A three-day trip to the mallee with John and Robyn from Canberra

9 April 2019 (see Deniliquin Latest News)

10 April 2019
Deniliquin to the Victorian mallee
The drive over to the mallee was bleak; the country around Moulamein looked desperate. Even the lignum was dying which is one of the toughest of plants. I used to think it was impossible to kill lignum with drought until I saw it die in the Bulloo Overflow in 2008. In Moulamein there was a massive flock of little corella on the river, no long-bills were seen but possibly some were present.

In Victoria, the cleared mallee country about Kooloonong didn't look much better than the country around Moulamein and I was concerned about what we might find (or not) at our first birding stop in a mallee reserve to the west. Our main target in this reserve was malleefowl with an outside chance of regent parrot and chestnut quailthrush. It was also getting towards midday so it was not an ideal time for birding. I thought our only chance for a malleefowl would be to fluke one near the road as I assumed all work on mounds would be finished by now after such a hot, dry summer. I was therefore very surprised to find a mound near the track still active. We ventured out near the mound to check it out and as we circled the mound we came upon the male resting in the shade of a tree. The mound looked like it had been worked that morning so he had probably been hard at it. He was not as timid as some malleefowl are around the mound and some great views and photos were had. How this mound came to be still working in mid April is beyond me. They had probably not had any success getting young out of the mound due to the severity of the summer so were keeping it going for longer, hoping there might be a decent fall of rain and so some young might survive.

It didn’t matter that we didn’t see much else in this reserve given our unexpected success with the malleefowl.  After lunch a few pairs of mallee ringnecks were seen hanging around the adjoining almond plantations and one regent parrot was heard flying over. A small feeding flock of small passerines was seen, consisting of grey fantail, weebill, splendid fairywren and yellow-plumed and brown-headed honeyeaters. In another part of the reserve we had an owlet nightjar in a hollow where I saw one with my old mates Bill and Howie some 40 years ago!  The sun was getting low in the sky so we moved on to Ouyen.


11 April 2019
Murray-Sunset NP Pink Lakes
We headed for Pink Lakes to see what we could wangle out of the mallee today. Again, I didn’t have high hopes. On the drive in to Pink Lakes we had some nice looks and photographs of bluebonnets. While we were stalking them three Major Mitchell’s cockatoo came flying down the road. I thought they might be going to water so we followed them. Turned out they were going to feed on dry paddy melons growing along the roadside. They settled down to feed. It was a pair with a big full-grown juvenile that was still begging, and again it’s incredible that they had been able to raise any young at all during the summer we’ve just sweltered through.

At our first stop in the mallee there was a surprising number of birds around. We had mulga parrots, yellow-plumed honeyeater, jacky winter, grey shrike-thrush and rufous whistler. We searched for mallee emu-wren to a nil result. Most likely they're still in the area but they can be sneaky when they want to be. We moved on to larger quarry in the form of striated grasswren. This time we were in luck. After about twenty minutes, one was heard calling. We soon tracked it down and, with patience, good views and photos were eventually had. It did worry me though that only a single male was seen. I think this is the third time in a couple of years that I have only seen a single male at this locality. If the population is healthy there should be at least a pair present; and at this time of year they should have last season’s young still with them.

After this great triumph we broke for lunch. I was in a bit of a quandary about what to do after lunch and was considering going all the way back to Hattah NP to see what I could find there. Going back through the Sunset Country didn’t seem a great option, with few target birds and not much chance of seeing them. In the end I decided to try a track in Murray-Sunset that I hadn’t been down before, mainly to try for chestnut quailthrush. There was a steep hill on this track that I was having trouble getting back up so I decided to keep going and come out the other end.  This proved serendipitous as the track I opted to go out on eventually led onto the road that was a known locality for red-lored whistler; still, a species I hadn’t thought we had much chance of seeing. The most amazing thing happened, a male red-lored whistler was in full song quite close to the track! We sprang into action but he was wary and kept moving away from us. He kept calling about a hundred metres ahead of us. After about fifteen minutes we were getting no closer to him and I thought that’s it, we’re not going to see this bird. We started to head back to the vehicle when suddenly he called quite close. We swung on our heels and spotted him almost immediately. He was about fifty metres away but had stopped feeding and was having a preen, so we were able to have some great views and some slightly distant photos. Due to his wary nature I was reluctant to try and get too close to him so we just enjoyed the views we had before he moved off. Wow! What incredible luck! We returned to Ouyen feeling rather pleased. We had not seen many birds for the day but had managed some quality ones.


12 April 2019
Hattah-Kulkyne NP
This was our last morning in the mallee before we had to head for home. I thought we would try an area along the Calder Highway not far from Hattah that had been a reliable spot for southern scrub-robin and shy heathwren over the years. We were in luck again, first getting the scrub-robin and then the heathwren. We also managed the mallee form of golden whistler, spotted pardalote (yellow rumped form), inland thornbill and white-eared honeyeater. I had also seen Gilbert’s whistler here on occasions so l thought I would test our luck a bit further. Another pair of scrub-robins was seen but neither sight nor sound of Gilbert’s. We walked on a bit further when bingo!, a pair of Gilbert’s came in. The male sat up in very bad light and little colour could be seen. Like the red-lored, he was a bit wary although great views were had of the female. We followed him for a while but weren’t having much success. We’d all but given up when he started singing again. This time, in good light.

We had one more try for mallee emu-wren back near Hattah but it wasn’t going to happen so we headed up to the lakes for a well-earned lunch. At Lake Hattah we added apostlebird, red-necked avocet and white-bellied sea-eagle plus other common waterbirds to the list. 

We headed back to Deniliquin after lunch. Some great birds had been seen and some great conversations had.

Philip N Maher 18 April 2019

Australian Ornithological Services P/L