One of my favourite places to visit with the Bird Club was Lake Samsonvale. Created in 1976 by the construction of North Pine Dam, the lake is essentially a flooded valley that once featured farms, roads and even a small township, of which only the cemetery remains. Because the lake acts as a water reservoir for the surrounding population, most of the immediate catchment area is off-limits and fenced off, becoming a kind of wildlife haven in the process. A few small reserves on the eastern shore provide the majority of public access points, where amazing sunset views are on offer to those who make the effort.
|Lake Samsonvale, looking west towards the D'Aguilar Range|
Yesterday I went back to this favourite haunt of mine to see what had changed in the landscape and the birdlife since I'd been living overseas. As I sat on a rock wall eating my breakfast, the first bird to greet me was a very familiar one - the Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae).
It quickly went to work on its own breakfast too, swooping down from its perch to seize earthworms as they wriggled through the dewy grass.
Making my way along the lake edge, I spotted a pair of lovely Black-fronted Dotterels (Elseyornis melanops). Seeing these when I was seventeen made me feel as though I'd seen a true rarity, but with a bit more experience now, I understand that they are a common bird - just easily over-looked!
Cryptically coloured and only 20cm long, these tiny birds run around like cute little wind-up toys and are enjoyable to watch. They're not to be underestimated though - in the 1950s, they self-introduced into New Zealand, flying all the way across the Tasman Sea in one go.
Further out on the water were Australian Pelicans (Pelecanus conspicillatus), Pacific Black Ducks (Anas superciliosa) and Great Crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus).
|Great Crested Grebe|
As the morning sun warmed things up, the woodland near Bullocky's Rest came alive with birdsong. The two loudest singers were the Noisy Friarbird (Philemon corniculatus) and the Olive-backed Oriole (Oriolus sagitattus).
As beautiful as the Oriole melody is, the Friarbird song literally makes me laugh out loud whenever I hear it and so it's the one I've decided to share here. To me, it sounds like a nasal lady having a raucous chat on the phone - check it out!
At the Bullocky's Rest picnic area, a lone Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) stayed close to shore.
Black Swans were an odd curiosity to the first European settlers in Australia, reinforcing a first impression that the 'Land Down Under' was a strange opposite reality to the 'Mother Country'. Celebrating Christmas in the sweltering heat and then weathering the cold in July would have only added to the confusion. Personally, I was more fascinated by some big webbed feet.
|Black Swan close-up|
Though it's still officially winter, we have had some very warm days recently, with the temperature hitting 28C this week. Beside the lake, I saw winter visitors like the Yellow-faced Honeyeater (Lichenostomus chrysops) moving quickly through the vegetation on their way back south, making room for newly-arriving Leaden Flycatchers (Myiagra rubecula) instead. Many birds have also begun nest-building, including this Grey Butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus).
Another bird currently in its breeding season is the White-throated Treecreeper (Cormobates leucophaeus).
I was surprised by the close proximity of this bird to me, as I usually only see this species picking away at tree trunks a good 20 metres above the forest floor. It wasn't until a second bird also arrived with a beak full of food that I realised they had a nest inside this dead tree, with a secret entrance just behind the jagged wood in the photo above.
Leaving the attentive parents behind, I followed the trail around to Forgan Cove, delighting in my solitude and the sounds of Fan-tailed Cuckoos (Cacomantis flabeliformis) and White-throated Gerygones (Gerygone olivacea).
|Forgan Cove trail|
One reason the Lake Samsonvale area is good for birds is because it still has some thick scrubby sections around the margins, and in one of these I heard a crashing noise coming from the leaf litter. A few minutes of patient waiting revealed the strong legs and claws of a Brush Turkey (Alectura lathami) faintly visible through the undergrowth. Further down the track, some Bar-shouldered Doves (Geopelia humeralis) quietly went about their business in more open terrain.
By lunchtime, I'd seen 61 bird species and felt it was time to rejoin the human world once again. The forest had one more treat in store for me though - a departing gift, if you will. Walking alongside a little creek that flowed back towards the lake, I found myself in a grove of Pointed-leaf Hovea (Hovea acutifolia) that filled the woods with colour.
In "The Colour Purple", Alice Walker says that "it annoys God if you walk past the colour purple in a field and don't notice." Whenever I spend time beside Lake Samsonvale, whether it be as a teenager or man, let's just say I've always felt like God and I are on pretty good terms.