Day one, Monday 9th Nov 2020
Melbourne – Little Desert
Today was the first day of a significant relaxation of lockdown restrictions in Victoria and the day we would head off on a long anticipated Mallee birding trip. All packed and out the door by 6.30am, collected Leigh at 7.00am and hit the Western Highway toward Horsham. We had a head start from Karen and Daniel who were following along about an hour behind us. After grabbing a takeaway coffee at Beaufort, we were back on the highway eager to tick our first target bird, a Bush Thick Knee known to inhabit the area around the Horsham Transfer Station. On arrival, we discovered no sign of the Bush Stone Curlew, our backup plan was the Horsham Golf Course where we weren’t disappointed, a single bird near the car park our first tick for the trip.
Onwards and upwards, our plan was to hook up with Owen at Nurcoung Nature Conservation Reserve, no sooner than we arrived, a vehicle quickly appeared at our rear, it was Owen, we were glad to see him and spend a bit of time birding the Little Desert. Not much at Nurcoung so we decided to go straight on to Little Desert Nhill Harrow Rd, as we exited we met up with our fellow traveling companions, Karen and Daniel. Off we all went to our next location to find Slender-billed Thornbill.
As expected Nhill Harrow rd produced our target bird, a pair of Slender-billed Thornbills along Jungkum track also a few Tawny Crowned Honeyeaters and Purple-back fairy wrens, from there we headed to Kiata campground and set up camp before Owen drove us in his Latrobe Uni 4WD to Salt Lake. At salt lake we added a few more good desert birds to our list including Inland Thornbill, Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo and Shy Heathwren.
Day 2 – Kiata campground
The next morning we decided to do a walk around the Redgum Loop at Kiata campground, along the way we saw inland Thornbill, White-browed and Masked woodswallows hawking high overhead and a very obliging Southern scrub robin.
Next we decided to move on to Nhill-Murrayvillle highway to look for Australasian Bustard, without any luck we arrived at leaky bucket campground where we stopped for a little lunch. After lunch we headed to Wyperfeld National Park, on the way we met some farmers mustering 1000 sheep along highway, we waited around 20 minutes for them to pass.
We arrived at Wonga Campground in the early afternoon, it was beginning to get very hot around 38°, we decided to set up our tents, sit out the heat in the shade and wait for friends to come across from Nhill meet us later in the afternoon. Around 6.00pm Karina and her friend arrived, they were keen to go looking for Redthroat along the discovery walk before it got dark. We heard the thunderstorms and lightning were heading our way, we commenced our walk around 6 PM, dark storm clouds were beginning to gather, distant lightning could be seen and the heat was still stifling, we walked the track we saw Pallid Cuckoo, Purple-backed fairywren, Southern Scrub Robin and spiny-cheeked honeyeater, but Redthroat proved elusive once again. The clouds began to darken, we could hear distant thunder and lightning the conditions weren’t ideal for spotting Redthroat, by the time we made a return journey to camp it was dark and we need torches to see our way, a few spiders and desert skinks, a Brushtail possum or 2 was all we saw. That night it stayed around 30° all night, we did a quick drive to go spotlighting before light rain set in, a couple of Boobooks were calling that’s about it. During the night loud thunder and lightning moved across for several hours into the early hours, the heat and humidity was so uncomfortable along with the thunder and lightning made for difficulty sleeping.
Day 3 – Wyperfeld – Hattah.
In the morning we set off for Gunners track in north Wyperfeld NP, a quick fuel stop in Walpeup, where we bumped into Jenn Stephens who provided us with good info on the whereabouts of the previously reported Ground Cuckoo Shrikes.
We arrived at the ground cuckoo shrike location on Gunners track, it took around 20 minutes before on of our group spotted one of the Cuckoo shrikes flying around, it wasn’t too long before we had the pair of adults and three fledglings moving around together through the area feeding, we got photographs and spectacular views of what were our main target bird for the trip and a lifer for everyone.
From there we headed over to Casuarina with a Major Mitchell on the way to Casuarina campground and drove around 1.5 Km along the Meridian track where we found white-browed tree creeper, Red capped Robin and a family of splendid fairy wrens.
Early afternoon we were on our way to Hattah Kulkyne National park, with a quick stop for refueling and ice at Ouyen. We made our way to Hattah campground where we bumped into Tim Dolby, and after exchanging our latest sightings, Tim invited us to go birding the following morning to look for our target birds including Striated Grasswren, Mallee Emuwren, Gilbert’s Whistler, Chestnut Quailthrush and Crested Bellbird. We bid farewell and made our way to Mournpall Campground, were we were immediately greeted by some returning campers who advised us of a bushfire nearby on Red Ochre track, they were packing up camp and leaving and advised us to do the same. We thought we had better let Tim know about the bushfire and drove back to Hattah campground tell him. On arrival we decided to make camp and sit it out, and until we heard otherwise, we would stay put. This turned out to be serendipitous as Tim joined us for a late afternoon chat and dinner in the shade at Hattah campground. It was great to learn about Tim, and his extensive knowledge of the Mallee, not to mention many other birding locations around Australia. That night we decided to go spotlighting for Spotted Nightjar along Mournpall Track, to no avail though and much to Leigh’s chagrin as it is a lifer he’s been chasing for sometime…dip!
Day 4 – Hattah – Nowingi track – Mildura.
The next morning we were up at dawn and ready to go by 7.00am, Tim had located a family of Chestnut Crowned Babblers just behind the camp.. tick! Tim had been to Nowingi track the day before and had located a family Striated Grasswrens and Mallee Emuwrens. With gators on, we made our way through the spinifex grass (triodia) and Mallee trees to a location where he had seen them the day before, we picked up a group of 8 Budgerigars flying overhead then a single bird feeding low down in the Mallee bushes, unfortunately there was no sign of Mallee Emuwrens or Striated Grasswrens, and the wind was just irritatingly strong enough to drown out their faint calls. We spent several hours searching and only found the Mallee Emuwrens, which Daniel and I didn’t see as we had drifted away from the rest of the group. We did get onto Chestnut Quailthrush and Crested Bellbird and managed to flush an Owlet Nightjar which provided great views.
Regrouping back at the car, I suggested we stay another night so that we could try again for out main target birds, everyone agreed and Tim was keen to look again the next day also and offered to take us over to Murray Sunset NP the next afternoon to have a crack at Red-lored Whistler near Wymlet Tank.
We were just leaving Nowingi track heading toward Old Calder Hwy, Leigh and I in my car and Karen and Daniel in Tim’s car, Tim remembered we had discussed going back to camp via Konardin Track, so he made a U-Turn, and how fortuitous was that!? Because no sooner than we started heading toward Konardin Track than Daniel noticed a bird on the side of the track, we stopped, got out and there right in front of us a Striated Grasswren with a spider in it’s beak. It just stood still for a couple of minutes allowing crippling views and photos for everyone! We where all just a little bit exited, we then made our way along Konardin track where we picked up a couple of Gilbert’s Whistlers and Sand Goanna (Varanus gouldii – Gould’s Monitor) on Mournpall track before returning to camp.
The rest of the afternoon was pretty hot, but we had decided to drive to Mildura to get little crow which some of us needed for life lists. We arrived in Mildura at the Central shopping Centre and no sooner than we drove past we noticed crows perched on the light towers, we drove into the car park quickly jumped out of the car and were able to ID the birds as little crows by the white downy feathers underneath their hackles. Shopping done, we headed back tot camp where we elected to stay in the shade and relax, that evening yet another failed attempt at Spotted Nightjar.
Day 5 – Hattah – Murray Sunset
We headed back over to Nowingi track, where we had another crack at Mallee Emuwren and Striated Grasswren. It didn’t take too long to get onto both, we found them in the spot that Tim had previously been to 2 days before, luckily with cool temperatures and virtually no wind it was very easy to hear their calls.
We finished up there then headed back to pack up camp before making our way to Murray Sunset National Park. We drove into Murray Sunset via Walpeup along Meridian Track and then onto Honeymoon hut track where we turned left and drove around 3 km to a known sight four Red-lored Whistler. The Habitat consists of spinifex, callitris and Mallee. We made our way along the track stopping at intervals and playing the calls, to no avail, probably because of time of day and the heat, which had most of the birds going to ground. We drove back to Wymlet tank and birded the perimeter, also pretty quiet there too. We parted ways with Tim, he was heading off to gunners track to see ground cuckoo shrike and we headed of toward Goschen.
We called into lake Tyrrell we it didn’t take long to pick up White-winged Fairy Wren, Rufous Fieldwren, purple-backed fairy wren, Black-faced woodswallow and greater bluebonnet. After a long day it was nice to relax in the Sea Lake Hotel with a cool drink and pub meal before heading to Goschen to set up camp for the night.
Day 6 Hattah – Murray Sunset – Lake Tyrrell – Goschen.
We woke early on the Saturday, overnight was quite cool and in the morning a moisture covered our tents, whilst packing up camp we had a couple of flyovers of cockatiels, we were eager to get out birding. Over near the cricket pitch we quickly came upon flock of cockatiel, providing great views in the early morning light.
We then walked towards the hall where I noticed a flock of budgerigar flying into the tree canopy we counted no more than 30 budgerigars, very nice to see so many here.
We continued around Goschen to look for black honeyeater to no avail, we did manage hooded Robin, Purple backed fairy wren, White-browed Babblers, Spiny-cheeked & Singing Honeyeaters along with various other species.
For the rest of the day we made our way towards Terrick Terrick National Park, stopping off at Lake Cullens along the way where there were quite a few waders, including Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Curlew Sandpipers and red-necked stints, pretty hard to pick out anything else due to heat haze, also seen were White-winged, Purple-backed and Superb Fairywren, as well as numerous Black Kites and a Little Eagle.
We arrived in the late afternoon we set up camp and prepared for an evening of spotlighting around the Patho plains in East Terrick Terrick. Our main target was the Plains Wanderer, unfortunately no luck there as the habitat was unsuitable. We did pick up Stubble quail, Skylark and Rufous Songlark.
The next morning we packed up camp and I did little birding around picking up Southern whiteface, brown treecreeper, dusky woodswallow, rainbow bee-eater, Gilberts whistler, hooded robin.
Our plan was to head out to East to Terrick Terrick to look for Plumed whistling Duck as previously at a few dams in the area, as we headed out there Leigh got a message of Plumed whistling Ducks on a dam just south of us at place called Dingee, 30 mins and we were at the location but the ducks had flown. We headed off toward Elmore where Karen knew a location on the Elmore-Mitiamo Road, we stopped there and sure enough there were over 60 Plumed whistling Ducks and 4 native hens, a nice tick for the final day of our Mallee trip.