Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Birding around Seaspray and the Honeysuckles

Around the turn of the century my parents purchased a holiday house near the sleepy holiday village of Seaspray on the 90 Mile Beach in Central Gippsland. As you roll into Seaspray after crossing the environmental crimes that are the Gippsland Plains you would be forgiven for thinking that it hardly looks like a birding mecca, but looks can be deceiving. A mixture of farmland, estuary, saltmarsh, banksia scrub and coast has meant that reasonable list of birds have accumulated over the years with my personal list approaching 150 species for the local area. While I would never recommend it as a birding location you would choose to visit, there is certainly more than enough to keep the visting birder sane. I thought I would write a few words so anyone finding themselves there might know a few places worth poking around.

When recording birds for Seaspray I count the area from the eastern outskirts of the Honeysuckles to the mouth of Merriman's Creek and out to the Primary School and along Tip Road - a rather arbitrary decision but one I made years ago and continue to stick with.

Eremaea list of species for Seaspray

Travelling through the farmland there are often larger birds in the paddocks like ibis, shelduck and herons while in winter Flame Robins frequent the fencelines adding some nice flashes of colour to the landscape. As you drive into Seaspray on the left is Tip Road - its worth a quick drive down here as its generally the only place in the area you will get Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Eastern Rosella and Noisy Miner - there is also a resident Brown Goshawk which hangs around. The Seaspray township itself is rather bland with a rather anaemic shop, caravan park and a collection of shacks and holiday houses. Head for the mouth of Merriman's Creek which is a tern roost which generally has a good sized group of Crested with the occasional Caspian or Common Tern thrown in as well as a few resident Pacific Gulls.

There is a walk up Merriman's Creek which is well worth doing, particularly when the duck season is on as birds tend to hide there. Recently I flushed an Australasian Bittern from reeds here but also has other more common waterbirds like cormorants, swamphens, spoonbills and ducks. I have always found seawatching on the 90 Mile Beach here a bit of a non event - aside from the odd flock of Fluttering Shearwaters and a few Gannets, the water is just too shallow for reliable seabirds - Humpbacks are seen occasionally however.

My parents house is in The Honeysuckles a couple of kilometers to the east of Seaspray - this is a small settlement nestled in remnant banksia woodland and bordered by the 90 Mile Beach and the Ramsar listed wetlands of the far western edge of Lake Reeve. The most common birds by far in this area are the dominant population of Little and Red Wattlebirds which makes for a raucous dawn chorus. When the banksias are flowering other nectar seekers move in including Crescent Honeyeaters and Rainbow and less frequently Musk Lorikeets. The eerie call of the Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoos are a common sound as they come in to raid the banksia cones. On one occasion there was a small group of Swift Parrots staging for their migration back to Tasmania. Like any holiday village, the local Crimson Rosella population knows who has feeders and are sure to come visit when people arrive.

Come spring and summer there are always cuckoos calling and terrorizing the local small bird population - its always amusing to see scrubwren parents struggling to feed a baby Fan-tailed Cuckoo three times their size. You are more likely to hear than see the local Eastern Whipbirds but with a bit of effort a view can be coaxed out of them. Brown and Stubble Quail move in and out of the area and can be heard calling from rank grassy areas when around. White-throated Needtletails and less often Pacific Swifts visit in Summer. Occasional species include Brush Bronzewing, Satin Flycatcher and Sacred Kingfisher.

The real gem of the area though is the Ramsar wetlands of Lake Reeve which is a large, very shallow (and occassionally dry) lake that is part of the Gippsland Lakes complex. The very western end of Lake Reeve pokes into The Honeysuckles and my parents are lucky enough to have a holiday house that overlooks it all on Mandalay Drive . I have spent many an hour sitting in the backyard watching the interplay of waders, waterbirds and the raptors that frequent the area. The lake at the very western end rarely drys out and can be accessed from a track off Shoreline Drive. the track passes through an area of long grass and saltmarsh which contains a remnant population of Southern Emu-wren (difficult to track down but still there) as well as large numbers of Striated Fieldwren, White-front Chat and the occasional Blue-winged Parrot. The lake itself usually holds good numbers of ducks including Shoveller and Hardhead as well as 100's of swans - unfortunately duckhunting is allowed here in season - curious as to what sort of backwards country we live in that allows shooting of waterbirds in a Ramsar wetland (and so close to houses!!) In the last couple of years there have been both Avocet and Banded Stilts and in summer it holds good numbers of the more common waders.

Because of the large numbers of prey around it is a great area for raptors. There are resident White-bellied Sea-eagles in the area and these patrol regularly causing great consternation among the local inhabitants. Swamp Harriers and Whistling Kites are also common and Black-shouldered Kites and Nankeen Kestrels are always hovering over the surrounding grassland. When waders are about Peregrines and Hobbys visit the area but do not seem to be resident.

Along Mandalay Drive is a turn off to a causeway across the Lake - it is in this area the best birding can be had when there is water and nice muddy edges. I have spent many good hours traipsing through the saltmarsh here - gumboots are handy. Common waders include Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Great Knot, Red-necked Stint and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and in winter Double-banded Plover. Red-capped Plovers breed here in good numbers. Less frequently recorded include Common Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, Marsh Sandpiper and Golden Plover. Last year I was fortunate enough to stumble across an Eastern Yellow Wagtail which even encouraged a few birders to come down and look for it.

Google maps - Mandalay Drive - The Honeysuckles

Whats next? There are still quite a few birds commonly found in the local area that have not yet been recorded in Seaspray so I think the list will go well past 150 and who knows when another rarity like the Eastern Yellow Wagtail might turn up??

Believe it or not this is an Eastern Yellow Wagtail - photo of the year edition

Birding locations nearby

Jack Smith Lake is around 20 minutes drive west from Seaspray and can be well worth a visit. Its probably the best place in the universe for Striated Fieldwren which you would be hard pressed to miss. It is also a great place for Blue-winged Parrot especially in winter although it is found all year round.  A couple of years ago I recorded a few Singing Honeyeater here which is quite an easterly record for this bird. When the lake holds water it can be good for waders including Avocets, Banded Stilt, Double-banded Plover (winter) and one occasion I counted over 60 Pacific Golden Plovers hiding in the grass. At least one pair of White-bellied Sea-eagles frequent the area. Unfortunately it is also a duck shooting location so probably best to avoid in season. I have also found White-lipped Snake here on a couple of occassions.

Giffard Flora Reserve is around 15 minutes drive north of Seaspray and contains a significant remnant of coastal eucalypt woodland and areas of banksia heath. It is quite a good location for more common bush birds and can be good for terrestrial orchids. Good numbers of Gang-gangs visit in winter. It borders onto Mullungdung State Forest which opens up a further area for exploration.

Further afield, Holey Plains State Park, Sale Common and Lake Guyatt, The Lakes National Park and Mitchell River National Park all beckon, but these can wait for another day as they probably all deserve further attention....

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