Sunday, 29 April 2012

Brisbane Ranges National Park

Brisbane Ranges National Park is a haven for wildflowers and birds and is less than an hour's drive from Melbourne or Geelong (see map). The most popular visitor location in the park is Anakie Gorge but today I headed for the less frequented Fridays Camping & Picnic Ground where I managed to find 24 species in just over an hour without leaving the picnic ground.

Highlights were:

A lone White-naped Honeyeater spent much of its time dodging the multitude of New Holland Honeyeaters but did manage to get a feed for a few seconds before flying off (I presume to find a less competitive location...I wished it luck!)

White-naped Honeyeater, Brisbane Ranges National Park

This male Scarlet Robin remained in sight, patrolling the car park and surrounding picnic area, the whole time I was there. I caught a brief glimpse of a female but she remained too elusive for a photograph.

Scarlet Robin (male), Brisbane Ranges National Park

While photographing the Scarlet Robin, I heard the characteristic humming flight of one of my favourite birds behind me and turned to find this little beauty on the fence about 20 m away. I shifted very slightly to my left to get the bird isolated from the fence-post cap and snapped this shot and the bird was gone before I could move closer and further left for a better angle. I kept an eye and ear out for it to return but this was my only sighting of this species for the day.

Eastern Spinebill, Brisbane Ranges National Park

At least three species of thornbills (Brown, Striated and Yellow-rumped) seemed to be everywhere but constantly on the move. I tried several different angles on various trees but always seemed to get them backlit or hidden by foliage and the low light made it difficult to get a fast enough shutter speed (not to mention shutter finger) to capture anything even vaguely satisfactory through the long lens. I bumped the ISO up to 800 and followed a small group of yellow-rumps as they flitted from bush to bush and did manage to capture this one in flight to add to my growing collection of bad flight shots of small birds ;-)

Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Brisbane Ranges National Park

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

ANZAC Day Part 3

Following Cape Nelson and Cape Bridgewater seabird watching and an afternoon in the drizzly rain at Mt Richmond NP, I drove to Nelson and Picaninny Ponds (just over the SA border). There was not a lot of bird activity at the ponds or on the Glenelg River so I drove back through Lower Glenelg NP. By late afternoon it was getting dark with the low cloud cover so I didn't spend too much time searching for birds in the forest but the macropod watching was great with kangaroos and wallabies feeding on the edge of the tracks every few hundred metres. The persistent drizzle was occasionally broken with glimpses of sunlight but the animals always seemed to be on the side of the road with the sun behind them but they did allow close approach from inside the car (this one is shot with a 200mm lens).

Red-necked Wallaby, Lower Glenelg National Park, Victoria

I enjoyed the slow drive through the park eventually reaching the Princes Hwy just west of Heywood. From Heywood, I took the Woolsthorpe Road 'short cut' and just on sunset spotted a paddock near Tyrendarra (see map) with a small flock of Cattle Egrets. The clouds had broken up and the sun was peeking through giving a beautiful orange glow to the landscape so I stopped to see if I could capture some of the egrets among the cattle on the other side of the paddock.

Cattle Egret, Tyrendarra, Victoria
Cattle Egret, Tyrendarra, Victoria

Five of them took off but maintained a tight formation allowing me to capture them in one shot and the slow shutter speed (1/125th second) gives them a slight blurring that to my eye is quite attractive.

Cattle Egret, Tyrendarra, Victoria

When I turned around to cross the road back to the car, I spotted a large flock of Common Starlings flowing across the farmland.

Common Starling, Tyrendarra, Victoria

The swarm crossed paths with another one approaching from the other direction

Common Starling, Tyrendarra, Victoria

and they merged into one larger flock, flowing across the pasture

Common Starling, Tyrendarra, Victoria

then turned towards me, filling the sky in front of the lens

Common Starling, Tyrendarra, Victoria

I love these large flocks. They seem to take on an life of their own, flowing and gyrating like a single meta-organism. It is fascinating to think about what is going on with each individual bird...what cues are they taking from the birds around them to enable this to happen and who decides where they are going?

Mt Richmond National Park

After the morning's seabird watching, I headed inland to one of my favourite places in SW Victoria: Mt Richmond National Park (see map). Mt Richmond is an extinct volcano that is a remnant oasis of mixed eucalypt forest and swampy heathland surrounded by farmland. It is a spectacular place for wildflowers in spring but also has a great diversity of birdlife year-round. The park is easily accessed from Portland-Nelson Road via Stephens Road and Mt Richmond Road but can also be accessed using a variety of tracks that are fine for 2WD unless very dry or very wet.

Old South Boundary Track, Mt Richmond National Park

The summit picnic ground, at the end of Mt Richmond Road, is a great place for bush birds and offers a range of short walks. The rainy weather diluted (pun intended) my enthusiasm for any extended walks so I spent time taking short strolls out and back along several of the walking tracks. With dark clouds overhead and dense vegetation, there was very little light in some areas so I pushed the ISO to 800 to give a bit more speed but even that was not enough to capture this Brown Thornbill that, a split second before, had been beautifully perched on the bracken frond.

Brown Thornbill, Mt Richmond National Park

I spent about 10 minutes trying to find a reasonable view of a small flock of Red-browed Finches that were very active in a dense patch of bush but this was the best I could do

Red-browed Finch, Mt Richmond National Park

I also found a White-throated Treecreeper feeding on tree trunks in the picnic ground.

White-throated Treecreeper, Mt Richmond National Park

As I was trying to get a better viewpoint to get a side-on shot, the bird flew to a puddle on the track for a drink.

White-throated Treecreeper, Mt Richmond National Park

It only stayed a few seconds before it was chased off by another customer who had an alternative use for the puddle.

White-browed Scrubwren, Mt Richmond National Park

While watching these antics, this little character landed in the tree right next to me - right at the close focal limit of the lens.

Superb Fairy-wren, Mt Richmond National Park

Heading home

Portland Seabirds

Having revised my plans for an extended ANZAC day long weekend due to family commitments and abandoned the idea of a shortened camping trip due to the weather, I decided to make the most of the cold, wet and windy conditions by travelling to Portland to check out the seabirds from Cape Nelson and Cape Bridgewater.

The lookout next to the Cape Nelson Lighthouse offers good viewing of a variety of seabirds that often come close to the cliffs. The Australasian Gannet is the most common bird seen around this coast (other than the ubiquitous Silver Gull) due to breeding colonies nearby.

Australasian Gannet, Cape Nelson

It is also common to see several species of albatross, particularly after storms.

Black-browed Albatross, Cape Nelson

There was not much else on offer during the hour I spent here this morning so, with a storm approaching

Cape Nelson

I headed back for the car to wait out the weather at Cape Bridgewater. First stop was the Petrified Forest and Blowholes lookout

Petrified Forest, Cape Bridgewater
Blowholes, Cape Bridgewater

where there was a veritable hive of avian activity with several clusters of birds fishing offshore

and a passing parade of birds flying past approx. 200-300 metres offshore--not great for photography but close enough to be able to identify species (mostly)

Black-browed Albatross, Cape Bridgewater
Black-browed Albatross, Cape Bridgewater
Black-browed Albatross, Cape Bridgewater
Shy Albatross, Cape Bridgewater
Australasian Gannet, Cape Bridgewater

I say "mostly" because there were a few species that, at this distance, were hard to identify with confidence

I could identify three species of shearwaters: Short-tailed, Fluttering and Hutton's with careful examination of underbody and underwing colouration using binoculars but at this distance and viewed mostly from above, it's difficult to tell which is which in photographs. I am fairly confident that these two were Short-tailed Shearwaters based on their dark colouration under the wings and body (seen in other photos in the same sequence)

Short-tailed Shearwater, Cape Bridgewater

Similarly, this juvenile Giant-Petrel is difficult to identify to species without closer examination of the bill colouration

Giant-Petrel, Cape Bridgewater

and even 4x magnification of the original image does not really help much, although I would lean towards Southern Giant-Petrel as the tip of the bill looks closer to greenish than dark pink of the Northern species.

However, the following bird is was a complete mystery to me

Kelp Gull (3rd year immature?), Cape Bridgewater

Thanks to all who have advised that this bird is an immature Kelp Gull - much appreciated. A few people have asked to see more. Unfortunately, the bird was a fair way out to sea and is tiny in the full frame so I don't have anything much better than what was posted here but I have put together a sequence of unedited 100% crops:

I was going to walk to the Seal Colony but the weather turned nasty again so I decided to head back to civilisation to find something for lunch. On arriving back at Bridgewater Bay, I noticed a large flock of Crested Terns on the beach

Crested Tern, Bridgewater Bay

Among them was a single White-fronted Tern (it pays to take time to look carefully through large flocks)

White-fronted Tern, Bridgewater Bay

I originally ID'd this bird as a Common Tern but after opinions from others I checked out the field guides in more detail and am now happy it's a WFT (I know, its species is not dependent on my happiness...but...I should have checked more carefully in the first place!)

Next stop Mt Richmond National Park.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

You Yangs

You Yangs Regional Park (see map) is one of my favourite places for bushland birding within easy reach (less than an hour's drive) from home. I visited there late in the afternoon and managed to find a few birds of prey cruising overhead. As I got out of the car at one of my usual stops on the eastern side of the park, I noticed this Wedge-tailed Eagle flying low over adjacent farmland

Wedge-tailed Eagle, You Yangs

and land in a dead tree in the middle of a paddock.

Wedge-tailed Eagle, You Yangs

A Little Eagle was also flying high overhead allowing reasonable views from the visitor centre

Little Eagle, You Yangs

although this Dusky Woodswallow was less impressed (and fighting several classes out of its weight division)

Dusky Woodswallow and Little Eagle, YouYangs

The area behind the visitor centre is usually good spot for robins, honeyeaters and parrots. There was not a lot of activity there this afternoon despite the eucalypts being in flower but the ever present New Holland Honeyeaters were in full force

New Holland Honeyeater, You Yangs

and, if you stand or sit still long enough, other birds will get quite close

Eastern Yellow Robin, You Yangs

Jacky Winter, You Yangs
Jacky Winter, You Yangs

The two photographs of the Jacky Winter are of the same bird taken less than a minute apart. It's amazing how different birds can look in different lighting.

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