Back to Braeside …

Braeside Park was a regular haunt when I lived in Melbourne. It’s located in the eastern suburbs not far from the bay. The land has been used for a sewage treatment plant and then for horse agistment and training. There was a beautiful old stable there years ago. Every time I drove past I would say to myself “must take a photo of that”. I never did, can’t now. It burnt down. Let that be a lesson.

These days it’s an oasis of nature sandwiched between residential and commercial development. It preserves some River Red Gum grassland, some heathy woodland on an old sand dune and a wetland rich in swamp paperbark. It’s great place to watch birds. A three hour circuit will generally turn up at least 50 species.

This morning I concentrated on the wetland.

Great Egret
Royal Spoonbill

Darters and Little Pied Cormorants are nesting in the Paperbarks out on an island.

The woodland is home to a number of species. The ubiquitous and aggressive Noisy Miner and a bird that can hold its own against a pack of them were kind enough to pose …

Noisy Miner
Grey Butcherbird

The highlight, however, was a bird that I rarely get to see. It is probably more common than we think but it mainly skulks in the reeds. When it does venture out it is always ready to bolt at the slightest alarm. Photos … forget it , you won’t get close and you won’t get time … unless luck is really on your side.

Baillon’s Crake

Boort …

About 250km NNW of Melbourne the little town of Boort seems to thrive on tourism and agriculture. Its claim to fame is Little Lake Boort which I have never seen dry and is a popular water skiing destination. Lake Lyndger and (Big) Lake Boort are also adjacent but are often dry.

Major Mitchell and his party passed through the area in 1836 and gave a good report of its agricultural prospects. White settlers followed through the 1840’s. The town was founded in 1871. Prior to that the area had been the home of the Jaara people. There are still scar trees and shell middens around the lakes.

It’s a good spot to go birdwatching, and from where I live it is a pleasant day out. Today Lake Lyndger was dry …

Lake Lyndger

Lake Boort was mainly dry and nowhere near as green …

Lake Boort

but there was some water way out in the middle with some nice birds including Red-necked Avocets and Black-tailed Native Hens, always a pleasure to catch up with but too distant for portrait photos.

The top photo shows Boort looking across Little Lake Boort. Not surprisingly the birds were mainly around the margins of the water.

Great Cormorant
Australian White Ibis
Australasian (Purple) Swamphen

This Great Egret was quite skittish but I did get close enough to show off the breeding colours of its face and bill. When it gets over its reproductive urges the bill and facial skin will become yellow again. It also had a few plumes on its back although these are never as gorgeous as an Intermediate Egret’s finery …

Great Egret
Great Egret – breeding colours

Whistling Kites were well represented. This one has taken a small tortoise …

Whistling Kite

Australasia’s largest bird family is the Meliphagidae – the Honeyeaters. The Noisy Miner is a common member of the family in south-east Australia. It is unpopular because of its aggression to other birds. The Miners hang around in flocks and where they are found other small birds are largely absent. It occurred to me that I had never bothered to work at getting a decent photo of them. Time to put that right …

Noisy Miner

A link with my past …

My interest in birds goes way back to primary school in England. The reason for it is totally unfathomable, no one else in the family was so inclined although there were a couple of books about birds in our small collection. At the time I lived in Leyton, London within walking distance of Whipps Cross where there is some residual oak forest and the Hollow Ponds.

I doubt that parents these days would be comfortable with an eight year old wandering off by themselves to go bird watching but it seemed normal enough back then.

There were a couple of birds that I regarded as megastars – the Jay and the Great Crested Grebe. The Jay has a wide distribution across Europe and Asia but doesn’t make it to Australia which is where I now live. The Great Crested Grebe though does.

I went for a walk around Lake Wendouree in Ballarat the other day and there were several pairs swimming about.

We have three species of Grebe in Oz. The Australasian Grebe is the smallest and occurs on shallow freshwater sometimes on surprisingly small ponds. The Hoary-headed Grebe is slightly larger and dives slightly deeper. It occurs on fresh water bodies and is also happy in sheltered salt water. The Great Crested is the largest of the three, dives deeper and is found on lakes rather than ponds.

Australasian Grebe
Hoary-headed Grebe

For the photographer none of the grebes are particularly cooperative.  They like a comfortable distance between you and them. When I found myself close to a pair of Great Crested Grebes in some reeds I sat on the bank and waited hoping that they would emerge and give me a shot. Eventually one did …

Great Crested Grebe

In concentrating on the first pair I had failed to notice a second pair coming from my right. They were quite close by the time I saw them, their necks stretched out in aggressive pose. Here’s a close up of one of them …

Great Crested Grebe

This was a territorial issue. Pair number one retreated into the reeds. Pair number two went in after them, there was a few moments of splashing, unfortunately hidden from my view. Pair number two re-emerged and stood guard for a couple of minutes. The edge of the reeds was clearly the territory boundary.

It was only then, it seemed, that they realised I was there.

Great Crested Grebe

The scientific name of the Great Crested Grebe is Podiceps cristatus, wherein lies a story …

While I was there …

There wasn’t a lot of time in Harrietville for birdwatching but as I moved between my accommodation and rehearsal rooms I often encountered a bunch of Scrubwrens at one particular spot. They clearly resented my intrusion and would gather and scold me. I had to get a photograph.

White-browed Scrubwren

They are denizens of dense vegetation. In eastern Victoria it would be hard to go birding without encountering them. In the drier west of Victoria they are harder to find, streamside vegetation offers the best chance.

They are members of the genus Sericornis named by Gould in 1838. It is from the Greek and means silk bird apparently because of their silky plumage. I have banded many of these birds. Whilst handling  them it never seemed to me that they were silkier than other little birds from similar habitats.

White-browed Scrubwren

Harrietville …

I’ve been away, enjoying the mountain air.

Harrietville lies at the foot of the grandly named Australian Alps in north-east Victoria. It got its start as a gold rush town and there are still a working mine or two. Gold was discovered in 1852, it was enough of a town to deserve a post office by 1865. It has a population of around 400 plus a good contingent of tourists at any season. It is a very beautiful spot.

After the alluvial gold was worked out attention turned to some reefs accessed by deep shafts. Then it was the turn of the Tronoh Dredge. This monster was 167 metres long and weighed 4,813 tonnes. It slowly chewed its way forwards to a depth of 41 metres floating in a lake of its own creation. The dredge dumped its tailings behind it. Operating from 1942 to 1954 it recovered 54,000 oz. of gold from the Ovens River flats. It has left a swimming hole for the citizenry to enjoy – it’s reputed to be somewhat chilly.

In 1883 the local Shire was awarded £1000 pounds to double the width of the existing four foot track enabling coaches to access the township. The old coach road pressed on through Harrietville and up the hill. It would have been a rugged ride. Nowadays the Great Alpine Road goes up to the Mount Hotham ski resort and on over the top to Omeo and then descends to the coast.

I was in Harrietville to take part in the 42nd Harrietville Music Camp. It’s run by the Whitehorse Orchestra and goes for an extremely busy week. Musicians enrol in a tutorial group appropriate to their instrument and have the opportunity to play in various ensembles and sing with the choir. There are performances of one sort or another every day leading up to public concerts at the end of the week.

If you visit the Whitehorse Orchestra home page you could get the impression that it is only for the classical musician but this is far from true. One of the ensembles is The Big Band run brilliantly by Geoff Earle who also takes the Saxophone tutorials. The Big Band takes the community by storm at one of Harrietville’s two pubs on the Friday night. It’s a blast.

The classical musicians get their turn at the Bright Community Hall on the Saturday where more formal standards are upheld.

It is a fabulous institution that has won not one international award, not two international awards, not three international awards … but it does deserve one.

 

 

Spoony …

Scientific names are modern constructions of Latin or Greek or even Chinese. In fact there are almost no rules governing their construction. Even where they are in Latin or Greek in they would rarely convey much more than a vague description to a native speaker of the classic languages. Eucritta melanolimnes, for instance, translates roughly as “creature from the black lagoon”. The names would  convey even less where someone’s surname has been given a faux Latin ending. Which centurion would ever guess that Baeturia laureli and B. hardyi are species of cicada?

Platalea is an exception, it means Spoonbill and was used by Cicero in his De Natura Deorum (45BC).

There are six species of spoonbill in the world. Australia has two.

Platalea regia
Platalea flavipes

The Royal and the Yellow-billed Spoonbill. In breeding plumage the Royal does look the more aristocratic of the two.

They both spend a fair amount of time standing on one leg with their bill under the opposite wing. This is when it comes in handy to know that their legs are a good match for their bills. The scientific name of one of them is half way there, flavipes means yellow foot.

They have in the past been called Yellow-legged and Black-legged Spoonbills which had the benefit of being usefully descriptive and avoiding tautology. If I’ve told you once not to repeat yourself I’ve told you a dozen times.

 

Christmas Decorations …

Diamond Firetails are occasional visitors to the neighbourhood. They feed on the ground usually on the margins of open woodland. A small flock will turn up, stick around for a while then move on. In winter flocks may coalesce and transform a familiar place. Next time you visit you may not find any.

I found this group on the outskirts of Maryborough where irrigated farmland abuts some Box/Ironbark Woodland. There were some youngsters among the adults.

Stagonopleura guttata