Monday, July 11, 2011

Werribee Treatment Plant, 28th May

Yet another trip with Steve, today we were going to visit the Western Treatment Plant. Of course the major target was that Orange-bellied Parrot, which I am definately hurrying to get seeing its very rapid decline.

It was a rather cloudy and overcast day overall, with a few gaps for sun, but overall it left some great opportunities.

The first bird was before we really entered the park, with a Whistling Kite flying parallel to the car. Steve  put the speed up so we could catch it at a left-turning road ahead. It was a very near miss, but in the end it actually landed and could be approached up to about a metre away (suprising considering they are pretty skittish at the best of times) in the branches of a dead tree. The only downside was the bad lighting, which made all the pictures dark and lowered the details considerably (paired with the early time in the day). At the same Zebra Finch flew in, but was mostly ignored because of the former!

Musk Duck eventually came up next at one of the larger lagoons. It is probably one of the strangest ducks out there, and it certainly a unique bird, with perhaps the Blue-billed or Ruddy Duck showing a little relation. Around this time Australasian Shoveler was located very far off, and a flock of Australian Shelduck also heralded one of the smaller ponds.

On the first pass of the Borrow Pits, nothing was seen but on the way back we managed to locate the Red-kneed Dotterel that had been around yesterday. It was the first shorebird after White-headed Stilt, the latter of which was probably the most abundant wader here. Around this time we also met another group of birders who came for the Orange-bellied Parrot. One of them informed us some "possible" birds flew over the Borrow Pits just 5 minutes before we arrived, and that they flew over the fence into the no-trespassing zone. Typical.

Leaving this area, we drove towards the spit, stopping off at a pier which was covered in Pacific & Silver Gulls as well as Little Pied Cormorants and Pelicans. In the mud nearby were a few Black-fronted Dotterel; adults, too (previously I had only seen a lone immature at Truganina Swamp). On the beach was another nice surprise. A party of Red-capped Plover and a single Red-necked Stint were very tame and allowed very close approach as I prayed that I could get some decent shots. The Red-capped Plover was my top-wanted shorebird, and while I would appreciate simply seeing it, I would not mind pushing my luck in photos, so to speak.

As we got closer to the Spit, we spotted an immature White-bellied Sea Eagle off on the opposite edge of a lagoon. It circles around a bit and came down, on another lagoon, which was even further away. If it wasn't for its size and colour, I doubt we would have seen it. We left it there and drove onwards up the area known as the Spit. Along here a Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo caught our attention; this was by far the wrong time of year for such a bird. Our attention then was moved to the call of a Spotless Crake in a small patch of reeds. We spent the next half an hour trying to get any sight of this bird (and its friends as we soon discovered), and luckily I did manage to sight and photograph its eye as it passed through a very tiny gap in the reeds (see if you can see it in the photo; its eye is red). Leaving that, we carried on, picking up more Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoos, and an Australian Hobby which shot over in a flash. I kind of wished I tried to take a picture of it now, as my only picture is unidentifiable and was with my old camera. Lewin's Rail was tried for along here, and was successfully heard, but not seen in the slightest. A Swamp Harrier, one of many, flew along here, and Steve tried his hardest to turn it into a Spotted, but to no avail.  Before we left several flocks of Zebra Finch offered better looks.

On the journey to another beach, we checked a few other things on the way. First of note was yet another large Zebra Finch flock, and as we gently chased them into a tree with the car, we found two other birds, surprisingly sitting in the open; Little Grassbird and Aus Reed-warbler, two birds that are very scarcely seen, but were quite happy in sitting in the open here. With the former, this is the first I've seen it other than a brief flight glance at Altona.

When we came to one of the pylons on the beach, we saw that an Eagle was sitting on it; in the time we got there, it must have flown over, a it was also an immature. It was appreciably tame and also allowed close approach, added by some sun at a few points (when it took off it actually was to big to fit in the screen).
After its flight, we drove further up the beach to see if anything could be located. Many Golden-headed Cisticolas were found in the bushes here. At a river, Steve stopped the car and pulled out the binoculars, pointing out an Australian Spotted Crake on the edge of the bank. As expected it did not want to be approached, and was gone in a flash as soon as Steve started the car up again.

Driving onwards, Steve stopped the car at the sound of a Striated Fieldwren, which after a while made a brief appearance off in the distance on the top of a bush. The shots were not too good, and after it left we drove onwards around the corner to encounter another song, right near the car. Steve was searching frantically with the binoculars when I pointed out the bird only a few metres away. I took my shots and returned to the car, commendated by Steve in finding the bird with the words "Nice spot.".

At the end of this road, we got out and searched around for anything of interest. Pied Cormorants and a few Great Crested Grebes were lingering offshore, as were a few more Cisticolas. Steve also noticed Blue-winged Parrot and Fairy Tern at this point, which I did not see, and the latter would have been a new bird for me, though Steve insisted it was too far out to see.

It was nearing the end of the day, and Steve took me to the final stop, which was a road that stopped short in the middle of a lagoon, which as a result gave us virtual 360 degree view. The mudflats ahead were covered in Spoonbills, and sure enough Yellow-billed Spoonbill was amongst them. Soon after Steve whipped out the scope, we located a pair of very far-off Double-banded Plover, which appear (or at least one does) as a very tiny dot in the middle of the picture (though when blown-up the indentifying features can be seen well).  On the way out a Great Egret flew overhead.

Total list seen was 78, with an uncoordinated miss of Pink-eared Duck, despite the fact that the day before there were as much as 90. Similarly Whiskered, Fairy, Little and WW-Black Tern was also missed on the day, but seen before and after (typical).

With this trip I managed to tick off 13 more birds, but that Orange-bellied Parrot still remains out there. Hopefully I can catch this one before it is replaced by the captive stock that will be released one day to replenish its numbers (after all you can't tick a released Budgie, can you?).

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