Monday, October 14, 2013

Strzelecki Track and Sturt National Park, September 2013... Pt 2

After our nice count of marsupials found with the spotlight our second day came to an end... I remember laying in my swag under an amazingly bright Milky Way... there was no moon.. but it was really bright! bright enough to throw shadows.... only when over a thousand kilometres away from the nearest capital city will that happen! or so it seemed at the time anyway!
We were up early the next morning to the sublime? sounds of an Australian Raven digging through our rubbish box before first light!! we tried to hustle this morning so we didn't waste any of the nice cool morning conditions... somehow we still only got out of camp by about 7.45am!
The Rubbish raider!
Oh well.. didn't matter after yesterdays superb birding we were amped for what this day would produce and we didn't have to wait long!
We made our way to the actual Strzelecki creek crossing, just as it came into sight.... we spotted a couple of Letter-wing Kite's sitting on-top of a tree sitting on the floodplain! Far-out! THAT'S how you start a mornings birding!
This is what I had been hoping for! LWK's in nice sweet morning light! At first we were careful so as not to spook them... but they quickly became accustomed to our presence and other than circling a few times to land back in the same group of trees... they pretty much just looked at us with a sort of bemused look on their faces! 
This is how we found them when the creek came into view!

Letter-winged Kite
Circling nice and close above

Quite happy to have gotten a few images showing off the letter nicely.

In the end we found five in this spot and spent about an hour with them, which allowed for plenty of photo opportunities! To be honest I would of loved to have stayed longer as they were completely ignoring us by the time we left... but we had to keep moving if we were going to get over into the Sturt National Park by sun-down!

At one stage these three took off only to return back to where they were!

As is often the case... when there's one lot of good birds there's often another! As we got back into the car we spotted a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles sitting low in a small tree on the other side of the road! Not sure how we hadn't seen them earlier! Blinkered by Letter-wings I guess! Anyway we managed to get on the right side of them for a few shots and found them to be quite confiding which was very cool!

The Wedgie pair which were sitting on the other side of the road to the LWK's
So we left the crossing well happy with the start to the morning's birding! Next site we thought we would check out was a Banded Whiteface site about 13km's north of the crossing. When we got there we split off onto different sides of the road and went searching... some nice birds were seen including: Chirruping Wedgebill's and White-backed Swallows but no Whiteface. It was getting hot by now too.. so we decided it was time to put some kilometres under the wheels!
A little further up we turned right onto the track which runs from Merty Merty Station through to Cameron's Corner. Sandhill crossing time! for most of the drive up the track we had been running up in-between the sandhill's but now heading east we were going up and over them! Good for a change and a little more interesting too imo! As it was now the middle of the day we basically just kept driving through to the Bollards Lagoon site for Eyrean Grasswrens. We found the dune that everyone talks about with a stack of Canegrass up on top and went for a look. We had only been there maybe five minutes max when we heard an Eyrean call! Too easy! I played a little playback and it was instantly up on top of a bush! I tried for a few images (harsh light unfortunately) while Mike went off along the dune to search for more... No more were found but he did come across a small group of Cinnamon Quail-thrush! Always a nice pick-up!

Eyrean Grasswren on the 36km dune from Cameron's Corner!
After this nice encounter we got going again to try and find a nice shady spot for lunch... didn't go to far till we found some so we pulled out the camp chairs under the nice shade in the middle of nowhere and ate lunch whilst watching Black-faced Woodswallows hawking around us!

Black-faced Woodswallow image I took whilst eating lunch!
Cameron's corner was the next stop! The Hilux was getting thirsty and so were we! The Hilux's thirst was quenched first... and an expensive thirst it was! Then we went in and spent 20minutes holding up the bar having a nice cold beer and spinning a few yarns with the publican.... a nice little stop!
Through the gate and it was into Sturt National Park!
One of my target birds for this trip was to photograph the Black-breasted Buzzard.. I had seen them a few times before but didn't have any photos of them! I had hoped to have seen some already by this stage... but it wasn't until we pulled into the Fort Grey Campground that we saw our first.. an immature! But still great to see one! Lake Pineroo is only a five minute walk from the campground so we grabbed our camera's and headed off. As the lake came into view we looked up and saw more Buzzard's! A quick count revealed eight mostly immature Buzzards thermalling above us! Awesome! Only ever seen them in ones and twos! But 16 white windows floating around above!! Couldn't believe our luck! Then to top it off there were two perched in dead trees over the lake! 10 BBB's!! WOW!!!

Black-breasted Buzzard watching us from above!

Immature Black-breasted Buzzard sitting over Lake Pineroo! This is what I was really after... a Buzzard perched! As I had only ever seen them flying!

Immature and adult Black-breasted Buzzard
This trip just kept getting better! Another target was also found at the lake. Australian Pratincole was a bird I had hoped to see on this trip and get an image if I could. After scanning the ducks and waterbirds on the lake we noticed a group of birds flying in fast and then landing on the edge of the lake not too far away... lifted the binoculars... Pratincoles! Fantastic! So I left Mike scanning the lake whilst I when into army crawl mode over near the AP's... Had an annoying Emu get in the way a few times! But came away with some nice images so I was pretty happy!

Looks like I am stalking the Emu!! But if you look real carefully you will see the Australian Pratincole a couple of metres towards me from the Emu! Here I was just about to go down prone and close the gap on my guts! The lake edge was like sandpaper... and I carried quite a few scratches for quite a few weeks after!!

The Pratincole which you can see me stalking above!

and again!
Just south of Fort Grey the road leads out of the park but turns east and hugs the boundary along the bottom! We pulled up at a creek crossing after Mike spotted a Woodswallow that looked different! White-breasted Woodswallow! One we don't see very often so I grabbed a few pics and then it was off again!

Driving along below the park we slowly moved out of the dune country and out onto some gibber plains. Gibberbird's were mentioned between us as something to look out for along this stretch... so I keenly searched the edges of the track! I spotted a little bird dart off not too long later so we pulled up to investigate... No Gibberbird... think it was a Pipit! But what we did find were Inland Dotterel's! Woohoo! A lifer for both of us and in late afternoon light I couldn't have asked for more! These were special little birds and I really enjoyed my time with them and I know Mike was pretty stoked on these too! If anything I only wish they weren't so wary... had a lot of trouble closing the gap! But not complaining! Just wonderful to see them!

Inland Dotterel pair

Mike in the background with an Inland Dotterel moving between us! I really like this shot as it gives a real sense of how we saw them I think :-)

The light was beautiful when we found these fantastic little birds!
After 20mins or so we left them to their peace in this amazing place and moved on in search of somewhere to camp. It was a fantastic 40 or so km's till we found a nice creek-line to camp in... the sun was behind us and real low on the horizon and the gibber plains were just a beautiful warm orange colour and it was a marvellous time to be where we were! Australian Pratincoles flying off the road in small groups here and there all the way through this stretch just topped off the day nicely! It was a highlight of the trip for me!
Just as the sun set we pulled into a lovely campsite with Kangaroos all around and settled in for the night!

The next day dawned and we ate breakfast with the local Apostlebird family going about their business around us. Love this species no matter where I find them... so much character!
We did the last 20km's into Tibooburra pretty quickly and had a little stop there to make contact with our families! Took a drive out to an area of scrub near the airfield to look for Bourke's Parrots! The Bourke's were a no-go! But on the way back into town Mike spotted a big old Wedgie sleeping on a rock up on a small rise! O-yeah! This is the Wedgie shot I had been looking for! Now just to hope it stayed long enough to allow me some images! In the end this beautiful old girl was quite accepting of me as I slowly stalked my way up as close to her as I could get... In the end I closed the gap to about 10m! Easily the closest I have been to an adult wild Wedge-tailed Eagle! Double rapt! :-)

Amazing country... amazing bird....

Such a powerful looking bird!

After this encounter it was onto the reality of the drive home! We had a lot of kilometres to do and it was time to move!
The drive down the Silver City Highway was fairly uneventful... highlights were another two Black-breasted Buzzards and a lot of waterbirds and a couple more Pratincoles on a big lake halfway down!
Lunch at Broken Hill broke the drive a little then it was back into SA and other then a small flock of Cockatiels somewhere near Hallett... the birding for this trip was fairly well done!
Pulled into my driveway at about 7.30pm that night spent.. but pumped on all the wonderful birds we had seen for the trip, the beautiful country we had been through and the great time had with a great mate who shares a passion for native birds and the outback!

Hope you enjoyed the ride too! :-)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Strzelecki Track and Sturt National Park, September 2013... Pt 1

Back in 2010 my good mate Michael Warnes and I decided to do a drive up the Strzelecki Track which can be found here & here. We had been up that way a few times before but always with mates who don't bird... so birding opportunities were limited! This time it was pure birding all the way! It was a wonderful trip and we came across many new species including the highlight bird for me the Letter-winged Kite! A bird I had wanted for a long time! What this trip also did to me was light a fire inside me that always had me wanting to go back and experience more! So when we got home from that trip we both agreed that we should make a run like this an annual event! Well with both of us having real young children... it would be another three years before we could attempt it again!
So with the fire still burning as bright as ever.. sometime around May I mentioned to Mike I wouldn't mind trying to get up into the outback again sometime this year! I didn't have to do any arm-twisting as I think the fire was burning on Mike's side as well! With that in mind we decided September would be a good time of the year to go and we set about deciding where to go and working out the best way to tell our wives of our plans!! This time we thought rather than redo the same run as last time, the Birdsville track was calling... Plans were starting to come to fruition with about three weeks to go when Mike worked out the Birdsville races were being held on the same weekend! Now Birdsville's population reportedly goes from around 600 to 6000 over this weekend... Hmm... that meant a lot of traffic up the track... not quite the birding serenity we were after! So alternate plans to go back up the Strez were made. Although this time to make it feel a little different we decided to go across to Cameron's Corner and through the Sturt NP and come home through Broken Hill for something different. 
It was about 7am on the Friday morning when we got underway... buzzing with excitement as always when undertaking a trip like this! We headed up through Clare and Jamestown on our way to Hawker, our first fuel stop on the way up! We picked up some nice birds along the way including a paddock which had seven Wedge-tailed Eagles sitting in it feeding on dead sheep, a single Peregrine Falcon, a few White-winged Trillers and a White-backed Swallow being the highlights of this first part of the run!
After Hawker we made our way towards Parachilna.. along this stretch of road is a spot where on the last trip we had pulled up to photograph some Chirruping Wedgebills and found a Rufous Fieldwren and a Little Button-quail! These sightings from our last trip made a stop this time mandatory... so we made our way to the spot, which looks quite un-interesting... and got out to see what was around. Within no time some White-winged Fairy-wrens were calling, so I thought I might try for a few images and let Mike walk around and see what else he could find?
An eclipse male White-winged Fairy-wren at our little golden spot about 20km's up from Hawker.
Next was a few Zebra Finches buzzing around... followed by a pair of Crimson Chats chasing one another around the immediate area we were standing in. Some White-fronted Chats also showed up and it was looking like this spot was producing again! After getting a few shots of the WWFW's I crossed back over the road to photograph a pair of Redthroats which were calling constantly! Also whilst with these two a Black Kite passed over and a Wedgie with a pesky Australian Raven circled around overhead for a while!

They would have to get sick of this!

Air support!
Then this stop in the middle of nowhere proved it's worth! Mike was about 300m away across the road when he had a flock of 12 birds landed in the only tree within coo-ee of him which was right in front of him! Pied Honeyeaters!! They came out of nowhere... landed just long enough for him to get a few images and then vamoosed just as quick! I saw and knew nothing of it until he came over and showed me the images... happy for him! but bugger... I would of liked to have seen them too!
Moving along it was lunch at Leigh Creek and then onto Lyndhurst to fill up with fuel for the last time before Cameron's Corner. On the last trip just as you head out of Lyndhurst along the Strezlecki Track we had a Falcon fly low and fast across the front of our 4wd and crest a hill and go out of sight towards the Lyndhurst dump... we chased it but never saw it again... at the dump were many Little Crows and Black Kites but no Falcon! Can't be sure what it was.. but I feel it may have been the closest I have come to the elusive Grey Falcon and yet didn't get a good enough look to confirm it! We went in again on this trip.... not a bird to be seen this time... it really was just clutching at hope!
Not too much further up the track we found another Wedge-tailed Eagle sitting on the ground so we stopped so I could try to photograph it... typically it flew pretty quick and all I got were flying away shots! A bonus of this stop though was a pair of Chirruping Wedgebills on the opposite side of the road which allowed me the closest approach to them as I have had with this normally tough wary species.

Easily my best image I have of this wary species - Chirruping Wedgebill
 Further along we stopped quickly to see if we could spot any Chestnut-breasted Whiteface at the rusty car site on Mt Lyndhurst Station from the side of the road... got another White-winged Fairy-wren but not much else! So disappointing access has now been denied to this most wonderful of birding locations... lets hope this situation changes and we can once more bird this fabulous spot!
After that our next stop was at Yeralina Creek further up the track just to see what was around. We went for a small walk along the edge of the creek, a few of the birds we saw here were: Variegated Fairy-wrens, Zebra Finches, nesting Little Corella's, a Rainbow Bee-eater and nesting Elegant Parrots! One of the adults came in and fed the unfledged but nearly fully feathered youngsters right in front of us! Very cool to see Elegants right up there!

Australian Raven at Yeralina Creek... I think it was carrying something in it's throat heading back to it's nest. I know they have long hackles but this one when zoomed right in looks like there's something in it's not quite closed beak and down into it's throat?

One of the male Variegated Fairy-wrens at Yeralina Creek
 We had decided earlier in the day Pelican Creek would be our camp for the first night. Just before we got there we noticed a small bore 200m or so off the track within sight of the creek. It was late in the day so we thought we would have a look and see if anything was coming in to drink... When we got to it and had a look there were just a few Zebra Finches drinking and a few Little Corellas feeding out in the surrounding shrubs. As it was getting late we needed to find a camp.. but I didn't want to waste the opportunity of waiting at the dam and see what came in... so Mike kindly... volunteered!! to go and find camp and then come back and get me in half hour or so! In that half hour a procession of Galahs, Little Corella's, Zebra Finches, Crested Pigeon and the highlight of my session there a small flock of Cockatiels which came in.. whirled around in front of me for a bit then dropped down for a quick drink and were off! Fun stuff :-)

Galah's come in to drink

Little Corella in the warm evening sun!

Cockatiel (male)

Cockatiel (female)

Cockatiels - two pairs
After a fantastic camp oven roast cooked by master camp chef Mike (gotta eat well on these trips!) We hooked up the spotlight and went off down the track for half hour to see what was around.... not much barr a Barn Owl typically sitting on a fence post! and a few cows! So we kept it pretty short as we were pretty spent after the long drive.

Dawn campfire at Pelican Creek

Dawn over the Strezlecki Track, Pelican Creek
Up before sunrise the next morning.. and a lovely one it was! over breakfast we were treated to the musical styling's of the local Chirruping Wedgebills and had a visit from a friendly Sacred Kingfisher to get the morning underway! So we packed up and were on the road by about 7.30am. We only got about 10km's up the road and saw something interesting fly off the side.. Orange Chat! Out with the camera.. these little beauties glistened in the morning sunshine against the dull background! They are very beautiful and quite wary... so getting good images was a challenge... but you can't complain!
We stopped at a site near the dog fence where we got Gibberbird last trip.. none there this time but we did pick up more Orange Chats and a pair of Little Button-quail which was cool!

Orange Chat (male)
From here it was onto Montecollina Bore and our first site to try for Eyrean Grasswren... We pulled in and the place was a hive of activity with Corella's all around, lots of raptors including Wedgies, Black Kites, Whistling Kites and a Black Falcon thermalling above! We headed out to the west of the bore where the EG are usually found. It was hot and tough walking through unforgiving country but after a lot of White-winged Fairy-wrens we eventually got fleeting views of an Eyrean... although it was all too quick and no photos could be captured of this one... but at least we had seen one!
This bore really is like an Oasis in the outback and when we got back to the car the binoculars and cameras were put back in the car and Mike and I were straight in that bore... and wow did it feel good! In the shrubs along one corner of the bore there were many Corella's sitting in the branches over the waters edge... when approached on land they would fly at about 20m but swimming up to them slowly like a Croc... well they just didn't seem to care! and they let me with 2m of them... very cool!
Refreshed and with one target species in the bag.. we headed off in the direction of our next target.. the Letter-winged Kite!

Little Corella's hiding from the suns midday heat..


I photographed this Wedge-tailed Eagle just north of Montecollina Bore
Our next stop would be at the site we got LWK's last trip, it's got a small turn off into a road rubble quarry and as we neared the spot on the GPS we saw another turn in to one of these quarries, so we went in for a look hoping for maybe a Banded Whiteface... not much in there but as we were pulling back out onto the track I noticed a small bird in the corner of my eye under a shrub so we turned around and puled back in.. the bird was still there! Eyrean Grasswren!!! not just one but FIVE!!!! So cool! I followed them off onto a low sand hill to try for some images and Mike went off up a neighbouring dune to see if there were anymore? He found another three! plus a Rufous Fieldwren as a great little bonus! We stayed with them for about 20 mins then left them too it! Rapt! 8 Eyrean Grasswrens, got some nice images and great views, both of which were missing from our Mont bore encounter! Also here a Dingo came out of it's den right in front of us and trotted off! Always like seeing Dingos!
Now for the Letter-wings....

Eyrean Grasswren

Eyrean Grasswren
Next we drove into the site of our first LWK sighting from our last trip... walked the last few hundred metres and found nothing barr a few Black-faced Woodswallows and a Brown Goshawk cruising from tree to tree. Feeling a little disappointed...  we moved our hopes onto the other spot we got this species last time and failing that searching every other tree we could find on the way to the crossing! Our next spot also failed to deliver... starting to worry that they may not be around... we headed on towards the crossing. Scanning every tree I could on the way we were not too much further when right there in a roadside tree I spotted a single Letter-winged Kite in under the canopy! FANTASTIC!!  Pretty sure we deployed a parachute out the back of the Hilux as we pulled up pretty darn quick! On further inspection we found seven LWK's in this spot and they put in quite a show too! Typically flushing only to return to the same tree after circling for a while! At one stage I had four land almost within my camera's minimum focal distance (3.5m)!!  My camera barely stopped including plenty of chopped wing and tail shots when they came so close! At one stage I had to move slowly away so as to be able to fit the birds in the frame! Not often I'm doing that! Double Rapt! Target bird number two done!

Letter-winged Kite in full banking pose

One of my real close chopped shots.... D'oh!

Another from when they landed mega close!

Such fantastic birds to encounter!

Letter-winged Kites X 4
After a fantastic days birding we headed in to our campsite near the Strzelecki creek crossing picking up a few Cinnamon Quail-thrush on the track on the way in. Then set up camp and kicked back with a beer and a great curry cooked up in the camp oven by chef Mike!
By around 8pm we were starting to think about spotlighting again. Mike mentioned we should probably clean up a little just in-case a Dingo came in to see what it could find! I said nah I wouldn't be too worried about it... don't reckon they will come in.. their pretty skittish around here! So we hooked up the spotlight and of course there not 50m from where we were was a Dingo staring straight at us! You have got to be joking!! Damn you Michael Warnes... proving me wrong again! Ha-ha...
This dog ended up doing a half circle around us then headed off towards the crossing... luckily it never came back and our camp stayed intact whilst we were spotting!
Plenty of Dusky Hopping mice were about and we also picked up another small marsupial about the size of a tennis ball...  we think was either a Fan-tailed Dunnart or Ampurta? Not quite sure as the sighting was fairly quick and I didn't manage a photo.. As you will see by my image below the DHM were tough little critters to photograph too!
What a fantastic day! Seven Letter-winged Kites and nine Eyrean Grasswrens! Plus lots of other outback delights! Slept well that night!

The Dingo that came in and proved my theory wrong at our Strzelecki creek crossing campsite!

My only half decent Dusky Hopping Mouse image from the night!
Two days done... two to go....
Part two coming soon! :-)