It took 5 trips to Mallacoota but I finally found an Eastern Reef Egret, also called the Pacific Reef Heron. It is found along the east coast of Australia with its southern range ending around Mallacoota. While not rare along the east coast it has been my hoodoo bird. On my last trip in December I found one fishing on the rocks at Bastion Point and spent some time watching and photographing it. I took probably 400 photos and followed it along the exposed reef. It seemed comfortable with me sitting nearby and kept an exact flush distance. It briefly moved to the outer rocks when a few off leash dogs ran along the beach but came back closer once the dogs moved on. I was happy that I had finally found my Reef Heron. Two days later I found it again with its partner – or possibly two different birds, at Secret Beach along the coast.
Eastern Reef Egret, Bastion Point, Mallacoota, Vic
Hopping from rock to rock looking for prey
Occasionally getting swamped by waves
With the prize
At Secret Beach, I found two Reef Egrets resting and preening at high tide.
Eastern Reef Egrets, Secret Beach, Mallacoota, Vic
While photographing the two Egrets I moved as close as I could without making them nervous. Moving a little closer I straddled two rock outcrops above a small inlet and tried to balance. I got quite wet when a wave came in and broke over the front rock.
While staying in Mallacoota I visit Bastion Point several times a day at various tides looking for the birds that usually stop by this part of the coast. On most visits I came across a flock of Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoos. I think it was an extended family as there were several adults and a bunch of juveniles still begging for food. The sound young cockatoos make when begging would make anyone give them food just to shut them up. On this occasion the adults were quite agitated while the younger birds played around, looking about I found a young whistling kite on a tree branch nearby watching them all intently.
Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoo, Bastion Point, Mallacoota, Vic
Preening and teasing each other
Immature Whistling Kite watching the Black-cockatoos
Just after I photographed the pair of Common Bronzewing on the Casuarina Track I stood on a small wooden boardwalk bridge over a dry creek bed. I had stopped to listen for birds and I watched as a pair of small Spinebills brought back nesting material, landing onto the bridge railing checking around and then flying into a nearby tangle of vines and shrubs at the corner of the bridge. I carefully moved along the bridge and finally found a narrow vantage point that gave me a view of the well camouflaged nest. I stood and watched for a while, took a few images and then left them to it. The last photo shows the little builder pushing deep into the nest and shaping it via some vigorous contortions.
Eastern Spinebill building a nest, Casuarina Track, Mallacoota, Vic
Walking along the Casuarina Track leading down to the coast from the Mallacoota township, I saw quite a few birds including this pair of Common Bronzewing. This species is usually quite timid and with a panicked clatter of wings will take off through the trees and disappear quickly. I could the hear the male with his booming call from further down the track so I walked carefully and quietly and tried to approach. This time the pair just stood and watched as I fiddled with the camera trying to get a better shot in the low light forest.
Male Common Bronzewing, Casuarina Walk, Mallacoota, Vic
While driving through the Mallacoota township heading out for an early morning walk at Double Creek, I spotted a large bird sitting on the front grass of a roadside home. Due to a bit of early morning mental slowness, I drove past, attempting to catalogue the bird and then realised that I could not identify it. I panicked and pulling over quickly, jumping out with the binoculars to have a closer look. I still could not identify the bird so I grabbed the camera. By walking carefully I managed to get quite close for a few low light photos. I pushed my luck and the bird finally flew up and back into the bushes in the front yard. With the visible striped tail feathers I guessed it was a cuckoo of some sort and that it seemed to be quite passively waiting to be fed. I could hear a few Red Wattlebirds nearby. I continued on my day and later tried to ID what the bird might have been. I was hoping for a lifer and tried to turn it into something I had not seen before but in the end I decided it was a juvenile Eastern Koel, a large cuckoo with a loud call that many residential communities find annoying especially in the middle of the night. While not uncommon for the area, I have only seen dark males high in the trees and of course heard them. It was my first decent photo of one and I learnt about the species while researching: Males are a glossy black, it is a migratory species that arrives in spring in Australia from South-east Asia (Indonesia & New Guinea), adults have bright red eyes and the juveniles have black eyes, while Mallacoota is well south of their usual range down to Mid NSW – they are now quite common in Canberra and thanks to climate change, a few regulars make it to Melbourne, the male’s call is a loud ascending whistle or “koo-el”, being a parasitic bird it lays eggs in other bird species nests: red wattlebird, magpie-lark, friarbirds and figbirds. It is also called a Pacific or Common Koel, cooee bird, rain bird and storm bird.
On the drive into the Mallacoota township there is a spot that I explore each day as part of my birding/photography schedule. During December when I visited it was hot and very dry. Winding through the reserve, the creek was low and mostly dry, just several pools of dark water. As I entered the rain forest and my eyes adjusted to the lower light conditions there were multiple birds on the opposite bank diving into the creek bed and back up onto low branches. There was at least 5 species involved – Bell Minors, Superb Fairy-wrens, Scrubwrens, a Lewins Honeyeater and a very agitated Grey Fantail. As I stood and watched I noticed movement and saw a large Red-bellied Black Snake. I am not usually concerned about these snakes as they hunt the really dangerous snakes. But they are a sign that other snakes are around. I was not even in the area 15 minutes and I had already found a snake.
The feisty Fantail below was dive bombing the snake and a landing on a branch near me before taking off again.
Grey Fantail, Double Creek Nature Walk, Mallacoota, Vic
Each December I try to spend a week in Mallacoota exploring the area’s National Parks and looking for birds and animals I dont usually see in my part of the world. Many of the Northern birds have their most southern range in and around the Mallacoota inlet and surrounding forests. On the way to the ‘Coota, a 6 hour drive from Melbourne, I stopped for a break and a bite to eat at the Cabbage Tree Creek Flora Reserve. On this occasion it was hot and dry and swarming with mozzies in the shade. I spent an hour walking the short tracks. I noticed that the Palms were fruiting (nutting?) but did not find any of the usual birds that feed on them other than some noisy flocks of Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoo. The Palm is the only Fan-palm found in Victoria.
I did find a small green nest being built by a Yellow-faced Honeyeater. I watched as a pair brought back small fibres and wove them into the nest. At times one would hop into the bowl and flutter about seemly trying to shape it. Much of the material was live moss and lichen so it would remain green and well camouflaged.
Yellow-faced Honeyeater nest, very well hidden.
Yellow-faced Honeyeater and nest , Cabbage Tree Creek Flora Reserve, Vic
Completed nest a week later when I passed through on the way home.
Cabbage Tree Palm fruiting
Cabbage Tree Palms
A young Cabbage Tree Palm finding space in the crowed understory.
Black-faced Monarch, Cabbage Tree Creek Flora Reserve, Vic
While I was standing still and studying the Superb fairy-wrens for the ebird study, I noticed a Yellow Robin flying into a nearby prickly current-bush. I soon found its late season (or second) nest and watched as the Robin made several trips bringing back spider-web and soft materials for the interior of the nest. It would squeeze itself down and shape the bowl.
Later I found another Robin nest carefully placed in the broken fork of a small tree down in a rainforest gully. Unless you stopped and looked at the fork you would never have noticed the nest – it was so well camouflaged with moss and lichen. I must have walked past this nest dozens of times and never saw it or its occupants while it was active.
Eastern Yellow Robin nest, Greens Bush, Mornington Peninsula National Park, Vic,
Eastern Yellow Robin building and moulding its nest
Off for more material
Back to continue shaping
Well hidden Eastern Yellow Robin nest
Invisible to the casual eye, even though chest high and on the trail.
For a small bird that is brightly coloured during breeding season, the male Superb fairy-wren is a noisy bird that likes to alert everything nearby that a stranger has come close or into its territory. It is a curious bird that will pop up onto a branch, have a look at the potential danger and then disappear quickly back into low foliage. Over winter, spring and early summer, I have been paying extra attention to these little birds, participating in the study to gauge the male’s transition to full breeding plumage each year. We are supposed to track what plumage stage each bird is in that we find as we walk our favourite areas. The species has a defined territory making the little tribe (2 to 6 birds) easier to find each time. The study has made it more interesting finding this quite common bird. Usually I just record it as a day or site tick on my list and then ignore it. Having to study the individual family groups for a 15-20 minutes session, identifying the sexes, plumage phase types, general activity and any interaction between groups makes it much more interesting. A by-product of this stationary watch means I see others birds as they fly by or pop out of the nearby scrub.
Superb Fairy-wren, Greens Bush, Mornington Peninsula National Park, Vic
As I sorted out my camera gear out for my weekly walk around Green’s Bush I heard a crunching in the trees above my car. Several Yellow-tailed black cockatoos were tearing into the branches of a Blackwood tree. Cockatoos will often attack tree branches (and houses) to keep their every growing bills trim and to find insect larvae boring into the wood.
Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Greens Bush, Mornington Peninsula National Park, Vic
One of my favourite birds is the Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, a colourful, gregarious bird with a very distinctive call. It has a confiding nature and the juveniles can be quite curious. When I made a phishing noise the young one photographed below came in closer for a look at me and then started to call. The Birdlife Australia site describes the call as jerky, musical “liquid and guttural gurgling jumble”. Looking at the bristles below the ear I noticed that there are a few yellow ones – the sign of a young bird. Now that I am often carrying recording gear. I hope to record the species quite soon. I have found an area of the southern section of Green’s Bush where I occasionally hear the species.
Young Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Greens Bush, Mornington Peninsula National Park, Vic,
While an early start at Green’s Bush means a good chance of finding Bassian Thrush it also means a lot less light available for the photo. The long lens needs a good amount of light for a nice clear photo. While taking the series of the thrush collecting nesting material I crouched as low as possible to the ground and slowly pushed the bassian using its own flush distance zone to move it into better light. This is the distance that it will allow me to approach (about 5-7 metres) without flying off or moving up the path. If the Bassian does not feel threatened it will just walk up the path away from me and continue to feed to collect material. I move a few metres forward and it moves forward. Crouching down I found I could get inside the usual zone but it was hard on the knees.
Bassian Thrush, Greens Bush, Mornington Peninsula National Park, Vic
Through spring and summer I regularly hear Fan-tailed Cuckoos calling: described as a mournful descending trill. Along one of the paths to the Moorooduc quarry a pair flew down to lower branches and started calling.
In the background you can also hear a Striated Pardalote, a Grey Fantail and a Grey Shrikethrush.
I dont often get a chance to photograph these shy birds as they move through the upper and mid tree canopy looking for hairy caterpillars and other insects.
Walking along one of the tracks around the Moorooduc Quarry I heard the distinctive call of the Mistletoebird along with the alarm call of a Superb-fairy wren. Usually the fairy-wrens stay low, nearer the ground, but a female wren was calling quite loudly as a Mistletoebird helped itself to the fruit of a Cherry Ballart tree. The Mistletoebird as its name suggests has a strong relationship with various native mistletoes (Box, Drooping and Creeping) and helps spread the seed onto other trees via a very fast and sticky digestive process. I hadn’t seen one feeding in a Cherry Ballart before. The ballart is another form of parasitic plant that uses the roots of other trees to gain its nutrients rather than the branches.
Mistletoebird, Moorooduc Quarry, Mt Eliza, Vic
Mistletoebird has a snack while a Superb Fairy-wren frowns at the intrusion.