We had organised a route which would encompass most of the Western side of Melbourne. We started at an early time of 4 am where Brad, Jack and Pete (aka Robin Rider) left from home. Picking up Owen and myself up, i was so disappointed i hadn't worn ear muffs as the first bird for me for 2017 was a Common Blackbird at 5 am. Along the way we stopped for our morning coffee at Macca's where House Sparrow were calling. We converged on Eynesbury Forest too meet up with Adam arriving just on 6 am where the birds started to flow rather quickly. Brown Treecreeper being the most vocal. We moved through the forest finding new birds along the way, Crimson, Eastern Rosella and Red-rumped Parrots were everywhere. We couldn't locate the main target of Speckled Warbler but lots of small birds were resent with Buff-rumped and Yellow Thornbills, Grey Fantail and Superb Fairy-wrens flitting around. We had a nice juvenile Fan-tailed Cuckoo and a Shining Bronze-cuckoo was calling well in the forest. We couldn't spend much more time here so we headed to the ornamental lake near the Golf Course. We had one more chance at the Speckled Warbler at the Shearers quarters so off we went, picking up the easy waterbirds as we walked around the lake. We did see two Black Falcons roosting on a dead tree which got us all pretty excited!
We got to the forest where Owen picked up Crested Shriketit, Dusky Woodswallow and Jacky Winter, three cracking birds! We walked along the path where we then found a small party of Diamond Firetails. Still no Speckled Warblers but we had to go, time was creeping away and back to the cars we went, again picking up another small party of Diamond Firetails.. It was the most i have seen here with at least 10 individuals which is a great sign.
We cruised the back roads towards the Western Treatment Plant, picking up a few incidentals in Brown Falcon, Black Kite, Wedge-tailed Eagle, New Holland Honeyeater and Australian Pipit. Onto WTP where we started the morning at Beach Road Rocks. We pulled up to gate 4 and instantly heard Stubble Quail calling but couldn't get a view, even though Tim was at the Western lagoons where they had crippling views of a pair of Stubble Quails on the road near the gate!
Once we had made our way down to the Beach Road rocks Adam instantly located the Broad-billed Sandpiper which was a great get, Owen had pinned down a Red Knot and we ticked off the common waders and terns.
I then had a messaged from the "Wader Whisperer" Dez Hughes who had found the Terek Sandpiper on a pond in the Western lagoons, and as it was a lifer for Jack and Pete we decided a quick exit was needed, not before Pete face planted into the ground after tripping up on the grass.
As we drove towards the Western Lagoons all the people that were there were heading to the Beach Road rocks, when arriving at the Western lagoons we met up with David Adam who said that the Terek Sandpiper was seen in this pond but no one could relocate. We searched the ponds there for at least an hour, finally after an hour of searching and the use of Owen scope i was able to pick out the Terek Sandpipers 1 leg that was showing and after showing Owen the bird took flight and everyone else missed it. Another 40 minutes later and on the verge of giving up Owen relocated it and this time everyone was able to get views!
From here we headed into the T-section Ponds hoping to track down a few crakes, but the Crake Pond was completely dry and that was annoying frustrating, we drove around the back of the Crake Pond and we had seen a few waders on the rocky shore. Really only highlight was a obliging Brown Falcon
As we got out Jack said to me " what the F@#K is that bird there. I put my binoculars up and straight away saw it was the Ruff. Wholly crap i need camera, no one had a camera!! Reach in the car for camera and birds take flight and fly off over the the pond! NOOOOOOOOOOOO.... anyways we followed the birds and thought we had seen where they went, we drove around and checked and there were no waders nor any mud or rocks for them too roost. How could we have lost the bird! We checked the the corner of the same pond it was in initially and yes there it was, they all took flight but at least this time we were able to observe it in flight for about a minute as all the birds circled around. I called Dez to tell him we had located the Ruff and within minutes 15 birders were around the T-section ponds. We couldn't re find it again but we had great views while it lasted!
We then decided it was time to check out the Beach Road rocks again and check for the Red-necked Phalarope, again eagle eyed Adam picked it up pretty quickly and we moved on. A lovely little bird.
We drove around the ponds, not much around really, struggling to find anything new, we tried Lake Borrie where we picked up a pair of Pink-eared Duck which was a surprise of late. We then bid farewell to Pete and Brad before we continued into gate 8 and the restricted area. We had hoped to pick up the remaining duck species we had missed which we were able to do , a few Australasian Shoveler, Hardhead and Musk Ducks. We checked out the Conservation ponds and Borrow Pits with not much excitement, we checked out the 15E outflow hoping for the Black-faced Cormorant and Common Sandpiper that had been seen recently, but both of these weren't present. On the drive back along the coast road, Jack pulled a rabbit out of his hat and picked out a Common Sandpiper on a concrete pipe at about 40 metres at a speed of 40kms an hour!! Unbelievable and i was a passenger and i thought it was a snorkel on the pipe!! A great pick up and a great Vic bird under the hat early!
Another call from Dez too tell us he had the Ruff and the Great Knot were back at Western Lagoons so off we went in search of the Great Knot, the only main wader target we hadn't seen. We searched the ponds for a good hour again with no luck, the Ruff was everywhere and we kept finding it but the knot eluded us. We had given up it had just hit 4pm and we had more planned so we bid farewell too all and left. As we locked the gate out of the Western lagoons Adam had a call from Andrew Allen too tell us he had located the Great Knot in the Western Lagoons so a quick turn around and back inside the gate we went. Dejavu it seemed the 3rd time visiting today! We got to Andrew location and there were a heap of Red Knots and 1 Great Knot we had about 30 secs of visual before the Pied Oystercatchers put all the waders up and disappeared!
We then checked the time it was 4.05pm and after checking the Internet to see what time Serendip Sanctuary closed, I thought it used to be later in the daylight savings hours but it closed at 4pm!! Shattered!! So we planned on Brisbane Ranges NP, a quick stop into Corio to get fuel we picked up Purple-crowned Lorikeet and Rainbow Lorikeet before heading towards Anakie. We Got a few White-winged Chough on the road in before turning into Switch Track. We stopped at a few locations, starting just along the first stretch of road where we picked up some common bushbirds, nothing spectacular.
We searched for the Spotted Quail-thrush on Nelsons Track but was devastatingly quiet... we didn't hear one bird call in about 500m!
Our next stop was Stony Creek Picnic ground, birding here was more productive, Yellow-tufted, White-naped, White-plumed Honeyeaters, Common and Brush Bronzewings were very vocal and a Brush Cuckoo called loudly for a minute or so. We walked a little along the walking track where we picked up Eastern Yellow Robin. We then stopped at Little River Camping area where we picked up Mistletoebird and Laughing Kookaburra. The list was slowly building and we still wanted the elusive Spotted Quail-thrush, we stopped at a few other places we had seen them previously but no luck! Resided to the fact we were going to dip on this we decided to chase the Chestnut-rumped Heathwren. We pulled up to Quarry Track and off we went. We stopped about 100m down the track and listened. Both Owen and I looked at each other and at the exact same time said did you hear that.... it sounded like a SQT we both heard it. We waited and played the call and a female responded instantly by flying in quietly. For the next hour we had 4 birds around us, never giving us a chance too get a photograph but all were too interested in watching them circle around and continue to use the contact seeping call. For those people wanting to check them out i would do it as soon as possible at this location! Our last bird was the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo that called and flew over our heads as we said goodbye! Overall tally for me ended up on 134.... i had forgotten to add white-fronted Chat and European Goldfinch to my lists!
In summary we started birding at 6 am and finished just before 9 pm.... a huge effort from the boys and some cracking birds too start the year!
We as in all the Filthy Flockers ( Adam, Alison, Bill, Brad, Jack, Matt, Owen, Pete, Phil and Tim) will be having a combined Ebird account this year as well as our own so that we can see how well we travel as a collective, so after day 1 we are collectively just under 150 species and with the upcoming trips we all have we hope to come out around 600 birds this year! Stay tuned we will keep you updated!!!! Happy New Year too all and hope to see you all out in the field soon!!
Photo credits : Tim Nickholds, Jack Parrington and Adam Fry