Braeside Park is 310 hectares of bush and wetlands in suburban Melbourne, quite close to the Mordialloc airport. Small planes buzz overhead as you bird.
I enjoyed an hour there this morning, and clocked up 46 species of birds (47 if you count the Magpie-lark I heard, but did not see) plus one rabbit and one fox. Without a doubt the most exciting bird of the morning was a beautiful Ruff. There were also Blue-billed Duck, Nankeen Night-Herons, Royal Spoonbills, White-necked Heron, Latham's Snipe and great views of a Brown Goshawk.
I timed my arrival to coincide with the opening of the gates at 8.30 a.m. hoping to avoid the crowds. This park can be very popular with cyclists and families during summer and I thought Australia Day would be very busy. My plan was to get there early, see my birds, and be home by morning tea time. The bird I was really hoping to see was an extraordinary blue ibis, which I'd heard was here. It's apparently an Australian White Ibis with aberrant colouration. However, I didn't see any ibis of any colour today. But I didn't come away disappointed.
In the carpark, I was greeted by a Purple Swamphen, a Masked Lapwing and some Magpies. Alarm calls alerted me to a Collared Sparrowhawk, flying fast at canopy level. I started, as I usually do, with the Wetlands Trail. I've seen crakes and Magpie Geese here before. But not today. I searched for ibis, but had no luck. There were Royal Spoonbills and Black-winged Stilts and a few loafing ducks. Not a very promising start, I thought as I set off for the bird hide, pleased that I'd arrived early. There were just a few cyclists around, and a couple of joggers. A wetland en route to the bird hide proved most productive, but also most frustrating, as the birds were a long way away, too far for my binoculars. I really needed a scope. I didn't have a scope with me, but even if I had thought to bring one, it would have been too far for me to carry it.
I could see a huge flock of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers (perhaps 500) and a very large number of Red-kneed Dotterels (about 30 I reckon). I could see one Latham's Snipe and an Australian Reed-Warbler cavorted in the open in front of me. There was lots of inviting exposed mud, and I was surprised not to see any crakes. There were ducks and pelicans, coots and grebes. I thought the prettiest birds were the Black-winged Stilts, posing with their reflections mirrored in the water. Frustrated that I could not identify any stints, or indeed anything else amongst that flock of sandpipers, I hurried on to the bird hide.
As a demonstration of my contrary nature, I was delighted to hear voices in the bird hide as I approached. Normally I shun my fellow man, but birders to chat to are always welcome. There were two birders present, and one of them had a scope. I asked him what he'd seen at the wetland, amongst all those sharpies. He said there was one Pectoral Sandpiper and one Ruff!There were also some Great Crested Grebes about. From the bird hide I could see cormorants, darters, ducks (including the Blue-billed), night-herons, Australasian Grebes, stilts and herons. Again, I scanned the banks for crakes, but I could see only coots. At 9.15, I'd been at Braeside for 45 minutes, and my bird count was 40. I thought I'd better turn for home, and have a quick look at the sandpipers on the way. Who knows, I might be able to make out the Ruff or the Pectoral Sandpiper or even Great Crested Grebes.
So I set off again and when I arrived at the sandpiper spot, there was another birder there. Quietly, I scanned the sandpipers, but they were all too far away. I admired the snipe, and endeavoured to ensure that I hadn't missed anything else. Then, bless him, the birder with the scope turned up. He found the Ruff and allowed me to admire it through his scope. Once I'd identified it, I looked at it through my binoculars, but it just looked like a large sharpie. Seen through the scope, it was an exceptionally beautiful bird. Thank you, Andrew!
A Brown Goshawk landed in a dead tree above our heads, some Whiskered Terns flew by and my total had grown to 46. Not bad for an hour.