Sturt NP & Surrounds Trip Report

To: <>
Subject: Sturt NP & Surrounds Trip Report
From: "Tim Dolby" <>
Date: Thu, 9 Oct 2008 01:40:36 +1100
Sturt NP and Surrounds Trip Report (Sept/Oct 2008) Tim Dolby

Hi birders and outback birding fans,

I've just returned from brilliant birding trip to Sturt NP, north-west NSW. 
While there I made side trips to the Bulloo Overflow in Queensland, and to the 
red sand dunes of the Strzelecki Desert, just west of Cameron Corner in South 
Australia. My 10-year-old son asked me to bring back some red desert sand, 
which, fortunately I did. My 2-year-old son just missed me!

Amoungst the highlights were Eyrean and Grey Grasswren, Grey Falcon, Cinnamon 
Quail-thrush, Pied Honeyeater and Ground Cuckoo-shrike.

During my stay I camped at Dead Horse Gully near Tibooburra, and Fort Grey just 
east of Cameron Corner, and on the way back I dropped into the wonderful 
Mutawintji NP. To reduce the amount of driving (in decadence) from Melbourne I 
flew to Mildura, hired a car, effectively halving the travel distance of the 
trip. I hired a M. Outlander. Technically I wasn?t allowed take it off-road 
(traveling around Sturt NP / Strzelecki Desert isn?t off-road is it?). Despite 
cleaning inside and out - at a car wash in Broken Hill - the hire car people 
(Europcar) in Mildura described it as the dirtiest car ever returned.

My particular aim was to see the Grasswren species, Eyrean and Grey. I 
remember, as a child I?d spent hours looking at these two particular Grasswren 
sp in Slater's hardback Passerines. Their distribution appeared as dots in the 
middle of the vast Australian continent. I remember thinking about great 
adventures, tracking them down in the wilds of the outback; traveling to "the 
back of Bourke and back", literally. In Cayley's 'What Bird is That?' the Grey 
Grasswren doesn?t even appear in the plates; it wasn?t scientifically described 
until 1968, although it was actually observed in 1921 by Arthur Chenery (a 
founding member of Birds Australia). For some reason the Eyrean Grasswren 
intrigued me most. First discovered in 1874 at Macumba River north-west of Lake 
Eyre, it then disappeared and was considered extinct until 1961 (when it was 
seen in the same area). It was not until 1976 that the SA Museum was able to 
confirm the birds' existence, in the Simpson Desert. So...

Bulloo Overflow
I had three possible Grey Grasswren sites within reach of Sturt NP. One was 
over 250 km away near the bridge over Cooper Creek on Adventure Way (the road 
to Innamincka), just east of Ballara Gas Centre. The other two sites targeted 
Amytornis barbatus barbatus ssp, confined to the Bulloo River overflow. Found 
only in habitat dominated by lignum, cane grass, and old man saltbush, the area 
of occurrence is less than 100km2. One spot was west of the Adelaide Gate, 
while the easiest to reach was Pyampa Station in Queensland just north of 
Wompah Gate.

There has been some debate about access to Pyampa, once abandoned it now has a 
staffed workhouse. From Tibooburra I tried to contact the owners; however, 
perhaps because it was Grand Final Day (the Hawks won, damn) I could not reach 
anybody. Rather than disturb residents and cattle on the farm, the Pyampa site 
can be reached on foot along a creek line:

- to reach the GGW site, from Tibooburra drive north for 22km, then turn right 
to the Wompah Gate, a further 33km. After the gate drive 5.3 km until you reach 
a small (usually dry) creek line. Walk along the creek for approximately 2 km, 
to where there is a bore with a windmill on your right. Continue northeast 
along the creek line for another 1.3 km until you come to a fence. Cross the 
fence and from here you can see the lignum and cane grass in front of you. Walk 
northeast until you come to the larger clumps of lignum and search this area 
for the Grey Grasswren. I found a small party of 3 birds (maybe more) after 
about half an hours searching.

Birders usually describe this site as being barren however, quite the opposite; 
I found it to be really interesting, seeing Emu, Hoary-headed Grebe, Grey Teal, 
Black Kite, Nankeen Kestrel, Brown Falcon, Red-kneed Dotterel, Banded Lapwing 
(in the gibber area just to the nth), Diamond Dove, Little Corella, flocks of 
Cockatiel and Budgerigar, Mallee Ringneck, Blue Bonnet (y ssp), Red-backed 
Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, White-backed Swallow, Australasian Pipit, 
White-winged Fairy-wren, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Southern Whiteface, 
Spiny-cheeked, Singing and White-plumed Honeyeater, Crimson and Orange Chat, 
White-browed Babbler, Chirruping Wedgebill, White-winged Triller, Willie 
Wagtail, White-breasted and Black-faced Woodswallow, Australian Magpie, 
Australian Raven, Little Crow, Australasian Pipit, Welcome Swallow, and Tree 
Martin (38 sp).

Strzelecki Desert
I'd actually been within a stones throw of Eyrean Grasswren last year, when 
birding along the Santa Teresa Rd south of Alice Spring (they are found several 
hundred km further south near Old Andado on the northern edge of the Simpson 
Desert). On this trip I saw Eyrean Grasswren 36 km west of Cameron Corner atop 
of the red sand dunes (of the Strzelecki Desert), on the south side of the road 
in clumps of Sandhill Cane Grass (Zygochloa paradoxa). An interesting point 
here, they seem to prefer the Cane Grass rather than the Spinifex (Triodia), 
which is found between the sand dunes in this area. Other birds seen at this 
site included Cinnamon Quail-thrush, Variegated Fairy-wren, Diamond Dove, 
Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo, Red-backed and Sacred Kingfisher, Crimson Chat, 
Zebra Finch and White-backed Swallow.

Tibooburra to Cameron Corner
One of the best birding spot in Sturt NP is along Fort Grey Rd and Dunes Scenic 
Dr. The most common species were Crimson Chat, Nankeen Kestrel, Black-faced 
Woodswallow, Crested Pigeon, White-backed Swallow (they nested along the 
roadside 11 km east of Cameron Corner) and Emu. Along this road I also saw 
Australian Pratincole, and had a possible Grey Falcon zoom over a ridge just 
west of Fort Grey.

I camped at Fort Grey, which is surely one of the best places in Australia to 
see Ground Cuckoo-shrike. It was a common campsite bird, as were 
Yellow-throated Miner, Black-faced Woodswallow, Crested Bellbird, 
Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Galah, and Little Corella. I also saw Red-browed 
Pardalote and Black-eared Cuckoo. It is worth noting that during the heat of 
the day (30 degrees plus, when I was there) that the Fort Grey campsite seems 
barren (as does much of Sturt NP), but at dusk and dawn, with changing light, 
and when the birds began to move about, it becomes a very pleasant place to be. 
(Give it time.)

Toona Gate Rd
It was along this road that I saw Grey Falcon. I?d spent quite some time 
birding in this area, particularly those spots with good views over the 
landscape. The best views are near McDonalds Peak. Eventually (after two days) 
I'd excellent views of a Grey Falcon. It flew over the car, and then 
disappeared as quickly as it appeared.

Gorge Loop Rd
Starting from the Mt Wood campground end, I found this road to be perhaps the 
most interesting section of Sturt National Park. It begins with large areas of 
gibber, and then traversed through rolling hills and wooded creek lines. Along 
here I saw Cinnamon Quail-thrush (2km from the Mt Wood campground), Crimson and 
Orange Chat were both common, Emu, Spotted Harrier, Chirruping Wedgebill, 
Red-backed Kingfisher, Blue Bonnet, honeyeaters included Singing, White-plumed 
and Spiny-cheeked, White-winged Fairy-wren, Chestnut-crowned Babbler, Little 
Eagle, Nankeen Kestrel, Brown Falcon and Black Kite. In a gibber section of the 
loop I also saw a flock of 20 Whiskered Tern flying slowly south. To me this 
seemed quite amazing to me: miles away from the nearest inland waters, they 
were obviously migrating south across the interior of the Australia desert. 
Perhaps I would catch up with them later in Victoria later.

Towards the northern end of the Gorge Loop Rd a good spot to birdwatch is near 
the Horton Parkin ruin and its associated water bore. It was one of the most 
lively sites in Sturt, with Black-eared Cuckoo, Variegated Fairy-wren, Zebra 
Finch, Southern Whiteface, Pied Butcherbird, Little Crow, White-winged Triller, 
Brown and Rufous Songlark, Black-faced Woodswallow, Common Bronzewing and 
several water birds including a White-necked Heron, Hoary-headed Grebe, 
Black-fronted Dotterel and Black Duck. Nearby there were also areas of scrub 
and flowering Eremophila, with small numbers of Pied Honeyeater as well as 
Spiny-cheeked, White-plumed and Singing Honeyeater.

(Big NOTE: a recent report of Striated Grasswren near Mt Wood seems unlikely. 
The habitat is inappropriate, with no Triodia. The only species of grasswren 
that seems likely is Thick-billed GW. This also seems unlikely; with the 
nearest populations is Lake Blanche, SW of Cameron Corner at least 250 km west 
of Mt Wood. Graeme Chapman and I have discussed viable possibilities, and are 
interested in any GW sightings in this area.)

Mutawintji National Park
To break the trip up, on the way back to Mildura I camped at Mutawintji NP, 130 
km nth of Broken Hill. A delightful national park, it was described to me as a 
mini Flinders Ranges. Considering there?s an isolated population of 
Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby (first discovered here in 1977), the description 
seems quite appropriated. The park?s made up of a series of rocky red gorges 
along Red Gum-lined creeks, surrounded by chenopod and shrubby plains. When I 
was there it was teeming with birds, particularly parrots such as Mallee 
Ringneck, Mulga Parrot, Galah, Little Corella and Major Mitchell's Cockatoo. 
The campsite (which has hot showers ? my first in 6 days), is populated by 
White-winged Chough and Apostlebird.

At Mutawintji I recorded Brown Goshawk, Little Eagle, Spotted Harrier, 
Wedge-tailed Eagle, Tree Martin, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, White-winged 
Triller, Red-capped Robin, Rufous Whistler, White-browed and Chestnut-crowned 
Babbler, Chirruping Wedgebill, Variegated Fairy-wren, Yellow-rumped and 
Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Southern Whiteface, Striated Pardalote, 
Yellow-throated Miner, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Apostlebird, White-breasted 
Woodswallow, Pied Butcherbird, Common Bronzewing, Pallid Cuckoo, Crested 
Bellbird, Little Crow and Australian Raven. At night, I heard Southern Boobook 
(a bird I didn?t hear at Sturt) and Australian Owlet-nightjar. A bird on 
Mutawintji bird list is Hall's Babbler, the southern-most distribution of this 
species. Restricted to the gorge systems of Mutawintji (such as Amphitheatre 
Gorge), this bird is also recorded (and has been banded) within the 
?restricted? northern area of the park.

Finally, if I may, I'd like to dedicate the trip to Sally Symonds, who passed 
away while I was at Sturt. Thinking about you Sally.

Tim Dolby

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