Category Archives: Moolort Plains

Familiar friends and a mini-mystery

The bird in the image below has me somewhat confounded.

It’s clearly a tern, but which species?

I spotted it late yesterday afternoon on the Moolort Plains. As I quietly watched a distant feeding Brolga, it must have passed directly over my head, observed briefly in fading light as it headed north.

Whiskered Terns are the most commonly observed birds from this sub-family (related to the gulls) and can be seen in wet years on freshwater wetlands and regularly on Cairn Curran, along with the much larger Caspian Terns.

It was a fleeting glimpse but this individual looked intriguingly like a Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica, a reasonably common species in northern and southern Victoria, but one that I’ve never observed locally. The overall appearance was of a bulkier bird than a Whiskered Tern, with less buoyant flight. Adult breeding Whiskered Terns have a black cap and nape, as do Gull-billed Terns, but have a red bill, not black and their underparts typically are sooty. The upper parts of the Gull-billed tern are almost white, rather than grey. Another clear difference is the bill shape – slender, with a less pronounced ‘gull’ conformation than the G.nilotica.

I’ll put this observation in the maybe category for now and would be interested in any reader thoughts. Sadly, the image below is the best one I have!

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A mystery tern … maybe?

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Nankeen Kestrel (female)

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Brown Falcon

Postscript: The view from a number of expert birders is that the tern is in fact a Gull-billed Tern, a rare visitor to central Victoria. One was reported at Lake Eppalock (near Bendigo) on the 9th September.

A Brolga on the plains

What a wonderful sight to observe a Brolga once again on the Moolort Plains. This area is home to a small number of pairs, perhaps no more than two, an isolated population between its stronghold in south-western Victoria (635 birds were counted there in 2019) and the northern Victorian irrigation region, which supports reasonable numbers of Brolgas (probably less than 100 individuals).

While I’ve received regular reports over recent years this is my first observation since around 2016 – the last time the Moolort wetlands held a significant amount of water.

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Brolga, Moolort Plains, 1st August 2021

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Plains country after the storm

A wet and wintry week put paid to any birding.

The highlight was admiring wonderful views across the Moolort Plains after a storm rolled through on Friday afternoon.

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After the storm, Moolort Plains, 25th June 2021

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Dusk over Baker’s Swamp

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Looking north from near Frogmore Swamp to Gough’s Range

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Looking east towards Bald Hill and the Pyrenees

Acanthiza nana

Instalment #3 on the identification guide to central Victorian thornbills. Today it’s the turn of the Yellow Thornbill Acanthiza nana.

This species is arguably the most nondescript of our local thornbills, the lack of distinctive markings are what makes it relatively easy to identify.

In my view there are two handy spotting characters, firstly the boldly streaked ear-coverts – a feature  shared with the Striated Thornbill, and secondly the russet wash on the throat and chin. This latter feature renders an overall ‘golden’ hue to the bird and is unique to this species of thornbill. It is the lack of streaking on the crown and breast that sets A. nana apart from both the Striated Thornbill and the Brown Thornbill.

A close-up look reveals that the iris is actually olive coloured – it tends to be described as dark in the field guides. The second image also shows off the black sub-terminal band on the tail – quite narrow in this species, but a more or less obvious feature of all the thornbills.

Yellow Thornbills tend to be canopy feeders, although this can include foraging in low shrubs – the third image below shows a Yellow Thornbill feeding in planted saltbush in our garden. While I often encounter them in box-ironbark woodlands they can also be found in scattered remnants on the Moolort Plains, as well as our home garden where they appear to be resident.

I have difficulty separating the Striated and Yellow Thornbill on the basis of calls but that is largely due to my own incompetence … check a good field guide for a description of voice!

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Yellow Thornbill, Wyndham Street Newstead, 13th June 2021

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Kites at the swamp

I was fortunate last Friday to spend the day at Long Swamp on the Moolort Plains with folks from the Dja Dja Wurrung Aboriginal Clans Corporation. I was one of a number of observers invited to join an Aboriginal Waterways Assessment for the Tullaroop catchment. One of many highlights was a pair of Black-shouldered Kites ‘greeting’ us when we arrived at the swamp under blue skies and warm late autumn sunshine.

The presence of this species, absent from large areas of the plains over the past year or two, is a sign of high quality raptor habitat. Long Swamp is a special place, now in the safe hands of Trust for Nature, and where it is possible to reimagine this country.

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River Red Gum @ Long Swamp, Moolort Plains, 30th April 2021

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Black-shouldered Kite

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Eastern Grey Kangaroo

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Wisdom of the ancients

A covey of quail

In recent years I’ve observed Brown Quail many times along the roadsides of the Moolort Plains.

Most observations are fleeting and while this species will feed in the open the slightest sign of danger will send them scurrying for cover. You have to be patient and fortunate to get a decent look. This covey of 6-7 birds were spotted last weekend, feeding amongst the seeding grasses just north of Joyce’s Creek. The male Brown Quail is slightly richer coloured than the female, both sexes are beautifully marked. The adults are alert at all times and will stand to attention as lookouts while the young birds forage around them.

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Brown Quail (adult male), Joyce’s Creek, 17th April 2021

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Adult female (left) and juvenile amongst the windmill grass

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Brown Quail covey

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Juvenile Brown Quail

Bunjil and buloke

In days long past this observation would have been commonplace, a Wedge-tailed Eagle perched atop a Buloke.

Both are iconic species, but sadly, such a sight is a rarity in these present times.

The Buloke is emblematic of the plains country, easily taken, slow to return.

Bunjil, the Wedge-tailed Eagle, is of special significance to Indigenous Australians, especially the Dja Dja Wurrung People of central Victoria.

Bunjil is the creator being who bestows Dja Dja Wurrung People with the laws and ceremonies that ensure the continuation of life. Dja Dja Wurrung People know Mindye the Giant Serpent as the keeper and enforcer of Bunjil’s law.

Dja Dja Wurrung Recognition Statement*, 15th November 2013

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Wedge-tailed Eagle and Buloke, Joyce’s Creek, 29th March 2021

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* The Recognition Statement signed at Yepenya on 15 November 2013, recognised the Dja Dja Wurrung as the Traditional Owners of Central Victoria.

‘Sitting duck’

This Grey Teal duckling was all on its lonesome, paddling happily on a small dam on the plains … no sign of its parents or siblings … I don’t like its prospects.

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Grey Teal duckling, Moolort Plains, 25th March 2021

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Transition time

Over the past week I’ve heard Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Sacred Kingfisher and Rainbow Bee-eater, all three are spring migrants about to head north, as well as Pied Currawongs, autumn migrants, arriving from the hills in good numbers. A single Swift Parrot was also spotted departing the backyard Yellow Gums, chased by a Red Wattlebird. ‘Swifties’ are back from Tasmania and I’m hoping to have a good look for them over the weekend in the Muckleford bush.

Last evening on a drive across the plains I came across a pair of Blue-winged Parrots, feeding on seeding grasses. This species is always a delight to encounter. It arrives in small flocks during autumn, after breeding further south, either in Tasmania or coastal forests in Victoria. More commonly seen on the plains country it also can be found in box-ironbark forests and woodlands.

Earlier I’d come across a young Wedge-tailed Eagle, standing aside a road-killed Red Fox. Quite a sight as it departed with ravens in pursuit.

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Wedge-tailed Eagle (immature), Locks Lane Moolort Plains, 25th March 2021

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III … pursued by a Little Raven

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Blue-winged Parrot, Clarkes Road Moolort Plains

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Different shades of brown

The Brown Falcon can at times baffle even the experienced birdwatcher.

They come in a variety of colour forms, from rich chocolate brown to almost white. Across the continent dark form individuals are more common in the tropics, while in arid regions the predominant form is washed with rufous. Apparently all individuals tend to get paler with age and the bare parts (legs, cere and orbital skin) becomes yellow over time.

Two individuals are pictured here. The first, a dark form, is possibly a young bird, going by the rufous wash around the head and blue cere and orbital skin. In the first image you can see it’s clasping a bundle of grass, the result of a ‘prey-pounce’, moments earlier.

The second individual is a light form, possibly an older female.

Brown Falcon (dark form), Moolort Plains, 27th January 2021

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Brown Falcon (light form)