3 October 2017
Arrived in Melbourne last night around 11:20 pm. I was amazed at all the people in the airport. We finally got our car and made it to the hotel, which luckily was located only a couple kilometers from the airport as we were driving in the dark – literally.
Got a good night’s sleep last night. The goal is to drive to the town of Deneliquin as we start our next tour (only 4 days) at around 3:00 pm. The drive to Deneliquin was quite lovely – lots of green grass and trees – farm country. We arrived to warm temperatures (was 44 degrees F when we left Melbourne around 8:00 am) and sunshine. A nice change from the cooler temperatures at Bowra/Cunnamulla the past two days. I didn’t need to wear my long underwear to keep warm. The temperatures at Bowra reminded me of Portland in the winter – cold, damp, and wet.
The cabin we are staying in at Riverside Caravan Park is one of the nicest places we’ve had in our Australian travels so far.
We joined to Americans – Ted and Barbara from Florida – for part of the tour. We started out at 3:00 pm, ending around 8:00 pm. Most places in Denilquin had shut down so ended up at a chicken take away place for dinner.
4 October 2017
Ted, Barbara, Lisa, and I joined Phil Maher for a two-day trip to Mallee country. The goal – the Malleefowl. We scored big time seeing four different birds. Phil was quite impressed to see so many considering it isn’t the best conditions for the birds right now. In addition to this great bird (which can be difficult to find at times), we twice saw another difficult bird – the Chestnut Quail-Thrush (aka Chestnut-backed Quail-Thrush).
The day started with a long drive – three plus hours to Mallee Country. Mallee is a type of eucalyptus tree (multiple trunks). The malleefowl builds a large mound in which to lay its eggs. We found several, including some that have been abandoned. The birds do better in wet years, and the last several years here have been dry.
We also saw several Fairywrens along the way – White-winged and Splendid. I think these are one of my favorite birds of Australia. Most people like the parrots, and the parrots have been great, but I favor the fairywrens. And speaking of parrots, we had several great views of the Regent Parrot – both male and female. This parrot isn’t as striking in color as others, but is still beautiful.
We finished the day with a big dinner and accommodations in Ouyen. One big surprise – the amount of farming occurring in the area. I expected drier, more wilderness type country. Lots of wheat, almonds, carrots, and olive farming.
Today was truly a great day of birding.
5 October 2017
We got an early start and headed to Murray-Sunset National Park to check out some of the mallee specialists, e.g., the Striated Grasswren, Shy Heathwren, and Mallee Emu-Wren. We ate breakfast at one of the campgrounds in the park and then drove along a sandy track to find areas heavy with spiniflex, a sharp grass-like plant favored by these species. We began our search first for the emu-wren, but didn’t hear the bird call nor see it appear. According to our guide the bird could pop out of the spiniflex right behind you and you would miss it. Since we weren’t getting any response from the emu-wren we switched our search for the Striated Grasswren. After walking a fair distance, with me at back so I could hear the bird over the play call-back, I heard the bird nearby. Next thing I knew it jumped almost right next to me and then into a bush with lots of limbs, making for a difficult photograph. The bird then proceeded to walk or fly in a circle around us, looking for the offending (fake) caller. We got some decent looks of the bird, but it sure can move fast.
While we were watching this bird, I noticed movement in the trees and spotted the Shy Heathwren. Of course I could only see its tail (stuck up in the air like our wren species) and its rump, both making it easy to distinguish the bird I was seeing. Of course it didn’t hurt that the guide knows its call and pointed it out too. Our guide used the call play-back for the Shy Heathwren and this bird too started flying and running a circle around us. Whenever it sings it flies onto a branch, which it did and I got some great looks (but no photographs) of the bird. The photo in my bird field guide pales in comparison to what I observed in real life. What a beautiful bird. Of course the Striated Grasswren is no slouch either. We never did find or hear the Malle Emu-wren. This is one bird I REALLY wanted to see while in Australia. Maybe I can see it yet.
While we were driving down the road a Mallefowl nest was spotted. These are large mounds in which the Malleefowl lays its eggs. At the mound we spotted two Malleefowls. That makes six Malleefowls spotted for the trip. The guide was quite impressed at these numbers. He says sometimes they are lucky to see one. When we came back again we found one of the Malleefowls on the nest mound, kicking up dirt (was it burying its eggs?). I got a could video of the effort. Of course part of Lisa’s head is in the video for a couple of seconds. But what a treat to watch this good sized bird work its nest mound.
We soon had to leave to return to Deniliquin, our home away from home for the next three nights. One the way home a Kangaroo (Western Gray) ran out into the road in front of our vehicle. Just as it passed, its slipped and got hit by us. When I looked back, the Kangaroo had moved off the road and was hopping a little, but I am sure it was injured when hit. The sound made you cringe. I hope the Kangaroo does not suffer.
We arrived back at our accommodations around 8:00 pm. As I mentioned earlier, everything pretty much closes up by 8:00 pm, but we found a motel/restaurant to serve us a late dinner. Probably helped that people were still in the restaurant and the bar was open.
6 October 2017
We said goodbye to Ted and Barbara last night and thought we would be joined by an Australian all day and an American at night, but when Phil came to pick us up we learned we would have him all to ourselves today. Woohoo!!!
We birded the morning in a city park near our accommodations at Riverside Caravan park. In the park there are four active raptor nests: Little Eagle, Collared Sparrowhawk, Square-tailed Kite, and Whistling Kite. We saw birds on all the nests except the Whistling Kite. In fact, when we were watching the Square-tailed Kite nest the male came to the nest bringing food to the sitting female. She then proceeded to tear the food apart with her sharp bill and consume it. What an amazing site.
At the park we also had several Superb Parrots and even observed one pair mating. I think this parrot was on the female longer than any other bird I’ve seen mating including the Red-capped Plovers we saw mating at Chili Beach in Cape York.
After the park we went back to our accommodations for lunch and a little down time. At 3:00 pm or so we were back at it traveling in the countryside near Deniliquin in search of new birds. Our first stop was the Deniliquin Sewage Treatment ponds. We needed to bird this area quickly as the gates close at 4:00 pm. The ponds were filled with all kinds of ducks, including a Blue-billed Duck (think Ruddy Duck), which is a new bird for us. Other ducks included old favorites like the Pink-eared Duck and Hardhead. We finally got our first glimpse at a Hoary-headed Grebe. Our guide was nervous about being locked in so we didn’t spend much time at the ponds. In fact, we made it to the gate at 3:45 only to find it locked. Luckily our guide is local and knew who to call. About 10 minutes later we were out the gate on to another pond to find the Musk Duck. We saw a female there – she doesn’t have the bill flap like the male. We were told we would see many more in the Perth area.
After a little in town birding – hoping to see the Crested Shrike-Tit – we moved to the countryside near Deniliquin in search of the Plains Wanderer and several other birds. The bird is best observed at night. So we waited until the sunset, and the moon came up, before beginning our search.
Phil Maher with Australian Ornithological Services, is the local person to use to see this bird. Ted and Barbara had seen four Plains Wanderer several nights before so we were hopeful. Amazingly enough it’s the female you want to see more than the male. She is the prettier and more colorful of the two.
Phil has his vehicle decked out in lights – one in front and side lights. These side light illuminate the areas on the side of the vehicle out about 10-15 feet. Phil then uses a spot light he swings back and forth out a fair distance to search for the bird sitting quietly on the ground. We were told to look for movement as the birds have a tendency to stand up when the spotlight hits them.
Lisa was the first one to spot the bird – a male. We were able to get out of the vehicle and walk quite close without flushing or spooking the bird. And surprisingly I was able to get some decent photographs. Woohoo!!! Lisa said she has friends that have tried three times to see this bird without success. We kept searching and eventually found a female. True, she is the better looking of the species. We did some more spot lighting searching for the Inland Dotteral, which we also observed. What a pretty little shorebird.
On the way back to our accommodations, we found both the Barn Owl and the Southern Boobook (on owl whose call is Boo Book). Great finds. What a truly great day of birding.
7 October 2017
Originally we were only supposed to be with Phil for half a day, but we decided to hire him for the full day and head to some foothills in search of birds we wouldn’t see around Deniliquin or the mallee areas.
Our first visit was to the Warby-Oven National Park. Here we spotted four new species, including the White-browed Babbler (we’ve now seen all four Australian babbler species), the beautiful Painted Honeyeater, our first warbler – Speckled Warbler, and the Brown-headed Honeyeater. We were hoping for the Black-chinned Honeyeater, but it remained elusive. So off we went to another national park – Chiltern-Mt. Pilot National Park. Here the goal was to see the Spotted Quail-Thrush, Chestnut-rumped Heathwren, and the Crested Shrike-Tit. It was really quiet out with only a few Thornbills calling. We stopped at a small wetland and stopped to check for birds. Here Phil found a Koala – my first. It was tucked up in a tree – sitting there hugging the tree in order hold on as it slept. What an adorable creature.
We were driving slowly through the park and spotted a bird flying across the road and landing in a nearby tree. With my binoculars up I spotted a new bird – the Scarlet Robin. Out of the vehicle we went and stood nearby watching the male and female Scarlet Robins flit about. Having an invading caller (Phil’s bird call app) probably helped us get good looks at the bird. It is nesting season here in Australia and in the states we don’t play bird call apps during the breeding season. Guess they don’t have that same restriction here. Here is my dilemma – do I not saying anything when the call is played over and over again or speak up. We are disrupting these birds’ breeding cycle – causing unwarranted stress. So what is more important – a bird nesting with as little stress as possible, or me getting to see the bird, hopefully take a photography, and adding it to my life list? I think the bird should come first. Big ethical considerations when it comes to birding.
While we were watching the bird, we heard the sound of wings flapping and turned around to see the Spotted Quail-Thrush flying across the road, and moving through the grass onto a log. Wow!!! What a beautiful, colorful bird and with such great views. After it jumped from the log (the birds rarely sit still long except for maybe waders), we watched the bird move through the forest getting more looks at this outstanding bird. Quail-thrush are generally hard to find and we got to see two of these species with Phil.
When we were driving to the first national park in the morning, we passed an area Phil said was good for birding, but we didn’t stop because there were over 40 dead Red Fox hanging from the fence. Red Fox were introduced to Australia (i.e., there are non-native) and have proven quite a nuisance animal. They prey on native birds and animals. On the way back to Deniliquin we stopped here despite the decaying animals and found one of our target species – the Black-chinned Honeyeater. Another fantastic bird. Unfortunately, these birds were continually mobbed by the White-plumed Honeyeater. We even watched as one White-plumed Honeyeater fly into one of the Black-chinned Honeyeater. As Phil would say “that bastard”. I guess the White-plumed Honeyeaters are very territorial.
The last stop of the day was a final search for the Crested Shrike-Tit. We’ve been trying for this species on both tours to no avail. That all changed at our last stop – a small wooded area with a pond just off the highway. Finally, we got to see this bird, which was being mobbed by both the Yellow-tufted and the White-plumed Honeyeater. Honeyeaters are great at mobbing other species and chasing them out of their territory.
Another great day of birding with Phil. He is both a great guide and a very nice man. I would definitely bird with Phil again.
8 October 2017
We decided to stay another day in Deniliquin and just vegetate. We got upgraded to a bigger room, but we kind of liked our smaller room better – bigger is not always better in some circumstances. We are playing catch-up, doing laundry, and just relaxing after 25 days of non-stop birding.
So sweet to have Superb Fairywren just outside our door.
9 October 2017
Left Deniliquin this morning headed for the Little Desert National Park. We took some back roads (I think that is the only way you can get there), through farmlands. For some reason I did not expect so much farmland in Australia. Everything was green.
Before we entered Victoria (we were in New South Wales) we had to dispose of all our fresh fruit since we were entering a pest free area (fruit flies prohibited). Damn we hated to toss fresh produce away, but the fine if caught is high (thousands of dollars). We didn’t want to risk being pulled over and checked. They didn’t have any inspection station.
We arrived at the park around 3:30 pm, checked into our basic accommodations at the Little Desert Nature Lodge, just outside the park, and then birded the lodge grounds. The first bird we saw (and many thereafter) was the New Holland Honeyeater. What a beautiful bird (you’ve heard that comment a lot). The birds were everywhere flitting about, feeding in the trees. We also saw several White-browed Babblers in a bush with two Superb Fairywrens screaming at the babblers. We suspect there were either eggs or hatched youngsters in the nest, which was being raided by the babblers. We took measures into our own hands and went up to the bush to flush the babblers. It worked, but for how long? Or were we too late?
We walked the trails on the lodge grounds and saw some old favorite birds: Scarlet Robin, Yellow Thornbill, White-eared Honeyeater, Diamond Firetail, Superb Fairywren – to name a few.
10 October 2017
Today we slept in, as it was only 37 degrees F at 8:00 am this morning. Brrrrrrr. Our goal today was to try and get three species (at minimum): Slender-billed Thornbill, Rufous Fieldwren, and Purple-gaped Honeyeater.
The Slender-billed Thornbill and the Rufous Fieldwren like the same habitat: Banksia. My “Where to Find Australian Birds” ebook suggested we try for these species about 3.2 km from the entrance to our accommodations – Little Desert Nature Lodge. So off we went. We spent a good 2 hours search for the birds, playing their calls, and hearing nothing. We did find other species flocking about, including the Tawny-crowned Honeyeater – a very striking bird – and a new bird for us. With no lucking finding the thornbill or the fieldwren we checked out another spot for the fieldwren along the Philip Track, 8.8 km from the entrance to our lodge. Here the species is supposed to be found within 500 meters of the main road. I don’t think we went more than 100 meters before the bird responded to the call. This bird was soon followed by another. We only played the call long enough for the bird to respond, which it did nicely – sitting in a dead bush just waiting for me to photograph him.
After scoring that bird we returned to the lodge for lunch. There are no restaurants at the lodge. You must bring your own food (kitchen facilities with microwave, refrigerator, dishes provided). Following lunch, we went and hiked the Stringyback Loop Walk (2 km) searching for the Purple-gaped Honeyeater. No luck. Not much moving about, despite the temperatures having risen substantially. We then drove to the Kiata Sanctuary Picnic Grounds, another possible spot to see this bird. Again, no luck. So we leave tomorrow having failed to see this honeyeater. Win some, lose some.
Tomorrow we leave for the Grampians National Park. Until then …
It’s a Great Day to Bird