Grey is the colour

Winter is well and truly upon us and the birds are matching the colour of the skies in recent days.

Both the Jacky Winter and Weebill (pictured below) are residents, the Silvereye (first image) is most likely a migrant, of the Tasmanian race ssp. lateralis. The rich chestnut flanks are diagnostic, however the intensity of this colour varies and I reckon local flocks might well often be a mix of this subspecies, ssp. westernensis and ssp. pinarochrous. The differences are subtle.

The Tasmanian birds cross Bass Strait twice each year, arriving in central Victoria to overwinter. Best described as a partial migration, not all birds make the trip. Meanwhile the ‘local’ silvereyes also move around, making the identification of subspecies quite a challenge.

Visit the Australian Bird Study Association website and type ‘silvereye’ into the search box, to learn more about this intriguing species.


Jacky Winter in Grey Box, Mia Mia Road, 29th May 2023




Silvereye, Fence Track, Muckleford State Forest









Wanderers from the north

I’ve just returned from a few days work in the Riverina.

A major flood event across the Murray Darling Basin in 2022 has now receded, but it’s been a fantastic result for bird life.

Probably the most common species I observed was the Black-tailed Native-hen, with some flocks numbering in the hundreds. It’s no surprise that a few of these beautiful nomads have wandered into central Victoria. While their numbers are much smaller locally than I experienced further north they add to the rich variety of wetland birds that are currently enjoying the plains.


Black-tailed Native-hens, Moolort Plains, 28th May 2023






Black-fronted Dotterel


II … puddling for prey


White-fronted Chats … resting in Lignum




Australian Spotted Crake

Danger lurks … above and below

A brief, yet interesting encounter late yesterday afternoon.

I was watching a Black Kite hunting over a patch of recently burnt ground near Picnic Point. The lone bird was soon joined by another three, as well as a single Whistling Kite.

As I watched on I started to hear some low ‘peeping’ sounds from a couple of seperate patches of rank grassland nearby … Brown Quail! One of the coveys burst skyward and landed near to where the others were calling.

This spot is a favourite for the species and I’ve seen and heard them regularly there over the years. As I sat tight a few of the quail scuttled across the path some fifteen metres away, clearly concerned about the circling kites. A Flame Robin landed just in front of where I sat … it too gazed skywards nervously.

Native raptors, quail and robins are all part of a dynamic, functioning ecosystem. Not so welcome are   cats; stray and feral, such as the one I spotted at Cotswold at the weekend.


Black Kite hunting, Picnic Point, Cairn Curran Reservoir, 29th May 2023








Brown Quail






Flame Robin


Feral cat near Cotswold, 27th May 2023

Never in May … well hardly ever

Update (31/5/2023)

Many thanks to those readers who responded to this post … it provoked quite a flurry of interesting notes. In summary Fan-tailed Cuckoos have been regularly recorded locally (central Victoria) over past month, as well as a number of observations from further afield in Victoria. In most cases the birds were calling. It’s hard to draw any definitive conclusions but I reckon Fan-tailed Cuckoos are worthy of closer study, as are a number of other migrants.

It may well be that Fan-tailed Cuckoos are ‘climate sentinels’, species that are responding to climate variability or change. I’ll have more to say on this topic ‘down the track’.

It’s the exception that proves the rule.

Fan-tailed Cuckoos are migrants to the forests and woodlands of central Victoria.

Conventional wisdom is that they head north in early autumn to return again in late winter, with a small number of birds remaining to ‘overwinter’. During this time they remain silent, to begin calling again in early August.

On Friday morning the bird pictured below could not possibly have been overlooked as it called enthusiastically from our front yard for a good thirty minutes or so.

Looking at local records (20km radius of Newstead) in Birdata, there are only a handful (less than 10) of observations in May since 1995. I’d be interested if any local readers have been hearing this species during May.


Fan-tailed Cuckoo (calling), Newstead, 26th May 2023


Fan-tailed Cuckoo + Drooping Sheoak



In a similar vein, the first Golden Wattle flowers have appeared. Peak flowering locally is usually July to late August.

Golden Wattle, South German Track, Muvkleford State Forest-1

Golden Wattle, South German Track, Muckleford State Forest, 27th May 2023

Duck for cover

The late afternoon idyll was suddenly disturbed.

Pacific Black Ducks (feeding in the nearby stubble), along with some Grey Teal, Galahs and ravens – perhaps 200 birds in total, scattered wildly in all directions. The alarm calls of White-plumed Honeyeaters confirmed the arrival of a raptor.

The Peregrine Falcon, a young bird, cruised through with intent … circling above me a couple of times as it eyed a possible target. While I didn’t observe a serious pursuit, or a kill, the falcon was certainly weighing up its options.

In the middle distance a flock of corellas had detected the hunter … you can just make out its blurry silhouette in the foreground.

An enduring memory from my childhood is that of a Peregrine plunging through a small flock of Long-billed Corellas, striking one of the party and scattering feathers in all directions. The falcon then casually circled back to catch its dying and earthbound victim.


Pacific Black Ducks, Picnic Point on Cairn Curran, 24th May 2023




Corella flock … alert to the presence of a feared predator … note the blur


Peregrine Falcon in hunting mode





Insectivores to the fore

As we head into the depths of another winter the insectivores are taking charge in the local bush.

The catalogue of images below displays a range of local woodland birds, all of which depend to a large extent on insects. The Brown-headed Honeyeater was gleaning psyllids from eucalypt leaves, a common strategy when flowering is light.

Once again I was surrounded by a flock of Flame Robins – such a delight!


Brown-headed Honeyeater, Muckleford State Forest, 21st May 2023


Flame Robin (adult male)


Grey Fantail




Golden Whistler (female)


Hooded Robin (adult male) with spider prey


Jacky Winter


Scarlet Robin (adult male)


Varied Sittella

A wave of flames

At this time of year birding tends to be a case of feast or famine.

A walk in the Muckleford Bush last week was producing lean pickings, Painted Button-quail and Chestnut-rumped Heathwrens calling, but remaining hidden in the Cassinia and Gold-dust Wattle.

Then as I headed for home a wave of small birds appeared around me, moving at various heights through a patch of open woodland. They proved to be Flame Robins, perhaps twenty birds in total, a mix of brilliant adult males and ‘brown birds’ – either adult females or immatures. Interestingly I never see any birds in obvious transition (from immature to adult male) plumage, so it may be that all ‘brown birds’ are adult females … bit of a puzzle!

My first local observations for the autumn, they have been seen in the district for a week two now by other observers. The only Petroica robin to form flocks they are altitudinal migrants, spending the winter in the box-ironbark country and further north on the riverine plains, before heading back to areas such as Daylesford and Trentham to breed.

This flock was clearly heading purposefully north, feeding from low perches along the way. We can expect to enjoy many encounters with this enchanting bird over coming weeks.


Flame Robin (adult male), South German Track, 17th May 2023


Flame Robin … brown bird … adult female or immature




Adult male … this individual is tinged with red on crown, not unusual


This one not so much

A tale of one bird and two plants

A tiny denizen of the plains, the Golden-headed Cisticola is always a delight to encounter.

These days it can be mainly found in tall, rank grasslands (I often refer to such areas as ‘rough country’), as well as densely vegetated creeklines and grassy swamps – all make ideal habitat for this beautiful songster. More often than not I find it perched on a Phalaris stem, inspecting its surroundings and occasionally bursting into snatches of insect-like song.

Sadly the nature of its ‘homeland’ has undergone profound changes in recent decades. The vast expanses of native grassland are no more – reduced to narrow roadside strips dominated by introduced grasses, especially Phalaris Phalaris aquatica. Like many native birds, the Golden-headed Cisticola has adapted to a degree and can be reasonably common in in such places.

Phalaris is probably the most persistent and productive temperate perennial pasture grass sown across southern Australia and is an important component of many profitable livestock grazing systems. It is a native of southern Europe, north west Africa and the Mediterranean region. It was first introduced into Australia from the United States in 1884, where it became known as Toowoomba Canary Grass.

I’ll confess to not being a huge fan of Phalaris* … but won’t bore you now with my compelling reasoning!

Back to Cisticola exilis.

One of its former strongholds would have been Long Swamp, a large shallow wetland at the core of the Moolort Plains wetland complex. Fringed by River Red-gums the floor of the swamp was once dominated by dense stands of Southern Cane-grass Eragrostis infecunda. Unlike with Phalaris I’m a big fan of this wonderful native grass, now regenerating nicely after a wet 2022 and carpeting large areas across the wetland. As dusk approached several cisticolas gathered around me, enjoying the last rays of sunshine and looking very much at home. I wandered off slowly, imagining a Brolga flock passing overhead.


Golden-headed Cisticola, Long Swamp, 15th May 2023


Golden-headed Cisticola in native habitat (Southern Cane-grass and Juncus sp.)


Coming to ground to feed at the base of a cane-grass clump


Perched in a stand of Phalaris … a typical pose




A cane-grass stem with the left leg … a dock stem with the right

Long Swamp

* Phalaris (Greek: Φάλαρις) was the tyrant of Akragas (now Agrigento) in Sicily, from approximately 570 to 554 BC. His chequered history can be ‘enjoyed’ here.

A pair of Southern Boobooks

Always a thrill to see our local Wyndham Street Boobooks. I’ve been hearing their calls close by over the past week or so. The sexes are similar and both the male and female are pictured here … no idea which is which.

I reckon they’ll be feasting out on house mice at present … keep up the good work!


Southern Boobook, Newstead, 11th May 2023











Puddling about

Still images often fail to convey the full story.

Red-kneed Dotterels use a foraging strategy that is common to many other species of waders. They are a small, chunky wader that can be found in a variety of temporary and permanent wetlands where they feed on small invertebrates and seeds.

Their food is plucked from areas of exposed mud or shallow water, often using their feet to ‘tremble’ the the substrate to disturb potential prey. The birds in the images below were from a small flock of five birds, including one immature, and as I watched on they were regularly employing the feet trembling strategy to secure food.

I’ve seen other waders do this, including the Black-fronted Dotterel, a species that is often found in the same habitats and locations as Red-kneed Dotterels.


Red-kneed Dotterel, Moolort Plains, 9th May 2023










Immature Red-kneed Dotterel


Australian Spotted Crake