Following our visit to Victoria (next post) we crossed the border into South Australila for a pleasant couple of days at Mt Gambier, with its lovely Blue Lake.
We had a couple more relaxed days at Beachport, a nice little town at the southern end of the Coorong.
The campground here was alive with Common Wombats, with several on the lawn around our van after dark. Present in scrub about town were quite a few Rufous Bristlebirds, but they were shy and unresponsive: not surprising for this time of year.
It was then on to the German heritage town of Hahndorf for an overnight stay, and a few days in Adelaide. Here I tracked down a second introduced bird photo tick for the trip – the Barbary (African Collared) Dove.
We headed north for a couple of nights in the interesting historic settlement of Port Wakefield at the top of Yorke Peninsula. I needed a photo tick of Slender-billed Thornbill and several parties were found easily in thick saltbush adjoining the caravan park.
We drove south to the bottom end of the peninsula for 3 nights at the very pleasant township of Marion Bay. A Shingleback was there to greet us.
The town is the gateway to Innes National Park and its beautiful coastal scenery, where we were to spend a good deal of time.
I had seen White-bellied Whipbird many years ago on Kangaroo Island and was after an image. I looked unsucessfully along the track to Royston Head in Innes National Park, a well-known site, as well as along several tracks further north in the Warrenben Conservation Park. I eventually tracked down a pair calling near the West Cape Lighthouse in Innes. I saw one bird a couple of times briefly but like the bristlebirds, they weren’t in a mood for photographs. More co-operative were the many Southern Scrub-Robins about, both in Innes and Warrenben.
The Spotted Scrubwren here is at the eastern extremity of its range. Purple-gaped Honeyeater is one of the more common species in the park.
A pair of Painted Buttonquail showed well in Innes.
We continued north-east to the vast mallee BirdLife Australia-owned reserve of Gluepot for a three-night stay in Babbler Camp. I’d seen Black-eared Miner in this region in 1977 – when pure birds were more numerous than the Yellow-throated Miner hybrids which subsequently increased in numbers, threatening the future of the Black-eared Miner. Recent research indicates the species is at least holding its own in remote areas of mallee and is likely increasing its population. The birding was tough here in cold and windy conditions. Small groups of miners were regularly encountered but birds were flighty and difficult to observe. I concentrated on Tracks 7 and 8, where most recent records were from. The mallee was quiet but as energising as ever, while the sunsets did not disappoint.
Eventually I saw what I believe to be a “pure” Black-eared Miner drinking at the Grasswren tank; the absence of any indication of a pale rump and the submoustachial feathering below the bill in good viewing conditions indicated its identity.
A few other miners at the drinking station, like the one below, appeared to be either hybrids or it was difficult to be sure of their identity.
Mulga Parrots put in frequent appearances at the tank and elsewhere around the reserve.
A male Western Whistler was nice to photograph. I saw a Red-lored Whistler male briefly but it didn’t hang around.
We moved on to Morgan for an overnight stay on the Murray River and then to Balranald on the Murrumbidgee for a couple of nights. Once again, the abundance of water in the rivers and adjoining river red gum floodplains was impressive.
Yanga National Park, close to Balranald, was quite birdy. Several Greater Bluebonnets and Regent Parrots were seen here along with a Pallid Cuckoo and a large party of curious Emus.
We had another stay on the Murrumbidgee at Darlington Point, where Brown Treecreepers were engaging and numerous in the camping ground.
Less co-operative were Superb Parrots, but a couple were tracked down on the town’s golf course.
We headed north for a stopover in the delightful town of Mudgee. An Eastern Shrike-tit showed nicely in scrub outside town.
Our final stay of substance was three nights in the Coorongooba Camping Ground in Wollemi National Park in the famed Capertee Valley of eastern NSW. The sandstone cliffs and other scenic features in this area are breathtakingly beautiful. Again, when we were here a few years ago, the area was in drought. This time, lush vegetation and rushing streams were the order of the day.
Superb Lyrebirds were calling commonly but not showing well. A Rockwarbler was more co-operative.
Speckled Warblers also put on a show.
Gang Gang Cockatoos were present in numbers, feeding on some kind of gum nut along the road.
More surprising was a Barking Owl that serenaded us at night and was tracked down during the day.
Common Wombats were about the camping ground and several Sugar Gliders were located after being heard calling earlier.
Euros were numerous.
I stumbled upon a Brush-tailed Rock-Wallaby and its joey that were so close I couldn’t fit the whole animal in the frame. We continued on to overnight with friends who live near Dungog and a couple of coastal overnight stops in NSW before returning home.
We kicked off a 6-week road trip of NSW, Victoria and South Australia on April 20 with a couple of nights at Kookaburra Camping Ground near Deepwater in the northern highlands of NSW. This is a delightful camping spot amid granite belt woodland with fantastic views. The transformation from our last visit a couple of years ago, when the region was - along with much of the country - in the grip of drought, was astounding. Lush vegetation and an abundance of water everywhere were the order of the day.
Major changes in wildlife populations and diversity were obvious. Last time there was an abundance of macropods attracted to the small area of green grass around the camping ground. This time just a couple of Euros were spotted.
Birdlife was prolific enough, though the Diamand Firetails that were common last time were absent; the landowner says they died of starvation due to an absence of seed during the drought. Scarlet Robins were a delightful presence around the camping ground and plenty of Dusky Woodswallows and Striated Thornbills were about.
The Eastern Striated Pardalote (subspecies ornatus of Striated Pardalote) was common here. The first image below is of this subspecies. The second was taken in Adelaide later in the trip and shown here for comparative purposes; it is the subspecies substriata.
We continued with overnight stops in Gunnedah and Peak Hill, with this pair of Red-rumped Parrots looking good in the morning light.
We had a couple of nights by the Murrumbidgee River at Narrandera. Here, as elsewhere on the trip when we were in the Murray-Darling Basin, the river was in full flow with adjoining river red gum floodplains under water following good rains in recent months. A joy to behold.
Nice birds were about the riverside scrub, including a few Yellow Thornbills and Brown-headed Honeyeaters around our camp.
From here we headed into Victoria and the famed natural grasslands of the Terrick Terrick National Park. The woodlands around the campsite were very birdy with Hooded Robin and Diamond Firetail among the species seen, while a Swamp Wallaby showed nicely roadside.
However, it was the nearby grasslands that were my area of interest. This area has become a stronghold for the critically endangered and enigmatic Plains-wanderer, which is endemic to the sparse native grasslands of inland Victoria, NSW and south-west Queensland. I first saw the species in the mid-1970s on private property near Hay in NSW. I saw it again near Deniliquin with Phil Maher on another property when we put together a news story for The Sydney Morning Herald on the bleak future facing this species. I was very keen to see it again a few decades down the track, this time with camera in hand. Previously we found the birds by driving around with a spotlight at night as they are very difficult to locate during the day. Now, with the welfare of birds in mind, walking is the go. I am most grateful to Scott Baker for helping me out with site information and to Simon Starr, who runs professional tours to locate the birds (as does Phil Maher) for providing me with tips. I hit the grasslands (below) at dusk with my thermal scope along with the usual spotlights and other gear. By myself, as I looked out over the grasslands, I realised this was going to be a challenge.
I had flushed several Stubble Quail and Little Buttonquail in the afternoon and it wasn’t long before I found some roosting Little Buttonquail with the thermal scope.
I then located the first of several roosting Stubble Quail in the same manner.
Eventually, after four hours, I spotted a male Plains-wanderer with the scope and saw it through binoculars but could not relocate it; evidently they sometimes run! Soon after, however, I found a lovely female Plains-wanderer which allowed close approach. Success at last.
After Terrick Terrick we headed south, the GPS taking us down some obscure country roads, where Long-billed Corellas were common, like this flock near Ararat.
We had three days at the pleasant seaside town of Port Fairy. In the camping ground I finally nailed a photo tick of European Greenfinch, an introduced species, as a small flock was being stalked by an immature Collared Sparrowhawk.
An adult Australasian Gannet put on a show in the boat harbour.
A Flame Robin was an unexpected find at the local cemetery.