BIRD WATCHING - A LEGACY (Part II - The Boy Moves On)
George Bedggood

Soon after my twelfth birthday we left Ringwood to live firstly at Montrose and then Lilydale. Both farmlets were surrounded by bush and the Montrose property had a tiny but permanent creek flowing through with a narrow band of natural bush along both banks. Thus from 1948 to 1953, mounted on a trusty Hartley semi-racer bicycle, the Yarra Valley and the Dandenongs were explored and wonderful birding enjoyed.

Some of the best birding places included the Olinda Creek from Lilydale, along the Swansea Road and up to the Mt. Evelyn National Fitness Camp. An old disused tram track followed the creek for the greater part, used I believe to bring timber to the Cave Hill Limestone Works. This region had many colonies of Bell Miners, plus White-naped, Brown-headed, Yellow-faced, White-eared, White-plumed, Crescent, New Holland (then called Yellow-winged) Honeyeaters, Eastern Spinebill and Red Wattlebird. Crimson and Eastern Rosellas were common along with King Parrots, Gang-Gangs, Musk, Purple-crowned and Little Lorikeets and occasionally Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos. A pair of Hobby (then called Little Falcons) were frequently seen and the Brown Goshawk enjoyed the thick growth from which to launch an attack. Nankeen Night Herons had a daytime roost near the creek and both Sacred and Azure Kingfishers followed its course. Rufous and Grey Fantail, Red-browed Finch and Superb Blue Fairy-wren were very common. Perhaps the real highlight was the rare sightings of Diamond Firetails in the little pockets of Teatree lined grazing land.

In contrast the drier habitat in the vicinity of Leonard Road, Lilydale and the Picnic Hill Bushland Reserve at Wandin North, where I wandered with ferret and nets, provided a different variety of species. There I might find Stubble Quail, Common Bronzewing, Kestrel and Black-winged Kite, Barn Owl, Pallid, Fantail and Horsefield Bronze-cuckoos, Jacky Winter, Scarlet and Flame Robins, Eastern Yellow Robin, Golden and Rufous Whistlers, Grey Shrike-thrush, Eastern Shrike-tit, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Striated, Little, Brown and Yellow-rumped Thornbills, White-browed Scrub-wren, Superb Blue Fairy-Wren, Dusky and White-browed Wood-swallows, Sittella, White-throated Tree-creeper, Mistletoebird, Spotted and Striated Pardalote, Silvereye, White-plumed and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, Goldfinch, Grey Butcherbird, Magpie and Magpie-lark.

Vivid memories include the Spotted Pardalote with a nest in a heap of sand in the unused half of our cow shed. Their comings and goings while milking our housecow were often underneath the cow; a trifle disconcerting to the milker but of no discomfiture to Dainty the Jersey. Our huge loquat tree attracted large flying foxes each summer as much of the massive crop was beyond reach. One summer about 20 Noisy Friarbirds arrived to plunder the tree. We were concerned that they would steal other fruit from our small orchard but they had moved on by the time they ripened. Each summer Silvereyes managed to drill their way into our large Granny Smith apples. They ate the flesh leaving a core and skin hanging from the tree. It was sometimes startling to pick an apple and have a frantic small bird zip out of the fruit in your hand.

Further afield the Yarra Valley presented a different range again - Black Duck and Grey Teal, White-faced and White necked Herons, Great Egret, White and Straw-necked Ibis, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Latham’s Snipe (we called them Jap Snipe), Black-fronted Plover (dotterel then), and a new world of crakes, rails and bitterns which, from fleeting glimpses, I had no chance of identifying. An isolated picnic ground to day named Wittons Reserve, (I doubt it had a title then) in the Wonga Park area was always rich in birdlife. It could be depended on for Sacred Kingfisher, White-throated and Brown Tree-creepers, a resident pair of Tawny Frogmouths who nested in the same clump of trees each year; a raptor I was always convinced was a Collared Sparrowhawk rather than a Brown Goshawk mainly by size; and White-browed and Dusky Woodswallows in good numbers the latter nesting each year. Here, too the White-winged Chough built its nest in early Spring and Pied Currawongs gathered in large Winter numbers. The sighting of Grey Currawongs was always special because of their rarity but one could be seen here fairly regularly.

Our science teacher at Lilydale Higher Elementary School (it became a High School while I attended) was interested in birds and told me of the rare honeyeater known from the Woori Yallock Creek. So began a quest to see the Helmeted Honeyeater. Especially in 1951-52 I haunted the area whenever I could to find the elusive and beautiful bird. With the limited illustrations of the bird books of the day it was not an easy task but regular visits brought rewards. Access was not easy as much of the adjacent farmland was dairying and Jersey and Guernsey bulls always live up to their reputations. Foot speed and agility were also necessary as black, tiger and copperhead snakes were common in the marshy paddocks. The creek was popular with trout fishermen some of whom travelled by steam train from the eastern suburbs with their bicycles in the guardsvan, alighted at Woori Yallock and rode out to Yellingbo; others heading off to the Yarra River. Such was their dedication in the days when few families had a car.

As well as the Helmeted Honeyeater I found my first Beautiful Firetails in the tea tree and tussocks along Woori Yallock Creek. A pair of Peregrines were frequently seen here and harassed the many Starlings in the pastures. Dollarbirds sometimes visited the creek downstream of the Warburton Road in Summer and Rufous Fantails nested along with Scarlet Robins. White-browed Scrub-wrens together with Superb Blue Fairy-Wrens and Red-browed Finches were very common.

How times have changed! Riding a bicycle along these roads to day would be very risky. Nor could I imagine anyone leaving a bike propped against a convenient tree and wandering for hours in the bush and expecting it to be there on their return. I guess there are still good Samaritans like the man who saw me wheeling my bike with a flat tyre past his farm and called me in, fixed the puncture while his wife gave me cake and lemonade, and then he gave me several oranges to help me on my way.

It is interesting to reflect on our younger days and the many blessings God showered upon us.

This report was published in The Christian Bird Observer’s Magazine, April 2000