Saturday, September 24, 2016

Three in a row.... Birdsville Track 2016, Part 1

Yep.... third time in a row! The lure of the Birdsville track seduced us again! We were a little undecided at first which had Mike and I going over quite a few options before deciding to three-peat the Birdsville...
In the end the reports from along the track just before we left were too much... with the desert in bloom we wanted to see it for ourselves along the track so the decision was made!
Rolling into Mike's place a little after 7am we certainly weren't getting away super early but it mattered not as we only planned to make it to Farina on the first night. The trip started clouded over and cold which has been pretty typical for our trips into the outback over the last few years... the bird list steadily grew as we made our way north. Stopping at our favourite bakery in Sevenhill on the way through the Clare Valley we grabbed some breakfast and lunch for the day and headed for our first stop near Hawker! The sun started shining as we made our way past Orroroo... then once we made it to Hawker we didn't know it at the time but we wouldn't see another cloud for the whole five days of the trip!
Our traditional favourite Rufous Fieldwren spot just north of Hawker was our first birding stop as always... It was midday and the sun was bright by this time and the birding was quiet... one of the few times we haven't found much in this spot! A little disappointing but this spot was to prove it's quality on the return leg... So it's still a little birding honey hole for us!
Eventually we made it into Lyndhurst with about three hours of light left. We headed out to the airstrip to see what was about.. Mike went one way and I the other. When we met back up after about 45mins we had both found lots of cool birds, highlights being both Black and Pied Honeyeaters in good numbers!
Black Honeyeater at the Lyndhurst airstrip
Heading onto our stop for the night at Farina we checked the first tower of the trip for Grey Falcons but as is often the case it was vacant. Farina was busy when we eventually got there... surprising for mid week we thought but it is the time of the year lots go outback so understandable. Typically it was also full of birds! It's a really cool spot... we grabbed a couple of beers and the cameras and just went up onto the hill to the north of the camp and watched all sorts of birds flying about.

A pair of Black-breasted Buzzards at Farina

Black-breasted Buzzard
Leaving before dawn the next day we were trying to get to Mungeranie and still bird on the way so we thought an early start would aid us in this venture. Between Farina and Marree we had a lovely encounter with a Wedge-tailed Eagle as it sat on an old fence post, the sun poked over the horizon and started flooding it's belly with it's warmth and it was quite content to sit and let us photograph it... Not that any came out much chop as the light was still a bit weak at this very early time of the morning!
Not long after we rolled onto the start of the Birdsville track itself... We were back! It was so special last year Mike and I were both crossing our fingers it would not disappoint this time around?
First stop was for a small dead branch with about 20 Black-faced Woodswallows on it. Not long after we pulled up at another previously visited spot we love to bird called Well's creek. Over the last two trips this spot has always had a plethora of different desert birds to watch and photograph. This trip was no different with birds calling everywhere! Species like Chirruping Wedgebills, Diamond Doves, Black and Pied Honeyeaters, Variegated and White-winged Fairy-wrens, Zebra finches in the hundreds and even an Emu with tiny chicks etc... I can't remember all the species now but there was plenty to see there as usual!

Diamond Doves at Well's Creek
Moving on our next stop was a spot which looked good for Gibberbird... we pulled up and couldn't spot anything with binoculars so we played a touch of call back, within about 20 seconds a pair flew in from not very far away! Excellent! Always good to find birds on the first attempt for the trip and even though this pair stayed into the sun on us and the photos were pretty average we were rapt to had gotten this sometimes difficult species so easily!
A little way further on from the Gibberbirds there was a large flock of young Emu's... About a dozen in close about 100m off the track and more out about 300m away. Having done the 'upside down bicycle' trick on a bunch of young Emus a few weeks earlier and getting a cool response down near Salt Creek on the Coorong... I thought I'd try it again here! Finding a nice smooth looking piece of ground I started the pedalling and instantly every Emu within sight came bolting in to see what on earth this strange creature was lying on the ground! In no time there were about 30 very confused young Emus all around us! Always good fun :-)

The 'Upside Down Bicycle' fun!
Next birds to have the car stopping were Orange Chats... a bunch of them. At the time they were the first of the trip and we spent some time with them... not knowing they would be the most common bird of the trip by far! After this point we saw them constantly until we passed back past this point on the return journey! Picked up a few more White-winged Fairy-wrens here as well including this image below... (got a lot closer with this bird than the Chats! LOL)

White-winged Fairy-wren
Passing the Cooper creek we headed into the first section of the track with sand dunes running alongside. Stopping at another favourite spot to we easily found Eyrean Grasswrens in the canegrass, in fact we found 7 along about half a kilometre of dune top! Also in this spot we had Pied & Black Honeyeaters again, Budgies flying past in small flocks and lots of other usual desert sand lovers like White-backed Swallows etc..

Eyrean Grasswren
One thing was really starting to stand out now as we moved further up the track... the country was in real good shape! It was obvious rain had fallen in good amounts over the last little while as there was lots of green around and plenty of flooded swampy areas as we moved towards Mungeranie.
We stopped and walked over a couple of dunes to a hidden waterhole we found last year. Again there was plenty of birdlife around... Diamond Doves by the dozens, lots of Pink-eared Ducks on the water, breeding White-necked Herons, a pair of nesting Wedge-tailed Eagles and plenty of other birds... we even flushed a Little Button-quail on the way back to the car from a grassy area between the dunes!

Big female Wedge-tailed Eagle on her nest near our hidden waterhole... She was totally unperturbed as we passed over the dune about 30m from her! Also in this shot is around 7 Zebra Finches which were hiding in the big stick structure of the nest!
The run up to to Mungeranie from there was punctuated by several stops near telecommunication towers looking for Grey Falcons and lots of the better stands of Coolabah trees looking for Letter-winged Kites. Unfortunately we hadn't found any by the time we pulled into Mungeranie to set up camp but that's birding!
With two hours of light left we took off out on the road which heads to Kalamurina just to see what we could find... A friend of ours had seen Banded Whiteface out on this road not long before. Which has been one of two bogey birds for Mike and I since we have started doing these outback runs! A couple of maybe.. but not good enough views of Banded whiteface meant neither of us could definitely say we'd seen one! This all changed when we crested a small sandy rise and out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a small bird which fitted the description on top of a small bush... telling Mike he turned the vehicle around and as we drove up we saw more of these small birds. We pulled up and straight away had a Banded Whiteface in the binocular view! Woohoo! A bogey broken! First lifer of the trip and a good feeling to have finally cracked this species! As is often the case we found another small flock before the sun set!

Banded Whiteface

and another Banded Whiteface!
A few celebratory drinks were had first around the campfire and then in the Mungeranie pub that night before a good nights sleep ready for another early start and more no doubt fantastic birding as we rolled further north along the track!

Part two coming soon!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

One day.... Five Birders/Photographers.... 542km later.....

About a month ago I got a message from a couple of fellow bird photographers from over in WA. They were coming over to SA soon and were keen to catch up and get out for a day's birding. Always keen to get out if I can we set about organising a day to get out! Luckily for me their visit coincided with my couple of weeks of long service leave I was taking at the time, so it worked out well.
An early start was mandatory and with a couple of quick stops to pick up my mates Lisa and Craig who were coming along as well... we pulled up in Heather and Shelley's driveway at about 6am! The weather didn't look like it would be our friend and it was drizzling as we loaded all the camera gear. It kept drizzling all the way to our first stop... Laratinga Wetlands! I would've never picked it... but as we pulled into the wetlands carpark the clouds parted and the sun shown through!
Laratinga proved to be fairly quiet and apart from a quick session for Lisa and I with a group of feeding Australasian Shovelers... and a backlit Little Pied Cormorant and some Superb Fairy-wrens for the whole group... the photographic opportunities were limited. 
Australasian Shoveler - Laratinga Wetlands
Our next stop was a place new to me... The Browns Road Mallee block up at Monarto. We where heading there with the intention of finding Diamond Firetails... but as always looking for whatever we could find! We left the car in what had become fairly average light unfortunately... This would be the standard for the first half of the day with all four seasons being represented in that time! Frustrating a little when you have a camera in your hand!
We spent around two hours in this spot and had some fun with quite a few species, highlights would of been finding the Diamond Firetails in fairly good numbers, a co-operative Australian Owlet-nightjar, a Restless Flycatcher, a Southern Boobook and plenty of other cool birds like Purple-crowned Lorikeets, White-winged Choughs etc...

White-winged Chough - Browns Rd, Monarto

Immature Diamond Firetail - Browns Rd, Monarto

Southern Boobook - Browns Rd, Monarto
Diamond Firetail - Browns Rd, Monarto

Australian Owlet-nightjar - Browns Rd, Monarto
Lisa, Shelley, Craig and Heather slowly sneak up on the little AONJ watching from it's hollow!
We headed to Mannum for lunch at the pub and a discussion on where to head next. A nice meal and a refreshing drink and we were back on the road heading for Brookfield Conservation Park... a great mallee birding spot full of some pretty cool birds. It meant for a big day, but would hopefully be worth it with the clouds starting to disperse and a nice afternoon of photography looked promising!
Once in the gate we had only gone about 150m in when we came across a female Hooded Robin sitting up high on an exposed branch.. We stopped as Shelley wanted a chance to photograph it. As I got out the car I spotted a bunch of Sittella's in another tree! Typically busy they were proving hard to photograph... but eventually we all managed some pretty reasonable shots :-)

Varied Sittella - Brookfield Conservation Park
Lisa, Shelley and Heather returning to the car after the Sittella session! By this stage as you can see the weather was lovely :-)
A little further on we stopped at one of my favourite spots for Chestnut-crowned Babblers... we searched out to the west for about 20mins and saw nothing, so leaving the others to keep searching I doubled back to search another territory out to the east of the track. As always happens I found the birds when I was out by myself! I rang the others to come over and eventually everyone got views of these super wary birds. Image wise I only got some poor shots... but better than nothing I guess!

Chestnut-crowned Babblers  - Brookfield Conservation Park
Next stop was an area where the proper Mallee joins the open country. I have birded in this spot for many years and it always provides something of interest. We all headed off in the same direction but started finding birds immediately and we all seemed to move off in different directions chasing one thing or another! I followed a pair of Mulga Parrots off to the west but failed to get close. Heading back in the direction of the others I came across Lisa trying to sort one Honeyeater out from another. Not far after we came across some lovely little Splendid Fairy-wrens which posed nicely for some shots!

Splendid Fairy-wren  - Brookfield Conservation Park
More Mulgas were next... We came across quite a few pairs feeding in the midst of the trees. I crawled up to them over some pretty rough ground and eventually pinned a nice male in good light on top of a small bush... pretty happy with that as Mulgas are one of my favourite birds! Very beautiful!
Mulga Parrot  - Brookfield Conservation Park
Whilst I was crawling after the Mulgas... Lisa was looking over my shoulder trying to work out what the mid sized grey bird was hopping around in the clearing up ahead. Once I had flushed the parrots.. Lisa showed me the bird and we set about getting close! It was a little difficult and we danced with it around little bushes for a while... eventually we got a few ok images before it got sick of us! It was a lovely male Gilbert's Whistler :-)

Gilberts Whistler - Brookfield Conservation Park
We found a few more species as we headed towards where we guessed the others were. But by now the light was fading fast and it was time to head back to the car. I put the call out to the others and we all got there about the same time! Everyone had found a few species in this spot and it had been a good way to finish the birding for the day! We drove around the Bluebush track just for the hell of it and watched an amazingly beautiful sky as the sun set on another day! Next was the long haul all the way back down to Hawthorndene where Shelley and Heather were staying... and then all the way back home to Freeling! It was a big day but totally worth it for the good fun birding and great company of four other like minded people! Hopefully everyone come away with some nice shots and I for one had a great time! I'm sure the others did too :-)

Heather, Lisa, Shelley and me! image by Craig :-)
Craig missed the group shot so here's a shot of him trying to photograph White-fronted Chats :-)
Thanks everyone for a good fun day full of birds and great company! Till next time :-)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Birdsville Track... Version 2015 (Part 2)

Time for the second part of this trip...been a little slack! But thought I better get something up before I head off on the 2016 version!!
So continuing on from part 1.. we were making tracks down the track to get back in time to catch the last couple of hours of light at Mira Mitta bore. As usual we were on the lookout for birds on the way back and were pushing along but stopping if something of interest flew off the track or close by. I guess we had travelled about 30km's from the lunch spot when we saw a bird which could of well been a Gibberbird... (but was probably a Pipit...) scoot off the track. We pulled up as quick as we could in the middle of the track as usual and then started reversing back to the spot... at this point Mike actually looked in the rear view mirror... crap a car was behind! It got worse.... it was the cops! Oh no we thought we were buggered now... no seatbelts (as we were about to jump out after the bird) and driving like birders do! :-D The police car pulled up beside us and to our surprise were quite amicable and just checked we were ok and kept going! Phew.... not sure how we got away with that!?
Never did see what that bird was...... lol
So we kept on heading for the bore... a few more birds were seen like the Orange Chat below. We grabbed the opportunity as it was a little tolerant of us stopping for a photo... such a pretty species!
Orange Chat (male)
 It was 5pm when we arrived at the bore again. Everything looked perfect for our plan... the light was heading towards gorgeous... there was nobody else around and the usual suspects were sitting in or around the waters edge: Pink-eared Ducks, Grey Teals, Red-capped Plovers and a lone Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.
We headed to the waters edge to find a good spot to see anything which would fly in for a drink. We sat down and waited..... and waited.... half hour passed and nothing had come in at all. The flies were super annoying as usual and it was actually quite hard to just sit there. At about the 35min mark I decided to go back to the car and grab a couple of beers... it was beer-o-clock after all! We sat there for another 15 mins or so and still nothing. I was starting to wonder if anything would come in? Mike was thinking the same and was making noises about going for a walk through the bore overflow to see if he could find/flush anything... after a discussion we decided to put in another ten before he went. I just had a hunch something was about to happen.... then it did! About two minutes later we spotted two birds in the distance... We picked them as Flockies just from the speed they were coming in at! But even so I wasn't ready for just how quick they move! They bore down on us in no time threw on the brakes.. banked over the water and settled nervously on the edge right where we had hoped! Needless to say both mine and Mike's camera's were going flat out!

The first pair to come in! Male on left.. female on right
 Then it was on! For the next half hour Flock Bronzewings started pouring in from all directions... not in the massive flocks they are known for.. but in anything from pairs to groups of up to ten! It was hard to know where to point the camera as they were coming in fast.. whirling around the water once or twice to then settle nervously before drinking. Some would take off to do it all again... others would just sit for 5-10 minutes on the edge before heading down to drink and then take off and head for the horizon again. In all somewhere between 80-100 birds came in I estimated!
It was just one of those moments you live for as both a birder and photographer! Everything had come together! The birds... the light... the location... it was all just surreal and amazing! A few times I put the camera down just to soak it all in! A moment I will never forget....!

Coming in with speed...

On the brakes... looking for the landing!

A close fly-by

This shot was the highlight of the session for me photographically speaking! It all came together for this one!

They are beautifully coloured... Love the pastel look to the plumage!

Below the Mira Mitta bore overflow this little dam is where the action happened... this is a phone shot taken just after all the action! The moon can be seen rising in the background and there is still a few Flockies sitting near the second bay on the far bank!
Eventually as it does.. it got dark!  We headed to the car all smiles and cracked a celebratory beer... Damn it tasted good too!
40 odd km's back to Mungerannie and it was time to hit the pub for a meal! We had lucked it to be in there the same night a large outback cycling tour bus which was staying there and dining at the pub also! It made for a busy place and lots of people! We held the bar up for a while and eventually ate before heading off back to our swags for some well earned sleep!
The next morning I got up before sunrise and watched the Moon set! A steady stream of Black Kites were flying low from their roosts along the creek line up towards the pub so I grabbed the camera and tried to capture it as best I could!

A single Black Kite passes the Moon early in the morning!
Our plan for this day was to bird the morning in the Mungerannie area and then start heading south mid morning and make camp wherever we got too on the way down.
So straight after breakfast we headed out to check the Grey Falcon tower again... nothing again! Guessing they must be off breeding somewhere we decided to just go for a search in the general area for whatever we could find. We ventured a little further down the track and lucked upon a pair of Australian Bustards feeding in a patch of green on the side of the track! This time I wasn't going to miss the shot! They sat for about a minute, then first started to walk away before then taking flight back past us... this allowed the best photo chance with this species for the trip!

Aussie Bustard slowly moving away

This is the shot I was after!
Moving a little further along we came across a couple of male Cinnamon Quail-thrush! We jumped out and played a little burst of call and got an instant reaction! The older of the two (one was in immature plumage) came straight in and gave us cracking views and photo opportunities!
We stayed with them for about 10 mins before they grew bored of us and moved away...
Pretty happy to get this close to this often wary species!

Probably the favourite image I took on the whole trip! Male Cinnamon Quail-thrush.

Nothing much else of interest showed in that morning run so we started heading south. Stopping to check all the towers on the way didn't produce any more Grey Falcons... just need to be lucky with those!
We stopped at few different spots on the way down... we even found a hidden waterhole behind a dune with lots of Brolga, Avocets and Pink-eared Ducks! Also a few raptors were around with the highlights being a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles on their nest in a tree next to the water and a close fly-by from a Collared Sparrowhawk.

The secret waterhole we found with a Wedge-tailed Eagle nest in the middle of this tree! One of the pair was sitting in there when I took this phone shot!
 Further down we stopped at a dune where Mike thought he heard Eyrean Grasswrens on the way up... A bit of work and we found a pair hoping around in the Canegrass! Being typically hard to photograph! This was in the dunes just north of the Cooper Creek crossing and quite south for the species. Over the back of that dune we found another Wedgie nest this time with a week old chick in it.

Eyrean Grasswren hiding
The WTE nest over the back of the dune which held the Eyrean Grasswrens!

and it's contents :-)
I captured this image of a Pink-eared Duck whilst laying amongst the Cow crap on the side of a little roadside bore on Dulkaninna Station

The same Pink-eared Duck again
We came across another cool little dry creekbed in the dunes south of Dulkaninna station which was crawling with all sorts of bird species! Managed my best Pied Honeyeater shot of the trip here of a female which landed near to me when I was trying to photograph Budgies. Unfortunately these days you can only camp in set areas when travelling along the Birdsville... otherwise this would of been a top spot to camp and wake up with all these birds around! We stayed for as long as we could but wanted to keep some light for when we reached Camp at Clayton.

Pied Honeyeater (female)

About 5km's before we got to the Clayton campsite we crested a small rise to come across a Falcon hunting something about 100m off the road. We worked out it was a Black Falcon and Mike threw out the parachute again! We would of been sitting on 80km/h so it took a bit to stop... sensing the hunt was about to end I grabbed my camera and started bursting off shots as the car pulled up! The hunt was over by the time we stopped and the Falcon was unsuccessful.. I hesitantly checked what I had got on the back of the camera... not expecting much as they were all taken from a moving car I was stoked to find one shot in focus!! Not only was it in focus it was the best shot of the series for capturing the moment with the Falcon and the Orange Chat it was hunting both fully vertical! Needless to say I was over the moon! Always wanted a shot of a hunting Black Falcon like this :-)

Nearly got you! Or not.... the Chat escaped! Even though it looks like it's in a pretty dire situation here!
The night was again perfect with calm weather and Brolga's calling periodically throughout. The next morning was the run home...
We pushed it most of the way to get home in good time but did pick up a flock of about 30-40 Inland Dotterels near the dog fence and then came across a flock of about a dozen Gull-billed Terns sitting on the track in this area too! Not one we were expecting... but the sort of thing the Birdsville track throws up occasionally...

Gull-billed Terns beside the track

and on the track!

Just to show it's not only birds I photograph! :-D Found this Gecko under a steel plate south of Marree on the old disused railway line... not sure what species it is!
Then it was back onto the bitumen and powering home... we stopped at our favourite Rufous Fieldwren spot just north of Hawker and rustled up one without too much trouble! A flock of Cockatiels here was good to see fly past too!

Our Rufous Fieldwren spot just north of Hawker rarely fails! :-)
So there we have it another outback trip done with plenty of highlights as usual!
Can't wait to do it all again next.... err... this year ;-)