18 December, 2011

Hide and seek

The Jerringot Wetlands are of interest at the moment as much for  what I can't see as what I can. With the spring rains, the plant life is flourishing and the fauna is abundant. Part of the problem however, is that all this lush growth is making it rather tricky to see much of what is going on.
As a general rule, rain means frogs and frogs mean snakes. We had the rain, the frogs arrived and so did the snakes. Great! Rain also means grass. Nice, lush grass; good for hiding frogs and snakes.
Australasian Grebe amongst the reeds at Jerringot
Away from the water's edge, the aquatic plants are so abundant that it is becoming difficult to see much of anything from the bird hide. Whilst no doubt thankful for the extra cover, the coots and moorhens must be finding it hard work to paddle their way about - as for the ducks, I'm surprised they bother!
Of course, if it is tricky to see the birds which are abundant and generally easy to spot, how hard then, is it to see the birds that don't wish to be seen? Very! The information boards conveniently placed at strategic points around the wetlands, inform me that during the summer months, I should be on the look out for crakes, rails and the internationally protected Latham's Snipe. They say that I need to be patient and still - why do I always seem to be attracted to hobbies which require patience?
Well, I have been patient and I have been still and I have had...a limited degree of success.
Buff Banded Rail at Jerringot
Over the past couple of months my patience paid off with sightings and photos of several Buff Banded Rails which do indeed run across the path, right where the sign says they might and even in a few other places besides. On one occasion I even spotted a rail on the opposite side of the Barwon, hanging around in a patch of rushes not far from one of the factories which back on to that part of the river.
Within a similar time frame, I found that often as I walked down the path near the golf course, a number of birds would break cover from the grassy area, fly up and then re-settle a short distance away. Last week, I decided to be a little more careful. I approached slowly and was not surprised as a couple of birds flew up out of the undergrowth, then a couple more and a couple more.
Latham's Snipe at Jerringot
After a few attempts which saw me photographing a patch of weeds and an obligingly immobile and vaguely bird-shaped log, I spotted my quarry. It was standing at the edge of a clearing attempting - with some degree of success - to look like a piece of bark.
It turns out, I had managed to snap a Latham's Snipe - a migratory waterbird which spends its breeding months in Japan before heading south to spend the warmer months from September to February in the eastern states of Australia. These snipes are waders, with long, pointed bills which they use to probe mud and water looking for food.
This species which used to be hunted as game in Australia is now protected as part of an international agreement with Japan.
So, I have seen rails and snipes - that leaves crakes. There are three types to choose from but so far, I have failed to see a single one - unlike the local naturalist Trevor Pescott whom I note in a recent article managed to snap a shot of a Baillon's Crake near the bird hide.
Clearly I need to spend some time sharpening my skills as a stalker...

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