I?ve just returned from a two and a half week inland trip, visiting Sturt
NP, the Innamincka area and far south-west Qld. Among the many highlights
were seeing Brolgas dancing and great flocks of Orange Chats, and watching
birds during a dust storm was a novel experience to say the least, but more
on those later. This was only my second trip to the area, having also
visited most of these places in 1995, and I found one of the best things
about going to the same places more than once is that you start to get a
sense of the incredible and dramatic transformations the land undergoes as a
result of varying rainfall, and how this affects the birds.
Unfortunately my trip happened to coincide with the Birdsville Races (3-4
September) so for a few days before that there was a fair bit of 4WD traffic
and even large buses hellbent on getting to Birdsville and the campsites
were quite crowded and noisy on some nights. It?s worth remembering these
dates when planning your trip.
I travelled alone, in a Corona station wagon (not 4WD) and camped in a small
tent. What follows are some of my impressions (with apologies to those who
have more experience of these areas than I do, if my observations are
commonplace and my ramblings too self-indulgent!).
STURT NATIONAL PARK, NSW (28 August ? 1 September 1999)
The elegantly twisted Western Bloodwood trees and the tors of rounded
boulders create an unusual and picturesque landscape at Dead Horse Gully,
where an early morning walk produced some extremely enjoyable birding with
Red-backed Kingfisher, Horsfield?s Bronze-Cuckoo, White-backed Swallow,
Red-browed Pardalote, Blue Bonnet, White-winged Triller, White-winged
Fairy-wren, Chirruping Wedgebill, Black-faced Woodswallow, Crimson and
Orange Chats, Singing and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters, and a new bird for me,
the Ground Cuckoo-shrike, all on one particular flat not far from the
campsite. The two loop drives are well worth doing and at Mount Wood I again
saw Ground Cuckoo-shrikes ? a striking bird, it was giving an extraordinary
resonant call which reminded me of a large squeaky wheel interspersed with
South Myers Tank on the Jump-Up Loop attracted a good congregation of
waterbirds including Grey Teal, Pink-eared Ducks, Hardheads, three species
of cormorant, two of grebe, Black-fronted and Red-kneed Dotterel and mobs of
Galahs, Little Corellas, Cockatiels and Zebra Finches coming in to drink. A
hide has been built here which makes things rather comfortable although some
of its view is obscured by bushes and I ended up seeing more from outside
the hide. Closer to Olive Downs a Spotted Harrier soared low over the road.
Fort Grey at Lake Pinaroo is one of my very favourite places so I spent two
days there wandering around the dunes and lake bed. Lake Pinaroo fills with
water when nearby Frome Swamp overflows but most of the time it?s dry. This
time I was astonished to find the deeply cracked clay lakebed had
transformed into an incredibly lush green meadow, the dead coolibahs
standing as a proud contrast to the thick fresh growth at their feet. The
whole place was overflowing with life. Kangaroos and Emus all over the
lakebed, huge mobs of noisy Corellas and Galahs, Black-faced Woodswallows
perched in every dead tree, both martins swooping around everywhere, Brown
Songlarks pumping out their rusty song from aloft and descending with raised
wings, Banded Lapwings flying past with their wild metallic cries, and the
most memorable birds of all ? the Orange Chats. Hundreds of them bouncing
all over the lakebed, the most brilliant orangey-yellow imaginable in the
sunlight sitting up on clumps of green herbage, or all taking to the air
together like sparks flying from a fire.
At the campsite it was no surprise to find Red-browed Pardalotes were one of
the most common birds just as they were in 95, I again got good views of a
Crested Bellbird singing its strangely waxing-and-waning song, and at night
the Owlet-nightjar was vocal as it was four years ago.
On the dunes a White-breasted Woodswallow sat high on a dead branch singing
an extended song which included mimicry, and as I listened I became aware
that this seemingly random collection of sounds was in fact a repeated
cycle. A very inquisitive male Mistletoebird came down close to check me out
as I sat under the shade of a tree on the last dune overlooking Lake
Pinaroo. What a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
Cameron?s Corner, at exactly 29 degrees E, 141 degrees S, provided an
opportunity to test the accuracy of the GPS I?d hired from Birds Australia
and I was pleased to find it was only 5 seconds out. Or looked at another
way, the Corner is in the right place (more or less).
INNAMINCKA AREA, SA (1-5 September 1999)
I used Innamincka as a base from which to make day trips in every possible
direction (but unfortunately didn?t get to Coongie this time). The rest of
the time was spent relaxing beside Cooper Creek. From my tent I could watch
Pelicans floating by, Black Kites bathing, Whistling Kites catching fish,
Budgerigars drinking, Red-rumped Parrots at their hollow, White-plumed
Honeyeaters building a nest, Australian Ravens getting up to mischief and
Brown Treecreepers foraging on the ground. An immature White-necked Heron
feeding near my campsite would regularly arouse the wrath of territorial
White-faced Heron. Further along the creek were Yellow-billed Spoonbills,
Black-tailed Native-hens, Great Egret and Caspian Tern.
When I visited this area in 1995, recent rains had turned the Strzelecki
floodplain into a green parkland and all the sand dunes were carpeted with
wildflowers like a fantastic garden; this time the area was much drier.
Nevertheless like an idiot I persisted in trudging over dune after dune in
the hot sun in various places, in the hope of striking it lucky and finding
Eyrean Grasswrens in the canegrass, which was often thick and plentiful. No
such luck, but I did find Southern Whiteface, Red-backed Kingfisher,
Horsfield?s Bronze-Cuckoo, Crimson Chats, Chestnut-rumped Thornbills,
Variegated and plenty of White-winged Fairy-wrens and other common birds.
Much more productive were the waterholes, and finding three Brolgas at
Cullyamurra Waterhole was a thrill for me. On stony ground 29km south of
Innamincka on the old Strzelecki Track I saw Cinnamon Quail-thrush, possibly
the same spot where I saw it in 95. Incidentally, a new road opened in 1996
bypasses the last 45km of old Strzelecki Track on the eastern side and if
you follow the signposts marked to Innamincka (coming from the south) this
is the way you will be directed. However if conditions are good, the old
track is much more pleasant, and shorter.
I am rather fond of woodswallows (as those who have noticed my email address
might have figured out), so what bliss when nearly every bird you see turns
out to be a Black-faced Woodswallow! How I love watching them soar.
I was thinking how idyllic this all was when suddenly, on the morning of the
4th, the peace was shattered as a strong wind arrived and the River Red Gums
started throwing down their branches. At 3pm I wrote: ?The wind has been
blowing relentlessly all day, whipping up palls of dust in a hot dry frenzy.
Nothing escapes the bombardment of fine grit ? my eyes sting, it crunches
between my teeth. The landscape is cloaked in en eerie haze reminiscent of a
bad bushfire day but without the ominous smell of smoke. I watch the kites
buoyantly riding the wind in their dozens, sometimes in an ever-turning
column, sometimes more spread out, each getting blown sideways, backwards,
tails always twisting.? It eventually eased at 4.30pm, not before a greatly
refreshing swim in the Cooper. I was surprised to see a flock of Rainbow
Bee-eaters flying over during the height of the dust-storm; I had also heard
them migrating near Cameron Corner on the 1st.
SOUTH-WEST QUEENSLAND (5-8 September 1999)
From Nappa Merrie to Cunnamulla was all new territory for me. Vast expanses
of gibber with a sparse covering of Mitchell Grass and other small plants
dominated the western part and just a few kilometres into Queensland I
stopped when some small birds with yellow and black tails caught my eye. At
last, my first Gibberbirds, engaging in a lively round of chasing, with
surprisingly long wings I thought. One looked just beautiful perched up on a
fist sized rock.
As with the rest of the trip, I stopped often in a range of habitats to do
20 minute Atlas searches. A frequent problem I found was the well-meaning
concern of other motorists at seeing a car stopped by the side of the road
in the middle of nowhere. Once, on the Grey Range, I had the police pull up
and examine my car and I had to make a hasty return from across a gully to
explain why I was stopped. In future I think I?ll make a sign to put in the
window: ?Not in need of assistance, just birdwatching. Thank you.?
Anyway, at a floodway a few kilometres east of the Jackson Oil Field (at 27
40 09S, 142 33 11E), I came across the only real concentration of
honeyeaters for the entire trip. Attracted by flowering mistletoe in the
gidgee and a few eremophilas were Singing, White-plumed, Spiny-cheeked and
Brown Honeyeaters with a probable Black Honeyeater heard. This was a bit
further west than I would have expected the Brown Honeyeater. As for the
Singing, there was barely a place I stopped where there was no Singing
Honeyeater; it would have been my most often-recorded species.
Noccundra appeared out of nowhere, a surprise bonus which turned out to be a
real highlight. Situated by a waterhole on the Wilson River 140km west of
Thargomindah, it consists of only a beautiful sandstone hotel and some very
pleasant camping sites, with gidgee woodland predominating and some
yapunyahs and coolibahs along the river. Out early for a walk on my first
morning there, I came across two Brolgas feeding on the flat between the
hotel and the river, looking splendid in the dawn light. I slowly approached
as they moved toward the hotel, then suddenly one started bowing and curving
its long neck toward the other, then like an overexcited child it leapt up
and down, enormous wings outstretched, in several moments of graceful
weightlessness. This happened a few times, its partner playing cool and
continuing to feed. I felt so privileged.
Other species here included Yellow-billed and Royal Spoonbills, Darter,
Hardhead, Great Egret, Crested Bellbird, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill,
Budgerigar, Brown Songlark, Pallid Cuckoo, Black-faced and White-breasted
Woodswallows, Rainbow Bee-eaters, Mistletoebird, Red-browed Pardalote,
Restless Flycatcher, Grey Shrike-thrush and a Clamorous Reed-Warbler which
sang right through the night near my tent. To top all that off, as I was
leaving the next day I got excellent views of a Black-breasted Buzzard and a
Black Falcon within the first couple of kilometres.
A floodway 40km west of Thargomindah turned up some brilliantly colourful
Mulga Parrots and a pair of Bourke?s Parrots. At Thargomindah near the
Bulloo River I saw Little Friarbirds and White-winged Choughs near their
western limit and two White-browed Woodswallows very high harassing a Black
All my records are being sent to the Atlas. Anyone who wants more details on
any of the above is welcome to contact me.
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