06 August, 2011

Spring is - almost - sprung!

With the weather we've had over the last four days, you could be excused for thinking spring has come early. It always happens about this time of year - a burst of mild weather which provides some very welcome relief from the drudgery of winter. Some of us however, know better than to be fooled by this false "spring".
Today, the weather turned again. The clouds returned, the air was cool and eventually, the rain came. The avian population along the banks of the Barwon however, had not yet noticed this change in the weather. Out for one of our regular Friday rides, I couldn't help but notice that the birds were in full flight.
As I rode, I did my usual head count, noting the number of different species out and about on this particular day. By the boat sheds and through town there were the regulars - moorhens, coots, rock doves (pigeons), seagulls, pacific black ducks, plovers and a single wood duck. All along the river as I headed towards Fyansford, the rainbow lorikeets were everywhere, screeching and chattering, zooming overhead with their rapid wing beats. Above the Deviation it seemed the Currawongs were having a convocation whilst on the common at Fyansford, the swallows and red-browed finches were trying to prove the approach of spring by sheer weight of numbers. A pair of laughing kookaburras were doing just as their name suggested on nearby Redgum Island and the red-rumped parrots which frequent the dead gum tree near the foot-bridge over the Barwon were out and about too.
Snake sculpture, Barwon River
As we made our way along the Highton side of the river, heading towards Prince's Bridge, we stopped briefly at the snake sculpture, carved from a log and from there wandered down to the decked area to have a look around. Not exactly a new experience for me, but there was a noticeable difference today. Overhead were yet more noisy birds. Here and there I could both see and hear a sulphur-crested cockatoo - who wouldn't? But there were also quite a number of similarly-sized birds, with a similar call to a cocky, yet without being so raucous or loud. They were grey in colour with what at that distance appeared to be some pink on them. Possibly Galahs, but given that their call sounded rather like a squeaky door hinge, I figured probably not. I thought I knew who these birds most probably were, but it was not until we made it round to the other side of the river - where we stopped at Barwon Edge for lunch - that I was sure.
There I found them, located at a convenient height for photography in a eucalypt - one of their preferred food sources - crunching away on gum nuts. This was only the second time I had seen gang gangs on the river (or anywhere for that matter), with the previous occasion being only a few weeks ago a little further downriver at Barwon Valley.
Male Gang Gang Cockatoo
Female Gang Gang Cockatoo
My favourite website for all things bird related - Birds in Backyards - promptly informed me that their call sounded like a rusty door hinge. Thanks, but I'd already figured that one out for myself! It also told me that these rather cute birds are predominantly left handed - almost always using their left claw to hold their food - now that I hadn't noticed. A quick glance through my various photos seemed to bear this theory out. I was also unsurprised to see that the website agreed that gang gangs can look somewhat like a galah in flight.
So much for gang gangs. We took our photos, ate our lunch and moved on, heading back towards Fyansford. The weather by now was starting to close in a bit, with large dark clouds massing overhead. Regardless, I was keen to continue riding, so off we went again. The birds it seemed, were still unconcerned by the impending weather. In addition to those mentioned already, we saw new holland honeyeaters, blackbirds, spotted doves, superb fairy wrens, the ever-present red wattlebirds, mudlarks, magpies, Australian ravens, willie wagtails, even a darter and a heron. At several points I could hear the grey butcherbirds in the trees beside the track, but didn't manage to catch sight of any.
Eastern Rosella
As I made my second pass of the Fyansford Common I spotted a small group of crested pigeons in the grass and then, as always when I pass the Queen's Park Golf Course, I kept an eye - and ear - out in the hope of seeing and then taking a decent photo of an Eastern Rosella. This is the only part of the river on which I've seen them and even then only on one occasion. This time, as I passed a dead tree where I know red-rumped parrots often hang out, I heard some soft voices in the trees above. Telling myself it was the parrots, I almost kept going, but on second thoughts, I back-tracked and had a look up. Not parrots, but those eastern rosellas I'd been looking for.  Great! Now to get a photo - or perhaps not. By now, the light had seriously started to fade, the threatened rain was just beginning and rosellas as I have discovered are notoriously scatty when it comes to standing still long enough to get a decent shot.
Today this proved to be exactly the case. The low light and nervous birds left me with three grainy photos to show for my efforts, so it appears I will have to continue my quest for the perfect snap. In the meantime, to the left is one I took earlier.
So, with the clouds continuing to pile up, the rain beginning to come down a little more persistently and the temperature back to far more wintry levels, I headed for home. The birds were still on the move, particularly as I passed Balyang Sanctuary where the sulphur-crested cockies were creating a racket and there, perched amongst them trying to look like one of the crowd, I also spotted a solitary corella.
In all I think, about 29 different birds. Not a bad effort given that I have so far only seen around 70 species along the entire length of the river. So, only slightly damp and with a few more kilometres under my belt I made it home once again.

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