Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Spring Camp at Marlo

BirdLife East Gippsland, a branch of BirdLife Australia, holds two birding camps each year, one in autumn and one in spring. This year the spring camp was based at Marlo, a small town on the Victorian coast at the mouth of the Snowy River.
The camp was organized and managed by Merryl and Ian Wright, and activities were led by our expert local birding guides, Marlo residents and members Jacquie and Len Axen.  From Monday 14th  to Friday 18th October, twenty-nine birders attended with most staying in a caravan park at Marlo.
A wide diversity of rich habitats was visited over the four days including the Orbost Wastewater Treatment Lagoons, Snowy River Estuary and adjoining wetlands, the coast with both sandy beaches and rocky headlands at Cape Conran, coastal woodlands and forests, heathlands, the Yerrung River Estuary and the Cabbage Tree Palms Reserve.

Yet another storm front approaching the Snowy River entrance from the south west. This is a great place to scope birds, including waders, and if you are lucky whales heading south to Antarctica.

Late afternoon view from French's Narrows looking west along the Estuary towards the Snowy River Entrance and Marlo.
For each of the sites visited, the bird species and the number of birds were recorded. This data is sent to BirdLife Australia for inclusion in the Atlas database. A total of about 136 bird species were recorded over the four days, a good total given the highly variable and at times wild and wet weather with very strong winds and big seas along the coast.
So the conditions were not always ideal for bird photography, however the bird photographers in the group were afforded some good opportunities over the four days.
Here are a few of my shots from the camp.
Striated Thornbill:
A small group of thornbills in coastal woodland tested our identification skills. The birds turned out to be Striated and not Yellow Thornbills.
Striated Thornbill in Coastal Tea-tree at Marlo.
Rufous Songlark:
There was a further identification challenge with Australasian Pipits and Rufous Songlarks present at the Orbost Treatment Lagoons with a further possibility of an introduced Eurasian Skylark. The Rufous Songlark in the photos below was calling in flight between rests on fence posts. This bird finally settled long enough for a close enough approach to get a couple of shots, with one flight shot. The flight shot was captured by waiting for the bird to fly from the top of a fence post.
Rufous Songlark at Orbost Wastewater Treatment Lagoons.
The bird is calling as it ascends from the fence post.
This image has been cropped from the photo above. Note the rufous rump which gives this Songlark its name and is one key to identification of this species.
Caspian Tern:
A Caspian Tern entertained us on the Snowy River Estuary at Marlo one afternoon by diving and catching a good sized fish. It then flew around with the fish until it decided to join two Pied Oystercatchers on a sandy beach close to us where it dealt with the significant task of arranging the fish head in its mouth before it was swallowed whole. When a large fish is caught and can’t be swallowed when the bird emerges from the dive at the water’s surface, other birds often give chase in the hope of stealing an easy meal. In this case the Tern was safe from the Oystercatchers, as large fish are not part of their diet.
Caspian Tern looking for a safe place on the beach to swallow its meal.
White-bellied Sea-Eagle:
There are good numbers of Sea-Eagles along the Gippsland coast and we saw several birds over the four days, some sub-adults and others fully mature. The bird in the following shot, a sub adult, was captured as it flew over French’s Narrows, at the eastern end of the Snowy River Estuary.

It takes five years for Sea-Eagles to reach full maturity.
Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo:
We heard many Shining and Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoos in various habitats over the four days. They are hard birds to see and even harder to photograph. The one in the following shots was hunting for caterpillars in heathland at the back of the primary coastal dunes near French’s Narrows. Also in the same area, and on one occasion in the same bush, were a pair of Striated Fieldwrens and pair of Superb Fairy-Wrens and nearby, a White-fronted Chat. 
Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo found in heathland between the Snowy River Estuary
and coastal dunes near French's Narrows.

I watched the bird as it went from one stunted Coastal Wattle to another
finding caterpillars in each bush it visited.
Striated Fieldwren:
We managed to find several pairs of Striated Fieldwrens in the heathland between the Snowy River Estuary and the primary coastal dunes east of the Snowy River entrance. They were hard to approach and reminded me of grasswrens the way they ducked into dense low shrubs and sometimes ran between clumps of vegetation.
The Striated Fieldwrens were hard to get close to for a photo.
Spotted Harrier:
While trying to photograph Striated Fieldwrens I noticed a raptor approaching from the east. It flew low, closely following the undulating dunes, often disappearing from view as it drew closer. It finally came into view and within camera distance, so close to me that I only had a few seconds to get one shot and see that it was a Spotted Harrier before it was past me and flying into the sun.

These birds have a characteristic hunting flight style where the bird appears to almost float weightless on outstretched wings using the slightest breeze with very few wing beats. The broad dark brown tipped flight feathers obvious in the photo may partly explain why this bird gets such good lift with seemingly so little effort.
Spotted Harrier - note the broad knife blade shaped flight feathers with dark brown tips.
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper:
A lone Sharp-tailed Sandpiper still partly in breeding plumage and probably not long back from the northern hemisphere breeding grounds was found feeding by a small creek outlet pool at the top of the Sailor’s Grave beach, East Cape Conran. It allowed fairly close approach as it fed, no doubt ravenous after a long trip. On the beach nearby were three Sooty and one Pied Oystercatcher, a lone Hooded Plover, a couple of Pacific Gulls and a small party of Little Black Cormorants resting on the beach.
A lone Sharp-tailed Sandpiper feeding in a fresh water pool at top of beach at
Sailor's Grave East Cape Conran.
Musk Lorikeet:
In the caravan park, noisy groups of Little and Red Wattlebirds and Rainbow and Musk Lorikeets fed and fought over nectar-rich blossoms in the Callistemons.
Muck Lorikeet feeding on a Callistemon flower in caravan park at Marlo. Flowering native shrubs and trees we plant in our gardens and public places are magnets for
nectar feeding birds such as honeyeaters and lorikeets.
The same bird having a very brief rest from nectar feeding. Does a high sugar diet
explain why Lorikeets are such energetic and rowdy birds?
Thanks to Merryl, Ian, Len and Jacqui, we all thoroughly enjoyed another successful BirdLife East Gippsland birding camp with good company, a scenic location, many types of habitat and plenty of bird species.


  1. Sounds like a good camp in a beautiful area.

  2. Hi John,
    Sounds like a great 'long weekend'. Some great shots here too!
    Cheers, Ian

  3. Thanks author for your nice site and great article