After about 6 months of almost no birding, I found myself having to drive
Dear Daughter to Echuca last Friday (technically, to the other side of
Moama, but we only discovered that detail en route - she still made it to
the houseboat for an anti-schoolies trip with some fellow school leavers).
I took the opportunity to drive another hour up the map, where I met Phil
Maher in Deniliquin. He had very kindly agreed to take me birding for the
late afternoon and evening. Birding-Aus readers who have been with us for a
couple of decades may recall I organised a special Birding-Aus
Plainswanderer Gourmet Weekend with Phil and Trisha - way back in 1997.
Friday's trip brought a nice symmetry, meeting Phil and some
Plains-wanderers for the first time only weeks after our daughter was born;
and for the second time just after she'd finished school.
There was nothing gourmet about Friday's trip - we really didn't have time
to eat, though I chomped my way through something fairly tasteless from
Deni Maccas on the way to Wanganella, and I think Phil found time for an
apple on the way home at about midnight. We were there to bird, and the
afternoon & evening far exceeded my hopes.
Those of you who know Phil will appreciate what an outstanding naturalist
he is. Whilst he leads tours all over this country and to near neighbours
like New Caledonia and PNG, Deni is definitely his home patch. I went with
Phil explained that many of the regular local species have gone because it
is so dry. Some may have moved further south to where conditions are better
- one example is Yellow-rumped Thornbill, which Phil says is almost
entirely missing from the region, and he couldn't think of a place to see
one if someone particularly wanted YRT. The same situation prevails for
many other bush birds. Of my wishlist, Little Button-quail seem to have
moved away recently - he's seen very few lately, and none for some weeks.
He wasn't sure about CC Babbler - he hadn't looked for it for a long time,
and wasn't sure this species was still around.
We found Aus Pratincole and Inland Thornbill in the expected places -
seriously, in a vast open plain, he found both with relative ease. An
hour's walk through the right habitat for the Babblers gave a glimmer of
hope in some old nests - and then a fleeting, distant glimpse and a few
calls. The birds were there, but they were onto us, and simply disappeared
over the horizon. Phil didn't give up, but we circled round and took up a
view of the nest tree, and eventually the Babblers returned. We had
stunning scope views, and I picked off a few ID-quality photos.
We saw lots of other fabulous dry country birds: stunning male Orange
Chats, a male Emu with NINE young, Brown Songlark, Chestnut-rumped
Thornbill, Stubble Quail, Bluebonnets and Ringnecks, WHite-winged
Fairy-Wren, lots of Southern Whiteface, and several large groups of Banded
Lapwing, often close to the vehicle.
Despite getting 3 new birds, the highlight came a little before midnight.
We'd spent nearly three hours searching unsuccessfully for Plains-wanderer,
when we suddenly found 7: a male sitting on top of five chicks, and another
male a bit later.
A huge thank-you goes to Phil for a fabulous afternoon and evening's
birding. I'm not sure why I've waited 18 years to repeat the trip: any
birder will learn a lot from Phil, and of course he knows where to find the
signature species. But most of all, it's always good to spend time in the
field with someone so passionate about our country and the birds and
animals that live in it - many of them facing a struggle now and for the
Phil's trip report:
http://www.philipmaher.com/main.htm and click
Back in Geelong and missing the plains
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