Montague Island Trip Report
They say every cloud has a silver lining and we enjoyed a lot of clouds and a lot of silver linings!
Sooty Oystercatcher by Nevil Lazarus
The June Long Weekend brought strong gale force winds and lots and lots of rain, both of which, you might think, would have put the dampener on our trip to Montague Island. Well, we didn't get to the Island but as we scoured the huge angry seas from Narooma for Albatrosses we were mighty glad we hadn't attempted the crossing. In fact no boats ventured forth for three days. That sorted we decided to have a great trip anyway. And we did.
It looked grim as we turned on to the dirt track to the Boyd Lookout south of Ulladulla for lunch on Day 1 and as we arrived the heavens opened. We were a hearty mob though and bravely we set off walking back down the track hoping to see something. A Lyrebird glided in to the gully. A flock of Golden Whistlers, White-throated Treecreepers and Thornbills various bounced through the branches and lifted our spirits as the rain attacked our clothes! Drenched and determined we pressed on. As dull and rainy as it was the trip passed through some wonderful country with the mountains increasingly dramatically as we approached Moruya. A hot cuppa and clearing rain encouraged us to check a nearby inlet where we enjoyed some great views of a flock of Royal Spoonbills, eight Eastern Curlews wonderfully camouflaged in the muddy swamp and various birds in bushes. As we checked the sightings that night we were delightedly surprised to note we had seen almost fifty species on the trip down including Yellow-tufted Honeyeater and some excellent views of a Little Friarbird.
Plan B swung into action on Day 2. Still plenty of wind and heavy rain squalls but we were getting smart learning to nip out and bird in the breaks and sneak into shelter as the rain came! First stop was the sea lookout at Narooma. A few Black-browed Albatross were masterfully working the wind and swells around Montague (tantalisingly close but dangerously far away!) along with a few shearwater spp and a steady flow of young and adult Gannets. Very close to the shore a huge Fur Seal played in the surf and not so far away sharp eyes spotted several small birds flitting around the wave tops. Wilson's Storm Petrels perhaps? Possibly, but in all the spray and swell and wind and rain - so off we went to the inner harbour!
Masked Lapwing by Nevil Lazarus
There we found a lone Reef Egret, Pied and Sooty Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Great Egret, cormorants, Chestnut Teal and flocks of Silver Gulls and Crested Terns which, when scoped, produced several Caspian Terns and a single Common Tern. Buoyed we headed south to Mystery Bay, Tilba, wetlands, beaches and bushes. By then end of the day, amongst frivolity and serious effort, we had enjoyed some excellent birding and reached just over 60 species. Highlights included two Wedge-tailed Sea Eagles, a Whistling Kite and Brown Falcon all in one binocular view. Other raptors included a beautifully coloured male Swamp Harrier, a juvenile Brown Goshawk sneaking up on feeding Musk Lorikeets and a very confident Black-shouldered Kite who, from just a couple of metres away, watched from its perch as we chased White-eared Honeyeaters.
Day 3 dawned bitingly cold with bright blue skies and the deafening din of many hundreds of Musk and Rainbow Lorikeets feeding in nearby blossoming eucalypts. A few early risers spent an enjoyable hour watching them and received a bonus by way of a fast moving Hobby. And we thought the lorikeets were loud before the Hobby arrived!!
After breakfast we checked the mangroves, mudflats and sand bars of the harbour again. We turned up a flock of Fuscous Honeyeaters, several Red-capped Plovers and three Double-banded Plovers, one of which was still in breeding plumage and looking very dapper!
Sea Eagle by Nevil Lazarus
That afternoon we took a whisper-quiet trip on ye olde ferry 'Wagonga Princess' around the Wagonga Inlet. Our captain, Charlie, admirably entertained us with his historical insights, ecological explanations, woeful jokes and his fresh oysters and we enjoyed a warm sunny afternoon looking at Sea Eagles, Whistling Kites, terns, swans, oystercatchers and several rainforest species including Lewin's Honeyeaters, Satin Bowerbirds, Wonga Pigeons and King Parrots.
By the end of the day we had clocked up over 70 species including a forlorn Bush Stone-curlew. It's been in Narooma for years frequenting the library grounds and trying to convince the local Masked Lapwings to cohabit with it!!
The return trip back to Sydney was infinitely more pleasant than the outward journey. Warm and clear with some excellent birding. In all we saw 105 species over the trip, laughed at the rain and enjoyed great camaraderie. As Janene drove the last stretch we put in one final effort - a bird quiz.
How many feathers does a Tundra Swan have? 25,216. Personally I'm prepared to take 'their' word for it!
By Bob Ashford guiding for FTB