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A Report from

South East Australia, Oct 2003 ,

Tommy Pedersen

Sites where we recorded birds; diversity in species seen pr. site

This would be Bruce and my 6th two-week birding trip to Australia together, the first covering southwest Australia in November 1997, the last covering northeast & central Australia in August 2001.

Our route of travel on this trip would be:

Adelaide - Kangaroo Island - Flinders Ranges - Lyndhurst - Marree - Birdsville Track - Windorah - Quilpie - Sturt N.P. - Hattah Kulkyne N.P. - Portland area (unexpected visit) - Ngarkat Conservation Park - Gluepot Reserve - Adelaide.

We had targeted 24 key species for this trip, from the near impossible Scarlet-chested Parrot to the more mundane Slender-billed Thornbill.

We connected nicely with 19 of these, dipping out on the Scarlet-chested Parrot, Letter-winged Kite, Grey Falcon, Red-lored Whistler and Shining Bronze-cuckoo (for some reason this bird continues to elude me.....).

The trip completed the Grasswren-family for me, my favourite bird-group in Australia.

A map covering all of our Australia-visits:

October 2nd 2003:     
Landed in Adelaide at 06:10, picked up our rental Toyota Landcruiser bushcamper at Britz Australia - way expensive, but a great way to bushcamp without bringing loads of stuff from overseas. Met Bruce here, got our foodstuffs at Woolworths & red wines at a bottleshop on our drive down to the ferry-terminal to Kangaroo Island on the Fleurieu Peninsula.

Enroute we stopped at Mt. Compass and the great marsh-boardwalk to try to pick up the local subspecies of Southern Emuwren, but due strong wind and heavy rainshowers this proved too difficult.

We were booked on the 3 PM ferry from Cape Jervis, arriving Penneshaw 45 minutes later. (Notice to various mums & dads: do NOT give your children greasy chips and crisps while waiting for the ferry to leave - this WILL eventually find its way out again, sometimes with a force quite unexpected....).

Ferry-information here: Advance booking can be essential.

We had two hours to go before the sun should set (weather forecast & sunrise/sunset found here: ). The weather was not too promising, but we had a duck to find.


After booking a room at American Rivers Kangaroo Island Lodge we headed towards Cygnet River and found the sign to Duck Lagoon. Promising name, excellent site. FRECKLED DUCKS were soon picked up, roosting on the logs on the other side of the lagoon. They were just as great as I had imagined for the last 8 years, having dipped out on them just about everywhere!

The sun was now well on its way down, and we headed back towards American River and our booked lodge.

Tomorrows target would be the local subspecies of Glossy Black-cockatoo, a bird we dipped out on at Lamington N.P. in February 2000.

I telephoned Trish Mooney, a GBCproject officer on Kangaroo Island, and she told us to look for the birds the next day around American River itself; above the lodge and around the post office. Lathami Conservation Park on the north coast was not as good as American River these days. She told us to talk to one of the lodge employees, Jane, who had good knowledge of the Glossies. She was not working that night, but the receptionist kindly called her at her house, and we spoke to Tim, her husband.

He was great, describing areas where they feed, how they feed, when to best see them and how quiet and unobtrusive they are. Thanks Tim! The only thing was that they both thought one day was not enough to find them.

After a great kangaroo-steak we went to sleep.

October 3rd 2003:      
Up at sunrise to overcast and drizzle and walked up the hill behind the lodge. At the top of the hill along Warrawee Road Bruce spotted two largish birds on a dry treetop; definitely Black-cockatoos of some kind. Would they turn out to be the common Yellow-tailed? We approached slowly, noting smaller size. One of the birds flew down, showing his beautiful red tail. We could not believe our good luck; GLOSSY BLACK-COCKATOOS within the first 20 minutes after getting up in the morning. There were 4 birds in total, feeding in low she-oak appx. 1 ˝  meters above the ground, allowing close viewing down to 30 meters. Another Australian Magic Moment.

We now had the rest of the day to enjoy the rest of this beautiful island instead of scaring the locals in American River by walking their streets incessantly for the next 12 hours. We drove to D'Estrees Bay and Flinders Chase N.P.

At Thomas & Thomas's Bunker Hill site for PURPLE-GAPED HONEYEATERS we found three fairly shy birds at the roadside.

At 7:30 PM we took the ferry back to the mainland and spent the night in Adelaide, failing to find any hotels/motels between Cape Jervis and Adelaide.

Notice to sleepy travellers: it seems like all of the places calling themselves Hotels along this road only caters to gamblers & pokie-players (whatever a pokie is when it's at home....) and putting people up for the night is definitely not an option.

October 4th 2003:      
Up at sunrise again, with blue skies overhead we headed for the Thomas & Thomas' site for SLENDER-BILLED THORNBILLS on the road to Port Gawler. Before 7 o'clock two males were found singing their hearts out in the excellent samphire-flats here. Red-necked Avocets were common here.

Very chuffed with our luck, we headed for Flinders Ranges and the quest for the Short-tailed Grasswren. We knew this might be a hard one.

Red-necked Avocet

At appx. 1 PM we had parked our car at Stokes Hill Lookout, and armed with my GPS & notes from Giles Mulholland of Melbourne we walked east. And walked. And walked. It was a great day for Grasswrens; light overcast, light winds and a pleasant 15-20 degrees. At position S031:27:30.2 + E138:44:38.9 we finally saw a terrified SHORT-TAILED GRASSWREN running for his (or her) life away from us, with the rather long tail held straight up for balance. A cool bird indeed.

Driving from here towards the main road (B47) we elected to try the Brachina Gorge track. Excellent choice with some exquisite scenery under a warm blue sky. We were heading for Lyndhurst and the southern part of the Strzelecki Track before dusk.

Two CHIRRUPING WEDGEBILLS along the road near Leigh Creek was target species nr. 5.

We arrived at the old car-wreck site 27 km. north of Lyndhurst just before sunset, and noticed some darkish clouds rolling in from the north.

All in all an excellent day.

October 5th 2003:         
Having set the alarm for a sunrise search for Chestnut-breasted Whiteface we were a bit surprised to hear the incessant drum of raindrops on the car roof. More rain, and here? Hmmmm.......

At eight o'clock and still raining we decided to drive down to Lyndhurst for a dry breakfast at the very cosy & friendly hotel, leaving our camping chairs and table where they were (too wet to bring into the car) to pick up later.

The first of many Australian Pratincoles were seen

Little did we know that as soon as the eggs were fried and on the table, some chap in Adelaide closed BOTH the  Strzelecki Track and the road to Marree. The hotel owners told us that the roads could stay closed for several days if the rain continued. Rather on the unexpected side of things.

After a while the first bit of the Strzelecki Track opened for light 4WD vehicles, and we told the hotel owner that we would make our way slowly up to collect our camping gear.

As soon as we arrived at the CBW-site we saw two small birds from the car that looked promising in the now very light drizzle. Yes indeed, CHESTNUT-BREASTED WHITEFACE was a fact. Two lovely creatures allowed fairly close approach, and there was much rejoice.

Thick-billed Grasswren (ssp. modestus) followed after a bit of walking up and down dry (moist by now) dry creek beds. Fairly shy but vocal single bird, and not too different from the birds (subspecies Western Grasswrens) we saw at Monkey Mia way back in 1997.

We then drove back to Lyndhurst for a coffee, thinking seriously of reversing our trip due to the closed roads. This proved not necessary, as the road to Marree had just opened for 4WD's, and no rain was recorded in Marree or in areas further north. Again there was much rejoice.

Having said that, the drive for the first 40 km's were very difficult and extremely slippery. If they close the roads, it is for a good reason!

Filling up with diesel and frozen bread in friendly Marree, we headed north just past 2 PM.


Thomas and Thomas mention Gibberbird as a possibility 20 km. north of Marree, and we stopped 20.0 km. north.

Walked 20 meters to the right and immediately saw a splendid GIBBERBIRD keeping a watchful eye on us. Target nr. 6.

Amazing book, Thomas and Thomas. I suppose we should be happy that not all birding is like this, but it sure is nice once in a while.

A good drive north to Mungeranie roadhouse followed, with much looking for Letter-winged Kites in dry riverbed trees to no avail. An Australian (Black-shouldered) Kite at dusk in a dry riverbed did get the adrenalin going. Close, but no cigar. A group of BLUEBONNETS was nice though, 51 km. north of Marree, target species nr. 8. They looked like Yellow-vented Bluebonnets, and not like the Pale Bluebonnets we expected to find here in the Lake Eyre Basin.

At a pond 96 km. north of Marree we saw a Black Falcon hunting, and a surprise Lesser Sand Plover. Not too many inland records of this mainly coastal wader I think.

Overnight at Mungeranie Roadhouse where the very kind proprietor fixed us some late sandwiches and gave us some heads-up for the search for the Eyrean Grasswrens the following morning.

October 6th 2003:           
The familiar up-at-dawn routine was followed, and the sand dune immediately behind the roadhouse was the target. As we climbed the dune we could hear faint calls, and two EYREAN GRASSWRENS were soon spotted running from spinifex stand to spinifex stand. A short walk brought two more birds running around along the crest of the dune, all of them fairly shy.


Since we arrived at the roadhouse after dark last night, we did not notice the excellent wetland and lake here, and the rest of the morning was spent enjoying the teeming birdlife. Found a Little Corella that was very approachable.

After breakfast we headed north towards Koonchera Dune through flooded gibberplains and numerous ponds and roadside puddles. Not at all what we expected the Birdsville Track to be when we planned the trip. Orange Chats were common in small groups at the roadside.

The turnoff to Koonchera Dune was not signposted (Thomas & Thomas mentions a sign), difficult to find and through private land. An authorisation to drive here is required from the station further south. Due to recent rain the track was totally impassable, and we hoped Grey Grasswrens were still to be found at Pyampa Station further east.

We arrived in Birdsville at dusk, had a beer and a meal in the great old pub, and called Giles in Melbourne who just came home from birding Eulo Bore, Pyampa Station and Sturt N.P. He told me that the Grey Grasswrens at Pyampa was frustratingly shy and difficult to see, no Hall's Babblers seen but one female Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush at Eulo. No Grey Falcons or Letter-winged Kites were found either. Thanks for the heads-up Giles.

Cinnamon Quail-thrush

October 7th 2003:           
Up at dawn for the long drive to Quilpie via Betoota and Windorah. A pair of Cinnamon Quail-thrush feeding on the roadside just east of Birdsville was a nice start of the day. Betoota was a bit on the quiet side, with the last inhabitant retired to someplace else a while ago.

A White-winged Tern hawking over a roadside pond south of Windorah was a pleasant surprise as it was a new Aussie-tick to both Bruce and myself.

An even better bird was awaiting us at a random stop 54.7 km south of Windorah; two HALL'S BABBLERS quietly feeding on the ground at position S025:38:01.6 + E143:04:25.5.

Rejoicing was again heard.

We were now in Channel Country, and to this day we have not figured this one out. Our guess is that Channel refers to the radio-channels used here, and not to any water-channels that we failed to see.

This is the ultimate area for Letter-winged Kites as well, not that this piece of info did us any good.

Quilpie was reached at dusk, with a "magic moment" just north of town as the sun was setting.


October 8th 2003:           
Up early (yes, you guessed correctly - at dawn), and after a coffee we headed south towards Thargomindah. We could not believe our luck when after a few minutes driving, a pair of Quail-thrushes were seen on the road. After a typical birdo-slam of the brakes we had a stonking male CHESTNUT-BREASTED QUAIL-THRUSH in our bins, and rejoice can not even begin to describe our emotions. This was simply too much! His mate was feeding quietly nearby. We were now 9.3 km south of Quilpie, at position S026:40:44.7 + E144:15:14.3.

Two pairs of the inland race caeruleus of Red-rumped Parrot were seen at 85 & 95 km south, and a group of CHESTNUT-CROWNED BABBLERS 95 km south. Target species nr. 12 was a fact, and completed the Australian Babbler-family for me.

We decided to swing by Lake Bindegolly, not knowing that this lake was rather on the dry side. A nice swing-by it was though, as two Hall's Babblers were seen in the same tree as three Bourke's Parrots, only 2 km east of the Quilpie turnoff.

After a nice lunch in Thargomindah we headed west towards Noccundra, seeing two more groups of Chestnut-crowned Babblers along the road.

Burgers, diesel and a nice chat with the lizard enthusiastic McKenzie-family from Wagga Wagga at Noccundra Roadhouse before setting course for the famous Pyampa Station just north of the New South Wales border.

We decided against following Giles' directions of driving into NSW, then north again via One Pah Station and Wompah Gate.

Instead we headed east (1.8 km. before the large sign for the Santos turnoff) towards Tickalara (small sign). This track is 29 km long. Then south towards the signposted Wompah Gate. Gibberbirds were common on the gibberplains here. Once we saw the bore on our left side as we drove south (34 km south of Tickalara), we followed the track to the bore with trees and a working windmill. Here we passed the bore counter-clockwise to an old barbed-wire fence and parked by the fence (at position S028:56:00.4 + E142:12:56.4). The large lignum field was appx. 900 meters east of the fence. I know this sounds too detailed, but if you have not been here before I know it will be useful.

We spent the last hour looking for Grey Grasswrens before giving up as the sun went down. We searched mainly in the southern part, where the lignum was interspersed with cane grass. Thomas & Thomas indicates the birds being very common here and relatively easy to see (relative to what....?), but Giles' experience last week indicated otherwise.

At dusk we changed a flat front tyre, enjoyed the Queensland flies (what else to do with them.....?) and opened another bottle of your excellent red wine. Outback camping in Australia at its finest.

October 9th 2003:           
No need to indicate when we got up I suppose. Lignum was the theme of the day and off we went. Hours went by, stomachs were growling, fairywrens were chirping but no sign of cocked tails running away from us between the bushes. Like last night we had concentrated on the southern part of the field. We heard plenty of calls from the Grasswrens, but not even a glimpse to be had. Very mysterious.

Changing tactics we headed towards the taller lignum more towards the north with less cane grass around. Almost immediately I spotted a bird in the middle of a tallish lignum. Yes indeed, a superb GREY GRASSWREN was watching me for a few seconds before disappearing inside the bush.

I called Bruce over, and yet another bird was seen moving inside the thick lignum. "Pishing" did nothing to impress these birds at all, and the bird was soon lost. The position here was S028:55:38.4 + E142:12:54.0.

An odd species of Grasswren indeed, never running like they should from bush to bush, but instead staying well hidden inside the lignum without coming out. Not at all like the other species I have observed in Australia:

●  Western Grasswren - 4 at Monkey Mia, November 25th 1997 - running with cocked tails between low bushes. 

●  Black Grasswren - 3 at Little Mertens Falls, September 6th 1998 - running on spinifex-covered sandstone.

●  White-throated Grasswren - 2 at Gunlom Falls, September 15th 1998 - standing on spinifex-covered boulders.

●  Kalkadoon Grasswren - 1 at Mica Creek, 21st August 2001 - walking on the road in front of Bob Forsyth's car.

●  Carpentarian Grasswren - 2 at McNamara's Road, 22nd August 2001 - running among spinifex near Bob's info-box.

●  Dusky Grasswren - 8 at Ormiston Gorge, 26th August 2001 - running around the footpath late afternoon.

●  Short-tailed Grasswren - 1 at Stokes Hill lookout, October 4th 2003 - running like mad amongst spinifex.

●  Thick-billed Grasswren - 1 at Strzelecki Track, October 5th 2003 - running away along a dry creek bed.

●  Eyrean Grasswren - 4 at Mungeranie Roadhouse, October 6th 2003 - running from bush to bush.

●  Striated Grasswren - 8 at Hattah-Kulkyne N.P., October 11th 2003 - running around spinifex with cocked tails.

●  Grey Grasswren - 2 seen at Pyampa Station, at least 18 heard, October 9th 2003 - skulking inside thick lignum.

Anyway, a great experience it was, and we promptly rewarded ourselves with a tasty brekkie consisting of delicious nutella-sandwiches and orange juice.

Time now to head towards Tibooburra with a stop at One Pah Station to say hello and pay our dues. Unfortunately no-one was home.

The flat tyre was repaired, and we decided to drive through Sturt N.P. to look for Grey Falcon, then via Cameron Corner to the Strzelecki Crossing to look for kites at dusk.

Needless to say no falcon nor kites present, but four Yellow-vented Bluebonnets were seen near the Crossing.

The night was spent in Cameron Corner.

Large Lizzard

October 10th 2003:         
Early rise in close to sub-zero temperature, a slow drive through the remote western part of Sturt N.P. before lunching in Tibooburra. Yellow-vented Bluebonnets was seen along the road and large lizards were common.

The rest of the day was spent driving south via Broken Hill to Mildura. The only Pink Cockatoo of our trip was seen south of Broken hill.

We spent the night in the outskirts of Mildura, to be ready for Hattah-Kulkyne N.P. tomorrow morning.

October 11th 2003:         
Up with the birds and heading south to Hattah-Kulkyne N.P. We had allowed two days here, as the Mallee Emuwrens had proven elusive to other birders on tripreports from August and September this year.

We started on the Norwingi Track from the northern entry point at 06:50, and just after 7 o'clock we had target species nr. 14 in box as a group of 8 STRIATED GRASSWRENS were scurrying about close to the road, 5 km south of the starting point. They were very vocal and visible, quite the contrast to the Grey Ghosts a few days earlier.

Then, only minutes later a male CHESTNUT QUAIL-THRUSH walked slowly across the track in front of the car, and we felt pretty good about life in general and birding in particular.

Rejoicing started in full when, 14 km. south of the Norwingi Track starting point, I picked up thin squeaking from the open car window. We scrambled out, and were surrounded by MALLEE EMUWRENS flying around, quite the show-offs. Having problems quite believing our luck we retired to Hattah petrol-station for a delicious toasted sandwich and some Ginger Ale. Target species nr. 16 was under wraps, much earlier than anticipated.

We then drove the track again, meeting an American birder who just had good views of a male Red-lored Whistler on the main track where we (again) had the Striated Grasswrens. We had no luck with the Whistler, and in increasingly strong wind at midday we changed our itinerary drastically.

The American lady told us that she had seen the Williamstown Powerful Owl a week earlier, and since this was less than 600 km away, we headed south.

Arrived in lovely Williamstown after dark, no owl present, but a spot-on Indian meal was consumed with more of your excellent red.

October 12th 2003:         
Up late to blue skies and calm winds. Still no owl present, and we later learned that it had disappeared a few days earlier. Oh well, at least we tried. Back towards Adelaide again then......

Powerful Owls

Called Steve Clark in Hamilton who told us to call Rob Farnes who lives near Portland to get some heads-up on Lewin's Rail in his area. Rob told us that he had a family of Powerful Owls practically in his back yard, and that he had time to look for owls rails with us that afternoon. Great news indeed.

We met up with Rob at his house, and a few minutes later we enjoyed a pair of POWERFUL OWLS and their two newly fledged young ones in Mt. Cley State Forest. The male was well hidden inside a dense native Cherry-tree, the female was out in the open holding a dead Ring-tailed Possum in her claws, and the two young ones were sitting nearby.

A great experience! Thanks Rob.

We then proceeded to Portland harbour where a sick-looking Short-tailed Shearwater was found close to shore. At nearby Fawthrop's Lagoon we heard a LEWIN'S RAIL calling at dusk, but the bird was reluctant to show itself.

Pizza and red wine in Heywoods only open eatery after sunset - the family owned pizzeria is highly recommended.

October 13th 2003:         
Up early and a longish drive to Keith via Mt. Gambier, Bool Lagoon and Naracoorte. Long-billed Corellas, Gang-gang Cockatoo and Magpie Goose were all nice birds at the roadside.

Brown King Snake


Lunch in Keith before starting on the sandy drive through Ngarkat Conservation Park to Lameroo. This is an excellent remote area with some fairly challenging 4WD driving conditions.

A Grey Goshawk of the grey phase was seen with 99% certainty just before the south entrance to Ngarkat. Local birders view on this is appreciated. Apparently this species have been sighted regularly south of this area.

Not many birds present during our drive, but a beautiful King Brown Snake crossed our path. A waterhole on Baan Hill track held quite a few species, the best being a pair of Purple-gaped Honeyeaters.

The afternoon and evening was spent in Billiatt Conservation Park looking for Red-lored Whistler, to no avail.

Overnight in Waikerie with another unexpected flat tyre at 8 PM that we luckily got fixed before the drive to Gluepot tomorrow. A key to the Gluepot-gate was picked up at the Shell station in Waikerie (closes at 21:50).

October 14th 2003:         
Up before dawn, crossed the river on the "ferry" (runs 24 hours) and drove north through great mallee to Gluepot Reserve. The sun was shining and winds were light.

Chestnut Quail-thrush were commonly seen on the road, both enroute to Gluepot and in the reserve as well.

Three Banded Lapwings were seen near the station, where we picked up maps and friendly advice on where to look for Southern Scrub-robins and Black-eared Miners. We were told that a colony of Miners was forming 1 km south on the Malleefowl track, so we headed that way.

Two km after the Track 9 turnoff (just past the Babbler Campsite) we stopped by the roadside. After a few minutes a SOUTHERN SCRUB-ROBIN was heard, and soon pished into view. It eventually started singing in full view, sitting in a low bush. Another long awaited bird.

Having parked the car at the Malleefowl track parking-area, we walked south. No sign of miners after 1 km, so we continued walking. Quiet further south as well, and we headed back to search the area where somebody had drawn a long line. Might this indicate something?

It probably did, because we soon picked up three BLACK-EARED MINERS quietly feeding in the mallee. At least two pure-looking individuals were seen, with three more a bit paler looking.

Rejoicing was again heard.

The rest of the day was spent driving and walking around in this wonderful place, with birds like White-browed and Brown Treecreepers, Black-backed Fairywren and Hooded Robin seen.

At 5 PM we headed back to civilisation, and spent the night in Barmera.

October 15th 2003:         
Up before dawn to look for Baillon's Crake around Berri effluent ponds, but only Australian Crakes were seen. In increasingly strong wind we decided to head towards the Fleurieu Peninsula and Mt. Lofty again to try for some of the endemic or restricted-range subspecies found here.

At Birdwood we picked up Yellow-faced Honeyeaters (samueli) and Red-browed Firetail (loftyi) and at Kangaroo Creek Reservoir lookout-point we had Crescent Honeyeater (indistincta), Eastern Spinebill (loftyi) and White-throated Treecreeper.

Even better were close views of a small spiny fella.

This was Bruce and my last day together before he flew to Bangkok the next morning, and my afternoon flight home to Dubai. We decided to call it a day and delivered our muddy Landcruiser at Britz before enjoying a quiet afternoon in beautiful Adelaide.

I met up with Philip Griffin, his lovely wife Dominique and birder-friend Nick Talbot in the evening, had a bite to eat and discussed our strategy for tomorrow morning. Philip had kindly offered to take me out birding before my flight at 3 PM.

October 16th 2003:         
Up early for my last morning in South Australia. Loaded my stuff into Philips Landcruiser and headed towards the Penrice Saltworks. What a magic place! Birds galore, Banded Stilts just about everywhere (absent last week according to Philip) and an Eastern Brown Snake crossing our path.

Dipped out on Pectoral Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwits here, but found some Fairy Terns to compensate for this.

A short stop at Greenfield wetland did produce a Colin, but neither a Baillon's Crake nor a John [Cox]. Better luck next time.

Dropped off at the airport at 1 PM, said my goodbyes to friendly Philip and friendly Australia for this time.

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