We hadn't originally intended to travel up the Birdsville Track on this trip, but we'd done so well in seeing most of our targets we found ourselves with a few days to spare. The lure of Grey Falcons was just too great and so as it was a new bird for Andy we opted to make a dash up this iconic outback track to see if we could find them. Lots of pics in this one so a long post to finish off this trip report.
Having walked around Coward Springs Wetlands in the morning and seeing some cool birds we packed up and headed on down the road towards Marree. On the way we called in to the viewpoint that overlooks Lake Eyre South that provided a stunning vista over the salt encrusted dry lake. Heading out from here towards Marree we were starting to pass a large number of heavily modified vehicles that were part of some sort of charity bash. At one point an approaching vehicle pulled right over into the loose gravel on the edge of the track in order to pass us and as he did we heard what sounded luck a gunshot but was in fact a very large rock cannoning into the windscreen! We've carried a few stone chips in our windscreen for quite some time but this one was very large with jagged cracks extending out from the impact point. Something else that would need repairing when we got home.
Passing through Marree we headed up the track towards Mungerannie where we intended to stay for the night. It appeared to be very dry compared to when we travelled up this way last year with not a lot of birds in evidence and certainly not flocks of Budgies everywhere that we saw last year. As we came on to Dulkaninna Station we stopped off at a bore overflow off to the west of the road to see what birds were around. We had seen Australian Pratincoles and Brolgas here in the past and water can attract any number of species. As it was there was not much of interest around except for a returning pair of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers that had stopped off on their way south.
|Still with traces of breeding plumage this Sharp-tailed Sandpiper had stopped off at Dulkaninna|
We left here early as the Station hands were approaching on Quad bikes driving some cattle in to get a drink so we left them to it. Just north of here we crossed over a dune, one of the very few that the track crosses south of the Cooper Creek crossing. As we came over the top I saw some small birds flitting around some bushes at the dune base so we stopped to investigate. We were still looking for Banded Whiteface and this area looked in very good condition. Andy and I climbed to the top of the dune but failed to relocate whatever it was that I had first seen. The Sandhill Canegrass was very green here and it was also flowering and as we walked around a bit I swear I heard a Grasswren trilling briefly. We didn't see any and vowed to check on our way back as we had to get to a certain place by a certain time!
|Andy and I looking for little dickey birds|
We carried on up the track towards our main destination, passing several Emu dads with chicks and soaring Wedge-tailed Eagles and Black-faced Woodswallows. Time was getting on but after we crossed the dry river bed of Cooper Creek we arrived with time to spare. I had it on good authority from Bird Guide and all around nice guy Steve Potter that Grey Falcons come in to roost late in the day at a certain spot on the track. "Be there before 5:00pm" he said and "they should come in shortly after that". We got there around 4:30pm and there was no sign of our target so as we were early we settled in for a drink and a box of "Shapes" that we managed to smash between us!! Constantly scanning around it was Andy who first picked up the approaching birds coming from across the track flying in to the wind. Grey Falcons, two of them were flying virtually side by side as they approached their roost spot. One landed almost immediately but the other did a lap first allowing me the opportunity to get some flight shots of this iconic and very rare desert dwelling raptor. I looked at my phone.......5:20pm! well played Steve!
|The "Grey Ghost"|
|The slightly fingered wings are quite distinctive when seen in profile|
|No prizes for guessing what the birds were roosting on|
|Digiscoped through Andys Swarovski ATX 95 scope|
|Crippling views of Grey Falcons in the last rays of the sun|
Andy was well made up with coming to grips with this very rare desert dweller as we missed it the last time we brought him up this way a couple of years ago. So were Sue and I. We bid the Falcons farewell and drove up towards Mungerannie seeing a couple of low flying Flock Bronzewings on the way pulling in just after dark. We spent the evening in the pub watching the first final of the AFL footy with our boys the Crows taking on the GWS Giants......smashed 'em.
The next morning we got up early and drove out on the track towards Cowarie Station in the vain attempt to catch up with Banded Whiteface. On the way we found a lovely pair of Cinnamon Quailthrush warming up in the sun and they gave themselves up for some nice photos. We also saw some Orange Chats and White-winged Fairy-wrens but not much else.
|Stunning male Cinnamon Quailthrush on the Cowarie road|
After traipsing about around some dunes we had seen the Whitefaces in last year we came to the conclusion that they just weren't around this morning despite others seeing them earlier and again after we had been there. Never mind a stiff cool breeze always puts a dampener on things. We carried on up the track towards Clifton Hills Station and the Goyders Lagoon floodplain stopping off at Mirra Mitta Bore on the way. This is a hot spring where the water comes out at almost boiling point before draining off in to an overflow that the cows like to hang out in.
|The overflow of Mirra Mitta Bore spills out onto the plain creating a small wetland|
We walked around the wetland for a while that had a resident family of Brolga as well as a load of Orange Chats and Black-faced Woodswallows.
|A family of Brolgas unperturbed by our presence|
|Fascinating to watch this Black-faced Woodswallow regurgitate the hard chitinous shells of Beetles it had been eating.|
We popped in to Warburton Creek crossing to check out the state of the lignum to see if it was worth looking for Grey Grasswrens here but it was very dry and after a walk around we decided to move on and head to Pandiburra Bore. The steam was rising from the bore head as we walked out around the perimeter of this famous desert wetland. A key species was discovered for the first time here back in the 1980's and that was what we were primarily here to find but you never know what else could be hanging around here. Firstly a flock of a dozen or so Sharp-tailed Sandpipers went whizzing past, obviously just stopping off on their southward post breeding migration. Approaching the edge of a short cropped part of the wetland it was apparent the bird we were looking for was in attendance along with some Orange Chats. The Yellow Chat is very sparsely distributed throughout the northern part of the Great Artesian Basin around bore overflow wetlands. We got quite good looks at several birds although not particularly close. A new bird for Andy.
|A faint smudge on the chest possibly indicative of a young male Yellow Chat|
|This bird was much more conclusive with its distinctive black crescent on the chest|
Happy with that we opted to walk around the entire basin to see what else we could find.
|Sue and I in the distance circumnavigating the wetland at Pandiburra bore|
Firstly at some distance I saw a bird fly up from the mudflats to snatch an insect from the air. It wasn't until we got closer to it were we able to ID it as an Australian Pratincole. There were at least four birds present but that was no where near the numbers we saw last year.
|One of four Australian Pratincoles and the only ones we saw on this trip|
Other wetland birds included Red-necked Avocets Straw-necked Ibis, Red-kneed Dotterels, Red-capped Plovers and several other species with hyphenated names!!!! The Black Ducks and Grey Teal were constantly being flushed by a young and inexperienced Spotted Harrier and you could see the look of disdain on the ducks faces as he constantly missed his targets!
|Being watched by a young Spotted Harrier|
It was time to leave as it was getting relatively late in the day so we opted to drive back down towards Clifton Hills to camp on Tippipila Creek, one of the only spots to camp around here. An uneventful night saw us awake to a very quiet morning with not much calling. We loafed around for a bit over breakfast and as Sue walked off with shovel in hand a small flock of eight Cockatiel flew down the creek straight over her head. We yelled out to her but she didn't see them!!......oh dear another one down. Frustrated with that we all ended up walking down the creek bed trying to see if we could catch up with the birds further down at some hidden pool of water but it was not to be and we returned to camp not having seen much at all. As I walked around the front of the car I noticed the front right wheel was very low in pressure so out came the hose and I pumped it back up using my under bonnet compressor. We'll have to keep an eye on that one.
So leaving there we drove back down towards Mungerannie and as we came back on to Cowarie station I pulled over in amongst some interesting looking chenopod habitat. Mindful that there is a discreet and isolated population of Thick-billed Grasswren some where around here I thought it might be worth a look as we'd never seen this race before. Walking spread out we did a big loop out and back but it wasn't until I got back to some taller stuff adjacent to the track itself that I heard a faint peep almost like a Quailthrush contact call. I called Andy over and we both listened intently and Andy also heard it faintly. I was explaining to Andy that a few times in the past I've literally had to kick a bush to see if a Grasswren was in it........at that point I kicked the bush in front of me............and out flew a Grasswren!!! I nearly fell over. We spent the next hour with them, but try as we might the birds would not give themselves up at all. Despite Andy getting a fleeting glimpse on the deck, Sue and I had nothing but flight views. We GPS'ed the spot and resolved to have another look when Sue and I return but for now we carried on travelling.
Stopping briefly at Mungerannie for lunch we continued on down towards Marree. Travelling through the Naterannie Sandhills north of Cooper Creek we approached a car parked on the opposite side of the road only to find it was Ian Reid and Paul Coddington from Adelaide. We were supposed to be meeting that night at Farina yet here they were!. Seems they mucked up their dates and managed to get away a day earlier than they had anticipated. We stopped and chatted for a while, swapping gen on what we'd seen before continuing on our way As we passed over the Cooper Creek Crossing right opposite the homestead of Etadunna Station I picked up a small flock of Cockatiel flying alongside the car, but as I slowed down they swung in behind us and off to the east but this time Sue got good looks at them and was able to add them to her list. It wasn't long before we came back across the dune we stopped at on the way up so we decided to pull over and have a go to see if we could find the Grasswrens we heard that day. We spread out along the width of the dune and it wasn't long before we heard the distinctive high pitched contact calls of some Wrens. It took us a while to work out that with them were in fact three Eyrean Grasswrens. It took a bit of work but eventually we got them to stop long enough to have a look back at us and I was able to get a few pictures.
|Eyrean Grasswren that stopped long enough to give me a good look|
We left the Grasswrens on their sand dune home and continued on down the track with the intention of camping at Farina. Closing in on Marree in the last rays of the sun I noticed the steering on the car going soft so I pulled over to investigate. That front right tyre was almost flat.......bugger. We pulled it off and tried using the puncture repair kit. The spare had already been plugged so I wasn't sure if it was good or not. Having plugged the tyre and refitted it to the car we only really got another half a kilometre down the track before it went completely. No choice now but to fit the spare and hope it was plugged properly. Fortunately it seemed OK and we limped in to Marree after dark.
|No spares left!!!|
Given all the drama and our late arrival we opted to stay in Marree overnight in the caravan park units. We'd need to see if we could get a new tyre in the morning. The units are very well appointed but we needed to cook our own food so while I cooked on our camping gear outside we set up the TV inside the room so we could watch the second AFL final of the weekend.
|The moment 40,000 Port Power fans hearts ripped in two. Lol|
A ripping game that went to extra time with the West Coast Eagles kicking a goal after the final siren to snuff out Ports finals campaign.. The next morning we picked up a new tyre although it wasn't the correct profile and we'd need to swap it out at Copley further down the road. Firstly though we called in to Farina on the way where we had expected to wake up in the morning and it wasn't long before we were ticking off Black-breasted Buzzard, a pair nest here most years.
|A gorgeous Black-breated Buzzard overhead.|
That wasn't the only bird of interest here and I heard the distinctive trilling display call of a Rufous Songlark. Sue had missed the one I saw on the Oodnadatta Track so she managed to get this one back on her list.
|Not so shy when they're displaying. A Rufous Songlark says "look at me"!|
On the way out a lovely Red-backed Kingfisher sat nicely right near the road so I managed to get a few pics having missed the opportunity when we ticked this bird north of Marla.
|What are you lookin' at?|
We pulled in to Copley late morning and managed to get the tyre swapped over and noticed another tyre was low so got that one swapped out too. Surprisingly not as expensive as I'd initially thought. We decided to pull in to the bakery and treat ourselves to a late brunch of bacon and eggs......very nice.
We weren't quite done yet however. On the way down towards civilization proper we turned off the road and in towards Parachilna Gorge in the northern Flinders Ranges. Despite the fact it was a little early in the season I was hopeful another bird we needed had already arrived to breed. We drove deep in to the gorge passing multiple camping tourists and caravans before we came to a spot near where I'd seen the birds before. Scanning a large cliff face we picked up at least three Little Woodswallows soaring high over the top of the cliff and we watched the birds for a while. Satisfied with the ID but too distant for photographs we had to move on. One last chance for new birds was another stop back in Port Augusta at the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens to look for the earlier reported Black Honeyeater. Walking around the main garden out the back of the main visitor centre it was apparent there were a few birds around including Singing Honeyeaters, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters and a few White-fronteds. As I was walking around a newer section of the garden a small honeyeater flew in from behind me and kept going to land in some plants on the fringe of the garden. As it crisped up in my bins it was certainly a Black Honeyeater. I called the others over and after a half an hour or so of chasing it around the garden we all managed to get very good views of it in the end. It appeared to be a juvenile male.
|A young male Black Honeyeater feeding on a flowering Eremophila glabra|
We arrived home having had an awesome trip that far outweighed our expectations. I had amassed a healthy 29 year ticks to finish on 360 species for the year and Sue another 31 to give her 357. With a full three more months to go it's anyones guess as to how many we'll end up with but with two more pelagics scheduled and migrants returning there's still enough to keep us busy. Stick around to the end of the year to find out how we get on!
If you want to travel up to see the Grey Falcons and many more of the species we saw on this leg of the trip and dont have the vehicle or the means to do it then you cant go far past joining an organised tour. Steve Potter for Bellbird tours runs regular trips up to the north and can offer several other birds like Letter-winged Kite and has put together a specific tour to see them both. You can check it out here: