A visit to Gulpa Island, Barmah-Millewa Forest

Subject: A visit to Gulpa Island, Barmah-Millewa Forest
From: Keith Stockwell <>
Date: Mon, 17 Oct 2005 11:27:50 +1000
On Sunday, five of us visited Gulpa Island, in the Barmah-Millewa Forest
near Mathoura in southern NSW. To get on to Gulpa Island, one has to cross
either Gulpa Creek or The Edward, both of which flow out of the Murray.
Gulpa Creek is an anabranch which flows into the Edward. Hence the area
between the Edward and Gulpa Creek is considered to be an island.

Most waterways in the forest are full, environmental water borrowed by
irrigators in recent years having been 'paid back' and released into the
forest, filling the lakes and runners.

Before meeting the others, I decided to walk to Moira Lake, the roads in
being closed, to check out the birdlife. But such was the horde of
mosquitoes that, despite wearing 'mosquito-proof' clothing, after walking
in discomfort for about half an hour, I was forced to make a hasty retreat.
It was not possible to stop and put up one's binoculars because that's when
the mosquitoes really swarmed in and bit in unison!

After meeting with the others, we checked out a few spots near the northern
entrance (Walliston Road/Barkers Bridge). No quail or emus this time, but a
good range of bush birds ~ Brown Treecreeper, Rufous Whistler, Pied Butcher
Bird, Jacky Winter, Weebill, Grey Shrike-thrush, Yellow (form of Crimson)
Rosella, White-plumed Honeyeater, Little Friar Bird, bfcs, Galah... Two of
our party saw some parrots flash pass and thought they were Australian
Ringnecks. Not likely. I haven't seem them in the forest. Where they
Superbs? Definitely not, they contended. The mosquitoes were bad, not no
where near as dense as they were near Moira Lake. As the day progressed,
they seemed to become less of a problem.

Despite some flooding, we were able to access a series of sandhills
(lunettes) which mark the edge of a once-larger Moira-Barmah Lake. At my
favourite spot, one of the highlights of the day. A pair of Superb Parrots
flew over. Then some Babblers were glimpsed. Were they Grey-crowned? It
took us a long time to track them down: they were White-browed. Another
highlight was watching a group of White-browed Scrubwrens prancing about
amongst some fallen branches.

This spot is always good and this time was no exception: Rainbow Bee-eater,
Brown Treecreeper, Grey Shrike-thrush, Rufous Whistler, Yellow Rosella,
Sacred Kingfisher, Bronzewing, Western Gerygone, Noisy Friar Bird to name
some of the birds we saw here. About 15 years ago, there was only one
Banksia tree remaining in the forest. Cattle and drought had accounted for
young Banksias and lightning, old age and drought accounted for the rest.
Some young Banksias were propagated from that tree, which has long-since
died, and planted in a fenced enclosure which is presently not accessible.
It was pleasing to see that someone (either Forestry officers or a
well-known Deniliquin bird observer I suspect) has planted some young
Banksias in the fenced exclosure here. The seedlings appear to be thriving.
Within fenced the exclosures, the understory vegetation (Calytrix,
Dodonaea, various species of Acacia, everlastings, native grasses, etc) is
thriving, despite years of drought. I wish much more of the sandhill system
could be fenced and revegetated!

There is, in the forest, a seldom-used track, Sages Road, which winds its
way up and around the sand hills across much of the island. On the dunes,
the vegetation differs markedly from that of the clay flats. Redgum gives
way to box, native pine and Allocasuarina. We did a 2 hectare 20 minute
survey and observed Diamond Firetail, Jacky Winter, Brown Tree-creeper,
Hooded Robin, Peaceful Dove, Crested Pigeon, Rufous Songlark, Whistling
Kite, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Southern Whiteface, Black-shouldered Kite,
Yellow Rosella and White-plumed Honeyeater.

Nearby, we sighted a party of 12 emus. We turned our car engines off and
the inquisitive group slowly approached us. Too close for David Ong, whose
photographs of local birds are posted on the Echuca and District BOCA web
site, to focus his camera! That was another highlight of the day.

Last stop was the Reed Beds bird hide. The Reed Beds have been fed by an
overflowing Gulpa Creek. The water was too deep for waders but suitable for
Great-crested Grebes, one of which was feeding directly in front of the
hide ~ another highlight of the day. We had good views of a Clamorous Reed
Warbler. There were Coots and Black Swans, Purple Swamp Hens and a Musk
Duck. Lots of Egrets and a Swamp Harrier circled overhead. It is pleasing
that the bird posters and photographs which Amy Webb has placed in the hide
remain undamaged after nearly a year. There aren't a whole lot of birds in
the Reed Beds yet. I suspect that, as water levels fall and as the forest
dries out, the Reed Beds will soon support many more waterbirds and many
more species.

We headed home as the sun neared the north-western horizon.

The final bird count: 67 species.

P.S. I have returned home for a few days after having visited such birding
spots  as Daintree, Julatten (Kingfisher Lodge), Mt Lewis, Atherton
Tableland, Paluma, Toonpan, Lake Ross (Townsville), Cairns Esplanade,
Broadwater National Park and Tyto wetlands (on BOCA's north-east Queensland
tagalong; over 240 species and 55 new ticks), Mareeba Wetlands, Charters
Towers (the dam of the golf course alongside the caravan park was terrific,
with over 33 species, including Plum-headed and Double-barred Finch) and
Capertee Valley. Between Capertee and north Queensland, I managed to fit in
the Birds Australia Congress in Bendigo. It was great to visit places I
have long heard about and to put faces to the names of many BirdingAus

Sincere thanks to everyone who helped show us around, especially Carol,
Terry, Chris, John, John and Laurie and thanks to my travelling companions
~ you were all terrific!

Keith Stockwell

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