Birds along the Merri in Late Summer

26th April 2022
By Ann McGregor
The Merri Birdwatch Convenor, ANN MCGREGOR, says that there were plenty of interesting sightings for 57 participants in the nine bird surveys in February.

In the words of Tristan Best (leader at Bababi Marning), “it seemed everyone got something new from the day.” The biggest highlight at Galgi Ngarrk (Craigieburn Grasslands) was a Spotless Crake, a new species for our surveys. It was seen unexpectedly 100 metres away from the Creek but unmistakable with dark brown back and wings, and dangling feet as it took off quite slowly from some bushes.

At Bababi Marning (Cooper Street Grasslands) a flock of more than 20 Fairy Martins demonstrated their aerial acrobatics to feed on flying insects.

Several raptors were active too. At Kirkdale Park, Brunswick East, a Nankeen Kestrel flew over at the start of the survey. A Collared Sparrowhawk cruised past the group at Coburg Lake, to return a few minutes later with prey in its talons. A number of raptors were at Galgi Ngarrk: a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles kept low to the ground in the windy conditions, a pair of Brown Goshawks along the Creek are residents, and a Whistling Kite was sighted.

There was some reptilian excitement on two surveys. At Albion Street, Brunswick East, the survey group watched a metre-long Tiger Snake moving along the opposite bank (Northcote Golf Course) at the water’s edge. Suddenly it made a right-hand turn and swam across the Creek directly towards us, closely watched by several Pacific Black Ducks. We didn’t scatter too fast, as the steep, high bank on our side provided a bit of a barrier. A week later at Coburg Lake, our surveyors observed another snake next to a path which had recently shed its skin. It was subsequently identified on iNaturalist as an Eastern Brown Snake. After the survey was completed, a couple of participants saw an Eastern Blue-tongue Lizard sunning on the path very close to the Lake Grove carpark. According to the Australian Museum, young blue-tongues are easy prey for suburban dogs and cats. This, and the presence of venomous snakes, are good reasons to keep dogs on-lead along the Merri.

A total of 68 species was recorded across the nine surveys. While the very windy weather reduced diversity and numbers on 13 February (an average of 21 species across seven sites), things returned to normal on 20 February with 32 and 29 species at the two sites surveyed. Silver Gull was the most numerous species (280), entirely due to big flocks at Edwardes and Coburg Lakes. White Ibis numbers at Coburg Lake were down, with around 80 birds, but they were also recorded at four other sites to total 127.

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