After a long drive on my own through the dry countryside – even the lakes from Cressy on were mostly salt or some wandering waterholes between dry grasses – and dodging log trucks and four wheel drives in the Otways, I finally found my way to Kangaroobie near Princetown. Even that was reached via a dry dusty road, but when I arrived I found a well set out “Camp” of dormitories and meeting/dining/kitchen area surrounding a green lawn (ignoring the sandy patches) and a sprinkler going!
Part of the pleasure of these camps is catching up with old friends and meeting new ones, and this one was no exception. The weekend was well planned and run by the Timboon Field Nats, with Helen Langley in charge. There was only a couple of very human hiccups – I managed to find the rest of my group despite following the wrong cars down a side track! Helen had the wisdom to issue us all with National Parks info. and maps of the area.
The outings I attended were most enjoyable and informative. I’d chosen three which were centred on Peterborough, one at Kennedy’s Creek at an old sand pit, and the last was the Timboon Rail-trail. I would have liked to have gone inland to near Cobden for the all day trip on Saturday, but that wasn’t to be, and I would have missed out on the rain (funny wet stuff falling from the sky) if I had gone on that excursion.
The Friday evening program was a talk on Little Penguins by Rebecca, a student at the Warrnambool Campus of Deakin University, using the digital projector. We learnt that they are the only Australian species of penguin, and the world’s smallest species; that their blue-black backs protect them from predators, like kites, above, and white fronts protect them from predators, such as seals, below. We learnt they inhabited the waters and coast from the south western corner of Western Australia to Northern New South Wales.
She then went on to tell us about their breeding cycle, the fact they usually use the same burrow year after year, and both birds share the incubation and feeding of the young, probably only one, though two eggs are usually laid. When eventually the chicks go out to sea they are on their own with no help from the parents, and they need to learn life skills very quickly. There is a high mortality rate at this stage, particularly this year as the breeding season was very late. She also told us what their food is, the fact that they are opportunistic feeders, usually solitary when out at sea, but come in every evening at dusk to return to their burrows together.
On the last evening, instead of a speaker, one of the two excursions (the other one was to see the Short-tailed Shearwaters arriving back at their burrows) was to the Twelve Apostles to watch the penguins arrive. The sunset itself, with a magical light on the sea, would have been worth the trip even if we hadn’t seen the penguins, but we did. First, just one bird arrived. It would reach the drier sand, hesitate, and turn tail back to the waves again on several occasions before setting off stolidly towards its burrow at a run. It sat there preening until there wasn’t enough light to see more than a faint white blob amongst the vegetation. The others gradually followed in groups of from 8 to about 20, making their mind up a lot quicker than the first one to make their dive across the sand.
The talk on the second night, given by Christopher Grant, who is doing his PhD, also at Deakin University at Warrnambool, was on bats. He followed the history of human misconceptions and fears about bats, to the different groupings – Microchiroptera (small hand-wings because the membrane – which happens to be the quickest healing tissue of any animal – is stretched between the long “fingers”) which are the little bats which mostly use sonar and which we sometimes see hawking for insects at dusk, and Macrochiroptera, which includes the “Flying Foxes” which rely largely on eyesight and feed on fruits. The life span is up to 30 years. He concluded his talk by producing two species of Microchiroptera and showing us the features that he had been talking about, and explaining the reason for the tiny sharp teeth down each side of the mouth with the gap in the middle in the one which was threatening to bite his hand off if it got the chance! They were eventually released where they had been trapped.
On Saturday morning, having breakfasted and made our sandwiches with the ingredients laid out for us, we were joined by the people staying elsewhere, and, issued with coloured cloth to identify our group, lined up after our leaders, and headed off. Our group stopped at the playground area in Peterborough and were joined by Annie Fraser who told us a little of her work, with great humour, as a wildlife carer. She had two fledgling penguins that had been two of only four to escape a fox attack which had killed, I think, about 40 birds in one colony at..
We then headed off a short distance to Crazy Kate, a beach below the cliffs a kilometre or so to the west, and there we wandered in sprinkling rain for the next hour and a half with members of the Timboon club who were able to help with identification and add to our knowledge of shore life.
We had lunch at the barbecue shelter near where we’d stopped earlier, and set up the stereo-microscope to look at seaweed, sea grass and sponges that we’d brought back. I was mystified by the fine black gravel found on an area below the cliffs, but a geologist, Noel Schleiger, who was with the group who’d joined us for lunch, was able to identify it as limonite and could explain how it was formed and why it behaved as it did – that’s one of the great advantages of these get-togethers.
In the afternoon I was with the group which went a bit further west to the Bay of Islands, and walked along the cliff top walk, taking in all the viewing platforms as we went to look at the fantastic cliff formations. Having Noel with us this time helped us understand something of what is going on to form the stacks, caves, arches and inlets of this intricately eroded coastline. Along the paths we even found some things in flower, such as Coast Banksia, Tiny Fan-flower and Coastal Daisy-bush, the last being positively identified from a specimen under the stereo- microscope when we got back that evening.
Sunday was the day I got on the wrong track, but I caught up with the others where they had stopped to go down to the beach over the sandhills to see the Hooded Plovers. I not only saw the plovers, but as I crossed the dunes, way behind my passenger, I spotted a Rufous Bristle-bird cross the path only about 2.5 metres in front of me.
From there we followed our leader to Curdies Inlet and stopped at several spots to bird watch. Highlights for me were the Striated Field Wren, the Pied Stilts and Red-necked Stints. We walked to one spot through Annie Fraser’s property, and were shown one of the young penguins which had just had its daily swim and was happily preening in its box. Once it reaches 1kg it will be released back where it was found, as, if it is released locally it will never really settle – according to Annie, it will always be a “street kid”!
Lunch this time was at Glenample Homestead with its ancient house and huge old cypresses. Superb Fairy Wrens hopped around near us as we ate. Many of us went on to Kennedy’s Creek where we visited an old sand quarry and were shown several orchid species, some no longer flowering, but with well developed seed pods and the sepals still intact (Horned Orchids) and three different Midge orchids, including a species restricted to that area. There had been sun orchids earlier, too, but they had finished and the seeds scattered. We wandered around with our leader, Kylie Treble, who knew the area well. What a joy it is to be with knowledgeable people when we don’t know the area. This spot is one I would never have found just on my own, and I would never have spotted some of the plants we saw – I had even missed the Button Grass until someone pointed it out. But then, I hadn’t registered that we have Button Grass in Victoria. That belongs, in my mind, to Tasmania – and seeing it brought back memories, and inspired reminiscences, of the Club walk from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair five years ago.
Our last outings on Monday were all at or near Timboon, and I chose to walk along the Rail Trail, with Charlotte, Helen’s sister, as leader, from the Trestle Bridge into Timboon Railway Yards, which is now a picnic area where we had lunch. Our leader’s comment at the end of the walk was that she didn’t think she was going to be able to get us away from the bridge area because the birding there was so good. Just in that area alone we saw Sittellas, Grey Fantails, White-eared, Yellow-faced and White-plumed Honeyeaters, a White Goshawk, Red-browed Finches, another Striated Field Wren, Goldfinches, Spotted and Striated Pardalotes, Golden Whistler, Gang Gang Cockatoos, Crimson Rosellas and a Yellow Robin! For the whole walk we reached a total of 41 species. If you are a birdo, or just like wonderful forest scenery, this 4km walk is one not to be missed.
I eventually left at 2 o’clock and set off for home via Camperdown and Cressy. I arrived home very weary, but it was such an enjoyable, friendly and informative weekend that it was well worth it.