Mallee trip report

To: 'Chris Sanderson' <>
Subject: Mallee trip report
From: Peter Shute <>
Date: Wed, 13 Oct 2010 16:45:33 +1100
I thought I'd continue this thread now that I'm back from a trip to the Mallee 
with Bill Stent on the weekend. Not only did we see a Malleefowl at Bronzewing, 
and a Red-lored Whistler on Honeymoon Hut Track (see my Birdlines for 
10/10/10), but we also did well with Mallee Emu-wren at Nowingi Track (see 
Bill's Birdline for 7/10/10).

On previous trips we've not even heard any, this time we had a couple in sight 
for 30 minutes. I was under the impression that if you do see them, it's 
usually brief, and that even with playback they won't stay out long. But we had 
a male and a female sitting on triodia clumps, hopping around on the ground and 
on fallen branches, even sitting in a tree at head height a few times. Bill 
could hear others around us, but I found that I could only hear the loudest of 
their calls, so that might explain why I've never heard them before.

At the time we were under the impression that we'd come across them while they 
were out feeding, but now I'm wondering if we just happened to be standing 
right next to a nest, and that it was actually a distraction display. We didn't 
use any playback while they were in sight, and had only played about 5 seconds 
on my phone, maybe a couple of minutes before we came across them, 50m away 
from the spot. The female was much more timid than the male, as we had great 
difficulty getting any photos, but it came much closer than the male, to within 
4 or 5m. The male was staying much further away, sometimes 15m or more.

Has anyone else seen them behave like this? We did think at the time that they 
appeared to be feeding. What do they eat? Would they normally look for it in a 
tree 2m off the ground?

After we moved away, the birds were still visible, and there was one - not sure 
if it was one of the two, at the time I thought we'd found some more - moving 
ahead of us for quite a long way. I was under the impression that this species 
is very sedentary, not moving more than a few metres from its bush, but this 
one must have been moving over a distance of perhaps 30 or 40m. If they do 
often move this far then if think that anyone walking along behind could easily 
get the impression that they were seeing quite a few birds, not just one. 
Perhaps this is at least a partial explanation for the reports of "almost 
having to kick them out of the way".

Peter Shute

From: Chris Sanderson 
Sent: Monday, 4 October 2010 2:42 PM
To: Peter Shute
Cc: Tim Dolby; Jeremy Weiss; 
Subject: Mallee trip report


My experience of Mallee birding is that nothing quite beats getting out on foot 
and using your ears to track down birds.  Some days you are unlucky and there 
just isn't much about, but some days you have cracking success.  I recall a 
particularly bad day at Wyperfeld where I think we saw a total of about 10 
birds in 2 hours.  As in 10 individuals, of about 4 species.  Then I've had 
days when you practically have to kick Emu-wrens out of the way to see the 
Grasswrens at Nowingi.  Perhaps a good hybrid of the two methods is on slow 
days drive til you see some activity and then get out and walk.

Chris Sanderson

On Mon, Oct 4, 2010 at 1:07 PM, Peter Shute 
<<>> wrote:
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-----
> From: 
> <>
> <m("","birding-aus-bounces");">>]
>  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
> territories.
> 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:
> d%20Uncommon%20Birds%20in%20Northern%20Victoria
> 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!
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