Personal tour notes

Personal tour with Colin and Ros Hedderwick (UK)
21, 22 & 23 November 2009

Day one
21 November 2009
We started this private tour with light rain falling; it hadn’t rained for several weeks so it was welcome if somewhat disruptive. First up we headed south to the Gulpa Island State Forest for superb parrots. The superbs had lots of young out of the nest and on the move. The adults used to feed the young ones in the forest for several weeks after fledging but since 'the great drought’ they now move out as soon as the young fledge.

Gilbert’s whistlers
are nesting in the Gulpa sandhills and we got an old male not far from a nest. (I now know of three pairs in Gulpa Island SF).

Crested shrike-tit was calling spasmodically and it took a while to track a male down. I suspect the female was on a nest.

Diamond firetails are quite scarce in the forest so we were pleased to see them near the river where there were no fewer than five nests in the one river redgum including one under a little eagle’s nest; all the other nests were in clumps of mistletoe.

Out in the revegetation plot near the highway, we had great views of at least three black honeyeaters feeding in Eremophila longiflolia. These birds have been feeding here for the last month. This year is the first time I have had black honeyeaters south of Deniliquin.

We headed to Booroorban after lunch for Major Mitchell’s cockatoo and were happy to see an adult still near the nest. The young can’t be too far off fledging. Later we found another Major Mitchell quietly feeding on native pine seeds on the sandhills along with fifteen mallee ringnecks.

Back out on the plains we located a family group of orange chats feeding in amongst the saltbush. It was by now quite wet on the plains with about fifteen millimetres of rain having fallen overnight and that morning.

We checked out the ground cuckoo-shrikes; they were busy feeding their one baby.

While we were traversing the plains we had two spotted harriers, both sub-adults. Ten or so Australian pratincoles, including a pair with a chick a few of days old, were seen in their usual area. This chick is the first hatching for the season. Even though the afternoon sky was darkened with rain clouds we couldn’t locate the inland dotterels until after nightfall. We spotlighted an adult with three half-grown chicks. Rain was falling by this time, which was a worry as we were still to get a plains-wanderer and the plains were already sodden. It was a race against time to get one and get the hell out of there — it had taken two hours to get a plains-wanderer on our last outing so I was anxious. Needlessly though as I drove straight to an immature male, followed soon after by an immature female, both between two and three months old, which means they have almost certainly bred out here. With gentle rain falling and a sodden arm, I located an adult female plains-wanderer, calling incessantly to a nearby male. So intent on her calling she was oblivious to us.

Fat-tailed dunnarts were also seen including a female with a pouched young.

On the way out we flushed a couple of little button-quails, finishing a great day's birding.  As we reached the highway, the rain was bucketing down. Heading home, we had two curl snakes crossing the road — the first I have seen for some years.

Day two
22 November 2009
Before heading over to the mallee we checked a few rice crops to the east of Deniliquin for bitterns. No bitterns but we did get a pair of brolgas, the first of the season. It was pouring rain so we set off for the mallee.  Not much to see
en route other than white-backed swallows at a gravel pit near Barrata Station. A roadside stop at our first patch of mallee south of Boundary Bend produced a pair of hooded robins and a group of varied sittella.

We checked out a couple of malleefowl mounds that had been scratched up over the last couple of months but not yet laid in.  This area had been very dry over winter, which was probably causing the malleefowls to be hesitant in breeding. The first mound visited had been opened up in the last few days but it seemed that the heavy rain in the last twenty-four hours had come too late and the mound had probably been abandoned. The second mound had been scratched in the last day but probably hadn’t been laid in, although I doubt that it had yet been abandoned. No malleefowl was seen near the mounds but a drive around the perimeter of the reserve produced a malleefowl sitting beside the road as well as two owlet nightjars and about fifty adult and juvenile regent parrots. Pretty happy with ourselves, we moved on to Hattah Kulkyne National Park. We came by white-fronted honeyeater in roadside scrub and an adult spotted harrier.

We arrived in Hattah Kulkyne NP late afternoon and just had time to chase down southern scrub-robin and shy heathwren.

Day three
23 November 2009
Daybreak found us birding south of Hattah in an open area of mallee with a saltbush understorey. (Before the drought, this was one of only a few areas in Victoria little crow could be had). We got a couple of pairs of crimson chats and many white-browed and masked woodswallows, which appeared about to nest. Also seen here were crested bellbird, splendid fairy-wren, southern whiteface and red-backed kingfisher but no little crow. Satisfied with this haul, we headed north. The drive along the highway produced a pair of Major Mitchell’s cockatoos on their nest tree — a buloke beside the highway. Taking a track through the mallee we heard mallee emuwrens calling and soon had a pair in our sights. Continuing on foot in search of a grasswren we stumbled upon a malleefowl, strolling, quite appropriately, through the mallee. We followed it hoping it would go back to its mound however our attention was diverted by a striated grasswren flying across our path. If it could always be this easy! We let the malleefowl go and followed the grasswren and while it kept on the move, we had some nice views. We checked another malleefowl mound that had been scratched up over winter but more pertinently, in the prior twenty-four hours. It may have been laid in but it was difficult to be sure; it certainly wasn’t mounded up as it should have been by now. Perhaps the good rain in the last couple of days will get them moving.

Heading out from the mound we got the last of the mallee specialities, a pair of chestnut quail-thrush — a bird that is now quite scarce in the mallee. We saw a large group of chestnut-crowned babblers in an area of open mallee that I've previously seen them in. It is an old haunt of mine but I hadn’t been there for a while, thinking the drought probably had shifted the babblers. Also at this location was striped honeyeater and another owlet nightjar.

I was hoping for a square-tailed kite near Lake Hattah having got one a couple of weeks ago with Josep and Alejandro but the lake produced nothing of note. A few flocks of regent parrots were seen east of Hattah.

It was a good couple of days made all the better with some decent rain.


Mallee areas afternoon 22 November and
morning 23 November 2009  
Clients: Colin & Ros Hedderwick (UK)
Best birds afternoon 22 November 2009

one malleefowl

about fifty regent parrots feeding on almonds

white-backed swallow

southern scrub-robin

shy heathwren

two owlet nightjars

golden whistler

Best birds morning 23 November 2009

crimson chat
hundreds of masked and white-browed woodswallows  about to nest
red-backed kingfisher
mulga parrot
mallee ringneck
splendid fairywren
crested bellbird
one owlet nightjar
a pair of mallee emuwrens
striated grasswren

chestnut quail-thrush

regent parrot
little eagle
a pair of Major Mitchell's cockatoo nesting
one malleefowl — different bird to that seen yesterday
personal tour information
striated grasswren
little eagle
chestnut quail-thrush
mallee emuwren
splendid fairywren
golden whistler (western form)
owlet nightjar
Major Mitchell's cockatoo
pair of malleefowls
Billardiera versicolor
regent parrot