Like the rest of Melbourne I went through 100+ days of lockdown – stuck working from home and in my 5km radius. I am fortunate to have a job that can be done from home but I definitely miss the office. To keep sane during this time myself and a number of other birders had a bit of a competition to see how many species of birds we could find in that 5km radius. This meant scouring google maps for every little remnant of bush and wetland and I was pretty happy with the 120 odd species I found during the lockdown. While I didn’t win the bird competition I probably did see the most snakes with plenty of Lowland Copperheads out and about. Highlights would have to be the Wandering Whistling-ducks that turned up at Dandenong Valley Wetlands about 4700 meters from home as the duck flies and a number of Swift Parrots in the Springvale cemetery. I also tried my hand at a bit of urban spotlighting in remnant habitat along Dandenong Creek which was a bit of fun. Highlight here were the good numbers of frogs (7 species) – I was somewhat surprised to find Peron’s Tree Frogs and I wonder if they are naturally occurring or have moved in perhaps in firewood or garden supplies.
Following Dan relaxing the “Ring of Steel” around Melbourne, Rohan and I were straight in the car heading east past Orbost looking for Long-footed Potoroo and other cool things. We spent three nights in the area between Cape Conran and Cann River, much of which had been extensively burnt in last Summer’s fires. In some areas the damage was limited and was already recovering well but in others it was a holocaust with ridge after ridge of trees killed and almost no regrowth noticable. On the first night of spotlighting we drove a long way using thermal camera with a few stops along the way. While we didn’t detect our main target we did find a couple of Sooty Owls in fire affected areas which was a positive sign. During the day we birded around Cape Conran, Marlo and Cabbage Tree with some nice birds like Turquoise Parrot, Sanderling and Wedge-tailed Shearwater recorded. The sweeping fields of post fire grass-tree spikes around Conran were particularly impressive.
For the next two nights we narrowed the search and did twice get a probable potoroo on thermal but could not get a sighting which was frustrating. Still over the 3 nights we did get good numbers of Eastern Pygmy-possums and a surprise roosting Painted Button-quail as well as many other cool mammals and frogs. By the end of the third night we were pretty tired but had to get up early to head home, detouring via Lake Tyers and Macleod Morass. We still clocked up 150+ species of bird and a good mammal list and it was really cathartic to be out of lockdown and back into some real nature. While the aftermath of the fire was pretty distressing in places in others the recovery would suggest some good hope for the future.
More recently I had an invite to go on a Plains-Wanderer weekend led by Phil Maher with Matt Crawford and Michael Ramsey. I had some family commitments so could only leave after lunch on the Saturday and was rolling into Deniliquin a bit after 4pm. It was a very hot 42 degrees on arrival with a strong wind. After a quick beer at the pub we piled into a couple of 4wd’s and went birding. We stopped at a wetland which was packed with birds and 63 species seen. Later on dusk we arrived at the farm we would be spotlighting at and relaxed with a beer and some snacks. While poking around I was happy to find my first Curl Snake. What followed was one of the best nights of spotlighting I have had in a while. We found 3 male Plains-wanderers and two of them both had two tiny chicks which were very cute. In addition I ended up with three new reptiles – the Curl Snake, Eastern Hooded Scaly-foot and Tessellated Gecko as well as loose change like Little Button-quail and a number of Fat-tailed Dunnarts. All in all a very enjoyable evening and I would highly recommend getting on one of Phil’s tours. I had to leave pretty early the next day and I was back in Melbourne about 26 hours after leaving!