I spent the first half of January in southwestern Victoria, visiting family and sightseeing. It is a landscape of rolling plains and shallow wetlands and is very different to the Sydney Basin. Much of the southwest has been cleared for pasture, however there is a surprising density of paddock trees in many areas. Those that remain grow to immense proportions on the rich, volcanic soils.
Considering the starkly different landscape, I was surprised at the end of my visit to realise that I’d only seen two species of wildlife that I don’t regularly see in Sydney. One was the Australian Shelduck, a large duck that is relatively common across southern Australia. I first noticed an adult pair grazing in the paddock behind my brother-in-law’s place near Hamilton. They were incredibly wary, taking to the air when I was still more than a hundred metres away. This wariness was common to all the ducks I saw in Victoria, probably a reflection of the fact that, unlike in NSW, there is still an annual duck hunting season.
Two much smaller ducks were swimming around in the farm dam in the middle of the same paddock. They kept disappearing under the water and my first thought was that they might be the rare Blue Billed Duck. Once I got the telephoto out it was obvious they were ducklings, the rufous band across the chest confirming that they were young Australian Shelducks. Their wing feathers were still too small for flight, which must have been the reason the adults flew circuits around the pond until I departed.
The second ‘rarely or never seen in Sydney’ species of the trip was one of Australia’s most widely distributed and abundant birds, the Singing Honeyeater. They occur just about everywhere except the east coast. One stopped next to my car to preen in the early morning sun.
Although these were the only new (for me) species of wildlife I encountered in Victoria, the trip provided some additional surprises. The best was the presence of plenty of Koalas. While Koalas can be found in the southwest of Sydney and in the Blue Mountains, they are uncommon.
My first Victorian Koala was spotted after it started growling its head off in a tree about twenty metres outside my bedroom window. I soon discovered the intense reflectivity of a Koala’s eyes in a torch or flash. Any night-time photo captures an unnerving pair of glowing white orbs.
That first nocturnal sighting was joined by another dozen Koala sightings over the coming days, including a mother and baby. Some were spotted while bushwalking, but more were seen in narrow strips of roadside vegetation.
I was really surprised that the Victorian Koalas seemed just as likely to occur in isolated trees or thin corridors of vegetation as in substantial patches of native vegetation. I suspect it comes down to two factors—the abundant growth of foliage on the Victorian volcanic soils, and the intensity of hunting around Sydney for the fur trade. You really can push wildlife to the point of no return.
Another wildlife sighting that sparked my interest was the huge flocks of Long Billed Corellas. Southwestern Victoria is their natural range, so it is no surprise they are one of the most abundant species of local wildlife. Although there has been lots of historic clearing there were also always extensive areas of natural grasslands across the southwest. The corella’s long bill is ideally adapted to feeding in open ground, ploughing deep into the ground to grasp the starchy base of the grass root.
A week latter I watched slightly smaller flocks of the same species feeding on playing fields in southern Sydney. In spite of being way outside of their natural range, and with sprinklers indicating that these were hardly natural grasslands, the corellas’ feeding strategy worked fine!
Odds and Sods