Hey bird fans,
See below a recent trip report to the Little Desert in sunny Victoria; it's an
update to a previous report. To see the full report with images see
http://tim-dolby.blogspot.com.au. It is, of course, meant to be a bit of
birding and, in this case, floral fun. Any corrections (it was written fairly
quickly) or suggestions, please don't hesitate to hassle me! Ps. may have
overdone it with the orchid images - but 'twas pretty special this season.
The Little Desert in Spring (revisited 2013) - bird sites and it's amazing flora
I've just returned from week (with family and friends) in the Little Desert
(early Oct, 2013), a superb Victorian national park. A bit like my recent
Chiltern report, this is an update of my original report on the Little Desert.
Basically it's my personal take on this wonderful park its good birding site,
and some thoughts about the wonderful plants.
Some Background Notes
In terms of birds, the park is pretty special. With a list of nearly 230
species, this makes it easily one of the best birding sites in Victoria. When I
visit, I have a bit of a wish-list. It's one of the only places in Victoria you
might expect to see Slender-billed Thornbill - so I usually try and target that
- and there's an uncommon and localized population of Rufous Fieldwren. While
resident species worth looking for include Southern Scrub-robin is resident,
Shy Heathwren, Variegated Fairy-wren, and Purple-gaped, White-fronted and
Tawny-crowned Honeyeater. Depending on the time of year, you can see Spotted
Harrier, Blue-winged Parrot, and classic summer migrants such as Rainbow
Bee-eater, Peaceful Dove, White-winged Triller and Rufous and Brown Songlark.
More recently Elegant Parrot, rare in Victoria, has been recorded in the park,
so this is another bird to look for. Importantly the park also supports
Australia's southern-most population of Malleefowl, although (despite the park
being known for its Malleefowl) they are thin on the ground.
Aside from these, it's always worth looking for inland and dry woodland
specialists such as Black-tailed Native-hen, Banded Lapwing, Purple-crowned
Lorikeet, Spotted Nightjar, Inland and Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Chestnut
rumped Heathwren (rare resident), Gilbert's Whistler, Crested Bellbird
(becoming increasingly rare), Jacky Winter, Red-capped and Hooded Robin and
Diamond Firetail. There are some interesting subspecies such as Grey Currawong
(black-winged ssp melanoptera), Spotted Pardalote (yellow-rumped xanthopygus) ,
Varied Sittella (black-capped pileata) and the Variegated Fairy-wren
In terms of rare species to the park, Australian Bustard have also been
recorded several times - usually at sites that have been recently burnt.
Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo have been records in the south of the park, and there
are recent records of Bush Stone-curlew. There are occasional records of
Painted and Little Button-quail, Black-eared Cuckoo, Cockatiel, Budgerigar,
Australia (Mallee) Ringneck, Red-backed Kingfisher, Black Falcon, Orange and
Yellow Chat, Black Honeyeater, Chestnut-rumped Honeyeater, Western and
White-throated Gerygone, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Forest Raven,
White-backed Swallow and Zebra Finch. The last time Regent Honeyeater was
recorded was 1900, so I wouldn't count on seeing that species!
The Little Desert rates extremely high in botanical significance and, in late
spring, after good rains, it's a fantastic place to see some spectacular
orchids! Basically I've divided this report into five main sections: i. how to
get there and where to stay; ii a look at the parks native flora and habitat
types; iii. a description the stunning native orchids; iv. of course the good
birding sites; v. and finally a brief look at the mammals and other fauna. For
me, the best times to visit is in late winter, spring and early summer, when
the temperatures are comfortable and the park comes alive with wildflowers and
How to Get There, Where to Stay
The Little Desert National Park (1350 sq. km) is located ~375 km from
Melbourne, situated between the Wimmera River and the South Australian border.
If leaving from Melbourne take the Western Hwy and keep driving; leaving from
Adelaide take the Dukes Hwy and do the same thing, except head east! Accessed
via Nhill and Kiata, the park intersected from north to south by the
Nhill-Harrow Rd. This is a superb road to go birding along, one of my favourite
'birding roads' in Australia. It's worth noting that the myriad of tracks
through the park are mostly not suitable are 2WD, with tracks like the Salt
Lake Tk and Dahlenburgs Mill Tk very sandy and especially soft after rain.
However, if you know how to drive through sand, and are willing to dig yourself
out if you get bogged, these tracks can be great fun to drive. The western
block can be accessed from Kaniva along the Kaniva-Edenhope Rd, and there are
some nice 4WD track in that section, such as Mt Moffat Tk and East-West Tk.
The best camp site in the park is easily the Kiata Campground, located about 10
km south of Kiata. The walks around the campground are excellent, especially in
spring, when the wildflowers are in bloom. There is also camping along the
Wimmera River at Horseshoe Bend and Ackle Bend, south of Dimboola, although
during holiday periods these can be busy. Being located in the bend of a river,
it's actually hard to get up and go for a walk; effectively to take an extended
walk, you need to drive to another site. (That being said, if you visited the
riverside campsites outside tourist-times, they could be excellent.)
Another good place to stay - and probably the accommodation of choice for
visiting birders - is the Little Desert Nature Lodge, colloquially known as
Whimpey's. I've stayed there a number of times and, it's great, especially if
you want a shower! It was established in 1969 by Ray 'Whimpey' Reichelt, who
organized 4WD tours through the park. By doing so, he was one of the first
people to draw attention to the parks fabulous wild habitats. Another key
person in the parks history was Keith Hateley, who established the first
Malleefowl wildlife sanctuary, which was later expanded to become the Little
Desert National Park. Keith was the parks first rangers.
The Little Desert Nature Lodge is located at the north end of the Nhill-Harrow
Rd, about 16 km south of Nhill. On this recent trip, I stayed several nights at
Kiata, and then a few nights in the Lodges bunkrooms, and the prices weren't
much more than national park camp fees. At night, while eating dinner in the
outside dining shed, Southern Brown Bandicoot bounced around our feet looking
for food scrapes. It's worth noting that an electrified feral animal proof
fence surrounds the Lodge and the adjacent Malleefowl Sanctuary property.
The Flora of the Little Desert
Despite the fact that the park has very deep sandy soils with low levels of
nutrients and poor water holding retention, over 700 indigenous plant species
have been recorded in the Little Desert. That's about one fifth of Victoria’s
native flora species! Strictly speaking it's not a desert, receiving more
rainfall than a 'desert' - about 500mm annually, ~150mm more than most strictly
For me I've found the best way to understand the distribution of birds in the
Little Desert is to understand the parks flora, particularly in terms of its
main habitat types. Roughly speaking, I reckon there are three readily
identifiable vegetation types, each determined by their soil, causing marked
differences in plants. The outer edge of the Little Desert is dominated by (i)
grassy woodlands, then slightly further in, (ii) Mallee and Mallee-Broombush
woodland and shrubland, while in the center of the park we find (iii) low-lying
heathland. There is also an assemblage intermediate between Mallee-Broombush
and the heathland. Each of these habitats have its own group of plants and its
own selection of birds.
Aside from these tree main habitats, there are also a few seasonal / ephemeral
swamplands, formed mainly over claypans (specifically in the western section of
the park), there's some riparian vegetation along the Wimmera River and, of
course, the park's bordered by extensive wheat and canola fields (good for
Spotted Harrier, Brown Songlark and Eurasian Skylark).
(i) The Grassy Woodlands
In terms of grassy woodlands, I usually like to visit two areas: the area
around the Kiata campground, particularly along the start of the walks that
lead out of the campground i.e. the Red Gum and Albrechts Mill Walks, and the
Keith Hateley Nature Walk at the Kiata Sanctuary Picnic Ground. Large Yellow
Gum (Eucalyptus leucoxylon), Grey Box (E. microcarpa), River Red Gum (E.
camaIdulensis) and Drooping She-Oak (Allocasuarina verticillate), Oyster Bay
Pine (Callitris rhomboidea) and Slender Cypress-pine (Callitris gracilis)
dominate the herb-rich woodland community around the Kiata campground, and have
a seriously herb-rich understory.
This spring (Sept 2013) many of the plants were flowering. Black-Anther Flax
Lily (Dianella revoluta) were prominent along the walking tracks, with delicate
flowers hanging downwards, contrasted with the robust, strap-like leaves. Every
so often I came across a Blue Star (Chamaescilla corymbosa), one of my favorite
flowers - with each flower lasting just one day, although individual plants can
flower for several weeks. Other blue flowers along the walks at Kiata included
Broughton Pea (Swainsona procumbens), Grooved Dampiera (Dampiera lanceolata)
and Twining Fringe-lily (Thysanotus patersonii) - like the Blue Star, each
flower lasts just one day, and they only flowers in sunlight. Other flowing
plants includes Silky Parrot-pea (Dillwynia sericea), Red Parrot-pea (D.
hispida), Daphne Heath (Brachyloma daphnoides), Brush Heath (Brachyloma
ericoides), Flame Heath (Astroloma conostephioides), their bright red, tubular
flowers a favoured food for Emu, as are their red, succulent fruit, Austral
Stork's-bill (Pelargonium austale) - what a great name - a plant in the same
genus as the exotic geraniums found in our gardens, and Horny Cone-bush
(Isopogon ceratophyllus) - I'd seen this intriguing species flowering just a
few weeks earlier near Anglesea.
A nice selection of bright yellow flowers shone out of the matt groundcover;
the most obvious were Yam Daisy (Microseris lanceolata), Clustered Everlasting
(Chrysocephalum semipapposum) and Hibbertia and Goodenia sp. such as Bundled
Guinea-flower (Hibbertia prostrata), Twiggy Guinea-flower (Hibbertia virgata),
Bent Goodenia (Goodenia geniculate) and Woolly Goodenia (Goodenia robusta).
While creamy flowers included the fragrant candle-like heads of the Creamy
Stackhousa (Stackhousa monogymna) and star-shaped honey-scented Milkmaids
(Burchardia umbellata). The diversity was simply outstanding.
I hadn't noticed this before, but at the start of the Albrechts Mill Walk there
are several clumps of Spinifex (Triodia scariosa). Uncommon in the Little
Desert, I associated it with Wyperfeld National Park and, from there, extending
further north and west. Seeing it in the Little Desert reminds me of an
isolated clump of Triodia I found at the Tresco West Bushland Reserve, near
Lake Boga. Once again, it makes me wonder what exactly is the southern /
eastern limits of this iconic plant.
(ii) Mallee and Mallee Broombush
Between the open woodlands and the central heathlands, the park's vegetation is
dominated Mallee. From what I can gather, six main species of Mallee eucalypt
occur in the park - Yellow (Eucalyptus incrassata), Bull (E. belmana), Red (E.
calycogona), Dumosa (E. dumosa), Green (E. viridis) and Green-leaf (E. phenax)
Mallee. Good areas of Mallee occur along the Kiata South Rd, and on the road to
the Kiata Campground, noting that both good spots to see Purple-gaped
Much of the Mallee is dominated by Broom Honey-myrtle (Melaleuca uncinata), or
Broombush, creating a habitat type known as Mallee Broombush. Good spots of
this type occur along the start of the Salt Lake Tk and the Salt Lake Walk
(both beginning near the Kiata Campground), in the sandy ridges and laterites.
Broombush its name from European settlers who used the branches to sweep their
homes and, more recently, it's been used to make brush fences. It seems to me
that Broombush Mallee has its own collection of plants, such as Broom Baeckea
(Baeckea behrii) and Wallowa (Acacia calamifolia), the later produces flowers
and seeds that are a favorite food for Malleefowl - and, in the Little Desert,
this is the most likely habitat that you will see this species.
While walking along the beginning of the Salt Lake Walk, Snow Myrtle (Calytrix
alpestris), Common Fringe-myrtle (Calytrix tetragona) and Heath-myrtle
(Micromyrtus ciliata) flowered profusely, attracting insects such as native
bees, Thynnid wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies and ants. The common butterfly
in the Little Desert is the Blue-spotted Painted Lady (Vanessa kershawi), they
flew rapidly from plant to plant, frequently settling, wings outspread, on a
plant to feed or on the ground to bask in the sun. In the afternoon I noticed
that the males established territories around flowering myrtle, driving away
any intruders. Also along the Salt Lake Walk the stunning Blue Star
(Chamaescilla corymbosa), Inland Figface (Carpobrotus modestus), and Broughton
Pea (Swainsona procumbens) were all flowering. Birds such as Shy Heathwren,
White-eared Honeyeater, Inland Thornbill, Varied Sittella (black-capped ssp
pileata), Variegated Fairy-wren and Shy Heathwren have a preference for this
type of habitat. Also along the Salt Lake Walk I also came across and enormous
cockroach. Possibly a burrowing-type, from the Macropanesthia genus? It was
wingless and heavily armoured, and emitted a load hissing noise when startled!
(iii) Banksia Heathlands
In the central section of the Little Desert, the sandy swales and plains
between the dunes, you find superb heathlands. It's dominated by Desert Banksia
(Banksia ornata) and Silver Banksia (Banksia marginata), both species growing
dwarfed in the Little Desert, only a meter or so high, due to low soil nutrient
levels. They can grow up to 6 meters trees in the more fertile soils. Other
major components of the heath include Dwarf She-oak (Allocasuarina pusilla),
Heath Tea-tree (Leptospermum myrsinoides), Mallee Honey-Myrtle (Melaleuca
neglecta) and Violet Honey-myrtle (Melaleuca wilsonii), with its bright lilac
flowers. All these plants are hardy, semi-dense and compact, ranging from 2-3 m
in height, and well-suited to low rainfall.
Intermixed with the heaths are areas of Slender Cypress-pine (Callitris
gracilis), Bull-oak (Allocasuarina luehmannii) and Desert Stringybark
(Eucalyptus arenacea) - like the dwarf Banksia, they are a smaller, growing
much taller in other areas of Australia, and a variety of plants such as Desert
Common Correa (Correa reflexa var scaberula), Common Fringe-myrtle (Calytrix
tetragona), Sweet Quandong (Santalum acuminatum), Golden Wattle (Acacia
pycnantha) and Creeping Muntries (Kunzea pomifera).
The Little Desert's Stunning Orchids!
The Little Desert's terrestrial orchids are spectacular! This spring I found
them everywhere, particularly along the start of all the Kiata campground
walks, around here -36.448136,141.798486. I've found another good spot to look
for them is along the Keith Hateley Nature Walk, as is Whimpey's. They were
quite prominent in the small fenced-off area in Whimpey's, protecting them from
hungry Emu and Western Grey Kangaroo.
Orchids tend to be found in woodlands and forests at low altitudes, with a
preference for moist, well-drained soil. So, after spring rains, the low-lying
sandy soils of the Little Desert are perfect! Perhaps the most prominent orchid
was the Spider Orchids, including Green-comb Spider-orchid (Arachnorchis
dilatata), Heart-lip Spider-orchid (A. cardiochila), Upright Spider-orchid (A.
stricta) and a few endangered Wimmera Spider Orchid (A. lowanensis), an orchid
known from only four sites in Victoria.
Aside from the Spider Orchids, Caladenia-type orchids seen included Hooded
Caladenia (Caladenia cucullata), Pink Fingers (C. carnea) and White Fingers (C.
Another genus of orchid that were present this spring were the superb
Thelymitra, the Sun Orchid. This spring found three types, Salmon Sun Orchid
(Thelymitra rubra), Azure Sun Orchid (T. azurea), and the Rabbit Ears Sun
Orchid (T. antennifera), the column has two distinctive red to brown interior
"ears". The Thelymitra are amongst my favorite orchids; delicate, rich in
colour, and they only open in full sunlight. They also seem to appear one day,
and then vanish the next. Finally, probably the most common orchid this spring
was the Leopard Orchid (Diuris maculata), with clusters of orchids in a number
of places around the park.
Orchids always fascinate me. The huge variation of forms and colour lead to a
bewildering array of species and hybrids, with many extremely morphologically
difficult to separate. I've found identification's often confusing. Perhaps not
surprising, for instance recent taxonomy revisions have increased the number of
Caladenia species significantly and split the genus into separate groups. For
instance Caladenia filamentosa alone has been split into ~40 different species
and subspecies, while a number of subspecies have been upgraded to the status
of full species, such as C. fragrantissima ssp. orientalis to C. orientalis.
This makes some the splits and lumps in birds look like child's play! Grasswren
Furthermore the complex interaction with pollinators, result in
pseudocopulation, with the elongated flower tips producing sexual attractants
known as pheromones, confusing pollinators, usually male Thynnid wasps, into
thinking the flower is a female. Further to this, underground to this in fact,
they have a complex mutalistic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi; the fungus
assimilates nutrition from the orchid, and the orchid requires the fungus to
germinate. When it comes to the orchids, it's a plant that lives on the edge,
and the planet's life doesn't get much better.
One of the best area of birding here is in the open woodland immediately south
and east of the campground, particularly around the area that the main Kiata
campground walking tracks begin. The most popular walk for me is the Red Gum
Walk (~2 km). It's particularly good for robin's such as Scarlet, Red-capped,
Hooded, Eastern Yellow Robin, Jacky Winter and Southern Scrub-robin.
Just east of the campground, in the largest clumps of shrubs
(-36.447765,141.800728), there is usually a pair of Southern Scrub-robin. In
terms of the Jacky Winter, they are a woodland bird that's declining across
most of its range. With a preference for grassy-woodlands that are not less
than 10 hectares, unfortunately the average size of grassy woodland patches in
the Wimmera is only 3.5 hectares.
Other birds to look for include Peaceful Dove, Pallid Cuckoo, Rainbow
Bee-eater, Restless Flycatcher, Rufous Songlark, White-winged Triller,
White-throated and Brown Treecreeper, White-browed Babbler, Dusky, White-browed
and (less commonly) Masked Woodswallow, Weebill, Tree Martin and Diamond
Firetail, and I've seen Pied Butcherbird along this walk, rare this far south.
It's probably the best area for parrots such as Purple-crowned Lorikeet and
Eastern Rosella, and rarer visiting parrots such as Cockatiel, Budgerigar and
Mallee Ringneck and, at night, listen for Southern Boobook, Australian
Owlet-nightjar, and Tawny Frogmouth.
If you walk along the start of the Salt Lake Walk (about here
-36.453046,141.79607) - or the Salt Lake Tk, down to the vicinity of the water
bore, 2 km south of the Kiata Campsite (accessed via the Salt Lake Tk) - you'll
soon find yourself walking through Mallee Broombush woodlands. Here the
birdlife changes, now seeing specialists species such as Purple-gaped,
Spiny-cheeked and White-eared Honeyeater, Variegated Fairy-wren, Shy Heathwren,
Gilbert's Whistler, Varied (black-capped ssp pileata) Sittella, Buff-rumped and
Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, and look for uncommon species - there are records of
Black and Pied Honeyeater and Crimson Chat in this area.
Another good spot for Mallee specialist is the Kiata South Rd, near where it
joins the campground road (-36.431503,141.7744), an excellent spot for
Purple-gaped Honeyeater. If you bird along the roadside just north of the
intersection, you'll find an old dam (east side at -36.43045,141.777252).
Birdwise, this spot can be rewarding. Banded Lapwing often reside in the
paddock immediately north of here (-36.428603,141.782316).
Just west of Kiata, walk along the Keith Hateley Nature Walk at the Sanctuary
Picnic Area, it also provides access to Mallee, again good habitat of the
Purple-gaped Honeyeater. In spring the nature walk is a well-known site for
orchids, and the rare Hairy-pod Wattle (Acacia glandulicarpa).
One of the most productive areas for is the Banksia heathland bordering the
Nhill–Harrow Rd, especially where it intersects with the Dahlenburgs Mill Tk.
This area is adjacent to farmland, 3.4 km south of the entrance to the Little
Desert Nature Lodge (-36.481157,141.653346). Search the knee-high heathland for
Slender-billed Thornbill, a range-restricted species in Victoria. Take care
with any identification because the superficially similar Buff-rumped Thornbill
occurs here, though it generally occupies taller heathland. Another heathland /
saltbush / samphire specialist, the Rufous Fieldwren, occurs here in similar
habitats to that of the Slender-billed Thornbill. Here you may also see
Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Blue-winged and Elegant Parrot (the latter in
spring and summer; perhaps the best site in Victoria), Dusky, White-browed and
Masked Woodswallow (all spring–summer), Purple-gaped, Tawny-crowned and
White-fronted Honeyeater, White-fronted Chat, Variegated Fairy-wren and
White-backed Swallow (summer). Brown Songlark and Spotted Harrier often occur
in the nearby paddocks.
Rufous Fieldwren tend to be more commonly found further south down the
Nhill–Harrow Rd, such as along the start of the Phillips Tk, 8.8 km south of
the Nature Lodge (-36.52976,141.645836), and along the intriguingly named
McDonald Hwy (really just sandy track) 14.7 km south of the Lodge (-36.581875,
As an aside though, it seems to me that one noticeable absentee from the
heathland of the Little Desert, when you compare to the coastal sites such as
Anglesea, is Southern Emu-wren. The Mallee Emu-wren, found to the north of the
Little Desert, is clearly a remnant population of Stipiturus, dating back to
the regions coastal past, so what happened to the Stipiturus in the Little
Desert? Perhaps knocked out by localized fires, a historical warning to the
future of the Mallee Emu-wren.
Little Desert Nature Lodge
One of the most accessible areas to see a variety of birds in Little Desert is
in the grounds of the Little Desert Nature Lodge. It's basically set out as a
microcosm of the Little Desert, with a nature trail that walks you through
areas of heathland, some nice woodlands, the 'native flora garden' and past a
few small waterholes. The lodge has an impressive bird list including Emu
(common in the grounds), Malleefowl, Brown Quail, Collared Sparrowhawk,
Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Peaceful Dove, Southern Scrub-robin, Shy Heathwren,
Gilbert's Whistler, Variegated Fairy-wren, Red-capped and Scarlet Robin,
White-fronted, Yellow-plumed and Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, Restless Flycatcher,
Chestnut-rumped, Inland, Brown and Yellow Thornbill, Diamond Firetail and,
several years ago, I saw Western Gerygone.
The Stringybark Walk (-36.464411,141.656218), and its extended loop, starts of
the Nhill–Harrow Rd just 1.5 km south of the Nature Lodge. A very pleasant
walk, it's a good for heathland honeyeaters such as Purple-gaped,
White-fronted, Tawny-crowned, New Holland, White-naped and White-eared
Honeyeater. You also get Purple-crowned and Musk Lorikeet, Inland and
Buff-rumped Thornbill, Shy Heathwren, Golden, Rufous and Gilbert's Whistler,
and robin such as Scarlet, Flame, Red-capped, Hooded and Jacky Winter. At
night, Bush Stone-curlew has been heard along this walk.
The area around Salt Lake (-36.535235,141.80355), and in the heath along the
Salt Lake Tk, hold similar species to this found along the Nhill-Harrow Rd. The
knee-high heath around the lake used to be THE site in Victoria for seeing
Slender-billed Thornbill - and they are probably easier to find here than along
the Nhill-Harrow Rd. Other birds around the lake include Emu, Blue-winged
Parrot, Purple-crowned and Musk Lorikeet, Tawny-crowned and White-fronted
Honeyeater, White-fronted Chat, White-backed Swallow, Southern Scrub-robin,
Hooded Robin, Jacky Winter, Australasian Pipit and Buff-rumped Thornbill.
Beware though, the Salt Lake Tk is definitely 4X4 only - the long sandy
stretches making it a challenging for drives. If you have problems, let your
tyres down. When there is adequate water in the lake, it can attract
Black-winged Stilt and Red-necked Avocet.
Ackle and Horseshoe Bend
Another good birdwatching in the Little Desert is the area around Ackle and
Horseshoe Bend (-36.507842,142.01678), particularly where the heathlands meet
the Black Box and Red Gum along the Wimmera River. This is a good site for the
elusive Shy Heathwren, Southern Scrub-robin, as well as Purple-crowned, Musk
and Rainbow Lorikeet, White-winged Triller, Spiny-cheeked, Black-chinned,
Brown-headed, New Holland, Tawny-crowned, White-eared Honeyeater, while rarer
species such as Black and Pied Honeyeater have also been records.
McCabe Hut Track
Chestnut rumped Heathwren is rare in the Little Desert, however there is a
small population along the 4WD McCabe Hut Tk. I personally haven't seen them
there (or looked), but there are a few reliable recent records. One spot to
look is along the McCabe Hut Tk ~3km north-west of Eagle Swamp (at
-36.533036,141.93797) and along Charcoal Flat Tk (at -36.574767,141.957003).
The Snape Reserve (754 ha) is deserving of its own dedicated trip report, with
over 170 species recorded. A Trust for Nature property, it's located directly
adjacent to the Little Desert National Park, accessed via Pine Ave, just a few
km south of Dimboola. It's named in honor of Diana and Brian Snape (a past
Trust chairman ), a great couple, you won't meet two more dedicated
conservationists. In you wish to visit, contact the supervisory committee,
details are on the website. Like Whimpey's it's basically a microcosm of the
Little Desert, with all the main habitat types represented. The south side is
dominated by large areas of heathland, there are several different types of
woodland and some nice, open grassy areas. After good rains, ephemeral wetlands
fill on the property, and can be excellent for water birds.
The larger copses in the properties woodland contain Southern Scrub-robin,
while the heathland is good for species such as Shy Heathwren, Variegated
Fairy-wren, and Tawny-crowned and White-fronted Honeyeater. Other species to
look for include Emu, Peaceful Dove, Rainbow, Musk and Purple-crowned Lorikeet,
Rainbow Bee-eater, Painted Honeyeater (rare), Crested Bellbird (increasingly
uncommon), and it is great for smaller passerines such as Striated,
Buff-rumped, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Chestnut-rumped, Inland, Brown and there is
a chance of Slender-billed Thornbill (BANG, that's all eight Victorian
Thornbill!), Weebill, Southern Whiteface and Diamond Firetail. A good spot to
look for the smaller grassland passerines is the grassy areas in the top north
corner. The last time I visited Wedge-tailed Eagle nested on the property, and
after rain, you may luck upon Painted Spadefoot Toad and Mallee Spadefoot Toad.
Glenlee Flora and Fauna Reserve
20 km north of the Dimboola you will find the wonderful Glenlee Flora and Fauna
Reserve (570 ha). I've included it in this report because it's a great place to
go woodland birding, and can easily be incorporated into an extended trip to
the Little Desert. Classified as remnant Buloke-grassy-woodland, Glenlee
contains one of the highest percentage of this type of grassland in reserves in
Victoria. The soil structure of the reserve is predominantly sandy loam. Aside
from Buloke, the reserves dominate vegetation includes Yellow Gum, Brown
Stringybark, Blackbox, Buloke Mistletoe, Grey Mulga, Leafless Current Bush,
Golddust Wattle and Golden Wattle. The grassy areas (near the bird hide - see
directions below) were carpeted in swathes of the low-growing, white papery
Blunt Everlasting (Argentipallium obtusifolium). In terms of orchids there were
flowering Azure Sun Orchid (T. azurea), and Glenlee is a primary conservation
areas for the Mallee Spider-orchid (Caladenia lowanensis).
Not surprisingly Glenlee has a wide range of woodland birds. Like Snape
Reserve, it's good for small passerines: Inland, Chestnut-rumped, Striated,
Buff-rumped, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, and Thornbill, Weebill, Southern Whiteface,
Variegated Fairy-wren, Diamond Firetail and occasionally Zebra Finch. It's an
excellent honeyeater site, particularly for Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, as well
as Spiny-cheeked and White-fronted Honeyeater and I've recently recorded Black
Honeyeater. Like the Little Desert, there are some interesting subspecies: Grey
Currawong (black-winged ssp melanoptera), Spotted Pardalote (yellow-rumped
xanthopygus) , Varied Sittella (black-capped pileata) and Variegated Fairy-wren
(purple-backed assimilis). Other species to look for include Rainbow Bee-eater,
White-browed Babbler, White-browed, Masked and Dusky Woodswallow, Restless
Flycatcher, White-winged Triller, Hooded and Red-capped Robin, Jacky Winter,
Brown and Rufous Songlark, Brown Treecreeper, Gilbert's Whistler and, at night,
listen for Bush Stone-curlew (rare locally).
The reserve's divided in two, a western and eastern blocks (either side of the
Nhill-Jeparit Rd). There's a bird hide in the center of the eastern block with
an associated water tray (-36.242716,141.847569), which is probably the best
area for birding. To access the hide from the Nhill-Jeparit Rd (when driving
from Nhill) take the first dirt track on your right (-36.233681,141.837437).
After ~1 km turn up a track that lead north (-36.246999,141.844416), and the
hide is another 200 meters (-36.242629,141.847483). You can also access it on
foot via the Gerang-Glenlee Rd. The Western block immediately opposite the
Nhill-Jeparit Rd entrance track is also worth birding.
Mammals and other species
Finally, this is a very brief discussion of the parks mammals and other
species. In terms of the Macropus, there are several species, all relatively
common: Western Grey Kangaroo, Red-necked Wallaby and Black Wallaby - and there
are occasional records of Red Kangaroo. The presence of Red-necked Wallaby in
the Little Desert (and, nearby in the Grampians), always intrigues me. The
closest population for this species is on Victoria's far-east coast. The
Red-necked Wallaby here must represent a remnant population, a bit like the
Glossy Black-Cockatoo on Kangaroo Island and Victoria's south-west Red-tailed
Black-Cockatoo, all reflective of a time when there was a habitat link between
east and west Victoria.
A number of possum and glider species occur in the park, including Brushtail
Possum, Little Pygmy Possum and Western Pygmy Possum, Sugar Glider and
Feathertail Glider - if looking for the Pygmy Possum and Feathertail Glider,
try spotlighting in the heathland. Silky Mouse is quite common, their burrow
systems in the low Banksia heath are fairly distinctive. Other mammals include
Echidna, Platypus (very rare, only occasional sightings along Wimmera River),
Water Rat (records similar to the Platypus), Fat-tailed Dunnart - a preference
for grassy areas - and, at last count, 11 bat species.
32 species of reptile have been recorded. From memory the species I've
encountered being Sand Goanna, Common Scaly-foot, Eastern Bearded Dragon, Jacky
Lizard, Shingle-back, Western Blue-tongue, Eastern Brown Snake, Marbled Gecko,
plus a few skinks, which, in retrospect, I should have paid more attention to.
The park lists 9 species of amphibian, with the most noteworthy for me Painted
Spadefoot Toad and Mallee Spadefoot Toad. These are your classic desert-type
toads, burying themselves underground often for years at a time, only to appear
after very heavy rains to breed. Once, while staying at Snapes Reserve, heavy
rains created a series small ephemeral wetlands to occur near my campsite. That
night, several thousand Spadefoot Toad appeared, as if out of no-where, to
breed in the puddles.
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