Category Archives: Cairn Curran

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.

RNS1

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

RNS2

II

RNS5

III

RNS3

IV

RNS4

V

RCP2

Red-capped Plover (male)

RCP3

Red-capped Plover (female)

RCP1

II

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.

WaterRibbons

Water Ribbons in Joyce’s Creek

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

II

III

IV

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.

pipit1

Australian Pipit, Cairn Curran Reservoir, 15th March 2021

pipit2

II

cisticola1

Golden-headed Cisticola

cisticola2

II

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

II

III

IV

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

II

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

II

The trio of Red-necked Avocets

The tight knit flock

II

Spoonbills, herons and egrets

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

II

III

Great Egret and White-faced Heron

Great Egret

II

III

IV

V + White-breasted Woodswallow

Where do you go to my lovely?

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

II

III

IV

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 update

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

II

III

Pacific Black Duck family

Black-winged Stilt

II

III

Cisticola series

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

III

II

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX

Call of the Reed-Warbler

As I was gathering my thoughts for today’s post I came across a reference to this evening’s episode of Australian Story on ABC TV.

It’s about Charlie Massy – farmer, historian and author of Call Of The Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture A New Earth. This highly acclaimed book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the health of the land and the future of farming in Australia and beyond.

Just a few days back, at Joyce’s Creek, I spotted my first Australian Reed-Warblers for the season.  Tune in tonite to hear the story of how this iconic bird became the talisman  and metaphor for Charlie’s ground-breaking book.

Black Swans in flight over Cairn Curran Reservoir, 26th September 2020

Australian Reed-warbler in Cumbungi at Joyce’s Creek

II

III

IV