Saturday, March 16, 2013

Epic Aussie Road Trip Part 3: Victoria

We crossed over the South Aus-Victoria border at night, passing through yet another fruit quarantine (Australian Travelling Rule #247: If you buy apples in Australia, be sure to eat them all before leaving the parking area as someone is bound to quarantine them within the next 45 minutes).

We were still high on our Malleefowl experience and relieved that we wouldn't have to do any massive side-trips to keeping trying for them. Today we had two principle targets: Striated Grasswren (which we tried so hard for at Gluepot), and the critically endangered Mallee Emu-Wren--which is limited to a few small patches of spinifex clumps in NW Victoria. Thanks to habitat destruction from humans and wildfires, this poor flier may become extinct within the next decade. That all boils down to "a bird we better see."
Our typical camping set-up. Me in the tent with the two Fins crashing in the car. Here we are at a known  'MEW' location in Victoria. Once again, Jukka and I rose early and started zig-zagging through the spinifex. 
Et VOILA! It only took about 10 minutes and after following some high-pitched squeaks, we ran into a family party of MALLEE EMU-WRENS! Above is the patriarch in typical 'obscuring habitat.' We ended up finding two different groups on this walk so we were quite happy with ourselves. A sweet-tasting cherry on top came in the form of a pair of STRIATED GRASSWRENS that finally popped out to give us decent looks. After all those spikes to the feet and groin area, we were 4/4 in the grasswren department!  [Photo: Jukka Jantunen]
While we had tremendous luck with some birds, we had a few frustrating misses in mallee country, not the least of which was Blue Bonnet (an awesome-looking parrot). So we basically spent the rest of the morning driving backroads in NW Victoria trying to find parrots. Nothing with a blue bonnet, but Jukka was stoked to get his first Cockatiels of the trip!
We made it to the coast just before sunset, and enjoyed a pleasant walk around a nice lagoon in Portland, Victoria.  Turns out this is a great spot for KOALAS! We saw no less than 4 on the walk.
Finding a legitimately "countable" Mallard in Australia has become somewhat of an obsession of mine. They're quite common in New Zealand (where they're hybridizing the Pacific Black Duck to extirpation), and they're in all Aussie fieldguides... so surely there are some good ones somewhere? Victoria and Tasmania allegedly posses the greatest numbers of "pure birds" so maybe I'd strike gold here. If we're gonna try for 500 in 30+ days, we'll need every one. So it comes down to this. In all my Australian travels, this (above bird) was the best I could find. An obvious barnyard duck weighing at least twice as much as a wild Mallard. And he's got a companion--a Northern Pintail! Yeah right...
So I guess we dipped on Mallard...
After a pleasant supper at the Portland Dominos (we asked about Subway, but some local boys thought were trying to find a subway-train), we headed east along the dark coast to the start of the famous tourist drive: The Great Ocean Road.  Above is a picture of me surveying the cliffy coastline, moments after picking up my lifer Fork-tailed (Pacific) Swifts.
Clearly we chose our illegal campsite wisely, as this RUFOUS BRISTLEBIRD was a solid "near endemic to Victoria:" to pick up. This completes the "Bristlebird Triple Crown" for me! The Rufous is only found in thick coastal heath in Victoria and SE South Aus. There used to be a western subspecies near Perth but these birds are now thought to be extinct.

Being a narrow, winding road popular with American and Japanese tourists, there are plenty of signs reminding us to DRIVE ON LEFT.
Made it to the outskirts of Melbourne in the late afternoon. Before heading to the city we paid a visit to one of Australia's most adored birding sites: The Werribee Sewage Farm. It poured rain most of the time but the birding was still great. Out first BLACK FALCON of the trip resulted in some Finnish-style high-fives. Werribee is a large area of grassland, pasture, wetland, ponds, and seashore habitat. Ducks and shorebirds are usually in abundance (eg We had over 1000 Pink-eared Ducks on one pond!), and it's also one of the most important wintering sites for the crazy/massively endangered Orange-bellied Parrot (which are unfortunately all in a remote corner of Tasmania at this time of year).
Also at Werribee: My lifer MARSH SANDPIPER.
[Photo: Jukka Jantunen]

We had some time to kill before dark, so we headed into Melbourne (Australia's second largest city, and the capital of Victoria). We felt a little dirty doing it, but our two targets were distinctly European (Introduced species): Song Thrush & Eurasian Tree Sparrow. According to the "Thomas & Thomas" birdfinding guide, both are easy at the Royal Botanical Gardens. Well... we watched and listened (as above) for 1.5 hours and had absolutely zero luck on both fronts. If Song Thrushes were present, one would assume they'd be singing up a storm at dusk along with all the Common Blackbirds... so perhaps things have changed since 2011 update of T&T. Anyway, if it feels bad twitching introduced species in a country willed with amazing native species, it feels horrible MISSING THEM!
Our last day in Victoria, we headed north out of Melbourne into the dry hills near the border with New South Wales. Here, Jukka stands ready for photographic action, in Chiltern National Park--one of the last good patches of Box-Ironbark woodland. Along with the habitat there are several species that are also struggling. The prized bird here is the Regent Honeyeater. Unfortunately, no one really knows where these birds go in the summer (it doesn't help that there are so few of them). So we tried, but no dice. Did however pick up a few lifer honeyeaters such as Fuscous & Black-chinned.

UP NEXT: New South Wales Part 1!

1 comment:

  1. The second to the last picture was funny! My friend and I will surely recreate that pose when we go for a trip. Anyway, it seems that you had so much fun on your road trip. Victoria is a nice place. I’ve been there once, and I would say that I would like to repeat to experience.