Arrived back in Alice Springs, slightly disoriented
after the whirlwind Adelaide visit. To ease
myself back into the desert groove, I did the dude thing and visited the Desert
Wildlife Park. Thought it would be good to check out some of the birds I'd
missed out on, and get within photographable distance of others. But really the
highlight of this most excellent park was for me purely mammalian. Seeing
Bilbies, Quolls and Kowaries up close in the nocturnal house was a real treat.
(And that cute British backpacker wasn't bad either.)
In a salute to the futile, rather than with any
real hope, I trudged back up the range above Heavitree to dip for one last
(sixth) time on the Spinifexbird. Heading out east of Alice I finally got onto
my first Red-backed Kingfisher. As I wrote this down I
suddenly realised that Spinifexbird was not the only bird I'd dipped out on
here. I'd also missed out on Chiming Wedgebill. I thought I'd pick it up
somewhere along the line but the only time I'd heard its distinctive call was in
an aviary at the Desert Park.
As I was quickly heading out of both their ranges,
I tried for one last time for both birds. At a spinifex covered hill just before
Santa Teresa Mission, I failed again on Spinifexbird, but got exceptional views
of Rufous-crowned Emu-wrens. The Wedgebill also failed to materialise- two birds
I'll have to detour for in the West later in the year.
As you head along the Old Andado Track, every rise
takes you into more and more desolate country. Santa Teresa is well named as it
sits on the side of a mesa like a Mexican village in Sergio Leone Spaghetti
Western. Once you clear the last of the mulga woodlands and head into the open
country, its a matter of time before you come across Cinnamon
Quail-thrush and Banded Whiteface. In fact, the
Quail-thrush would be one of the most commonly encountered birds throughout this
entire section of the trip, both here and in South Australia. This is considered
a difficult bird to get. Just shows how infrequently even birders get out into
this part of the world.
Camped that night by a bore, (nice chap really)
hoping that it would be visited by Flock Bronzewing coming in for a drink in the
evening or at first light, but apart from some cattle doing their best midnight
impersonation of a backpacker killer, nothing came near the bore.
At another bore just before the Mac Clarke Reserve
was a female Orange Chat-bird no. 495. Mac Clarke is stuck
in the middle of nowhere protecting a stand
of acacia peuce or Waddy Wood trees. These
trees take so long to grow that their wood is so dense they were the preferred
timber for the Aboriginal waddy or club. And also the preferred wood for
fenceposts, hence their rarity now.
Because they are the only trees in an area where
the next biggest plant is about twenty cm high, they make great shelter and
vantage points for raptors. There were Black Kites and Kestrels and what I at
first thought was a flock of Galahs. Closer inspection revealed a massive flock
of Letter-winged Kite (a minimum of 106). You never know with
this most enigmatic of birds. One year they are all over the place, from coast
to coast, and then not seen for a decade at a time. It was a real highlight of
my year to spend an hour or two amongst these beautiful black and white birds
with their big owl-like eyes, suited for their night hunting.
But I had to move on. As you head south, you pass
the first dunes that eventually reach the Simpson Desert. I stopped at one and
heard Eyrean Grasswren but they eluded me. A little further on, and nature
called. I headed off into the nearest dune, shovel and toilet paper in hand.
There's been a bit of talk on this forum about the merits of seeing birds while
sitting down. As soon as I was "seated", pants around ankles some grasswrens
called nearby and in a scene straight out of "Carry On Twitching", I managed to
see my first Eyrean Grasswren. (Number 497) Spotted Nightjar is
another species reputed to be best seen "on the job". I wonder who has the
biggest number two list? Now there's a birding-aus thread I'd not much care to
And the ticks just kept on coming. Opening a gate
on Andado Station I added number 498, Gibberbird, and then
on the Finke River Floodout, which is mile after mile of dense Redgum and
Coolabah woodland I finally caught up with flocks of that icon Aussie species,
Budgerigar. (499) Into South Australia, and the country almost
immediately opens out into that desolate plains country, whether due to a quirk
of geography or past overstocking I'm not sure, but by this stage, as I was
moving out of Chiming Wedgebill country and into Chirruping Wedgebill territory,
I didn't hold much hope of getting to five hundred today. And then, in the
Witjira National Park a group of four stately Australian
Bustard appeared by the side of the road. These majestic birds are
one of my all time favourites, so I was doubly happy to get this bird for the
The next couple of days I spent moving down through
Dalhousie Springs and along the Oodnadatta Track, where I found a terrific
campsite at the Algebuckina Waterhole I didn't manage to add any new birds, but
saw a lot of new country, including a long cherished aim of seeing Lake Eyre.
Sure its not a startling sight while dry, but boy it still impresses.
Down to Hawker in the Southern Flinders primarily
for one bird which was not even a tick according to my Big Twitch rules-
the Short-tailed Grasswren. As I am going by the '94 checklist, I can't include
this recent split, though come next year, when the new checklist is published
that's another story. Though after three hours buffeted by the wind atop Stokes
Hill Lookout, I was convinced that the taxonomists had got it wrong, and it was
only a race of Striated Grasswren after all. Then I finally got a glimpse,
and then a better one, and then another and now I am totally convinced that this
is definitely a full species. No doubt about it.
And now, as the rain pelts down on the roof of
the Hawker Pub, and the Pies have just slaughtered the Blues, I sit on 500,
about to head up the Strezlecki Track. Life
doesn't get much better.
Sean Dooley, August 2, 500