Quail Island, Western Port

Subject: Quail Island, Western Port
From: Jack Krohn <>
Date: Thu, 10 May 2007 22:33:45 +1000

Just a brief report on a visit I paid to Quail Island in Western Port, immediately west of Warneet, last Sunday. Quail Island is a Nature Conservation Reserve of perhaps 1,000 hectares in size, with no infrastructure of any description (other than a sign saying not much more than "Quail Island" that seems to have been there, facing Warneet, for many years).

My reason for the visit was to look for Orange-bellied Parrots in the extensive saltmarsh areas around the fringes of the island, especially to the west and south. There have been occasional reports of OBPs in Western Port, and this seemed a reasonable prospect - large areas of at least potentially suitable habitat, very rarely visited. There was the added attraction, or intrigue, of visiting a fairly substantial island that I had never set foot on before, although it is less than 60 km from the Melbourne CBD. The most direct way to get to the island was by boat from Warneet, so having made arrangements through a contact with a friendly local a couple of days previously, I parked near the boat ramp at about 8:30 on Sunday morning.

The boat trip from the end of the jetty to where the boat grounded in the mud on a fast-running ebb tide took only a couple of minutes. The remaining 60 metres or so to shore took something like twenty minutes of struggling through knee- to thigh- deep mud (with one reverse at the beginning to push the boat back off the mud). Over the last part of the trip the mud concealed rough floaters and outcrops of rock, as well as mangrove roots and other delights, so my feet were sore as well as filthy by the time I got ashore. After a rest I put my socks and boots on and headed westwards across the island.

I emerged on the north-western shore of the island about two kilometres from my landing point about two hours later. The vegetation along the way included melaleuca thickets, moist heathland and eucalypt woodland, with understoreys of grass tussocks, dense stands of bracken and clumps of tea-tree. The topography is very gently undulating - the VicMap 1:25,000 map shows no features other than a few spot heights, the highest being 6 metres. Navigation was complicated by the density of the vegetation which at times precluded travelling in exactly the desired direction, and the relatively limited views which meant taking compass bearings on tree after tree, rarely at a distance of much over 200 m, so my course across the island would look like something of a zigzag if mapped.

I then gradually made my way around the island in a counter-clockwise direction, following the reasonably well-defined high water mark. To my right for most of the way was a varyingly broad expanse of saltmarsh with plants ranging in height from a few centimetres to perhaps a metre and a half in places. Beyond the saltmarsh were strips of mangroves, no doubt following the tidal channels. In places I found it better to strike slightly inland and parallel the shore rather than push through thick stands of melaleuca or other shrubs. With a couple of rest breaks it took me about four and a half hours to get back to my starting point. Fortunately by then the tide was well in and when the dinghy came across to pick me up I could step straight in. The challenge then was to sit down without cramping and upsetting the boat. Oh to be fit.

Birdingwise, the island was very quiet, similar to many bushland areas I have visited in recent months, presumably a function of minimal breeding success for many species under the prevailing drought conditions. The most conspicuous bush birds were White-eared Honeyeater and Brown Thornbill. There were also White-browed Scrub-wrens, Red Wattlebirds, New Holland Honeyeaters (a couple), one or two parties of White-naped Honeyeaters, an Eastern Yellow Robin, a couple of Grey Fantails (and an old Grey Fantail nest in a low tea-tree) and occasional calls from Grey Shrike-thrushes and Grey Butcherbirds. One or two pairs of Australian Ravens flew by, calling, along the edges of the island and a couple of small flocks of Galahs flew over. The highlight for me while crossing the island was undoubtedly a single male Southern Emu-wren in dense heathland not far from the north-western shore. In the same area I found a small colony of Tiny Greenhoods (autumn-flowering orchids).

Apart from a few Brown Thornbill flocks, the only birds I saw in the saltmarsh were Striated Field-wrens. There were individuals a few hundred metres apart around most of the south-western and southern shoreline. There were also a few White-faced Herons foraging in shallow flooded depressions in the saltmarsh, close to shore. The only other water birds I saw, except in the channel opposite Warneet, were Black Swans and White Ibis in flight above Rutherford Inlet

What did I learn? Next time, go at high tide. Take some industrial-grade mosquito repellent. And do some solid training first. But seriously, in spite of the paucity of birds and the complete absence of OBPs (or indeed any parrots, except for a solitary Eastern Rosella in the boat ramp car park), it was a fascinating day on a virtually unspoilt patch of remnant habitat that was completely new territory for me, although it would be about the same distance from my home as say Tullamarine Airport. the disappointments were hearing a Blackbird (but that was the only exotic bird on the island, and I only heard one) and the litter that had been washed up along the inshore edge of the saltmarsh right round the island - bits of plastic, remnants of rubber thongs, electric light bulbs and of course bottles. Unspoiled is a somewhat relative term. But still a memorable day.

Oh, and no Quail.


   Jack Krohn

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