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Western Victoria re-visited : from Ouyen to the ocean


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This trip complements a 2019 Victorian birding trip and was planned to maximise time in the parrot-rich Mallee region and to include birding the Grampians and the Great Ocean Road - so some new places and some favourite locations were included in the itinerary. Originally scheduled for late 2020 the date slipped to April 2021, and the wait made the trip even sweeter! Three friends and I set out on the 18th April, so excited to be birding with a guide through regional Victoria after more than 12 months at home with few inter-state travel options until recently - and don’t even dare to dream of international travel anytime soon with Australian borders closed until sometime in 2022.  Fortunately, Australia is a really big country and there are many interesting and scenic places to go and things to do - its a great time to be working on the Australian bucket list. 



We were all rearing to go – Val and Graeme made it through the Melbourne lockdowns and trip cancellations from 2020 made Maggie and I keen to be in wild places once again.   Simon Starr from Firetail Birding was once again our guide and it was with light hearts that we set out from Melbourne for a week birding western Victoria. 




Day 1


Simon collected Maggie and I from a Melbourne airport hotel at 0730 am with Val and Graeme already aboard. Val said this was the easiest trip she had known with collection from her front gate! We drove along the Calder Highway to the Railway Dam near Chewton where the first sighting was a pair of Eastern Grey Kangaroos hopping slowly uphill. The birdlife this morning was plentiful and the area was alive with birdsong. Fuscous, Yellow-faced, White-eared, Striated Thornbill and Scarlet Honeyeaters, Eastern Thornbill, Rose and Scarlet Robins and Spotted Pardalotes were flying through, sometimes settling in the wattle and gumtrees.



Fuscous Honeyeater


Down at the dam about a hundred welcome swallows skimmed the surface catching insects while an Australasian Grebe paddled through the still water. Next stop was the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens where a pair of Powerful Owls were snoozing until hassled awake by Red Wattlebirds and Magpies.






The gardens were gazetted in 1860 and reflect the wealth of the early gold rush years with the mature trees putting on a colourful display. Castlemaine and the nearby Moliagul Historic Reserve were goldrush sites in the early 1850s and therefore  attracted tens of thousands of miners and their families to pitch up in search of a lucky strike. The gold seekers quickly sculpted the land, cutting down trees for firewood and housing and dug shafts to in search of gold and the results of these activities are obvious today. We moved carefully through these old diggings to avoid deep holes and abandoned mine shafts.




The Yellow Gums in this area have a distinctive trunk and attracted a flock of Dusky Woodswallows.






A nimble Yellow-footed antechinus was a surprise sighting at this stop.




The last stop of the day was at Mt Korong where a Diamond Firetail showed well. Other birds amongst the granite outcrops were Fan-tailed Cuckoo, New Holland and Singing Honeyeaters and Hooded Robin. Tonight we are staying overnight at Boort a lakeside town well known for its birdlife.

Edited by Treepol
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Day 2


The tree outside my cabin is alive with Musk Lorikeets and blue-faced Honeyeaters at 0630 whilst down at the lake Eurasian Coots paddle by and an Australian Pelican glides along the bank.




A drive around the lake is particularly rewarding with views of a Nankeen Night Heron tucked away in the top of a huge Moreton Bay Fig tree.




Further around the lake a Dusky Moorhen pecks along the bank and Red-rumped Parrots feed in the grass.




Amongst this flock is an unusual leucistic bird that deprived of its green plumage has so far managed to elude predators.  Other birds seen this area are Australasian Swamphen, a darter and Little Black and Pied cormorants.




The lake is home to common water birds such as Giant Egret, Straw-necked Ibis, Grey teal and Pacific Black Duck. However it did deliver a spotless Crake, a shy and rare bird with a distinctive barred tail.




The next stop was at Lake Tyrrell, a vast salt lake that is home to the Mallee Rally. It is also home to the localised Rufous field wren and Variegated Fairy wren - this eclipse male has almost lost all his breeding colour.




Black-faced Woodswallows also live in this tough environment.




We arrived in Ouyen in time for lunch knowing that a cold front was due to arrive.  It also felt like rain but surely not because this is the Mallee, an arid region that is known for its lack of rain. These White-breasted Woodswallows huddled in a Norfolk Pine ahead of the cold front.




There was a couple of millimetres of rain which washed the dust from the town and led to some unusual behaviour from the resident Crested pigeons and Galahs. The galahs were hanging upside down from the trees with their wings spread out trying to get their feathers as wet as possible. The Crested pigeons seemed to be dust bathing with one wing extended, presumably to also wet their feathers.




Simon drove around the sports ground in the hope that some of the Pink Cockatoos (aka Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo) would be sheltering in the trees. These guys were found munching on a type of cone, sheltered from the rain and they later flew into a lower tree for even better views.








After the rain stopped we drove into south Hattah NP along river road where we had distant views of a pair of Malleefowl disappearing into an almond plantation. Almonds are big business in the Mallee.




We next stopped for Australian Ringnecks and saw White-eared and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters, Weebill, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Pied Butcherbird and a female Rufous whistler.



White-eared Honeyeater



Pied Butcherbird



Female Rufous Whistler


The final bird of the day was a flock of brilliant Regent Parrots.





Edited by Treepol
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Half your luck :(

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Am thoroughly enjoying following this TR @Treepolthrough places I know but haven't visited for a while.

Am particularly drawn to the Major Mitchells and that lovely grouping of White-breasted Woodswallows.

I think that's actually a Pied Butcherbird.

Looking forward to more.

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@Soukousyes, I do feel quite lucky to be able to get out and about, I just hope it lasts. Victoria is in lockdown again, when will it be over? About 50 years ago the ABC aired a popular series called a Big Country which showcased Australians living in isolated areas with unusual jobs such as pearlers, drovers, fishermen, opal miners etc. which was my father's favourite program. I am now truly grateful that Australia is still a Big Country and offers some unique travel opportunities and that for now we can get out and about exploring the outback and regional areas.


@Caracalthanks for reading along - the Major Mitchell is one of my favourite birds and this was a cracking sighting - what an amazing crest! I was very happy to return to the drylands this year, even though we had a spot of rain in Ouyen. Thanks for the butcherbird heads-up.


Day 3


We ate breakfast at the Ouyen Bakery, before heading out of town for the first stop just off the highway in search of the shy Striated Grasswren. We could hear the bird in a clump of bushes just 5 metres from where we were standing, but no sighting - so frustrating! Whilst we didn’t see the bird we can be assured that the bird saw us! Moving on, we stopped at a Malleefowl mound hoping to see the adult birds, but the mound was unattended.




However, a co-operative pair of Mallee Emu-wrens flew by but didn’t pose for photos. Here is some typical mallee vegetation.




Further on, an elusive Chestnut Quail-Thrush posed for photos.




Down the road a Striped Honeyeater showed well before we stumbled into a Pardalote party where Spotted and Yellow-rumpled Pardalote zipped through the trees.








The song of a Gilbert’s Whistler caught our attention, but the bird didn’t show, however this curious female Western Whistler spent a while checking us out.




Lunch today is at Lake Mournpall picnic site where an Australian Ringneck hugs the shade in a tall tree. An Australian Hobby perched in a dead tree along a quiet country road, while these emus watched us drive out of sight.








A beautiful and photogenic Red-capped Robin appeared on a fence and fluttered around.




Lake Kramen was tranquil in the late afternoon sun where a myriad bird species paddled, fed, preened and basked and a female Red Kangaroo, known as a Blue Flyer drank at the water’s edge. The pink on the lake shore is a native plant called azolla and the green is a medley of native water plants. The bird numbers were impressive with an estimated 1,000 Australasian and Hoary-headed Grebes and 70 Black-fronted Dotterels.






Grey Teal floated across the surface of the lake.




Australian Pelicans waddled into the lake as we approached.




This Black Swan sat on a nest built of weeds harvested from the lake. There were at least 3 eggs in the nest and there were some anxious moments when the swan left the nest to feed and a Whistling Kite showed casual interest in the unguarded eggs.






Royal and Yellowbilled Spoonbills relaxed in the sun.




Pied Stilts waded in the shallows and a large flock of Little Corellas was settling for the night.






A Black-fronted Dotterel fed further along the shore.




A female Australasian Darter dried her wings on a handy perch.




The last sighting of the day was a pair of Malleefowl near the roadside.





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Day 4


Today we started the drive south to the coast, leaving the dry lands of the Mallee for the Wimmera, a rich agricultural area with an overnight at Hall’s Gap in the Grampians. This ornamental clock in Ouyen celebrates the value of the wheat industry to the Mallee region.




This family of 5 Mulga Parrots was feeding in the pale morning light at Timburoo where a White-browed Tree-creeper was also busy.








Silo art is a big attraction in this area with “Big art” at Beulah, Patchewollock and Brim.








Giant Mallee fowl scratched around a picnic spot at Patchewallocke.





South of “Patche” a family of Pink Cockatoos was drinking at a water trough while a flock of sheep looked on.







Morning tea is at Hopetoun followed by a visit to a local bird hide that had been constructed by volunteers and financed by Landcare and a Mallee development scheme. During our short visit we saw Red-rumped Parrots, Yellow plumed Honeyeaters, Brown tree creeper and Yellow-throated miner. This tribute to the contribution of working dogs to the local economy is in Warracknabeal, a regional centre that provided a riverside lunch stop.





The Wimmera River flows strongly through the town and the picnic grounds attract wood ducks, Magpies and both Little and Long-beaked Corellas.






The Little Desert NP is this afternoon’s destination with some tough birding ahead. A Wedge-tailed Eagle was perched worryingly close to a wind farm.







Patience was rewarded inside Little Desert NP with views of Southern Scrub-Robin and a fleeting glimpse of a Shy Heath-wren and an Inland Thornbill showed well along the entrance road. Down at the picnic spot this very relaxed Scarlet Robin posed for photos.




The drive from the Wimmera to the Grampians passed quickly as we transitioned from the flat farming land into a mountain range that first appeared as a shadow looming over the plain. Red-necked wallabies grazed in the late afternoon chill and a Laughing Kookaburra perched low in a tree.






Late afternoon  views from the Reed lookout provided a taster of the habitat for tomorrow’s birding.






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On 6/4/2021 at 7:18 AM, Treepol said:

we stopped at a Malleefowl mound hoping to see the adult birds, but the mound was unattended.


That pretty much sums up my luck with Malleefowl :(

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Day 5


A short walk pre-breakfast around the motel grounds revealed a wealth of wildlife. A Scarlet Robin fluttered around the playground as the rising sun lit up the Grampians.






Eastern Greys and a Red Deer grazed around property and pardalotes, honeyeaters and robins perched in the low morning light.








And this final example of big art.




The popular Borough Huts picnic site was home to a number of species, shame about the low light. An Australian  Magpie perched on an old farm cart and a White-faced Heron watched over a quiet creek. A flock of noisy Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos flew overhead and a Laughing Kookaburra cackled along a bush track.






Along a quiet road an elusive Chestnut-rumped Heathwren flitted at the verge, reluctant to leave the shelter of the roadside plants. White-browed Babblers, a White-throated Treecreeper and Eastern Thornbill were glimpsed in this area. Brolgas fed at Bryan’s Swamp where a mob of Eastern Greys splashed through the water.





A pair of Brown Falcons perched over the swamp. Lunch today is in the attractive town of Dunkeld after which we drive south towards Portland.




Outside the town of Balwarra a Grey Goshawk (White morph) is perched on a sprinkler and was quickly chased away by a Magpie.


The last stop today is at the Gannet Sanctuary at Point Danger.  The sanctuary is usually closed to the public, however a local volunteer group does tours by appointment. Most of this years chicks have left Point Danger, these are amongst the last. The adult birds are away feeding most of the day and return late in the afternoon. The gannets had started to gather at Point Danger before we arrived and their aeronautical acrobatics and pair bonding rituals kept us entertained.














These Swamp Wallabies were grazing outside the sanctuary as we left.



Tonight we are staying in Port Fairy, a quaint coastal town.

Edited by Treepol
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Day 6


Port Fairy is a charming coastal town, a former fishing village that has retained much of its charm in original cottages, handsome bluestone buildings and the oldest continually licensed pub in Australia, the Caledonian Inn. The town is a popular centre for birders and we easily saw Little Egret, Black Swan, Chestnut teal, and Magpie around 7 am. 









Out of town, the waterhole next to Sheedy’s Lane is alive with water birds - Hooded Plover, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, a single Curlew sandpiper, Red-necked stint, Double-banded plover and Red-capped plover. A Willie Wagtail jumps around in front us and a Golden-headed Cisticola starts singing and eventually gives lengthy views.





Killarney Beach is nearby and we continue on in the hope of seeing Sanderling. This species is known for chasing waves down the beach and then running up the beach ahead of the next wave.  Unbelievably there are 2 large flocks on the beach resting above the tide line. These flocks are comprised of hatchlings and a few adult birds that won’t be making the mighty migration to the Arctic this year.






Other birds seen at Killarney Beach are a Kelp Gull, Ruddy Turnstone, including a couple of males in breeding plumage and a Silver Gull.









A Red-capped Plover joins the Sanderling and a Greater Crested Tern.






The next destination is Levy’s Point Nature Reserve where there are numerous Black Swan, Pied stilt, Grey and Chestnut Teal, Grey Fantail, Superb Fairywrens and Red-browed Finches. A Red Fox slinks across the road as we leave for the coast.




The Great Ocean Road is known for its spectacular rock formations and rugged coastline. The Bay of Islands is typical of the scenery with high cliffs, wild seas and spume floating on the white water.












Port Campbell is a busy coastal town that has birding opportunities for regional specials such as Rufous Bristlebird and Beautiful Firetail, both of which showed briefly. White-backed Magpie, New Holland Honeyeaters and Superb Fairy-wrens are also present.






The 12 Apostles are a well known feature of the Great Ocean Road.








Deep within the Otway Ranges we take a short walk along Meit’s Track into the rainforest. This area is home to the carnivorous Black Snail, the world’s only meat-eating snail. We looked hard but didn’t find any. Birds were also scarce with brief views of Brown Thornbill and White browed scrub wren. Sadly the sought after Pink Robin didn’t show.




Further along the road at Laver’s Hill King Parrots and sparrows are seen in suburban gardens.




Kennetts River is a coastal holiday town well known for a healthy koala population and we were lucky to get this ear and rear view of a popular Australian icon.




While we searched a shady track for koalas late in the afternoon we saw Crescent Honeyeaters, Eastern Thornbill and Yellow Robin.






The nature walk along the river in the fading light delivered Crimson Rosella, Australasian Swamphen, Little Black and Pied Cormorants, a Satin Bowerbird, Superb Fairy-wren and Maned Duck aka wood duck.












The picturesque town of Apollo Bay is home for tonight.



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Day 7


The last day - where has the week gone?






Drove to the beach at 7 am where the soft morning light glowed on the waves. There was no wind to spoil the reflection of a Masked Lapwing. Other birds seen are Australasian Gannet and Little Cormorant.








Today is Anzac Day and the locals are packing up after the dawn service in Lorne as we arrive in search of breakfast. The main street is very busy and the bakery is doing a roaring trade. After breakfast Simon heads for Moggs Creek in the Greater Otway NP in search of Southern Emu-wren and Striated Fieldwren. The fieldwren gives us the run around, making several fleeting appearances before posing for a distant photo.




The Southern Emu-wren didn’t show, although a Wedge-tailed Eagle soared overhead.


We moved on to Distillery Creek for a short walk where a Crimson Rosella at a waterhole was the first bird seen. This was quickly joined by Grey Fantail, White-browed Scrub-wren, Yellow Robin, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Golden Whistler, Grey Shrike-thrush, New Holland and White-eared Honeyeaters and Brown Thornbill.






Coogoorah Park near Anglesey was the next stop where the accessible wetland delivered sightings of Little Grassbird, Pacific Black Duck, an eclipse male Superb Fairywren and White-faced Honeyeater.




This handsome Australian King Parrot flew into a tree in a quiet residential street and began to feed.




We searched with no luck for a Gang-Gang Cockatoo before lunch and again during the afternoon  with no luck. All too soon it’s time to turn towards Tullamarine for the flight home, but not before a stop at Lara Lakes, an urban wetland surrounded by houses. A flock of Galahs is scratching on the grass while Cape Barren Geese fossick nearby. Crested Pigeons and Red-rumped Parrots are also present until the small birds scatter when a Collared Sparrowhawk appears. The birds settle again when the raptor disappears behind the rooftops.








The last stop of the day and the trip is at Serendip Reserve where emus wander amongst visitors. The first bird here is a Restless Flycatcher, followed by a Rose Robin and finally a Crested Shrike-tit. The final bird of the trip is a female Flame Robin.




Simon stopped for a final birdcall before dropping Maggie and I at the airport for an evening flight home. These days cautious travel plans are the order of the day and I eventually abandoned post-trip plans for a short stay in Melbourne. I am pleased to have enjoyed this bird rich trip and relieved that our travels and return home went without a hitch.

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  • 2 years later...

I'm so pleased to find this. It revives many memories of our times on the road along the western Victoria coast and in the Grampians in the early 2000s. 

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