Bird Watching - Swan Bay, Queenscliff

Nearly 200 species of birds have been seen in Swan Bay. The area has been internationally recognised as a very significant habitat for water birds and is listed on the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. The intertidal mudflats of Swan Bay are home each summer to about 10,000 migratory waders, such as plovers, sandpipers, godwits, knots and curlews.

The Bay is an important destination for many species which breed as far away as high arctic Siberia and Alaska. Some weigh as little as 30 grams, the weight of a box of matches, yet they fly a round trip of over 24,000 kilometres every year! Eighteen species of wader occur regularly in Swan Bay, reflecting the diversity of invertebrate food in the intertidal mudflats. Each species has a uniquely shaped bill specifically adapted to catch particular invertebrates. In this way, many species can coexist. A good place for observing feeding waders is on the intertidal mudflats around Swan Island.

The most common waders in Swan Bay are the Red-necked Stint (4,000), Curlew Sandpiper (3,000), Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (800), Bar-tailed Godwit (500+), Eastern Curlew (250+) and Grey Plover (200+). The Bay holds a significant proportion of the populations of most of these species.

The Pied Oystercatcher is a common wader which breeds in Swan Bay. These conspicuous black and white birds can be seen flying around the southern parts of the Bay or foraging on the mudflats, probing for invertebrates with their long red bills.

Accompanying the waders on the mudflats are local species, including the Chestnut Teal (a duck), and larger birds such as Royal Spoonbills and Sacred Ibis. Together with the waders, their lives follow a rhythm determined by the tides, feeding during low tide, day or night, and returning to safe roosts on the shores of the Bay as the tide rises again. Up to 300 Chestnut Teal and 120 Royal Spoonbills have been seen there.

Matthew Flinders named Swan Bay 'Swan Ponds', after its Black Swans. These occur in most seasons. Largest numbers, up to 2,700, can be seen in summer and early autumn. These are the only birds which graze the seagrass meadows and their presence in such large numbers attests to the richness of the area.

One of Australia's most endangered birds, the Orange-bellied Parrot, flies to the Bay from its breeding grounds in south-west Tasmania to spend the winter and early spring. It feeds on the flowers and seeds of plants which grow in the saline marshes around the Bay's margins and on the fairways of the golf course on Swan Island. This species has declined in number because of the destruction of its saltmarsh habitat. Most of the remaining population of some 120 birds is supported by only three areas in Victoria: Lake Connewarre, Point Wilson (near Werribee) and Swan Bay.

The rare Fairy Tern is a small grey and white bird with a black cap, long pointed wings and an orange bill. It dives for small fish in the shallow waters of the Bay. The sand dredged from Queenscliff channel at the southern end of Swan Bay has been piped to form an island, and one of the few colonies of this species in Victoria breeds there. Other terns which can be regularly seen are the larger Crested Tern and, largest of all, the Caspian Tern. In summer, flocks of Common Terns, which have migrated from breeding grounds on lakes in northern China and eastern Russia, roost on beaches at the Bay's entrances.

Swan Bay is a great place to get away from it all. Only just over an hour from Melbourne or twenty minutes from Geelong, it can be reached easily for a quiet Sunday trip. Why not get to know the area better and stay for longer in one of the many caravan parks or lovely old Victorian hotels and guest houses in Queenscliff?

Go for a quiet stroll along the shores of the Bay from Queenscliff. Or walk along the beach or the track at Edward Point Wildlife Reserve near St Leonards. A quiet boat trip across the Bay in pleasant weather is also worthwhile. Whatever you choose, stop from time to time and look around you.

Crabs run across wet sand, a banjo shark glides by, other fish jump out of the water, a flock of Cormorants frantically follows a shoal of young fish, or a graceful black and white Pelican glides to a smooth landing on the water. Swan Bay is a place for contemplation, for appreciating the natural world.

Those with more than a passing interest in nature will find many things to do. Swan Bay offers a wide range of passive recreation opportunities, from some of Victoria's best bird-watching, to studying plants and wildflowers, or sketching and painting the many moods of the area. It is well worth taking a closer look and spending a bit more time in the Swan Bay - Queenscliff area.

Location:  approximately 5km from Beacon Resort