Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Birdsville Track Pt 2 - Southward Bound...


 
Waddi Tree
Waking up before dawn.. the same? (I guess so!) White-necked Heron had beat us up and was down hunting in the half light in the tiny pools which characterise the Diamantina River in this area when not flowing. It's extremely turbid... how this Heron could see anything in that water was beyond me! But it was there when we arrived and it was there when we left!
 Making our way into the town of Birdsville and our next stop was to re-fuel and buy a couple of touristy trinkets for the family back home! Bought a Birdsville beanie for the wife and nothing for the kids! Harsh I know but they all had been promised some rocks from the desert! So their presents were a lot cheaper! and put big smiles on their little faces when I got home! Sometimes it's the simple things :-)
We headed north next towards Bedourie with the intention of finding not birds... although happy to see any along the way! but to find a group of endangered trees found nowhere else in the world! Waddi Trees only occur in this area about 20km north of Birdsville and are quite interesting! They are a rare and ancient species which when dry it is near impossible to drill or chop as the wood is so hard! In times gone by it was used as fence posts and these posts a hundred years later show no signs of wear or decay! Now that's tough wood!
The Waddis were the most Northern point for our trip! From here it was all heading back! Although I don't like putting it that way as it sounds like you are gunning for home when in reality we still had two days left!
Back into Birdsville it was a quick stop at the Bakery... then down to the lagoon and then wetlands to see what was hanging around in there. A productive spot with Musk Duck, Pelican, Red-necked Avocet, Pied Cormorant and Hoary-headed Grebe being new species for our trip list seen here.
A pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles circled over us at the wetlands and the local pair of Whistling Kites were not impressed and gave them a hurry up!
"Get out of my territory!" Whistling Kite giving a Wedge-tailed Eagle the once over!

Musk Duck and Pink-eared Duck friend at Birdsville


Fairy Martin were common around Birdsville...
Leaving Birdsville our next stop was at an area we had looked over on the way up as a potential area for Banded Whiteface. We were unsuccessful in finding them although we did have a little bird fly across the track right in front of us at one stage which had a very chestnut coloured back and looked the goods to me... but when we stopped and searched we couldn't turn it up... so that one didn't go into our book.
I'm not sure of the species... but this Dragonfly was huge! We found it in a very plain dry uninviting looking spot along the track when we were searching the area for Banded Whiteface!
93km south of Birdsville was the next stop at a spot known for Grey Grasswren... when we got there it was pretty dead looking... sparse areas of the driest looking lignum! We instantly didn't like our chances! But remembering back to reading The Big Twitch... Sean Dooley found these birds in some of the most uninviting looking Lignum possible! So we thought we better give it a go! You wont know if you don't try! Leaving the car it was now about 12pm and certainly not the 'prime' time to be looking for this species... the flies were crazy and hearing any calls would be tough! We did find a few families of Variegated Fairy-wrens! But not what we were after... retreating back to the ute to escape the flies we grabbed our lunch out and kept driving.
Somewhere around this area... I cant remember exactly! We came across another small waterhole about 100m off the track. We drove out and found a group of about a dozen Red-necked Avocets sitting in the middle of it! Not what we were expecting... but always a cool bird to see!
Red-necked Avocets which were on a tiny little dam about 80km south of the QLD border!

Not often you get a pair of Gibberbirds in frame!
The next part of the drive went by fairly uneventfully until we saw another Gibberbird cross the road in front of us. We pulled up and turned the engine off and waited... in our many encounters with this species now we have found they usually don't go very far when flushed and can be found relatively close by! This one was no different and we found him about 10m off the track! Not long later another joined him which gave an opportunity to photograph the pair together! Very cool! At one stage they both crossed the track around behind the ute and Mike got a photo of one in the side mirror.... as you do!!

There he is! just checking our suspension! (photo: Michael Warnes)
A little further on we reached the point where the inside track comes back out to re-join the main track again. Right there another Gibberbird crossed the road! We stopped again and got out as this time it had flown about 50m out onto the gibber directly into the sun! Mike and I managed to get around to a more favourable photographic position without this bird moving and we got a few more shots... then another joined it! Another pair!! Eventually they both flew off into the sun again.. not too far, but we had spent some time with this pair so we let them go. Walking back to the car we stopped to get some drinks out of the esky when we heard another Gibberbird calling on the otherside of the road! With the sun in a better direction Mike moved out about 20m into the gibber and started imitating the call. In no time this bird flew in and landed about 2m away from him!! I couldn't believe it and started moving out towards them with my camera... The bird had now moved out about 6-7 metres from Mike but there it stayed! For the next 15mins we had the most amazing session you could ever have with this cool little desert bird! It even let me go back to the car and get my tripod so as to film it! This was one of the my highlights of the trip! Good light, great bird in the middle of the gibber along the Birdsville Track! Fantastic!

Back of a Gibberbird!

Front of a Gibberbird

Side of a Gibberbird!
We pulled into Mungerannie just after sunset very well satisfied with our days birding and sat back with a couple of beers around the campfire and just enjoyed being where we were!
Getting up early the next morning we walked out to the waterhole to watch the sunrise and see what birdlife was around as usual! The sunrise was pretty cool and I managed a few shots of a White-necked Heron and also another pair of Brolga as they flew along the waterhole and out of sight in front of the sunrise! Nice way to start the day!


A White-necked Heron at dawn above the waterhole at Mungerannie

Brolga's flying off into the sunrise! Mungerannie
Off south again this was our last day for the trip and we were hoping for a few more highlights on the run down the bottom half of the track! We had travelled about 30 or 40km when we almost run over a small bird on the track! We stopped jumped out and found a pair of Inland Dotterels! Cool! As is often the case with this species... closing the gap proved almost impossible! I managed a few ok shots and then we left them too it. Conscious of time as we had a fair distance to travel on this day! Around 20 more km's were under the tyres when Mike spotted a Cinnamon Quail-thrush on the side of the road. We pulled up and again like the Dotterels there was a pair sitting a little way off the track. Knowing these birds could be even harder then the Inland Dotterels to get close too we decided to sit down and use a touch of playback to see if they would come to us! Come to us they did and a great short little session was had with these stunning birds! The morning was going very well! Two great desert species in the first 60 odd kilometres!

Standing proud and tall to attention! Inland Dotterel South of Mungerannie

Cinnamon Quail-thrush also south of Mungerannie
One of our targets for the trip was to try and get all the Chats! So far we had managed to see all bar the Crimson Chat! Normally an easy bird to find in the right habitat in the outback... this trip both they and the Orange had been very thin on the ground! We had seen a small flock of Orange right up near the top of the track.. but the Crimson had been eluding us! Being a nomadic species it was most likely they were all in another area where better rains had been falling? but we were clinging to hopes that we would jag one somewhere along the way!
After crossing the (dry) Cooper Creek the end of the track was getting closer and our chances of finding a Crimson Chat were fading.... then as we passed through another dry creek bed we flushed a bird which looked bright red in the right areas as it flew off! Slamming on the brakes we jumped out and searched. It turned out to be quite a birdy spot with many species seen but not the Crimson we were after... we would have to find one further down in the Flinders if we were going to get the set!
The highlight of this stop though was a pair of Pied Honeyeaters which sat up for a photo! A species we had been looking for and had almost given up on! So a nice bonus to the stop!

Pied Honeyeaters
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful as we made our way down the track through Marree and down to Lyndhurst and then Leigh creek for lunch again.
We stopped at our little honey-hole just north of Hawker again and saw pretty much the same birds as on the way up! I spent most of the stop photographing the Southern Whitefaces... I think Mike may have been rolling his eyes at me as he was wandering around trying to find the Rufous Fieldwrens that inhabit this area! From there we made our way home to arrive just on dark and happy to be home after a big haul all the way from Mungerannie in the morning!

Southern Whiteface back at our favourite spot just north of Hawker!

Grey Falcons

One of the main species we always target on our trips into the outback is the elusive Grey Falcon! Having done numerous trips over the years and coming up empty handed other than a couple of maybe sightings of fast flying raptors scooting by without long enough views to confirm or deny! We were hoping our time had come on this trip!
One thing the Birdsville track has plenty of is communication towers along it... as these are prime perching spots for Greys so we decided to check every single one we could find on the way up! Just hoping to get lucky! Unfortunately when we pulled up into Birdsville on the third day of our trip.. despite lots of tower searching we saw nothing but a few Kestrels and Magpies occupying the towers!
Oh well... there's always the trip back I guess and as you do.. we checked every tower on the way back down too! This time BINGO we came across a pair of the Grey beauties sitting high up on a tower! AWESOME!!! I have been obsessed with finding this species ever since I first read about them in Jack and Lindsay Cupper's book 'Hawks in Focus' back when I was about 12yrs old! So this was a special moment for me and Mike also!
To be honest they didn't do much... just sat there and looked at us! Would of loved to see one fly! It wasn't to be... but what a bird! Yes!! I'm a little obsessed :-)
Now I just want to get closer! and as much as an itch has been scratched.... it hasn't completely stopped itching as now I want more! So the fire is still there... now to find a nice low one within decent camera range! Still happy as can be for now :-) 
 

My holy grail of Australian birds... The Grey Falcon!!
 So in summary it was as most outback trips are a lot of fun! The birding was good without being spectacular! Maybe a little quiet due to time of year and the fairly dry conditions... but it's a superb place to go and I will be very keen to get back up there sometime!
As always I have to thank my good mate Mike for doing a lot of the organising of the trip and for the use of his 4WD! Not forgetting his great camp-oven cooking skills as well! Also for sharing the passion for our beautiful outback and the fantastic birds within!
 
Last but never least to my wonderful wife who holds fort at home with our three young children! If it wasn't for her understanding of my bird obsession I would never be able to do a trip like this!
 
I will be posting a full bird list for the trip on this post in the coming few days!
 
Till next time!!
Chris