Easter birding........ but did we get the chocolates?

After having a weekend off we were really keen to head out bush for Easter and add to our growing year lists. A four day break gave us that extra day to travel just a bit further away from home and with a few key species to chase we decided to go to Mt Ive Station on the eastern fringe of the Gawler Ranges. We left work on the Thursday and with the car already packed we drove up to Port Augusta to get a head start on the driving.

Good Friday saw us up early and on the road out to Mt Ive via Iron Knob. Stopping to investigate a dam we had three or four Mulga Parrots in some nearby trees. Further on about 2-3 km's north of Coruna we flushed some Galahs off the side of the road but they were joined by something else. As we focused our bins through the window we realised it was a Ground Cuckoo-shrike that was rapidly joined by another three birds. We watched them settle on the ground just in off the track and we got out to have a better look. Really stunning birds and one that is not easily seen as you never know where they are going to turn up.

The exquisitely marked Ground Cuckoo-shrike

Seriously happy with that we carried on travelling, passing through several pastoral properties on the way. While going through Nonning we flushed some birds near to the track that looked like Orange Chats. On investigation they proved not to be but we did pick up Red-capped Robin instead.

We made it to Mt Ive around lunchtime but decided rather than waiting for early morning we might as well drive up to the summit to search for the special bird that lives up there. Walking around the open spinifex grass habitat we had flybys of several Australian Ravens, there unmistakable calls confirming their ID. We hadn't gone far past the microwave tower that marks the summit when we heard a faint peep from just up ahead. A bit of squeaking soon had a male Short-tailed Grasswren virtually run at us. This was a bird that just kept giving, strutting around mere metres from us without any fear at all. Stunning birds you've just got to love the Grasswrens!

The bird that just kept giving Short-tailed Grasswren

Having secured the bird and indulging in another tail gate lunch with a view we decided to drive out on the track that accesses Lake Gairdner to see if any finches were coming to drink at the Embankment dam. The water level at the dam itself was lower than we had seen it previously and the unmistakable powerful odour of goats was heavy in the air. Goats are experts at stripping vegetation in harsh environments and these were no exception, the immediate vicinity of the dam was a wasteland. Apart from a few hardy Euros and a family group of Yellow-throated Miners nothing else came in at all. As it was getting late we decided to pull the pin and drive out earlier than planned and as we rounded a corner we came across a group of twenty Pink Cockatoos. These birds are our favourite of all the Cockatoo family with their delicate shade of salmon pink underparts and a stunning crest to match. We stayed with these birds until the end of the day before heading back to camp for a well earned frosty beverage and dinner

Stunningly gorgeous Pink Cockatoos

Just in case we didn't know which way to go, these guys did!

Saturday dawned and we decided to walk out in to the paddocks adjacent to the homestead to try for Western Grasswrens that had been reported from here a few weeks back. It was obvious that these holding paddocks were suffering from a lack of understorey and bird diversity was very low. Having walked a long way we were nearly back when we came across a mixed feeding flock of Southern Whitefaces, White-winged Fairy-wrens and a brief view of another bird dissappearing into a saltbush. This turned out to be a lovely male Redthroat. Also in this mixed flock were a pair of Slender-billed Thornbills. We're not used to seeing the paler nominate form that occurs through inland southern Australia but rather the darker gulf coast subspecies rosinae, so that was a pleasant surprise

A lovely male Redthroat by Sue

Slender-billed Thornbill in the early morning light

After breakfast we drove out on one of the extensive property tracks to explore and look for more birds. Conditions were quite dry throughout and combined with the time of year there were not many birds in evidence. We did however bump in to a pair of Chestnut-rumped Thornbills associating with some Southern Whiteface near one of the lookouts, so we were happy to knock those off. Higher up on the range we drove through some mallee habitat which proved good for Grey-fronted Honeyeater, and we eventually saw over a dozen.. Not much else to report though for the rest of the day. We spent the late afternoon early evening staking out a leaking bore tank that had a few birds coming in to drink, but nothing special. Waiting for dusk we drove back slowly, spotlighting as we went, hoping for a Spotted Nightjar in the car headlights. We did nearly run over an Owlet Nightjar but apart from that it was very quiet.

The next morning we made an executive decision to leave Mt Ive and head down to the southern Flinders Ranges where we stood a chance of picking up a few new birds. On the way down to the highway we stopped at a few suitable places to search for Grasswrens. At the first place we stopped on Kolendo Station we found a pair of Western Grasswrens but they proved too elusive for any kind of photographs despite staying with them for nearly an hour. This time of year they seem to not take too much interest in squeaking and pishing and we had to settle for views of the birds as they darted and bounced between clumps of Saltbush

Sue in stealth mode trying to get fleeting glimpses of a Western Grasswren

Passing through Port Augusta we drove out to Yorkeys crossing north of town to see if we could pick up a Rufous Fieldwren for Sue as she hadn't caught up with this bird yet. Unfortunately the wind had picked up as we got to the head of the gulf and despite seeing a bird briefly and another calling Sue didn't manage to get tickable views. Never fear  there is always next time. From there we drove down to Telowie Gorge near Port Pirie, A nice spot but one that had suffered from a serious bushfire a few years back now. The damage was still evident and the regrowth was obviously happening very slowly but despite this there is still a special bird that can be found here. In the low heath just the other side of the creek from the main car park I had very brief views of this bird Chestnut-rumped Heathwren. Unfortunately Sue missed it as she was distracted by a noisily foraging Yellow-footed Antechinus. We retreated back to our friend Stephens place for a night of Roast dinner and many beverages.

Monday morning we decided to drive back up towards Wilmington and pop in to Alligator Gorge. We had seen Heathwrens here in previous years and it wasn't long before we came across a pair foraging in the undergrowth. This time we both got great views

Race pedleri of Chestnut-rumped Heathwren at Alligator Gorge by Sue

On the drive back down from the top of the range we scanned the roadside slowly especially in areas of native grass and we were rewarded with finding Diamond Firetails. Only four or five at first but investigating further on the opposite side of the road I came across a flock of 30 birds that included numerous juveniles. A particularly gorgeous finch and it saves us a trip to Browns Road near Monarto. An obliging male Mistletoebird put in an eye level appearance for Sue as well giving her a much needed catch up bird.

Some of the more than thirty Diamond Firetails we saw east of Wilmington.

On reaching the main road a group of five Apostlebirds broke cover and flew over the car into the front yard of an adjacent property.........nice. Well satisfied with our weekends efforts we decided to head home and brave the Easter holiday traffic, which proved to be not that bad after all. I finished with a nice haul of thirteen year ticks taking my total to 277 and Sue fourteen which included some nice quality birds but despite all that neither of us got any chocolates for Easter!

So this week we have a four working day turnaround and its off to Kangaroo Island for another four day break where we'll be looking for the special residents of the Island

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