As part of a family visit down-under I used the services of Simon Starr (Firetail Birding Tours) with the main aim of seeing Plains Wanderers. Simon charged Aus$150-00 for a spotlighting evening in some native grassland areas quite close to his home at Pyramid Hill, in northern Victoria, about 3 hours from Melbourne. We set off on foot as soon as it was dark enough and walked across the flat grassy plains with spotlights. Simon told me that sometimes he finds the birds within a few minutes, and other times it may take 2 or 3 hours. Well within 20 minutes or so we had located a pair of these unique birds. They sat quietly allowing us close and prolonged views. We continued on hoping to see some other grassland fauna and it wasn’t too long before we found another pair of Wanderers. A little later we had great views of a Fat-tailed Dunnart (a small nocturnal carnivorous marsupial ) and then walking in a different grassland area, yet another Plains Wanderer appeared, which made 5 birds for the night.
The following day I took a full day tour with Simon (Aus$280-00), just hoping for a great day’s birding and the chance to pick up a few species I had missed on previous trips. The day started early with wintering Flame Robins and White-winged Fairy-wrens adding some spectacular colour to a very misty morning. A half an hours drive had us birding in some great bushland where flowering trees were attracting good numbers and variety of Honeyeaters. Highlights were many White-fronted Honeyeaters, Black-chinned Honeyeaters and also the rarer Purple-gaped Honeyeater. Nearby we had great views of Southern Scrub-robin. Next we visited a very scenic area of rocky hills and woodlands, where we searched unsuccessfully for Speckled Warbler. Lower down the slopes in the taller woodlands we saw Little Lorikeets and a flock of the endangered Swift Parrot which Simon picked up by call as we drove past. We rounded out the day in another wooded area where the birding was very lively with mixed winter flocks of smaller bush birds as well as plenty more Honeyeaters enjoying the flowering trees. Varied Sitellas, Hooded and Red-capped Robins, Diamond Firetail, Shy Heathwrens singing, Brush Bronzewing flew by and Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters made it 15 species of Honeyeater for the trip. We hung around until dusk at a site Simon had seen Spotted Nightjars previously, but they did not appear this time.
I can recommend Firetail Birding Tours (www.firetailbirdwatchingtours.bigpondhosting.com).
Dr Chris McInerny.