Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Nullarbor Crossing - May 2012

This was two week trip (1st to 13thMay) driving from Perth to Melbourne crossing the Nullarbor Plain. The trip has some planned diversions to make the trip more interesting and to see a few target birds along the way. The overall trip covered some 5,000km and was a lot more relaxing than doing the drive over 4 or 5 days.

A previous trip across the Nullarbor, which we did in 2009, was done over 5 days and we stayed at Cocklebiddy on the way over, which is not a recommended place to stay. There are quite a few similar motels across the Nullarbor where one can overnight but most appear to be trucking stops.

Must have done a few trips over the Nullarbor (taken at Fraser Range)

For this trip we did a bit more planning and decided to stay at the following places:



· Cheynes Beach            Cheynes Beach Caravan Park                              
· Esperance                     Eagle View B&B
· Nullarbor                      Fraser Range Station
· Eucla                              Eucla Amber Motel
· Ceduna                          Ceduna Foreshore Hotel
· Port Augusta                Majestic Oasis Hotel
· Leigh Creek                  Leigh Creek Tavern
· Flinders Ranges           Wilpena Pound Resort
· Waikerie                       Waikerie Hotel Motel
· Swan Hill                       Comfort Inn Lady Augusta

All of the above places were comfortable and of a high standard, with the Fraser Range Station being our best stay on the Nullarbor Plain.

Yvonne and I left Perth in the early morning of the 1stMay having finished organising our house in Subiaco for rental. On the way down to Albany birds of interest included Red-tailed Black-cockatoo, Red-capped Parrot, Regent Parrot and Western Rosella.

Cheynes Beach is a lovely part of the southern WA coastline and has a protected cove and a beach that stretches for kilometres. The settlement is surrounded by the Waychinicup National Park which contains many types of flora and fauna, beautiful and unique rock formations, wonderful inlets and little beaches.
Cheynes Beach

Cheynes Beach is well known to bird watchers for its rare birds, notably the Noisy Scrub-bird, Western Bristlebird and Western Whipbird.

We stayed in a self-contained cabin at the Cheynes Beach Caravan Park which was very comfortable. A file of recent bird sightings is available from reception, which provides details on exactly when and where the three target birds have been seen, which is well worth reading.
Birding in the afternoon I managed to find the Western Whipbird fairly easily, at the same location where I had seen it previously. The Noisy Scrub-bird was heard but not seen in the dense scrub close to the beach. There was no sign of the Western Bristlebird that afternoon.

The next morning I went out before sunrise and whilst standing quietly, had a Western Bristlebird pop out of the low lying scrub into the path in front of me. Looked like a rat as it scurried away and then hopped back into the bush, however I managed to get good views of the rufous markings on its back. No calls were heard from the Western Bristlebird or the Western Whipbird; however the Noisy Scrub-bird was heard again close to the beach.

The caravan park and surrounding area is good for birding and interesting birds seen included Western Rosella, Southern Emu-wren, Brown Quail, Brush Bronzewing, Western Wattlebird, Red-winged Fairy-wren and Red-eared Firetail.

Red-winged Fairy-wren

Before we left, we went down to the rocky headland and were surprised to see four Wilson’s Storm-Petrel in the bay with one bird coming within 20m of the shoreline.

Esperance is always a wonderful part of WA and has some lovely beaches. We stayed at the Eagle View B&B which overlooks Esperance’s West Beach and had the house to ourselves. 
Esperance's West Beach

In the morning we took a drive along the Esperance coast and then around the various lakes close to Esperance. The area was quite barren as far as birds go and Pink Lake didn’t have any birds at all. The Esperance golf course had quite a few Masked Lapwing, which are uncommon for southern WA, however no Cape Barren Geese were seen. We then visited Woody Lake Nature Reserve, which is a great area for birding, before leaving Esperance for the Nullarbor.

The woodlands south of Norseman are good for birding and we stopped at a picnic site Bromus Dam, some 32km south of Norseman, where we saw Redthroat and White-eared Honeyeater.

Fraser Range is a sheep station located 100km east of Norseman and is covered by dense hardwood eucalyptus forest comprising blackbutts, salmon gums and gimlets. The station offers a mix of accommodation from camping through to a self-contained cottage. This is a lovely spot well off the Eyre Highway and the trees were in flower during the stay, attracting many Yellow-plumed Honeyeater and other birds such as Purple-crowned Lorikeet.

Sunrise at Fraser Range Station

Eucla is probably one of the best places to stop on a trip across the Nullarbor, as it offers good accommodation, meals and scenery. We visited the Eucla Telegraph Station in the afternoon and managed to see some nice birds including four Australian Bustard, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, Mulga Parrot and a Little Button Quail.

Eucla Telegraph Station

On leaving Western Australia and entering South Australia, the scenery improves as the road passes through the Nullarbor Regional Reserve. It is worthwhile looking for the Nullarbor race of the Cinnamon Quail-thrush at the Nullarbor Roadhouse, although we didn’t manage to locate the bird on this trip. We did see both Banded and Masked Lapwing at the roadhouse.

Ceduna is the next logical stop for the trip and there is not much in the way of decent accommodation between Eucla and Ceduna and then between Ceduna and Port Augusta. The Ceduna Foreshore Hotel has good accommodation and meals, plus lovely views over the bay. In the evening 100’s of Common Starling come to roost in the trees and we had an Australian Hobby trying to catch some starlings. Instead of attempting to catch them in flight, the hobby would fly into the tree and attempt to catch any birds which hadn’t flown away. Didn’t appear to be a successful strategy.

Sunset at Ceduna

On the drive from Ceduna to Port Augusta we stopped at the Lake Gilles Conservation Park which is well worth visiting. The bush was alive with birds and we saw Chestnut-backed Quail-thrush, Western Yellow Robin, Rufous Treecreeper, Restless Flycatcher, Tawny-crowned Honeyeater and many Red-capped Robin. This reserve is the most easterly point for seeing Western Yellow Robin and Blue-breasted Fairy-wren.
Port Augusta is a good place to spend a night and we stayed at the Majestic Oasis Hotel which has self-contained accommodation, which is close to the shops and situated on the waterfront. The accommodation has washing machines and dryers which come in handy after a week on the road.

In the morning we visited the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens which is always a great place to visit no matter what time of year. The gardens had many White-browed Babbler and Zebra Finch, plus a Spotted Harrier attempting to catch some Zebra Finch. In addition we saw Chirruping Wedgebill, White-backed Swallow, White-winged Fairy-wren and Mistletoebird.

White-browed Babbler

Leigh Creek has good accommodation at the Leigh Creek Tavern which also provides excellent meals. Leigh Creek is within easy reach of Lyndhurst (40km to the north) and the lower section of the Strzelecki Track. Most of the Strzelecki Track is suitable for 2WD in dry weather and updates on the road condition are provided on www.dpti.sa.gov.au/OutbackRoads
Ochre Pits at Lyndhurst

Most of the next day was spent in the Lyndhurst and lower Strzelecki Track area and some interesting sightings included Crested Tern, Chirruping Wedgebill, Stubble Quail, Budgerigar and Little Button-quail. There was no sign of the Chestnut-breasted Whiteface after many hours of searching, and Thick-billed Grasswren were heard but not seen. The cold and windy conditions probably didn’t help.


Road Access Status for Strzelecki Track

The following day we drove up to Lyndhurst before sunrise and along the way saw five Orange Chat at one of the dams alongside the road. We then took the Aus Air Services flight from Lyndhurst over Lake Eyre (www.tooradinflyingschool.com.au/lake-eyre.php). This is a trip well worth doing and Lake Eyre still has water in it, with more on its way from Queensland. In the summer months, heavy tropical rain in the north of Australia makes its way down to Lake Eyre through an elaborate system of channels and rivers, creating a diverse range of life in a usually dry and barren environment.


Flowing River between Lyndhurst and Maree

Lake Eyre is the lowest point in Australia (15m below sea level) and the largest salt-water lake in Australia, covering some 9,500 square kilometres when full. The North Lake is at a slightly higher elevation than the South Lake and the two lakes are linked via the 15km long Goyder Channel, however water very rarely flows between the two lakes.

It’s interesting that when water does flow between the lakes, a huge amount of salt is transferred between the lakes, the North Lake having a far higher salt load and crust thickness. About 30Mt of salt is estimated to have been transferred from the North Lake to the South Lake in 1974 when the North Lake flooded. Then some 40% of this salt made its way back to the North Lake when the South Lake flooded in 1984 and the water flowed up the Goyder Channel into the North Lake.

Lake Eyre

There was not much in the way of birdlife to be seen on Lake Eyre other than some pelicans, Black-winged Stilt and Red-necked Avocet.

Lake Eyre

It was also good to see the area between Lyndhurst and Lake Eyre from the air, as the rivers still had water flowing plus there were many lakes and wetlands in the area, quite amazing. I had previously done a trip up the Birdsville Track in November 2009 and it was bone dry back then, although on the way back we had heavy rain which transformed the desert into a wetland. 
 
Area to the north-west of Lyndhurst

Flinders Ranges was our next destination and we spent a couple of nights at the Wilpena Pound Resort, which was very pleasant.

Flinders Ranges
The next day we spent some time up at Stokes Hill and then Brachina gorge, and saw some nice birds including Elegant Parrot, Pallid Cuckoo, White-eared Honeyeater and Southern Whiteface. No Short-tailed Grasswren seen on Stokes Hill after a few hours of searching, including areas where I had seen them previously, again cold and windy conditions didn’t help. Plenty of Common Wallaroo seen on Stokes Hill.
Mallee Ringneck

The following day we headed down to the Clare Valley, stopping is at one of our favourite art galleries, the Medika Gallery (www.medikagallery.com.au) in Blythe. The local artist Ian Roberts produces some lovely paintings, many of which have birds combined with flowers. We then travelled across to Bara and onto Waikerie on the Murray River. The Murray River is looking fantastic as are the many flooded wetlands.

Waikerie is a small town on the Murray River and is a convenient place to stay when visiting the Gluepot Reserve and the Murray River wetlands.

Sunrise over Murray River at Waikerie Ferry Crossing

The next morning we had a half-day trip to Gluepot with Peter Waanders in an attempt to see Scarlet-chested Parrot. As these birds hadn’t been seen up at Gluepot since March, it was unlikely that we would see them, however it was worth trying. As it turned out we didn’t see them however we did see some good birds including Regent Parrot, White-browed Treecreeper, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Crested Bellbird, Red-lored Whistler, Black-eared Miner and a good selection of honeyeater, including Striped, White-fronted, White-eared and Yellow-plumed Honeyeater.

White-browed Treecreeper

That afternoon we drove through to Swan Hill also on the Murray River, staying overnight at the very comfortable Comfort Inn.
Red-capped Robin

The next morning we drove up to Barmah to see the so-called free ranging Common Ostrich although they looked to be farm animals to me. Rather tatty looking bunch of Ostrich, with two adult and six juvenile birds seen, and far better to see them in Africa where they belong. Australians have been known to go to extraordinary lengths to add Ostrich to their birding lists and the best was a couple of birders chartering a plane to fly over some Ostrich in South Australia.

They can be quite aggressive when in breeding mode, with the front of the male’s legs taking on a red flush. Having been chased by a male Ostrich many years ago, I am not all that keen on them, although Ostrich biltong makes good eating. We were walking close to a game lodge (unfenced) with the family and saw a male Ostrich approaching with nice red legs. The rest of the family headed off to the car and I ended up holding my son Andrew in one arm and a branch in the other hand, whilst dodging around a bush keeping the Ostrich on the other side of the bush, until Yvonne drove the car up and we were able to make our getaway.

After that is was a reasonable drive back to a cold and wet Melbourne. As it was Mother’s day, all the local restaurants were fully booked up and we eventually managed to get a meal in Bendigo.
Overall the trip was a fairly relaxing way to travel across the Nullarbor and well worth having a look at Lake Eyre. Birding wise, it’s probably not the best time of year for birding, although the weather was very pleasant and the bush was looking very good. No new birds were recorded for the trip, although it was the first time that I had seen the Western Bristlebird, having only heard it before.

The full list of just over 150 birds seen on the trip, based on the IOC taxonomy, is listed below:
 
Struthioniformes

Ostriches (Struthionidae)

Common Ostrich [sp] (Struthio camelus)

CASUARIIFORMES

Emu (Dromaiidae)

Emu [sp] (Dromaius novaehollandiae)

Galliformes

Pheasants, Fowl & Allies (Phasianidae)

Stubble Quail (Coturnix pectoralis)

Brown Quail [sp] (Coturnix ypsilophora)

Anseriformes

Ducks, Geese & swans (Anatidae)

Australian Shelduck (Tadorna tadornoides)

Maned Duck (Chenonetta jubata)

Pacific Black Duck [sp] (Anas superciliosa)

Australasian Shoveler [sp] (Anas rhynchotis)

Grey Teal (Anas gracilis)

Chestnut Teal (Anas castanea)

Procellariiformes

Storm Petrels (Hydrobatidae)

Wilson's Storm Petrel [sp] (Oceanites oceanicus)

Podicipediformes

Grebes (Podicipedidae)

Australasian Grebe [sp] (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae)

Hoary-headed Grebe (Poliocephalus poliocephalus)

Pelecaniformes

Ibises, Spoonbills (Threskiornithidae)

Australian White Ibis [sp] (Threskiornis moluccus)

Straw-necked Ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis)

Royal Spoonbill (Platalea regia)

Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes)

Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)

Great Egret [sp] (Ardea alba)

White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae)

Pelicans (Pelecanidae)

Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)

Suliformes

Gannets, Boobies (Sulidae)

Australasian Gannet (Morus serrator)

Cormorants, Shags (Phalacrocoracidae)

Little Black Cormorant (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris)

Australian Pied Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax varius)

Great Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax carbo)

ACCIPITRIFORMES

Kites, Hawks & Eagles (Accipitridae)

Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris)

Black Kite [sp] (Milvus migrans)

Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus)

White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster)

Spotted Harrier (Circus assimilis)

Brown Goshawk [sp] (Accipiter fasciatus)

Wedge-tailed Eagle [sp] (Aquila audax)

Falconiformes

Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)

Nankeen Kestrel [sp] (Falco cenchroides)

Australian Hobby [sp] (Falco longipennis)

Brown Falcon [sp] (Falco berigora)

OTIDIFORMES

Bustards (Otididae)

Australian Bustard (Ardeotis australis)

Charadriiformes

Buttonquails (Turnicidae)

Little Buttonquail (Turnix velox)

Oystercatchers (Haematopodidae)

Pied Oystercatcher (Haematopus longirostris)

Sooty Oystercatcher [sp] (Haematopus fuliginosus)

Stilts, Avocets (Recurvirostridae)

White-headed Stilt (Himantopus leucocephalus)

Red-necked Avocet (Recurvirostra novaehollandiae)

Plovers (Charadriidae)

Banded Lapwing (Vanellus tricolor)

Masked Lapwing [sp] (Vanellus miles)

Black-fronted Dotterel (Elseyornis melanops)

Gulls, Terns & Skimmers (Laridae)

Silver Gull [sp] (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae)

Pacific Gull [sp] (Larus pacificus)

Greater Crested Tern [sp] (Thalasseus bergii)

Columbiformes

Doves and Pigeons (Columbidae)

Rock Dove [sp] (Columba livia)

Spotted Dove [sp] (Spilopelia chinensis)

Laughing Dove [sp] (Spilopelia senegalensis)

Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera)

Brush Bronzewing [sp] (Phaps elegans)

Crested Pigeon [sp] (Ocyphaps lophotes)

Peaceful Dove [sp] (Geopelia placida)

Psittaciformes

Cockatoos (Cacatuidae)

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo [sp] (Calyptorhynchus banksii)

Short-billed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus latirostris)

Major Mitchell's Cockatoo [sp] (Lophochroa leadbeateri)

Galah [sp] (Eolophus roseicapilla)

Little Corella [sp] (Cacatua sanguinea)

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo [sp] (Cacatua galerita)

Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus)

Parrots and Macaws (Psittacidae)

Rainbow Lorikeet [sp] (Trichoglossus moluccanus)

Purple-crowned Lorikeet (Glossopsitta porphyrocephala)

Red-capped Parrot (Purpureicephalus spurius)

Australian Ringneck [sp] (Barnardius zonarius)

Western Rosella [sp] (Platycercus icterotis)

Bluebonnet [sp] (Northiella haematogaster)

Red-rumped Parrot [sp] (Psephotus haematonotus)

Mulga Parrot (Psephotus varius)

Elegant Parrot [sp] (Neophema elegans)

Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus)

Regent Parrot [sp] (Polytelis anthopeplus)

Cuculiformes

Cuckoos (Cuculidae)

Pallid Cuckoo (Cacomantis pallidus)

Coraciiformes

Kingfishers (Alcedinidae)

Sacred Kingfisher [sp] (Todiramphus sanctus)

Bee-Eaters (Meropidae)

Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus)

Passeriformes

Scrub-Birds (Atrichornithidae)

Noisy Scrubbird (Atrichornis clamosus)

Australasian Treecreepers (Climacteridae)

White-browed Treecreeper [sp] (Climacteris affinis)

Rufous Treecreeper (Climacteris rufus)

Brown Treecreeper [sp] (Climacteris picumnus)

Fairywrens (Maluridae)

Variegated Fairywren [sp] (Malurus lamberti)

Red-winged Fairywren (Malurus elegans)

Splendid Fairywren [sp] (Malurus splendens)

White-winged Fairywren [sp] (Malurus leucopterus)

Southern Emu-wren [sp] (Stipiturus malachurus)

Honeyeaters (Meliphagidae)

Singing Honeyeater [sp] (Lichenostomus virescens)

White-eared Honeyeater [sp] (Lichenostomus leucotis)

Yellow-plumed Honeyeater (Lichenostomus ornatus)

White-plumed Honeyeater [sp] (Lichenostomus penicillatus)

White-fronted Honeyeater (Purnella albifrons)

Noisy Miner [sp] (Manorina melanocephala)

Yellow-throated Miner [sp] (Manorina flavigula)

Black-eared Miner (Manorina melanotis)

Striped Honeyeater (Plectorhyncha lanceolata)

Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Acanthagenys rufogularis)

Western Wattlebird (Anthochaera lunulata)

Red Wattlebird [sp] (Anthochaera carunculata)

Brown Honeyeater [sp] (Lichmera indistincta)

New Holland Honeyeater [sp] (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae)

White-cheeked Honeyeater [sp] (Phylidonyris niger)

Tawny-crowned Honeyeater [sp] (Gliciphila melanops)

Western Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus superciliosus)

Orange Chat (Epthianura aurifrons)

White-fronted Chat (Epthianura albifrons)

Bristlebirds (Dasyornithidae)

Western Bristlebird (Dasyornis longirostris)

Pardalotes (Pardalotidae)

Spotted Pardalote [sp] (Pardalotus punctatus)

Striated Pardalote [sp] (Pardalotus striatus)

Thornbills (Acanthizidae)

Redthroat (Pyrrholaemus brunneus)

White-browed Scrubwren [sp] (Sericornis frontalis)

Weebill [sp] (Smicrornis brevirostris)

Western Gerygone [sp] (Gerygone fusca)

Inland Thornbill [sp] (Acanthiza apicalis)

Chestnut-rumped Thornbill (Acanthiza uropygialis)

Yellow-rumped Thornbill [sp] (Acanthiza chrysorrhoa)

Southern Whiteface [sp] (Aphelocephala leucopsis)

Australasian Babblers (Pomatostomidae)

White-browed Babbler [sp] (Pomatostomus superciliosus)

Whipbirds, Jewel-babblers, Quail-Thrushes (Psophodidae)

Western Whipbird [sp] (Psophodes nigrogularis)

Chirruping Wedgebill (Psophodes cristatus)

Chestnut-backed Quail-thrush [sp] (Cinclosoma castanotum)

Butcherbirds (Cracticidae)

Grey Butcherbird [sp] (Cracticus torquatus)

Pied Butcherbird [sp] (Cracticus nigrogularis)

Australian Magpie [sp] (Gymnorhina tibicen)

Grey Currawong [sp] (Strepera versicolor)

Woodswallows (Artamidae)

Black-faced Woodswallow [sp] (Artamus cinereus)

Cuckooshrikes (Campephagidae)

Black-faced Cuckooshrike [sp] (Coracina novaehollandiae)

Whistlers and Allies (Pachycephalidae)

Red-lored Whistler (Pachycephala rufogularis)

Australian Golden Whistler [sp] (Pachycephala pectoralis)

Rufous Whistler [sp] (Pachycephala rufiventris)

Grey Shrikethrush [sp] (Colluricincla harmonica)

Crested Bellbird [sp] (Oreoica gutturalis)

Fantails (Rhipiduridae)

Willie Wagtail [sp] (Rhipidura leucophrys)

Grey Fantail [sp] (Rhipidura albiscapa)

Monarch Flycatchers (Monarchidae)

Magpie-lark [sp] (Grallina cyanoleuca)

Restless Flycatcher (Myiagra inquieta)

Crows and Jays (Corvidae)

Australian Raven [sp] (Corvus coronoides)

White-winged Chough and Apostlebird (Corcoracidae)

White-winged Chough [sp] (Corcorax melanoramphos)

Australasian Robins (Petroicidae)

Western Yellow Robin [sp] (Eopsaltria griseogularis)

White-breasted Robin (Eopsaltria georgiana)

Hooded Robin [sp] (Melanodryas cucullata)

Jacky Winter [sp] (Microeca fascinans)

Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii)

Swallows and Martins (Hirundinidae)

White-backed Swallow (Cheramoeca leucosterna)

Welcome Swallow [sp] (Hirundo neoxena)

Tree Martin [sp] (Petrochelidon nigricans)

Grassbirds and allies (Locustellidae)

Rufous Songlark (Megalurus mathewsi)

Brown Songlark (Megalurus cruralis)

White-Eyes (Zosteropidae)

Silvereye [sp] (Zosterops lateralis)

Starlings (Sturnidae)

Common Starling [sp] (Sturnus vulgaris)

Thrushes (Turdidae)

Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)

Flowerpeckers (Dicaeidae)

Mistletoebird [sp] (Dicaeum hirundinaceum)

Old World Sparrows and Snowfinches (Passeridae)

House Sparrow [sp] (Passer domesticus)

Waxbills, Munias and Allies (Estrildidae)

Red-eared Firetail (Stagonopleura oculata)

Diamond Firetail (Stagonopleura guttata)

Zebra Finch [sp] (Taeniopygia guttata)

Pipits and Wagtails (Motacillidae)

Australian Pipit [sp] (Anthus australis)




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