Mungo NP report

To: "birding aus" <>
Subject: Mungo NP report
From: "Stephen Seymour" <>
Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2000 05:06:45 +1000
                    Report Date : 22nd September 2000

                                  MUNGO NATIONAL PARK
                          Thurs 14th to Sun 17th , September 2000
                                Part 2

While the kids were off exploring on the Saturday morning I elected
to do some serious solo birding to the south of the camp ground. This area
is bounded by the road back to Balranald on the east (and thus the nearby
western edge of the lake that it parallels), and the fence that forms the
Park boundary on the west, say about 1km wide, and initially includes the
area of the "Grasslands Nature Trail" that I described earlier, and I guess
I made my way about 2.5 to 3kms to the south. It was a little after 8.30
when I headed off and well after 11.00 before I returned, a clear mild and
perfect day to be wandering about in the bush.
     The time I spent out there was magic, the birds fantastic, and proved
some of the best birding I have done for a while. It was an extremely
pleasant way to spend the morning with just the birds and the Roos. Quite a
number of roos, all Western Greys, were either quietly feeding, the joeys
frolicking about their mothers , or lounging under the saltbush. A
particularly large male brought himself to his full height, looked at me
with his solemn dark face, scratched his chest with a backward lean of his
head, flicked his ears independently once or twice, decided I wasn't a
threat and reclined back under his bush, propped on one elbow, and seemed
to go back to dozing.
     This little expedition produced over 30 species, mostly the usual mob
of suspects I mentioned previously, and some of the hilights would include
the Black-shouldered Kite that flew by in low and level flight carrying a
silvery coloured reptile, which I assume may have been some sort of legless
lizard, probably about a foot long. It was south bound as I was so I hoped
we would meet again, and this is in fact how it turned out. 
    There is a number of Wilgas with heavy infestation of Mallee
Stranglevine and I was careful to inspect as many as I could, but found
nothing of interest. Rounding one such tree I flushed several White-fronted
Chats from various low saltbushes, and as they  showed a lot of agitation
and I suspect they had young and or nests nearby. Things got a bit hectic
at this point with White-winged Trillers, Red-cap Robins, Willie Wagtails,
Southern Whitefaces, and both Yellow-rumped and Chestnut-rumped Thornbills
all milling about and I was distracted from the "Tangs" when I became aware
of one small bird scurrying in an awkward manner along the ground in front
of me. "Ah, poor thing I thought", and moved towards it, only to have it
flutter feebly away a bit further. Still didn't twig, and followed it some
more, thinking "the poor little blighter", got a bit closer, but somehow it
found some strength from somewhere and staggered on, a most pathetic little
bundle of feathers, obviously on its last legs. This continued for a little
further , dodging in and around the Bluebush when , miraculously , this
poor crippled creature made an instant and complete recovery, and flew on
strong and steady wings to perch on a small Saltbush, with I swear a smirk
on his pure white face - "fooled you"?..., Yer' right?..the old broken-wing
trick and fully sucked in !!!!
     While this charade was being played out a Nankeen Kestrel made a
series of low fast passes over the tops of the bushes. I dont know if it
too had been drawn in, as it never came within more than 50meters or so,
and had little effect on the feeding Trillers but each time it whizzed over
the smaller Thornbills would duck for cover, but then quickly resume
    Moving a little to the east I saw a Black Kite lift from the top of a
tall Belar, make a slow circuit, than resume its perch. Looking through the
Binos I could see that the old stick nest in the next tree had its mate
sitting on the nest, so moved further to the south to avoid disturbing them
too much. This brought me back towards the Trillers and I decided to try
and count them , never having seen so many together before, but it was a
hopeless task as they were spread over such a large area of shrubs and
grasses, whilst many others were moving about in the Cassurinas. At one
stage I had 7 males in view, with many brown birds, and if pressed would
estimate possible 3 times this number of males in the immediate area. Mixed
in was Willie Wagtails, and just to keep up the black and white theme - a
male Hooded Robin.
       I kept on to the south  noting a single Horsefields Bronze-Cuckoo, a
female Rufous Whistler, and the first Brown Treecreepers. I was watching
the Black-faced Woodswallows flit and hawk about when a south bound
Black-shouldered Kite again passed me by, again with a thin reptile of some
sort hanging from the bill. This time he landed in a stand of tall Belars
straight ahead. Good I thought, this must be base and made my way to the
edge of the clump.
      As I was drawing near a furtive hopping shape in the fallen limb and
debris ahead caught my attention. After some straining to get a clear view
I finally identified  a Chestnut-crowned Babbler. At first they proved to
be very shy, and what was now two Black-shouldered Kites flying about in an
agitated manner giving  harsh cries didn't help much. I gave up on the
Kites to concentrate on the Babblers and stayed with them, following as the
moved about, and after time they seemed to accept me and became fairly
bold, giving great views. Not a lot, perhaps 4 or 5, but hard to say as
they were mostly in good cover. 
       By now it was getting late so walked to the west, cutting the
boundary fence, and followed this back towards the camp ground. Birds were
all around, but the Emus had obviously moved on. A colony of White-browed
Babblers were a good sighting in a couple of Mallee Strangle Vine
enshrouded  Wilgas just over the fence. 
         Friday, our first full day in the Park, was the day we tackled the
Lake and the Walls of China, a top day. Weather was to be a little on the
warm side, with a clear and blue sky. We looked at the large Mungo Tank 
that you soon come to on the right-hand side of the lake track. A lone
Little Pied Cormaront was the only occupant, though White-winged Wrens were
nearby, and Banded Lapwings grazed a little way out. Pipits, Brown
Songlarks, Emus, the usual suite of raptors, and including a Brown Falcon,
Welcome Swallows, White-faced Chats, and then , my best bird of the
trip?.Orange Chats !!!. We were to see many more of these little beauties
when ever we were out on the lake, or traveling near its edge. Our first
sighting was of a lone male foraging along the road edge near some roadside
puddles, little were we to know how "common" they were soon to be !!.
     Of the other tanks we looked at "Red Top Tank" had a Little Grebe, a
pair of Black-fronted Dotterals and a Horsefields Bronze-Cuckoo.  "Round
Tank"  produced a lone Grey Teal with a possible injury to a wing, it
appeared "dropped". And "Paradise Tank" had a nesting pair of Little Grebe,
and a Sacred Kingfisher.
       When  you arrive at the other side of the Lake you find a large
carpark, picnic tables and a newish solar powered dunny and attendant
rainwater tank. The structure already claimed by Welcome swallows. The
carpark is a bleak space, but Australian Ravens are quick to materialize,
obviously on the look out for what evers going. From here a short path
leads to a wide boardwalk that curves gracefully up on to the very edge of
the "lunette", culminating in a decked area, with good interpretive
signage. One sign  requests that you remove your shoes before venturing out
on the fragile terrain. The board walk carries you over areas of
wildflowers including more of the Poached Egg daisys. And active rabbit
burrows too !!. The other vegetation is rather sparse, some scraggly
Tobacco Bush, and the odd Mallee and Acacia species scattered about.
      Approaching the deck where you take of your shoes I had already
identified Orange Chats, Brown Songlarks, Emus, Welcome Swallows,
White-backed Swallows, Cockatiels, White-fronted Chats, Galahs, Singing
Honeyeaters and  hovering Kestrels. As I moved onto the lunette in my bare
feet I saw many more White-backed Swallows, they appeared to have nesting
burrows in a small bank, several were resting in a Tobacco bush and were
unconcerned as I passed nearby. The sound of running feet alerted me to a
surreal vision - several Emus at full stretch, their "skirts" bouncing and
swaying as they fled across that eerie landscape, dodging in and out among
the eroded pinnacles until they too vanished, leaving me alone?.what was
this "Picnic at Hanging Mungo ???".
     In all I saw nearly 20 species whilst on the lunette, including
Black-faced Woodswallows, White-winged Wrens and a pair of Red-backed
Kingfishers that mostly perched side by side. Should one fly off for some
reason, the other would call constantly until they were together again,
then they would sit silently. Best was possible the most well marked Little
Eagle I have ever seen. This bird came gliding over from the direction of
the south end of the dune system, it seemed to be patrolling the outer edge
and soon  passed to the north. I guess its colours were accented by the
reflective light from the lunette, but it was impressive. The breast and
body seem to glow it was so white, the outer wing tip 'fingers' were jet
black, the trailing wing feathers a dark brown, the diagonal bar on each
wing stark white whilst the forward wing was a rich chestnut colour.
     From the Walls Carpark you access the "Drive Tour" track, approx.
60kms up round the northern end of the lake and returning to near the
visitors center. This track is one-way and has a 40kph limit. Initially the
track takes you about 5km south to Red Top Tank  then swings up and over
the lunette before heading  north and away from the dune. We stopped  for
lunch at the small picnic area set among rosewood trees called Rosewood
Rest. Mallee Ringnecks, Bluebonnets, but not much else save for some
Yellow-throated Miners foraging in Ruby saltbush. More Australian Ravens,
and Crested Pigeons and Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrikes in a good stand of Belah
across the way.
      On the way again and much warmer,  we followed the track into red
dune country, passed "Allen's Plain Tank" in a depression, and the remains
of "Allen's Plain Hut". Soon into Mallee country, red sand, Emu Bush and
Hop Bush and then "Mallee Stop". A pleasant carpark and picnic area leading
onto a short, 500meter nature walk. Again by the time I had organized
myself the kids had shot thru and left me to do the walk on my own. This
again is a  well "signed" trail, and attempts to educate one to the various
mallees ;  Narrow Leaf, Pointed, Congoo Mallee and Yorrell, and with
tussocks of Porcupine Grass coming into seed. Lots of various mallee flora
to be seen, a lot in flower. Lots of the small Mallee Dragons, but little
bird life at that time. That Raven seems to be following us and checked the
picnic tables thoroughly, a large flock of Straited Pardalotes responded
strongly to my "squeeking", as did a single emancipated looking Thornbill,
heavily streaked and dark eye that looked like a Straited Thornbill, but I
dont know.
   Weebills turned up as the Pardalotes were leaving. A little further on a
Red-cap Robin was calling but only a pair of Yellow-Plumed Honeyeaters came
to my squeeking.
    We pushed on, lots of Pink Cockatoos,  more and more Bearded Dragons
and Stumpy Tails. We called into "Belah Camp" a remote camping area with
toilets but no wood fires allowed. A old Wedgies nest is in a tall Belah
just behind the camping area. Pushed on to Round Tank, a picnic area and
Wild Goat trap. Goats coming to the dam are forced to jump a low fence,
with only one way out - into a holding pen. This is where the Grey Teal
was. Moving on we saw Brown Treecreepers and our first Pallid Cuckoo and
not long after the track swung to the west.
      Up past "Paradise Tank" with its Sacred Kingfisher and the Little
Grebes Floating nest, and then a short run up a spur track into an old
well, called "Vigars Well". Many good wild flowers along this track and we
stopped to have a close look, the best  being swaves of purple Swainson
Pea. A good number of Southern Whitefaces and then we arrived at the well.
Fair  amount of old debris about and a lot of big saltbush and the dunes of
the lunette not far away. An old rusted frig lay on its side in a large
shallow pool of milky water. A pair of Welcome Swallows were coming and
going from the frig, they had built a nest inside the frig !!.
      A number of birds about, including Singing Honeyeaters and Pink
Cockatoos, and high flying Woodswallows. A number of wrens were moving
about, flitting to and fro between the scubby bushes and across the pool.
All brown birds and it took a lot of squeeking to finally bring a male to
view, and I was glad I did?.. a Variegated Wren. Followed the track back to
the main track seeing another Pallid Cuckoo on the way.
     We pressed on thru a lot of Bluebush covered area, passed a dry
"Willandra Tank", crossed over the far northern end of the lunette, now
only a low rise and soon after turned to the south for the run along the
edge of the lake, mostly all low Bluebush, but again making many sightings
of the spectacular little Orange Chats, and now White-fronted Chats too.
Our next stop was the old Zanci Homestead site. The house itself is gone,
but nearly everything else is still there - the shearing shed ( which they
hope to convert to an museum), outbuildings , chook pen and the tank stand,
outback dunny and all. The owners had built a dugout as a sort of coolroom,
which they used for themselves too when it got too hot and this is still
there. Welcome Swallows are feeding young in there now, the kids found one
young-un  under the nest and replaced him, we hope he survives all right. A
Willie Wagtail was building in an old shed, and White -winged Trillers
foraged about as did Yellow-rumped Thornbills. In old Sugar gums at the
back of the yard a pair of Australian Ravens had 4 well fledged young.
There is picnic tables provided so we decided to have a smoko, which soon
brought the ravens to scroung what they could, which was mainly banana,
which was duly carried up and fed to the young ones.
         By now we were only a few kilometers from the end of the drive so
we pushed on seeing many more Orange Chats and at last , just the two
Crimson Chats, both males. We arrived back at the Visitor Center about 5.30
 and dispite the ominous warning on the blackboard to the effect that there
was "swooping magpies " on the Foreshore Walk, we all elected to take the
2.5km walk that commences near the picnic area between the visitor center
and the old sheepshed .  This was another fine trail, if a little overgrown
in places, that leads away from the lake, crosses the dirt strip and loops
up into some high red sand dunes well covered in White Cypress and Mallee
Cypress pines. As usual with a high standard of interpretive signs. We saw
most of the usual suspects on this walk including the only Wedge-tail
Eagles we saw in the Park. James and I was lagging well behind the girls
when we saw the Wedgies gliding in from out over the lake. We were
following the foot track and crossing a low saddle between two high sand
hills  at the time and was looking out over a large clearing to the east,
watching a lone magpie struggling to gain height to close with the Wedgies,
when the Maggie gave up the attempt, dropped one wing over, and in an arrow
straight power dive came in our direction at incredible speed.  Watching
his purposeful flight it occurred to us that this was THE magpie, and we
were his next target !!!, and so it proved as he pressed home his attack
and had us both running for the trees.
       On the Saturday, our last full day in the Park, we joined a Ranger
led tour of the lunette commencing at 5.00. "Col" was a young man who
worked as a part time ranger and who hoped of one day  securing a full time
position. Bee was pleased to be able to yarn with him about how he got his
job, where he qualified and other aspects of a rangers job. In fact Bee
kept notes on how he conducted the tour, how he related to his group and
how well he knew what he was talking about. I dont know what he first must
have thought with Bee writing furiously away, but Iam sure he understood
later when we could talk with him more.
     Our tour of the lunette with Col added a new dimension to our
appreciation of this fascinating area, and is most recommended. Birding
wise, most of what we had seen on our visit the day before were still
about. There was if anything more Orange Chats in the vicinity of the
carpark/boardwalk. The Little Eagle didn't reappear, but an immature
Spotted Harrier on the drive across the lake, and a superb adult on the way
back was due compensation. After the tour the kids spent a lot of time on
the dunes at the back of the lunette as the sun set. The subtle colour
changes and the way the slanting light accentuated the ripple effect on the
sand was magical. It was getting late as we returned to our shoes and in
the failing light a small flock of Budgerigars appeared from the north,
crossed quickly to the far side of the lunette, and I thought was gone,
when a few minutes later they reappeared from the south and flew back to
the north following the dune. Except for a lone Budgie we saw at a hollow
after leaving the Park on our homeward journey these were the only Budgies
were saw.

     This our first visit to Lake Mungo NP resulted in a total of 72
species identified. (We didnt count the House Sparrows and the Starlings).

   Regards to all,

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