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Thursday, 14 August 2014

Area 2: Back Paddock

There are 4 gates into the back paddock, one in the north west corner near the gums plantation, one in the centre of the northern boundary adjacent to the Weeroona Aboriginal Cemetery, one in the north east corner near Gellibrand Hill and one in the south east corner near Moonee Ponds Creek Bike Path and the large dam.
Considering I have started this blog at the homestead I will focus firstly on the north west pocket as the walk from this gate to the centre gate is too far for one day, I usually walk through the gate and follow the path towards the airport. Along this path you can get birds like Laughing Kookaburra, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Varied Sittella and occasionally a few Thornbill species including Brown, Striated and Yellow which I have seen in this area.
My main focus in this section is to head to the Cumberland Ruins and explore the small dam (usually most of the dams around the park are birdless) and it is somewhat disappointing but I still like to check it out just on the off chance there is something different there, occasionally on this little dam I have had Australasian Grebe, Chestnut Teal, White-necked Heron and Little Pied Cormorant.
Due usually to time constraints that little pocket is all that's covered on a trip from the homestead before heading into the Sugar Gum Plantation.
The main access gate that has the information billboard is located at the end of the path/ road near the Weeroona Aboriginal Cemetery. From here you can explore the back paddock to the east or the west, I however usually (99% of the time) focus my attention on the east side, to the west there really isn't anything different to the east but as you head east you have the option of heading towards Gellibrand Hill in the north east corner or to the large dam in the south east.
So as you walk into the back paddock it can be very hit and miss (more misses than hits), there was some discussion last year with other birders who regularly visit Woodlands that the removal of all the Kangaroos from the back paddock has had a snowball effect on the bird diversity, my unscientific view is that with the removal of the large herbivores it has in some level caused birds like Thornbills, Robins and Fantails that are hawking birds that feast on insects to disperse. The lack of trampled grass, the areas flattened by resting and sleeping Kangaroos have all but disappeared and with this so have the birds.
The other reason the back paddock can be hit or miss is because all these little birds are dispersive feeders, moving through the forest together in a mixed flock and if your lucky to hit one of them you will easily get 7 or 8 species together. These mixed flocks seem to return to the same spot every 40 minutes or so, so if you have time and patience (I don't have any) sit down and wait.
As you walk in the back paddock gate, keep eyes open for Varied Sitella, White-throated Treecreeper and as you stroll down the path check the fallen trees for Robins. Flame (winter) and Red-capped Robins are usually very actively feeding on the ground.
The path splits in a Y junction but just before this there is an open grassed area to your right, check the dead gums as this is a great roost tree for the Whistling Kites. As you get to the Y junction, I recommend standing here for a few minutes, listen carefully as some of the little brown birds have very quiet calls and some species don't call at all but move around through the trees. Here species you can encounter are Brown-headed Honeyeater, Robins, Yellow, Brown and Striated Thornbills, Laughing Kookaburra, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Grey Fantails and both Rufous and Golden Whistlers.
At the Y Junction I always head east (left), in this area I was lucky enough to get my one and only sightings of a Black Falcon flying quickly through and a special 30 minutes of pure pleasure watching a soaring and landing Spotted Harrier. The same small birds are present and again just have to be lucky.
Some people like to stay to the paths I for one am not like that (short cuts all the way ) but for those that enjoy not treading on hidden snakes I will keep these posts to the paths. At the end of this path you come to a T junction, turn left and you make you way towards Gellibrand Hill and the north east gate, turn right and you head towards the large dam and gate at the south east corner.
My usual route is to the right and the large dam, along this path you will also come across one of only a handful of spots where there is a plantation/ stand of Drooping Sheoaks ( still standing surprisingly as ParksVic proposed to prescribe burn these trees last year). This is the only spot in the whole park I have regularly seen Speckled Warbler, even was able to show a handful of people that attended my Birdlife Melbourne outing this time last year which was surprising (usually hard to see birds you can never find for others). The Warblers do respond well to callback, however you only need a few quick bursts as excessive callback actually scares them away.
Usually they flock with other small birds, Yellow and Striated Thornbills, Brown-headed Honeyeater, Red-capped Robin, Red-browed Finch and Grey Fantails (this is a long shot but I am not going to be surprised when someone sees Zebra Finch in this mix as there is a wild population not far from woodlands in Greenvale). Again this is the same as described above it can be hit and miss and if birds are feeding elsewhere it's very quiet.
As you make you way to the south east corner possible birds you can encounter will be Mistletoebird, Common Bronzewing and more unlikely species like Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater can also be present. As you near the gate there are some nice old gums just near the exit and this is one of the most reliable spots for Purple-crowned Lorikeets ( was lucky enough one day with James Mustafa this summer with 36 degree heat at 8 am to find these lorikeets drinking from the large dam).
Also around this gate you can find Silvereye and most of the Feral species which you won't find elsewhere in the park like Common Myna, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, Spotted Turtle-dove, House Sparrow and not feral Crested Pigeons all roosting, feeding and resting in a large stand of Boxthorn that runs along the fence line of the park and the urbanisation of encroaching houses.
If you do decide to take the left hand path at the T junction and head towards the Gellibrand Hill section you may encounter birds of prey circling above as they love the updraft from this rocky outcrop. But other than that there really isn't anything else of interest along that path that you can't get in the other areas I have outlined. My route very rarely if ever now takes me to Gellibrand Hill from inside the back paddock as I find the birds and bird numbers are more enticing moving towards the large dam.
One last thing regarding the back paddock, do not be surprised if the gates are locked, since 2012 Parks Victoria has tried in vain to remove introduced pests mainly feral cats and foxes from there and up until recently they had sort of succeeded but presently (last 6 months ) there is one cunning little fox that's thrown the "cat amongst the pigeons" and has caused the back paddock to go into lock down again.
So it's really going to be hit or miss regarding access, the reason is because they are trying to re-introduce the Eastern Barred Bandicoot for the second time, the first was back in the 90's and did succeed for a few years but ended up fizzing out. hopefully this time it is successful. If anyone is interested Parks Vic run monthly outings at night to do nighttime surveys and they venture into the back paddock to search for the bandicoot, so if your interested check out this link and am sure they will be appreciative!

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