Mungo NP report

To: "birding aus" <>
Subject: Mungo NP report
From: "Stephen Seymour" <>
Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2000 05:06:47 +1000
             Report Date : 22nd September 2000

                                  MUNGO NATIONAL PARK
                          Thurs 14th to Sun 17th , September 2000
                                Part 1

 When you enter from the south as we did you are on the Arumpo-
Ivanhoe thru road that continues northward towards Ivanhoe and runs along
the western boundary of the Park. The park headquarters and the visitor
center is some 7.5kms from the entry, you turn to the right and find a
welcome sealed road for the 1km drive down the western slope of the lake
edge. Your first views of the lake are to your right as you enter the park
and away on the eastern side is the formation that has become famous as the
Walls of China. The bird we saw as our first MNP bird was a Crested Pigeon,
followed by several Pink Cockatoos, whilst the sound of Rufous Songlarks
was everywhere. The drive to the Visitor Center gave Black Kites,
Black-shouldered Kites, a Brown Falcon, Kestrels, Emus, Australian Ravens,
Magpies, and a Pied Butcherbird was at the turnoff. Pulling into the
parking area at the visitor center and the first time out of the car since
leaving Balranald, and Yellow-throated Minors were in the small Gum tree at
the gate to the old Mungo homestead. Welcome Swallows hawked about, Magpie
Larks called, and a Singing Honeyeater gave a loud pprripp pprripp from
nearby saltbush. Emus grazed nearby and a number of Western Greys could be
seen a little further off lazing under the saltbush and bluebush. Cockatiel
and Galah cruised by, whilst out over the lake both Kestrel and
Black-shouldered Kite were hovering. The visitor center is screened by
saltbush and as we approached we could see several small cocked-tailed
birds were moving about - wrens but what sort?, only brown birds and
quickly away, but completely plain faced ??.. White-winged Wrens!!. 
Unfortunately no ranger in the visitor center, so unable to obtain a bird ,
fauna and flora list . Collected what information was available, and while
I wrote out our camping permit, and put the fee into the envelope and
dropped it into the slot, the kids had a quick look round and cleared out
to checkout the old woolshed.  Rounded the kids up , told them we would
"do" the visitor center/woolshed later, but lets get the camp sorted out
    Drove back to the Arumpo-Ivanhoe road, and bingo !!, a Red-backed
Kingfisher. This bird was on the top of an old dead pine and making that
rather mournful call they have.You turn back the way we came at the main
road and travel nearly 1km to the intersection with the road from the west
that leads eventually to Mildura. The main camp ground is a few 100meters
up this road and off to the left. A male Red-capped Robin has his territory
at the turnoff, and as we did a slow circuit of the camping ground to
select our spot we sighted Mallee Ringnecks, Red-rump Parrots, a Willie
Wagtail, and still the air was full of Rufous Songlarks displaying and
their rather metallic song seemed continuous.
    Reversing the trailer into our selected spot we started to unload and
put up the tents and it wasn't too long before we had our first visit from
those well known ruffians of the Mungo camping ground - the Apostlebirds!,
and what dags they were to prove. Noisy, fussy, demanding, completely
fearless, and undisputed bosses of the camp ground. They completely charmed
the kids, and a massive amount of film was to be expended over the next few
days as the kids (and this big kid ), had their photo taken with these
bushrangers. They were not without their manners for all that, as not once
did I see them on the picnic table, most times they fussed about at your
feet, and at times they were in danger of being trod on !, they would take
scraps from your hand, but never overstayed their welcome, but glided off
to the next campsite to see what was on offer. On one occasion when James
was collecting water from the rainwater tank fed from the shelter building
roof, he was approached by two Appostlebirds who politely asked if they may
have a drink too !!, when Jimbo ran a little water into the trap for them,
they chirred their thanks and drank by turning their heads on the side and
sucked up the water. I myself was accosted in this manner when emerging
from the toilet early one morning I was called to by a pair of these grey
colored Mungo icons who were standing under the tap of the rainwater tank
attached to the toilet block roof. No points for guessing what they wanted
,and they did thank me when I had done so.
    Interestingly, in our corner of the camping ground , there was only 3
individuals, I'm not too sure how many were throughout the camp grounds,
but "our" flock was only the 3, they had their mud bowl nest just behind
the wood stockpile in a small White Cypress Pine about 50meters away, and I
think 3 or 4 half-fledged young that kept them on the go, and hampered
their socializing a bit!.
    After establishing our camp we were keen to have a poke about, the
"Visitor Guide" leaflet we had picked up from the visitor center had a good
park map which indicated that a "Grassland Nature Walk" took off from the
camp grounds itself so we were all keen to try this.  Mistaking the path
adjacent to our camp site we followed this but soon realized it was heading
in the wrong direction, in fact it was leading in the direction of the lake
itself. However we pressed on soon crossing the Arumpo-Ivanhoe road and
finding ourselves on a short access road that led to a picnic and
carparking area and a short path leading to a platform constructed as a
lookout and a great spot to view the lake, the Walls of China  some 10kms
or more across the lake to the east and the visitor center/woolshed complex
off to the north on the west edge of the lake some 2.5kms as a bird may
fly. None of the literature we had so far collected showed this spot, so we
were pleased we had "stumbled" on it so to speak. From this vantage spot we
could see the raptors noticed earlier, and as well as the Emus and Western
Greys could identify Red roos out there too. The lake itself is quite dry
of course and was really only a lake, a fresh water lake, about 15000 years
ago!. Apparently in the wet year of 1956 over 7inches of rain fell in less
than 2 days, and flooded the lake, stranding sheep.
      We returned to the campsite adding Southern Whitefaces, Yellow-rumped
Thornbills, and a  Horsefield Bronze-Cuckoo. Belinda volunteered to cook
tonight, so we set about getting the fire going, bringing water from the
raintank, and carrying wood from the pile provided. After this was done I
was a little superfluous to proceedings so set out to find the "Grassland
Nature Walk" which I did only some 150meters further round the camp ground
track.  The Nature Trail is a little gem, and I was pleased to have finally
found it. Its only some 1km long and  roughly circular , a well defined and
level path with 12 "stops" or information boards, describing the vegetation
mainly. It was 6.30 when I set out and 7.30 before I returned. 
       Over the course of the next few days I was to take this circuit some
4 times and never failed to be impressed, especially with the bird life.
Emus were seen on the Friday only, two young males, one bird quite curios
but the other went into a silly panic, running back and forward like some
silly Monty Python sketch!!. Regular sightings included Black-shouldered
Kite, Black Kite, Nankeen Kestrel, Crested Pigeon, Galahs, Pink Cockatoos, 
Cockatiels, Mallee Ringnecks,  Blue Bonnets, White-winged Trillers,
Red-capped Robins, Willie Wagtails, White-browed Babblers, Rufous
Songlarks, Southern Whitefaces, Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Chestnut-rumped
Thornbills, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters, Singing Honeyeaters,  Apostlebirds,
Magpie Larks,  Grey Butcherbirds, Magpies, and Australian Ravens. 
    The Grey Butcherbirds have a nest adjacent to "Stop 2" a little way
from the start. I didn't see much other nesting activity, and didn't
actively search for any nests. The Southern Whitefaces were nesting, and I
suspect the Willie and the Red-cap both had nests nearby. Birds that I saw
only the once or occasionally around the trail were; Red-rumped Parrots, a
magnificent Splendid Wren male, and very satisfactory views of a male

Crested Bellbird. I never was to hear the bellbird calling , unfortunately,
but was able to watch him foraging for some time. He was mainly on the
ground under a stand of Belar, but moved occasionally out onto relatively
bare sandy patches, bounced up onto a fallen limb from the casuarinas
foraged there for a time, dropped back to the ground, then bounced back
into the fallen limb, from there into the lower levels of the tree and then
unfortunately vanished. Another one-off sighting was a Grey Fantail who
came to investigate when I was "sqeeking" in a mob of Chestnut-rumped
Thornbills. A Peregrine Falcon was obviously on a mission just as I was
finishing the walk on Saturday, but was quickly lost to view over the tops
of the Cypress pines, leaving a furious posse of Grey butcherbirds in its
wake. The only other raptor was on the Sunday morning. On a previous
occasion I had been startled by the ferocity of a Grey Butcherbirds attack
on a Crested Pigeon who had been dozing in the early morning sun, hunched
down on a bare limb near the top of a small Belar. The Butcherbird saw the
poor pigeon off in no uncertain manner, yet completely ignored the pigeons
partner squatting on a nearby limb - perhaps it was something it said !!!.
So on the Sunday when the Butcherbirds started another ruction I was only
mildly interested to find out who was in the gun this time, when over the
tree tops came a dark shape, all broad wings, and long narrow tail - an
accipiter and from its size most likely a Goshawk, but tail shape hard to
confirm as it twisted and turned, wings beating madly to avoid the
determined butcherbirds. Almost immediately another appeared over the tree
tops, unfortunately the sun was behind them and I couldn't discern any fine
detail but this bird was much larger again, and with fast wing beats was
soon lost to view,  I was in no doubt I had just seen a pair of Brown
      The time we spent in camp between expeditions was pleasant enough.
Whether getting meals or just lazing about we always had birds for company.
Those "wascally varmints", the Apostlebirds were never far away ;  the Grey
Butcherbirds could most times be heard giving their marvelous musical
songs, if not actually in view ; the Rufous Songlarks kept up an almost
continuous song from either overhead or from some vantage point nearby ;
the Welcome Swallows patrolled the airspace over the clearing around the
toilets and sheltershed and sounded their inflight contact calls ;  the
Red-cap Robin could be heard proclaiming his territory over near the road ;
 the Yellow-rumped Thornbills moved busily back and forth (feeding young ?)
; a pair of Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike arrived and surprisingly were silent,
then slinked away ;  the Black Kites glided silently over from time to
time, and on the Saturday 7 kites came together and put on an impressive
display of soaring, spiraling to an incredible height above the camp ground
until they were mere specks in the sky. In the early morning and on return
in the late afternoon Straw-necked Ibis passed to and fro, an occasional
Black-shouldered Kite and a Nankeen Kestrel put in an appearance and in the
pre sun-up light of Sunday morn, a dark crescent shape rocketing at
incredible speed materialized as a Hobby ?.. impressive - but then it
accelerated !!! , and almost instantly was lost to view as it swooped
through the clearing and was gone. I feared for the Welcome Swallows that
have nested under the sheltershed roof adjacent to the storage batteries
for the solar lighting system.
     Australian Ravens, Magpies, Magpie Larks, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters,
Willie wagtails, White-winged Trillers and Crested Pigeons were in and out
of camp regularly. On one occasion on the Saturday as we enjoyed a late
lunch, and a favourite in-camp pastime?. watching new arrivals put up their
tent etc., a Butcherbird flew through the camp in straight and level
flight, shadowed by a Striped Honeyeater on the exact same straight and
level flight path, only about 1meter in the rear - a new Olympic sport?.
synchronised flying !!!. This was amusing enough, but several moments later
they repeated the exercise, but in the reciprocal direction !!! And blow me
if the Srippey didn't reappear a little later, as if for all the world to
take a bow and claim credit for how smart he was !!!. On the same arvo that
the Black Kites had spiraled up into orbit, a mixed flock of Masked
Woodswallows and White-browed Woodswallows had milled about overhead,
eventually moving off to the north. We had noted Black-faced Woodswallows
from time to time, but only in small numbers. 
     But the real delights around camp were the parrots. Not long after
establishing our camp on the Thursday evening a magnificent Pink Cockatoo
landed on the adjacent campground roadway to drink from a small puddle,
truly my favorite "cockie". Pink Cockatoos were seen regularly passing
over, but the puddle had soon dried out and we had no more "drop in".
Cockatiels would pass quickly and noisily by, as would Galahs , but not as
fast, while with that rather harsh call that they give a pair of Blue
Bonnets would fly through, most often below the tree height, and
occasionally perch nearby to give us the once over. A pair of Mulga Parrots
passed leisurely by on the Saturday morning, making no sound at all, and if
anything , they fly lower than the Blue Bonnets again. But it is the Mallee
Ringnecks with their beautiful blues and greens that light up the place. We
found them to be fairly tame and inquisitive and on several occasions had
appeared as if by magic perched in the closeby trees, seemingly interested
in what we were doing. Mostly they fed quietly on the ground nearby, and on
one occasion a Ringneck was sitting directly above Belinda as she prepared
tea, fortunately it made no contribution to Bee's culinary efforts !!!
        On our first evening as we sat around the fire with our hot drinks
we were startled by the call of a Barn  Owl as it passed unseen nearby. We
were not to hear it again. A Tawny Frogmouth began calling softly on the
Friday evening, and for a while received a response, but after that only
the one bird seemed to be calling, and it kept it up all night. A Willie
Wagtail sang most of the nights through, and from time to time appeared to
encourage the Rufous Songlarks to have a go too. On the Saturday night, and
before the cloud began to drift over, we were playing "spot the satellite"
when a small party of Banded Lapwings  were heard passing over in the
direction of the lake. On the Friday evening well after sunset and before
moonrise we had made our way over to the Lookout to see the moon rise above
the far side of the lake. Waiting in the dark we were entertained by the
rather haunting calls of the Lapwings far out on the Lake, and then a Tawny
Frogmouth began its low slightly muffled calls from further along the near
lake edge.
     The only things we saw on the wing at night around the camp were a few
small unidentified bats. Unfortunately we had omitted to pack the spotlight
and powerpack and thus couldn't do any spotlighting.  On our first night,
when the moon was at its brightest, and had risen the earliest as a great
golden brown disc, not unlike a giant $2 coin, we were to be serenaded all
night through by Emus "banging their bloody drums", but fortunately they
must have gone elsewhere the other nights.                                 
        Report Date : 22nd September 2000

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

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