Birding Without Borders

Day 352: Heat Wave

High temperatures near Melbourne make the birds lethargic.

December 18, 2015: Melbourne, Australia — It’s the holiday season, and, because of various commitments, I couldn’t find any one person in Melbourne who could spare several full days to go birding. Instead, it seems like I’m getting to know half the city! For four days in a row, I am going out with different birders each day and staying in different places each night.

Today, on the third of my four-day Melbourne stretch, the gregarious trio of Dave Torr, Ian Denham, and Mark Buckby stepped in for a full-day session in the dry country north of Melbourne. The four of us spent the cool part of the day in a patch of so-called mallee (mahl-eee), a type of stunted dry forest with a special suite of birdlife.

Ian and Mark had a recce (Australian slang for “reconnaissance”) a few days ago and had staked out some good birds. This paid off first thing when, on our first stop, a male Gilbert’s Whistler popped up within seconds. “We just had the female here last time,” said Mark. Nothing like local knowledge!

Then they put us on to a Shy Heathwren, Australia’s mallee counterpart to the Chestnut-rumped Heathwren that Simon, Sean and I saw yesterday. Both have chestnut rumps, and the Chestnut-rumped is more shy than the Shy, but at least the birds stick to respective habitats. We had smashing views of the skulker.

As the day heated up, birding cooled down. Temperatures in Melbourne this week are supposed to hit at least 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) every day, apparently the first time the city has had at least four consecutive 35+ days in any December since 1979. In the dry country up north, Mark’s carmometer showed 41 C (105.8 F) by mid-afternoon.

In the heat, birds were lethargic. We found a young Eastern Yellow Robin, probably just fledged from the nest, clinging with a hazy expression to a tree branch, and it didn’t move as I approached within a few feet. Mark, Ian and Dave agreed that birds behave differently when it gets this hot. This juvenile robin might have left its nest early because it was too hot to sit there and bake. Meanwhile, a Powerful Owl on its day roost was wedged just a meter off the ground, perhaps in the best spot of shade it could find.

New birds today: 9

Year list: 5886

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