WATTS RIVER ROTUNDA, MAROONDAH DAM PICNIC AREA
It was actually cold when I arrived at the Watts River Rotunda, with a totally grey sky and very bad light for birding. My spirits rose, however, when Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos flew over. These magnificent big birds with their lovely slow wing action always make my spirits rise. Someone had left seven sausages on the barbeque and I wondered where all the kookaburras were. Perhaps they're all so well fed, they only eat the very best sausages. Still, it was amazing that some little creature hadn't taken advantage of a free feed overnight. I walked down to the river, but the birds were very quiet. I saw Crimson Rosellas and heard Pied Currawongs, but with no sunshine and such bad light, I feared I might have chosen the wrong day to drive to Healesville. I heard an Eastern Yellow Robin and a White-throated Treecreeper, but neither bird would show itself. I did manage to see Brown Thornbills, Yellow-faced Honeyeaters and Grey Fantails. A Laughing Kookaburra flew by, ignoring the sausages, so I figured he was just a fussy eater. I turned to leave when an Eastern Spinebill flitted in a nearby gum tree and a pair of Common Bronzewings landed beside the rotunda. Thinking this whole trip had been a mistake, I returned to the car and drove on to my second spot.
Graceburn Weir is one of Melbourne's best kept birdy secrets. I've never seen another birder there - in fact, I've rarely seen another person. This morning, as usual, I had the place to myself. Bushfires went through in the holocaust of 2009 and many black trunks and dead trees bear testimony to the hell that was. The undergrowth is growing up to be even more dense than it was before. If this is a good or bad thing I do not know.
As I walked towards the weir, it was still cold and there was a slight breeze. It didn't take me long to realize that I wasn't going to see my Lewin's Honeyeater. I heard Pied Currawongs, Grey Fantails, Brown Thornbills and Yellow Robins. When a White-throated Treecreeper called, I stopped and looked. It would be a new bird for the year. I looked and waited and waited and looked. Treecreepers called in the distance, to my left, right, in front and behind, but nothing would come within sight. When I had not seen a bird, not just a treecreeper, but any bird at all, in twenty minutes, I knew that I'd made a mistake to come today.
Then, suddenly, I saw a flock of Red-browed Finches. Lots of young birds showed that they'd had a good season. Then I saw and heard a Brown Goshawk, my first raptor for the year. In celebration, a black wallaby jumped across the path in front of me. That was the turning point. The birds came thick and fast. It usually takes 30 minutes to walk to the weir. The birds were so distracting this morning, it took 50 minutes. The first wonderful sighting was a Rufous Fantail. He was glorious. I hadn't seen one since March 2011 at Gipsy Point. Today's bird came down to eye level and gave me a very good look. What a beautiful bird! Then there was a magnificent male Golden Whistler, Eastern Rosellas, Silvereyes, White-browed Scrubwrens and one lonely Dusky Woodswallow. I heard what I thought was an Eastern Whipbird, but it might just as easily have been a Superb Lyrebird. I'm sure that the black cockies I thought I'd heard here were in fact a lyrebird. The bush here is too dense to go bush bashing. If the lyrebirds stay away from the track, there's no hope of seeing them at Graceburn. I wasn't worried. I planned to see lyrebirds at my next stop.
I reckon all the honeyeaters I saw were either Yellow-faced or White-naped (and there were lots of both of those) but I confess that the tiny black silhouettes high in the canopy may well have included other species. Whether or not there were others, I came home without my Lewin's. I didn't mind in the least. As far as I was concerned, the Rufous Fantail had made the drive worthwhile. I returned to the car and drove on to my final Healesville stop.
Badger's Weir is where I take overseas visitors to see Superb Lyrebirds. I don't think I've ever been here without seeing one. Until today. I heard several, which is pretty good for January, but I couldn't manage to see one. I took Lyrebird Track to the weir, and barely saw a bird. So, I was going to miss out on my hoped-for Large-billed Scrubwren, as well as my Lewin's Honeyeater AND my Superb Lyrebird. There's no justice in the world, I thought, as I walked back to the car. Then, at eye level to my left, I saw a scrubwren. I raised my binoculars. Yes! It was Large-billed. Yippee! To help me celebrate a White-throated Treecreeper landed right beside me and hopped up the treetrunk. All that unsuccessful looking at Graceburn, and here the bird just about sought me out.
I went home happy. I didn't have a very large count but I was delighted with my black cockies, my Rufous Fantail and my Large-billed Scrubwren. It was certainly worth the drive.