Bruny Island and Adventure Bay, Tassie part two...

Well it has been a reasonable amount of time coming, but here it is - a blog post (and part two) for the anniversary of our trip to Tasmania in April 2017. You can find part one here.

I have to call it an anniversary post as it has taken so effing long for me to extract a digit to get this written up! Jeez, even for me that is incredibly slack... oh well... "better late then never" haha. I just hope I remember most of what I intended to include!

We left Eaglehawk Neck and headed off with our next destination once more a surprise to me. Two hours later we were taking the famous Bruny Island Car Ferry over to North Bruny, where we then drove to the beautiful stone cottage we were to stay in at Adventure Bay. The drive took us over The Neck, a narrow isthmus of land connecting north and south Bruny Island with superb views out of both sides and home to a large resident population of Little Penguins and Short-tailed Shearwaters.

Prior to the trip, I had seen a photo of a rather beautiful albino Bennett's Wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus) from somewhere on Bruny Island and was hoping that we may see it if we were really, really lucky. Our cottage was set back off the seafront on a large area surrounded by grass and was fantastically private; our closest neighbours were industriously feeding Tasmanian Nativehens and a small mob of Bennett's Wallabies WITH A WHITE WALLABY IN THERE! What I did not realise at that exact time was it was mathematically unlikely I was looking at the wallaby from the photo I had seen as there is a population of approximately 200 albino wallabies on the island. Nonetheless, we were captivated by them - they are so incredibly endearing and look like a fictional delight rendered in reality. Gorgeous!

The endemic Tasmanian Nativehens (Tribonyx mortierii) were great fun to watch on one soggy afternoon, allowing me to practice my flash technique and providing an opportunity to shoot some video - both skills still well and truly on the initial slope of the learning curve!

One of the many surprises that Louise had organised for us was a morning tour at the Inala Nature Reserve, a place we had wanted to visit for some time. Our fantastic guide, Cat, managed to combine all of the essential qualities that make a really great guide - passion, enthusiasm, knowledge and a good measure of banter! We had a great wander around the amazing property that is so essential to protecting some of the superb habitat covered in its 600 hectares, and we picked up almost every single endemic bird we had so far missed, and added better views of a few we had only had fleeting glances of in the previous few days.

Now for most birders, ourselves included, one of the big drawcards of Bruny Island is the potential for seeing the tiny and sadly endangered Forty-spotted Pardalote (Pardalotus quadragintus) and Inala is a very reliable site to see them. When I say tiny, they really are - with a  length of about 10 cm, a wingspan of about 18 cm, and a weight of about 9 to 13g. Fortunately they showed themselves on our second loop which is really lucky for all in attendance as me throwing a massive sobbing, disappointed hissy-fit would have been embarrassing for everyone. Seriously, I would have been so bloody gutted if we had dipped on seeing them. I managed a few shaky shots as they flitted about well above our heads in the Manna Gums (Eucalyptus viminalis) they rely on.

At the end of the tour, we spent some time in the temporary raptor hide and we had superb views of a very dark Brown Goshawk before a male Grey Goshawk (white morph) came in to then be joined by the larger female - what truly arresting and stunning birds they are! We highly recommend a tour at Inala and encourage you to support their excellent conservation efforts.

To wrap this up, here are some of the other random shots I got of other Tassie birds while we were there, including some endemic species...

 

Eaglehawk Neck, Tassie part one...

The view from Pirate's bay lookout

The view from Pirate's bay lookout

In April this year, Louise and I headed down to Tasmania for a five day break. The exact destinations were a mystery to me as Louise had planned the entire trip and was resolute at keeping the details a surprise. We picked up a hire car from the airport and headed off... two hours later we pulled into the driveway of a remarkable wooden octagonal house (in what I would learn was Pirate's Bay) where I was surprised by two familiar faces popping up from their hidden positions! It was our good friends Jo and Jason, fellow nature nerds who knew the area well from their many visits and who had arrived the day before. (You can find Jason's photography here)

After the drive down we needed to stretch our legs, so we strapped on our binoculars and all went for some fresh air and a wander down the track to Pirate's Bay - there are 14 endemic Tasmanian birds and I was itching to get spotting. We were not disappointed, we got some excellent views straight away of Dusky Robin, Yellow-throated Honeyeater, Tasmanian Thornbill and Green Rosella. By day's end we had also picked up Black Currawong, Tasmanian Native-hen and while not an endemic, the Beautiful Firetail in the jetty car park added another lifer to the tally.

The following day was the start of Louise's secret activities schedule; we were all off on a four hour privately chartered (oooh la di da di, how posh!) boat trip heading out of Eaglehawk Neck. Now if any of you have read the account of my previous pelagic experience you would know this was going to be a great test. This was exactly the purpose as Louise has previously experienced savage sea-sickness and was very reluctant to get on a boat, despite her real desire to see albatross. I had stocked up on a couple of recommended drugs, and this was going to be a solid road, or should I say wave test of their efficacy.

We hit the jetty early to meet Damo from Wild Ocean Tasmania and hopped aboard his prowler boat, hoping the calm, still day would not keep the albatross too far offshore. Within the first half an hour all of Louise and my fears were assuaged; with the drugs pumping through our system and the low, incredibly stable boat neither of us felt in the least bit queasy. Under the expert skippering of Damo we explored along the sheer cliff faces, occasionally entering some of the large caves that perforate the coastline. The scale and unique geology is really something to behold!

One of the big bonuses of Eaglehawk Neck is the very close proximity (in relation to the Victorian coast) of the continental shelf - basically the hotspot for all of the really cool pelagic birds! I was amazed to see our first albatross come in when we were not far off shore at all - after heading further out to sea and following the banking silhouettes of some Shy Albatross we came across little hotspots of feeding activity. Short-tailed Shearwaters shared the air with Kelp and Pacific Gulls, Crested Terns joined the fray and rafts of seals floated with one flipper aloft as if to welcome us to their domain. One of the highlights was the appearance of a Common-diving Petrel. The day was really delivering for us all and my breakfast remained firmly, and confidently ensconced where it should be. Bloody marvellous! By the end of the session we were heading back to dry land with Louise having happily ticked four species of albatross: Shy, Black-browed, Yellow-nosed and Buller's.

In the evenings, we would take ourselves off into the pitch black night to go spotlighting with the aim of finding ourselves some night birds. Whilst we were not successful with finding the owls we were after, we were very excited to come across Eastern Barred Bandicoots foraging on the side of the roads. The conservation status of the EBB is critically endangered in Victoria - the wild population sadly extinct with all hope reliant on some reintroduction sites  - and vulnerable in Tasmania. You can read further about these brilliant little mammals here including finding out about the mind-blowing duration of their gestation period! (You can click the photos below to see them properly if you'd like)

Our two days went extremely quickly and we are keen to get back as soon as we are able, but we were off to Bruny Island... another spot we had been excited about exploring for some time! We highly recommend checking out Pirate's Bay and Eaglehawk Neck, as well as heading out on one of the Wild Ocean Tasmania trips - you will be in excellent hands and will be supporting their fantastic conservation efforts.

 

Hot on the trail of Painted Button-quail

For birders, there is very little that matches the thrill of seeing and 'ticking' a new bird - or a 'lifer' in birding vernacular. The only thing that can really enhance this experience for Louise and I, is for that lifer to be found on our own slice of bush... and that is what happened this long weekend.

We left for Finches Gully with plans for a productive, long weekend of work on our cabin. As we entered through the gate, Louise spotted the partially obscured figure of a bird fossicking around in the leaf litter... we grabbed our binos and peered through the windscreen, soon realising we had in our sight the highly elusive Painted Button-quail! Another bird was seen before they promptly disappeared as I exited the car with my camera. Typical.

Our best laid plans went out of the window and were instead replaced by two days of slow, quiet and steady stalking; with CB radios ready we split up to cover more ground (which for Louise included sitting up a large Yellow Gum for a while as you will read below) and our newly focused attention was rewarded with a further four sightings over Saturday and Sunday in two areas of the block. It's hard to say how many individuals there were but we saw two birds at any one time in either location, with their different markings we believe them to be pair(s).


Note from Louise...

I first learnt about the Painted Button-quail (Turnix varius) when doing work experience with Connecting Country in Castlemaine. It is one of "The Feathered Five” focal species that they ask landowners to keep a track of because they are very susceptible to the pressures that are causing woodland birds to decline. Although I didn’t see them in the week I spent doing bird surveys with Tanya Loos, Woodland Bird Project Officer, she told me about the little clues they leave behind. 

As they forage for insects in leaf litter, they scrape the dirt away with their feet and form a circle of bare earth called a platelet. I found a few platelets near our track (see below), then kept following them up towards our fence line and found a load more. I decided to climb up and get settled in my favourite Yellow Gum, allowing a slightly elevated view of the area. I felt sure this would coax out the little blighter, whoops, I mean bird. But no! And my arse went numb after a while so I jumped down and went back to searching on foot. 


Back to me...

On the second, third and fourth of the five sightings the birds almost literally evaporated into native grass tussocks before my very eyes! On the fourth sighting, the bird was directly between us as I was talking to Louise and trying to zone her in to where the bird was - at the time it was running straight at her and about 15m from her she saw its head and then it dematerialised into the ether.  On the fifth sighting we both had superb, prolonged views as it did a seriously rapid, long loop before flushing (flying away) and never being found again. They are remarkable, bloody quick and so well camoflauged. It was here I snapped my award-winning shots which I have presented at the foot of the page for your ocular gratification* ;)

We have been musing if they have always been around and we just haven’t seen them (it took very active and deliberate scouting to see them after the initial fluke sighting) or have they just decided to come and camp recently? We suspect the latter - either way we are incredibly happy to have seen them and we hope they do decide to hang around.

The Painted Button-quail is listed as vulnerable nationally, and secure in Victoria. That doesn’t translate as easy to find however! You can read more about these most excellent of birds here - http://birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/painted-button-quail

*I managed to get four photos - that is it and yes, disappointingly these two below really are the best of the four. PBQs are furtive and quick, they hide behind long grasses that your camera wants to focus on and I was doing a rapid, trying to be quiet and invisible canter, and waaaaahhh!. There is a dirty, wee secret us bird photographers like to squirrel away but I will let you in on it now… often, the vast majority of the shots are average and a high number you take are frankly really crap. To the point where you have to consider the existential nature of your existence and wouldn’t it all be more productive if you started making models of the Eiffel Tower out of toenail clippings instead. You see the shots we want you to see, generally you will not see the 99/100 that didn’t make the cut and are of a ‘blurd’ (blurry bird), or a lovely shot of where the bird was a second ago, a super sharp branch with the out of focus ghost of a bird sitting on it, or a dark frame because you didn’t check your settings in the heat of the moment.


Update: 15 September 2017
A week or so after our initial sighting in June, a good friend and fellow bird photographer Warren Palmer managed to catch these incredible shots of one of the female PBQs. As you can imagine, I was absolutely over the moon that he managed these killer shots and I wasn't at all jealous or gutted it was him behind the camera instead of me... no really... ahem.

We have been finding lots of new sites where the obvious platelet activity is high, so we have been placing motion-activated trail cameras in some of these spots with the hope of catching some activity - after watching literally hours of footage of everything but PBQs over the past 6-8 weeks, last weekend in two of the last files in the batch we struck gold!  You may need to watch carefully to see them haha - very exciting nonetheless! Some of the cool distractions we did capture on the cameras though were a Southern Boobook in flight, a microbat, a possum, an echidna, lots of 'roos and a couple of swamp wallabies... and an annoying number of hares - the main one I have now named 'Trigger' due to the amount of times he set the cameras off.

There is a second bird there believe it or not! Whether it is a chick or an adult is hard to tell but we are certainly hoping it is a chick! Fingers crossed we will get some further footage soon.

A critically endangered grassland oasis

Kangaroo Grass at Clarke Road Stream Side Reserve, Caroline Springs.

Kangaroo Grass at Clarke Road Stream Side Reserve, Caroline Springs.

In 2016 I had the pleasure of getting to know a little grassland on the edge of Caroline Springs called Clarke Road Stream Side Reserve (SSR). As part of my studies (Diploma of Conservation and Land Management) I had to choose a natural area to conduct a full site assessment, create a monitoring program and write a restoration project plan. Sitting precariously on the edge of rapidly creeping urban sprawl and soon to be engulfed by a sea of housing, Clarke Road SSR is a haven for native flora and fauna and I quickly fell in love.

Many weekends were spent discovering the variety of native grass species, doing bird surveys and stumbling over rocks to mark GPS points for the grandiose ideas I would map out in my restoration project plan. Now that I’ve finished my Diploma it seems a shame for all that information to sit in a file on my computer. I feel like Clarke Road SSR needs some TLC, so I’ll start by describing it’s features and history in order to share the goodies that I found.  

In the future, by the powers invested in me (as Secretary of the Friends of Kororoit Creek, ha ha!) I hope to encourage local residents to get involved in a revegetation project with funding to be sourced from Melbourne Water’s community grant program. In the meantime, Parks Victoria undertake ongoing weed control throughout the grassland. In addition, we continue to work together on a monitoring program to trial the effectiveness of an organic, plant-derived herbicide on Serrated Tussock (stay tuned for more on this in a future post).

But for now, here is an introduction to a grassland that I’ve developed quite a soft spot for.


Clarke Road Stream Side Reserve is a six-hectare triangular area of remnant native grassland in Caroline Springs, bound by housing development and agricultural properties. It is managed by Parks Victoria, however Melbourne Water are responsible for the bed and banks of Kororoit Creek which runs through the middle of the reserve. Upstream from Clarke Road SSR the creek currently flows through agricultural areas, however most of this will be turned into housing developments in the coming years.

Wallaby Grass dominates the grassland.

Wallaby Grass dominates the grassland.

The Ecological Vegetation Class (EVC) for the majority of this reserve is “132 Plains Grassland”, recognised as Natural Temperate Grassland of the Victorian Volcanic Plains, which is listed as a critically endangered ecological community under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999. The grassland area has a variety of native grasses including Wallaby Grass., Kangaroo Grass, Speargrass and Silky Blue Grass. Other species include Pink Bindweed, Nodding Saltbush and Bluebells

The rocky escarpment is crowned with old Black Wattles and Sweet Bursaria - a magnet for honeyeaters. 

The rocky escarpment is crowned with old Black Wattles and Sweet Bursaria - a magnet for honeyeaters. 

A striking rocky escarpment, roughly four metres high, connects the grassland to the creek area and basalt rocks are dotted along the creek banks. Common Reeds line the creek and the area boasts a number of remnant River Red Gums. Towards the top of the rocky escarpment there are some large, remnant Black Wattle, Sweet Bursaria and Tree Violet.

The remnant River Red Gums attract parrots and birds of prey, and bees have taken up residence in the stump of a dead tree. Every tree is used to it's full capacity here!

The remnant River Red Gums attract parrots and birds of prey, and bees have taken up residence in the stump of a dead tree. Every tree is used to it's full capacity here!

Kororoit Creek provides habitat for a variety of birds, amphibians, fish and invertebrates. It is also an important source of food and water for many species of fauna including Eastern Grey Kangaroos and Swamp Wallabies. Considering the size and isolation of this reserve, a wide range of birds were observed, including:

  • Red-rumped Parrot
  • Flame Robin 
  • Brown Falcon 
  • Southern Boobook
  • White-faced Heron 
  • Little Pied Cormorant 
  • White-plumed Honeyeater 
  • New Holland Honeyeater 
  • Superb Fairy-wren 
Serrated Tussock, a Weed of National Significance, is present in the grassland.

Serrated Tussock, a Weed of National Significance, is present in the grassland.

The main threat to the biodiversity of the reserve is pest plants. There are five Weeds of National Significance on the reserve, Serrated Tussock, Chilean Needle Grass, Gorse, Prickly Pear and African Boxthorn. Declared noxious weeds include Artichoke Thistle, Fennel, Sweet Briar and Spiny Rush. Dumped garden waste is also introducing new weeds to the grassland such as Kikuyu Grass and Couch Grass.

Residents and visitors may not be aware of the European history and Indigenous cultural heritage values present in the reserve. Prior to European settlement this area would have been used by the Wurundjeri people as an important source of food and water due to the creek and the high biodiversity of flora that thrived in the grassland. Evidence of European cultural heritage exists in the form of a dry stone wall along part of a boundary of Clarke Road SSR, and it is protected by a Melton City Council Planning Clause 52.37. Having an understanding of how this reserve was used in the past can help the community appreciate the value of the small area that remains today. 

A dry stone wall is protected by a local council planning clause. 

A dry stone wall is protected by a local council planning clause. 

In addition, residents and visitors may also be unaware that this reserve is dominated by remnant native grassland which is classified as critically endangered under the EPBC Act. Similar grassland reserves, such as Evans Street Grassland in Sunbury, have used grassland flora and fauna species as a feature when designing interpretive signage. If funds were available in future, a similar approach could help to raise awareness of the special plants and animals in the reserve, and give residents a sense of pride for this rare natural feature in their suburb.

Bluebells cascade out of gaps in the rocky escarpment.

Bluebells cascade out of gaps in the rocky escarpment.

Clarke Road SSR showcases the surprisingly high level of biodiversity in flora and fauna that can still remain in small pockets amongst suburban sprawl. However as urban development expands in the coming years, the threats and pressures surrounding this isolated grassland will increase. Fostering community engagement and encouraging a sense of pride and ownership for this special area will play a key role in raising the profile, public awareness and protection of Clarke Road SSR.

By protecting the biodiversity of this critically endangered ecological community and encouraging active and ongoing community engagement with the reserve, Clarke Road SSR has the capacity to survive, and possibly even thrive, amongst future urban growth. 

- Louise Nicholas. 

Pulling a Swifty...

The Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor) is classified as critically endangered federally, and endangered in Victoria with estimates at the remaining population only being approximately 1000 breeding pairs. As one of only two migratory parrots in the world (the other of course being the Orange-bellied Parrot who also migrates seasonally from Tasmania) it is an extremely special bird, as well as being a very beautiful one!

Ordinarily these magnificent parrots would undertake the treacherous crossing after breeding in Tasmania, arriving on the mainland for autumn and winter. I'm sure you can understand our amazement to be looking at several birds on our bush block in the middle of January! It is presumed they simply chose to stay last year and avoid the round-trip across the Bass Strait which is understandable - it's hardly a walk in the park.

A friend of ours, Warren, had visited our block and photographed a lone Swifty on the Wednesday evening and taking bragging rights for probably the first Victorian (or mainland?) sighting of 2017. Jealous? Ha ha, yes but also ecstatic at the same time - the excitement levels were through the roof and we were itching to get up to the block at the weekend... the next couple of days felt like months! On Saturday evening, with three sets of eyes and ears and after no sightings during the day I was mostly resigned to the fact that it had probably just passed through. At around 7.30pm however the clear call of a Swifty rang out and was picked up on by our mate, Wilson. Shortly afterwards we caught sight of one dashing across the sky - woooohoooo!! To then realise it was being closely followed by a second bird just increased the adrenaline immensely. We watched the pair sitting in the very top of a large Yellow Gum preening for some time before they flew off and circled back to a lower tree nearby. It was then we realised there was a third bird with a fourth calling... a proper Swift Parrot jackpot! In the end we saw and photographed three birds over the course of about an hour as they tentatively moved closer from inspecting the water, to drinking.

We have previously recorded 9 birds on the road leading to our block in August 2013 but to have them at this time of year when there is a complete lack of flowering gums is truly remarkable. When we first placed a covenant on the block, our fantastic Trust for Nature Stewardship Officer, Kirsten, mentioned that if we were extremely lucky the habitat could attract three very important birds: Diamond Firetails, Swifties and the Square-tailed Kite... we have now had all of them grace us with their presence! (Note: you can read about the Square-tailed Kites visit here)

The utterly bloody awesome guys at Team Swift Parrot have been running some crowd-funding projects to support the preservation of the Swift Parrot and also the Orange-bellied Parrots... I cannot urge you enough to please assist with their work in any way you can. https://www.facebook.com/teamswiftparrot/

We also want to acknowledge and thank the experts in the Swift Parrot Recovery Group who work so tirelessly so that random birders such as ourselves can get to enjoy these stunning parrots, and hopefully for many more years and generations to come.

If you would like to read more about the Swifties, or join Birdlife Australia to also help with their fantastic work in protecting and advocating for our feathered friends... http://www.birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/swift-parrot


UPDATED!
We decided to spend Australia Day eve up at the block as we had a couple of tasks to do and as I had been keen to try out the WiFi capabilities of my new camera, I thought I'd fill a storage tub with some water as I could hear lots of honeyeaters flying around. I chucked the camera on a low tripod and an old green t-shirt over the camera expecting the birds to be extremely trepidatious of this new water source and the odd thing with the big glass eye next to the tub. How wrong I was! What I did not expect was that within twenty minutes of moving away from the camera (and setting up my iPhone as the remote preview screen and shutter trigger) we would have the beautiful Swift Parrots arrive for a visit! As it happened so quickly and I hadn't had a chance to review this trial set up, there are a few focus shifts which I will be sorting out on future filming efforts. I was sure they would have most likely moved on in the fortnight since we saw them, so to be able to watch them again from so close and capture a brief bit of footage made our weekend :)

Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park excursion: Rise of the Mozzie Overlords

The weekend after Melbourne Cup, myself and a small but intrepid band of bird photographers convened at Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park in North East Victoria, a superb area of Box-Ironbark forest. The group of nine members from the Feathers and Photos bird photography community consisted of six Victorians, two New South Welshmen who had separately undertaken the long drive down, and a lone Queenslander who arrived at the airport in flip-flops and shorts… who says optimism is dead. Luckily for him it coincided with one of the few great Spring days we have had so far. From the airport, we headed straight to the Warby-Ovens National Park (which is en route and west of Chiltern) to catch up with two of the ensemble who had been scouting around since early morning. The weather was hot, dry and the light utterly dreadful for photography. The guys had not had a great deal of joy through the day with the conditions against them, and unfortunately they had not sated the appetites of the mosquitos who continued to feast on us for most of the remaining 72 hours and triggering that particular brand of ‘Bush Tourettes’ especially felt by predominantly city-dwelling wusses like myself…. “Fuck off!! FUCK, PISS OFF! Geddofffuckinghellfuck OFFF!”

Stopping at Spring Creek Picnic Area inside the park we found a significant number of Brown Treecreepers, several of them newly fledged juveniles; masses of Rufous Whistlers (a bird that was to remain prolific in voice and numbers throughout the weekend), a few Flycatchers and the first sightings of the stunning Turquoise Parrot, a bird now sadly classified as near threatened in Victoria. I was very fortunate to happen upon a female peeping from a hollow.

With the sun beating directly down on our heads and the fragrant aroma of Aeroguard wafting gently through the bush, we decided to head to Chiltern to check in and meet the rest of the group. A quick recce at Cyanide Dam (at the Honeyeater Picnic area which was ludicrously devoid of many honeyeaters) gave us an indication of what the rest of the weekend would be like… very, very quiet. Aside from nesting Australasian Grebes and Willie Wagtails, the area was not exactly jumping with bird life. It was interesting seeing the two adult Willie Wagtails taking turns to forage for food before returning to the nest and swapping places with their partner before feeding the voracious chicks, and then sitting on top of the nest until it was their time to swap again. (Note: you can click on the photo thumbnails to get larger images)

We all congregated early on Saturday morning to head into the park to see what we could find, starting with Bartley’s Block which delivered ~30 species that included some stunning views of a pair of Turquoise Parrots and some industrious nest building by a pair of White-throated Gerygones.

I was particularly happy to break my drought in seeing a Speckled Warbler for more than a fleeting ID sighting, with extended and fantastic views of three birds breaking the curse of this bogey bird. Whilst they were not obliging my camera I still walked away very happy before being able to steer two other members of the group onto their first sightings also. The spring weather had brought out quite a few Rufous Songlarks with one showy bird determinedly serenading us for most of our morning stay, flitting around above us and alighting in several photogenic perches demanding to be photographed. This was to be the third and last of the lifers I saw over the weekend (Speckled Warbler, Rufous Songlark and White-throated Gerygone).

We left Bartley’s to explore more of the park but frankly the lack of birdlife anywhere was a bit disappointing and not to put to fine a point on it, incredibly selfish of the birds not to be putting on a special display for us and our eager cameras. Do these feathery bastards not know who we are?! We stopped at Greenhill Dam where I decided to explore the bush opposite; the highlight was accidentally flushing three sets of quail (I believe to be Stubble Quail), the first birds to flush nearly causing a coronary and soiled trousers. Wherever we went in the park there was a notable absence of any flowering gums – not even one rogue outlier was found – which undoubtedly reduces the chance of seeing many of the emblematic birds of the area such as the Regent Honeyeater. Even an evening of spotlighting returned no nocturnal birds other than a Tawny Frogmouth. As with most of Victoria following the consistent, big rains we have received, the birds seemed greatly reduced in volume and diversity as they disperse to wider ranges to exploit the newly soaked territories that have been dry for so long. 

Anyway, to cut short what could end up as quite a rambling waffle, this blog piece could quite easily have been called “How I came to spend a weekend at Bartley’s Block with a group of people off the internet” as we pragmatically decided to save ourselves the trouble of chasing wild geese and to ensconce ourselves at Bartley’s. There’s no doubt the birding and photography could have been more prodigious but to spend a weekend in such fabulous forest with a group of passionate and like-minded people is always an enriching experience. To be able to properly watch and learn more about birds that I have maybe seen infrequently was a great opportunity as I committed a few new calls to my memory and saw some behaviours that were new to me.

It wasn't all birds causing excitement. I was low on the edge of a large dam, hidden behind rushes and reeds taking some photos of a nesting Australasian Grebe when in my peripheral vision I saw a ripple in the water a couple of metres away. I expected it to be the second Grebe surfacing from a dive so was startled to say the least when I realised it was a very fast moving Red-bellied Black Snake heading to the corner near where I lurked. It's pretty disconcerting seeing how well they swim, but I was also struck with great respect... as I slowly and carefully beat a pragmatic retreat. Ambling back I found a small patch of Cape Weed being cruelly predated on by some savage Meadow Argus butterflies. Honestly, the way they were carrying on you would think nectar wouldn't melt in their proboscis.


Highlights: The Turquoise Parrots, breaking the Speckled Warbler curse, and getting a clearish shot of a male Rufous Whistler (they’re normally high up and obscured by clutter!)

Dips: not being able to get eyes on this taunting bloody Painted Honeyeater we could hear, and missing the Olive-backed Oriole others got cracking shots of while I was away on a solo wander.

You will find more photos in the bird gallery under photography... you can also read more about Chiltern on Tim Dolby’s fantastic blog here - https://timothydolby.com/2016/05/11/chiltern-winter-2013-australias-best-winter-forest/

The weekend my Spider Orchid cherry was well and truly popped.

Featherheads (Ptilotus macrocephalus)

Featherheads (Ptilotus macrocephalus)

A trip to the Grampians would usually muster thoughts of adventures through forests, hiking up the peaks of mountains and gazing at waterfalls, but not this time. We were a small team of plant nerds on a mission to inspect vegetation along isolated roadsides, in old cemeteries and forgotten small-town commons in search of native wildflowers in the tiny remnants of grassland left in the Western Plains of Victoria.

Wielding cameras with macro lenses, field guides and multiple blocks of chocolate, we kicked off our expedition at Rokewood Cemetery. Despite the sun having risen hours earlier, around nine o’clock we caught a native bee having a lazy snooze in a Golden Moth Orchid. Carefully treading through the Kangaroo and Wallaby Grasses, we spotted plenty of Sundews, Rice Flowers, Milkmaids and Sun Orchids, which would open once the day had warmed up sufficiently. As an extra bonus, on our way out we saw a small patch of the endangered Hoary Sunray! 

It was a promising start, so we drove on and followed our noses, screeching to a halt at patches of roadside vegetation that caught our attention. We saw hundreds of Featherheads bobbing in the wind and Everlastings with a beautiful golden glow in the mid-morning sun. I’m sure most drivers zoom past this scene every day without realising quite how special and rare it is. 

Arriving in the sleepy town of Woorndoo, we used the less than salubrious toilet facilities before exploring the “common”, an area of reserved land between some houses. It was impossible to step through without squashing Sundews, Sun Orchids, Bluebells, Scaly and/or Wiry Buttons, Chocolate Lilies, Bulbine Lilies and fat tufts of native grasses. I’d never seen such a variety of wildflowers in such huge numbers! It was truly something to behold and photos can’t quite capture the scale.

Back on the tarmac, more emergency braking procedures were practiced when we were confronted by a vast carpet of purple on the right. It was literally thousands upon thousands of vibrant Sun Orchids! We wandered around, generously donating blood to the mozzies while soaking up the moment, feeling lucky to be there at the right time to catch it. 

Staying in the Grampians that night was everything you could wish for when camping: a warm fire, great company and a sound sleep in a tent that didn’t leak or collapse - always a bonus! Dessert was expertly toasted marshmallows, shoved into one’s gob with a piece of nutty chocolate at the same time (a Smore minus the biscuit). Delicious!

I woke up to the sweet sound of Magpies warbling and my tent smashing into my face. The wind had picked up considerably and the sky was an ominous grey but that didn’t stop us, Lake Fyans beckoned… 

I was promised Spider Orchids and I wasn’t disappointed, this grassy woodland was teeming with them! I can honestly say my Spider Orchid cherry was well and truly popped. The wind and clouds were making photography tricky, but a new toy (a ring flash) helped to offset the challenging conditions. I managed to capture a pollinator hard at work, a dragonfly caught in a Sundew and a tiny insect exploring the depths of a Green-comb Spider Orchid. All these little details that usually go unnoticed were spotted in milliseconds with our band of eager-beaver-botanists scouring the ground.