Trip report

4 to 22 September 2010

Strzelecki outback tour
(aka ‘flying by the seat of our pants’ tour)

Tour leaders: Philip Maher, Patricia Maher
and Dave Webb



It was with a certain unease that we approached our 31st Strzelecki Track outback tour.  Things were not looking great with several key inland roads closed due to rain or flooding and a big rain event predicted for the inland for the very day we set off — and another forecast for the coming week. The signs along the highway warning of extreme weather and flash flooding gave fuel to Dave and my anxiety even as we headed for Melbourne for the start of the tour. Ominously, John Brumby, Victoria's illustrious Premier, warned over the airwaves that Victoria could be hit by the greatest rainfall event in fifteen years. He was right.

After collecting the group and doing a quick circuit of the Royal Botanic Gardens we headed for a rain-soaked Heathcote. Between rain showers we managed to see more birds than could be expected.

The ‘fun’ started that evening when commonsense was replaced by madness and we went out plains-wandering. The plains could not have been more sodden. Two out of our three 4WDs came to a halt and were pulled out by a knowing John who was sitting on his tractor, in squalling conditions, ready to come to the rescue. Amid the mayhem, we managed a male plains-wanderer and stubble quail. Then we got the hell out of there.

With the exception of a morning’s rain at Cunnamulla, the weather improved although it never got warm.

Our first closed road on the itinerary was the Noccundra to Tibooburra stretch, and with the Wilson River over the road at Noccundra it was not about to open any time soon. We headed to Tibooburra via Hungerford and Wanaaring — those roads opened on the very day we were to traverse them. The Wanaaring police station did an excellent job gathering the kind of road information we needed to hear!

We arrived in Tibooburra around 7.15 pm, not so very late (for me).

The South Australian roads authority had Cameron Corner to Merty Merty closed due to a washout down near the Merty Merty/ Innaminka Rd corner. We watched their website anxiously as their inspection date was scheduled and then rescheduled. When we arrived at Cameron Corner, the automatic sign said the track was open, the next morning it said it was closed. It was actually open, the sign was malfunctioning. We met a 4WD who had been down to the washout and returned, declaring it not doable.

Getting some good advice from the owner of Merty Merty, via the wonderful Cheryl at the Cameron Corner Store, we set off for Lyndhurst via the bog. (The sign now declared the road ‘open’).

The quagmire down at Merty Merty turned out to be less boggy than it looked. Our advice from Merty Merty was to stick to the wheel ruts in the centre, which turned out to be surprisingly firm.  (Sorry guys, you could have all stayed in the vehicles!).

Much of the inland was the wettest it’s been since the late 80s and some areas possibly since the big wet years in the 70s. In twenty-three years of doing this tour, I have never seen the sand dune country around Cameron Corner so saturated.

Now to the upside of all this moisture. What a year to see the outback. After years of devastating drought the landscape was carpeted in wildflowers and the birdlife was in a breeding frenzy .

Quite a few bird species were seen out of their normal range and some species were recorded in areas I have not seen them in years. Many birds had bred about a month earlier than usual and were busy feeding young, which made obtaining decent looks more of a challenge.

Numerous resident species were still in low numbers and it will take a few good years for the vegetation to recover before bird numbers increase to pre-drought levels.

The brilliant conditions in Central Australia combined with the cool weather (particularly the last week in the mallee of South Australia and Victoria) saw some of the migratory/nomadic species not venturing too far south. Good numbers of migrants were only had from about Cunnamulla through to Strzelecki Creek and even then pied honeyeaters were completely absent and other species, particularly black honeyeaters and crimson chats were in low numbers.

Budgerigars in a breeding frenzy occupied every available small hollow in coolibah trees along the Strzelecki Creek. They were even nesting in fallen logs.

It was the correct call to take three 4WDs this year rather than the bus. Even with the 4WDs, it could all have gone horribly wrong but with roads opening to 4WDs, literally in our path, it seemed we had Lady Luck riding shotgun.

Thanks to the land owners who generously allow us on to their properties and to all who assisted us with road conditions and advice. We are ever grateful to John Nevinson for his tolerance and preparedness to pull us out when we got bogged looking for plains-wanderers.

Thanks also to Dave Webb, driver of the third 4WD, who added much to the trip, not least several reptile species.  Needless to say, this tour, like all AOS tours, would not happen without Trisha Maher.  Likewise, we wouldn’t have gone anywhere without our wonderful participants and we thank Julienne Kamprad, Phyllis Wilburn, Diane Tweeddale, Mike Ord, Peter Sommerlad, Peter Gibbons, Iian Denham and Milt and Elaine Spitzer for sharing this extraordinary outback experience with us.

Species highlights

Emu: Good numbers throughout, several clutches of young seen. Best numbers between Bourke and Cunnamulla although oddly, no breeding recorded in that area. A few seen on the Strzelecki Creek in dingo country where they are generally quite scarce.

Malleefowl: Still one of the most difficult species to see in the mallee.  We saw only one bird on the last day of the tour sitting behind a low bush close to the track. Two active mounds were seen and a third was still being scratched up (where we saw the bird). All in Hattah/Kulkyne NP. Best mound activity for many years.

Stubble quail: Well out in the desert country this year with birds flushed from the plains north of Baringun, Bulloo Overflow and west of Cameron Corner; calling north of Morgan.

Brown quail: As with the previous species, brown quail were well out in the desert country. Singles flushed in mulga country east of Thargomindah and in the Bulloo Overflow.

Plumed whistle-duck: Exceptional numbers this year; seen daily from about Lake Bindigolly to Strzelecki Creek; even seen in the sand dune country west of Cameron Corner.

Blue-billed duck: Seen about Bourke and Lake Bindigolly. Absent from Bulloo Overflow where we have recorded them previously.

Musk duck: Breeding recorded with a juvenile bird seen at Leigh Creek water retention dam.

Black swan: Cygnets recorded Lake Bindigolly and Morgan Conservation Park.

Australian wood-duck: Exceptional numbers throughout the desert country where I’ve rarely seen them previously.

Australian shoveler: Very low numbers; only two birds seen south of Cobar and Lake Bindigolly.

Pink-eared duck: A few on most swamps in the desert country; breeding recorded on Lake Pinaroo (young).

Great-crested grebe: Juveniles recorded at Lake Bindigolly and southern end of the Bulloo Overflow between Wanaaring and Tibooburra.

Little black cormorant: Exceptional numbers on the Strzelecki Creek in company with great cormorants; also about Lake Bindigolly. There would seem to be a great density of fish in the Strzelecki Creek at present, particularly about the Crossing where hundreds of cormorants are congregating. Not seen previously in such numbers.

Australian pelican: Good numbers fishing with cormorants at the Strzelecki Creek; just a few elsewhere.

White-faced heron: Good numbers right out in the desert country, particularly around Tibooburra where they are generally scarce.

White-necked heron: Good numbers across the Riverine Plain and seen regularly right up through western New South Wales and south-western Queensland. Exceptional numbers in Sturt National Park, west of Cameron Corner and on Strzelecki Creek. Lake Pinaroo and Strzelecki Creek had small nesting colonies .

Great egret: Small numbers most days of the tour including around Tibooburra and Strzelecki Creek, where rarely seen.

Intermediate egret: A single bird on a canegrass swamp on the Strzelecki Creek.

Nankeen night-heron: Small numbers about swamps and floodplains in north-western New South Wales and south-western Queensland; good numbers on the Strzelecki Creek; many birds in immature plumage.

Glossy ibis: Small flocks about Lake Bindigolly and a few at a canegrass swamp on the Strzelecki Creek.

Straw-neck ibis: Best numbers from Thargomindah through to Cameron corner where spur-throated grasshoppers were starting to plague.

Royal Spoonbill: Low numbers about the Darling River and south-western Queensland; a few west of Cameron Corner on the Strzelecki Creek.

Yellow-billed spoonbill: Just a few about the Darling floodplain and on the Bulloo Overflow; active nest on the Edward River at Deniliquin.

Black-shouldered kite: Exceptional numbers from Melbourne to Cunnamulla with the highest concentration on the Riverine Plain and Warrego floodplain. A few also about the Flinders Ranges between Burra and Morgan and in the South Australian mallee. One seen at the southern end of the Strzelecki Track made for the second Elanus kite seen that day.

Letter-wing kite: Pair and a single bird seen at the northern end of the Strzelecki Track; the pair seen copulating. First record since 2007 when they were seen on both the August and September tours that year.

Black-breasted buzzard: Only recorded along the Strzelecki Creek where two active nests were seen — one with nearly fledged young. Neither nest had been used for a number of years so it was great to see them back.

Black kite: Best numbers for many years; highest counts from Bourke through south-western Queensland to Strzelecki Creek. Nesting on the Strzelecki Creek and many immature plumage birds seen.

Whistling kite: Moderately common about Bourke and through south-western Queensland; just a few on the Strzelecki Creek; several active nests along the Murray River at Morgan.

White-bellied sea-eagle: Pair at Moorook Swamp north of Moorook on the Murray River in South Australia.

Spotted harrier: Birds scattered from the Riverina through the desert country to Orroroo in South Australia. Highest concentrations on the Warrego floodplain, about Tibooburra and along the Strzelecki Track. (26 birds in total)

Swamp harrier: Rare, only three sightings in all — Victoria, Riverina and Bulloo Overflow.

Brown goshawk: Pair in the Flinders Ranges and singles in the South Australian and Victorian mallee.

Collared sparrowhawk: Quite a few sightings recorded from Melbourne through to the South Australian mallee. (12 in total)

Wedge-tailed eagle: Seen on most days of the tour but in low numbers although the overcast skies were probably not conducive to soaring raptors. The highest count for any day was around six birds about the Flinders Ranges. In the early 1990s over a hundred wedge-tailed eagles could be seen in a day in the Tibooburra area — this year we counted four in that area. (41 birds total).

Little eagle: Quite a number of sightings from Heathcote through to the Strzelecki Creek; all pairs or singles, with the exception of a nesting pair chasing off another little eagle at Deniliquin.  (11 birds total). 

Brown falcon: Moderately common from north of Heathcote through to the Strzelecki Track; numbers dropped off south of Lyndhurst and none seen in the South Australian or Victorian mallee. Highest concentrations on the Riverine Plain and Strzelecki Desert. (About 108 birds total).

Australian hobby: Only five birds seen, all in the desert country (there are big numbers about Alice Springs at present). It was ten days into the trip before we got our first hobby.

Black falcon: Four birds in total. One on Hay Plain, one on the Warrego floodplain and a pair along a creek line south of Hawker.

Nankeen kestrel: Seen on every day of the tour. Highest concentrations on the Riverine Plain and from the Flinders Ranges to the Murray River in South Australia.

Brolga: Presumably breeding in inaccessible areas; only one brief sighting south-east of Thargomindah.

Baillon’s crake: At least three birds at Bourke.

Spotless crake: One bird at Bourke.

Australian spotted crake: At least three birds at a canegrass swamp at the north end of Strzelecki Track.

Black-tailed native-hen: Good numbers about Tibooburra and Strzelecki Creek.

Eurasian coot: Good numbers about south-west Queensland.

Little button-quail: Daily sightings from Thargomindah through to the Strzelecki Creek; breeding on the gibber plains about Tibooburra, nest seen with three eggs.

Painted button-quail: A sighting of what was almost certainly this species in mulga country north of Bourke and a single male crossing the road north of Lameroo. The first record for this tour for many years.

Plains-wanderer: A single male seen in impossible conditions north of Wanganella on day one of the tour.

Common greenshank: Four birds on a canegrass swamp at the north end of Strzelecki Track.

Red-necked avocet: Breeding pairs on rainwater swamps between sand dunes near Cameron Corner; two nests seen.

Red-capped plover:  A few about the Bulloo Overflow and at a canegrass swamp along Strzelecki Track and also along the Murray River in South Australia.

Inland dotterel: Just five birds in total: a pair in Sturt NP just north of Tibooburra; one near the Bulloo Overflow and a delightful pair at Mt Lyndhurst feeding on the fleshy leaves of zygophyllum.

Black-fronted dotterel: Good numbers throughout the desert country.

Red-kneed dotterel: Good numbers about the Bulloo Overflow and the Tibooburra area.

Banded lapwing: Generally rather scarce; a few on the plains north of Wanganella, some nesting; a flock at the Bulloo Overflow; a few pairs west of Cameron Corner and one bird south of Hawker in South Australia.

Australian pratincole: Good numbers about the Bulloo Overflow; lower numbers in Sturt NP and west of Cameron Corner.

Gull-billed tern: Amazingly good numbers of this species, which has been scarce for many years. Seen daily from Lake Bindigolly through to the Strzelecki Creek; good numbers about Bulloo Overflow; also seen on swamps between sand dunes west of Cameron Corner.

Caspian tern: Good to see a few back at Lake Bindigolly after an absence of many years; also a few at swamps along the Murray River in South Australia.

Whiskered tern: Flocks seen at swamps about Tibooburra, Bulloo Overflow and Corner Country.

Common bronzewing: Quite scarce, just a few about western New South Wales, south-western Queensland and the South Australian and Victorian mallee.

Flock bronzewing: Great to see this species back on the plains around the Bulloo Overflow. We saw males doing display flights over the plains, sometimes accompanied by the female. Only about a dozen birds seen including one in Sturt NP where they are probably also breeding. This species regularly bred in this area in the late 1980s.

Crested pigeon: Once more, seen on every day of the tour.

Diamond dove: Good numbers from Cunnamulla to the Strzelecki Creek. Highest numbers about Thargomindah and on the Strzelecki Creek where they were breeding.

Bar-shouldered dove: Just a single bird feeding beside the road south of Cobar.

Little corella: Big numbers breeding in old coolibars at Lake Pinaroo in Sturt NP and at Strzelecki Creek where every large hollow was occupied.

Major Mitchell cockatoo: Only low numbers seen through western New South Wales to Cunnamulla where previously this species was a lot more numerous. Quite a few singles seen so presumably the females were on nests. Best numbers (about 15) seen between Thargomindah, Hungerford and Wanaaring.

Cockatiel: Best numbers for many years. Seen almost daily from about Gunbar (NSW), through south-western Queensland and to the Flinders Ranges.

Little lorikeet: A few about Heathcote, central Victoria.

Purple-crowned lorikeet: One at Heathcote; one seen (my me) flying across the Murray at Morgan; and a few flying around Melbourne Airport while we were dropping folks off at the end of the tour.

Red-winged parrot: Just a few about Cobar through to Bourke and Cunnamulla; one at Thargomindah.

Superb parrot: Just a couple about the river at Deniliquin before we had a surprising turn-up of about ten adults feeding (probably on lerp) in Eucalyptus intertexta about 30 km north of Mt Hope. We have never recorded superb parrots at this location previously.

Regent parrot: Worryingly, low numbers of this species seen at Morgan. Many of the ancient gums where this species nested in this area are dead or dying from drought.

Pale-headed rosella: A first for this long-running tour — at least three birds on the Darling River at Bourke.

Red-rumped parrot: One bird of the pale form seen on the Strzelecki Creek, where red-rumps are now uncommon.

Mulga parrot: Quite a few sightings in western New South Wales, south-western Queensland; a couple around the Flinders Ranges. Best numbers (c 15) at Pink Lakes (Murray/Sunset NP).

Budgerigar: Good numbers about Cunnamulla through to Strzelecki Creek and a southerly flock near Lyndhurst. Best numbers about Thargomindah/Tibooburra/Strzelecki Creek. Breeding frenzy at Strzelecki Creek and slightly less at Lake Pinaroo in Sturt NP.

Bourke’s Parrot: Rather scarce, none seen near Bowra (lousy weather) nor between Cunnamulla and Thargomindah where they were formerly common. Few pairs and small groups between Thargomindah, Hungerford and Wanaaring. Also a few at Lake Pinaroo in Sturt NP.

Blue-winged parrot: Possibly the most sightings this tour has had over its long history. They were calling at Bulloo Overflow; two small flocks seen between the dunes west of Cameron Corner; and a single bird southeast of Burra.

Elegant parrot: Numbers much reduced in the Flinders Ranges compared to pre-drought times. Most, if not all, birds seen were feeding young in nests, some of which were almost fledged.

Pallid cuckoo: Best numbers for many years; scattered throughout. The higher numbers were around Cunnamulla and at Pink Lakes in Victoria.

Fan-tailed cuckoo: Most recorded for many years including some seen in areas where not seen previously. Heard calling at Gulpa Island SF and there were sightings north of Hillston, Bowra Station and in the mallee at Hattah/Kulkyne NP.

Black-eared cuckoo: A few sightings this year including one at Nombinnie NR, north of Hillston; one male caused some frustration in Brachina Gorge, Flinders Ranges; and a pair of adults and a recently independent immature bird north of Morgan, where we finally had good views.

Horsfield’s bronze-cuckoo: In contrast to previous years, many Horsfield’s were seen or heard throughout the tour.

Southern boobook: One heard on Lachlan River at Hillston and one seen roosting in a peppercorn tree at Cobar.

Tawny frogmouth: Pair with a nest along the river at Deniliquin and one seen in mulga country east of Thargomindah.

Spotted nightjar: One flushed from a stony ridge on Bowra, which afforded us great views.

Australian owlet-nightjar: One flushed in my first attempt in mulga woodland north of Bourke. Amazed to see this species back in what had previously been a desolate area. Another flushed at Lake Pinaroo.

Red-backed kingfisher: About seventy-four birds seen over eleven days, which I imagine is a record for this tour. Big numbers in south-western Queensland, which was probably due to the plaguing spur-throated grasshoppers. At least fifteen birds between Thargomindah, Hungerford, Wanaaring and Tibooburra. First bird seen north of Bourke and last seen south of Hawker. Several birds about the Corner Country with red sand-stained breasts were obviously nest building.

Sacred kingfisher: Good numbers along the rivers in south-western Queensland.

Rainbow bee-eater: Just a couple about Cunnamulla and along the Strzelecki Track. Slow coming down, no doubt due to the cool weather.

White-browed Treecreeper: Pair between Cobar and Bourke and a couple of pairs on Bowra.

Splendid fairy-wren: Some wonderfully coloured males seen in south-western Queensland and north of Morgan. Numbers still low but judging by the males, they are breeding.

Variegated fairy-wren: Numbers much reduced but the small nucleus in most areas will hopefully continue to expand.

White-winged fairy-wren: Numbers reduced but this species has probably weathered the drought better than the other fairy-wrens.

Mallee emu-wren: Numbers also greatly reduced; none could be heard or seen at Pink Lakes where formerly they were moderately common. Eventually a pair located at the eleventh hour in Hattah/Kulkyne NP, which were probably breeding.

Grey grasswren: Our first grasswren in the Bulloo Overflow was elusive initially and we worked for a good hour before getting acceptable views. Having walked over to the main swamp we were pleasantly surprised to see several groups back in their old haunts, even though most of the old lignum and canegrass is dead. These groups proved cooperative. It’s great to see the swamp full after so many years dry. Also wonderful to see young lignum plants emerging from the mud around the receding edge. That this species weathered the drought so well is truly amazing.

Striated grasswren: Numbers much reduced, particularly in Billiatt NR. The old tame pair at Pink Lakes appears to have departed after many years of super views (2001-2008). There is still a pair at this locality but they are timid. We eventually located and had great looks at another pair in Pink Lakes.  Also heard in Hattah/Kulkyne NP.  At the Pink Lakes location we found an active burrow belonging to a (I assume) Mitchell’s hopping mouse.

Short-tailed grasswren: One bird seen very well in spinifex in the Flinders Ranges after a short search and nearby another bird flushed from a nest, which contained young.

Eyrean grasswren: The first pair was uncooperative so we moved on to another dune where they were much more cordial. The dunes are covered in all manner of wildflowers, particularly regal birdflower Crotalaria cunninghamii. Much of the sandhill canegrass Zygochloa paradoxa is sprouting and covered in seed heads, rather than looking dead as they were last year. Some of the wattles are also regenerating. Rabbit numbers are still low which augers well for the future. There were quite a few burrows of (presumably) the long-haired rats seen in the sand dunes. Passerine numbers were lower than might be inspected in such lush conditions.

Thick-billed grasswren: They were scarce at Mt Lyndhurst which is not surprising given the area has looked like a moonscape for the past two or three years with even the drought-tolerant saltbush throwing in the towel. It amazes me that any species could have survived here at all. Still we managed to find at least one group, which ran like scalded cats. After following them for half an hour and only having mediocre views through the scope, we gave it away and threw Plan B into action. Leigh Creek is sometimes a good backup for this species and we had them from the vehicle almost immediately.

Spotted pardalote (yellow-rumped): Very low numbers of this subspecies in the mallee. None seen or heard in Nombinnie NR; very scarce in Billiatt NR; better numbers south of Lameroo in conjunction with a big flock of striated pardalote feeding in Eucalyptus leucoxylon. Also digging a nest hole in Pink Lakes.

Striated pardalote: Numbers greatly reduced everywhere; scarce on the Darling where in pre-drought times they were common. Best numbers south of Lameroo (as for spotted).

Shy Heathwren: Breeding up; a pair with two recently fledged young in Nombinnie NR and a couple of males singing in Billiatt.

Rufous fieldwren: Scarce at Mt Lyndhurst, only a pair seen for the morning although we had great views of those.

Redthroat: One seen briefly in the Bulloo Overflow. About four pairs seen in the Flinders Ranges, which was the best result for several years. Significantly, most were feeding young in nests and were about a month earlier than usual. What black-eared cuckoos that remained were indifferent, indicating breeding was largely finished although the redthroats will almost certainly breed again given the lush conditions . 

Western gerygone: A pair at Gulpa Island SF and another at Nombinnie NR.

Chestnut-rumped thornbill: Numbers low through the inland but boy are they breeding! Almost every pair we saw from Cobar to Pink Lakes were feeding young in nests. Breeding recorded on six of twelve days.

Inland thornbill: Numbers down but this species has weathered the drought better than some. Still quite a few in the Flinders Ranges where recently fledged young were seen; also still quite a few in Billiatt NR.

Slender-billed thornbill: One group back in the burnt-out mallee heath in Ngarkat south of Lameroo.

Chestnut-breasted whiteface: Just a group of five seen at Mt Lyndhurst. Initially a single male was seen and I thought it probably had a mate on a nest nearby. Surprisingly, a group of four adult birds joined this single bird. Possibly some group breeding system operates with this species.

Banded whiteface: Many sightings this year including a pair feeding young in Sturt NP. Quite a few pairs west of Cameron Corner, many of which were also feeding young in nests.

Red wattlebird: still present in many towns in South Australia where they did not occur pre-drought.

Striped honeyeater: Numbers well down but still a few seen and heard north of Hillston through to Cunnamulla. Only one heard in the Victorian mallee.

Noisy friarbird: A remarkable nesting of this species was seen in the largely dead mulga between Eulo and Thargomindah, possibly due to the plaguing spur-throated grasshoppers in that area. Three active nests were seen in one morning while searching for Hall’s babbler.

Little friarbird: Best numbers for some years; nest building along the Darling at Bourke and also present with the noisy friarbirds in mulga country between Eulo and Thargomindah.

Purple-gaped honeyeater: Just two birds seen in Billiatt NR where once there were many. Still, better than last year when we had a zero result. Hopefully on their way back.

Yellow-plumed honeyeater: Scarce, particularly in New South Wales with no sightings in Nombinnie NR or elsewhere in that vicinity. None seen until we reached the unburnt mallee at Pink Lakes and Hattah/Kulkyne NP.

Grey-fronted Honeyeater: A few seen in the mallee at Nombinnie NR where I have not seen them in over ten years. Also a few distant birds high up on the ridge at Brachina Gorge.

Brown honeyeater: Just a few seen or heard about Cobar and in mulga country around Cunnamulla and Thargomindah.

Painted honeyeater: A lovely male seen near Cobar and a few seen or heard at Bowra; much better result than recent years.

New Holland honeyeater: Still present in many towns in the South Australia and Victorian mallee, where they previously did not occur.

White-fronted honeyeater: Generally rather scarce; best numbers about Cobar; a few around Thargomindah and Tibooburra and a couple in the mallee at Pink Lakes.

Tawny-crowned honeyeater: A pair, probably nesting, in the burnt mallee in Ngarkat CP, south of Lameroo.

Black honeyeater: Rather scarce, had not made it very far south; only a few seen about Thargomindah and Tibooburra.

Crimson chat: Generally low numbers; one pair seen at Nombinnie NR was way south of all the rest, which were seen from about Thargomindah through to the Strzelecki Creek. The highest numbers were in the sand dune country west of Cameron Corner and about the Strzelecki Creek — but still only relatively low number compared to other good seasons. No nests were seen so breeding may be late, no doubt due to the cool weather. Contrast this to most of the resident species that had already bred.

Orange chat: Good numbers only about the Bulloo Overflow where breeding was in full swing. Just a few about Sturt NP, west of Cameron Corner and down the Strzelecki Track.

White-fronted chat: Incredibly scarce, just a pair seen briefly at Brachina Gorge, where I have not seen them before. None seen south of Hawker were they were previously regulars.

Gibberbird: Good numbers only on the gibber plain about the Bulloo Overflow, where juvenile young were seen. None seen in Sturt NP or along the Strzelecki Track.

Gibberbird: Good numbers only on the gibber plain about the Bulloo Overflow where juvenile young were seen. None seen in Sturt NP or along the Strzelecki Track.

Scarlet robin: Seen feeding young in a nest at Heathcote — a rather early breeding record.

Southern scrub-robin: Two seen well in Nombinnie NR and two in Billiatt CP. Good to see them in Billiatt as I couldn’t locate them last year. Surprised to see one bird banded.

White-browed babbler: The most sightings for several years of this species, which has been hit hard by the drought. Groups in Nombinnie NR and at Cobar and in lignum in Morgan, Flinders Ranges NP, Billiatt CP and Pink Lakes.

Hall’s babbler: proved hard to find this year. None could be found north of Bourke, nor on Bowra Station although the species had been seen there very recently and they were relatively common there only a few years ago. After a hard slog Peter Gibbons turned up a pair near the lunch spot between Eulo and Thargomindah. It will take several good seasons for this species to regain its numbers given that a fair proportion of the mulga, which this species relies on, is dead through this area.

Chestnut-crowned babbler: As with the other babblers this species’ numbers are greatly reduced; however, they are holding on in most areas and we had some good sightings. This once reticent species has become habituated to humans at Bowra Station and at Morgan, where we saw one on a garden fence on the outskirts of town.

Chestnut quail-thrush: A superb male almost walked over our boots in Nombinnie NR and another seen in Billiatt and others at Pink Lakes; calling in Hattah NP.

Cinnamon quail-thrush: Few seen west of Tibooburra and quite a few west of Cameron Corner including immature birds. Two adults and two juveniles at Mt Lyndhurst. Breeding would seem to have finished.

Chestnut-breasted quail-thrush: Quite a few sightings. The first at Cobar; a few about Bowra Station and east of Thargomindah and the last a pair south east of Thargomindah when we were heading to Hungerford.

Varied sittella: Quite a few were seen on the first day in the rain at Heathcote, thereafter not a singe bird was seen or heard; possibly the lowest number of sightings ever recorded on this tour.

Crested bellbird: While quite a few were seen or heard, the numbers are greatly reduced.

Red-lored whistler: Just a single old male seen at Billiatt CP.

Gilbert’s whistler:  One male seen poorly in the lignum at Morgan.

Golden whistler: Quite a few males singing in Billiatt CP.

Grey fantail: Seen much further out in the desert this year. Recorded through Hillston, Cobar and Bourke and a couple about Thargomindah.

Black-faced cuckoo-shrike: Seen much further out and in better numbers than they have been for several years.

White-bellied cuckoo-shrike: A pair seen near Heathcote, one of which was the morph with the all black face and white breast with a little barring.

White-winged triller: First birds were seen north of Hillston and the last in the Flinders Ranges. Most numerous about Thargomindah, Tibooburra and on the Strzelecki Creek. Males were calling in those areas so they may nest out there instead of coming south.

Olive-backed oriole: Also seen much further out than normal with birds seen at Cobar, Bourke and on Bowra Station at Cunnamulla. Possibly this tour’s first record for Queensland.

Masked woodswallow: Low numbers seen daily from Cunnamulla through to the Strzelecki Creek.

White-browed woodswallow: Seen daily in reasonable numbers from south of Cunnamulla to west of Cameron Corner. Good numbers about Thargomindah where breeding was recorded in the distressed mulga, several nests with eggs seen.

Dusky woodswallow:  A few seen near Heathcote, Deniliquin and south of Lameroo.

Little woodswallow: A few at Bowra Station and high up at Brachina Gorge in the Flinders Ranges.

Grey currawong: The most seen for a few years. One at Heathcote and quite a few of the black winged form in the South Australian and Victorian mallee.

Australian raven: Further out in the desert country than they have been for some years with records west of Cameron Corner.

Little raven: Recorded Melbourne to Cobar and not seen again until south of Hawker. None seen in Leigh Creek South this year where little crow was recorded.

Little crow: Much better numbers this year particularly west of Cameron Corner.

White-winged chough: Numbers reduced in arid areas; no sightings between Cobar and Bourke and scarce west of Cunnamulla.

Apostlebird: Numbers also much deduced but still holding on in most areas.

Singing bushlark: Scarce, just a few on the Riverine Plain and a couple on the gibber plains north of Tibooburra.

Skylark: A few southeast of Burra

Zebra finch: Big numbers. Hundreds in the Thargomindah and Tibooburra areas and west of Cameron Corner and the Strzelecki Creek. Breeding frenzy in these areas with almost every available nest site in use. At Cameron Corner they seemed to have commandeered the fairy martins’ recently completed nests under a shelter. Who knew this species was so aggressive?

Double-barred finch: Just a single pair seen in Mulga country between Eulo and Thargomindah.

Mistletoebird: Numbers still much reduced, particularly in the desert country.

White-backed swallow: Our first sighting just north of Hillston and our last near Pink Lakes. Good numbers through the sand dunes in the Corner Country. One flying over the swamp at Morgan seemed out of place although there are plenty of sand hills around there.

Tree martin: Plenty seen but greatly reduced numbers. Many breeding on Strzelecki Creek and in the Flinders Ranges.

Fairy martin: High numbers about south-western Queensland, Tibooburra area and Cameron Corner where every available structure is being utilized although zebbies are usurping many nests (see zebra finch above).

Rufous songlark: Good numbers through the whole tour, possibly the most widespread breeding event I have ever seen. Breeding was occurring from Deniliquin through to Pink Lakes. Bulloo Overflow and Billiatt NR were the only days we missed singing males in the inland. Nests with three eggs seen on the Strzelecki Creek.

Brown songlark: Another big breeding event occurring with good numbers on the Riverine Plain; highest density was on the gibber plains north of Tibooburra and about the Bulloo Overflow where a nest with eggs was recorded. Also big numbers west of Cameron Corner and quite a few between Hawker, Burra and Morgan.

Silvereye: Only seen on day one of the tour about Heathcote; seemingly gone from Flinders Ranges where they were once regularly recorded.

Mammal highlights

Echidna: A large specimen seen west of Thargomindah in the late afternoon.

Euro: The population seems to have crashed, particularly in the Flinders Ranges, with far fewer seen than last year, particularly the big males.

Yellow-footed rock-wallaby: About ten at Brachina Gorge, Flinders Ranges, although we couldn’t get far up the gorge due to washouts.

Black wallaby: One south of Cunnamulla.

Dingo: One at The Bulloo Overflow; one west of Cameron Corner; and two along the Strzelecki Track where we have not seen them for some years.

Reptile highlights

Burton’s snake-lizard: A fine specimen found by Dave Webb near Lake Bindigolly; only the second I have seen.

Narrow-banded sandswimmer: One found by Dave Webb at Cameron Corner.

Amphibian highlights

Holycross frog: A well-coloured specimen was located by Diana Tweeddale in mulga country on Bowra Station.

Green tree frog: One along the creek line east of Thargomindah.

Giant Bullfrog: One fine specimen on the plains north of Wanganella.

At least eight species of frogs were seen or heard demonstrating how wet the inland is at the moment.


Photos of some of the birds seen on the 2010 Strzelecki outback tour

Photos of some of the mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects seen on the tour

Photos of the vegetation seen on the 2010 Strzelecki outback tour

Botanical notes on the 2010 Strzelecki Track tour

2010 checklist of species seen

2011 Strzelecki Track outback tour itinerary

2009 checklist of species seen
2008 checklist of species seen
2007 checklist of species seen
2006 checklist of species seen
2005 checklist of species seen
2004 checklist of species seen
2004 checklist of species seen (2nd trip)
2000 trip report