To: "Tim Dolby" <>
Subject: Sturt NP & PYAMPA ACCESS
From: David Stowe <>
Date: Thu, 9 Oct 2008 07:32:51 +1100
Hi Tim,
Thanks for the great report.
However I didn't think there was any debate about access to Pyampa. It has been clear for a while that access is not permitted. A trip report from less than a month ago on birding-aus from Alan Rogers makes it
quite clear that Pyampa is still off limits (copied below).
I really don't think that a last minute phone call is enough when we
spend ages planning a trip to see these birds specifically. We birders need to be very mindful of respecting landowners wishes and if we can't contact them we should assume that going onto their property is tresspassing. Especially such a specific and debated site like the Grey Grasswren site at Pyampa. Otherwise we just make it harder if not impossible for future birders.

David Stowe

"I have just returned from a birding trip to Sturt National Park and
surrounds chiefly to seek out Grey and Eyrean Grasswrens. Our initial aim was to get permission from Ross and Marge Betts owners of Onepah
Station which straddles the NSW-QLD border with the Grasswrens at
Pyampa Swamp on the Qld side of the border. In recent years they have not wanted birders to visit but I hoped this might have changed. A
call to Onepah revealed that Ross had split the property keeping the
Qld section and selling the NSW part to the Sloane family.  They
seemed happy to allow birding access but there are no Grasswrens on
the the NSW side. After numerous phone calls I managed to track Ross down at his home in Broken Hill and his position of recent years unfortunately remains unchanged. He politely but firmly said NO, his comment being that they had had real problems with pig shooters
masquerading as birders and as such the property was off limits to
all.    We determined to respect his views so as not to get birders
any bad press and suggest this approach for others.

There is a Plan B which is to head further out to Adelaide Gate where land owner Bill O' Connor is very happy to have birders provided you contact him first (Narrewarra Homestead drop by and see him en route). His concern is that he sometimes takes pig shooters out into the lignum and doesn't want any unheralded human targets. Having got there the lignum was exceptionally dry and we only had glimpses of two pairs of Grey Grasswrens despite many hours of walking."

On 09/10/2008, at 1:40 AM, Tim Dolby wrote:

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

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

(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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