VicTwitch 2010 - Update - Bitterns, bitterns and more bitterns

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Subject: VicTwitch 2010 - Update - Bitterns, bitterns and more bitterns
From: "Paul G Dodd" <>
Date: Fri, 24 Dec 2010 18:23:49 +1100
We're back in Melbourne for a night, for a Chrissie drinks catchup with
friends, before heading off to the north-west corner of Victoria. So far in
these last two weeks we have covered WTP, Terrick Terrick and Pyramid Hill,
Corop, Rutherglen, Orbost and Cape Conran, Bemm River, Mallacoota and Gipsy


We've added one new bird since my last posting, Black Bittern - taking us to
384 Victorian birds for the year. Also, seeing the Black Bittern at Gipsy
Point means that we've seen all three "Victorian" bitterns in less than a
week - Little Bittern at Reedy Lake near Geelong, Australasian Bittern at a
swamp on the Terrick grasslands and now Black Bittern on the Genoa River at
Gipsy Point.


Since people are certain to ask for details on the Black Bittern, here they
are. The Black Bittern is UPSTREAM from the Gipsy Point Lodge boat ramp. The
only way to have any chance of seeing it is by boat, which means that you
will likely need to hire one. Most people will not allow you to hire a boat
to go upstream from Gipsy Point - the reason is that it is a maze, with
three rivers and bunch of creeks ant tributaries. Ian, the owner of Gipsy
Point Lodge, WILL hire boats and allow you to gate them upstream. We hired
one from him and departed reasonably early on Saturday morning. We were not
sure that there were any Black Bitterns present, but this is the time of
year that they are mostly seen. We spoke with Capt John who runs the Gipsy
Princess a charter tour boat specialising in nature and bird tours up the
rivers - he said that he had not seen any Black Bitterns this year, but had
seen plenty of Striated Herons (which we saw earlier in the year). When we
picked up the boat from Ian, we told him what we were after, and he said
that his chef had seen one the previous day. Anyway, we departed and chugged
slowly upstream checking the south bank of the river thoroughly - the river
is very shallow, and particularly so from the middle to the northern bank -
in many places too shallow for a motorised boat.


We headed as far upstream as we could go (basically until we ran the boat
aground on a sandbank), then headed back downstream and searched the
Maramingo as far upstream as we could get - it eventually becomes impassable
due to logs across it, just under the surface. No joy. We passed another
boat of birdwatchers who said that they'd seen a bittern on the Genoa River,
so we headed back there. We scanned the bank on the south side of the Genoa
river from the mouth of the Maramingo Creek for about 500m to the west, with
no luck. Then tragedy struck! We saw an Azure Kingfisher and went into shore
to take photos. On trying to back the boat out, the engine died! These hire
boats are HEAVY and with two of us paddling, with a strongish current and
wind, we struggled to control it. We drifted aimlessly downstream, but
managed to keep close to the southern shore of the river and continued
looking for bitterns. About 500m to the east of the Maramingo mouth, we
heard the bittern call! There is no way we would have heard it with the
engine running. Anyway, we paddled the boat into shore and found an old (and
very rotten) tree that we tied up to. Then clambering along the shore for a
couple of hundred metres upstream, searching every bush and tree we saw it!
And it saw us and took off across the river...


We headed back to our boat and decided to paddle across the river to the
other side - but somehow we managed to reach a spot where the current and
the wind reached equilibrium and we were stuck in the middle of the river.
The best our paddling could do was turn the boat around - we could not move.
I guess the wind eventually dropped and we managed to get to the other side,
but in thick foliage that we could not get through. Finally a fisherman and
his wife came by and gave us a tow back towards the boat ramp (they would
not have been able to tow us upstream). There is one patch on the river with
mobile phone coverage, and as soon as we came to that we called Ian at Gipsy
Point Lodge. Apart from apologising profusely, he came out to meet us with a
replacement boat.


We spent the next three or four hours searching for our elusive Black
Bittern but could not relocate it. We did manage to flush FOUR Striated
Herons though - one was very dark, another was very pale and the others were
mid-way between. None of the birds appeared to be juveniles. On one of our
passes upstream we saw a flock of Topknot Pigeons in some tall dead
branches. They didn't hang around for very long, however.


Paul Dodd and Ruth Woodrow

Docklands, Victoria




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