Mallee trip report

Subject: Mallee trip report
From: Penny Brockman <>
Date: Mon, 04 Oct 2010 13:38:18 +1000
Cars make very good bird hides !!
Tim, you describe two ways of finding flocks on foot. Have you got any opinion 
on the technique of driving till you find one?

I've recently returned from a trip to Little Desert, where I've never been 
birding before. I was a little dismayed to find that walking in some places got 
me just a few very quick glimpses of birds darting across tracks, no matter how 
long I did it for. I resorted to slow driving, and at least the birds lingered 
a little longer.

Peter Shute

-----Original Message-----
 On Behalf Of Tim Dolby
Sent: Monday, 4 October 2010 1:15 PM
To: Jeremy Weiss; 
Subject: RE: [Birding-Aus] Mallee trip report

Sounds like a really interesting trip Jeremy. I wouldn't be
too concerned Jeremy about not seeing some of the rarer
species in the mallee, particularly those linked to Triodia.
I did a quick count and you saw 22 new species, not bad by
anyones calculations! Dipping on species such as Mallee
Emu-wren, Striated Grasswren and Malleefowl is not unusual at
the best of times - especially not first time around. For
example a bird tour guide recently missed them there at
Nowingi, stating that it was very quiet.

When I was at Hattah and Wyperfeld last week the amount of
water in the area was amazing. Lake Hattah was literally
bursting its banks. This is probably one reason things are a
little quiet, especially around the Lake Hattah area. With
all the water around, bird such as Regent Parrot are no
longer reliant upon the lake for drinking, and therefore can
disperse more widely. For example last week I saw a Regent
Parrot flying over a winery near Mildura.

Personally I find that a specific feature of Mallee birding
is behaviour known as mixed-species flocking, even amongst
some of the sedentary species such as Mallee Emu-wren and
Striated Grasswren. Mix-species flocking is were flocks of
usually insectivorous birds of different species join with
each other and move together while foraging. Mix-flocks moves
through the mallee at about 0.3 km an hour, with different
species foraging in their preferred niches (on the ground, on
trunks, in high or low foliage, and so on). Some species
follow the flock all day, while others - such as Grasswren
and Emu-wren, join it only as long as it crosses their own

The key to seeing a range of species is to travel through the
area in hope of finding one of these flocks. Personally I
found there are two ways of doing this:

  - Walk slowly and listen very carefully for bird calls and
then follow it up straight away

  - Alternatively walk quickly, covering more territory,
stopping when ever you think you hear something. Note that
this is a good technique for seeing Grasswren and Emu-wren,
which tend to move away or hide when approaching.

FYI I've place some information of finding the rarer species
of bird in the mallee on my report site. Hopefully it provide
some assistance next time you visit, see:

Once you get used to the mallee you'll find that it is one of
the most rewarding birding habitats in Australia. The colour
of plants, soil and the birds - such as parrots, chats and
fairy-wren - adds to its beauty. As you say not seeing some
species simply gives you an excuse to go back. To be quite
honest I'm usually glad that I've dipped on not seeing some
birds for this very reason!


Tim Dolby

 on behalf of Jeremy Weiss

Sent: Saturday, October 02, 2010 11:33 AM
Subject: [Birding-Aus] Mallee trip report

Hello everyone,

Thought I would give a report of my trip to the mallee. I
went from Monday September 27 to Friday Oct 1.

First I should say upfront that I dipped on a lot of birds.

I had the 'Where to See Birds in Victoria' book and was
expecting to find a lot more than I did. I've only been
birding for a year so I think this was just a problem of
technique, often I would enter a dry forest and just find it
completely silent and I wasn't sure if driving along tracks
was better than going on foot.

That said I had a great trip, still saw quite a few new birds
and the scenery was just incredible.

So here it goes:

Monday September 27

Set out from Melbourne early in the morning. Before the first
destination, Lake Tyrrell, we stopped to take pictures of the
amazing orange flowers that were popping up everywhere. I had
heard that Central Australia was getting a lot of flowers and
the Mallee didn't disappoint in that regard.

After that, the first interesting sighting on the way was a
Red-backed Kingfisher sitting on a power line in some town
(sorry, completely forgotten the name but it was a small town
on the Calder)

I thought this was a good omen since I love kingfisher but
arriving in Lake Tyrrell midday it was completely dead. Very
windy and couldn't find any birds other than a Singing
Honeyeater (new)

After that we went to check out Gama Reserve on the way to
Ouyen. Lots of activity here, mostly from a family of Brown
Treecreepers (new) that were making a ton of noise. Did see
the first Mulga Parrots (new) of the trip, some Spiny-cheeked
Honeyeaters, Singing Honeyeaters and caught a glimpse of a
male Variegated Fairy-wren (new.)

Next we headed for Bronzewing Flora and Fauna
least I hope that's where we went. It was off Torneys Road
and had a dam with water in it. Anyway saw a pair of Southern
Whiteface (new,) a few Weebills as well as a beautiful male
Splendid Fairy-wren (new). Got very close to him but
unfortunately he was against an overcast sky.

Then it was off to Hattah-Kulkyne to set up camp. Saw this
lizard strutting across the road; maybe someone can help me
with an ID?

Setting up the tent at the Lake Hattah campsite I saw my
first Apostlebirds
(new.) The novelty wore off quickly, let me tell you!

That was the end of the first day since the afternoon was
spent setting up the tent and camping gear.

Tuesday September 28

Tuesday morning we headed to the Nowingi track to look for
Mallee Emu-wrens.
This was a lot more difficult than I had originally thought.
First I had only brought track pants with me and walking
through the spinifex gave my legs a gentle stabbing every
time. Next, although I enjoyed roaming the spinifex clumps,
it was incredibly hard to find anything. Most of the sounds I
heard was just loose bark scraping against the trees in the
wind. Anyway didn't see any Emu-wrens that time, over an hour
spent there and the only birds I saw were a few Yellow-plumed
Honeyeaters (new)

After a few nice panoramic views at Warepil Lookout we
decided to try the track around Lake Mournpall. Not long
after leaving the Lookout we saw a pair of Mulga Parrots fly
into the woods. Aching to get some photos of one I headed out
and managed a slightly blurry shot of the male

Luckily enough I stumbled on a family of Red-capped Robins
while looking for the parrots. I love these guys and even
managed to witness two males fighting, looked like fat little
fireballs colliding with each other. Took tons of pics and
the male was pretty indifferent to me as he went about
foraging for the youngster

On the way out I also saw a Ringneck Parrot (new) and a pair
of Emu (new) from the car.

After that we arrived at Lake Mournpall and decided to do a
bit of the track (wasn't feeling up for doing the whole 9.5km
lake loop.) There were lots of flowers around the track and
they were covered in bees but I never got stung the entire trip.

Anyway on the brief walk I saw Chestnut-rumped Thornbill
(new) Brown-headed Honeyeater (new) , Spiny-cheeked
Honeyeater, Rufous Whistler, Red-capped Robin and spent the
rest of the time chasing Splendid Fairy-wrens. No good photos
of them from that walk, they sure are a lot more skittish
than the Superbs back home.

On the way out we saw a pair of Mallee Ringnecks and I got my
only good photo of them


I found it was pretty common to see pairs of parrots flying
around the Mallee but they were all incredibly twitchy.

A brief rest at the campground where I saw a Great crested
Grebe on the lake before we headed back to Nowingi to look
for the emu-wrens again.

At Nowingi in the afternoon I again found Yellow-plumed
Honeyeaters but this time also saw some friendly Jacky
Winters. Caught a very blurry glimpse of a Chestnut
Quail-Thrush (new) and I think I may have seen a Mallee Emu-wren:

It was a bird the size of a wren and it jumped/flew out of a
spinifex clump in front of me into another one. It landed in
the base of another patch and seemed to burrow through to the
other side where it flew in to a larger clump. I stood
staring at the spinifex for about 5 minutes when I realised
it must have taken an exit I wasn't watching and was long
gone. I'm not too confident IDing stuff without a photo and I
guess it could also have been a Striated Grasswren but i'm not sure.

Slightly cheered up after seeing something we headed back to
the campground for the night. Tried a bit of spotlighting
heading from Lake Hattah to Mournpall but only turned up a
few Brushtail Possums.

Wednesday September 29

Wednesday morning we headed back to Nowingi for one last shot
at the Mallee Emu-wren. Again I only got photos of some
Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters but I also had 2 possible Emu-wren
encounters. I heard a soft squeaking and saw a wren-sized
bird up ahead of me. Of course it was sitting with the sun
behind it and by the time my camera focused it had magically
vanished, that's how it goes I guess :P

Back at the campground for a break I saw a few Yellow
Rosellas around and also a pair of Black-Tailed Native Hens  (new)

and some Grey Teal in the water.

In the afternoon we headed for Pink Lakes in Murray-Sunset
National Park.

Managed to avoid running over a Shingleback Lizard and got
some nice photos as a reward :)

Saw a pair of Blue Bonnets (new) by the lakes but couldn't
get a decent shot. I hadn't heard much about these birds
before the trip which is a shame because they are just
beautiful. I wish I had gotten a nice picture but they got
spooked so easily. Also in the Pink Lakes area was a pair of
Red-rumped Parrots, A Black-shouldered Kite, some Masked
Lapwings with chicks, Rufous Songlark (new), and a ton of
newly hatched locusts by the lake!

Again I looked for Emu-wrens around the spinifex area around
Pink Lakes but only found this lizard

anyone up for an ID?

On the way out I saw the only Major Mitchells Cockatoo (new)
of the trip but just got a blurry photo.

Nearing sunset we went to Wymlet Tank to try to find some
parrots. Saw a pair of Banded Lapwings (new) and managed to
get some nice shots of them

Also in the area were more Brown Treecreepers, Red-rumped
Parrots and a pair of Blue Bonnets that permitted me very
distant shot.

I had decided the night before that I was sick of camping
(this was my first time in almost ten years and the nostalgia
didn't last long) so we stayed at a motel in Mildura the last
2 nights.

Thursday September 30

Thursday morning we decided to try King's Billabong near
Mildura. The Vic Parks website said it had fairy-wrens along
the walking track....all lies!
Nothing there but some Miners and a few Yellow Rosellas.

After that we headed for Bronzewing again, this time trying
the northern part from Merrett Rd. I was hoping for some
Malleefowl or a shot at the Quail-thrush but didn't get any
luck. It was very quiet, had a few Splendid Fairy-wrens but i
couldn't get close with all the undergrowth but did get some
decent shots of Chestnut-rumped Thornbills collecting nesting

On the way out I got some distant shots of a Pallid Cuckoo (new)

Next we went back to the south part of Bronzewing to get more
shots of Splendid Fairy-wrens. They were infuriating to try
to photograph; the Southern Whitefaces were a bit more
accommodating. Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Yellow-rumped
Thornbill, Brown Falcon, a flock of Varied Sitella, Rufous
Whistler and an immature Red-capped Robin were also present.

After that we headed to Gama Reserve again, I wanted to try
getting a picture of the Variegated Fairy-wren.
Spiny-cheeked, White-plumed and Singing Honeyeaters were
present a long with those noisy Brown Treecreepers.
Located the Variegated Fairy-wren again but they rarely went
out in to the open. This was the best shot I could get  :/

Made one last trip to Bronzewing as the sun was going down. A
few new things were there this time, Brown-headed Honeyeater,
Striated Pardalote, Cockatiel
(new) and a Little Eagle (new.) As the light was failing we
went back to Mildura for the last night.

Friday October 1

Friday morning we went back to Lake Tyrrell to look for the
White-winged Fairy-wren or some colourful chats (anything
other than white-fronted).
Driving very slowly along Lake Tyrrell road I think I saw a
White-winged Fairy-wren standing on a shrub but by the time
my camera was raised it had flown off.  It was very distant
so I'm not that sure. I did see some Australasian Pipits,
White-winged Triller, White-fronted Chat, an immature
Red-capped Robin and very happily, a Rufous Fieldwren (new)

After that we decided to make the last stop at Wyperfeld
before heading back to Melbourne. On the way we stopped at
Patchewollock to photograph some flowers and found some
Variegated Fairywrens but couldn't get close.

Eventually we entered northern Wyperfeld and it was just
stunning. Yellow flowers everywhere, absolutely amazing.
Birding was very good here as well.
Just south of the Casuarina campgrounds, off the Meridian
track I wandered around a bit and found a nice mixed feeding
flock. Was happy to catch a female Mulga Parrot unawares and
finally get some in-focus shots

would you believe that it was actually too close this time?
Got very close to some Southern Whitefaces, saw some Ringneck
Parrots, White-browed Babblers, Splendid Fairy-wrens and
Red-capped Robins. Last birds of the trip were a pair of Blue
Bonnets but in keeping with tradition they refused to let
themselves be photographed :)

After that we headed back to Melbourne, arriving Friday night.

All in all I had a good trip. I think I would see it in a
much better light if I'd gotten a photo of the Emu-wren but
it wasn't to be. A few other disappointments like the lack of
malleefowl, colourful chats, woodswallows and regent parrots
were also pretty annoying.

Weather was not too bad, had about 30 minutes of rain the
second day but other than that it was mostly fine if a bit
cold at night. The overcast days were frustrating as a week
earlier they had it forecast as sunny the entire week but it
was only a thin layer of clouds and still bright enough for

If I did it again I probably would have stayed at Wyperfeld
or Pink Lakes instead of Hattah, found them to have a lot
more birds and generally they seemed more scenic. Would
probably have kept away from the Nowingi track but it's easy
to say with hindsight :)

I might have come off a bit negative about the experience but
I always wish there was more I could see when out birding.
I'm pretty happy with having seen around 20 new species
(probably won't count WW FW or Emu-wren.) Still had a blast
and there's an excuse to go back now!
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