Narrabundah Hill

Sat 26 March 2016 08:30am

Jack Holland

Those members who will be staying at home this Easter and/or will have visiting birder friends are welcome to join this outing to the Narrabundah Hill reserve. This is a repeat of the April 2015 walk but about a week earlier. Hopefully it will be third time lucky and this time we’ll be able to see the honeyeaters migrating, with the northern fence line one of the few currently known local migration routes. We will walk along this boundary as well as along most of the western border and either return by the same or a different path, looking for other autumn birds such as the Scarlet Robin and mixed feeding flocks, or late departing summer migrants such as gerygones.
Meet Jack Holland (62887840 or at 8:30 am at the parking area and stile at the NE end of the reserve, at the corner of Warragamba Avenue and Eucumbene Drive, Duffy. Please note that the entry to this parking area is a little tricky, and is in fact about 25 metres past (on the Mount Stromlo side) the T-junction with Warragamba Avenue, and for those driving along Eucumbene Drive from Duffy involves a quite tricky 180 degrees turn, so please take care.
There is no need to book but an indication of your intentions would be appreciated to get a rough idea of numbers. Please bring your morning tea to have on the track.

Post event report

Eighteen members and guests joined me on this outing where we walked for about 2.5 km along northern and most of the western boundaries of this reserve, and returned by the same route.  The aim was to observe honeyeater migration, as well as to find any early-arriving altitudinal migrants and any later-departing summer migrants.

We started under cloudy/high fog skies and not the cold and clear overnight conditions which are optimal for significant honeyeater migration.  However, it was third time lucky and during morning tea at around 10:15 am at the NW corner of the reserve participants noted a number of flocks moving in the distance towards the top of Narrabundah Hill.  Soon after about 250 m down the western fence we counted a flock of about 110 birds streaming over above us, as well as several smaller groups.  None were seen here on the way back, but after 11:30 am a number of flocks of between 30-50 birds passed over us about 300 m from the car park.  This made a total of over 300 birds seen migrating during the morning.

Based on my many years of experience with them, the birds moving over were surprisingly quiet and didn’t seem to rest very long if at all, but as far as we could tell all were Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, as would be expected for early season migration.  At both spots birds were heading in an ESE to SE direction, presumably crossing Weston Creek towards Oakey Hill.  Migration also seemed to be rather late and not start until mid-morning, indicative of them overnighting some distance away.

Compared with previous walks here at this time, examples of that other autumn phenomenon, mixed feeding flocks (MFF) were much less evident and smaller this year.  Most were associated with the Grey Fantail which seemed to be everywhere throughout the walk, with a very conservative estimate of around 35 seen on the day.  This species typically moves through the ACT in loose groups during March/early April, migrating at a much more leisurely pace.  A surprise was the relative absence of similarly migrating Silvereyes which form the bulk of the MFFs in my GBS several kilometres away.  The best MMF seen on the day was probably the one which included Yellow-rumped and Buff-rumped Thornbills allowing their identifying features to be pointed out, as well as several Yellow Thornbills picked up by Duncan from their calls and probably usually overlooked.  This MFF was seen close to the middle of the day at the second honeyeater migration spot.

Other species probably on migration were a couple of groups of Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes, one of which contained a still begging juvenile which finally coaxed its parent to feed it the caterpillar which was being bashed on a branch.  Co-incidentally I had seen a very similar event in my GBS the previous day with an even more persistent juvenile finally getting the food morsel.  Some very alert eyes located a number of Dusky Woodswallows feeding about 50-100 m overhead, possibly why we haven’t been able to locate them recently.  A late staying Western Gerygone seen close to the turn back point made the walk in the sun along the western border worthwhile, and most participants had reasonable views of this highly active and rather featureless species.

The Rufous Whistlers still present were calling and surprisingly all birds seen were males in contrast to the comparatively drab female/immature Golden Whistlers seen nearby.  The latter are winter altitudinal migrants which seem to already have come into Canberra in big numbers, as have the Scarlet Robins of which seven were seen on the 1 km northern border, including a couple of males in very close proximity.  A surprise species (given few if any previous observations and no flowering nearby) was a single New Holland Honeyeater seen (and photographed) by a few participants when it rested briefly on top of a large eucalypt shrub.

A total of 49 species was recorded, with 45 of these along the northern border.  Given this fact, in the future it may be possible to be flexible and curtail the length of the walk, particularly if conditions are warm.

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