Sighted at Lake Wendouree over recent months have been a pair of Caspian terns, uncommon visitors to the Ballarat district.
Likened to a big seagull with an oversized red beak, the Caspian tern is usually seen singly whenever it visits the district, and most visits are for a few days only. A pair for many weeks is unknown here.
Despite its name the Caspian tern is a truly Australian bird rather than an overseas visitor. It has an almost worldwide distribution.
Our birds breed here in Australia and do not undertake any regular long-distance movements.
Long streamlined wings, with a span of nearly 1.5 metres make this a much larger bird than a silver gull, and the largest tern in the world.
Its large size, along with its black cap with a short crest, massive red bill and black legs make it an easy bird to identify.
The most reliable observation spot for the current birds is at the start of the Lake Wendouree rowing course, where they can be seen with binoculars from the side of the road.
Their black caps make them easy to see among the gulls on the shoreline.
This is their preferred resting place, but of course they may be away feeding over the lake.
Their only food is fish, which they catch by diving into the water.
First named from the Caspian Sea - and somehow retaining that name since - this species is mainly a coastal one in its worldwide distribution.
It is often found in small numbers along the coast in Australia, where it also ranges inland, including the Murray-Darling river system.
There are usually only a couple of sightings each year of Caspian terns at Lake Wendouree.
Sightings are more frequent at Lake Burrumbeet, which has traditionally been the best spot to find them in the Ballarat district. Even there, however, only small numbers at irregular times are found.
There is a breeding colony in Port Phillip Bay, so that site is probably where the current Lake Wendouree birds have come from. Perhaps they will soon leave the lake to breed where they were hatched.
Following up a strong series of whistling notes, we found an attractive small bird known as the shining bronze-cuckoo. It is not often an easy bird to see.
Iridescent green wings are its main feature. It also has distinctive brown stripes across its white breast.
It is one of four common species of cuckoos visiting the Ballarat district, and it lays its eggs in the nests of thornbills and wrens.
NATURE QUERIES ANSWERED
I noticed this small ground flower on bushland property at Dereel last week. I'm wondering what it is.
R.M., via email.
Your photo shows running postman, a trailing, ground-cover plant often found in sandy open places.
However, it also grows in other types of ground, and often in dappled shade.
The bright red flowers are quite striking.
The leaves are in threes, like a clover.
Sometimes it grows to a metre or more across.
There is no other similar plant found in the Ballarat district.
The flower shape indicates that it is in the pea family.
In summer it will have pods containing small black seeds.
Running postman responds readily to bushfires, often appearing in large numbers after bushland has been burnt.
The bright red flowers - once the colour of postmen's uniforms - explain the interesting name.
The running part of the name comes from its trailing habit.
- Questions and photos are welcome. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send to Roger Thomas at The Courier, PO Box 21, Ballarat, 3353.