Friday, September 25, 2015

Birdsville Track... Version 2015 (Part 1)

The Sturt National Park... or the Birdsville Track? This year Mike and I faced a dilemma about which way to go for our annual outback birding adventure! Since doing the Birdsville last year we had been looking towards some new ground and going to some parts of the Sturt NP that we hadn't been too before! This was the plan up until the Mungeranie area on the Birdsville copped a couple of big rain events in the first half of the year...
So we had a decision.. chase the rains... or hit some new ground! We were about five days out when we finally made the call to chase the rains and head back up the Birdsville! Only this time we wouldn't push it like last year and make Mungeranie our most northern camp rather than pushing all the way to Birdsville and beyond! Our reasoning... less driving more birding time! I mean that is the reason we are up there! Well one of the reasons anyway! :-)
It was nearly 8am by the time we left Mike's farm on the 27/8... a bit later than usual... but I had just driven the 900km back from Wagga the day before so needed a little extra rest compared to the other trips we had done! First stop was a great little bakery in the Clare Valley then it was time to put km's under the wheels!
One of our favourite stretches of road along here is from Orroroo to Hawker! There's always a few interesting birds along here... and it's where the southern end of the Flinders Ranges start to come into view! We were treated to a carpet of wildflowers this time.. which with the Flinders in the background made for a good photo opportunity! 
Mike trying to find a flower to photograph!!!!
 About 10km out of Hawker we decided it might be cool to go through the Flinders rather than skirting up the western edge. So when we left Hawker we took the road towards Blinman! Our plan was to go through the Brachina gorge and try for a Grey-fronted Honeyeater which is one I haven't seen yet!
Along the way to the gorge turn-off we stopped a couple of sites just for a look around... the Flinders really are very pretty!

We failed to find any Grey-fronted Honeyeaters when we ventured through the Brachina... but we did find quite a few Yellow-footed Rock Wallabies feeding in the bottom of the gorge!

Leaving the gorge.. we headed pretty much straight to Lyndhurst from there. This is where the bitumen ends and in my opinion the real outback starts! 
Entering Lyndhurst.....
We had decided to camp at Farina for the night which is about 20km north of Lyndhurst... in-between these two spots is the first telecommunication tower! A favoured hang out for the rare and elusive Grey Falcon! We stopped and checked but didn't have any luck on this one!

Mike checking the for a Grey Ghost! :-)
We pulled into Farina at about 5pm and were greeted by the same nesting pair of Kestrels we had seen there last year! Whilst having a quick look around a Daddy Emu and a bunch of very cute chicks came wandering out of the creek! I managed a shot of the adult in the late light.. but the chicks being shorter were in the shade.. still got an ok shot of them though! Super cute at this age!
Nankeen Kestrels doing a display flight over the Farina campgorund

Daddy Emu and below are his chicks!

Next we got camp set up so we could sit down and relax around a nice warm fire! It would've been about two or three beers later when we thought we should get some grub happening! We eat pretty poorly on these trips :-D Haha no chance of that with head chef Mike organising food for the trip! We eat like Kings... these Scotch fillets below were about half a kilo each and were scrumptious! Needless to say after all that driving it wasn't long before the swag was looking inviting and it was time to put my head on my pillow and enjoy the beautiful outback sky at night!

The morning brought about another beautiful cloudless sky and birds calling everywhere! The Kestrels were displaying still and there were flocks of Budgies passing through...  We went for a quick walk before breakfast... but wanted to keep moving now as today the real trip started! So we headed back towards camp... Mike was a fair way in front as I was busy still looking for things to photograph! Eventually I headed back towards the car.. just as I was about 50m from the tree line a Bronzewing flew through low and fast! I had no chance of a shot.. but was fairly confident it was a Flock Bronzewing! This is pretty south for them and I can't be sure so I didn't call it! For now it was placed in with the possible one we saw on the Strzelecki track in 2010! I was a little annoyed I didn't get a shot off... but such is life! Hopefully there would be more on this trip!

Farina Creek looking back towards the campground from a little north on our morning walk
Leaving Farina fairly early we started off towards Marree. It took a while as we kept having to stop for cool birds! But we eventually got there mid morning!
Below are some of the birds we saw throughout that area!  
Black-breasted Buzzard

Little Eagle leaving it's nest tree!

I rarely see this species perched... so was happy to come across this one! It was quite confiding too!
Black-breasted Buzzard

The same bird when it eventually flushed!

Black-faced Woodswallows were everywhere!

At one spot this Wedge-tailed Eagle actually flew over to check us out! Giving good photo opportunities!
We fuelled up at Marree and headed onto the Birdsville track itself! Heading north we wanted to reach Mungeranie by nightfall so for the first part we kept motoring fairly well.. only stopping at a dry creek to chase a few birds we saw in the trees! Here we scored our first of lots of Pied Honeyeaters for the trip!
A quick stop at the creek at Dulkaninna Station increased the trip list by adding a few waterbirds.. including the first Brolga for the trip!
Just north of here last year we got a Gibberbird... so we kept our eye's peeled this time but it wasn't to be!
Not long later we got to the Cooper Creek.. lunch was had under a shady tree whilst watching a water trough which was about 50m away get visited by lots of Budgie's, Honeyeaters and Galahs! Also saw some Diamond Doves and Zebra finch here  drinking on a leaking pipe as well!
Leaving the Cooper we headed into the first sand dune country for the trip... Poached Egg Daisies (technical term! lol) covered most of the dunes as is often the case in the outback and there where plenty of birds feeding all over the place! We stopped in one spot and easily picked up Crimson Chat, Chirruping Wedgebill, Pied Honeyeater, Cinnamon Quail-thrush and more Budgies!.

Pied Honeyeater

Budgerigar's in the dunes
It was about mid afternoon when we came across another of the many telecommunication towers along the track. The only difference this time... was it was occupied!!! A Grey Ghost was there! Cool! As usual.. just like the other two which we saw last year.. it was right up at the top!! So high! We watched it for a while and then it decided it had seen enough and took off! It circled really high a couple of times and then headed to the east and over the dunes! Once it took off we saw it had just been successful hunting as it still had half of the unfortunate bird in it's talons!

Grey Falcon with kill
 We briefly looked over that sand hill in the hope of finding it landed in a tree or somewhere... but it was not to be!
By now it was mid afternoon and the next stop was Mungeranie! We got there by about 3.30 and went and checked for a good spot to camp! After sussing that out.. the 'to get there' travel was done! Now it was birding full on time! We had two hours of light left.. we spent it searching for whatever we could find! Deciding to head to another tower! The one we got the Grey's on last year! We found it empty when we got there so spent the next hour just out looking for other birds! We spied a group of trees on a sand dune which looked worth a look! Leaving the car about 150m away we walked in... not much there other than more Pied Honeyeaters! (They were in really good numbers this trip!) So we headed back to the car... when we were about 30m from the car a huge bird rose off the ground out of nowhere! An Australian Bustard!! Where the hell was that when we pulled up 15mins earlier!!! Must have been lying flat I guess? Not complaining though! Having never seen one before I was blown away by how big they are! I guess especially because this bird took instant flight and those wings just looked huge that close!! I was spewing though as I managed no decent shots of it! Of course Mike got some which made me even more frustrated at myself! lol  First official lifer of the trip for me though... so I was pretty darn happy really!
We headed back to the tower for the last hour of light in the hope the Grey's would come in and roost like they did last year! This time no grey's showed but it was compensated by the stunning spot we were in! The late light was golden, warm and beautiful.. a full moon was rising.. we both had a beer in hand and there was still plenty to see as a pair of Kestrels did a few display flights near the tower! A pair of Australian Ravens which were nesting on the tower had to deal with a pair of pugnacious Corella's trying to cause whatever mischief they could as well which was quite funny to watch! Then to top it off Mike spotted a pair of birds flying sort of away from us about 200m away... I lifted the camera and clicked off a few shots.. brought them up on the LCD screen on the back of the camera to see Flock Bronzewings!!! Woohoo finally a confirmed sighting of this hard to find species! Lifer number two for me and number one for Mike! Not quite the views I was hoping for.... but better than nothing!
Satisfied it was time to head back whilst there was still a smidgen of light! We even managed a pair of Cinnamon Quail-thrush on the return leg which was pretty cool! :-)
The tower where we spent the hour waiting for the Falcons which never came!
 The weather so far for this trip had been nothing short of sensational! With cloudless blue sky days with temps around 25 degrees.. and mild star filled nights complete with a full moon! We couldn't have asked for anything more!
The next morning we started before sunrise and packed the car as we had a big day planned to head up to the Goyder Lagoon and try for Grey Grasswrens! Before we left I walked the twenty metres or so from the camp to the Mungeranie lagoon and grabbed a pic as the sun was just about to rise!

The first 25-30kms were every quiet and I don't think we saw a bird! But then as often happens on these tracks out of nowhere a couple of Inland Dotterels scooted off the track! The parachute was thrown and we jumped out to try and find them again! We saw a pair of birds about 80m away chasing each other low down and then they dropped into the tiny sand hills in this spot... Mike thought he would chase them and I started off towards one of the Dotterels which was down the track! Mike was half way out to the birds in the sand when he yelled out Flockies! The chasing birds were Flock Bronzewings! I instantly forgot about the Dotterels and headed in a direction to cut off the Flockies as Mike was coming in from my right behind them! We took it fairly slow and were rewarded with good close views as the male followed/chased the female in some sort of courting move! I managed a couple of shots and then eventually they saw us and flew! Now that was a better sighting than the night before!  
Male Flock Bronzewing in the sand pursuing the female! Check the camouflage! Great colour matching! :-)
Mira Mitta bore was the next point of interest another ten or so kms up the track.. so we pulled in and had a look. There wasn't much at the bore itself... but most of these outback bores have an overflow! This bores overflow is quite large and about a kilometre further up the track there was a small dam right next to the track! We pulled up and saw the usual Red-capped Plovers and Pink-eared Ducks... and another new bird for the trip in the form of a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper! Then a single Flockie cam in and landed back behind some Ducks on the far edge! Interesting... then two more came in and banked right in front of us! They didn't hang around... but gave us a chance at some flight shots as they passed! I burst off a bunch of shots... had a look and most where soft! D'oh! Then Mike showed me his best shot on the back of his camera.. what I saw was a sensational shot! I wont repeat what I said but it was something along the lines of "grumble... grumble..." haha

The two Flockies as they passed the dam! This was when they were still distant... the only shots I got of this pair in focus!
I said to Mike with these sightings happening around us now... this would have to be a good spot to stake out on our way home! With that in mind we kept going.. Stopping at another bore where last year we got a Freckled Duck.. This year it was fairly quite with just some Black-fronted Dotterels, Zebra Finches and more Budgies! In the distance a dozen Camels where feeding at the base of a low dune.

Feral Camels.....
We kept on moving only stopping for a pair of Brown Falcons in a small batch of trees on the side of the track! Other than those it was off up to the inside track!

A confiding Brown Falcon which let me get to about four metres from it!
 The inside track had just been re-opened not too long before we were up there so this was our access to the Lignum of Goyder's lagoon. Grey Grasswren can be found throughout this large mostly dry lagoon and where the inside track crosses it is where we would try! We turned onto the inside track and made our way across the 13km of really rough gibber stone track to reach our destination!
Gibber country just up off the edge of Goyder's Lagoon beside the Inside track

It was the middle of the day and quite warm by the time we started walking... not perfect or conducive to finding any species of Grasswren... let alone one of the supposedly toughest! But we tried and failed last year in some different areas... this time we were hopeful! It is a desolate place when dry... and it just looks so lifeless... it would of been very easy to just give up and say too hard! After about 15mins though we came across a Variegated Fairy-wren which at first got us excited until we worked out the call was wrong for a Grey! Eventually it showed itself so we moved on... more and more Variegated FW's followed... until I followed one little female towards a single Lignum bush before she darted away! I was just about to head back towards where Mike was when I heard a different call from this bush! I called Mike over who came in from the other side and we tried to see what it was... It's pretty thick in these bushes and we had worked out it was definitely a Grey Grasswren from the calls before we saw it! Eventually it showed just enough for some average views and a few shots! Nothing more then ID shots but I was pretty stoked! Lifer number three for the trip! We searched some more and heard at least one more which we failed to see before calling it quits... It was now pretty hot and draining, plus it was time for a beer to celebrate another lifer! :-)
The very elusive Grey Grasswren keeping a close but obscured eye on me!
Time was disappearing so we though we better start heading back! We wanted to get back to the Mira Mitta bore overflow again with a few hours of light up our sleeve!

The inside track was pretty rough in this section!
We pulled into the first creek crossing once back on the main track for lunch and watched White-backed Swallows hunting as we ate.. then a Red-backed Kingfisher came in and had a look at us on the other side of the creek so I stalked it and got some shots as it was the first opportunity with this species for the trip!

Red-backed Kingfisher
After lunch it was all about getting back to the Mira Mitta bore! Read all about how we faired in part two of this blog post coming soon!


  1. Bloody ripper mate! :) Lots of lifers for me in this write up!

  2. I always enjoy reading about your trips into the Outback and looking through your wonderful photos. I'm really looking forward to Part 2 as Part 1 finished all too soon :-) Great work Chris.

  3. A most enjoyable read Chris. Looking forward to Part 2.

  4. Sounds wonderful Chris, well done Matey!

  5. Good on you Chris, thanks for sharing the joy.

  6. Thanks for the kind comments everyone! Appreciate it :-)

  7. Great capture, wonderfull place,greeting from Mons in Belgium

  8. What a beautiful location and a great adventure! Fabulous photos and finds.

  9. Great bird Blog Chris, Can't wait to do an Outback trip like this, just returned from something similar in the NT, very hard to beat camping while birding and drinking beers. Jimmy