VicTwitch 2009 Part 5 (Long)

To: <>
Subject: VicTwitch 2009 Part 5 (Long)
From: "Tim Dolby" <>
Date: Thu, 6 Aug 2009 12:33:18 +1000
Hi all,

See below Part 5 of the VicTwitch 2009, a summary / diary of all the bird 
species I've seen in Victoria during 2009. I've currently seen 324 birds 
species in Victoria during 2009 (and interestingly 30 mammal species). For the 
full report with (bad) photograps see

Early August and SW Victoria
It was the start of August and a great time to do some onshore seabirding*, so 
of course I headed down to the wonderful Portland and Cape Nelson. I personally 
reckon that this is one of the best birding areas in Australia - what could be 
better! I was also targeting Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo - so I'd planned a side 
trip to Rennick State Forest on the Victorian / South Australian border.

* viewing sea birds from land. Remembering that the VicTwitch excludes pelagics 
i.e. birds seen on a boat beyond Victorian coastal waters.

Logan's Beach
On the way down to Portland I stopped at Logan's Beach in Warrnambool, hoping 
to catch up with whales, and yes, there they were, 2 Southern Right Whales, a 
mother and calf only about 30 metres off the beach, literally just behind the 
surf break! A wonderful sight, and what a excellent way to start to the 
weekend. (Incidentally this was my 29th Victorian mammal species for the year.)

Princess Highway
Half way between Port Fairy and Portland along the Princess Hwy I got my first 
2009 Victorian bird tick for the weekend. In a paddock on the north side there 
was a flock of 20 Kelp Gulp. These were at least 5 km inland, and they were 
associating with Little Raven and Australian Magpie - not the sort of behaviour 
I'd normally associate with Kelp Gull. Most records of this relatively recent 
arrival to Victoria are from shore lines or out at sea. Indeed the very first 
record of Kelp Gull in western Victoria was as recent as 1987, and the first 
breeding record in Victoria was in Jan 2000. My feeling is that these birds 
were collecting together as part of a courtship display, paring off, and 
deciding who are the dominant birds. I'd recently seen the same thing with a 
flock of Crested Pigeon in my local park. Spring is here!

In the last few weeks south-western Victoria has had some rain! Lots of rain! 
In fact the whole district was completely sodden, with large areas of ephemeral 
wetland and wet pastures. These were populated by large numbers of ducks; Grey 
and Chestnut Teal, Black Duck, Black Swan, many many pairs of Mountain Duck, 
and other wetland birds such as Great Egret, White-faced Heron and Royal and 
Yellow-billed Spoonbill, and a quick stop at Deen Maar (an Indigenous Protected 
Area and wondeful wetland, viewed from just after Yambuk) there was Magpie 
Geese. There were quite a few raptors about including Wedge-tailed Eagle, 
Collared Sparrowhawk, Black-Shouldered Kite, Nankeen Kestrel, Brown Falcon, 
Marsh Harrier and one Peregrine.

Rennick State Forest
The first bird that I was particularly chasing was Karak, race graptogyne of 
the endangered Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, an isolated population limited to far 
south-west Victoria and far south-east SA. I'd been given some goss on a couple 
of recent sites north-west of Portland: the first was on the northern edge of 
Glenelg National Park along Croziers Track; the second at Rennick State Forest. 
It was raining hard and I liked my chances better at Rennick, so I headed to 
the furthest site.

An intriguing state forest, Rennic is dominated by two species of eucalypt, 
Brown Stringybark (Eucalyptus baxteri) and Manna Gum (E. viminalis) and is 
bordered by agricultural land and Pinus radiata plantations. Travelling along 
the Princess Hwy it's olny a few km in from the South Australian border. Aside 
from Red-tailed Blacks Rennicks is perhaps best know for being the extreme 
western end of Yellow-bellied Glider distribution.

Turning south along the western boundary of Rennicks I traveled down the Old 
Caves Road (really just a track) stopping at a number of places along the way. 
At each stop I just waited for something to happen - how else do you find 
Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo? Although there was good bird activity including 
things such as the odd Emu, Golden Whistler, Buff-rumped Thornbill, Eastern 
Yellow Robin, Brush Bronzewing, Australasian Pipit and Grey Shrike-thrush, 
there was no sign of any Cockatoo.

The situation was awkward; as mentioned there'd been a lot of rain and the 
further I traveled down Old Cave Road (track) the greater the likelihood that 
I'd get bogged, something that seemed to do happen to me with regularity! Them 
I heard the calls. A mixture of calls, Australian Magpie, Australian Raven, 
Pied Currawong and Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo! A pair of Wedge-tailed Eagle flew 
over the pine plantation that bordered Rennick and a flock of Red-tailed 
Black-Cockatoo (along with Ravens and Currawong), took flight and to drive away 
the Wedgies. This was only 500 metres or so away from the spot that I'd been 
parked for nearly an hour. Thanks for that. This was an area that bordered 
natural forest, pine plantation and cleared forestry land approximately 1km 
inside the South Australian border. Coincidentally this was almost the exact 
situation that I saw Glossy Black-Cockatoo back in January 2009. In this case I 
saw the Glossies just inside Victoria about 1 km from NSW border. Also seen at 
Rennicks were Red-necked and Black Wallaby and Koala - at one point a Koala 
climbed up a tree within a few metres of where I was sitting.

Portland Harbour & the Lee Breakwater
One of the highlights of the weekend (and for the year) was seeing 3 very 
forthcoming Brown Skua on the Lee Breakwater in Portland Harbour. When I first 
arrived at the breakwater they were in the water about 50 metres from the very 
end of the breakwater. For some reason it seemed like a good idea to wave my 
arms about and say over hear (not your standard birding technique!) - I 
imagined that on those sub-antartic islands they'd be attracked to commotion. 
Hey presto, they all flew in perhaps expecting to be feed. The only thing I had 
with me was Apricot Muesli Bars. They seemed to like it - they are after all 
opportunistic feeders! Also flying around the breakwater was a couple of 
Black-browed Albatross, and I was able to photograph a Skua and Albatross in 
the same photograph. In the harbour there were also plenty of Black-faced and 
Little Pied Cormorant, Pacific Gull, and a couple of Pied Oystercatchers.

Cape Nelson & Cape Nelson Lighthouse
Next stop was Cape Nelson State Park, with spectacular coastal cliff, heathland 
and the unusual Soap Mallee (Eucalyptus diversifolia), a species restricted to 
Cape Nelson. Much of the heath was in flower, including Coast Beard Heath 
(Leucopogon parviflorus), Common Correa (Correa reflexa) and Coast Wattle 
(Acacia longifolia var sophorae). The whole place looked stunning.

It's about 10km from Portland and when driving in along the Scenic Rd Brush 
Bronzewing were reasonably common and there were several small parties of 
Beautiful Firetail - always a nice bird to see, the last time being January 09 
near Mallacoota. At the Cape Nelson Lighthouse car park bush birds were in fine 
song: an early arriving Shinning Bronzewing-Cuckoo was calling, as were Rufous 
Bristlebird, New Holland and Singing Honeyeater, Brown Thornbill (the local 
Portland birds have a wonderful water-dripping call), Spotted Pardalote, 
White-browed Scrubwren and Superb Fairy-wren.

One of the main aims of the whole was to going seabirding at the Cape Nelson 
Lighthouse. With spectacular views of the surrounding coast it is almost 
certainly one the best seabird watching site in Victoria, if not Australia. I 
found that the best viewing area was immediately in front of the lighthouse 
(not at the viewing platform); it's slightly sheltered from the wind, which 
believe me makes a big difference, and has excellent panoramic views. This time 
of year (early August) is a good time to be searching for seabirds - there'd 
been strong onshore winds and rough whether for the last few weeks. Autumn and 
earlier spring is also one of the best times for seabirds in Victoria waters as 
there is a bit of a winter summer species overlap.

With a coffee (large) in hand I sat down and looked out to sea for about 6 
hours. What could be better! :-) The most common species were Australasian 
Gannet and there literally hundreds of them flying back and forth from Point 
Danger and Lawrence Rocks State Faunal Reserve. And albatross. Lots of 
albatross! At one point I had about 20 sitting of the water in front of me. The 
most common was Indain Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche carteri), a small 
albatross, about the same size as Australasian Gannet - it is distinctive in 
terms of the dark line around the under wing, greyish almost brown upperwings, 
and its hunched-back-way of flying. There were good numbers Black-browed 
Albatross, slaty black upperwings and a larger-darker areas on the under wings, 
and Shy Albatross (T. Cauta) with their dark armpits. There were good numbers 
of Crested Tern and White-fronted Tern, which was particularly common, 
distinguished by its dark bill, delicate 'comic tern' shape, light appearance 
and method of flying - swallow like, sometimes skimming the water. 
White-fronted Tern breed in sunny New Zealand, arriving on Australia's south 
coast in autumn and leave by late spring.

There were also plenty of Fluttering Shearwater, which started appearing in mid 
morning, would then disappear, and then reappear as uf out of no-where; and 
Fairy Prion, small, often touching the water, also started appearing on the 
scene mid-morning. Anytime I looked there were seabirds over the water! What's 
that!? Did those small darkish and light petrels dive into that wave? I reckon 
they were Common Diving-Petrel! What else could they be - I'm very close to 
ticking them for the VicTwitch. Mmmm... (Any thoughts anyone?) They do, after 
all, breed nearby on Lady Julia Percy Island.

There were also Common Dolphin. A pod of over a hundred continually swam 
immediately in front of where I was sitting. (This was also my 30th Victorian 
mammal species for the year!) They're a relatively small dolphin when compared 
to Bottlenose Dolphin, with their distinctive large yellow strip. They were 
regular participants in 'feeding frenzies' (for want of a better phrase) - with 
Common Dolphin, Australasian Gannet, Crested and White-fronted Tern all feeding 
on schools of fish. The Gannet and Crested Tern in particularly dived in and 
around the dolphin as they swam.

There were also other birds, several toned, and some with pterodroma shaping, 
however they were way out to sea and I couldn't get onto to them; and also a 
large albatross, possibly a Wanderer? It would have been good to have an extra 
pair of eyes or two. Several Kelp Gull flew by, with their distinctive white 
tail, and a single Brown Skua, with its rich chocolate brown and white wing 

In terms of paaserines, while sitting at Cape Nelson Lighthouse Rufous 
Bristlebird entertained me with there wonderful far-reaching call (one of my 
personal favourtites), as did Singing Honeyeater, Welcome Swallow and Starling. 
At one point a large flock of Galah flew overhead and then flew out to sea! 
Where where they going! Perhaps to Lady Julia Percy?

Killarney Beach
Finally a quick stop-over at Killarney Beach on the way back to Melbourne 
produced nothing new for the year, but what a great spot. Entering through the 
re-vegetation area I there were 10 Hooded Plover in two groups of 5 (both 
groups being 2 adults and 3 juveniles), 3 Sanderling, lots of Crested Tern and 
Silver Gull and my only Crested Pigeon (5) for the entire trip! The site is 
favoured by Sanderling due to the protection of Killarney Reef.

Summing Up The Far South West
So, visiting far south west Victoria has certainly been a worthwhile trip. 
There were four new bird species for my VicTwitch 2009 list, Kelp Gull, 
Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Brown Skua, and White-fronted Tern (and maybe a 
couple of missed opportunities) - and also some Southern Right Whale and Common 
Dolphin. I reckon this area one of the best places to go birding in Victoria; 
I'm already thinking about my next trip down there.


Tim Dolby

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