John Pople

Last August, I was able to take a little trip with members of the Shepparton group of the Bird Observer Club of Australia to the Rushworth Box-Ironbark forest.

After leaving our gathering point for the start of the trip at the band rotunda in the centre of the main street in Rushworth, we moved in a convoy of cars several kilometers south toward the old Balaclava gold mine in the Whroo area of the forest. We took a gravel track to the right just before the mine turn off road and travelled only several hundred metres before parking our vehicles and setting off on foot for a "loop" walk along a narrow forestry track.

There was a group of approximately eighteen people, some coming from Melbourne, Euroa and various other places. Because of the numbers, the pace was slow. Don Roberts our Shepparton leader decided to wait for us all to bunch together as much as possible just 50 metres up the track from the parked cares. Whilst waiting, Don spotted a Scarlet Robin close to the track. We were all enjoying a close up view of this brilliantly coloured bird and its mate when suddenly a Rose Robin decided to enter the scene with a much livelier feeding habit than the sedate Scarlet Robin. To some people in the group this was a "first" and both robins gave us some excellent views from close range. That particular spot in the forest seemed suddenly to come alive with birds as White-eared and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters appeared. Red Wattlebirds were numerous, Striated Pardalotes and Brown-Headed Honeyeaters were seen moving and calling in the tree canopy on either side of the track - mostly ironbark eucalypts with an understory of a variety of wattle species just coming into full bloom.

To add to our enjoyment of that first stop other birds including Red-Capped robins and Golden Whistlers, Grey Fantails, and other species appeared on the scene. I found it quite amazing that such a large group of people, oohing and aaring and moving about on the track - one taking photographs - were tolerated so well by the birds! I wonder if they (the birds) sensed we were really enjoying their company! Looking back at that pause on the track in the forest on an early spring morning, reminded me afresh of our loving God and the rewarding glimpses of His beautiful creation He provides for those willing to seek them out.

Before the group moved further along the track we were treated to a grand finale of the furry kind! One sharp eyed person spotted a pair of Sugar Gliders resting on the sunny side of an ironbark tree only 5-10 metres from the track. They were partly sheltered by a strip of bark still clinging to the mostly dead trunk. They are beautifully marked creatures and at such a close view their luxuriant fur coat and long fluffy tails were clearly visible. We watched for some time before they slowly disappeared into a hollow in the tree.

Our introduction to this section of box ironbark woodland was off to a flying start.

Half of the group began moving further along the track, our leader keeping a keen ear alert for the tell tale call of Swift Parrots. These special parrots that live and breed in Tasmania most of the year, migrate to southeast Australia for the winter. Some had been observed a week earlier at a site close by. Our next stopping place was where a small dry creek bed, lined with wild cherry and wattle trees crossed the track. Here, Silvereyes were in abundance and someone brought to our attention a pair of Spotted Pardalotes busily excavating a nest tunnel on the edge of the creek depression. Olive-backed Orioles could be heard calling and Fuscous Honeyeaters were feeding in the trees above. We continued meandering slowly along the track investigating an early orchid flowering here and there or querying the identity of a wattle just beginning to flower.

Our leader was very skilled at identifying unseen birds by their calls. This skill was put to the test a few minutes later when Don said that he thought he had heard a Swift Parrot calling and moved off into the bush in pursuit. Some of us followed into the bush and stood for five minutes or so searching the flowering ironbark and white gum upper branches for the elusive bird. Sure enough a single Swift Parrot was observed feeding, but it only stayed a brief minute or less and took flight, calling as it went to join its mate elsewhere in the forest. This sight was also a "first" for some of the visiting folk.

The walk continued for another hour or so along the forest track. Painted Button-Quail were in the area, evidenced from the fresh feeding platelets in many places. We caught up with a small group of these birds a little farther on in the bush. Grey (clinking) Currawongs mixed their calls with White-winged Choughs and the many Pied Currawongs that were also present. Red Wattlebirds seemed bent on chasing other bird species wherever they met in the same patch of blossoming eucalypt. A small flock of Musk Lorikeets flew screeching overhead.

It took some time for us to all gather together again for our lunch break. This was followed by a brief club meeting re future outings etc. etc. and then a "bird call" by the president Kathy Costello - that is a list of species seen for the day were ticked off on a master list of birds of the Rushworth Box Ironbark Forest. Not having kept a list myself I think the count was 50+ species seen in the small area of forest we had traversed. I was happy to have observed and kept track of the highlights of the day’s outing and anticipating visitors back home in Mooroopna; I made my departure. I believe most were staying on to walk back along the track to catch a glimpse of a Heath-Wren spotted earlier by one member of the group.

Altogether this was a thoroughly enjoyable day’s birding on a cool but fine August day. Looking back I recall the words of the psalmist in Psalm 104:24, "O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches."

This report was published in The Christian Bird Observer’s Magazine, October 2002