Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Victoria Dam: Perth's Hidden Endemic Hotspot

For years, visiting twitchers in a hurry to see some South-west endemics have headed out on Albany Highway in solemn pilgrimage to Wungong Gorge. While many have no doubt succeeded (though recently it has been less reliable for Red-eared Firetail), Wungong is to be honest a fairly dismal place, heavily degraded with weed growth (not to mention the occasional seedy characters hanging round the toilet block!). Well, allow Leeuwin Current Birding to reveal our preferred one-stop-shop for all the local endemics: Victoria Dam (alternatively known as Victoria Reservoir).

Victoria Dam is reached by an access road signposted off Masonmill Rd, a short loop road off Canning Rd in Carmel. A short distance along the access road, you reach a boom gate with a carpark on the right .On weekends, the boom gate is closed, so you have to park in this carpark and walk the rest of the way along the access road (about 1km each way). When the first gate is open, you can drive further along the access road until you reach another boom gate, with a second carpark on the left. The road is no public access (by car or on foot) from this point on as it’s the ranger’s residence, so you need to park here.  There is a walk trail leading downhill from this carpark to the base of the dam wall (see map below). This trail passes through an area of nice marri/jarrah forest, past a small patch of wandoo, and onto a set of wooden steps that lead down to the top of the dam wall (Perth city is visible in the distance from the top of the steps, framed by the sides of the valley). From the top of the dam, you can follow a bitumen road down to the base of the dam wall, where there is a grassed picnic area and toilets. Thickets of ti-tree and Calothamnus beneath the dam wall, and thick vegetation along the creekline, provide dense cover for some of south-west WA’s more secretive, gully-loving bird species.

A female Western Spinebill, one of many south-west endemics commonly found at Victoria Dam.

11 of the 15 South-west WA endemics regularly occur at the site. These are:

Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo and Baudin’s Black-Cockatoo - both occur regularly in the area (so you might need this previous blog post to help sort them out!), but Baudin's is generally commoner. Black-cockatoos are most often seen flying down the valley, or perching in trees along the access road.
Red-capped Parrot - also quite common throughout the area
Western Rosella - fairly common resident, though can be quite unobtrusive. Usually most commonly seen in the thicker vegetation towards the bottom of the valley, particularly around the lawn area.
Red-winged Fairy-wren - reliable in the valley, particularly around the base of the dam, and in a patch of grasstrees on the gravel track down the valley. Note Splendid Wren is also common – males in breeding plumage should be simple to separate; for females look for chocolate brown wings, a darker overall appearance, chestnut around the lores, and very limited blue in the tail on female Red-wingeds. Differences between eclipse males are similar to those between females, except eclipse male Red-wings have black rather than chestnut lores.
Western Thornbill - Regular, though less commonly seen than some of the other endemics found here. Typically favours areas of woodland, particularly jarrah-marri with grass trees, so is usually best seen in such areas along the access road, and along the upper half of the walking track to the base of the dam (the section between the carpark and the wooden steps).

Western Wattlebird - Most regularly seen along the access road, particularly in areas of Banksia and Dryandra when in flower. It’s presence is usually betrayed by it’s distinctive calls.
Western White-naped Honeyeater - regularly seen throughout the area, particularly favouring marri trees. Often most easily located by its harsh calls.
Western Spinebill - common, particularly when there is plentiful blossom, when they can be one of the commonest species in the area. Particularly good areas include the low shrubs around the second carpark, and flowering shrubs along the access road

White-breasted Robin - very reliable in the dense thickets lining the road running back towards the base of the dam wall, and regularly feeds along the edge of the lawn area at the base of the dam.
Red-eared Firetail - fairly regular around the creek and old dam pond (as a rule, Red-eareds are never far from water), but always unobtrusive and can take some patience, particularly if it isn’t calling. Occasionally recorded along the access road as well.

Female Red-winged Fairy-wren - note the relatively dark overall apperance, and chestnut on the lores that separate it from female Splendid Fairy-wren.

The Western Rosella is a common resident at Victoria Dam, particularly around the base of the dam.

White-breasted Robins are usually seen quite easily feeding on the edges of the grassed area at the base of the dam.

In addition to the endemic species listed above, Victoria Dam is good for a variety of other bushbirds including Splendid Fairy-wren, Golden Whistler, Western Gerygone, Scarlet Robin, New Holland Honeyeater, and Spotted Pardalote. A few waterbirds can also be seen on occasion around the dam, including White-faced Heron, Great-crested Grebe, and Spotless Crake (which occurs in the reeds at the base of the dam). Other particularly notable species that are regularly seen in the area include:

Western Yellow Robin - Not an endemic, but still a sought-after ‘WA speciality’. The bush around the two carparks on the access road is the best area for these, although the area around the first carpark has been less reliable of late. Despite being bright yellow, these often sit motionless so can take some patience to spot.
Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo subsp. naso - regularly seen flying along the valley, or in trees along the access road

Square-tailed Kite - regularly seen in the area, particularly soaring overhead along the access road. Can be seen anytime of the year, but most common in spring and summer
Red-browed Finch - introduced to WA, with small established populations  in a few Darling Range valleys including this one. Sometimes seen around the lawn area at the base of the dam. However, if you’re particularly keen to see this species, stop in for refreshments at the Melville Rose Nursery on Masonmill Rd - the Red-browed Finches can usually be seen with a short wander around the rose gardens (and sometimes from the tables in the cafĂ©!)

Western Yellow Robin at Victoria Dam.

Square-tailed Kite at Victoria Dam - these are regularly seen soaring over the area, particularly along the access road.

An introduced Red-browed Finch - if you're keen to see this species, the nearby Melville Rose Nursery is worth a visit, though they are sometimes seen at the base of Victoria Dam itself.

The Walk

The walk from the top carpark down to the valley floor via the reservoir view point is about 1 kilometre. Numbers correspond to photos below.

Open jarrah/marri forest east of the second carpark – this area forms the territory of several Western Yellow Robins. Also look for Western Spinebill and Black-Cockatoos.

From the upper carpark, follow the walking track down the hill to the left (do not take the road – no pedestrian access). As you descend you enter thicker jarrah/marri forest with a tangled understorey of grasstrees – look here for birds like Western Thornbill and Western White-naped Honeyeater.

As you approach the reservoir, you will pass a small patch of wandoo woodland. Wandoo-associated birds such as Brown-headed Honeyeater are seen here occasionally. When you reach the dam, follow the wooden stairs then the road further down into the valley beneath the dam wall.

As you reach the valley floor, double back again towards the main dam wall. The dense ti-tree and Calothamnus thickets on the upper side of this road are a very reliable spot for White-breasted Robin, Red-winged Fairy-Wren, and Golden Whistler.

The grassed picnic areas, the swampy creek line, and the old dam pool on the valley floor are a reasonably reliable spot to see Red-eared Firetail (note, introduced Red-browed Firetail may be present as well), along with White-breasted Robin and Red-winged Fairy-wren. The valley is also good for Western Rosella and Red-capped Parrot.

The view down the valley towards Perth, showing signs of the chronic drought stress suffered by many parts of the Darling Scarp. Keep an eye out for flyovers by Square-tailed Kite, which are reasonable regular at the site. It is possible to walk further down the valley towards Bickley Valley (itself a good site for all the above endemics), or even complete a 6km circular walk around to the base of the access road, see: http://www.perthtourism.com.au/trail/65/253/victoria-reservoir-walk-trail.html


  1. Thanks for the excellent article on Victoria Dam, I went mid week & saw about half the endemics, including getting some reasonable shots of a pair of white-breasted robins on the edge of the lawns.


    Best Regards - John Anderson