Birdsville Track - November 2009

This was trip up the Birdsville Track (17th to 22nd November) run by Peter Waanders of Southern Birding Services (www.sabirding.com) and accompanied by Murray Lord of Sydney and Don Roberson of Monterey, USA.  I had previously birded with Peter Waanders on a week’s trip to Northern Thailand.

The trip turned out to be quite an experience with everything from stinking hot conditions (45°C in the shade) and too many flies, through to extensive flooding of the outback region. It’s been amazing that at the time of the trip, central Australia was experiencing a severe prolonged drought and since then Australia has been blessed with extended periods of plentiful rain.

The trip however was a birding bonanza with great sightings of Flock Bronzewing, Australian Pratincole, Inland Dotterel, Letter-winged Kite, all five Grasswren (Striated, Short-tailed, Eyrean, Grey and Thick-billed), all five Chat (Yellow, Crimson, Orange, Gibberbird and White-fronted), Banded Whiteface, Black-eared Cuckoo, Ruff, Oriental Plover and Slender-billed Thornbill.

The overall trip covered some 2,800 km from Adelaide, via Gluepot Reserve and Flinders Ranges, up the Birdsville Track as far as just south of Birdsville, and then back south again.
The basic itinerary included:
·         Adelaide to Waikerie  -  Late afternoon drive from Adelaide airport to Waikerie via Swan Reach Conservation Park                                               

·         Gluepot Reserve  -  Morning visit to Gluepot and then early evening drive to Peterborough

·         Flinders / Mt Lyndhurst  -  Early morning visit to Flinders Ranges, then Mt Lyndhurst, overnighting in Mungerannie

·         Birdsville Track  -  Drive up to the Inner Birdsville Track and back to Mungerannie

·         Mungerannie to Leigh Creek - Drive back down to Leigh Creek, just south of Lyndhurst

·         Leigh Creek to Adelaide  -  Visited Port Augusta and Port Gawler Conservation Park on the drive south to Adelaide

The daily account of the trip is as follows:
17 November: We departed from Adelaide airport late in the afternoon and headed up to Waikerie, via the Swan Reach Conservation Park. We had our first sightings of some good species including Orange Chat and Chestnut-crowned Babbler, and saw plenty of Western Grey and Red Kangaroo as the sun was setting. Stayed in the Waikerie Hotel Motel for the evening, which was comfortable and had good meals.
Mallee Military Dragon (Ctenophorus fordi)

18 November: We headed out early for the Gluepot Reserve, north of Waikerie, and tracked down some good birds including Chestnut Quail-thrush, Red-backed Kingfisher and Southern Scrub-Robin, on the way up to Gluepot. Once in the Gluepot Reserve we managed to get onto a pair of Red-lored Whistler, with the male singing and displaying nicely.
Then it was off to look for the Striated Grasswren, which was difficult as their numbers had dropped significantly in recent years, due to the ongoing drought. We tried quite a few different locations and by the time we reached a fourth location it was the middle of the day and 45°C according to Gluepot's weather station.  At this site we split up, with Murray and myself heading off with a walkie-talkie. We managed to find a Striated Grasswren, as it moved between various bushes, and eventually Don managed to see it as well.  
That afternoon we were due to drive to the Flinders Ranges but when our rented Toyota Landcruiser 4WD started blowing hot air out of the air conditioner, we had to head back to Waikerie. After much haggling and cajoling, Budget Rentals eventually agreed to send out a new vehicle, which we picked up in Morgan and then we continued on to Peterborough in the evening.
We stayed at a motel in Peterborough which was a bit of a disappointment as we had planned to stay in the Wilpena Pound for the night. However at least the trip was back on again, at one time we thought we would have to drive back to Adelaide to collect a new vehicle and that would have severely disrupted the rest of the trip.

19 November: After another early morning start we arrived at the infamous Stokes Hill in the Flinders Ranges just after sunrise. I call it infamous as I have looked for Short-tailed Grasswren here before in winter and hadn’t managed to find them. However on this visit it didn't take us long before we saw a pair of Short-tailed Grasswren foraging between clumps of spinifex. My theory is that Grasswren prefer the warmer conditions and dislike cold windy conditions. After a while we had good views of one Short-tailed Grasswren in a rocky gulley before the bird escaped by disappearing down a rabbit burrow and staying there.
We then headed off to Brachina Gorge, stopping off at the river crossing. Here I managed to see and photograph Black-eared Cuckoo which I hadn’t seen before. A little further on, we saw the endangered Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby before we left the Flinders Ranges and drove up to Mt Lyndhurst on the Strzelecki Track.  The road up to Lyndhurst is sealed and the lower section of the Strzelecki Track is a wide dirt road in very good condition.
Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby

At Mt Lyndhurst it didn't take long to get our second Grasswren of the day, with a couple of Thick-billed Grasswren seen in the thick undergrowth in the gulley. One gave great views and we also got the first of several Cinnamon Quail-thrush and a Rufous Fieldwren.
Well disguised Thick-billed Grasswren

We gave the Chestnut-breasted Whiteface site a miss at Mt Lyndhurst as we were pressed for time and the plan was to revisit the site on the way back. This was unfortunate as we missed out on the Whiteface and some three years later I still haven’t seen the Chestnut-breasted Whiteface even after revisiting Mt Lyndhurst.
We then had lunch back at the Lyndhurst pub and as we stepped outside saw two Inland Dotterel at the edge of the car park. Not really the environment that you would expect to see the birds, however the caravan park had sprinklers running on a small patch of green grass, and this was attracting the birds.
We continued on through to Marree before turning off northwards onto the Birdsville Track. We stopped off at the creek crossing at Dulkaninna Station where we heard Red-browed Pardalote in the distance. We then drove up to the Mungerannie roadhouse which was to be our base for the next two nights. The accommodation was comfortable, the food plentiful and tasty, and it’s the way to travel in the outback.
Mungerannie also has a large wetland close to the roadhouse, which attracts many interesting birds, including Pink-eared Duck, Glossy Ibis, Brolga, Crimson and Orange Chat, Bluebonnet and two species of Dotterel. I recorded close to 50 birds at this site which is quite amazing considering that we were in the middle of a desert.  
In the evening we headed out to a nearby communications tower where a Grey Falcon had been seen a couple of times previously. We dipped on that but we did manage to track down a couple of Eyrean Grasswren and eight Banded Whiteface on nearby sand dunes.

20 November: After an even earlier start we headed further northwards, ultimately up the Inner Birdsville Track as far as just south of the Queensland border. This is an area of remote outback landscape consisting of seasonally inundated swamps (now dry), sandy deserts with sand dunes running for miles and stony ‘gibber’ plains.
Typical Sand Dunes

First target was Grey Grasswren which we got onto quickly and eventually turned up 6 individuals. That meant that we'd seen all five target Grasswren in less than 48 hours, which was great birding considering how difficult it can be to find any species of Grasswren.
Birding the Birdsville Track - Murray, Don and Peter

Then we headed further along the track and found huge numbers of Flock Bronzewing on the grassy plains. They were seemingly everywhere; our estimate was about 8,000 birds.  Flocks took off on both sides of the car as we drove, and would land again providing great photo opportunities.
Flock Bronzewing

Next stop was a waterhole where we saw another Inland Dotterel at close range and then had good views of four nesting Letter-winged Kite. While we watched them, huge flocks of Flock Bronzewing continued to fly past.


Letter-winged Kite

Then we headed for the Yellow Chat site at the Pandiburra Bore. It was bizarre to drive through hot dry land and then come to this artesian bore with boiling water spraying out everywhere and lots of waterbirds. After sorting our way through lots of Orange and Crimson Chats we eventually located two distant Yellow Chat, which provided good scope views.
Pandiburra Bore

There were lots of other waterbirds and waders present too, including four Oriental Plover, a Ruff, a lone Plumed Whistling-duck and at least forty Australian Pratincole.
On the way back we managed to locate more Eyrean Grasswren by searching in suitable sand dune habitat. Don attempted to photograph a little sneaky Eyrean Grasswren and it kept moving to the opposite side of the bush where Don was, giving us great views, but eluding Don from getting a photograph.

21 November: We woke up to a cooler, overcast morning – what a pleasure. It was time to head south and stops along the way produced some nice species including White-backed Swallow, Diamond Dove and Brolga. The main target for the day was the Gibberbird and it didn't take too much time to find a pair which we saw well. As we returned to the track from looking at them we disturbed a flock of 25 Inland Dotterel.
Inland Dotterel

Heading south to Marree things started getting wetter. We'd had a few drops of rain at Mungerannie but it was clear there had been a lot of rain further south. The road got very slippery as we got to Marree and we started to worry about the track being closed there. Luckily they hadn't done so (yet) and we could continue.
Flooding Outback

When we finally reached the sealed road at Lyndhurst, we found that the lower section of the Strzelecki track had been closed after some 55mm of rain (half of their annual average), so we weren't going to be able to look for Chestnut-breasted Whiteface. Bit of a disappointment but nothing we could do about it.
Strzelecki Track - Road Closure

We decided to head as far south as we could because of the risk of further rain stranding us. Unfortunately we only made it to Leigh Creek before a fast flowing creek, just south of Leigh Creek, had closed the road to all traffic. The local kids were enjoying the water, which was about a metre deep across the road and flowing fast. We spent the night at Leigh Creek Tavern which was very comfortable and had a good dinner that evening.
South of Leigh Creek

22 November: Luckily by the morning the creek was low enough to cross. Further south there was still water everywhere with trees and sandbars across the road at creek beds. We saw some 4WD’s driving up and down in the water in an attempt to clean off all the mud from their vehicles.
We saw a few Banded Stilts at Port Augusta and spent some time at the Arid Lands Botanical Gardens nearby, getting Pied Honeyeater and Chirruping Wedgebill. We then drove down to Port Gawler Conservation Park to find Slender-billed Thornbill in the coastal samphire.
Chirruping Wedgebill

Our tour finished in Adelaide and I made an unsuccessful attempt to find Barbary Dove (an introduced species to Adelaide) around the hotel where I was staying in Glenelg for the evening.
What a trip with some great birds being seen, 12 of these were lifers, and some fantastic organisation by Peter Waanders given the difficult conditions. Well done to Peter for all the long days of driving and then finding the birds when conditions were quite trying.
As a word of advice, especially for those travelling from overseas, always allow a least a couple of day’s leeway for a trip of this nature. One never knows what may go wrong on the trip and if it does, there may be long delays given the remoteness of the area.
If we had been a day later into Marree, then we would have been stuck, as the road had been closed the day after we managed to get through. As the delay in Marree could easily have been a couple of days, until the road had dried out sufficiently to be drivable, this would have meant that we would have missed our return flights. This isn’t too much of a problem for those with only local flights booked however missing overseas flights could be expensive.  
Outback Travel Advice

For the overall trip I managed to record 138 birds seen, with the Red-browed Pardalote only being heard. The birds seen and heard are listed below:

CASUARIIFORMES

Emu (Dromaiidae)

Emu [sp] (Dromaius novaehollandiae)

Galliformes

Pheasants, Fowl & Allies (Phasianidae)

Stubble Quail (Coturnix pectoralis)

Anseriformes

Ducks, Geese & swans (Anatidae)

Plumed Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna eytoni)

Black Swan (Cygnus atratus)

Pink-eared Duck (Malacorhynchus membranaceus)

Maned Duck (Chenonetta jubata)

Pacific Black Duck [sp] (Anas superciliosa)

Grey Teal (Anas gracilis)

Chestnut Teal (Anas castanea)

Podicipediformes

Grebes (Podicipedidae)

Australasian Grebe [sp] (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae)

Pelecaniformes

Ibises, Spoonbills (Threskiornithidae)

Australian White Ibis [sp] (Threskiornis moluccus)

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)

Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)

Nankeen Night Heron [sp] (Nycticorax caledonicus)

White-necked Heron (Ardea pacifica)

Great Egret [sp] (Ardea alba)

White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae)

Little Egret [sp] (Egretta garzetta)

Pelicans (Pelecanidae)

Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)

Suliformes

Cormorants, Shags (Phalacrocoracidae)

Little Pied Cormorant [sp] (Microcarbo melanoleucos)

ACCIPITRIFORMES

Kites, Hawks & Eagles (Accipitridae)

Letter-winged Kite (Elanus scriptus)

Black Kite [sp] (Milvus migrans)

Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus)

Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans)

Spotted Harrier (Circus assimilis)

Brown Goshawk [sp] (Accipiter fasciatus)

Collared Sparrowhawk [sp] (Accipiter cirrocephalus)

Wedge-tailed Eagle [sp] (Aquila audax)

Little Eagle (Hieraaetus morphnoides)

Falconiformes

Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)

Nankeen Kestrel [sp] (Falco cenchroides)

Brown Falcon [sp] (Falco berigora)

Black Falcon (Falco subniger)

OTIDIFORMES

Bustards (Otididae)

Australian Bustard (Ardeotis australis)

Gruiformes

Rails, Crakes & Coots (Rallidae)

Australian Crake (Porzana fluminea)

Purple Swamphen [sp] (Porphyrio porphyrio)

Black-tailed Nativehen (Tribonyx ventralis)

Eurasian Coot [sp] (Fulica atra)

Cranes (Gruidae)

Brolga (Grus rubicunda)

Charadriiformes

Stilts, Avocets (Recurvirostridae)

White-headed Stilt (Himantopus leucocephalus)

Banded Stilt (Cladorhynchus leucocephalus)

Red-necked Avocet (Recurvirostra novaehollandiae)

Plovers (Charadriidae)

Masked Lapwing [sp] (Vanellus miles)

Red-kneed Dotterel (Erythrogonys cinctus)

Inland Dotterel (Peltohyas australis)

Red-capped Plover (Charadrius ruficapillus)

Oriental Plover (Charadrius veredus)

Black-fronted Dotterel (Elseyornis melanops)

Sandpipers, Snipes (Scolopacidae)

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Calidris acuminata)

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)

Coursers, Pratincoles (Glareolidae)

Australian Pratincole (Stiltia isabella)

Gulls, Terns & Skimmers (Laridae)

Silver Gull [sp] (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae)

Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia)

Whiskered Tern [sp] (Chlidonias hybrida)

Columbiformes

Doves and Pigeons (Columbidae)

Spotted Dove [sp] (Spilopelia chinensis)

Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera)

Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica)

Crested Pigeon [sp] (Ocyphaps lophotes)

Diamond Dove (Geopelia cuneata)

Peaceful Dove [sp] (Geopelia placida)

Psittaciformes

Cockatoos (Cacatuidae)

Galah [sp] (Eolophus roseicapilla)

Little Corella [sp] (Cacatua sanguinea)

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo [sp] (Cacatua galerita)

Parrots and Macaws (Psittacidae)

Australian Ringneck [sp] (Barnardius zonarius)

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)

Black-eared Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx osculans)

Coraciiformes

Kingfishers (Alcedinidae)

Sacred Kingfisher [sp] (Todiramphus sanctus)

Red-backed Kingfisher (Todiramphus pyrrhopygius)

Bee-Eaters (Meropidae)

Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus)

Passeriformes

Australasian Treecreepers (Climacteridae)

Brown Treecreeper [sp] (Climacteris picumnus)

Fairywrens (Maluridae)

Variegated Fairywren [sp] (Malurus lamberti)

White-winged Fairywren [sp] (Malurus leucopterus)

Grey Grasswren [sp] (Amytornis barbatus)

Short-tailed Grasswren [sp] (Amytornis merrotsyi)

Striated Grasswren [sp] (Amytornis striatus)

Eyrean Grasswren (Amytornis goyderi)

Thick-billed Grasswren (Amytornis modestus)

Honeyeaters (Meliphagidae)

Singing Honeyeater [sp] (Lichenostomus virescens)

Yellow-plumed Honeyeater (Lichenostomus ornatus)

White-plumed Honeyeater [sp] (Lichenostomus penicillatus)

White-fronted Honeyeater (Purnella albifrons)

Yellow-throated Miner [sp] (Manorina flavigula)

Black-eared Miner (Manorina melanotis)

Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Acanthagenys rufogularis)

Pied Honeyeater (Certhionyx variegatus)

Crimson Chat (Epthianura tricolor)

Orange Chat (Epthianura aurifrons)

Yellow Chat [sp] (Epthianura crocea)

White-fronted Chat (Epthianura albifrons)

Gibberbird (Ashbyia lovensis)

Pardalotes (Pardalotidae)

Red-browed Pardalote [sp] (Pardalotus rubricatus)

Thornbills (Acanthizidae)

White-browed Scrubwren [sp] (Sericornis frontalis)

Weebill [sp] (Smicrornis brevirostris)

Chestnut-rumped Thornbill (Acanthiza uropygialis)

Buff-rumped Thornbill [sp] (Acanthiza reguloides)

Slender-billed Thornbill [sp] (Acanthiza iredalei)

Southern Whiteface [sp] (Aphelocephala leucopsis)

Banded Whiteface (Aphelocephala nigricincta)

Australasian Babblers (Pomatostomidae)

White-browed Babbler [sp] (Pomatostomus superciliosus)

Chestnut-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus ruficeps)

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

Chirruping Wedgebill (Psophodes cristatus)

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

Cinnamon Quail-thrush [sp] (Cinclosoma cinnamomeum)

Butcherbirds (Cracticidae)

Grey Butcherbird [sp] (Cracticus torquatus)

Australian Magpie [sp] (Gymnorhina tibicen)

Woodswallows (Artamidae)

White-breasted Woodswallow [sp] (Artamus leucorynchus)

Masked Woodswallow (Artamus personatus)

White-browed Woodswallow (Artamus superciliosus)

Black-faced Woodswallow [sp] (Artamus cinereus)

Dusky Woodswallow [sp] (Artamus cyanopterus)

Cuckooshrikes (Campephagidae)

Black-faced Cuckooshrike [sp] (Coracina novaehollandiae)

White-winged Triller (Lalage tricolor)

Whistlers and Allies (Pachycephalidae)

Red-lored Whistler (Pachycephala rufogularis)

Gilbert's Whistler (Pachycephala inornata)

Grey Shrikethrush [sp] (Colluricincla harmonica)

Crested Bellbird [sp] (Oreoica gutturalis)

Fantails (Rhipiduridae)

Willie Wagtail [sp] (Rhipidura leucophrys)

Monarch Flycatchers (Monarchidae)

Magpie-lark [sp] (Grallina cyanoleuca)

Crows and Jays (Corvidae)

Little Crow (Corvus bennetti)

Australian Raven [sp] (Corvus coronoides)

White-winged Chough and Apostlebird (Corcoracidae)

White-winged Chough [sp] (Corcorax melanoramphos)

Australasian Robins (Petroicidae)

Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii)

Southern Scrub Robin (Drymodes brunneopygia)

Larks (Alaudidae)

Horsfield's Bush Lark [sp] (Mirafra javanica)

Swallows and Martins (Hirundinidae)

White-backed Swallow (Cheramoeca leucosterna)

Welcome Swallow [sp] (Hirundo neoxena)

Fairy Martin (Petrochelidon ariel)

Tree Martin [sp] (Petrochelidon nigricans)

Reed warblers and allies (Acrocephalidae)

Australian Reed Warbler [sp] (Acrocephalus australis)

Grassbirds and allies (Locustellidae)

Rufous Songlark (Megalurus mathewsi)

Brown Songlark (Megalurus cruralis)

Starlings (Sturnidae)

Common Starling [sp] (Sturnus vulgaris)

Thrushes (Turdidae)

Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)

Old World Sparrows and Snowfinches (Passeridae)

House Sparrow [sp] (Passer domesticus)

Waxbills, Munias and Allies (Estrildidae)

Zebra Finch [sp] (Taeniopygia guttata)

Pipits and Wagtails (Motacillidae)

Australian Pipit [sp] (Anthus australis)


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