Tuesday, 30 September 2014


Exercise is boring.  Anything that makes it more interesting is to be welcomed warmly. Each day, I walk for 15 minutes as fast as I can (birds willing), then 15 minutes return.  My daily walk can be routine, uninteresting and monotonous.  I have found a cure for this monotony.

Of course I am always aware of the birdlife around me, but I have recently started keeping records of what I see and hear.  In the past I always walked to the east, but now I have been varying my walks to go north, south, and west as well.  I wanted to see where the birds were best, and how they varied in each direction.

Grey Butcherbird - perhaps my favourite local bird

Now that I have completed ten walks in each direction, it is time to look at the results.  There have been a few surprises.

Before I began, I compiled a list of 30 common birds I expected to see in my suburb.  Of these 30 birds, I saw 26 on my 40 walks.  The birds on my list that I did not see were:  Australian Hobby, Little Corella, Silvereye and House Sparrow.  Frustratingly, on one west walk, I thought I saw an Australian Hobby, but it flew away so fast I could not be sure.  Perhaps I would have seen Silvereyes had there been fruiting trees around at the time.  I may yet get them onto my list on future walks.

Birds I saw that were not on my list were:  Australian Raven (seen once on a north walk); Pacific Black Duck (three birds flew overhead just once, again on a north walk); Eastern Rosella (that I saw twice on south walks and once on an east walk); Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike (seen once on a west walk) and one White Ibis (flying high on a north walk).

The birds I recorded on every one of my 40 walks were not surprising.  They were:  Spotted Dove; Rainbow Lorikeet; Red Wattlebird and Australian Magpie.  I dipped on the Common Myna just once, and Little Raven scored 38, that is to say, I missed seeing him just twice.  Noisy Miners had perfect scores walking north and south, but I missed them once walking east and four times walking west.  I saw Pied Currawongs while I was walking in every direction, but more often walking east (7/10).  I only saw Silver Gulls twice, which surprised me.  Once was north and once west.  Again, I only saw Galahs twice, which was not very surprising:  they are not that common in my part of Kew.  Once was north and once was south.  I saw Long-billed Corellas just once, as I was walking south.

The best walk was north.  This walk crosses a major road and ends in a large park, which has two sporting ovals.  My best score for this walk was 16 species, the worst 11, and average 14.  The best bird on this walk was a Willie Wagtail, which I recorded on every north walk (but not on any walk in any other direction).  I also saw Magpie-larks on every north walk, but they were uncommon on other walks (scoring 2 on south  and west walks, and 4 on east walks).  I recorded Spotted Pardalotes three times (once seen, twice heard) on north walks (and heard them just once on an east walk).

The next best walk was south.  This walk starts in a small playground which has several river red gums, crosses a major road, then meanders through suburbia.  Needless to say, the best birds were always in the small playground.  This is where I saw Eastern Rosella.  My best score walking south was 14, the worst 10 and the average 12.  This is the only walk when I saw Crested Pigeons, which I recorded 7 times.  

The third best walk was my old favourite, east, the walk I've been doing for twenty years.  It is the most obvious walk from my house:  straight up the road.  It is all just houses; no parks or reserves.  My best score was 13, worst 8 and average 10.  After I'd done 5 walks, and upstart north looked like beating my old friend east, I decided to tweak the walk a little.  I deviated to include a small park, just off the road I was walking in.  Here I saw Eastern Rosellas just once, and Welcome Swallows every time I visited the park.

The worst walk was west.  It is a boring walk towards the city, with no parks and two schools along the way.  After I saw a Masked Lapwing flying over one school, I tweaked the walk to include looking over the school oval, which I assumed to be the lapwing's destination. However, I did not see the bird again.  My best score walking west was 12, worst 8 and average 10.  As well as the Masked Lapwing, other good birds on the west walk were my only sighting of a Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike and my only sighting of a White-plumed Honeyeater (as well as the frustrating possible sighting of an Australian Hobby).  West was the only walk when I did not record Little Wattlebirds.  This did surprise me.  I even saw them once on an east walk, where I did not think they were present.  In fact they are present about half the time on both north and south walks.

I was surprised at how few records there were of Grey Butcherbirds.  If I'd been asked before I started this endeavour, I'd have said that I'd see butcherbirds about 75% of the time.  In fact, my records show that they were not that common at all:  north: 3;  south:  3; east:  5; and west:  4.  It was sometimes irritating to be enjoying a butcherbird singing in my backyard, then step out the front door to do a walk and not hear him again until my walk was over.

The other surprising thing was just how common Brown Thornbills were.  I'd have guessed I'd see or hear them about 10% of the time.  In fact, scores were:  north:  7; south: 6; east:  3 and west:  6.  They were more often heard than seen, but that was down to the fact that I was out exercising, not birdwatching.

I am delighted to have found a way to make my daily constitutional more interesting.  I will tweak the west walk and try to avoid the schools.  As spring progresses, I hope to add a few more species to my list.

I have always admitted to being a twitcher.  Now my true colours are out there for everyone to see:  I am also a lister.

Thursday, 25 September 2014


Earlier this week I spent a delightful couple of days in Rutherglen.  It was such fun, I found myself questioning why it was only number 79 in my top 100 birding sites.  It deserves to be higher.  Highlights were a Black-tailed Native-hen at Lake King (my first sighting there), my first Australian Reed-Warbler for the season, (I think) my first White-throated Gerygone for Rutherglen and a pair of Brolga with their two teenage chicks.  I heard Little Grassbirds, but I didn't manage to see them.  I always enjoy wandering along the main street looking for Eurasian Tree Sparrows.  Usually a Blue-faced Honeyeater flies by, even if I miss out on my sparrows.  Whenever I see a kingfisher in Rutherglen, I do my best to turn it into a Red-backed Kingfisher.  Others have seen them here.  All I have managed is Sacred.

Of course, I visited Chiltern too (site number 5) and Beechworth (where I go to add Satin Bowerbirds to my list).  At Chiltern Number 2 dam, there were several Restless Flycatchers, Little Friarbirds and Dusky Woodswallows and (best of all) some Diamond Firetails by the entrance gate.  I also saw two Yellow-footed Antechinus - one playing near the water, the other unfortunately dead on the track.  At Greenhill Dam, the Noisy Friarbirds predominated.  At Cyanide Dam in Honeyeater Picnic Area in the Chiltern/Mt Pilot National Park, a curious Olive-backed Oriole flew to investigate me, just to make sure that he got on my list.  Here there are always Yellow-tufted and Fuscous Honeyeaters, Brown Treecreepers and Eastern Yellow Robins.  I also saw a very vocal, very colourful Mistletoebird.  The wildflowers here were as good as the birds.  There were early nancies, as far as I could see just one donkey orchid and lots of those pretty pink orchids we used to call 'five fingers.'  I walked along McGuiness Road in the National Park looking for Spotted Quail-thrush.  Alas, the quail-thrush did not grace me with their presence, but I was well entertained with Golden Whistlers, Black-chinned Honeyeaters, Eastern Yellow Robins and Dusky Woodswallows, not to mention black wallabies.  The flowers here too were wonderful, principally beautiful blue dianella, and also egg and bacon.

At Woolshed Falls in Beechworth, there were thornbills aplenty:  Little and Brown and Striated.  There were also several pretty Spotted Pardalotes, drawing attention to themselves with their attractive tinkling call.

I came home with a total birdlist of 99 species, not counting those that I heard but did not see.  The weather was perfect.  The flowers were prolific.  The birds were wonderful.  Rutherglen was certainly at its best.

Monday, 22 September 2014


When we drive up the Hume, we always stop at the Grasstree Roadside Reserve.  I've seen some good birds here over the years and some pretty wildflowers too.  There's usually a friendly Red-capped Robin and always Weebills.  In spring there are orchids and in autumn there are butterflies.  Just once I saw Brown Quail here.

Located 105 kilometres north of Melbourne, Grasstree is one hour's drive from the Western Ring Road, so for us, coming from Melbourne, it is the perfect spot for coffee.  There is a small dam, where I've seen White-faced Herons and once, a Royal Spoonbill.  Fairy-wrens hop around your feet while you enjoy your break and Grey Fantails scold from above.  I do recommend the walking path.  If you like Grasstrees, you won't be disappointed.  I was brought up to call them 'Black boys,' but this is now deemed politically incorrect and we are supposed to say 'Xanthorrhoea.'
Yellow-faced Honeyeater, photo by Jim Smart
The birds were great when I was there last Saturday.  A very vocal Spotted Pardalote drew attention to himself, out in the open high in a dead tree.  There were Brown and Buff-rumped Thornbills, Red-browed Finches and perhaps best of all, one of my favourite honeyeaters, the Brown-headed.  They are such pretty little birds.

A large family of Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes flew in while we were there.  I think there were six birds, all apparently in adult plumage.  Willie Wagtails chatted happily and Welcome Swallows swooped above.  Then suddenly everything went quiet.  I looked up to see a Whistling Kite gliding by.

One very loud call confused me.  I don't know why I always have such trouble with this call.  I should know it by now.  Eventually I tracked it down.  It was the Yellow-faced Honeyeater.  Ken Simpson describes the call as 'cheerful "chick-up."  Liquid repeated "chir rup, chir-rup" in falling sequence, loud for size of bird.'  I'll try to remember that.

I must mention the wildflowers too, because they were almost as good as the birds.  There was one wattle flowering and one cream flowering grevillea.  There were candles, sundews, lots of glossidia, some beautiful deep blue dianella and several white and two different yellow flowers I was unable to identify.  

Grasstree Roadside Reserve rarely disappoints.  If the birds aren't behaving, you can read the informative signs and learn about the history of gold and bushrangers in the vicinity.

Thursday, 18 September 2014


My brother and I are cleaning out our parents' house in order for it to be sold.  If you've read my first book, How Many Birds is That? you may remember the first chapter, 'All Thanks to a Hooded Robin' which is about my parents' place and the wonderful birds I've seen there over the years.  They bought the property because of its bird life.

Last Wednesday morning, I was wiping down bookshelves and quite bored with the job.  My back was aching, I was alone and the task seemed endless.  Outside the sun was shining and the birds were singing.  A Grey Shrike-thrush and an Eastern Yellow Robin both did their best to entice me out into the sunshine.  A cup of coffee on the verandah watching White-browed Babblers play in the garden and Little Lorikeets flit overhead would surely do me good.  Wouldn't I return to my work with renewed vigour and work twice as well?  Stoically, I ignored the birds' invitation and kept working. Then I heard a Gilbert's Whistler.  He was very close.  I dropped my cloth and rushed outside.

Gilbert's Whistler at my parents' place
He was very beautiful.  He sat, singing, allowing me to enjoy his presence.  It seemed a long time since I'd been so close to a Gilbert's Whistler.

When my parents were alive, and I visited them regularly, my records show that I'd see Gilbert's Whistlers every month.  They nested in the garden each year.  If, on any occasion, I found I didn't have them on my birdlist, I'd go to the garage and slam the door.  The birds would dutifully call in response.  Sometimes my Dad could get them to call by clapping his hands.  I seem to remember that my claps were not quite loud enough.

I've seen them in South Australia a few times, but the last time I'd seen them in Victoria, was at my parents' place in August 2009, and here one was now right in the garden where he belonged.  That bird lifted my spirits enormously.  I returned to my cleaning with a happy heart, revitalized more than any caffeine boost could have done.

Thursday, 11 September 2014


Yesterday I spent an enjoyable half an hour at Trin Warren Tam-Bore, the manmade wetlands on the periphery of Royal Park, just outside central Melbourne.  It was cold and windy, yet I managed 21 species, the best being a Little Grassbird.

Dusky Moorhen
I was greeted by my favourite bird, a friendly Willie Wagtail, as I left the car park.  I walked around the pond, with free entertainment provided by the coots and moorhens on the water.  The Australasian Grebes were dressed in their breeding best, but I couldn't see any chicks.  Little Wattlebirds and a Horsfield Bronze-Cuckoo called simultaneously, and I was forced to make a quick decision about which one to go for.  I decided on the cuckoo, looked for it, dipped, and (naturally) the wattlebirds had stopped calling by then, so I dipped on them too.

Welcome Swallows performed impressive aerial acrobatics, while the New Holland Honeyeaters sat in the bushes, refusing to acknowledge the swallows' agility.  Swamphens strutted on the grass, ignoring me disdainfully.  There were fewer ducks than usual - I saw only Pacific Black Ducks and Grey Teals.

A pair of Magpie-larks duetted for me, while Rainbow Lorikeets and Red Wattlebirds added discordant squawks.

What better way to spend thirty minutes so close to town?

Saturday, 6 September 2014


Yesterday I spent a most enjoyable time at the You Yangs Regional Park (site 31).  A group of happy birders from Birds Australia gathers here quarterly to remove boneseed from the park, which makes us feel virtuous while we actually have a great time birdwatching.
The You Yangs are 55 kilometres south-west of Melbourne, off the Geelong Road, via the township of Little River and the birding can be great.
Eastern Yellow Robin, photo by Jim Smart
For some people yesterday the highlight was great views of Black-chinned Honeyeaters feeding in the flowering eucalypts.  For others, it was a small flock of Musk Lorikeets that posed perfectly in the sunshine.  For me, it was the Eastern Yellow Robin who came confidingly close to enjoy the titbits I'd unearthed while I pulled out boneseed.  When we arrived we were greeted by a Restless Flycatcher and a Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo.  Dusky Woodswallows flew overhead and we saw Little as well as Musk Lorikeets.  A Fantailed Cuckoo called constantly while we performed our gardening.
As well as birds, we saw platelets made by button-quail and admired a koala, a kangaroo and several greenhood orchids.  Something for everyone, wouldn't you say?

Tuesday, 2 September 2014


All the text books agree that Little Ravens are mostly insectivorous. If you see a Little Raven beside roadkill, it is more likely to be snapping at the flies attracted to the body, rather than eating the carrion itself.

Little Ravens in the suburbs have learnt to scavenge

However, they are opportunistic feeders, and will scavenge anything that is convenient. And they certainly will eat carrion if they are hungry enough.

I live in a Melbourne suburb which has a large population of possums, both brush-tail and ringtail. For some reason, the ringtails are often killed on the electricity wires, although I don't remember ever seeing a brush-tail apparently killed in this manner.

Last week, I saw a dead ringtail under the wires, while a couple of Little Ravens sat on the wires above communicating with each other. They ignored the free food below. I was interested to see if the ravens would eat the possum.

They must be well fed, for the dead possum did not attract them at all. It lay there for some days, until I assume one of my neighbours removed it. This is only an assumption, as I did not witness what happened to the possum. What I can say with conviction is that the Little Ravens ignored the dead body for several days.