TR: Southeastern Australia/Tasmania Jan '03 (4)

Subject: TR: Southeastern Australia/Tasmania Jan '03 (4)
Date: Fri, 14 Mar 2003 19:13:09 EST

15 Jan 03
     Today we were leaving our luggage stored at the Peppin Inn, and driving west to the mallee country in northwestern Victoria for an overnight trip, returning tomorrow evening.  This allowed us to get into different habitat and a different group of birds.  Mallee is a type of habitat, not a specific species of eucalypt.  My memory of Phil's explanation is that it is sandy habitat with frequent fires.  The trees there are adapted to form large underground tuber-like root crowns just under the soil surface, so that they can resprout after a fire burns through an area.  This means that each tree is actually a coppice-like bundle of a half dozen or so thin trunks, maybe 10 meters high at best, all sprouting from one source.  Despite their short, sometimes scraggly appearance, though, these trees can apparently be quite old, and this is a mature forest.  It was fascinating.
     Today was another day filled with avian wonders.  We got off to a great start, with our life BLUE-FACED HONEYEATER flying by as we were loading up Phil's truck in the motel parking lot.  Then, we were off.  Again, too many birds to go through them all individually--77 species for the day, with 19 of them lifers--and some of the best life birds of the trip.  Some highlights:
     Half an hour after leaving the motel we were looking at our life BLACK FALCONS, an uncommon species with a very distinctive flappy sort of flight.  Perched, I dismissed it as just another Brown Falcon, but Phil straightened us out.  Along the road a way, we came across a large road-killed goanna with couple of Wedge-tailed Eagles attending it.  Phil stopped to move the lizard well off the road to protect the eagles from traffic.  I convinced him to hold up the thing by the tail for a moment so I could get a photo.  The picture still makes me smile at the grimace on Phil's face from the foul reek wafting over us.
     One of the best birds of the entire trip, for me, came about 15 minutes later.  We spotted yet another group of cockatoos feeding on berries in some low shrubs near the road, but when we stopped to look at them more closely, they turned out to be gorgeous MAJOR MITCHELL'S COCKATOOS.  We watched them climb about and feed, and as one looked like he was going to fly off for a short distance, Phil told us to watch, that they often fan their crest as they land.  Sure enough, the big bird landed and fanned that incredible crest wide open, jerking his head this way and that so that we got perfect views of the red and yellow banding from every angle--outstanding.
     We arrived in an area of mallee about 11am or so which proved extremely productive.  This area had had a bit of rain a few weeks before, at New Year's--nearly two inches, if I am remembering properly--and so there was some new growth on some of the trees and shrubs, and more bird activity than we had been seeing further east.  Today was Parrot Day, it seemed.  Some of the best birds we saw today were the beautiful variety of psittacines in this area.  First was AUSTRALIAN (MALLEE) RINGNECK, a handsome large green parakeet with a yellow neck collar.  An hour later we saw our first MULGA PARROTS, another beautiful Psephotus species.  But the star of the lunchtime parrot brigade was a flock of about a dozen REGENT PARROTS who flew in and landed all around us, feeding and preening and showing off their incredible golden plumage, like big yellow canaries.  Beautiful to watch, and then even more breathtaking in flight.
     A couple of other birds this morning also deserve special mention.  We all got good looks at a LITTLE EAGLE on the morning trip from Deniliquin, a bird we had hoped to see but, again, would probably have had difficulty positively identying without  Phil's help.  A small group of CHESTNUT-CROWNED BABBLERS entertained us along the roadside at one point--my favorite babbler, very handsome.  Just before lunch we got outstanding looks at a male SPLENDID FAIRY-WREN.  This whole family is really mind-blowing, and this particular species has to be one of the most beautiful of the bunch!  Finally, we had a surprise bird for the day, a bird that we had given up on after failing to find it at the bat-chasing-goanna, blooming-mistletoe site yesterday--a perfect male BLACK HONEYEATER.  Maybe the rains a few weeks back had drawn this notoriously nomadic bird westward...
     After lunch, we continued travelling westward, and more stops produced more life birds--YELLOW-THROATED MINER;  RED-BACKED KINGFISHER;  a CRESTED BELLBIRD that led us on a merry chase in the heat.  For me, though, one of the best species this afternoon was a lizard, a half-meter long SHINGLEBACK that we came upon as it was crossing the road--a fantastically impressive animal, covered in knobbly black and white scales.   We arrived in the evening at Hattah Kulkyne National Park.  More life birds awaited here, including WHITE-EARED HONEYEATER, SOUTHERN SCRUB-ROBIN, SHY HEATHWREN, these latter two quite nice to get.  Well-satisfied, and worn out from the intense heat, we went off to dinner and the hotel, the very comfortable Mallee View Motel in Ouyen.

16 Jan 03
     Back to Hattah Nat'l Park in the early morning.  We walked for hours, it seemed, searching the low spinifex habitat in the pleasant coolness.  Despite much effort, we were unable to see any Mallee Emu-Wrens;  Phil seemed to think that the area was still perhaps too dry for breeding, despite the earlier rains.  We did hear one calling, briefly and distantly (and almost inaudibly, it is so high-pitched), but it remained heard-only.  However, we were more lucky with our other target species.  A search of a likely area of spinifex revealed a probably-nesting pair of STRIATED GRASSWRENS  and allowed everyone to get very good looks.  We probably have the rains to thank for that life bird, and for our excellent looks at them, as Phil says they would never have showed themselves if they hadn't have decided to breed, probably stimulated by the New Year's rain.
     More good birds awaited us.  Shortly after our encounter with the grasswrens, we flushed a SPOTTED NIGHTJAR from its roosting site in the mallee.  We saw another Crested Bellbird, this time one that felt sorry for us and let us actually look at it, unlike yesterday's devil.  A group of WHITE-BROWED BABBLERS rounded out the trio of babblers possible for us.
     Then came two of the best birds of the entire trip.  Phil heard the first of these calling, and managed with skill and persistence to herd us all into our proper places (including the birds!) so that we got excellent looks at a pair of CHESTNUT QUAIL-THRUSHES meandering (some would say sneaking) quietly along.  Perfect name for them--great birds.  But even better--Ron was following one of the quail-thrushes through the undergrowth with his binoculars when it walked right in front of--"MALLEEFOWL!", he yelled, and three of the four us got brief but good looks at it before it sneaked off.  We (or at least, I) had almost given up on this bird--we had seen many mounds, but none were in use because of the drought, and finding an actual live bird away from one of the mounds seemed like a needle in a haystack.  Phil then took Don McClintock, who hadn't seen the bird, back into the scrub while the rest of us panted in the shade, and Phil doggedly kept at it with Don until Don saw the bird also--with even better looks than we had.  A most excellent morning.
     We stopped at the Hattah Lakes Store for a good and entertaining lunch.  Then, we worked our way back to Deniliquin in the afternoon.  We saw some great land birds--a great COLLARED SPARROWHAWK;  female ORANGE-CHAT;  WHITE-FRONTED CHATS;  and another unbelievable male WHITE-WINGED FAIRY-WREN--but mostly we stopped at wetland habitats on our way "home", and most of our new birds this afternoon were water birds, especially waders  These included COMMON GREENSHANK, RED-NECKED STINT, SHARP-TAILED and CURLEW SANDPIPERS;  fantastic looks at the beautiful BANDED STILT;  RED-CAPPED PLOVER and BLACK-FRONTED DOTTEREL;  and our only GULL-BILLED TERN of the trip.  We also saw an EASTERN BROWN-SNAKE, a great follow-up after the WESTERN BROWN-SNAKE we had encountered (but not too closely!) yesterday.  Back to Deniliquin and the Peppin for the night.


Bill Benner
Old Brookville, NY
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