January 2019

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Have kick started the new year with a number of day trips and a couple of 3 day escapades around southern and central Victoria. 224 Species already logged on tour, during what has been a very hot January. Northern Victoria has sweltered through continuous 40+ degrees temperatures, with maximums reaching 45 and 46 degrees. Occasionally this heat has made it south as well with 45 degrees in Melbourne as I write. The hot and often humid weather have lead to many Swift sightings, including the less predictable Pacific or Fork-tailed Swifts. The dry conditions inland mean waterbird numbers are very high in Victoria with Freckled Duck widely distributed, and quite a few Australasian Bitterns being seen. The big news for twitchers was the first ever sighting of a Tufted Duck in Australia, found at Werribee WTP early in the month and still present now. The big numbers of twitchers had long gone by the time the media latched on, but film crews were there, and bird watching was put on the map, as well as highlighting the importance of the WTP for birds. Some personal highlights on tour this year include finding a number of tricky birds for a client including Lewin’s Rail and Pilotbird. Amazing views of a Peregrine Falcon hunting shorebirds on the bay, excellent wader viewing with 27 species seen already this year, fabulous birding in the mountain forests where bird diversity is peaking with summer migrants adding to the resident species, and watching many birds coming to drink at various waterholes, providing amazingly good views.

Plains-wanderer update

Female Plains-wanderer, December 2018, northern Victoria

Female Plains-wanderer, December 2018, northern Victoria

The Plains-wanderer is one of the rarest and most evolutionary distinct species on the planet, restricted to south-eastern Australia, the only member of its family, and an incredibly difficult bird to see in the wild.  

Current estimates put its total population at up to a thousand, however this may be quite optimistic currently.

I have spent countless nights over the last 16 years wandering the grassy plains of northern Victoria in search of this bird. For many years I ran walking tours to see this species. I had so many wonderful nights sharing this special bird with visitors from around Australia and the world, however I had to stop in 2012 as they just became too hard to find. These night walks were very successful until 2011 when an extremely high rainfall year transformed the few remaining native grasslands in northern Victoria and made them uninhabitable by Plains-wanderer. There was a 95% crash in their numbers in Victoria . This population decline also occurred across their wider range, driven by drought then floods, and with few normal years in between.

Until mid 2011 I was able to find these birds on the grasslands of Terrick Terrick National Park. This was also the time when I had the amazing fortune to see Plains-wanderers alongside Little and Red-chested Button-quail which were booming at the time.

In mid 2011 I expanded my searches up to the native grasslands of the Avoca plains west of Kerang. These reserves had only been recently purchased by the state and had been grazed very hard beforehand. I continued to find Plains-wanderer here until Jan 2012 which was the last known record on the Avoca plains.

That’s when I gave up on offering tours aimed at this bird.

All my observations mirrored the results of official surveys.   

And so it transpired that the only known Plains-wanderers left in northern Victoria by 2012 were in a couple of heavily grazed private grasslands, perhaps just a handful of birds.  Due to the kindness of a local landholder I was lucky enough to see a couple of these birds in 2014.

 It was 4 years before there was any sign of recovery at all. In 2015/16 I located two or three male Plains-wanderers as well as a female bird back in the Terrick Terrick NP . Around that time researchers were finding a number of young birds, from pairs that bred that year on public and private land nearby.  Then in spring 2016 another very wet period caused a setback on the National Park grassland reserves and once again the local Plains-wanderers retreated to nearby private land and I gave up searching again.

So now to 2018. We have just come through a very dry year, Victoria’s grasslands are much sparser again and once again I have found this bird on public reserves in the northern plains of Victoria. Due to the excellent work of various agencies and private landholders, more and more Plains-wanderer habitat is being maintained in suitable condition, more often, and regardless of the weather.  Increased funding has allowed this to happen.  The signs are good and the Wanderers are hopefully going to have a good summer.  I would like to acknowledge the tremendous work being done by many people to assist the recovery of this special bird.

Currently although I am aware of the presence of a handful of birds on public land, until they consolidate, and spread out to their other former territories which remain mostly uninhabited, I have been inclined to leave them be, and discussions with land managers have led me to the same conclusion. I will continue to wander the plains until they are back in better numbers and offer trips again to see them, which I am now optimistic will happen. 

There are few better birding experiences than finding a Plains-wanderer up close and personal on foot in their habitat at night!!

December 2018

A pair of Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo seen recently in the mallee country

A pair of Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo seen recently in the mallee country

After a dry winter and spring, the last few weeks have seen the rain return across most of Victoria with some heavy falls and flooding in some districts.   All the wrong way around for our farmers, but the wildlife will respond well to the recent drenching.

The humid tropical air that’s arrived has brought numbers of Pacific Swift and White-throated Needletails down south. The cooler mountain and coastal areas of Victoria are at peak activity now with all the regular summer migrants present and breeding.  In the drier northern areas of the state most resident birds have already bred, with fledged young noted of many species.

On the touring front I am now winding down for the Christmas and New Year break after 3 months nearly continuously on the road. Each journey has had it’s own highlights some of which I was able to catch on camera and share with you here.  It’s been a massive year of birding and next year is looking even bigger. A safe holiday season to you all and see you around in 2019 .

November 2018

Now that spring is turning into summer I am long overdue updating this page with tour news.   This is the busiest time on my calendar with tours running more or less continually from September to Christmas.

A nice recent moment during a targeted tour searching for just a few scarcer species. Whilst looking for the Speckled Warbler near Melbourne, we also encountered a Black-eared Cuckoo which favours the nests of Speckled Warbler to lay its eggs. The Warbler was carrying food so clearly feeding young nearby, whilst the Cuckoo hung around, perhaps enjoying its deceitful success.

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We have recorded over 340 bird species now on tour this year plus many mammals and some cool reptiles too. Recent one day trips from Melbourne are regularly recording 120 to 130 species as we hit peak bird arrivals, and recent one week trips around the state have been clocking up to 260 species.

Although it’s been a drier than average year, the birding remains excellent, with good numbers of some inland species arriving this spring, escaping drought further inland. This includes normally scarce species such as Red-backed Kingfisher, Black Honeyeater, huge flocks of White=browed and Masked Woodswallow, Orange Chats, and a vagrant Little Curlew !

Cuckoo season continues, with 8 species now present. The early arrivals of Black-eared Cuckoos from inland areas have now overlapped with later arrivals of Brush Cuckoo and Pacific Koel.

Powerful Owl young are now fledging, so families of this, our largest Owl, may be seen if you know where to look.

Winter 2018

The shortest day is suddenly approaching, mid winter, generally the quietest time of year, however there is much to be seen as these sightings go to show. Bird tallies will be down a little on spring and summer, but many of our endemic specialities are resident in Victoria - click on photo below to see more

Mallee rarities

Back from a very successful 6 day tour around the mallee country of west and north-west Victoria as well as the vast plains of the riverina country this week with travelling companions Karen and Darryl chasing some rare and tricky target species.

Late summer at Werribee

The vast wetlands at Werribee’s Western Treatment Plant have been teeming with birds all summer.

January 2018 tours

After a massive 2017, 2018 has started with a great haul of over 200 bird species on a 3 day tour of southern and central Victoria.


Late spring into early summer is a fantastic time in Victoria. Some breeding birds have fledged young out and about, whilst the later spring arrivals and some more southerly resident birds are in peak breeding mode.



In the bird world spring starts early. Although the weather remained icy until mid-September, our birds were well and truly gearing up for spring as soon as the winter solstice was out of the way. With local species nest building and becoming territorial, the various cuckoos need to be around and watching what is going on. This year’s influx has been significantly greater than normal.