A colleague of Ruth's just returned from a trip to Ouyen and North-western
Victoria - he remarked that he'd seen Major Mitchell's Cockatoos in Ouyen
town centre and he also said that there'd been a lot of rain and that the
flowering gums were out. Ideal for a quick weekend up that way, we thought!
We flew into Mildura at just after 9:30 Saturday morning and went to the
Hertz office to pick up our hire car. Just behind the Hertz office are a few
trees and a couple of huts (owned by the RAAF, I think). Beyond the huts is
another row of trees and an empty field. As we got to the car, we heard
birds calling (mostly Noisy Miners), so we decided to have a bit of a look
around and immediately picked up Blue-faced Honeyeaters. We also saw a
single Black-chinned Honeyeater on a nearby aerial.
Our next stop was supposed to be the Department of Primary Industries (DPI)
offices on Eleventh St, Irymple (a couple of kms out of town). However, as
we were driving along Deakin Ave towards Eleventh St, I noticed a Red-tailed
Black Cockatoo on a street lamp! I didn't tell Ruth what I'd seen, only that
I needed to turn around because I had seen something. When we got back to
where I thought I'd seen the Cockatoo I pulled over and went to get my
binoculars and camera out of the car. As I was getting these Ruth said that
she'd just seen a Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, and it had just flown off!
Anyway, next stop was the DPI offices - we'd heard that there was a
reasonably reliable flock of Major Mitchell's Cockatoo there. As soon as we
arrived we saw countless White-plumed Honeyeaters, but we also picked up a
single Yellow Rosella, a Singing Honeyeater and a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater.
Unfortunately no Major Mitchell's... At the offices we bumped into one of
the staff who recommended that we go to King's Billabong (about 2km from the
DPI offices). We got to the lookout at the Billabong, and realised that it
was quite large and would required a great deal of time to "do it" properly
- and we were interested in Mallee birds, not waterbirds, so decided to give
it a miss this trip. we did see three Whistling Kites and our first Pied
Butcherbird of the trip.
Back to town for a quick bite of lunch then off to find the Nowingi Track
which had been highly recommended. We were told that the Southern part of
the track was the best, but as we had no trouble finding the intersection of
the track and the Calder Highway we decided to travel the entire length. We
thought that if there was the slightest chance of seeing a Malleefowl, it
would be worthwhile. We were hoping to pick up Emu-wrens, however. Once we
got onto the track I was very glad that we'd hired a 4WD - recent rain had
made the track quite muddy, and there were some very deep puddles. In
travelling the entire length of the track, we only encountered a single
Golden Whistler! Even at the Southern end of the track, where we had
expected to find Emu-wrens, we in fact saw nothing! Admittedly we were there
at the wrong time of day, so we decided to come back around dusk.
>From here we drove the couple of km to the Hattah-Kulkyne Visitor Centre.
>From there we headed back north along the Mournpall Track towards Lake
Lockie and Lake Mournpall. We stopped at several spots along the track when
we saw birds. One spot was particularly productive with Chestnut-crowned
Babblers, Weebils, Yellow Thornbills, Chestnut-rumped Thornbills, a Splendid
Fairy-wren, a female Red-capped Robin, Regent Parrots, a pair of Mulga
Parrots, Eastern (Mallee) Ringnecks and several other species. At one point
we also came across a mixed flock of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Galahs and
Little Corellas (which I didn't realise that we hadn't previously ticked!)
In the hunt for Major Mitchell's we decided that it was worth investigating
this mixed flock thoroughly. Unfortunately, no Major Mitchell's! After
reaching Lake Mournpall, we turned around to head back to the Visitor Centre
so we could do the Nature Drive before heading back to the Nowingi Track for
dusk. Around the Nature Drive we picked up Yellow Rosellas, Singing
Honeyeaters and Yellow- and White-plumed Honeyeaters. We also picked up both
Grey and Pied Butcherbirds at different spots. By the time we'd finished the
Nature Drive the light was fading, so we headed back to the Nowingi Track to
see if we could pick up Emu-wrens - which we didn't! We also totally failed
to have a Malleefowl run across the track in front of us!
Back in town - dinner at The Spanish Grill at the Grand Hotel - highly
recommended. We had been unable to get into Stefanos - maybe next time!
Next day dawned very wet and rainy - which didn't really change much
throughout the day. We decided to try out the DPI offices for Major
Mitchell's again. Unfortunately, no joy - however we did see the Singing
Honeyeater and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater again. Also, the fields opposite the
DPI offices were full of both Australian White and Straw-necked Ibis.
We headed off South towards the Nowingi Track again. At the grain elevator
at Carwarp, at the very North-western tip of Hattah-Kulkyne National Park,
just to the North of the start of the Nowingi Track we saw Apostle Birds at
the side of the road so we stopped to take some photos. We saw a large flock
of pigeons circling the grain silo, and then saw a large flock of parrots -
which turned out to be Cockatiels! We hadn't expected to get them (although
we did want to). Also we saw a single Yellow-throated Miner which was also
unexpected. After this stop, we saw White-winged Choughs at the start of the
Nowingi Track. It was quite an experience driving this track in the rain.
I'm quite used to four-wheel driving, but I had never driven on the
particular sandy-mud-water suspension that seems to exist in the Mallee!
It's like driving on ice - from what I can tell, it's not so much the tyres
not being able to grip the mud, it's more that the top surface of mud
separates from the firmer mud underneath causing the car to slip and slide
in all directions. Funnily enough this effect only occurs in certain areas.
Anyway - still no Malleefowl (not unexpectedly) and still no Emu-wrens
(unfortunately). Back at the Visitor Centre, they had closed the Nature
Drive for the day because of extremely muddy conditions, so we couldn't do
that again. We drove a little way up the Mournpall Track again, but the car
was sliding all over the road and the rain was just teeming down. We headed
back to the Visitor Centre and then to the Lake Hattah campground (where we
had originally expected to pick up Apostle Birds). We picked up a few
waterbirds here - Great Egret, White-necked and White-faced Herons, several
varieties of duck, Black Swans, Black-fronted Dotterals and others.
Since we *really* were after Major Mitchell's Cockatoos and since the
weather was appalling, we thought we'd head to Ouyen where we’d heard of
this flock in the town. At Ouyen we failed to pick up Major Mitchell's
(damn!) We did pick up several honeyeaters - Singing and Spiny-cheeked again
but most notably a White-fronted Honeyeater - all in the trees in the
grounds of the courthouse.
By now the rain had abated so we thought that we'd take a look at The Pink
Lakes in Murray-Sunset National Park - about 40 minutes drive from Ouyen.
One word of advice, when you see the sign that says "Slippery When Wet" on
the Pink Lakes Road (a dirt road) - believe it! At Lake Hardy we saw a flock
of about 12 Black-winged Stilts - which was quite amazing when you consider
that the lakes are so salty that the only thing that can survive in them is
a particular species of algae that produces beta-carotene giving the lakes
their pink colour. We saw a few other species, but nothing out of the
ordinary. we drove a little further along the track to Lake Crosbie where we
saw a Grey Butcherbird and a Nankeen Kestrel and that was it. Time to head
back to Mildura to fly out. Apologies to Hertz, I expect that they will have
to run the car though a carwash at least four times before it is clean
A mixed weekend, really - we were disappointed to dip out on Major
Mitchell's Cockatoos and *any* sort of Emu-wren. On the plus side, some
unusual Honeyeaters, a flock of Cockatiels and a good selection of Mallee
parrots. On balance a good weekend's birding with a good selection of new
"ticks" for us.
Paul Dodd & Ruth Woodrow
DPI Offices (Irymple)
Australian White Ibis
Australian White Ibis
Australian Wood Duck
Pacific Black Duck
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