Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lurg Hills with Steve

My next trip with Steve Davidson was to be a rather scattered search with a few targets in mind; namely Pink Robin, Gang-gang Cockatoo, Spotted Quail-thrush and the infamous Regent Honeyeater that has been staying around for a few weeks now.
The first stop off was Healesville for the Gang-gang Cockatoo, which is apparently is a common bird around the town here. About twenty minutes were spent looking, but to no avail. Of interest, a Wedge-tailed Eagle was seen in the center, and a White Ibis popped up at the petrol station.

Afterwards we checked out Buxton. We drove down the streets looking for Gang-gang once again. A drive up to the end and a flock of 21 Satin Bowerbird flew across the road; another unusual bird for this region according to Steve. The females shot off very quickly but one of the males sat in the top of a leafless tree, allowing good views save the bad sunlight. Around here another gippsland Yellow-tufted Honeyeater and a flock of Red-browed Firetail was located.

The first main site was a walk through Buxton Silver Gum Reserve (home to the critically endangered Buxton Silver Gum) were it was fairly silent. Yellow-tufted (gippslandica race) was the only bird of interest amongst the regular Grey Fantails, Brown Thornbills, White-throat Treecreeper and Eastern Yellow Robins. Scarlet Robin was also heard. On the way back some silent Silvereyes (a bird known for being audible at all times) were seen in a foraging flock of Striated and Brown Thornbills plus a few Sitellas, who graced us with parachuting flights about a metre away in response to a recording Steve played in order to find another bird. The area was, as I and Steve both agreed, "perfect Pink Robin habitat being wasted", as none were located. However, Steve randomly played an Olive Whistler call, which was a fairly uncommon occurence here, and strangely enough one responded and offered a very brief view through the foliage, being the shyest of the Whistler family, which at the worst times tend to perch in the open. I did manage a few photos, but none are even remotely close to National Geographic quality. Long-billed Corellas were heard off in the distance and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Kookaburras and Magpies were the last bird seen there.

With still no Cockatoo we headed out to Cathedral Ranges checking water along the way for Pink-eared Duck and White-necked Heron. While not seen, there was a large number of Hardhead, Black Duck and Australaian Wood Duck seen.

Cathedral Ranges was also silent in terms of bird life. A few Pink Robin-mimicking Brown Thornbills certainly sent our hearts racing, and other than these the only others were a few Scrub-wrens and Striated Thornbills up in the canopy. Further on we made a stop at a campsite car park in more perfect Pink Robin habitat. We ended up with 2 superb views of Superb Lyrebirds, one in display and the other digging a mound in the open. An hour walk and not a single other bird was heard or seen. On the way back the Lyrebirds were mimicking Gang-gang Cockatoos, Pilotbirds and other birds we hoped to see (Lyrebirds only mimic what has recently passed through) leaving us very annoyed as we could have been minutes from anything.

A drive further on and Grey Currawong passed overhead to Steve's surprise. The four individuals eventually came over the car in the tall trees above, when the sun promptly hid behind the clouds making photography difficult.

On the way back a final stop was made to check Spotted Quail-thrush and Button-quail, both of which were not seen either (Steve blamed the time of year), though I did manage some fantastic Brown Thornbill shots (a bird that I have never had good views of since I came here). Superb Lyrebird perched up in the tree here, which is a rare sight for a ground bird and Red-browed Treecreeper was briefly seen badly in the dark areas.

Calling this place off, we then made the long drive to Lurg Hills, stopping off to check Mistletoebird which wasn't seen either(!). Further stops for Gang-gang Cockatoo also provided nothing other than views of the landscape, which was pretty unique in itself.
At Lurg Hills Eastern Rosella and Red-rumped Parrot flew up all over the place. Grey-crowned Babblers were heard nearby and soon after Purple-crowned and later Little Lorikeet flew in offering surprisingly good views right in the same location a Restless Flycatcher was located.

A few other honeyeaters were seen at this point, including Yellow-tufted (a different race), White-plumed, a single Fuscous and Yellow-faced. A Black-chinned also made a brief flyby being pursued by the other honeyeaters. Wedge-tailed Eagle and Brown Falcon also turned up, silencing the birds on each appearance.
Eventually that musical wattlebird, AKA Regent Honeyeater, was heard and seen in the shade of the tree. It flew to several perches, neither in the open which was disappointing considering the perfect weather, though
what a unique bird it is. A few chases and it abruptly disappeared in one of the tallest trees, never to be seen again that day.

On the way back Grey-crowned Babbler was called into the open for photos and on the last turn out an Emu and a pair of Blue-faced Honeyeaters appeared just as the sun hid behind the horizon (as you could imagine we made a swift stride as the sunset is very fast here = rapid loss of light; simply three minutes and all the light was gone).

Regent Honeyeater was the only target seen, but Steve mentioned that the next place I was after held a chance of seeing all of the missed birds.

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