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Reflections on Ten Years

December 18, 2022

I have been living in Yea for ten years taking notes on bird populations. It is endlessly fascinating to watch the seasonal flow of bird populations.

  • The creaky Gang-gangs that drop in for a few weeks,
  • The majestic Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos that visit with their ponderous looping flight
  • The feverish calling of Rufous Whistlers and Yellow-faced honeyeaters that begins in September and continues over Summer
  • The arrival of cuckoos and kingfishers
  • The fleets of ducklings trailing behind watchful parent Wood Ducks or Black Ducks.

However, it saddens me that I have witnessed in this short period a clear decline in some once-common birds. The Willie Wagtail was often considered the most ubiquitous bird in Australia – easily observed from every highway in Australia. It’s getting hard to find them around the district now. Their cheery call, sometimes described as “Sweet-and-pretty-little-creature” can sometimes extend into the night time in Spring and they should be companions in every farm and park. Why are they declining? One factor is the increased presence of Pied Currawongs which ruthlessly predate their nests and eat the chicks. This large scavenger used to spend warm seasons in the high country and only roam lowland towns between May and September. Now they are present all year (some researchers name 1985 as the first year of their refusal to migrate) and could well be a primary cause of decline in many small bird populations. Incidentally, Currawongs also eat berries of weeds like Privet, Hawthorn and Cottoneaster, contributing to their dispersal. They do control destructive insects in the forest as well, so they are not all bad.

Magpie larks are also declining. Once an annual event in Yea Wetlands, the construction of their unique mud bowl nest has ceased. They can still be found around the district but in smaller numbers. I used to love the arrival of Scarlet Robins around the farming district each Winter, I rarely see them now. However, the Flame Robin seems to have increased in number to compensate.

When i first bought my house in Yea, we had a resident Boobook owl whose roost could be discovered by following the outraged calls of small birds that love to mob owls when they are discovered in their territory. Owls have become seriously rare. Some commentators blame rat poison – Ratsak changed their formula to a faster-acting chemical that results in the death of owls that eat the dying rat.

It has been good to watch White-faced Herons and Australian Ravens become customary breeders in Yea Wetlands. This has only been the last few years, they were rarely seen there in 2014. But back then, Australasian Swamphens and Great Egrets were more common and now they are rarely seen. I think these reflect local variation not population decline. When conditions are right they should return.

I note that, this year, the Northern visitors that were seldom seen have been more common – Noisy Friarbirds and Blue-faced honeyeaters have both been breeding here. There were no lorikeets in Yea ten years ago; Rainbow Lorikeets are now resident.

The first thing I did in my house in Yea was to plant locally-native plants in the garden and reduce the dominance of useless introduced plants like Kikuyu grass, English box or Photinia hedges. These plants, along with flaxes, agapanthus, palms and pittosporum attract no insects, are boring to most wildlife and produce desert conditions for birds. It is such a joy to see the return of pollinators and many small birds to my revegetated small urban block.

These ten years have been wonderful indeed, and I am sad as I prepare to leave Yea and move to Warragul. I take with me a suitcase of great experiences and precious friendships from which I hope to draw to enrich the new community I will call home.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Kirsty permalink
    December 18, 2022 10:10 pm

    Wagtails just fledged their second clutch of eggs in a nest right outside our loungeroom winter. Doing well in Harcourt Nth, they are a constant chattering companion. Good luck with the shift! Have fun getting to know a whole new neighbourhood of birds and people.

  2. Rosemary. permalink
    December 18, 2022 10:13 pm

    When we first arrived in Strath Creek 20 years ago we were visited by Chats. Many of them flocked along the fences. I loved their clean white coats and black bibs. They disappeared a couple of years after our home was built.

  3. Terry Hubbard permalink
    December 19, 2022 9:41 am

    Thank you Geoff for your valuable contribution to this site but more particularly for your service to our community through your work with the many community groups who were beneficiaries of your generosity of time.
    Thank you to Deb. also for the difference she has made to aspiring actors and singers – your collective contributions have made Yea and District a better place.

  4. Peter Mitchell permalink
    December 19, 2022 10:18 am

    Hello Geoff, many thanks for your thoughts. I am sorry to see you go. All the best. Peter

  5. Mark South permalink
    December 22, 2022 5:39 pm

    Thanks, Geoff, for all your contributions. I’m always looking forward to the latest FoF posts.
    Good luck for the future.
    Mark South

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