As I mentioned when I got back, I have just had a fantastic trip to Sturt
National Park, in north-western NSW, picking up 11 new birds along the way.
The trip was organised by Dave Watson and David Roshier of Charles Sturt Uni
to do some surveying work and reconnoitring of the park for an ARC project
that they are working on out there. I went along as a field assistant, as
did Jenny from Sweden, and Matt Herring came as the research assistance.
While there was some work, there was plenty of time for bird-watching,
especially as bird surveys were a part of the tasks that needed to be done.
We set out from Albury, and, via Wagga Wagga, the two car convoy headed
north west, making our way to White Cliffs for the first night. The roads
were pretty good and we made good time, pausing only long enough for me to
get Ground Cuckoo-shrike, a new bird for both me and Dave Watson. At White
Cliffs we stayed in the underground motel and in the morning went for a walk
around the barren, rocky hills nearby. Here I picked up another new bird -
Chirruping Wedgebill, calling incessantly from the only bit of vegetation
for miles that just happened to be growing around the sewage pit.
We then headed off to Sturt, stopping along the way to enjoy the re-growth
that had followed what must have been fairly recent rain. This is when we
started to see lots of Budgies. Budgies really are fantastic birds in the
wild. We saw them everywhere, they were breeding in Sturt, but we never
tired of them, greening dead trees, littering the ground with green and
zooming around in their tight flocks. Before we got to Sturt I got two more
new birds. Ordinary, but indisputable sightings of Bourke's Parrot and near
the park Australian Pratincoles (2 Prat lifers in 3 weeks!). The trip was
At Sturt we met Ingrid the Ranger and moved into our rooms at the shearers
quarters at Mount Wood. They rent out this fairly basic, but comfortable
rooms for $30 or so a night, which is great value. We also became familiar
with the flies. Lots of flies. Lots and lots of flies. It made our
accommodation so much more appreciated, by being able to get away from the
flies. If Matt was writing this message, he would have mentioned the
Mossies that came out in similar numbers once the flies went away, but that'
s because he has a special relationship with them.
There had been rain in the park about 4-6 weeks before we arrived and the
birds were going nuts. There were hundreds of Budgies everywhere as well as
Woodswallows all over the place. Brown and Rufous Songlarks were performing
mating rituals, and over every crest there was another pair of Banded
Lapwings. Both Crimson and Orange Chats were looking splendid in their full
breeding plumage, with an extra special splash of colour, suggesting very
new plumage. Zebra Finches were also abundant, chattering amongst the dead
finish and nesting in Wedgie nests. We found nests of Crested Pigeons in
buloke, Chirruping Wedgebills on the ground and Rufous Songlarks on the
ground. There were hundreds of nesting Tree Martins in their nests along
the dry creek lines and a few Fairy Martins as well.
On the 3rd day my tally of new birds had slowed, although we had spent the
last couple of days surveying the dead finish and sandlewood along Mistletoe
Creek, which some of you will know. The Cinnamon Quail-thrush that were
there in previous trips failed to materialise and so I was stuck with four
new birds for the trip. We had finished our plant survey and decided to
head down Mistletoe Creek to do a bird survey and then head back for lunch.
At the very end of the creek a raptor or corvid appeared over the horizon.
It was circling high and a long way away, but it came a bit closer and we
confirmed a raptor. It continued to circle closer, and we ruled out Wedgie,
Harrier and Buzzard (pity, I needed them), in fact we decided it was a
Falcon. I was pleased with this as I wanted a good look at a Black Falcon,
although as it came closer and closer, it appeared to be getting lighter and
lighter: probably a Brown. But then there was a definite steel grey sheen
on top of its wings, as it banked lazily this way and that, and then the
underwing looked, well grey, not creamy buff. It came closer and as I lay
on my back to watch the bird pass over the top of me, we new we had seen
Australia's rarest bird. A Grey Falcon! We were wrapped. Unfortunately,
David Roshier had decided to stay back at camp to do some paper-work, and so
after 10 or 20 years in the outback, where he has developed some great
skills, he dipped. Jenny from Sweden, who was more interested in the Herps
and had been in Australia 6 months saw it, and the southern city boy (Me)
who had been in the desert for around 3 days saw it, but David missed it!
That afternoon we went looking for Buloke patches suitable for some of the
mistletoe work being done by Dave and David. We stopped in one spot and
were surrounded by Pied Honeyeaters. Lots of them, and one that was staying
pretty close as we discussed the topography of the land. While we were
talking and turning to head back to the car, Matt had slipped away quietly.
Looking around for him we saw him return saying that he had found the nest
of the Pied Honeyeater! It was in a Buloke tree about 2 metres off the
ground and had three hatchlings in it. Alan Morris tells us that breeding
records for this bird are very rare in NSW, and they usually breed only in
WA. We returned a couple of days later and the birds had fledged, and then
while we were there we added White-fronted Honeyeater to our trip list, but
remained undecided about whether or not we could add Black Honeyeater on the
basis of call.
The next day I picked up Diamond Dove as we drove around and we had another
breeding record. I saw my first Inland Dotterel and it had a downy chick!
We later saw quite a few of them spotlighting, but these first ones were
seen during the day. Now we were mainly doing bird surveys along the creeks
and really getting to know the flies personally. On a particularly long
walk we picked up around 10 kilometres worth of them and they covered our
hats and backs, taking off like a small jet engine whenever you knocked your
hat or jacket. But it was worth it, I picked up Red-browed Pardalote and
Cinnamon Quail-thrush, as well as getting better looks at Bourke's Parrot.
It was also during these walks that we flushed some Spotted Nightjars. They
were fantastic to see: flushing and then settling not far away allowing
spectacular views, we saw five or six in a one-hundred metre stretch of dry
Most nights we went out spotlighting, without a great deal of success. On
two consecutive nights, at the same place we flushed a large greyish bird
from the roadside, but each time we failed to get onto it. I called a
Bustard, probably only because that would be a tick, but we couldn't call
it. We did get more Inland Dotterels, some of them almost literally; they
are not the most road-safe critters. Luckily we missed them, although
Ingrid's staff managed to collect one, which was sitting in the freezer back
at the lodgings. We did get a Desert Short-tailed Mouse and Fat-tailed
Dunnart, though, after much perseverance, to add to our nocturnal list.
We did not see many other mammals on our trip. Apart from the two
nocturnals, we only saw Red Roos and one Echidna. There weren't even many
Roos around, although there were hundreds of carcasses, under most bushes, a
lasting testimony to the severity of the recently broken drought. I was
surprised that most of the Red Roos, were not. We mostly saw grey Red Roos,
with perhaps less than half a dozen big Red boomers. The herps were a bit
quiet too, despite some sustained mild weather. We turned lots of steel in
carefully preserved sites (Cultural Representations of Australia's Past, or
CRAP for short), but apart from heaps of Prickly Geckos we only got one
snake, two frogs and handful of lizards (see below). One the way home we
did come across an interesting snake, but its ID remains a mystery until the
slides are developed.
The trip was coming to an end; I still only had 398 birds and was desperate
for the 400 before picking up Red-tailed Black-Cockies, dead certs at
Wilcannia (we dipped!). The morning started well with me ignoring three
fast flying, and, now that I think of it, large parrots, zooming past me
along the creek line. Luckily Matt and Dave were on the ball and called me
later to see a female Red-winged Parrot, bird 399, although if a male were
among the trio I saw earlier, that would have been nicer. We also saw a
Black Falcon that was cruising the creek line, but not the crippling views
that we had of the Grey.
And so with the work almost done, and the on last full day at Sturt we set
about finding our nocturnal friend: the ghostly grey shape that we had seen
a couple of times, without identifying it. Mid-morning we drove by the spot
that we had seen, but nothing was there, despite thoroughly searching the
horizon, so we returned, resigned to picking up bird 400 at Wilcannia, for
our final survey of a creek. The creek was great and it was here that we
saw the Rufous Songlark's nest, with its beautiful purple blotched eggs. We
poked around looking for a grasswren to emerge (yeah right!), commenting on
the suitability of the habitat for a Bustard, when Matt and Dave called
"BUSTARD" and I looked up to see a big male take a couple of steps before
launching itself into the air with a grunt of irritation and wheel to our
left before flying down the creek line, where it landed and disappeared.
Bird 400, and what a bird. Later that evening we returned to the nocturnal
site and actually saw at lest three more Bustards. We reckon that they must
spend the day feeding along the creek lines, but move to gibber plains to
spend the night, where they can see all approaching predators. We watched
them for ages in the setting sun, on flying away into it as we left.
What a great trip. I didn't see Black-breasted Buzzard or Gibberbird, which
are both pretty chancy birds at the best of times, but I am hard pressed to
think of anything that I should have seen and dipped. Except for those dead
cert Cockies in Wilcannia, that is. On the way home we stopped at Leeton
and met Mike Schultz and added Freckled Duck to the trip list, and then
stopped at Binya SF, a pretty trashed bit of bush, but with heaps of great
birds. We added Double-barred Finch, Speckled Warbler, Striped and
Yellow-plumed Honeyeater and Diamond Firetail among others to our trip list.
We saw 127 birds on the trip, 82 in Sturt National Park, and I got 10 new
birds for the trip. My thanks go to Dave and David for the trip, and I can'
t wait to get out there again. Ironically, this year I've been to Lamington
NP during its driest period in 60 years and Sturt after drought breaking
rains, so a dry rainforest and a wet desert!
Sturt NP list follows (not in taxonomic order, sorry):
(* denotes breeding record)
Crested Pigeon *
Masked Woodswallow *
Tree Martin *
Australian Wood Duck
Rufous Songlark *
Zebra Finch *
Pacific Black Duck
Pied Honeyeater *
Inland Dotterel *
Fairy Martin *
Chirruping Wedgebill *
Eastern Bearded Dragon Pogona barbatus
Prickly Gecko Heteronotia binoei
Tree Dtella Gehyra variagata
Bullenger's Skink Morethia bullengeri
Red-naped Snake Furina diadema
Water-holding Frog Cyclorana platycephala
Centralian Bearded Dragon Pogona vitticeps
Carnabi's Wall Skink Cryptoblepharus carnabi
Desert Short-tailed Mouse
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