Victorian mallee visit with Bill and Tim
6 & 7 December 2016

6 December 2016
Having birded Deniliquin yesterday, Bill, Tim and I headed for the Victorian mallee. Between Pretty Pine and Moulamein a dozen or more wedge-tailed eagles were observed. It would have been good to see Major Mitchell's cockatoo and chestnut-crowned babbler along the Moulamein/Kyallte road, where once you would have got them. We pushed on regardless, crossing the Murray River at Tooleybuc and on to our first stop in the mallee near Annuello. Our main targets here were malleefowl, chestnut quailthrush and regent parrot. I wasn't sure how we would go given it was almost midday. We saw fresh malleefowl tracks near where I had previously seen a working mound and soon had our first hit with a malleefowl walking off the side of the track. Next up we had fifty or more adult and juvenile regent parrots at the interface of the mallee and the almond plantations. (The Victorian mallee almond plantations have probably saved the regents; they are now more difficult to find in the South Australia mallee where there are no almonds grown). We were having a bite to eat when Tim walked over to take some photos of the regents and found another malleefowl under the shade of a tree. On the drive back out to the road we had grey (black-winged) currawong, spotted pardalote (yellow-rumped form) and brown-headed honeyeater; and joy-o-joy, a beautiful pair of chestnut quailthrush. We had our three target birds! Becoming a bit greedy, we decided to try for splendid fairywren, which used to be quite common in this park. We tried some of the wattle thickets where they formerly resided but not a sausage. Peeved by this we headed for Hattah NP. In some roadside mallee we tried a spot where I have been seeing chestnut-crowned babblers since first finding them here in the early 1980s. It would appear that here, they too have succumbed to drought in the last couple of years. We pushed on, stopping at an area of thick pine and belah where I had been seeing Gilbert's whistler for many years but no longer confident after my previous misses here. Nothing calling initially and I was fearing the worst when a couple of birds of the right jiz flew in. We had great views of an adult male Gilbert's. What a relief !  We continued on to Hattah seeing more regents feeding low down in roadside hop bush and other shrubs. Not surprisingly, the Hattah Store was closed when we arrived so we called it a day and headed for Ouyen.

7 December 2016
Next morning saw us up before dawn and heading back down to Hattah NP. Our first stop before Hattah was for southern scrubrobin and shy heathwren. While I have been seeing them at this spot for about thirty years, you can't assume anything these days. However, we were not disappointed on this occasion and soon had the scrubrobin followed by the heathwren. Also here we had inland thornbill, weebill and a single brown fairywren, which was a splendid but no coloured male. This was to be our only sighting of this species, which was once common throughout the mallee. Back out at the vehicle we also had our first white-eared honeyeaters. Flushed with success we headed further north into the park to a well-known locality for mallee emuwren and striated grasswren. Our first new bird here was yellow-plumed honeyeater of which there were many; also a few white-browed and masked woodswallows. After a short hunt about we located a pair of mallee emuwrens that were busy feeding young in a nest. We had some nice looks and left them to it. Another chestnut quailthrush was also seen briefly here. We hunted about for the grasswren but no joy. The day was getting on but I made the risky decision to drive all the way to Pink Lakes in the hope of finding a grasswren. I knew it would be almost midday by the time we arrived and the day was warming up. Further, I had failed to find them here on our Strzelecki tour in September — the first time we have missed them in almost thirty years. However, the birding gods were with us today and we located a single grasswren within thirty minutes of arriving at the locality. I believe this bird was carrying food to a nest, which augers well for the future. We had some nice looks and left him to go about his business. We checked out a working malleefowl mound while in the area but although freshly worked, no bird was in attendance. Heading back out we scratched a few old hollow mallee trees hoping for owlet nightjar, to no effect. We lunched at Pink Lakes before making the long drive home. The drive home went quickly enough with some memorable discussions ranging from the horror that is the US President-elect through to opera and the vexatious issue of common bird names.
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