Australian Ornithological Services P/L 

Strzelecki Track Outback Tour 2015
4 — 23 September 2015

Join Australian Ornithological Services on the Strzelecki Outback – their 36th trip since 1987! The tour takes in the southern and western divisions of New South Wales, SW Queensland, the desert country of South Australia, the Flinders Ranges and the mallee country of South Australia and Victoria. Nearly all the inland specialities are sought with ample time to seek out the harder species. September is a good time for birding the inland as it is the start of the breeding season for inland species and the punishing inland heat and flies of late spring and summer are still some way off. A wide diversity of habitat will be traversed including pine/box woodlands, saltbush plains, grasslands, mulga scrub, rocky hills, gibber and sand dune deserts and mallee shrub. This tour is totally accommodated. We'll experience the best of the outback pubs and motels and rub shoulders with the locals after a hard day's birding and stay at a working sheep and cattle station to give us another perspective on life in the outback.

Day 1 

4 September 2015
Melbourne to Deniliquin
For those meeting us at the Observatory Gate, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, we take a quick stroll around to see a few species we won't get elsewhere, e.g., bell miner. 
From here we travel north to Deniliquin, stopping to bird in the foothill forests around Heathcote at about the halfway point. We could see several species here that won't be seen elsewhere on the tour. These could include speckled warbler, scarlet robin, fuscous and yellow-tufted honeyeaters and little, purple-crowned and musk lorikeets. 

Overnight: Deniliquin

Day 2 

5 September

This morning we bird the redgum forest for Deniliquin specialities such as superb parrot, crested shriketit, diamond firetail and western gerygone. And we'll check out the local swamps, if there are any, for Australasian bittern. After lunch we'll head out to the vast Riverine plain. Once covered in saltbush, these plains are now predominately grassland. Out here we have a good chance for black falcon, banded lapwing, inland dotterel and that quintessential Australian bird, the emu. We'll picnic out on the plains tonight before spotlighting for our flagship species, the plains-wanderer plus we have a chance for stubble quail and little buttonquail. Barn owl, boobook and tawny frogmouth are a possibility on way back to Deniliquin.

Overnight: Deniliquin

Day 3 

6 September

Deniliquin to Hillston 
We travel north to Hillston this morning. As we cross the riverine plain we'll be on the lookout for the plethora of raptors that can occur here in a good season. Around Gunbar, the plains give way to woodlands timbered with native pine, yarran, warrior bush, belah and boree. This area can be good for parrots, which might include Australian ringneck, bluebonnet and cockatiel; and we should see our first apostlebird. Ground cuckoo-shrike is a possibility through here. 

Overnight: Hillston

Day 4 

7 September

Hillston to Cobar

This morning we head north of Hillston into virgin scrub country. In the mallee scrub of the vast Nombinnie Nature Reserve we have a chance for the ground skulkers, southern scrub-robin and shy heathwren, as well as yellow- plumed and white-fronted honeyeaters. Travelling through woodlands timbered with wilga, belah, rosewood, box and pine, we could see a blush of Major Mitchell cockatoos whirling through the trees. Other species of note today could be spotted bowerbird, mulga parrot and grey-fronted honeyeater. 

Overnight: Cobar

Day 5 

8 September 

Cobar to Bourke

Birding the woodland around Cobar in the early morning, we'll seek out the red-vented form of bluebonnet (race haematorrhous) that inhabits this area. Other birds of note around Cobar include spotted bowerbird, brown, striped and blue-faced honeyeaters and double-bar finch. If the Eremophila oppositifolia is in bloom, there should be lots of honeyeaters about, such as spiny-cheeked, white-fronted and possibly black honeyeater. Travelling north to Bourke we pass through some of the most picturesque woodland in inland Australia. Stunning trees with names like wilga, beefwood, leopardwood, ironwood and whitewood occur in this area. Birds to look out for in the woodland include splendid fairy-wren, chestnut-crowned babbler, crested bellbird and the breathtaking red-winged parrot. 

Overnight: Bourke

Day 6
9 September
Bourke to Cunnamulla
Birding along the Darling River at Bourke in the early morning, we should encounter flocks of the primitive looking red-tailed black cockatoo feeding in the river redgums and coolabahs that line this famous watercourse. Barking owl is also a possibility. Bourke has some excellent swamps where an assortment of ducks and spotted, spotless and Baillon's crake are possible if water levels are right. As we cross the Darling River and travel north the woodland becomes more stunted and desert-like. We'll continue on through large areas of mulga shrub, mulga being a species of acacia that covers vast areas of the inland. The easily overlooked white-browed treecreeper could be seen in the mulga feeding quietly on the trunks. As we enter Queensland the scrub country gives way to the open flood plains of the Warrego River. At times the plains can be good for black falcon and spotted harrier and we sometimes see bustard and brolga through here. Nearer to Cunnamulla the open plains yield to sand ridges covered with native pines where, at times, we have seen four species of large cockatoo feeding together including flocks of Major Mitchell's.
Overnight: Cunnamulla

Day 7
10 September
Cunnamulla to Thargomindah
We'll spend the morning birding the mulga thickets around Eulo for Hall's babbler and chestnut-breasted quail-thrush. Hall's babbler was documented as recently as the 1960s even though it's reasonably common at times in this area. The elusive chestnut-breasted quail-thrush, probably the most stunning member of its family, can be found in the shrubby understorey that grows on the stony ridges in these parts. The gidgee flats may yield us Bourke's parrot, the most delicately hued of all the neophema parrots. Travelling west we will see the handsome Yapunyah eucalypt, which grows on the Paroo River floodplain. Later we will check out Lake Bindigolly for freckled duck and other water birds. 

Overnight: Thargomindah

Day 8
11 September


Today we will have our first look for the grey grasswren in the lignum swamps along the Cooper floodplain. West of Thargomindah the country becomes much more desert-like with trees and shrubs becoming sparser and more stunted. We'll see mesas as we cross the Grey Range and the first of the open gibber country. Black and pied honeyeaters could be present if the Eremophila bignoniflora is flowering in the flood out country. Painted honeyeater sometimes feed in the mistletoe in this area as well. Flocks of budgerigars and crimson chats can also be seen if the rains have come. 

Overnight: Thargomindah

Day 9
12 September
Thargomindah to Tibooburra
On the Wilson River at Noccundra we may encounter spectacular flocks of white-browed and masked woodswallows if the Yapunyah eucalypts are in bloom. Today we go south to the old gold mining town of Tibooburra. If seasonal conditions are right, the enigmatic flock bronzewing and gibber chat may be encountered on the huge gibber plain that we will traverse. The tree-lined watercourses can also be good for Bourke's parrot and we'll keep an eye out for grey falcon. Black falcon and spotted harrier also hunt the plains in a good season. 

Overnight: Tibooburra

Day 10
13 September

Tibooburra area

The Bullo overflow is also home to the grey grasswren and is our backup should we still need this species. The grasswren was undetected in this vast uninhabited tract until the nineteen-sixties. The delightful chirruping wedgebill is also encountered in the lignum. We will spend the rest of the day exploring the rolling gibber downs of Sturt National Park that almost surrounds Tibooburra. Grey falcon, one of our rarest and most beautiful raptors, sometimes nest along the coolabah lined watercourses in the Park. The cryptic inland dotterel, a desert shorebird, will be sought on the gibber plains and we have another chance for gibber chat. Hefty red kangaroos and euros can be seen in the Park. The stunning Sturt's desert pea will delight the flora enthusiasts if seasonal conditions have been suitable.

Overnight: Tibooburra

Day 11
14 September

Tibooburra to Strzelecki Desert

Travelling west from Tibooburra we come into rolling sand dunes country, which if the area has received rain can be good for crimson chat and black honeyeaters. Along Frome Creek we often see our first pair of black- breasted buzzard. Owlet nightjar can also be found in the hollow redgums along Frome Creek. In the thick coolabah around Lake Pinnaroo we sometimes see our first red-browed pardalotes and we have our last chance for Bourke's parrot in this area. Later in the afternoon we cross the Dog Fence, reputedly the longest fence in the world. This eight foot high barrier was built to keep dingos out of the sheep country on the eastern side of the fence. Only cattle are run the western side of the fence. We spend the night in accommodation west of the Dog Fence. 

Overnight: Cameron Corner

Day 12 

15 September 

Strzelecki Desert

We'll spend most of the day in the sand dunes of the Strzelecki Desert. The key bird today is the Eyrean grasswren that lives atop of the dunes in thick sandhill cane grass. That this species was undetected for most of last century attests to its secretive nature. Rabbit plagues have destroyed much of the sandhill cane grass on the dunes so the species is now restricted to those dunes that carry a good cover of cane grass. Other species we will be looking out for today include cinnamon quail-thrush, which lives around the base of the dunes, and banded whiteface which likes the areas of bluebush in between the dunes. The white-backed swallow can usually be seen in this area. We will also be on the lookout for dingos in the desert country and as usual, the grey falcon and letter-wing kite.
Overnight: Cameron Corner area

Day 13 

16 September 

Strzelecki Desert to Lyndhurst
Up extra early today as we have a long journey down the Strzelecki Track to Lyndhurst. We cover a range of habitats from sand dune desert to coolibahs lining the Strzelecki Creek, through starkly beautiful Cobbler Desert and across the vast gibber plain to Lyndhurst. The bird to look out for today will be the nocturnal letter-winged kite, which often roost during the day in the

coolabah-lined watercourses that thread the sandy deserts. This nomadic species is one of the three most difficult raptors to get in Australia. Traversing the gibber plain we have our last chance for gibber chat and inland dotterel, should we still need those species. Australian pratincole can also be plentiful if the area has had rain. We arrive in Lyndhurst late afternoon.

Overnight: Lyndhurst

Day 14
17 September

Lyndhurst to Flinders Ranges

The thick-billed grasswren (race modestus) and the chestnut-breasted whiteface, two of our most elusive inland birds, are our objectives on the bluebush-covered hills at the eastern end of the Strzelecki Track. While the whiteface has never been common and the grasswren's distribution has diminished, the Lyndhurst area is their stronghold. With luck, and probably hard work, we should see both species. The rufous fieldwren, with its delightful song, should be seen here. With all things running to plan we will leave Lyndhurst after lunch, arriving at an authentic sheep station for a two night stay.

Overnight: Flinders Ranges sheep station

Day 15

18 September
Flinders Ranges

Today we explore the ruggedly beautiful Flinders Ranges. The river redgum lined watercourses hold a good breeding population of elegant parrots. Redthroats and black-eared cuckoos are usually present in the adjoining patches of scrub. We should see the Flinders Ranges form of Australian ringneck and raptors such as little eagle are often seen through the area. We have another chance here for grey-fronted honeyeater. We'll scan the rock faces for yellow-footed rock wallabies, which have their last refuge in this area.
Overnight: Flinders Ranges sheep station

Day 16
19 September 

Flinders Ranges to Burra 

We will spend the morning seeking out the short-tailed grasswren that resides in the spinifex covered slopes and ridges. This species was previously regarded as a race of striated grasswren but is now a full species. Like all the grasswrens, it can be difficult but we'll give it our best shot. Powerfully built euros (wallaroos) are often seen bounding away in the spinifex covered hills. After lunch we leave the ranges behind and travel through farmland to the historic mining town of Burra. Spotted harrier can often be seen hunting over the paddocks and brown songlarks can be common at times. 

Overnight: Burra

Day 17

20 September 

Burra to Lameroo 

Adelaide rosella, a distinctive subspecies of crimson, should be easily seen around the township of Burra. We move on to the Morgan area where we have back-up sites for redthroat, black-eared cuckoo and black honeyeater. Purple-crown lorikeets often adorn the flowering eucalypts around the town. After ferrying across the Murray River we'll check out the river redgums for regent parrot (the males are a rich canary yellow) that resides in this area. We'll then travel on to Lameroo checking out lakes and swamps en route. 

Overnight: Lameroo

Day 18 

21 September 

Lameroo area 

We'll spend the day in the mallee scrub in Billiat Conservation Park. This extensive tract of mallee contains good populations of most of the specialised mallee species including malleefowl, striated grasswren, Gilbert's whistler, chestnut quail-thrush, southern scrub-robin, shy heathwren and purple-gaped honeyeater. There is also a good chance of the difficult red-lored whistler in the low mallee scrub. 

Overnight: Lameroo

Day 19 

22 September

Lameroo to Ouyen 

This morning we will visit Ngarkat Conservation Park. This Park contains large areas of low banskia heath and is an excellent area for honeyeaters with tawny-crowned, white-fronted and New Holland often present. Slender-billed thornbill also occurs here. We'll continue easterly into Victoria where we will visit Murray/Sunset National Park for the secretive mallee emu-wren that resides in the dense spinifex understorey of the mallee. 

Overnight: Ouyen

Day 20 

23 September 2015

Ouyen to Melbourne

Today we travel back to Melbourne breaking the long drive with a few birding breaks. The forests of yellow gum and box around Charlton can be good for musk lorikeet if these eucalypts are blooming. Around Inglewood, the low cut mallee, harvested for eucalypt oil, is suitable for tawny-crowned honeyeater. White-eared and New Holland honeyeaters should also be in the taller mallee. We will be on the lookout for raptors along the road such as brown goshawk and little eagle Arriving in Melbourne by 7.30 p.m. at the latest but hopefully 6 p.m . Participants dropped off at a central city location and/or airport motel.

Additional Information
*Price: $7,820.00 AUD twin share includes GST

*Single supplement: $855.00 AUD

*Starting time 7 a.m., participants will be collected at the Observatory Gate, Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens, Birdwood Avenue (opposite the Shrine of Remembrance); or a Melbourne airport motel after we set off on our northerly route.

*Accommodation: 19 nights in motels, self-contained cabins, and farm stays.

*Participants make their own arrangements on the return to Melbourne.

*Luggage: Restricted to 2 bags per person
Transportation: 22 seater bus or 4WDs (depending on conditions)

*Weather: Cold to warm; expect daytime temperatures range from
5°—25 °C. Usually dry. Nights cool.

*Limited to 10 participants (9 if we are taking 4WDs rather than a bus)

*Tour leaders: Philip Maher and Patricia Maher

*Fitness level: moderate

There will be some days when we will be birding on foot for several hours but the terrain is mainly flat. Participants should carry water at all times. Insect repellent should be carried and a fly veil is a handy item to have in your backpack. Sturdy walking boots and long-sleeved shirts are recommended. A comprehensive list of suggestions as to what to bring will be sent after booking.

Breakfast will be early to maximise our time in the field. Lunch will be picnics and dinner will be at our accommodation or close-by eating establishments. We usually arrive at our destination with just enough time for a quick shower before dinner but invariably there are times when we are required to go straight to dinner. A few days will consist of long drives but inland birds can often be seen from the road and naturally, we'll brake for everything except the commonplace.

See Strzelecki Track trip reports, past checklists and photos on the trip report page.