Friday, 15 August 2014
Area 3: Sugar Gum Plantation
Funnily enough I always disregarded this area for many years, thinking that the habitat wasn't sufficient enough to harbour much birdlife, In the sugar gums itself there wasn't much if any ground cover, no medium sized trees but dominated by only Sugar Gums. Occasionally I would hear a bird calling in there like Crimson or Eastern Rosella but as the gums are so large finding birds in the high canopy was always a headache and knowing that i could find these species elsewhere I always just bypassed it to move to the next area, this all changed for 3 reasons a few years ago.
Firstly I found Eremaea 3 years ago and on checking people's park records and information provided by members regarding sightings I realized there was some potential, secondly I found a link off Eremaea to a blog called "birds as poetry" which is published by David Jenkins and his descriptions of robins in the Sugar Gums was very appealing and after a few emails back and forth with him I got some great pointers but probably the best resource I found was Richard Arnold ( a birding pal) and a friend of David's where i was given Richard's email.
Richard and I met at woodlands a few years ago to discuss/show each other the others secrets and the area I covered was around the geriatric dam and Weeroona Aboriginal Cemetery and Richard took me to the Sugar Gums, I was surprised at the species I had been missing in here. Richard wanted to show me in particular the Eastern Yellow Robin spots (he succeeded) and from that day on I now regularly visit here.
The Sugar Gums Plantation runs north/south pretty much central to all areas in the park, so probably should be on most outings itinerary. I will start at the south end of the plantation, as I explained at the start there is relatively no ground or middle cover in the first 200 metres or so, the birding will mainly be high in the canopy. There are relatively few paths in this area there is a north/south path and also a East/west path. As I said I will stick to the paths so as you walk out of the back paddock you will head east down the path. Around here there is a slight depression and this spot is great for Welcome Swallows and both Fairy and Tree Martins (even some overwinter).
As you start up this path heading north you will see a difference in habitat, on the right hand side is the gum plantation and on the left the gum plantation but as you go in for about 200 metres this changes to a mix of wattle and smaller gums on the right. This area is pretty bird friendly, I have regularly seen Yellow-faced, White-naped, Brown-headed and White-plumed Honeyeater, Sacred Kingfisher, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Dusky Woodswallow, Varied Sittella, Red Wattlebird, White-winged Chough and both Crimson and Eastern Rosellas. Especially when these gums are in flower you will get all 4 species of Lorikeets with the most common in this area being Purple-crowned and Little but usually have flybys of Rainbows and Musk. On the left hand side of the path in the Sugar Gums you can get things like Grey Currawong, Grey Butcherbird, Australian Magpie, Grey Fantail, Willie Wagtail, Grey Shrike-thrush and Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike.
About another 100 metres down you come to the cross roads where the north/south path meets with the east/west path, in this area there are some rare Greenhood Orchids which are totally stunning. From this point on you can start looking for Eastern Yellow Robin as the Sugar Gums have a understorey of Golden Wattle on your left hand side. There is no need to use the east/west track unless you hear birds calling ( possibly Lorikeets in this area). so still using the north/south path keep walking but checking the left hand side for Robins.
Going on David's blog there are certainly a fair few pairs in this area (which he has many beautiful photos of). The golden wattle in parts get very close together and are hard to penetrate but with some persistence you should be able to obtain some awesome views. This is the only place in the whole park you can find Eastern Yellow Robins so take some time and hunt them out.
Occasionally you get Brown Goshawks causing mayhem with quick flybys and as you follow the Kangaroo paths through the Sugar Gums you near the rangers station you have the possibility of things like Little and Long-billed Corella, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and Pied Currawong.
From this point depending on your route you would leave the Sugar Gums and head for the homestead, or back to Somerton Road Carpark or if your coming from the Providence Road/ Weeroona Aboriginal Cemetery carpark which is my normal route I head back through the Sugar gums to the east, and as I near the south end I go off the path ( about 200 metres from the south end heading towards the back paddock) and follow the eastern boundary fence (you will see a huge water tower/observation tower when you find the fence). The reason I do this is because I have seen many bird of prey in this area as well as the occasional Pallid Cuckoo and sometimes the small shrubs around the tower can be very productive ( do be mindful though I nearly killed myself stepping over this fence, my trailing foot got caught up on the chain and as I had already one leg down was hopping one legged trying to free myself.... I envisioned myself face first in the mud but luckily was able to rip the shoe off and get away safely).
The reason there is this Sugar Gum plantation is because there used to be a Geriatric Hospital to the East of here and they used these trees to cut down and use in the furnaces so luckily for Parks Victoria they were able to obtain this land and kept it pretty well alone, on a side note Rohan Long this year got Swift Parrots in this section of the park so do keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary as its great habitat and anything is possible especially as the migrants move north and south.
Things like Rainbow Bee-eater, Rufous Fantail and Rufous Songlark are migrants that turn up each year only for a few days/weeks so keep an eye on my blog for updates!