A drive along the flooded Strzelecki Track. South Australia

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: A drive along the flooded Strzelecki Track. South Australia
From: Ian May <>
Date: Sat, 06 Mar 2010 20:48:22 +1030
g'Day all

Early last week Pat and I spent a few days visiting relly's and old friends from Quorn to Lyndhurst but while there we decided to drive up the Strzelecki Track, Lyndhurst north to Merty Merty mainly to have a look at the country after recent rains. On the way north there was no other traffic except for three bogged and abandoned road trains in the Cobbler Desert. We had a fantastic couple of days birding although the wind was blowing se gale force, dust storms from Lake Callabonna and Lake Frome were raging reducing visibility to about three km and despite this, the rain had not quite stopped so driving off road was treacherous. Creek crossings were flowing across the road on Sunday and Monday but by Wednesday had receded and we passed the first north bound traffic headed for the Moomba Gas fields on Tuesday

The country is looking great almost completely covered with ephemeral chenepods and native grasses.. The grasses are developing seed rapidly and vegetation everywhere is set to commence flowering but at this point, only a few salicornia, cassia, mistletoe and acacias have burst so far. It is going to be a great natural history year in the outback, not just because of the obvious rain response but because it is the first post drought rain across the area and it this combination (drought allows the build up of plant available soil nutrients) that triggers exceptional outback seasons.

Nomadic birds are already irrupting and many have brightened up into breeding condition. There are many hundreds, perhaps thousands of budgerigar flocks of up to 100 birds each flying across every imaginable landscape and the watercourses are full of hollow searching birds. Cockateil also but in hundreds, not tens of thousands. Orange and Crimson chats in abundance. Same for Pied and Black honeyeaters.

The Fairy Wrens (White-winged and Variegated) are looking even brighter than their usual splendour as are Cinnamon Quail thrush.. Along approx. 200 km of road we observed more than 10 Black Falcon mostly in pairs and more visible later in the day while hunting. Australian Dotterel were in small flocks of 20+ birds all across the stony gibber plains and many have separated into pairs displaying breeding behaviour. Gibberbirds are also common on the gibber. Banded Plover are spread in pairs breeding across a vast area of the sandy desert. On Wednesday morning, while searching for Eyrean Grasswren (unsuccessful probably because of wind), one only Letter-winged Kite calling loudly attracted my attention as it was flying high in a northerly direction. After that I searched some other of my known sites but could not find any others.

Surprising dips were Eyrean Grasswren, Grey Falcon, Banded Whiteface, Chestnut-breasted Whiteface, Chestnut-tailed Thornbill, Brown weebill but the wind was relentless

Insects are also irrupting. We could see evidence everywhere of forthcoming locust plagues, probably this year in biblical proportions. Flies, Mosquitoes and sandflies (Midges) are there in great abundance as are hairy caterpillars and just about everything else that can bite and itch. And believe me, everything is hungry after the drought.. My advice is to take insect repellent with you in quantities and strength great enough to challenge the organic status of the land Bird list from Leigh Creek to Merty via Strzelecki track and return; 28 February to 2 March 2010 (in no particular order)

Crimson Chat Common in stony hills and in sandy desert
Orange Chat  irrupting over chenopod shrublands
Gibberbird Common in suitable habitat Single birds, occasional pairs. Breeding condition on any flat stony plains
Mulga Parrot  5 Leigh Creek watercourse
Mallee Ringneck Parrot  as above
Cooper Creek Red Rump Parrot 10 + of this distinctive subspecies at Strz xng
Blue-bonnet Parrot  common Coolibah floodplains plains
Galah common
Little Corella large numbers in several locations and along creeks searching for hollows
Budgerigar everywhere
Cockatiel  small flocks mainly at watercourses
Nankeen Kestrel  widespread
Letter-winged Kite 1
Brown Falcon  widespread in pairs
Black Falcon  at various localities
Brown Goshawk 1 at Frome Ck.
Fork-tailed Kite common at Strz Xng and all route
Whistling Kite 1 at Mt. Lyndhurst station
Black-breasted Buzzard 2
Spotted Harrier 2 sandhills near montecollina bore
Little Eagle 1 at Mt. Lyndhurst Stn
Wedge-tailed Eagle In groups of up to 5 at many locations feeding on roo carcasses
Barn Owl   calling at night Strz Xng
Owlet Nightjar  called from Coolibah Creek near camp at Merty
Grey Teal (ducklings)  several locations borrow pits, dams etc.
Wood Duck (week old ducklings on several waterholes at Frome and Pelican Creek)
White-faced Heron 1  Blanchewater Ck.
Stubble Quail 2
Black-faced Woodswallow widespread and common
Masked Woodswallow Strzelecki Creek 20+
White-browed Woodswallow  100 + at watercourses
White-winged Wren widespread
Variegated Wren along watercourses and sanddunes
Thick-billed Grasswren Relatively common in suitable habitat mainly along acacia watercourses through chenopod plains from Lyndhurst to the Blanchewater
Rufous Field Wren as above
Australian (Inland) Dotterel Common on stony plains. Also on sanddunes swales breeding
Black-fronted Dotterel 1 at Lyndhurst dam
Banded Plover. Widespread across sandy and stony deserts possible density greater than 10 pr per sq. km across Strzelecki Desert adjacent to road
Masked Plover  Occasional at flooded borrow pits
Red-necked Avocet  Several at flooded claypans near Strzelecki Ck.
Australian Pratincole  Several on  road at Murnpeowie
Pipit widespread
Brown Songlark (irrupting across Mitchell grass plains)
Rufous Songlark (watercourse vegetation everywhere)
White-backed Swallow.  common in sandhill country
Welcome Swallow.  Occasional and widespread
Tree Martin   Watercourses
Fairy Martin  Blanchewater Ck ruins
Fork-tailed swift  Strzelecki creek area, see separate report on birding-aus
Red-backed Kingfisher 2 at Strz xng
White-winged Triller 1 at Strz xng
Raven  common on watercourses and around dams
Little Crow  Common in sanddune deserts esp near mulga and acaia shrublands
Australian Magpie.  widespread
Magpie-lark Occasional  along water courses
Willy Wagtail  Common
Cinnamon Quail-thrush. Common along shrubby small watercourses across gibber plains and also sanddune deserts
Red-browed Pardalote.  common along coolibah creeks
Mistletoebird.  occasional in acacia shrublands
Southern Whiteface 3 Strz crossing
White-plumed Honeyeater common along red gum creeks
Yellow-throated Miner.  occasional on red gum creeks near Leigh Ck
Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater.  Acacia shrublands common
Singing Honeyeater Acacia shrublands common
Pied Honeyeater  Acacia shrublands in sandy desert common and irrupting
Black Honeyeater  as above but less common than pied
Chestnut-crowned Babbler widespread in sandy desert shrublands
Ground Cuckoo Shrike two at Frome Ck Also two at Neeroodla siding north of Port Augusta
Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike 3 at Pelican Creek
Wedgebill common in acacia shrublands from Lyndhurst to Murnpeowie
Common Bronzewing Pigeon 1
Crested Pigeon common
Diamond Dove  common along eucalypt watercourses
Peaceful Dove  several seen at flooded creek near Leigh Creek
Emu  Common beside roadside south of Leigh Creek to Hookina

Regards and good birding

Ian and Pat May
St Helens Tasmania
currently at Price



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