The Elusive "Mellow flea" (Malleefowl)

Subject: The Elusive "Mellow flea" (Malleefowl)
From: John Tongue <>
Date: Wed, 9 Mar 2011 13:21:42 +1100
Hi All,
Sorry about the long post, but the story may be of interest to some???

We recently had a wonderful birding trip to SW WA - 7 weeks all up, pulling our 
van across the Nullarbor and back from Tassie.  We managed all the SW endemics, 
a number of other specialties (including Scarlet-chested Parrot in SA), and 
close to 300 species all together.

A real highlight, though, was getting onto a single, solitary Malleefowl (or 
"Mellow flea", as my kids worked out the anagram)!

Over the years, we have searched for these elusive birds in many places.  We've 
driven quiet back roads around Binnaway/Coolah/Dunnedoo in central west NSW - 
the only "sign" of them we saw was the black and yellow roadside warning sign.

We have been to northwest Victoria, and searched around Hattah, both "deserts", 
etc.  We did find tracks in the sand, and an old disused mound at Little 
Desert, but only saw birds in the Aviary at Little Desert Nature Lodge.

Last year we searched Round Hill Nature Reserve, in Western NSW, but no sign 
there.  We've had our eyes peeled on a couple of visits to SA, but to no avail. 
 We reckoned this trip to WA was our best chance!

Long before going, we did our research well, reading everything we could from 
brochures, bird-finding books, the internet, etc.  On Frank O'Connor's very 
helpful website, we read about the Fitzgerald River B&B, near Jerramungup, 
which sounded promising - they're supposed to have the Mellow fleas around 
their sheds!!  Though we were caravanning, I shot off an email to book a night 
at the B&B.  After some weeks of no answer, I phoned the mobile number on their 
still-operational Website, only to be told they are no longer operational.  

We checked out the Birds Australia Birdata website to find the many places 
across SW WA where the species had been seen, and so had high hopes.  All 
through our SW meanderings, we kept coming across the black and yellow warning 
signs, and the Fox-baiting warning signs, and so were encouraged to keep 
looking.  We tried all over the place.  Frank's Website has a number of 
locations, and even GPS points to try, and so we tried.

We knew (and kept hearing more) about the Yongergnow Mallefowl Centre, at 
Ongerup, and so called in there on our way out to check out Fitzgerald River 
NP.  They had some very nice birds, including some very young ones, which were 
great to see - but they were in captivity!  We asked if they knew of any on 
private property, where we might be able to plead with the owners to let us 
have a look around, but they only knew one such place, and the owners were away!

At Jerramungup, we went to the Visitors' Centre, to ask if they had news of any 
recent sightings.  They told us they were most often reported around a camping 
area by the Pallinup River at Boxwood Hill, on our way to Cheyne's Beach (where 
we did get Noisy Scrub-bird, and Western Bristlebird).  The Centre staff even 
rang the Rangers at FR National Park, who confirmed the B&B had been sold, and 
that their best suggestion was the previously-mentioned camping area.  We tried 
around the NP that afternoon (including some of Frank O'Connor'd suggested 
spots), and found the ex-B&B - with big gates and fence, and even bigger 
warning signs about it being PRIVATE PROPERTY, and to keep away!  But no Mellow 

We toured around more of the South West, seeing lots of great birds, and asking 
everyone we could, where we might find Malleefowl ...... the common answer was, 
"Yeah, they're easy!  Just go the Malleefowl Centre at Ongerup!!!"  Been there, 
Done that!

We'd planned another attempt at the Ravensthorpe end of Fitzgerald River NP on 
our way back East, or hope for POSSIBLE sightings at Eyre Bird Observatory, but 
were really running out of options.  When we got to Ravensthorpe, we were told 
that with the extreme fire danger, all camping grounds, and roads into the Park 
were closed.  And yet, it was raining.  Arrgh!  However, the Caravan Park 
owners told us they knew of an active mound, which they'd give us directions to 
the next morning - if it didn't rain too much over night.  The track was steep 
and rough, and they didn't want people chopping it up unnecessarily.

That afternoon, we drove along Moir's Road, from Ravensthorpe out TOWARDS the 
NP, mostly looking for Western Whipbird, which we'd heard at Cheyne's Beach, 
and a couple of other spots, but hadn't been able to track down.  We stopped 
and listened at lots of places and, despite hearing a few, were again not able 
to get onto any.  We'd basically given up, and were driving back to town (to go 
and check another spot for Malleefowl), when we almost ran over a Whipbird, as 
it flew across the road!  Oh well, one success, at least.  However, only three 
out of the four of us in the car saw it!!  We tried again, up and down the 
road, but that Whipbird had learned his lesson, and was not going to cross 

So, we went round and checked another Track Frank O'connor had suggested for 
Malleefowl (nothing), and then where the Highway crosses the Phillips River, 
where they'd sometimes been reported (nothing)!

It did rain a little over night, but the Van Park owners decided we weren't 
likely to do too much damage, so they told us where to find the mound, up near 
the Lookout on the Range behind Ravensthorpe.  They did point out, though, what 
we already knew, which was that it was not the right time of year for the birds 
to be working the mound, so there would be little chance of seeing one there.  
In fact the lady said that in living her whole life in the district, she had 
only ever seen one Malleefowl in the wild ..... and had we considered going to 
Ongerup to see one??

We went for an interesting drive, and found the mound - which had obviously 
been used in the last season - but no sign of birds around.  Ah Well!  Perhaps 
Eyre Bird Observatory would turn one up?  We decided to try back along Moir's 
Road, to see if we could find a Whipbird for our son, who'd missed the day 
before.  Again, we drove and stopped, drove and stopped, and this time we 
didn't even hear any!  We made it to the edge of the NP, but didn't go in, as 
we assumed tracks were still closed.  So we headed back to pick up the van in 

Anyway, only about five km from town, as we crested a rise, there, standing in 
the middle of the road was a single Malleefowl!!  It froze in its tracks, and 
we skidded to a halt, less than 20m from it.  I couldn't believe it!  It stood 
long enough - only taking slow steps towards the road edge - for me to grab the 
camera, and fire off 4 quick shots.  After a couple of slow steps, the birds 
then shot off into the scrub and disappeared.  A few seconds earlier or later, 
and we'd have missed it, but after all this time, we finally had our "Mellow 

A wonderful birding holiday in WA, but topped off at last, with the elusive 

John Tongue (and family)
Ulverstone, Tas.

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