The Big Twitch- South West Qld, Part 2

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch- South West Qld, Part 2
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2002 13:02:26 +0800
I'm heading into Queensland now, from the dry South West corner, to the North East; the wettest part of the country. But to get there I have a lot of ground to cover, and still a few birds to try for.
Leaving the desolate gibber hills behind I enter the equally desolate broad sweep of the Bulloo River flats.After so long without rain, it becomes bleedingly obvious why we have to stop land clearing. When there is drought the first thing to die are the grasses. Then if there is still no rain the bushes and shrubs wither and die, and eventually the trees will go. Take out all the trees and shrubs, and come the first dry spell and you have nothing but bare earth. This is was my roadside for hour after hour.
Not surpisingly there were very few birds. As I got closer to Thargomyndah the floodplain held more trees (Coolabahs or something similar) and I began to notice some were in heavy flower. There were flocks of woodswallows too. The first time I stopped they were Black-faced, one of the few birds I had consistently seen throughout the deserts and the drought affected country. But I kept seeing more and more flocks around the blossom. About 45 km south of Thargomyndah I thought I better check them out again.
What greeted me as I got out of the car was a cacophony of woodswallow calls, this time hundreds of White-broweds with a few Masked thrown in, the first I had seen since the odd sighting of some on Norfolk Island of all places. There were Crimson Chats taking advantage of the blossom as were the honeyeaters- mainly Yellow-throated Miners and White-plumed honeyeaters. I also managed to see at least four Painted Honeyeater a bird that having missed down South over Summer, I was very worried about where I could get onto it before the year ended as they are a very unreliable and scarce bird.
We have an amazing country. In a land of drought, one species of trees in one particular area decide to flower in profusion thereby saving whole populations of birds from starvation. This is how it should work. But we have created all these gaps in nature so that these massive, continental scale systems can't function as they were designed. And every major event, be it drought or bushfire, sees the general pool of native species from which to repopulate, diminished.
Sense a theme here? Because my route north skirted the fringes of the massive clearing that has taken place in Queensland over the last few years. While the Queensland and Federal Governments quibble over who should pay compensation to farmers for not ruining the environment, landholders, fuelled with uncertainty panic cleared and now, a year or two on, the sight of cleared woodlands lying fallow being used neither for agriculture nor for harbouring our native species, is a terribly disturbing sight.
Luckily much of the Mulga belt has been spared and it still provides large areas of habitat for Bourke's Parrot which I saw at the noted Eulo Bore site (though only after dark and before dawn, drinking from the lower pool) as well as Hall's Babbler and Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush. Last year I had both these species easily not far from Eulo Bore. This year nothing, though I did pick up Red-winged Parrot, amongst many other parrots coming in to drink.
I booked in to stay at "Bowra", a working sheep and cattle property just out of Cunnamulla. Ian and Julie McLaren just love their birds and have opened up their property to birders. On the phone Julie had said they had recently seen both the preceding species and Grey Falcon, but then hastily added they couldn't guarantee them- they must have had to deal with disappointed twitchers before, not a pleasant experience I can assure you.
Very quickly I added Spotted Bowerbird and Hall's Babbler  but the Quail-thrush eluded me. To add salt into the wounds, Ian mentioned he had seen them three days running only the week before. I spent two full days out in that mulga country looking for the bludgers, occassionally scanning the skies for the falcon. I got neither. I did get a puncture courtesy of a spike of Mulga, and I also got lost (well, I miscalculated where I had left the car giving me an extra hour's walk), and still didn't see the bird. Did see some really nice stuff like Pink Cockatoo, a very early and westerly Latham's Snipe, Crested Bellbird, three species of Babbler, and White-browed Treecreeper, but no bloody Quail-thrush.
I even detoured further north to try again at Idalia National Park near Blackall. The ranger told me that since they have been baiting against foxes and feral cats, they have noticed an increase in Quail-thrush... but only in the warmer months. Perhaps they are a partial migrant? This didn't stop me from looking but I failed to turn anything up, I will have to detour in West Australia for this species later in the year. I did pick up a mammal tick, however when I flushed a petite wallaby from the scrub. I thought it looked like a Nail-tailed Wallaby, and it was only when I visited the info centre that I discovered that Bridled had been released there a few years ago. Nice one.
And so I had to give up on the Quail-thrush and on the deserts for, ahead of me, lay the lush country of that birding mecca, North Queensland.
Sean Dooley, August 14, 507 species
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