Saturday, 17 August 2013

Lake Samsonvale Birding

I was only fourteen when I was introduced to the birding lifestyle. My Mum had seen a notice in the community section of the local newspaper and encouraged me to put the Sega down for a few hours so I could reconnect with the outdoors. My Dad came along to help introduce me, and minutes later I was staring down the lens of a telescope and having strange things like 'Whiskered Terns' pointed out to me. As it turned out, I loved my new hobby, and afterwards I attended every Bird Club meet-up that I could. Though I was about fifty years younger than the average member of the group, it felt like hanging out with a team of awesome grandparents who could teach me fascinating things, like the difference between a Godwit and a Whimbrel.


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).

Laughing Kookaburra

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!

Black-fronted Dotterel

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).

Olive-backed Oriole

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 Swan

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).

Grey Butcherbird

Another bird currently in its breeding season is the White-throated Treecreeper (Cormobates leucophaeus).

White-throated Treecreeper

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.

Bar-shouldered Dove

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.

Pointed-leaf Hovea

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.

22 comments:

  1. sweet post! love that you got started birding at 15. 'put down the sega.' :)

    GORGEOUS lake shot - and i like that trail shot, too. beautiful treecreeper photo and lots of birds unique to your area!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha! Yeah, Sonic the Hedgehog was taking over my life back then, I must admit! Thank you for the kind words and I'm glad you enjoyed the post :)

      Delete
  2. Christian you were indeed blessed to have been offered that opportunity to interact with the birders at such a young age. That you were prepared to take it on was the other blessing. I loved that you got so close for the o.b.oriole photograph, and yes the noisy friarbirds are raucous little beings. Strange profile haven't they? You'd have to wonder why, some have it all going for them (rainbow bee-eater) and others ....? Great post; your writing style is tops, I know I've said it before.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the praise and encouragement, Carole! I had a perfect Oriole shot lined up as it fed on the ground (!!!) but it flew at the last second, so I'm glad you still liked my tree shot. I wish I could have photographed the Friarbird too - as you say, with their frowning red eyes and mean-looking beak, they are something (*ahem*)... unique?

      Delete
  3. Hi Christian Beautiful photographs. Just about to fly on holiday so have not time until I get them to read your post but look forward to doing that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No worries Margaret, enjoy your holiday! I look forward to some exotic snaps!

      Delete
  4. Really, very interesting post! all shots of the birds looking fabulous but 1st one shot is pleasant. such have a nice day and nice trip to lake.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the kind compliments and I'm glad you found my ramblings interesting :-)

      Delete
  5. Nicely written Christian. So good to hear how you were introduced into bird watching and just took to it - not for everyone but it clearly struck a developing chord. Very interesting to hear how the dotterel expanded their range - how far is the flight, and how established are they now? It's a lovely shot through the trees at Forgan Cove. Your treecreeper shot is so good and they obviously have similar habits to our own common treecreeper although many miles away.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Phil! The minimum land-to-land distance between Australia and New Zealand is around 1500km, but it is likely the birds did more than that. At present, they number less than 3,000 in NZ and are considered uncommon residents.

      I never saw Europe's version of a Treecreeper while I lived in the UK. It's very coincidental that they should look so similar - after all, your Woodpeckers and our Black Cockatoos have evolved to eat the same foods but they look nothing alike. Thanks for your comments and kind words!

      Delete
  6. Great set of birds - the tree creeper is a classic image.

    If the truth be told, the Rock Wallabies were not very hard to find - they were only about 10 minutes from the car-park. But I think that you have to be there early (ish) in the morning before the crowds arrive.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Stewart! I'll have to hit the road and keep an eye out for those Rock Wallabies then!

      Delete
  7. Having a boring, humourless day until I listened to that Friarbird. We don't really have any birds with funny calls here. Fantastic - thank you. My favourite is the Treecreeper though - what a stunning picture. We have our own variety here bit it's not nearly as glamourous.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aww I'm glad the Friarbird had the intended effect on you! It was something special to walk through a woodland with many of them singing! Thanks for visiting and commenting :)

      Delete
  8. Replies
    1. Thank you for visiting and commenting! :)

      Delete
  9. Hi there (again!)

    It really is not summer here today!! SIngle figures on the way home from work - but the coffee was good!

    The literary reference was to The World According to Garp - only one person has got this so far, so it clearly not as well known as I thought!

    SM

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah it's briefly switched back to winter here in QLD too.

      Another book on my "to read" list! :)

      Delete
  10. Nice find! all the clicks looking beautiful and delightful, specially 1st view...
    such a great post, Dear..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

      Delete
  11. Enjoyed this thoroughly Christian. I have some half-interested daughters!
    Tree-creeper (nest) a great find and interested in your awareness of seasonal behaviours & migrations!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Peter

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Peter, I'm glad you enjoyed it! The Treecreepers were my highlight that day for sure. Keep persevering with your daughters and good luck :-)

      Delete