Goschen Bushland Reserve and Surrounds

Rainbow Bee-eater, along with Budgerigar, Black Honeyeater and Masked and 
White-browed Woodswallow are currently in abundance at 
Goschen Bushland Reserve - Nov 2011. [Photograph Jon Thornton]
I have just spent a few days (Nov 2011) at one of my favourite birding location in Victoria, Goschen Bushland Reserve, a small mallee reserve just south between Kerang and Swam Hill. Despite its small size (approximately 25 ha), of all the reserve in Victoria, I think it most comparable to the grassy woodland areas of well know birding sites such as Gluepot Reserve and Round Hill Nature Reserve.

When visiting the areas, I usually drop visit a number of other sites in this part of north-central Victoria, including Tresco West Bushland Reserves, Lake Tutchewop, Lake Boga, Round Lake, and a small roadside reserve at Gama.

Goschen Bushland Reserve
Once a proposed site for a township, with a church and school - all that now stands at Goschen is a rarely used hall, two tennis courts, and a cricket pitch that's no longer used. In addition to the township area, some adjoining land has been allowed to regenerate into open grassy woodlands. In the south-west of the reserve there is fenced area containing a communications tower.

To get there from the Lake Boga township, take the Ultima-Lake Boga Rd until you reach the Donald-Swan Hill Rd intersection. Go through the intersection, and on your right, there is a dirt tracks leading into the reserve. This loops around through the reserve (past an old hall and tennis court) back to the road 250 m further west. There is bush-camping only at Goschen, however, there is a good caravan park overlooking Lake Boga.

Goschen Bushland Reserve: covered in native grasses (Nov 2011).

Lemon Beauty-heads (Calocephalus citreus)
The flora in the reserve is a mixture of mallee eucalypts and open grassy shrublands. The ground cover consist of native grasses such as Pink Mulla Mulla (Ptilotus exaltus), flowering shrubs such as the Mallee Blue Flower or Rough Halgania (Halgania cyanea), Native Hops (Dodonaea viscosa), Desert Cassia (Senna artemisioides), Inland Pigface (Carpobrotus modestus), and larger trees such as and  White Mallee (Eucalyptus dumosa).

When flowering, these are spectacular.
Rough Halgania (Halgania cyanea)
 However, the real specialty of the reserve is Long-leaf Emu-bush (Eremophila longifolia) - also known as Berrigan - a small rough barked tree (usually between two to six metres in height), and vital food source for some of the nomadic inland honeyeaters such as Black, Pied and to a lesser extent, White-fronted Honeyeater. In terms of the commonality of honeyeater species, at Goschen, there is an occasional reversals of status; common honeyeater become scarce, while uncommon nomadic honeyeater - such as Black and White-fronted - becomes common. From a birders viewpoint, it doesn't get any better than that!

Long-leaf Emu-bush (Eremophila longifolia)
Tresco West Bushland Reserve (discussed in more detail below), known locally as the 'Daisy Patch', has a similar range of plant species. Interestingly, on this last tip I stumbled across a small patch of Spinifex (Triodia scariosa). I've not seen this species previously at either Goschen or Tresco West, and as far as I'm aware, this is the most south-eastern patch of Triodia in Australia (with the nearest Triodia least 100 km to the north ad west). 

The Birds
I have visited Goschen Bushland Reserve many times, and it is the usual starting point for our 24-hour Twitchathon. The reason we start there is simple: it is the most southerly site for seeing a range of northern arid-land species such as Black and, occasionally, Pied Honeyeater, Crimson Chat, Cockatiel, Budgerigar, Blue Bonnet, Pied Butcherbird, Yellow-throated Miner and Chestnut-rumped Thornbill. It is most productive in late spring, and summer, especially when there have been some good rains in the region.

On my way to Goschen (when driving from Lake Boga) I usually check the roadside vegetation along Ultima-Lake Boga Rd, where there is a likelihood of seeing Blue Bonnet (yellow-vented race haematogaster), Cockatiel, Pied Butcherbird, Rufous Songlark, Yellow-throated Miner and Spotted Harrier.

A good spot to look for Crimson Chat, Black and Pied Honeyeater is in the west side of the Reserve along the track between the tennis court and the telecommunication tower. Here you may also see scattered flocks of Budgerigar and the occasional Cockatiel. Despite both species being icons of Australia, they are quite uncommon in Victoria, only become apparent during 'good years' - when there has been just the right amount of rain, and just the right amount of vegetation growth.

This area can also be good for seeing White-browed and Masked Woodswallow, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Hooded Robin, and White-winged Triller. During good years Peregrine Falcon feast on Woodswallow and Budgerigar, swooping upon them from the vantage point of the communication tower.

Little Button-quail can usually be flushed from the grassy area just east of the tennis court, particularly near the over-grown cricket pitch. Here also you can see Budgerigar, Cockatiel, and Peaceful Dove.

Immediately east, and south-east, of this grassland area, look for Variegated Fairy-wren, Spiny-cheeked, White-fronted (usually in winter) and Yellow-plumed (uncommon) Honeyeater, Yellow-throated Miner, Red-capped and Hooded Robin, White-browed Babbler, Varied Sittella and Brown Treecreeper, while Australian Owlet-nightjar are sometimes flush from tree hollows during the day, particular in the south-east corner.

The range and variety of birds at Goschen tends to fluctuate from year to year, depending on the amount of rain, the seeding of native grasses, and the availability of flowering plants such as the eucalypts and Long-leaf Emu-bush. Over the last few years, there has been a number of changes in the birdlife, changes that are reflective of the conditions right across south-eastern Australia.

2009 was a superb birding year at Goschen and across northern Victoria. Interestingly, this was not because of good environmental conditions in the state, rather it was because much of Australia was in severe drought, so many of the arid land species, such as Crimson Chat, and the nomadic honeyeater such as Black and Pied Honeyeater, moved to coastal regions in search of food and water. During 2009 15 Pied Honeyeater were seen at Goschen, a rare species in Victoria. Other birds that were regularly seen across southern Victoria were Rufous Songlark, White-winged Triller and Zebra Finch. 

Large numbers of Budgerigar and White-browed and Masked Woodswallow. (Nov 2011)

By contrast 2010, birdwise, was very quiet in Victoria. The conditions in central Australia were perfect; there had been a lot of rain, so water was plentiful, and there was an abundance of food sources - there was no need to move east and south toward the coast. Parrots in arid Australia did particularly well - such as Budgerigar and rarer species such as Princess and Scarlet-chested Parrot. The inland waters were also covered in thousands of breeding waterbirds; and there was virtually no waterfowl on the east and south coast.

2011 is proving to be another fantastic year in northern Victoria. The reason for this is markedly different from 2009. Rather than Australia being in drought, there is an abundance of water. As the inland areas drying up, birds such as Banded Stilt, that had been breeding at Lake Eyre, are now heading to southerly sites such as Lake Tutchewop (and it won't be long until the birds are seen at the Western Treatment Plant and Moolap Salt Works). The same goes for many other species, such as such as Budgerigar, Black Honeyeater, Banded Stilt and Grey Teal. Due to the rains, we are also fortunate to have an increase in the numbers of localised species such as Little Button-quail, Brown Quail and Buff-banded Rail. 

Tresco West Bushland Reserve - The Daisy Patch 
Tresco West Bushland Reserve is located 3 km south-west of Lake Boga. To get there take the Lalbert Rd out of town, passing the golf course. The Reserve borders the Lake Boga Golf Course (a good spot for birds), and surrounds the Golf Course Lake.
Somewhat similar to Goschen (in terms of birds and vegetation), the habitat around the edges of the golf course includes several stands of Long-leaf Emu-bush, where you can look for Black and Pied Honeyeater, while Little Button-quail occur in areas of long grass around the golf course. Here you may also see Blue Bonnet, Cockatiel, Budgerigar, Pied Butcherbird, Variegated Fairy-wren, Zebra Finch and, occasionally, Crimson Chat and Red-backed Kingfisher. When the water level is just right, the saline Golf Course Lake attracts shorebirds such as Red-necked Avocet, Banded and Black-winged Stilt, Greenshank and Marsh Sandpiper, and flocks of hawking Whiskered Tern (spring).

Probably the best spot for woodland birds at Tresco West is the south side of the lake, particularly the south-east corner. To get there, from the Golf Course, continue along Lalbert Rd to the reserves south-west corner. Here several tracks head east – the southern-most track is named Winery Rd. Birdwatch along both tracks for the next kilometre. In spring, this is a good area for Black Honeyeater, particularly in the stands of Long-leaf Emu-Bush, located the grassy woodlands bordering the lakes.

A small patch of Spinifex (Triodia scariosa) at Tresco. Is this the most south-eastern 
patch of this Spinifex in Australia? As far as I am aware, it is at least 100 km from other known sites.

Other birds here include Pied Butcherbird, Crimson Chat, Rainbow Bee-eater, Singing, White-fronted and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, White-browed Babbler, Blue Bonnet, Cockatiel and Budgerigar, occasionally Red-backed Kingfisher, and Zebra Finch. 

Other Birding Locations in the Area 
When visiting Goschen Bushland Reserve, there are a number of other excellent birding locations nearby (discussed below).
Round Lake on Ultima-Lake Boga Rd, west of Lake Boga.

Round Lake and the Eremophila Patch 
One kilometre west of the township of Lake Boga, on the Ultima-Lake Boga Rd, I always stop for a look at Round Lake. Here you may see Whiskered Tern (summer), Black-winged Stilt, Hardhead, Australasian Shoveler, Blue-billed, Pink-eared and Freckled (rare) Duck, Great Crested, Hoary-headed and Australasian Grebe, Great, Intermediate and Little Egret, and, when the water level is low, Australian Spotted and Spotless Crake feed on the muddy edges. Along the roadside here, you can see Yellow-throated Miner, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Tree Martin, and White-breasted Woodswallow.

Just north of here, a kilometre along Long Lake Rd, there is a nice patch of Long-leaf Emu-bush, which, when flowering (usually late spring), attract birds such as Black, Singing and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, White-winged Triller and Rainbow Bee-eater.

4000+ Banded Stilt on Lake Tutchewop (Nov 2011). There has been an 
influx of this species - arriving in Victoria after breeding at Lake Eyre.

Lake Tutchewop
The saltbush surrounding the Ramsar-listed Lake Tutchewop supports a healthy population of White-winged Fairy-wren and, in late spring/summer, Orange Chat. The best place to see them is along a track that runs along the western side of the lake (between it and a small water channel). The southern entrance leaves the Murray Valley Hwy, beginning immediately north of the Lake Steggals Rd intersection. The tracks northern entrance starts on the Benjeroop-Tresco Rd – starting immediately after you cross a small water channel 3 km west of the Murray Valley Hwy. Lake Tutchewop is a hyper-saline lake, it is part of the Barr Creek Drainage Disposal Scheme, which divert 550,000 tonnes of salt each year away from the Murray River.

Aside from White-winged Fairy-wren and Orange Chat have a look for Blue-winged Parrot, Blue Bonnet, Cockatiel, Black-faced Woodswallow, Brown Songlark, Fairy Martin, White-fronted Chat, and Zebra Finch, and raptors such as White-bellied and Wedge-tailed Sea-Eagle and Marsh and Spotted Harrier.

Lake Tutchewop is also major inland site for migratory shorebirds. Some of the shorebirds I've recorded here include Common Greenshank, Red-necked Stint, Curlew, Marsh and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Double-banded (winter) and Red-capped Plover, Banded (4000+ in 2011) and Black-winged Stint, Red-necked Avocet and Banded Lapwing. Waterbirds using the lake include Pink-eared and Freckled (rare) Duck, Grey Teal, Australasian Shoveler, Caspian and Whiskered Tern, and occasionally Gull-billed and White-winged Black Tern.

White-breasted Woodswallow, Round Lake.

Lake Boga
The home of the Catalina (housed in the newly built Hangar), given the right conditions, waterbird can be plentiful on Lake Boga. After years of uncertainty during the drought, in 2010 Lake Boga was reinstated as part of the Mid Murray Storage system (for the Murray Darling River Basin), and was filled with water. It covers approximately 2000 acres and holds in excess of 37,000 mega litres. Here I have seen Great Crested Grebe, Whiskered, Caspian and Gull-billed Tern, Blue-billed, Pink-eared, Musk and Freckled (rare) Duck, Australasian Shoveler, Black-fronted Dotterel, while Blue-faced Honeyeater feed in the trees around the lake. In spring and summer, White-breasted Woodswallow roost on the powerlines around the Lake Boga.

Gull-billed Tern: an occasional visitor
to Lake Boga and Lake Tutchewop.
Foster Swamp
Just north of Kerang, Foster Swamp, and the adjacent to the Kerang Treatment Plant, at the end of Park St, are worth investigating, particularly in summer when species such as Greenshank, Marsh, Wood, Curlew and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and Pacific Golden Plover, start appearing in southern Australia.

Other birds here include Whiskered and Gull-billed Tern, Australasian Shoveler, Pink-eared and Freckled (rare) Duck, Black-tailed Native-hen, Red-kneed and Black-fronted Dotterel, Australian Spotted and Baillon’s Crake, Black-winged and Banded Stilt, Red-necked Avocet, and White-winged Fairy-wren.

Loddon Weir
Just north of Kerang, it is visiting the Loddon Weir, located on Weir Rd. I've recorded a nice collection of interesting species here including Gilbert’s Whistler, Western Gerygone, Painted Honeyeater, Red-capped Robin, Grey-crowned Babbler, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, White-breasted Woodswallow and Chestnut-rumped Thornbill.

Black Honeyeater.
Back Swamp
Located in Kerang, Back Swamp is a series of wetlands between the town and the Loddon River, and there are usually  a nice selection of birds here, such as Glossy Ibis, Buff-banded Rail, Nankeen Night Heron, Grey-crowned Babbler, White-winged and Variegated Fairy-wren, Little Friarbird and Blue-faced Honeyeater. Blue-faced Honeyeater is also found in Atkinson Park (in the main street of Kerang), and, when the gums are flowering, there can be large numbers of Musk and Little Lorikeet.

Gama Roadside Reserve 
Approximately 100 km west of Goschen, another good site nearby for Black Honeyeater is the small  roadside reserve at the locality of Gama, on the corner of Gama Sea Lake Rd and the Sunraysia Highway, Again, the best time to look is when Long-leaf Emu-bush (Eremophila longifolia) is flowering, in spring and summer. Despite its size (it hardly seems to be a reserve at all), looks can be deceptive.

Aside from Black Honeyeater, other birds I've seen here include Brown Quail, Mulga Parrot, Blue Bonnet, Variegated Fairy-wren, Yellow-plumed, White-fronted, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, White-winged Triller, Rufous Songlark, Hooded Robin and White-backed Swallow.

A superb ground cover of Pink Mulla Mulla (Ptilotus exaltus), Rough Halgania (Halgania cyanea) and  Inland Pigface (Carpobrotus modestus).

Sunset at Goschen: reminiscent of the twilight in the more arid areas of Australia such as Gluepot and Round Hill.

Goschen Flora Reserve

Location: 35°28'33"S 143°27'12"E
Description: Mallee Reserve between Ultima and Lake Boga.
Observer:Tim Dolby
Notes: This is a complete list of species seen by me at Goschen (visited first in 1989, records from 1995 to 2011).
Species: 75
Common Names

SpeciesScientific NameCountComment
Australian ShelduckTadorna tadornoides
1 pair flying over.
Stubble QuailCoturnix pectoralis
Several in farmland area in north-east.
Brown QuailCoturnix ypsilophora
Small group walking on side of Ultima–Lake Boga Rd.
White-necked HeronArdea pacifica
1 near dam in north-east.
Black KiteMilvus migrans
Several birds along Ultima–Lake Boga Rd.
Spotted HarrierCircus assimilis
1 seen feeding over bordering farmland.
Brown GoshawkAccipiter fasciatus
1 seen
Collared SparrowhawkAccipiter cirrocephalus
Several records.
Wedge-tailed EagleAquila audax
Several records, usually in pairs.
Nankeen KestrelFalco cenchroides
Regular records.
Brown FalconFalco berigora
Several records.
Peregrine FalconFalco peregrinus
Occasionally seen perched on communication tower, hunting woodswallows and budgies etc.
Little Button-quailTurnix velox
Reasonably common. Usually one or two birds (sometimes more) can be flushed from grassland/old cricket pitch area. Common and very vocal in spring 2011.
Common BronzewingPhaps chalcoptera
Crested PigeonOcyphaps lophotes
Peaceful DoveGeopelia placida
Reasonably common.
GalahEolophus roseicapilla
Little CorellaCacatua sanguinea
Single small flock.
CockatielNymphicus hollandicus
In spring and summer, usually 2 or 3 birds in the reserve (always seen flying).
Eastern RosellaPlatycercus eximius
Reasonably common.
Red-rumped ParrotPsephotus haematonotus
Blue BonnetNorthiella haematogaster
Usually one or two birds on property - far more common along roadside between Goschen and Lake Boga
Blue-winged ParrotNeophema chrysostoma
Several small flocks seen (and heard) overhead.
BudgerigarMelopsittacus undulatus
Nomadic, and irregular. In a good year you may get small groups feeding grass areas. In 2011 at least 400 birds were present over the whole reserve.
Horsfield's Bronze-CuckooChrysococcyx basalis
Usually 1 or two birds in spring and summer.
Southern BoobookNinox novaeseelandiae
1 heard calling over night 2011.
Australian Owlet-nightjarAegotheles cristatus
Sometimes flushed from dead tree holes in south-east corner of the reserve. At night, several birds can be heard.
Sacred KingfisherTodiramphus sanctus
Several records.
Rainbow Bee-eaterMerops ornatus
Reasonably common in spring and summer. 2011 is a particularly good year for this species.
Brown TreecreeperClimacteris picumnus
Common, with several families.
Variegated Fairy-wrenMalurus lamberti
Several family groups in the reserve.
Pied HoneyeaterCerthionyx variegatus
Up t0 15 birds present in 2009, also a few birds in 2011.
Singing HoneyeaterLichenostomus virescens
White-plumed HoneyeaterLichenostomus penicillatus
White-fronted HoneyeaterPurnella albifrons
Nomadic and fluctuating. In winter 2008 it was the most common honeyeater on the reserve.
Yellow-throated MinerManorina flavigula
One main family, usually in the north-east section - although they they move around.
Spiny-cheeked HoneyeaterAcanthagenys rufogularis
Usually common - although number fluctuate.
Crimson ChatEpthianura tricolor
Good numbers in 2009 (15+).
Black HoneyeaterSugomel niger
Present most year in spring summer. Large numbers in 2009 and 2011.
Brown-headed HoneyeaterMelithreptus brevirostris
Mod common.
Spotted PardalotePardalotus punctatus
Mod common.
Striated PardalotePardalotus striatus
Mod common.
Yellow-rumped ThornbillAcanthiza chrysorrhoa
Usually several parties bordering paddocks.
Chestnut-rumped ThornbillAcanthiza uropygialis
Small flock, usually just east of communication tower near Ultima–Lake Boga Rd.
WeebillSmicrornis brevirostris
Mod common.
Western GerygoneGerygone fusca
Single bird seen in 2003.
White-browed BabblerPomatostomus superciliosus
Several happy families.
Masked WoodswallowArtamus personatus
Often in large numbers, usually in association with White-browed Woodswallow.
White-browed WoodswallowArtamus superciliosus
Often is large numbers. Literally thousands seen in Nov 2011.
Dusky WoodswallowArtamus cyanopterus
Not nearly as common as Masked and White-browed.
Pied ButcherbirdCracticus nigrogularis
One of two birds present - usually along roadside vegetation in far east of reserve.
Australian MagpieGymnorhina tibicen
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikeCoracina novaehollandiae
Mod common.
White-winged TrillerLalage sueurii
Regular during spring and summer, with numbers fluctuating (- being higher in some years i.e. 2009.
Varied SittellaDaphoenositta chrysoptera
Several families seen over the year.
Rufous WhistlerPachycephala rufiventris
Mod common.
Grey Shrike-thrushColluricincla harmonica
Mod common.
Willie WagtailRhipidura leucophrys
Grey FantailRhipidura albiscapa
Mod common.
Magpie-larkGrallina cyanoleuca
Australian RavenCorvus coronoides
White-winged ChoughCorcorax melanorhamphos
Mod common.
Red-capped RobinPetroica goodenovii
Mod common.
Hooded RobinMelanodryas cucullata
Mod common - good numbers in 2011.
Welcome SwallowHirundo neoxena
Fairy MartinPetrochelidon ariel
Mod common - number fluctuate.
Tree MartinPetrochelidon nigricans
Far more common than Fairy.
Brown SonglarkCincloramphus cruralis
In summer, mod common near farmland, and in cricket pitch.
Rufous SonglarkCincloramphus mathewsi
Numbers fluctuate, and can be quite common. Large numbers in spring 2011.
Common BlackbirdTurdus merula
Several birds, usually around the tennis court.
SilvereyeZosterops lateralis
Quite uncommon.
Common StarlingSturnus vulgaris
Mod common near farmland.
Australasian PipitAnthus novaeseelandiae
Mod common.
House SparrowPasser domesticus
Common near tennis court.
Zebra FinchTaeniopygia guttata
Surprisingly rare (probably due to lack of water) recorded once in 2009 near grassy area south of tennis court.

Tim Dolby (Nov 2011)