Strzelecki Track 2017

Rain... rain... go away!
Yep.. after about six cloudless trips into outback SA over the past 7 years we finally came up against some precipitation during our outback run!
 Leaving Mike's place before dawn we were hoping to pick up an Owl or two before sunrise... One Boobook and two Barn Owl's later the sun rose. Well... I think it did but we couldn't see it because of the cloud and fog! Either way it was a good start to the drive picking up those two for our trip list.
The trip list started slower than normal on this trip due to the fact it was so foggy we'd pretty much have had to hit the bird with the windscreen to actually see it! Eventually it cleared up but not until we got north of Orroroo! Best bird to that point would've been the Peregrine Falcon we could just make out up in the fog on the Orroroo silos!

Not a promising start..... Just south of Orroroo 
As the fog lifted slowly and the birds started to show... nothing too exciting until we got just past Eurelia where Mike saw an Australian Bustard feeding on the side of the road! How I missed it I don't know? Probably looking out in the distance for raptors! Either way we pulled up and managed a few record shots before it few about 500m out into the paddock.

Australian Bustard just north of Orroroo.
Next stop was a new spot for Mike... it was a spot I found by chance back a few weeks earlier between Carrieton and Craddock on a trip to the Flinders. Then I had pulled over for what turned out to be a Songlark in the end but whilst there I heard the familiar musical trillings of a Rufous Fieldwren. On that first stop a great time was had with at least 4 Fieldwrens and a host of other cool birds... there were Zebra Finches, White-winged Fairy-wrens, Black-faced Woodswallows, White-fronted Chats and a pair of Black-shouldered Kites hanging around. The place was really buzzing that morning! This time it seemed a little more quiet when we emerged from the vehicle. We stopped and listened for a while and it seemed quiet but then after about 30 seconds right off in the distance was the same familiar song of a Rufous Fieldwren again... Leaving the car we made our way out to where it was calling but this time although we could see the birds at distance they wouldn't let us close the gap for decent images... Quite different to the first time I was there! Again we ended up seeing at least four birds, but there are probably lots in that area as it is excellent habitat for them.
Moving on through Hawker we then stopped at our traditional Rufous Fieldwren spot north of Hawker and also found more there. In the end we probably found more Rufous Fieldwrens on this trip than on any other outback run that we have done before! We ended up hearing that great little song being sung at many points right up and down the Strzelecki track!

This shot was from the trip a few weeks earlier... but I wanted to put one up and it's from the same spot so here is one of the Rufous Fieldwrens from between Carrieton and Craddock.
One of the problems Mike and I now have is we are building up quite the collection of "traditional stops" for certain bird species and now it's starting to impact on how long it takes to get to where we want to be by the evening! Need to work on that next time around I think...
The next few hours were spent rolling over the kilometres of tarmac as we moved on north with the majestically beautiful Flinders Ranges just off to the east. No birds to note really until we were about ten kilometres short of Leigh Creek where I very nearly run over a kamikaze Cinnamon Quail-thrush! It came out of the roadside vegetation on the left hand side of the road and flew low but fast in typical QT style straight past the bull bar of the Triton over to the right hand side of the road and landed. Took me by surprise a bit... not because I nearly hit it but because I had never seen a Cinnamon Quail-thrush south of Leigh Creek before! So yeah.. not the best way to spot this species! Nevertheless we now had it on our bird list already before we'd even passed Leigh Creek!
During this period of travelling we were constantly tuning into the weather reports for the North East Pastoral district on the radio. Unfortunately for us the reports weren't all that promising... with rain forecast in the evening and a prediction of anywhere from 5 - 30mm's a chance to drop! The issue we had was a large area of tropical moisture had moved down over the area from NW. Slow moving and a bit thundery we really had no idea what we were in for to be honest!
Arriving at Lyndhurst we refuelled and made a bit of a plan... If we headed up the track to the crossing where we had planned our first night, there was a chance we would be stuck there for a while. Our  turn around destination point for this trip was originally going to be Coongie Lakes north of Innaminka but with this forecast we really were having our doubts whether we would make it! So erring on the side of caution we decided to pull the pin and camp at Farina for the first night. This also freed up some extra birding time so we made dash out the the famous rusty car site on Mt Lyndhurst Station to look for Chestnut-breasted Whitefaces and Thick-billed Grasswrens.
Mike and I have both seen these species before at this spot but in recent years the birds have been a bit thin on the ground. So we were preparing for it to be tough. As we arrived another 4WD was pulling in from the other direction, so we got out and had a chat. As is often the case with the world of internet and social media these days when we introduced ourselves the names were familiar! Irena and Hedley Earl were heading in for another attempt on the area as well. We knew their names from places like the Birding-aus forum... whether they knew of us I do not know but we had a bit of a chin wag for a while and then followed them in to pretty much the end of the track just before you get to the old mine site. After a little more chat they decided to head off up a side track looking for CBWF. Mike and I grabbed our gear and headed off... Mike took off up a little feeder creek and I went off along the main creek. I don't think I had gone 50m before I heard the faintest of calls, knew what it was straight away though... Thick-billed Grasswren! It was in the bush in front of me not 3m away. I stood and waited and eventually it popped up to get a look at me and in doing so I got a great look at it! Two seconds later it dropped back into the bush and I didn't see it again. Best part about that sighting for me was that I didn't even need playback to see it! Worst part was I had no hope of getting a photo and the fact that Mike had missed it. I was just hoping he might have found one somewhere else.
Eventually we met back up and other than my sighting we spotted nothing but the more common species... Not a CBFW in sight anywhere. It's interesting as this used to be such a consistent spot for them... I wonder when the last one was seen here by anybody? Would be a while ago I think.

Mt Lyndhurst Station and what used? to be Chestnut-breasted Whiteface country.
Eventually the light was starting to drop and we wanted to be back at Farina (50km's back) before it was too dark so we could find a camp site and set up for the night.
It's a bloody top camp site with an amenities block, plenty of room and in a beautiful creek bed! There's always plenty of birdlife there too! From the nesting Buzzards to heaps of Fairywrens and allsorts inbetween. We have only ever used it as a overnighter on our way past but you could spend a good couple of days here and not get bored I think.
So we whipped up our camp... got our fire going... smashed a fabulous open fire cooked "Surf & Turf"... drank a little too much wine around the campfire later and settled into the swags as the pitter patter of raindrops started falling on the tarp we had strung up above for just that reason! Hmm... what would the morning bring? At the time I didn't care... I was pushing out zzz's from the swag in no time! LOL

Our traditional first night big cook up! Surf and turf... gotta say it was bloody delish! It's hard roughing it in the outback haha
Next morning when we finally stirred it was damp but not too bad. A refreshing 5mm had fallen overnight and if anything it was sort of invigorating!
We packed up the camp and headed on out... we had only gotten about 20m out the gate when the first photographic stop was made for a lovely little Red-backed Kingfisher. This had come after we had just been watching a Sacred Kingfisher feeding right near our camp when packing up. Always both cool birds to see.

Red-backed Kingfisher at Farina.

Working our way out onto the damp but not too slippery track we headed back down to Lyndhurst to fuel up and decided our next move...
The weather report was still fairly iffy with the amount of rain still to come hard to predict but we thought bugger it we'd at least head for the Strzelecki creek crossing and if we got rained out in there... well...there could be worse places to be stuck! lol
Stopping to check the Lyndhurst airstrip before heading up the track proved to be fairly quiet for all but an accommodating Cinnamon Quail-thrush... 

Cinnamon Quail-thrush at the Lyndhurst airstrip.

*EDIT: This is a blog of two parts from here on... I wrote the first part just after the trip back in 2017. Then due to events in my personal life my blog became low priority for a few years. It's now 2021 and I have just come across this post in the draft stage but with all the photos done so I will do it justice as best I can and finish it off. Being four years ago now my memory of events has faded a bit but I will do the best I can using the images still here as reminders of the trip's events.

I don't recall anything too exciting in the first part of the run through Mt Lyndhurst Station. This encounter with a beautiful "tame" Wedge-tailed Eagle was the first highlight of the trip north. It was sitting in the middle of the track on a truck killed Kangaroo. Pulling up it was surprisingly reluctant to leave it's prize. So I grabbed my camera and proceeded to close in as best I could. After a few shots it eventually flew a little way and landed on a nearby fence. I decided to follow and amazingly it let me to close within four metres of it! I've never had a Wedgie so trusting before! Being so close was a surreal experience and the resulting shots are still my best Wedgie shots I have taken.

Wedge-tailed Eagle after a good shake.

You looking at me?

In 2010 Mike and I had our first ever encounter with Gibberbirds when we found a pair nesting just north of where the track crosses the dog fence. So with it now being a traditional spot to find them... we again stopped near the original sighting and went on the search. It didn't take too long to come across a single bird which was quite confiding as this species can often be.

Gibberbird just north of the dog fence.


The next major stop for us was an area just after you enter the swale country where Letter-winged kites have been seen in the past. We pulled up and went on 2km hike searching all the desert Coolibahs looking for birds or signs of birds having been there. We didn't find any but it's definitely a good looking area for them. 
The day was getting on so we pulled into Montecollina Bore for lunch. An oasis in the area with the bore spilling into a small dam and then overflowing out into a marshland of reeds. After a bite to eat we went over and scanned the swamp to see what was around. Lots of the usuals like Grey Teal, Little Grassbirds, Australian Spotted Crakes, White-backed Swallows etc... Now I can't remember if it was this trip or the one I did later in 2018 with Lisa that we come across a pair of Chestnut-breasted Shelducks there too. Not one we'd expected to see out there!

Fast forward to now (2021) and this bore has been capped! No more water means the birds will be gone... disappointing but it wasn't there naturally so probs the right way for it to be! 

Pretty much anywhere from the bore area through to the Strzelecki creek crossing you are in with a chance of seeing one of our two really rare outback dwelling raptors... Letter-winged Kites often occur in this area and Mike and I have had them in a few spots through this area in the past. Checking these spots as we made for the Creek crossing two things happened. One we found a single Letter-winged Kite and two the weather was closing in around us! The sighting was brief of the kite as unusually it wasn't confiding at all! We have often found Letter-wings to be quite confiding. This one went against the grain and flew when we were about 50m away. Maybe had something to do with the weather which by this point was looking quite concerning!
With the Kite heading to the horizon and the grey clouds closing fast we decided to hightail it to the Strzelecki creek crossing and make camp for the night.

Letter-winged Kite sitting in the 5pm gloom as the rain moved in! (Crested Pigeon photobomb!)

It looked like it was going to rain and rain it did! Luckily we were somewhat prepared and strung a tarp up over our camp between two Coolibahs. The next morning we woke up to a very wet looking desert after 15mm of rain had fallen! So for the first time in all our outback trips we were stuck where we were! The track was looking very wet so we had to call it... the Coongie Lakes were an unachieveable dream for this trip. We decided we would camp where we were for the next night as well. 
So what this did was give us a lot more time to spend exploring the crossing area. 
We headed off on a walk downstream along the creek... we found some pretty cool birds including a small flock of four Blue-winged Parrots at the most northerly point of their winter migration and also birds like Red-browed Pardalotes, Chirruping Wedgebills, Budgies etc.... The renmant cloud from the front which went through meant photography was a challenge but I was quite happy with the Red-browed Pardalote shots I managed.

Blue-winged Parrot on the Strzelecki Creek under heavily overcast skies...

Red-browed Pardalote on the Strzelecki Creek.

Later after lunch we decided to attempt the track carefully and head north about 9kms to a spot we'd heard was good for Banded Whiteface. After a little searching we found some feeding in the low claypan type area between the sandhills. I couldn't get a decent shot but it was nice to catch up with them on the Strzelecki after first finding them on the Birdsville track in 2015. 
Another favourite bird of Mike and I is the Eyrean Grasswren. After a while spent pursuing the Whiteface we turned our attention to the Canegrass covered dunes all around us... this is the habitat of Eyreans and these dunes looked spot on for them. We headed to the closest spot and pretty much found a pair immediately! This pair were keeping their distance and were presenting no real opportunities for photos so we went looking for more. Crossing the flat to the next dune we decided to split apart and head to different parts. 
We often bird like this... Mike and I have a pretty good understanding of each others birding styles with myself more often likely to spend more time with a particular bird in the hope of photographing it well and Mike more keen on moving around trying to find different types of birds. This works quite well in the outback with the only rule that we try to stay within earshot or sightline of each other when birding in remote areas like this. 
I moved to a likely looking area on the next dune and found another pair straight away. I could see they were more confiding than the last pair so I set up on a good spot and played a burst of callback and waited... it didn't take long before this pair came in to check me out again. Laying prone in the sand they seemed quite inquisitive and I had a great session with them. The cloud cover proved to be helpful for this session as it was the middle of the day which usually means harsh shadows and rubbish images... with the cloud filtering the light I ended up with some ok shots! Including one with both birds sitting up together on a low shrub! A shot I was pretty happy to get with this species! Mike also had luck on the part of the dune he headed too. So all up in 2017 Eyreans seemed to be around in pretty good numbers.

A fairly good bit of track the next day after the rain.... sloppy and slippery but still just drivable! Albeit very carefully...
This was late afternoon after the session with the Eyrean Grasswrens and the cloud blanket had finally started breaking up!

Eyrean Grasswren north of the Strzelecki Creek crossing...

Eyrean Grasswrens posing nicely for me.

Heading back again carefully on the slippery roads we made it back to camp and cooked up another feast before heading out to a spot with the spotlight to look for Dusky Hopping Mice. A boom and bust native species which we'd seen here before. Stopping at a dune which crosses a small side road we got out and walked with our torches finding quite a few Hopping Mice and even some roosting Banded Whiteface! Managing some of my best shots of the mice I have to date we returned to camp quite satisfied with our day's birding and mousing considering the circumstances we were under.

Dusky Hopping-mouse just south of the Strzelecki Creek crossing in the dunes.

The next morning the skies were starting to clear and we decided to start heading south slowly and carefully along the track. It was drying quite well by now and was certainly drivable with care so we felt comfortable driving. Searching all the usual areas for Letter-winged Kites again we unfortunately came up empty handed but we did stop at another likely looking Cane grass covered dune where we found many more Eyrean Grasswrens! These birds were all quite confiding and it was nice to get some photo opportunities in some nice early morning sunshine! 
Again we stopped into Montecollina Bore and had a little fun with the locals in there. My best image was of one of the many White-backed Swallows hawking insects above the overflow.

Sunrise from where we camped on the Strzelecki creek crossing second morning after the rain as the clouds broke up...

Eyrean Grasswren about 20km's south of the Strzelecki creek crossing.

White-backed Swallow at Montecollina Bore.

Pelican Creek was our camp for the last night of the trip always a good place to pull up for the night. By this stage we were pretty tuckered out from big days so no night searching or photography was attempted just a few drinks around the campfire enjoying outback camping in the million star hotel... hard to beat!
Rolling out the next morning we stopped at the first likely spot for Gibberbirds whilst the light was still good for photography. Right on cue we found an extremely confiding pair who really gave us an outstanding session with them. The male posing beautifully for us on many occasions. 
Heading off again we had gone about 40kms south when Mike noticed he was missing his binoculars! After upending the car we guessed they must be back on the ground where we found the Gibberbirds! So heading back the 40kms we eventually came across the site where we found the Gibbies and yep right there sitting on the rocks was Mikes binos! Whilst there I could see many of the perches the Gibberbird had been sitting on... a particular rock the bird had sat on quite a bit caught my eye so I grabbed it as a souvenir. This rock would end up being a very, very special rock as I used it to propose to Lisa on christmas day in 2019! Every girl dreams of getting a big "rock" on their finger at some stage throughout their life! Well in Lisa's case she got an extremely large and very special Gibberbird stood on rock! (Yes I did get her an engagement ring later) Lisa loves birds and the natural world as much as I do so it went down really well. That rock now sits on a dresser in our bedroom and it means a lot to both of us! A little out of the ordinary but hey... welcome to the world of Chris! :-D 

Gibberbird perches nicely in front of Mike and I on a very special rock!

Back to the trip... Well this little 80km diversion caused us a little problem. We always carry plenty of fuel but with the track being so boggy we were burning way more diesel than normal! By the time we were 80kms from Lyndhurst we were starting to think we weren't going to make it! At this point we made the decision to head back a few kms to a road crew we passed on the track and see if we could buy some diesel off them to make sure we got back. Luckily they were all for it... Beer money for them I suppose and peace of mind for us! 
Homeward bound we made it back to the bitumen then it was smooth sailing all the way back to Mike's place for a well earned beer and off back to home for me.
Writing this four years later I have enjoyed the trip down memory lane... there may be some bits I have forgotten but not to worry! 
Since this trip Mike and I have done the Oodnadatta Track in 2019 and the Birdsville again in 2020. With Lisa I did the Strzelecki Track again in 2018 and then a run up the Birdsville Track in 2020 with a couple of mates... We also just got back from a very successful trip up the Oodnadatta Track again and that will be the next blog which I will start working on soon. 


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