Great Grasswren Hunt - northern South Australia 23-24 May 2003

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Subject: Great Grasswren Hunt - northern South Australia 23-24 May 2003
From: "Alan Morris" <>
Date: Tue, 17 Jun 2003 12:06:57 +1000
Robin Benson & Alan Morris
The final part of our trip to central Australia was not really a Grasswren hunt at all although there was the possibility of seeing the Thick-billed Grasswren in the Marla and Cooper Pedy areas. Our main interest was to try and find the Banded and Chestnut-breasted Whitefaces which had been reported north of Marla in South Australia and the latter at a site south of Cooper Pedy. We had already checked out sites at Uluru, Erldunda, Curtin Springs and near the SA border for Banded Whiteface without success. So we were now heading for the recently reported site located 35 km N of Marla. However, on 23/5/03 as we were travelling south along the Sturt Highway at a location 55 km north of Marla, Robin and I simultaneously saw some small parrots, his were flying across the road while mine were seen flying parallel to the road. Bourke's Parrots we called in unison and stopped the car. Eventually we located 11+ Bourke's Parrots within 80 m of the road, feeding on the ground and perched in a dead tree. In the same 2 ha site we also saw Pipit, 4+ Crimson Chat, Zebra Finch, Black-faced Woodswallows, Mistletoebird, Crested Bellbird and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater. It was an area of low mulga, saltbush and scattered acacias and eremophilas. Grid ref 26 51 26 S, 133 21 53 E
Further on at the planned site, we spent three hours searching for the target species without any success and only saw a few pairs of Southern Whiteface.  At this site the bonus was finding two pairs of Chimming Wedgebills, a bird both of us had missed until now. We had great and close views. A Little Button-quail was flushed while looking for the Whitefaces in locations as suggested in our directions. Other species of interest was a Black-breasted Buzzard, Singing Honeyeater, White-winged & Variegated Fairy-wrens, and flocks of Galahs and Cockatiels going to water.
The following morning we pushed further south at at a place called Cotton Brush Creek, 25 km N of Cooper Pedy where it had recently rained and there was some green grass, we found Budgerigars, Zebra Finch, 10+ Brown Songlarks and the other usual species. We lunched at a site 12 S of Cooper Pedy where Chestnut-breasted Whiteface had recently been reported and spent one hour searching the site but again had no luck.More Brown Songlarks, White-winged Wrens and Kestrel were seen here. We made two other stops enroute to Port Augusta. One near the Tarcoola Turnoff where we were looking for Slender-billed Thornbills at 30 09 45S 135 11 30 E, we found in Mulga/ bluebush Wedge-tailed Eagle, Red-capped Robin, Chestnut-rumped and Inland Thornbill, in addition to the usual honeyeaters etc. The other stop was 37 km N of Port Augusta, near the railway line at 32 13 42 S, 137 31 52 E, where again in mulga/bluebush we had good views of Crested Bellbird, Australian Raven, Ringneck Parrot, the two thornbills, Yellow-throated Miner, Singing & Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters.
We finally located the Slender-billed Thornbill on the Yorkey Rd, c 8 km N of Port Augusta on 25/5/03, seen when we stopped to look at a Rufous Fieldwren and heard thornbills calling. We located a small group of Slender-billed Thornbills feeding in bluebush/saltbush and then in some low shrubs along the road, eventually giving us some good views. This being a new bird for me. Rob and I had spent some considerable time in the same general area last year looking for this bird so it was good to finally nail it!
In all we managed to see 174 species in the 17 days we were away, 10 new species for Robin and five for me. Many thanks to those people who so generously provided information about the various sites. We are more than happy to reciprocate if any one would like the details of any birds/sites mentioned. We drove straight back to the Central Coast from Port Augusta stopping overnight at Cobar. Highlights of the return trip were Superb Parrots near Nevertire and a pair of Black Falcons at the Warren STW, the female of which was watched going into a large stick nest in a large Redgum (a Whistling Kite's nest?) and trying it out for size, while the male watched from an adjoining tree. Then both flew away some distance.
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