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Best places to birdwatch

/ 05 Sep 2018
With such a diverse range of spectacular natural habitats spread across more than 4 million hectares of coastal, wetland, forest, alpine, desert and marine parks, it’s no wonder Victoria has a reputation as one of the best destinations in the world for birdwatching.

Australia has over 800 species of birds and more than half of them are found in Victoria. Birdwatchers from all over the world are taking advantage of Victoria’s immense diversity and easy accessibility where they can see a high number of bird species representing several different ecosystems in a relatively small area and all easily reached from Victoria’s capital city, Melbourne. It’s not unusual for birdwatchers to see 200 or more unique bird species within a week as they tour the state.

Many iconic Australian birds such as the Emu, Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, Crimson Rosella, Laughing Kookaburras, Wedge-tailed Eagle and the Superb Fairy-wren are viewable year round in many locations throughout Victoria and cannot be seen in the wild anywhere outside of Australia.

Here are Park Victoria's top picks for birdwatching:

Dandenong Ranges National Park

This park is well known for its spectacular panoramic views, Mountain Ash trees and lush fern gullies. Explore the forest on a range of walks, or enjoy a picnic at the Fern Tree Gully Picnic Ground, One Tree Hill or in Sherbrooke Forest.

There is abundant native birdlife, including Kookaburras, the Superb Lyrebird, Pied Currawongs, Australian Magpies, King Parrots, Crimson Rosellas, Red Wattlebirds, Superb Fairywrens, Brown Thornbills and Grey Fantails, Spotted Pardalotes, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters.

Nearby coffee shops, restaurants, craft and antique shops, as well as gardens and the historic Puffing Billy train make for a pleasant day out. The park can be reached by public transport from Melbourne.

For the experienced birdwatcher, watch out for Pilotbirds, Large-billed Scrubwrens and Red-browed Treecreepers, especially in Sherbrooke Forest. During autumn and winter, large numbers of Satin Bowerbirds may be seen moving through the park and surrounding areas.

Kinglake National Park

Only 65 kilometres north of Melbourne, Kinglake National Park lies on the slopes of the Great Dividing Range, offering dramatic views of the Melbourne skyline, Port Phillip Bay, the Yarra Valley. This is a good spot, not far from Melbourne, to go camping, enjoy a bushwalk or have a picnic.

Since the intense 2009 fires in Kinglake National Park, many plants adapted to fire are flourishing. In spring, keep an eye out for wildflowers in bloom, while winter is a good time to discover fungi, mosses and lichens.

Birds in the area include the Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Gang-gang Cockatoo, Superb Lyrebird, White-throated Treecreeper, Crescent Honeyeater, Brown-headed Honeyeater, White-naped Honeyeater, Golden Whistler, Scarlet Robin, Eastern Yellow Robin, Silvereye, Bassian Thrush, Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, Red-browed Treecreeper, White-eared Honeyeater, Spotted Quail-thrush, Eastern Whipbird, Crested Shrike-tit, Grey Currawong, Rufous Fantail, Flame Robin, Rose Robin and Red-browed Finch. Experienced birdwatchers will enjoy the challenge of trying to find a Brush Cuckoo or Cicadabird. A bit of luck is required to come across these birds which are only present over the warmer months.

Bunyip State Park

In February 2009, 45 per cent of Bunyip State Park was burnt by wildfire. Despite this dramatic event this park is once again an amazing escape where visitors can breathe fresh air and enjoy native plants and animals.

See a mosiac of green from heathland on river plains to Mountain Ash forest covering steep slopes. Whatever recreational pursuit you enjoy, Bunyip State Park provides opportunities for all.

Look up and around to see wet forest birds such as the Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo, Gang Gang Cockatoo, Pink Robin, Pilotbird, Powerful Owl, Sooty Owl and Bassian Thrush. Areas of heathland and button-grass are home to the diminutive Southern Emu-wren which can be a challenge to spot among the dense vegetation. 

Point Cook Coastal Park

Point Cook, adjoining the Point Cooke Marine Sanctuary, features abundant birdlife, a historic bluestone homestead and intertidal sandbanks. It is popular with birdwatchers, nature lovers and family groups.

There are several natural waterbodies in the park supporting aquatic and bird species. Visitors should keep their eyes peeled for Black Swan, Singing Honeyeater, White-fronted Chat and New Holland Honeyeater.  The ponds of the old salt works often host the spectacular Red-necked Avocet and on occasion the Banded Stilt. A multitude of migratory shorebirds from Siberia and Alaska arrive at the park each spring. Every now and again, rare vagrants such as the Hudsonian Godwit and Little Stint can turn up in the area.

Woodlands Historic Park

Woodlands Historic Park provides a fascinating glimpse of the landscapes and wildlife seen by European settlers in the 1840s. The park has a 150-year old homestead, Indigenous canoe trees, native woodland and grassland. The fenced ‘Back Paddock’ is a great spot to see animals, birds and other wildlife.

Plan a picnic, walk or bike ride and look out for Whistling Kite, Eastern Rosella, Red-rumped Parrot, Weebill, Yellow Thornbill, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Spotted Pardalote, Striated Pardalote, Varied Sittella, Flame Robin, Silvereye, Little Eagle, Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo, Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Crested Shrike-tit, Golden Whistler, Rufous Whistler, Scarlet Robin and Mistletoebird.

This park provides the closest location to Melbourne to see some dry country bird which are usually found further inland including the Red-capped Robin, Purple-crowned Lorikeet and, very occasionally, the Black-eared Cuckoo.

Point Napean National Park

Point Nepean is truly one of Victoria's beautiful natural landscapes. A special place with so much to see and discover. It has a rich history and played an important role in shaping the early settlement, quarantine and defence of Victoria.

The park is located at the very tip of the Mornington Peninsula, with outstanding coastal scenery and panoramic views of Bass Strait, the Rip and Port Phillip Bay.

Explore the military forts and tunnels, discover the historic Quarantine Station, view the memorial where Prime Minister Harold Holt went missing or simply enjoy the coastal surrounds.

Look out for Hooded Plovers on the beaches and Australasian Gannets offshore. During blustery weather, you may see Black-browed and Shy Albatrosses on the horizon.

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Coolart Historic Area

Coolart has many well-planned walking routes for bird-watchers and walkers alike. They are clearly sign-posted and most are easy walks that will take from as little as thirty minutes to a couple of hours.

The Observatory at Coolart is situated below the main Homestead and overlooks the Wetlands, offering a comfortable viewing position for birdwatching in all weathers. The Observatory is set out theatre style and is used for talks and presentations.

Each year nomadic and migrating birds pass through Coolart stopping at its waterways and woodlands to breed and rest. Over 125 species of birds visit Coolart or are resident, from Swamp Hens, White Ibis, Hoary-headed Grebe and Cormorants, to home grown Kookaburras and Magpies, and many species of ducks including Chestnut Teal, the Australasian Shoveler and Blue-billed Duck. The hides are often good places for spotting elusive Crakes and Rails along the edge of the water and reeds and you might see over 60 species in one day. During the warmer months the calls of Clamorous Reed-warblers and Golden-headed Cisticolas can be heard around the edges of the wetlands.

Coolart wetlands, bird hides, gardens and picnic and barbecue areas are open daily from 8.00am to 5.00pm. The homestead is open 9.00am - 4.00pm every day from November to April, and weekdays only from May to October. Call 13 19 63 before travelling to check on access to the homestead, wetlands observatory (including audio-visual) and visitor centre as opening hours vary for these buildings and seasonal closures apply.

The Mallee

Spring is the best time of year to visit desert habitat Mallee parks such as Hattah-Kulkyne National Park, Murray Sunset National Park and Wyperfield National Park where amazing parrot species can be seen including the Mallee Ringneck, Mulga Parrot, Regent Parrot, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo and the difficult to find Black-eared Miner. Other tricky species which will test the skills of birdwatchers include the Red-lored Whistler, Mallee Emu-wren, Striated Grasswren and Redthroat.

Completely flat and very low-lying, the Mallee takes its name from a small, multi-stemmed eucalypt. The blanket of sandy soil which characterises the Mallee, has created a gentle scenery and superficially simple landscape that hides a diverse ecosystem.

Mallee parks are also home to Malleefowl which are the only megapode in the world that has adapted to an arid environment.

Greater Bendigo National Park

This park protects some of the highest quality Box-Ironbark forest in north-central Victoria, along with mallee and grassy woodlands.

This is an ideal spot for nature study, birdwatching, bushwalking, picnics, horse riding and camping. The best time to visit is between August and October when colourful wildflowers are abundant.

Birds that frequent this area include a mix of box-ironbark woodland birds such as Speckled Warblers, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater and Swift Parrots, as well as mallee species such as Purple-gaped Honeyeaters, Shy Heathwrens, Gilbert's Whistler and the Crested Bellbird.

Barmah National Park

Barmah National Park, together with the adjoining Millewa forest in New South Wales, forms the largest River Red Gum forest in the world. The complex ecology of the forest is closely linked to the Murray River and its flooding regime, creating a diverse natural habitat for a variety of wildlife, particularly waterbirds.

Barmah is a great spot for camping. Days can be easily filled with fishing, horse riding, bushwalking, swimming and canoeing.

A large number of birds - such as Spoonbills, Egrets, Cormorants and Ibis - flock to the wetlands. Barmah-Millewa is an important breeding area for rare species such as the Superb parrot, and Latham’s snipe.

Warby-Ovens National Park

Warby-Ovens National Park is characterised by three distinct vegetation communities - the granitic hills and woodlands of the Warby Range, the Box-Ironbark of the Killawarra Forest and the Redgum forest and wetlands of the unregulated Ovens Heritage River. Together they provide an important link from the alpine foothills to the Murray River protecting some of the State’s most significant bushland.

The Warby's is one of the few places in Victoria where the turquoise parrot can be found. Because they are ground feeders, they are mostly seen in late summer and autumn when flocks can be spotted feeding on the open grasslands.

Migatory birds including Wood-swallows, Cuckoos, Rainbow bee-eaters, White-winged Trillers, visit in season. Nectar feeding birds such as honey-eaters are common because of the variety of flowers. The Powerful Owl, Barking Owl and other raptors including the peregrine falcon inhabit the park.

Chiltern Mt Pilot National Park

Located between Beechworth and the low hills surrounding Chiltern, this park includes the striking Mt Pilot Range and Woolshed Falls and protects box-ironbark forest that once covered much of north-east Victoria.

Short or day-long walks can be made on vehicle tracks through open forest and a 25-kilometre historic drive is marked from Chiltern through the forest and goldfields.

The district has exceptional bird diversity due to the high quality of habitat and two distinct bioregions – the drier woodlands of the inland and wetter mountain forests. More than 220 species have been recorded here including Regent Honeyeater, Swift Parrot, Turquoise Parrot and Square-tailed Kite.

The more experienced birdwatcher will relish the challenge of spotting a Regent Honeyeater, Specked Warbler or even a Diamond Firetail. 

Sale Common Nature Conservation Reserve

Sale Common Nature Conservation Reserve forms part of the Bataluk Cultural Trail and boasts over 300ha of Ramsar listed freshwater wetland, a large network of trails and boardwalks with an extensive variety of birdlife, insects and amphibians. Visitors should lookout for Whistling Kite, Swamp Harrier, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Spoonbills, Herons, Coots, Swans, Cormorants, Ibis and numerous migratory birds.

The tranquil Gippsland Lakes are a system of coastal lagoons separated from the Tasman Sea by the dunes of Ninety Mile Beach. Seven rivers terminate at the lakes creating a spectacular series of freshwater wetlands which provide habitat for over 20,000 waterbirds some travelling from as far as Siberia and Alaska.

Croajingolong National Park

Croajingolong follows the far-eastern coastline of Victoria for 100 kilometres and features eucalypt forest, rainforest and heathland.

Secluded coastal camping spots are a perfect base for beach walks, birdwatching, boating and fishing. Relax in a boat on the Mallacoota Lakes, climb Genoa Peak for panoramic views along the coast or visit the massive sand dunes at Thurra River.

Point Hicks Lightstation, set deep within the park, is an imposing concrete tower completed in 1890. While Gabo Island Lightstation, built of distinctive pink granite, can be reached by air or sea. Both offer tours and accommodation.

Birdlife here includes Eastern Reef Egret, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Ground Parrot, Glossy Black-Cockatoo, White-throated Needletail, Scarlet Honeyeater, Eastern Bristlebird, Pilotbird, Topknot Pigeon, White-throated Gerygone, Cicadabird, Beautiful Firetail and Australian Figbird. Many of these species are not readily observed in other parks of Victoria.

Wilsons Promontory National Park

At the southernmost tip of mainland Australia, The Prom offers spectacular scenery of huge granite mountains, open forest, rainforest, sweeping beaches and coastlines.

Great bushwalks extend from under an hour to over three days. Visitors can camp, caravan or stay in huts, cabins, wilderness retreats or lodges at Tidal River where there is a general store and take-away food shop.

The waters surrounding the Prom are protected as a marine national park and marine park and offer outstanding diving.

Birdwatchers to the park should keep a look out for Kookaburras that will not hesitate to steal food off your plate and Emu can regularly be found grazing peacefully in the wild. The beaches and rocky headlands of the Prom provide ideal habitat for birds such as the Hooded Plover, Pied Oystercatcher and Sooty Oystercatcher. Visitors heading to the heathlands of the northern section of the park may get a glimpse of Striated Fieldwrens and Ground Parrots.

Great Otway National Park

The Great Otway National Park stretches from Torquay through to Princetown and up through the Otways hinterland towards Colac. The park features rugged coastlines, sandy beaches, rock platforms and windswept heathland. In the west, the park features tall forests, ferny gullies and magnificent waterfalls.

This diverse range of habitats is reflected in the different bird species that birdwatcher can find. The heathlands of the eastern part of the park contain Southern Emu-wrens, Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters and Blue-winged Parrots. The wet forests in the west are home to birds such as the Pink Robin and Satin Bowerbird. The coastal scrubs are home to one of the Otway’s special birds, the Rufous Bristlebird which can be easily seen around the Aireys Inlet lighthouse and other coastal tracks. From time to time, unusual birds can turn up on the coast such as the Beach Stone-curlew and Southern Giant Petrel. 

Some of the most recognised Australian native birds are found in the Otway region where passionate and amateur birdwatchers will be entertained by their antics.

Over 18 per cent of the State of Victoria’s land mass is protected within a diverse network of parks, reserves and waterways, providing vital habitat for wildlife.

For more information on Victoria’s spectacular parks and waterways call Parks Victoria on 13 1963 or visit www.parks.vic.gov.au

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Bird flies through the Barmah State Forest at Echuca
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