Outback Twitchathon

To: "Birding-aus" <>
Subject: Outback Twitchathon
From: "Bob & Sadhana Cook" <>
Date: Tue, 13 Aug 2002 21:54:53 +1000
The "Mallee Foulups" - Bob and Sadhana Cook, assisted by non-birder,
co-driver and assistant spotter, David Rohrlach, completed the Outback
Twitchathon on Sunday 11th and Monday 12th August.  The following is a
medium length report.

Our route started just North of Tibooburra in Far North-West NSW and headed
South, via Tibooburra, Green Lake, through Broken Hill, along back roads by
the Darling River Anabranch to Wentworth, across to Mildura and finished at
Lake Ranfurly at last light (5.50 p.m.).

This was our first Twitchathon experience and we were pretty pleased with
our effort - totalling 111 species in the 36 hours.  Key factors for us

 - new to this type of event
 - never been North of Broken Hill
 - EXTREME drought conditions (see below)
 - only two birders on the team (should awards be "birds per team
 - Sunday (day 1) we had a powerful Westerly wind and a semi sandstorm
nearly all day
 - a bit of planning and local knowledge of the Mildura/Wentworth area
certainly increased our result

The country North of Broken Hill is absolutely parched.  We thought the
Mildura area was dry, but at least it has ground cover (dried out grasses,
failing wheat crops and low, dry shrubs).  Further North the vegetation
gradually disappears so by halfway to Tibooburra there is just "gibber"
stony ground and sandy stretches with no trees and perhaps 2% cover of dried
out hardy grasses/weeds.  Virtually all water holes and dams are bone dry
and where there was a bit of water in dams, there were numerous stock and
roos dead or stuck in the mud and dying around all dams.

This was quite depressing but we have to accept that this is the way of
nature - drought, struggle and death in our arid country is "normal".

Getting away from this view of the trip, we spent three days (Thursday to
Saturday) travelling from Mildura to Tibooburra, exploring the Sturt
National Park and spending half a day at Pyampa Station, just over the Qld
border, looking for the Grey Grasswren (unsuccessfully).  This time was well
spent as we eliminated several possible spots that we otherwise would have
included on our Twitch itinerary.  Although we missed the Grasswren, we did
get our first Hall's Babblers on Saturday (not in the Twitch) North of Mt
Wood station in the Nat Park.  It was interesting to note that these were
significantly more timid than both White-browed Babblers and
Chestnut-crowned Babblers that we saw in the same and other areas.  We could
not get closer than approx. 50 - 60 Metres of the Hall's despite much
stalking, whereas the other Babblers would let us within 15 to 20 metres.
As with all Babblers though, if you stop stalking them, they stay in the one
area, as I left them and then returned with the other team members 15 mins
later to find them in the same spot.

Three nights in Tibooburra were interesting.  Very informal, small town,
great feel/spirit despite hardship of the drought. Passing Roo and a pet
sheep were included in the main street traffic (plus max. 2 vehicles per

Day 1 of the Twitch.  We started at Wittabrinna Creek, about 8km North of
Tibooburra, at first light - about 6.45 a.m.  This dry creek bed (no rain in
this area for two years) had quite extensive large and medium trees and
quite a bit of understorey.  When everywhere around for several kms was as
bare as described above, it was not surprising that this area was well
populated.  21 species in about 45 minutes - best were White-browed Babbler,
large group of Chirruping Wedgebills (15 - 20), Restless Flycatcher,
Red-capped Robin, White-winged and Variegated Fairywren.  Groups of
Chirruping Wedgebills were very obvious everywhere north of Broken Hill - I
used to consider these quite uncommon and difficult to locate!

On the way back to and through Tibooburra we added Chestnut-crowned Babbler
and Zebra Finch and a few others.  Green Lake, about 100km south of
Tibooburra is the only significant water area we found within a very wide
radius.  It was low, but still approx. 1km by 500m in area.  It was covered
in water birds, including Freckled Duck(3+), Aust. Shoveller(4+), 100's of
Pink-eared Ducks, Banded and Black-winged Stilts, Red-necked Avocet,
Black-tailed Native Hen, Red-capped Plover(dozens) plus many others.
Several Orange Chats in the surrounding scrub. A further stop at another dry
creek crossing got Peaceful and Diamond Doves browsing the area in a single
small group.  We finished Day 1 at the small lake just East of Broken Hill,
adding several including Musk Duck, Great-crested Grebe and both Spoonbills.
Count 63.

Day 2.  We started, again at first light, at Kelly Creek, 10km South of
Broken Hill. Again a dry creek such as this was alive with birds while the
surrounding country is so desert-like.  Good birds here included Mulga
Parrot and Mistletoebird.  Along the road to Coombah Roadhouse and along the
Darling Anabranch we picked up several more, including Peregrine Falcon, a
single Banded Lapwing, Collared Sparrowhawk, more Orange Chats and a
magnificent flock of around 100 Major Mitchell Cockatoos (photo available).
Reaching Wentworth and the confluence of Murray and Darling Rivers, as well
as a couple of local wetland areas, we started adding quite a few to the
list. Musk Lorikeet, Caspian Tern, Pallid Cuckoo, Marsh Sandpiper,
White-fronted Honeyeater.  Mildura Sewerage Ponds rounded out our trip,
adding Rufous Whistler, Crested Shrike-tit, Spotted Pardalote, White-winged
Chough, Yellow-plumed Honeyeater among others.  Final wonderful climax of
the day (2nd last bird on the list) was a Black Falcon cruising over the
Murray River just out of Mildura.  Then as an anti-climax, last bird of the
count was a Common Blackbird crossing in front of the car after leaving Lake
Final count 111.

We missed several expected "certainties" such as Egrets(any), White-fronted
Chat, Fairy Martin, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo.  But
got some great unexpecteds such as the Black Falcon, Banded Lapwing,
Peregrine Falcon and Crested Shrike-tit.

We thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, raising funds for Newhaven,
getting totally stuffed, travelled approx. 1800 kms, loving our harsh
outback despite the hardships and looking forward to more travelling into
these areas and further.  Getting one tick, Hall's Babbler, was the icing
despite missing the Grey Grasswren.

Full list and a few photos available if anyone is interested.

Bob and Sadhana Cook

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