
most fantastic light imaginable. Werribee is a closed area and one needs
prior permission and a key to the gates to get in; my host, Richard
Novotny, one of the many birding.aussers who assisted me this month, had
both and also long experience with the area.

Werribee lies close to the coast, in the flat country W of Melbourne
towards Geelong, that in many ways reminded me of my native Holland: much
low-lying pasture-land with cows and sheep, much water everywhere, and
beautiful cloud-scapes above a low horizon---generally wider than in
Holland where there are nearly always dikes, mills, houses or clumps of
trees closing off the view. Richard gave me the chance of identifying the
birds myself, and at first I blunder badly: the first White-fronted Chats
silhouetted against the lifght are sadly mis-guessed, and I also stumble
among the ducks. Fortunately we'll see the chats time and again and also in
better light, where they are of course unmistakable, although the bold pied
pattern often give me a white wagtail-like first impression. On the lagoons
there are thousands of ducks; to my surprise with the droll smallish
Pink-eared Ducks with their super-shoveler bills absolutely dominant most
places. They lie deep in the water, but still spring up quite lightly at
the least disturbance (usually a Swamp Harrier or a Whistling Kite),
whistling loudly and creating a memorable experience, repeated time and again.

There are also pairs of the elegant Black Swans, and various other ducks;
in fact in some of the outer lagoons the heavy sinister Mordor-like Musk
Ducks are in the majority. Coots are common, as are Hoary-headed Grebes,
and pairs of colourful Shelducks dot the shore. Of course there are also
Silver Gulls, but the shimmering white bands in the shallower lagoons are
nevertheless usually nobler game: a mixture of Black-winged Stilts, the
mysterious Banded Stilts, and Red-necked Avocets, an amazing bland of
long-legged elegance and a great chance to closely compare these three
close relatives.

All four cormorants are here, as well as here and there an enormous
Australian pelican, regular White-faced Herons and a few Great Egrets. We
also see all three ibises (the 6 Glossy Ibises are uncommon enough to be
noted down by Richard) and a lone Yellow-billed Spoonbill.

But for me on this day it is nevertheless the general impression of rich
diverse wetlands with ever varying 'birdscapes', that remained the
strongest impression afterwards. And even though the Spiny-cheeked
Honeyeater in a cypress hedgerow clearly easily was the most uncommon
landbird we saw this day and this was a neat enough bird, others impressed
me even more. For example the lone Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoo, that
stubbornly kept on calling from the top of a bush, even though we stood so
near that we saw its tongue move with every whistle--this bird was
uncommonly 'fluffy', maybe because of the cool weather?

Or the Striated Field Wrens with their nice tinkling song that nevertheless
gives the strong impression of being sung 'at half force'--- these birds
formally posed for us on tall weeds in the drizzle of the late afternoon.
Or the secretive Little Grassbirds, whose plaintive little song-phrase was
every where, but which took much patience to properly see.

As Europeans we always enjoy hearing Skylarks, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds
sing (all our poets swoon by them), but these birds are virtually all
cordially hated by most Aussie birders, just as I at home look at the
stately Canada Geese with unfriendly eyes. (The tinkling Goldfinches seem
to partially have escaped this opprobrium here). Still, the larks and
thrushes sing just as beautifully here as they do in Europe.

Let me use this chance to thank not only today's host Richard Novotny, but
also Barbara and Michael Sturmfels, John Moverley (thanks for the Frogmouth
and the Nankeen Herons, John), Jack Krohn and his family (what a lovely
evening!) and Ian May in Adelaide for all the help and guidance during my
stay down under. I hope they all come to Tromsø (not all at the same time!)
and come see our birds; not quite so exotic and colourful, but not bad at all!

                                                                Wim Vader, 
Tromsø Museum
                                                                9037 Tromsø, 

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