On the trail of elusive rail

Black-browed albatross at Point Addis.

There’s not many birds that are found in these parts that I haven’t seen, so when I read on Birdline Victoria that Lewin’s rails were seen at Coogoorah Park in Anglesea on 13 August, I immediately planned a drive down there. Not only were the Lewin’s rails seen in Coogoorah Park, but they were described as being quite tame and approachable – perfect for photos. Lewin’s Rails belong to the family Rallidae, which includes wetland birds such as rails, crakes, swamphens and coots. Birds of the Rallidae family have stout bodies, short tails, and long toes, and are found in swamps, rushes, reeds, creeks, paddocks; wet heaths and saltmarshes.
The Lewin’s rail is a tubby, dark rail with a longish pink, dark-tipped bill and chestnut nape and shoulders. The breast is plain olive-grey and part of the wing, underparts and undertail are black with white bars. The Lewin’s rail is similar to a buff-banded rail but the buff-banded rail has a shorter red-brown bill, a white eyebrow and a buff breastband. I’ve never seen a Lewin’s Rail but apparently it is very obvious when they are around as they have a distinctive, loud call that can sound like a galloping horse.
I drove to Anglesea on an incredibly windy day, so stopped off at Point Addis on the way to look for seabirds. I was lucky to spot a black-browed albatross that came within about 100 metres from shore. The black-browed albatross is around 84-94 cm in length and has the darkest underwing of all the albatrosses. The wings, back and tail are slatey black and the underwing has broad black margins with white central streak. The bill is yellow, tipped pink, and the birds have a small black brow over dark eye. It’s always wonderful to spot these magnificent birds.
Once I found Coogoorah Park I wandered around for about an hour, trying to hear clicking noises from the reeds that resembled a galloping horse. I saw many big dogs running riot through the park and I wanted to say to the owners that there were rare birds around, and couldn’t the dogs be kept on leads, but I resisted as I wasn’t in my ‘patch’. I saw a few silver gulls, a few coots and welcome swallows, but alas no Lewin’s rails.
I thought I’d try my luck at finding Lewin’s rails at Western Treatment Plant a few days later. Once again I lucked out, but did see some spotted crakes, brolga, Horesfield’s bronze cuckoos and blue-winged parrots.
One day I will spot a Lewin’s rail (I hope).
I’ve been driving home from afternoon shift via Connewarre, and a few times now I have seen an eastern barn owl near the Barwon Heads Airport. I have also seen a tawny frogmouth in the same area.
It’s been wonderful to see brolga, albatross, an owl, and a tawny in the one fortnight – I couldn’t expect much better than that.
Migratory shorebirds should start arriving from the Northern Hemisphere in the next few weeks. I also saw on Birdline Victoria that a Latham’s snipe, which migrates to these parts from Japan, was seen at Begola Wetlands in Ocean Grove on 20 September. I’ll have to keep an eye out for them.
I received a lovely email from Angela, who spotted 14 hooded plovers on Collendina Beach between Ocean Grove and Point Lonsdale. The hooded plovers will soon disperse to their separate areas to breed, as during the winter they form flocks. I tried a few times to walk down to the beach myself, but every time I went it was either raining or blowing a gale, so hopefully I’ll be able to get down there soon. Thanks Angela for your observation and email.
If you are interested in some organised bird watching activities you can access the calendar of events run by Bellarine Birdlife at birdlife.org.au/locations/birdlife-bellarine-peninsula

– Jen Carr, jennifer.carr6@bigpond.com