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!