Trip report: Messa Rocks, Big Desert, Victoria, 15-18 September 2015
When Dean Hewish asked whether I'd like to visit a feature in the Big Desert
he'd found on Google Earth I was enthusiastic. The prospect of walking in
trackless desert has always been attractive to me, and birding is a great
way of discovering solitude. I was also after some dark skies, and the new
moon looked promising.
Dean's target was Messa Rocks. There were a couple of pictures on Panoramio,
but the location was ambiguous, with the two near- identical pictures marked
as being separated by 7.7 km. Eventually we decided the feature was at S 35°
40.430' E 141° 13.223'.
The general area is reached by travelling down one branch of Messa Track, on
the western side of the Murrayville Track. We didn't know the condition of
the track or how far we could get the Land Cruiser down the track. We
decided we'd figure it out as we went along, taking enough gear and water to
stay safe, including a personal locator beacon as added insurance.
Leaving Melbourne on Monday morning, we arrived at Broken Bucket at the
southern end of Murrayville Track soon after lunch. A Bustard had been
reported at Broken Bucket a couple of weeks before, and I was hoping to tick
one off, but that wasn't to be. However, it's a very comfortable camping
spot, with bore water and a modern pit toilet. The birds there are a bit
thin, but we recorded 16 species. There were no stars that night, with
thunder and lightning and some rain, but not enough to be a problem (the
Murrayville Track becomes impassable even with a 4WD when muddy).
On Tuesday morning we drove the 30 odd kilometres to the turnoff, stopping
along the way at a few sites. The turnoff to Messa Track West is about 2 km
north of The Springs, which is where the Track kinks north.
After a couple of passes we found the track. There's a sign that says
"management vehicles and walkers only", but we knew that the 2 miles to the
west of the Track itself is public land, so we went that far and parked the
4WD. The track is quite overgrown and the 4WD picked up a few extra
scratches as we went.
Taking everything we'd need for the next two days, we set off further. I had
to leave the 500 mm lens behind, which hurt, but water was more important.
We also took a geocache to drop "somewhere".
Messa Track West winds through sandy country, with mallee and heathlands
dominating, but several unburnt areas had relatively tall Cypress Pine
stands, up to about 3 metres tall, and in the recently burnt areas there are
loads of pine saplings about a foot tall. We began hearing Gilbert's
Whistlers in these areas, but didn't see any well.
The track splits 10.3 km from the turnoff, with the right fork heading to a
formation called The Granites. We kept to the left and reached Messa Rocks
after another 2.9 km for a late lunch.
The original land level at Messa Rocks was put down while under the sea, a
long time ago, probably earlier than last century. Dean is an amateur
geologist so he'll have more details. The crust is a metamorphic mix of
sandstone and strange marble-sized nodules, and covers a softer under-layer,
and so as it weathered, it formed a cave just large enough to crawl into.
The birds there are wonderful, and because humans don't come here more than
once every couple of years, they are very confiding. A bit of pishing and I
had Variegated Fairy-wrens and Southern Scrub-robins at my feet.
We bush bashed our way south to drop the geocache a couple of kilometres
south, passing through more Cypress Pine, mallee and heath. The country is
pretty open there, and the going was slow but not too difficult. On the way
back we finally got good close looks at Gilbert's Whistlers, watching a male
patrol his territory while calling to a female nearby. Again, the birds
didn't seem troubled by our presence, although we didn't approach too close.
Overnight it cleared, and while I took some ordinary photos of the Milky
Way, Spotted Nightjars cackled distantly to the north and south.
Next day we explored the area, taking the path back to the fork and then
towards the Granites, which is a similar feature to the west. The track
petered out half way so we took some compass bearings and bush bashed our
way there, before returning in a direct line to the camping spot. The rest
of the day we sat around the cave, watching things like Brown Falcons
passing food in flight. It's amazing they can actually fly upside-down for a
We returned to the car the next day, following the trail we'd come in on.
Passing through some sparse mallee and heath, we heard a Whistler call. We
were pretty familiar with the Gilbert's call, which goes "chee-oo, chee-oo,
chee-oo", sometimes getting louder as it goes. This one was a bit different,
going "ee-chee-oo, ee-chee-oo". I got the bins on the bird, which had landed
in a dead branch sticking out of a nearby mallee tree. The little beggar had
the red bib patch extending over his bill up to his eyes. I practically
threw the bins at Dean and told him to look carefully (actually I think
those weren't quite the words I used). He agreed - Red-lored Whistler. Not a
tick for me, but easily the best view ever. And not a Cypress Pine (bigger
than a foot high) in sight.
We stayed the night again at Broken Bucket, and again no Bustard, and no
Malleefowl. Oh well. Next day we drove back to Melbourne, taking a
circuitous route around Yanac and Telopea Downs, rather hopelessly looking
for the elusive tick. Alas, no.
One of the best trips I've done, and thanks to Dean for suggesting it!
Broken Bucket, 15 Sep; 18 Sep 2015
Spotted Pardalote (yellow-rumped form)
Australian Shelduck (2 flying over treetops)
Murrayville Track between Broken Bucket and The Springs, 16 Sep; 18 Sep 2015
Pacific Black Duck
Messa Rocks, The Granites, track between and direct line between, 16 Sep
Australian Kestrel (1)
Shy Heathwren (1)
Brown Falcon (pair)
Red-lored Whistler (1)
Yanac area, 18 Sep 2015
New Holland Honeyeater
Australian Wood Duck
Grey Teal (probably)
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