Personal tour to the mallee 9 & 10 January 2016

Stuart Housden, the director of the RSPB in Scotland, and I got away about 3:30 pm after an evening and morning in the Deniliquin area (see Latest News). The day was a hot one with the temperature in the high thirties. Along the Murray Valley Highway, about 20 km north of Piangil, we got lucky with a square-tailed kite soaring low over the road. The redgum forest along the Murray where this species resides is so dry and desolate it is amazing this species still survives in this part of the world.

Continuing on, we arrived at our first mallee reserve at about 6:00 pm, with the temperature still high. We began searching for malleefowl and found fresh tracks but not the bird. However, a short time later we came upon a malleefowl crossing the track. Stuart was overjoyed as this was a key bird for him. One of the birds Stuart looks after in Scotland is cappercaille and he commented that a female cappercaille is about the same size as a malleefowl. We continued on to where the mallee reserve abuts almond plantations, which is a favourite place for regent parrot. Sure enough they did not disappoint and 50 to100 birds were seen in the vicinity including many juvenile birds. The almonds have been a great boon for this species and I believe it is the main thing keeping them going in this locality. In South Australia about Morgan and Waikerie where there are no almonds the species is in serious decline due to years of drought and no flooding in the Murray River. Ringnecks were also seen in this reserve. As the day was rapidly closing in, we ate some tucker here and watched the regents flying about. We still had a long way to go to our accommodation in Ouyen so we got going. Up the road a bit near Annuello, at dusk, a bird flew across the road. Stuart got a better view than me and thought it may have been a nightjar. No sooner had we pulled up than we had a spotted nightjar flying within metres of us! This was fortuitous as I was intending to get up before dawn to look for this species — we could have another hour in bed! The rest of the drive to Ouyen was uneventful. We arrived late at the Malleeview Motel in Ouyen and left early and never saw the proprietors. (Trisha had arranged for our doors to be left unlocked). We departed Ouyen for Hattah NP with just a faint glow in the sky and Venus and Saturn looking fantastic. It was going to be around 40 C today so we had to get the birds quickly.

Out west of Hattah the mallee was very quiet. We wandered about for quite some time before we even heard a bird. It was looking bleak. After half an hour we had only seen yellow-plumed and white-eared honeyeater. Then we picked up inland thornbill and heard scrub-robin and shortly after saw scrub-robin, and soon after had shy heathwren. Things were looking up! We began our search for the dreaded mallee emuwren! After about 30 minutes we heard a call and shortly after saw a family group of about five emuwrens, adults and juveniles. It is amazing this species has bred in such dry conditions. We enjoyed them for a while and tried for a few photos with some success. It was starting to heat up now so we had to get moving. Back at a disused bee site some 44 gallon drums used for watering bees still contained some water so yellow-plumed and white-eared honeyeaters were going way down inside the drums to get water as the temperature soared.

I was surprised to see the Hattah store getting a revamp as we drove past; apparently the store has changed hands. Alec will be greatly missed as he was a real character and made a great ‘hamburger with the lot’.

North of Hattah we tried an area where I have been seeing striated grasswren for about 30 years. All was quiet. The species is scarce in the park now and with the temperature soaring, we had little chance. Good to see the Parks Victoria are now baiting foxes in the park again. We continued on down to the lakes which are still holding a lot of water but only low numbers of birds were present. Parks Victoria has done a great job getting water back into the lakes and redgum forest. The cost must have been great but is worth whatever it cost to see the redgum looking heathy. Many of these ancient rees would be dead by now if there had not been water back into the system. Driving between the lakes on the sandhills we picked up a fleeting group of chestnut-crowned babblers sheltering from the fierce heat in a dense cypress pine tree. We managed to get some half decent views of them as they flitted about the trees. Stuart made some comment about Mad Dogs and Englishmen coming out in the midday sun! I guess that makes me the Mad Dog! We continued down to Hattah Lake for lunch before heading back to Deniliquin. We hadn't done too badly given the conditions (Ouyen recorded 40.4C). We had seen quite a few of the mallee birds. Gone are the days back in the 1980s and 90s when we could see all the mallee specialities in one day!

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