Strzelecki Track Tour

9-26 August 2000

Strzelecki Track 2000 Participants:
Pam and Des Agnew (NZ/Aust), Shaun Austin (Aust), Wendy Black (UK), John Clark (UK),
Roger Eastman (USA), John Eyre (UK), Jenny Flood (Aust), Brian Foster (UK), John McLennan (Aust), Alan Morris (Aust), Mike Shaw (UK)

Leaders: Philip Maher and David Leslie
Philip Maher has led this tour for 13 years, sometimes twice a year.

Seasonal conditions in inland Australia vary so much from year to year that you can never predict what you will see or where you will see it —that is what makes birding the inland so exciting. The year 2000 was no exception and produced four birds not previously recorded on our Strzelecki Track tours. This mainly was due to the unbelievably wet conditions in north-west NSW, south-west Queensland and north-east South Australia.

Although the tour officially started in Deniliquin, I collected most of the punters in Melbourne. We stopped briefly at Mt Ida Reserve near Heathcote (Victoria) which produced a few species that we were unlikely to see on the tour proper; for example, Speckled Warbler, Scarlet Robin and Yellow-faced and White-naped Honeyeaters.

Spotlighting on the plains north of Deniliquin that night produced no less than three female Plains-wanderers. Seasonal conditions were still dry in the area so I suspect the males were on eggs. That is an interesting characteristic of Plains-wanderers — they will nest early if conditions are dry. Other highlights that night included Banded Lapwings (including one on a nest with eggs — this species also likes to nest early); eight Inland Dotterel; and about three Fat-tailed Dunnarts. It was fortunate that we saw Inland Dotterels in the early part of the trip as they proved to be quite elusive in the lush growth on the gibber country where we would anticipate seeing them.

Day one
A couple of stake-outs in Deniliquin next morning gave us Boobook Owl and Tawny Frogmouth. While both species are common, they can at times prove troublesome, so it was good to get them out of the way. Three Superb Parrots were seen feeding on the nectar of the non-indigenous yellow gum (Eucalyptus leucoxylon var. rosea) in a roadside plantation in pine-country east of Deniliquin,.

Travelling north, the country improved markedly. Several Spotted Harriers were seen, probably migrating back into the area from the interior. Brown Songlarks were quite common on the plains between Hay and Gunbar. A pair of Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos, feeding on the cones of introduced pines near the Goolgowi railway siding, was a satisfactory finish to our first full day’s birding.

Day two
Five Diamond Firetails greeted us on our first port of call -the Lachlan River - north of Hillston. In the black box (Eucalyptus largiflorens) on the floodplain were Dusky Woodswallow, Brown Treecreeper, Western Gerygone and the black capped form of Varied Sittella.

A roadside stop at Nombinnie Nature Reserve produced White-fronted and Grey-fronted Honeyeaters — the Grey-fronted lured a bit further south than usual by the excellent conditions. A delightful duet of Striped Honeyeaters added to the occasion.

A patch of pine-scrub about half way between Hillston and Cobar produced a couple of unexpected gems — a pair each of Yellow Robins and Speckled Warblers. The Robins are not overly common in the area and it was my first record of Speckled Warbler north of Hillston. Usually this latter species is confined to rocky ridges in this area. Grey-fronted Honeyeaters were again seen in the narrow belts of mallee with an understorey of cactus pea (Bossia walkeri) which occurs on both sides of the road towards Cobar. In most parts of Australia the Grey-fronted Honeyeater is nomadic but at this location the species appears to be resident.

Overall, birds were a bit scarce between Hillston and Cobar this year, our visit was probably a bit early in the season. Still it was unusual not see any Spotted Bowerbirds and so few Apostlebirds. Wedge-tail Eagle numbers were down, probably due to the rabbit calicivirus reducing rabbit numbers. However, Black-shouldered Kites were in great numbers through this area, presumedly feeding on mice.

Day three
Birding in Cobar produced the ever obliging Brown and Blue-faced Honeyeaters and Spotted Bowerbirds perched on television aerials. Little Crows were a bonus — the species not usually recorded before Bourke. Yellow-plumed Honeyeater was another unexpected species with singles feeding in mulga (Acacia aneura) and clumps of Eremophila opposittifolia that were draped in pale pink bells. White-fronted Honeyeaters were also feeding in the Eremophila in good numbers.

A healthy list of birds including Mulga Parrot, Crested Bellbird, Splendid Fairy-wren and White-browed and Grey-crowned Babblers were quickly logged. In Bourke, Red-tailed Black Cockatoos serenaded us while we ate lunch on the Darling River. This species is not only approaching icon status in the town but is also becoming increasingly tamer.

A visit to the Bourke Sewage Treatment Works, while making us late for dinner in Cunnamulla, was well worth the effort. We recorded two species of crake — Baillon’s and Spotless, although due to a misunderstanding Dave was the only one to see the Baillon’s. Other birds of note recorded at the STW were Intermediate Egret and Australasian Shoveller. I was hoping for Tawny Grassbird at this locality as friends had seen several a couple of weeks earlier; however, we were unable to locate them in the short time available.

Excellent spotting by Jenny some 25 kilometres north of Bourke gave us our first ever record of Black-necked Stork (Jabiru) on a Strzelecki Track tour. An immature bird and an brillant record that far west. At the same locality we were delighted to see a Baillon’s Crake if only so Dave couldn’t grip us off! Variegated and White-winged Fairy-wrens were also present.

Good numbers of Major Mitchell’s were recorded between Bourke and Barringun. Our bus came to an abrupt stand-still on the cry of ‘BUSTARD!’ about 10 kilometres south of Baringan: two adult males on the Warrego floodplain. Bustards are now quite rare south of Queensland, this was only the third occasion I have seen this species in NSW. Arriving unforgivably late for dinner in Cunnamulla had its upside — a couple of Barn Owls just south of town.

Day four
About 40 kilometres out of Cunnamulla the next morning, an interesting looking bird was noticed near the roadside. A tape of Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush soon had a pair of Quail-thrush parading in full view. These things can only happen in good seasons! Closer to the 9 Mile Bore, good views were had of a group of Chestnut-crowned Babblers building a nest and not far away, a group of Hall’s Babblers. The Hall’s Babbler is not at all common near the 9 Mile Bore, I have only seen them in one locality south of the road in that area. A large party of birdwatchers were camped near the 9 Mile Bore; the group we approached for a chat, sadly, were none too friendly.

Further west, Lake Bindegolly was brimming with water, in sharp contrast to 1998 when it was nearly empty. There was an abundance of birds and we tallied up a big list in no time. Highlights were Caspian and Gull-billed Terns, Great-crested Grebe, Blue-billed and Musk Ducks, Brolga and more Baillon’s Crake. The much hoped for Freckled Duck eluded us. With so much water in the inland this year Freckled Ducks can pick and choose their lignum swamp on which to breed. Lateness for dinner again proved fortuitous when we flushed a Spotted Nightjar south of Thargomindah.

Day five
Before dawn, two pairs of Barking Owls woofed at each other across the Bulloo River at Thyangra Station; we found one roosting bird later that morning — another new bird for the Strzelecki Track tour. A walk along the Bulloo produced an abundance of Diamond Doves and White-browed and Masked Woodswallows. Of course, wherever these migrants go Budgerigars, Cockatiels and White-winged Trillers are not far away. Red-backed Kingfishers were also prevalent plus we had a brief look at a Little Eagle.

We flushed a covey of Brown Quail from a swampy area in floodout country west of Thargomindah, giving us yet another new bird for the tour. Presumedly this species comes down in good seasons from the north where it is common. We also flushed the first of Little Button-quail for the day. We searched an area of Eremophila bignoniflora where Pied Honeyeaters are frequently present, and less often, Black and Painted Honeyeaters, but no luck this time. Where were the Pied Honeyeaters? A few days later we would find out.

Further west in the Grey Range we had some nice looks at Bourke’s Parrot and we were lucky enough to flush up a Spotted Nightjar during the day. We got a scope on it from about 15 metres. Driving out of the Grey Range, about 300 Budgerigars ascended from the roadside — a swirl of yellow twisting to green framed by the setting sun. Several more pairs of Brolgas were seen between Thargomindah and Noccundra and it was wonderful to see hundreds of Fairy Martins nesting at every creek crossing. We encountered our first Ground Cuckoo-shrikes.

Day six
Setting out from Noccundra early the next morning we had not gone far south when we came across another three adult male Bustards not far off the road. About 20 kilometres south, a flash of pink and blue crossing the road gave us more Bourke’s Parrots and more Chirruping Wedgebills, with their cute topknots, were seen.

In some of the lightly timbered creek lines further south, at the edge of a vast gibber plain, we got a couple of pair of quail-thrush that were an intermediate form between Chestnut-breasted and Cinnamon. The males had chestnut coming well onto the sides of the breast but not right across it as in the Chestnut-breasted. They were also paler on the back than Chestnut-breasted and shared some characteristics of each species. Another 50 kilometres further south again, on the other side of the gibber plain, we came across another pair of quail-thrush which were much more like the typical race of Cinnamon Quail-thrush.

On the gibber plain we had great views of a male Gibber Chat; by his behaviour, he had a nest or young nearby. Sadly, Flock Pigeons, the most nomadic of inland endemics, proved too elusive for us on this occasion. In the sandhill country further south, we saw our first Pied and Black Honeyeaters feeding on the flowers of Eremophila serralata.

The view from the top of the Grey Range out over the Bulloo Overflow was superb. The Overflow has had some water in it now for three years but was dry from 1990 to 1998. A brief but successful foray on to the Overflow produced about 40 Orange Chats and Australian Pratincole, Banded Lapwing, Red-chested Button-quail (my first ever sighting for this area), Spotted and Swamp Harriers and a grand flock of 35 Brolga — again, I think my first sighting for the Overflow. Yet another adult male Bustard was added to the list a little further south. A group of Grey Grasswrens was also encountered briefly but we would have to wait to cement that relationship.

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