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Friday, February 24, 2012

Birding Victoria Part I. Honeyeaters and wrens.

Invited to Australia for a friend's wedding, I was excited to see the fabled land "down under". This was my maiden trip to the Southern Hemisphere and excitement was building that virtually every bird seen would be a lifer. To ensure that most of free time was spent looking at birds rather than looking for directions, I had hired a local birding guide specializing in birds of the State of Victoria.

First stop was Serendip Sanctuary at the base of the You Yangs. This allowed me to get accustomed to the local birds. First up, was the spectacular Spotted Pardalote.

Also known as the "Diamondbird", this tiny bird is quite common but not commonly seen.

Next was another endemic -- the Crested Shriketit [middle]. This is a medium sized insectivorous bird that uses its parrot-like bill to pry for insects under the peeling bark of trees. To the right is a rufous whistler seen in the Brisbane Ranges National Park; and, in the lower left are 2 zebra finch [seen at Werribee; the male is on the lower branch; the female on the upper]; and, above them a white-browed scrubwren.

Further exploring woodland habitat, a cooperative grey fantail [center] was spied. Seen at Serendip Sanctuary was a dusky wood swallow [juvenal, bottom right] and a flycatcher [upper right]. But, the star of the show, surely, was a scarlet robin [left] that was found in dry scrubland.

Victoria, though a small state in Australia has recorded about 500 species. Dominated by the various species of Australian wrens and honeyeaters, there are, however, no woodpeckers. A fact, of course, noted by Alfred Wallace of Wallace's Line fame [link]. There are, of course whistlers; such as this golden whistler [middle and upper right], grey shrikethrush [left] and the endangered helmeted honeyeater [lower right].

A confusing converse of the helmeted is the white-eared honeyeater [right] with a black face and prominent white cheeks. A real delight was the chestnut-rumped heathwren [middle and upper left] which showed well but was somewhat ADHD.

Perhaps the commonest honeyeater, is the new holland honeyeater [right]. These were commonly seen in flocks. Another common bird is the olive-backed oriole [center] which we stumbled upon while chasing a black-faced cuckoo shrike [failed to photograph well]. More cooperative birds were the black currawong [lower left] and the red-browed finch [upper left].

Red wattlebirds [center] were also plentiful, but besides a flock of black-chinned honeyeaters [upper left], the honeyeater that stole the show was the Eastern Spinebill [right and lower left] which looks like a giant sunbird with very distinctive markings.

Perhaps the most enigmatic endemic of the trip was the Southern Emu-Wren [left]. It is so named because the tail feathers resemble those of the emu. These feathers don't form a tight tail; but rather each is an individual strand that is loosely bunched with the rest. Another endemic is the white-fronted chat [center] which was found in Werribee. The Satin Bowerbird is well known in ornithology for its courting antics involving the construction of a bower to attract the female. However, after extensive searching in the hills by Lorne [Southern Victoria] for the male, it was sighted but only the female obliged for a photograph [right].

Perhaps, second only to the Emu-Wren would be the superb fairy-wren [right]. This is not an uncommon bird and was seen both at Serendip as well as Werribee. It is a dazzler wherever it appears.

Here it is again [Center] with a juvenal spinebill [left] and a brown thornbird [right].

Useful Resources:
Birding Guide: Simon's Firetail Tours
Serendip Sanctuary: Serendip
Where to See Birds in Victoria: Book

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