And he has only viewed a small section of the beach following the fires – he estimates that “thousands” more birds would have died in the area.
“The birds who avoided the firestorm are struggling to survive about the town, where residents are putting out water, seed and fruit, hoping it will save some of them.”
He said the only birds that appeared to have made it through the fire unscathed were seagulls, which were feeding on some of the honeyeaters that had washed up on the beach.
“If you walked into the bush at the moment you probably wouldn’t hear anything. It’s silent, there’s no food and it’s all burnt land.”
Age photographer Justin McManus, who has been capturing the fire’s devastation in Mallacoota for the past week, has described what it was like coming across the grisly scene:
“Among the ash, hard to see at first, is the familiar bright plumage of some of our most iconic birds. The vivid blues, yellows, reds and greens of rainbow lorikeets, of crimson rosellas, of yellow-tailed black cockatoos, whipbirds, honeyeaters and robins,” he wrote.
“We walk carefully, not wanting to step on the carcasses of dead birds. The closer we look, the more we begin to comprehend the extent of the carnage. It is overwhelming and deeply sad.”
Parks Victoria’s science manager Mark Antos said it was too early to provide an estimate of the proportion of the area’s bird population that had been wiped out by fire.
Dr Antos said that during the fires, the birds that have since washed up on the beach outside Mallacoota would have had no other option than to fly out over the water, only to eventually succumb to exhaustion and smoke inhalation.
“A lot of people are under the impression that birds can easily fly away from a fire, but that’s not true,” he said.
He said East Gippsland was “one of the richest areas anywhere in the state for birds”, and that the area was home to a number of species that were the focus of conservation efforts.
Dr Antos said Parks Victoria was concerned most of the fire’s impact on the ground parrot, the glossy black cockatoo and the endangered eastern bristlebird.
Mr Semmens said the amount of bird life in Mallacoota had been dwindling even before the destruction wrought by this summer’s fires.
He said the number of native bird species he could observe in the area had been declining in recent years, going from 50 to little more than two dozen.
He blames climate change for drier weather in the region and is uncertain whether the area’s birdlife will be able to recover from this summer’s fires.
“I’ll keep doing these surveys to show there are no birds left,” he said.
Craig Butt joined The Age in 2011 and specialises in data-driven journalism.