Myrniong: landscape and birds

One of the locations I visited in my recent trip to Victoria and Tassie was Myrniong, about halfway between Melbourne and Ballarat, not far from Bacchus Marsh. Melbourne’s West is drier than its East, and the Myrniong landscape is not unlike that of Sunbury, with bare hills dissected by deep narrow valleys; Lerderderg Gorge, nearby, is just one of the bigger examples.

The property was an outdoor education centre, much used by school groups, and featured an artificial lake near the campus buildings high on the hill above the river.

Myrniong
Looking down on the Werribee River gorge

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Spice Finches in Ross River parkland

brown birds feeding on grass
Spice Finches feeding
brown bird - back view
Spice Finch (juvenile) in the long grass

These little birds, Spice Finches (Lonchura punctulata), look very much the same as sparrows but are even smaller (11cm to the sparrows’ 15cm) and their coloration is somewhat different. Juveniles are plain brown above and below, while the adults have chestnut faces and a scale-like pattern on the belly feathers.

Both are actually exotics which are well established here and both are technically finches – not that we normally think of sparrows as such.

The Spice Finch, also known as the Scaly-breasted Munia or Mannikin (see note on Birdway), is native to tropical Asia, occurring from India and Sri Lanka east to Indonesia and the Philippines. It has been introduced into many other parts of the world and feral populations are established in the USA and Central America as well as here. Slater’s Field Guide says that in Australia it is resident in coastal eastern Australia, mainly from Sydney to SE Queensland “but spreading”.

The species seems to be well established around Townsville. On checking older photos in preparation for this post I found that I had photographed them along Ross River on three other occasions and on the Town Common. This small flock was feeding in parkland beside Ross River, Mundingburra, when I spotted them, taking to the long grass and then to a leafless tree when I approached too close for their peace of mind.

brown finches on twig
Spice Finches (adults)