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.
Waterbirds are scarce at present, although a visit is always rewarded with some great sights.
Whistling Kite, Cairn Curran Reservoir, 20th May 2021
… 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.
Red-necked Stint, Cairn Curran Reservoir, 17th April 2021
Red-capped Plover (male)
Red-capped Plover (female)
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.
Water Ribbons in Joyce’s Creek
Golden-headed Cisticola, Joyce’s Creek, 16th March 2021
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.
Australian Pipit, Cairn Curran Reservoir, 15th March 2021
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
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
Banded Stilts in flight … not to be confused with the White-head Stilt (which lacks the chest band) – common at Cairn Curran
The trio of Red-necked Avocets
The tight knit flock
While Little Grassbirds and Golden-headed Cisticolas have caught the eye at Joyce’s Creek in recent weeks there have been some pretty impressive large waterbirds to enjoy as well.
Interesting to see a pair of Royal Spoonbills in full breeding plumage as I’ve never found this species nesting locally. Small numbers can be found along the shallows of the creek during wetter years. Still no migratory waders to report – usually a few Red-necked Stints and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers would have arrived by now.
Royal Spoonbills in breeding plumage, Joyce’s Creek, 18th November 2020
Great Egret and White-faced Heron
V + White-breasted Woodswallow
The Little Grassbird Megalurus gramineus is a relatively common local warbler, but rarely observed unless you make a special effort. Like many ‘little brown birds’ its plumage is subtle but distinctive.
It can be found in a variety of locations and habitats in the district, almost always near water. Over the years I’ve observed it along the Loddon River, in the rush beds at Joyce’s Creek (where this one seen) and in greatest numbers on the lignum swamps of the Moolort Plains.
It is something of a mystery bird, singing its mournful song regularly during the breeding season and then remaining silent for the rest of the year. It is always cryptic, furtive and wary – to catch a glimpse as I did for these images was fortunate indeed.
Its movements outside the breeding season are where the mystery lies – there is some evidence that birds head inland after breeding, however I can recall it being resident when the swamps were full during 2010-11.
It occupies the same habitat as the Golden-headed Cisticola but rarely sings from an exposed perch as the cisticola will do.
Little Grassbird, Joyce’s Creek, 15th November 2020
A spent Golden-headed Cisticola nest … a marvel of nature
Meet the maker … adult male Golden-headed Cisticola
Apologies for the lame Peter Sarstedt reference!
Cairn Curran Reservoir is now at 50% of capacity – this is the point when the storage starts to provide some nice wetland habitat for birds.
It’s been a good breeding season for ducks – Pacific Black Duck, Wood Duck and Australian Shelduck can be seen with youngsters at present. Raptors, like this Whistling Kite, are adept at picking off ducklings so the numbers decline as nature takes its course. A few Black-winged Stilts are enjoying the grassy shallows and I’m on the lookout for the first of the northern hemisphere waders over coming weeks.
Whistling Kite @ Joyce’s Creek, 30th October 2020
Pacific Black Duck family
What a glorious little bird – the Golden-headed Cisticola.
This female, in breeding fettle, is one of a number of breeding pairs at Joyce’s Creek. The rank grasses and rushes that have established on the flats provide perfect breeding habitat for the species. There is obviously an ample supply of spiders to be found and ferried to nestlings at present.
Apparently only the female feeds nestlings – this one was bringing a spider every 5 minutes or so, with no sign of the male during my visit.
Golden-headed Cisticola (adult female breeding), Joyce’s Creek, 28th October 2020