Category Archives: Cairn Curran

Not for some years …

At least once or twice each week I visit Cairn Curran Reservoir, usually travelling across Joyce’s Creek and then wending my way around the storage to Picnic Point.

On recent visits I’ve observed, most times, at least one but up to three Great Egrets, as I cross the creek. Yesterday afternoon a smaller white bird, clearly an egret, caught my attention as it sat crouched on a limb of one of the dead River Red Gums along the creek.

It was an Eastern Cattle Egret, a bird that I haven’t seen in the district for some years. This one was all-white, a juvenile lacking the orange-buff feathers that are typical of breeding birds – traces of this plumage are often also seen in non-breeding individuals.

As their name suggests Cattle Egrets are generally found as small flocks in association with livestock, especially cattle, where they forage for insects disturbed by the grazing animals. Cattle Egrets are much smaller than both the Great Egret and Intermediate Egret (a rare visitor). The prominent feathering under the bill, creating a ‘jowled’ appearance, is a distinctive feature.

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Eastern Cattle Egret, Joyce’s Creek, 9th May 2022

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What’s in a name?

An egret is a heron … but not all herons are egrets.

Herons are birds in the family Ardeidae that includes typical herons (familiar local species such as the White-faced Heron and White-necked Heron), bitterns, night-herons and egrets.

Egrets belong to the genus Egretta, of which the Great Egret is the species of egret most often encountered at Cairn Curran, while the White-faced Heron belongs to the genus Ardea (Latin for heron).

Both of these herons utilise the shallow margins of Cairn Curran throughout the year in search of small fish, frogs and invertebrates and will happily move into local wetlands when conditions are suitable. White-faced Herons often feed in flooded paddocks, Great Egrets rarely do so. Both tend to be highly territorial when feeding and will chase off intruding herons to maintain their domain.

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Great Egret, Cairn Curran Reservoir, 14th April 2022

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Great Egret displacing a White-faced Heron

Not that ‘old chestnut’

Chestnut Teal have been in healthy numbers on Cairn Curran this year. While still outnumbered by Grey Teal, I’ve observed several pairs on most visits. This pair, spotted near Picnic Point earlier in the week, show the clear sexual dimorphism in the species. The male has a rich chestnut breast and iridescent dark-green head, while the female lacks the contrast but is a deep brown all over … much darker than either male or female Grey Teal. Both sexes have a deep red iris.

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Chestnut Teal (pair), Picnic Point, 15th December 2021

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I was intrigued by the colour of this Australian Pipit. This individual has taken on the colour of its red earth home, presumably the result of being covered with wind blown dust. The species is normally pale buff in colour but this one looked particularly striking as it posed on a volcanic boulder at the edge of a dam.

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Australian Pipit, Moolort Plains

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The wanderer

I spotted this Peregrine Falcon last week at Picnic Point. The bold, dark streaking on the breast signify that it’s a juvenile. Almost all individuals I observe locally are seen in adult plumage (see this post from earlier this year).

Both the English and scientific names for this beautiful raptor mean “wandering falcon”… peregrinus is a Latin term for wanderer or foreigner.

Peregrines are nesting locally at present but I doubt that any young birds have fledged as yet. My hunch is that this bird has arrived from further north. Good rains in the interior have triggered ideal conditions for bird breeding and now this youngster is roaming far and wide before it too ‘settles down’.

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Peregrine Falcon (juvenile), Picnic Point, 13th October 2021

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Live @ the lake

I’m surprised and a little dismayed about how much the water levels in Cairn Curran have fallen over autumn. Here’s hoping for a winter deluge to replenish this important wetland.

As you can see from the graph below this is the typical pattern that results from large volumes of downstream water transfer over summer and autumn, much of this destined for orchards along the Murray River. The storage is currently at about 38% of capacity.

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Waterbirds are scarce at present, although a visit is always rewarded with some great sights.

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Whistling Kite, Cairn Curran Reservoir, 20th May 2021

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Australian Pelican

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Australasian Darter

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A cricket team …

… of waders has arrived at Cairn Curran.

Seven Red-capped Plovers and four Red-necked Stints. I’d almost given up hope of seeing any migrating waders this autumn, so what a wonderful surprise.

The stints are about to embark on another international tour, all the way to the Siberian tundra where they will breed over the northern hemisphere summer. One of the birds pictured below is moulting into breeding plumage, quite a contrast from the grey and white garb that most individuals have during their time in Australia.

I suspect this party has travelled in convoy from coastal saltmarshes to our south. The Red-capped Plovers may well remain during the cooler months if feeding habitat expands around the shores of the lake. No overseas travel for this little wader.

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Red-necked Stint, Cairn Curran Reservoir, 17th April 2021

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Red-capped Plover (male)

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Red-capped Plover (female)

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My imagination

A glorious evening along Joyce’s Creek last night.

I was chasing what was probably an illusion, having heard a call the previous evening that sounded suspiciously like an Australian Little Bittern, a species that is a definite possibility for the area, but a genuine rarity nonetheless.

The ‘bittern’ was silent, but I was soon surrounded by Golden-headed Cisticolas, chasing insects in the dense rush-beds beside the creek. Not a bad consolation prize.

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Water Ribbons in Joyce’s Creek

Golden-headed Cisticola, Joyce’s Creek, 16th March 2021

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In fading light

Last evening I ventured out to a favourite spot, where Joyce’s Creek flows in to Cairn Curran Reservoir.

Dusk was approaching and birds were few … Australian Pelicans and Australian Shelducks at a distance about all that was on offer. I’d been hoping to see some migratory waders, perhaps a Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper or something more exotic. Now is the time of year for these species to return to their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere, Cairn Curran is often used as a stopover for these birds that have spent our summer along the Victorian coast.

No luck with waders, however, first an Australian Pipit flushed from under my feet to pose happily on a thistle. A few minutes later, and closer to the highway bridge, a Golden-headed Cisticola appeared for a moment to perch, legs askew in classic fashion. By this stage the light was fading fast … monochrome is a better representation of what remains in the mind’s eye.

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Australian Pipit, Cairn Curran Reservoir, 15th March 2021

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Golden-headed Cisticola

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Golden boy

The distinctive buzz of the Golden-headed Cisticola has been a feature of spring through summer at Joyce’s Creek.

A wet winter with water flooding out onto the flats created the perfect habitat for this delightful Old World warbler to breed. While the sexes are quite similar in non-breeding plumage, the males develop a orange-brown cap (lacking streaks) while breeding which then transforms to heavy streaking once breeding finishes. In my experience the males are bolder and easily observed as they perch on exposed vegetation. The females are much less conspicuous – click here for some views of a breeding female back in spring and here for a male in breeding plumage.

Golden-headed Cisticola (male in non-breeding plumage), Joyce’s Creek, 1st February 2021

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Species #225

Whilst not completely unexpected I was thrilled to finally observe a small flock of Banded Stilts yesterday afternoon at Cairn Curran Reservoir.

This is a new species for my local list – number 225 in fact!

There were fourteen stilts accompanied by three Red-necked Avocets, a bird that I’ve seen a few times previously on the storage as well as on a number of the Moolort Plains wetlands.

Banded Stilts can be found across much of central and southern Australia where they typically favour saline wetlands and estuaries – habitat for brine shrimps which are key part of their diet. It’s not uncommon to see them in freshwater environments, however I expect these birds are in transit … shuttling between coastal wetlands and inland salt lakes. They were something of a mystery bird until recent decades when flocks of many thousands were found breeding on islands in salt lakes of inland Australia. A fascinating account of their breeding habits can be found here.

Banded Stilts and Red-necked Avocets, Cairn Curran Reservoir, 22nd November 2020

Banded Stilts and Red-necked Avocets are often found in mixed flocks

Banded Stilts have pink legs while Red-necked Avocets legs are a pale blue

Adult Banded Stilts have a distinctive chestnut breast band – note the sub-adult bird at top right

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Banded Stilts in flight … not to be confused with the White-head Stilt (which lacks the chest band) – common at Cairn Curran 

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The trio of Red-necked Avocets

The tight knit flock

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