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A Report from

Birding the mallee, including victoria, South Australia and New South Wales, 15 to 27 April 2007,

Duan Biggs

Introduction and acknowledgements

Good friends of mine were getting married in the Yarra valley east of Melbourne. I decided to link this into a visit to Birds Australia in Melbourne and to a birding trip into the Mallee and some other parts of Victoria and South Australia. I would like to thank Guy Dutson at Birds Australia who put me onto Rohan Clarke, Chris Tzaros and Mark Antos who gave me invaluable information for my birding mission – a big thanks to these people. April Reside who works at Scotia Sanctuary for the Australian Wildlife Conservancy kindly arranged for me to spend 3 nights at the Sanctuary.

Areas and sites visited

In the order of trip: Werribbee, Phillip’s Island, Great Ocean Road, Hattah-Kulkyne National Park, Windorah, Scotia Sanctuary NSW, Broken Hill, Mount Remarkable, Port Augusta, Gluepot Nature Reserve, Hattah-Kulkyne National Park, Great Ocean Road, return to Melbourne

15 April – Werribee

I made contact with Richard Nowotny through the Birdingpal website. Richard kindly offered to take me birding for a morning and we agreed that Werribee would make the most sense as a site. We turned off the Princess Highway onto Pt Wilson road and turned right onto Beach road. At the paddock/open field with the green shed about 2 minutes down the road we found a pair of Banded Lapwing. Richard says this is a regular stakeout for them. The same field had a flock of Little Raven, Straw-necked Ibis, Australian Shelduck, Black Swan and White-faced Heron. Further down Pt Wilson road an open field close to the Split Nature Conservation reserve delivered Cape Barren Goose, Striated Fieldwren in the vegetation on the roadside and White-fronted Chat. At the Split Nature Conservation Park the first set of pools on the right had Hoary-headed Grebe and Musk Duck. Sooty Oystercatcher and Pacific Gull were seen on the bay. A small patch of reeds on the left of a track reached by turning right about 200-400m after entering had both Spotless Crake and Australian Crake which responded to playback. Little Grassbird was also calling from the reedbed but we did not get see it at all on the morning’s birding. Also seen on the first set of pools were Chestnut and Grey Teal, more Cape Barren Goose, Red-necked Stint, Greenshank and Great Crested Grebe. Driving south we found a group of Fairy Terns along the bay edge as well. We moved onto Lake Borrie where we had more Australian Shelduck, 100s of Pink-eared Duck, Musk Duck, Hoary-headed Grebe, Blue-billed Duck, a group of White-winged Black Tern, Wood Duck, Chestnut Teal, Red-necked Stint, Cape Barren Goose and Black Swan. A fly-over White-bellied Sea Eagle caused Richard great excitement as did 3 Brolgas. Swamp Harrier and Whistling Kite were flying overhead at the site. We returned to Melbourne, from where I went to the Yarra valley to attend my friend’s wedding.

17 April - Phillip Island

I rented a car (Hyundai Getz swapped for a Toyota Yaris) from Hertz on the 16th of April and travelled down to Phillip Island in the late afternoon. I started birding at the crack of dawn on the 16th. Richard had put me onto Tanya Ireton a local birder who gave me good directions to the Hooded Plover site as well as the Black-faced Shag site on the island. My first stop was the recommended Woolamai Surf Beach. From the parking lot I walked left down the boardwalk for about 200m. Here I was enthralled by 4 quite tame Hooded Plovers as well as Pacific Gull (one Gull was feeding on near dead Short-tailed Shearwater). The parking lot of Woolamai beach delivered Little Wattlebird and New Holland Honeyeater. I stopped off at the Penguin parade site which sounds impressive but looks very touristy. I pushed onto the western end of the island at the Nobbies. Here I walked left down the boardwalk towards the blowhole. 1 Black-faced Cormorant was seen sitting on a rock about 50m from the shore below. 2 Kelp Gulls flew by while I was watching the Cormorant. I also picked up an Australian Gannet in the distance. After a picnic breakfast at the Nobbies I drove back to Melbourne where I gave a presentation and met with Guy Dutson from Birds Australia. After my presentation and meeting I raced to Point Addis just north-west of Anglesea on the Great Ocean Road where in the closed off tarred patch about 100m before the parking lot at the point I got brief views of a Rufous Bristlebird in the scrub. I spent the 18th of April working at the Lorne Backpackers which conveniently has a free wireless service. The 19th of April was spent driving to Hattah Kulkyne National Park.

20 April - Hattah Kulkyne National Park

I started with an early morning visit to the legendary Nowingi track described in Thomas and Thomas’s guide to finding birds in Australia. The Nowingi track is the key stakeout for Mallee Emu Wren and Striated Grasswren. I spent a good 5 hours searching and had no luck with either. I was entertained whilst searching by Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, White-fronted Honeyeater and Yellow-throated Miner. At the Hattah Kulkyne Park office I had Eastern Rosella and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater. In the Lake Hattah campsite I picked up on Blue-winged Parrot, Spotter Bowerbird and Noisy Miner. I started heading north to Mildura taking some side roads. I found a Brown Treecreeper on the riverine vegetation of the Murray River near Colignon. I did some shopping in Mildura whereafter I hit the long road into New South Wales and to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Scotia Sanctuary. Ara Monadjem, a friend of mine and an Ornithologist in Swaziland had put me in contact with April Reside at Scotia Sanctuary who arranged for me to come and visit.

21 April Scotia Sanctuary

I started the birding day walking along the guided walking track. I found the first of many groups of Chestnut-rumped Thornbill around the old homestead. The first patch of Cassarina woodland on the guided trail produced a pair of White-browed Treecreeper as well as Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Rufous Whistler and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater. In the Cassarina woodland to the south-west of the entrance gate to the compound at the headquarters I found another White-browed Treecreeper as well as Eastern Ringneck. After the path entered some denser woodland I picked up on more Chesnut-rumped Thornbills as well as Inland Thornbill and Chestnut Quail Thrush. A mallee bird party at site 23 on the guided trail delivered Shy Heathwren, Inland Thornbill, Crested Bellbird and Weebill.

22 April Scotia Sanctuary

Today I visited the north-western part of Scotia Sanctuary by accompanying April on her Black-eared Miner monitoring. After an hour of unsuccessful miner-searching with April I did some walking and planned to meet up with April later. The north-western part of Scotia was productive birdwise and I managed to get sightings of Gilbert’s Whistler, Spotted Pardalote, Chestnut Quail Thrush, Brown-headed Honeyeater, White-throated Treecreeper, Eastern Ringneck and White-eared Honeyeater. Also seen were Mulga Parrot, Crested Bellbird, Splendid Fairy-wren, Variegated Fairy-wren and Striped Honeyeater. A late afternoon attempt at searching for Malleefowl around a Malleefowl mound proved unsuccessful. I struck gold on the return drive after dark and had a Malleefowl male in the road in front of me. I followed it for about 30 minutes as it strolled along the road and had questar views. After seeing the Malleefowl I also had great views of Greater Bilby which is doing very well on the sanctuary with the removal of all the feral animals and the fencing off of the sanctuary. Other mammalian highlights of my time on Scotia were Brush-tailed and Burrowing Bettongs and Bridled Nail-tailed Wallaby.

23 April Scotia to Broken Hill and onto Yunta

A group of White-winged Choughs joined me for breakfast on my last morning in Scotia. These birds were common throughout the sanctuary and in the surrounding area. It was a good Babbler morning and I had a group of White-browed Babblers near the camp and a group of Chestnut-crowned Babblers on the road out of Scotia sanctuary. I picked up my first White-winged Fairy-wren on the saltbush/bluebush plains 40km south of Broken Hill. I drove until 2300 on the quiet outback roads finally pitching roadside camp in the town of Yunta.

24 April Yunta to Mount Remarkable to Port Augusta to Gluepot Nature Reserve

A pre-dawn departure with a first stop at a stream with fringing riverine vegetation a few kilometers south-west of Yunta where I found a mixed group of Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater and Chestnut-crowned Babbler. At a picnic spot somewhere between 30 and 50 kilometres south-west of Yunta in shrub country similar to South Africa’s Little Karoo a few Redthroats were calling. I managed to get fabulous views of this lovely inland bird. I sighted Nankeen Kestrel in this area as well as numerous groups of Little Ravens. I continued south-westwards and took the road from Wilmington to Mt Remarkable and Alligator Gorge. Beyond where the tarmac ends on this road before a gate there is a parking spot on the right with a little track going into the woodland. Here I had Dusky Woodswallow, Elegant Parrot, Adelaide Rosella, Purple-crowned Lorikeet and White-plumed Honeyeater. From the Alligator gorge parking lot I found a bustling bird party half way down the steps to the bottom of the gorge. Here I had Yellow and Striated Thornbill (out of range according to Pizzey and Knight), White-fronted Honeyeater, the widespread and ubiquitous Weebill  and a male Scarlet Robin in full breeding plumage. I entered the coastal town of Port Augusta and turned left just after crossing the Bird Lake coming from the Adelaide direction. The road closest to the lake crosses the lake about 2km onwards. At this lake crossing I enjoyed a spectacle of over 1000 Banded Stilts. After soaking up the Banded Stilts I made my way to the beautiful Arid Land Botanical Gardens. I found a pair of Rufous Fieldwrens in the scrub about halfway down the road to the viewpoint. White-winged Fairy-wren were common throughout the gardens. The flowering trees and shrubs around the visitor center were teeming with birds. The highlights were White-fronted and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater and after about 30 minutes of searching a group of Chirruping Wedgebills. I did some shopping in Port Augusta and then hit the long road to the Birds Australia Gluepot Sanctuary after dark. The last bit to Gluepot from the tar road near Waikerie is quite difficult to find, luckily the friendly locals pointed me in the right direction. The 60km gravel to Gluepot is easily doable in a normal car although in some places the bumps, sand and ground clearance need special care. I arrived at my campsite in Gluepot around 1am.

25 April – Gluepot Sanctuary, travel to Hattah Kulkyne

I started at dawn searching for the Black-eared Miners at the Babbler campsite with no success. I proceeded to bird along track 8 which runs along the edge of the restricted area. 3.3km south of the grasswren tank on this road I struck gold once again and had crippling views of a calling Red-lored Whistler which responded to playback. The GPS reference for this site is: 34 44.202S; 140 12.660 E (given in degrees, minutes and decimals of minutes with the WGS84 datum). The Red-lored Whistler was on the edge of a bird party which contained Striped Honeyeater, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Mulga Parrot and Spotted and Striated Pardalote. 3.1km north of the Red-lored Whistler site I picked up on 3 Hooded Robins and 10 Brown-headed Honeyeaters as well as Gilbert’s Whistler which was not uncommon in Gluepot. The birdhide at Grasswren tank was rather inactive but after an hour of waiting a group of Miners started calling in the distance. I tracked them down and followed them for a while. After comparing the calls of the group to the calls of Black-eared and Yellow-throated Miner on the BOCA CD and carefully studying the combination of rump colour and lower jaw feather colour I concluded that it must have been a mixed flock of Black-eared and Yellow-throated Miners with some hybrids. The key provided in the bird hide was very helpful in distinguishing the Black-eared from the Yellow-throated and from the hybrids. My next stop was at the junction of tracks 7 and 8 at Picnic dam. Here I had Red-capped Robin, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill and Variegated Fairy-wren. Approximately 300m beyond this junction I found White-fronted Honeyeater and White-browed Treecreeper. I redid the circuit later in the day and visited the Malleefowl mound which was very impressive. A second stop at the hide at the grasswren tank produced Crested Bellbird and a male Red-capped Robin in full breeding plumage. I continued beyond Picnic dam to Froggy Dam and tank. About 50m beyond the parking lot for the hide I parked on the road in the scrub on the southern side of the parking lot I picked up on a pair of Southern Scrub Robin. Thanks to the voluntary ranger on duty who pointed me to this site.  After lunch in Gluepot I took the drive down the Murray river towards Victoria. I finally got to my destination, Hattah Kulkyne National Park at 2230.

26 April – Hattah Kulkyne National Park and travel to Lorne

At the crack of dawn I was back on the Nowingi track do give the Mallee Emu Wren and Striated Grasswren another go. After traveling for 1.3km from the southern end of the Nowingi track I turned right down Konardin track. Chestnut-rumped Thornbill was the only bird I saw along here. I returned to the Nowingi track and continued north. 13.5km from the Konardin track turn off I had Red-capped Robin. 14km from the Konardin track turn-off the Nowingi track rejoins the main tar road. I continued exploring the park and a few kilometers south of Lake Mournpall I picked up on Red-rumped Parrot. I returned to Lake Hattah and searched for waterbirds. All I found was a group of Australian Shoveller. As I was packing up camp near the end of the campsite a group of 6 Regent Parrots landed in the trees above my head which I appreciated considering my failed Grasswren and Emu Wren attempt. I started on the long road south taking some side roads. Between Patchewollock and Hopetoun I picked up a group of Blue Bonnet. I also saw Blue Bonnet between Hopetoun and Warracknabeal. A large flock of Long-billed Corella entertained me at the southern end of Warracknabeal. Further south, I discovered a huge Long-billed Corella roost in Horsham. The Corellas roost in the trees across from the first BP station in Horsham if you are coming from Warracknabeal. The Red Bulls came in handy as after passing through the Grampians in the moonlight I finally got to Lorne at 0030.

27 April – Great Ocean Road and return to Melbourne

A 630am departure saw me head for Point Addis again to try and get a better look at Rufous Bristlebird. At the parking lot about 400m before the end of the road I had brief views of a Bristlebird out in the open. As soon as I got out of the car it disappeared into the thick scrub not to be seen again. From Point Addis I hit Anglesea Heath which is off Gum Flats road. Mark Antos mentioned that this was a good area for Southern Emu Wren. My searching revealed White-eared Honeyeater, Superb Fairy-wren, New-Holland Honeyeater and Brown Thornbill. The time had come to head back to Melbourne for my flight back to Townsville.

Trip report compiled by:

Duan Biggs: e-mail:


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