Friday, September 25, 2015

Birdsville Track... Version 2015 (Part 1)

The Sturt National Park... or the Birdsville Track? This year Mike and I faced a dilemma about which way to go for our annual outback birding adventure! Since doing the Birdsville last year we had been looking towards some new ground and going to some parts of the Sturt NP that we hadn't been too before! This was the plan up until the Mungeranie area on the Birdsville copped a couple of big rain events in the first half of the year...
So we had a decision.. chase the rains... or hit some new ground! We were about five days out when we finally made the call to chase the rains and head back up the Birdsville! Only this time we wouldn't push it like last year and make Mungeranie our most northern camp rather than pushing all the way to Birdsville and beyond! Our reasoning... less driving more birding time! I mean that is the reason we are up there! Well one of the reasons anyway! :-)
It was nearly 8am by the time we left Mike's farm on the 27/8... a bit later than usual... but I had just driven the 900km back from Wagga the day before so needed a little extra rest compared to the other trips we had done! First stop was a great little bakery in the Clare Valley then it was time to put km's under the wheels!
One of our favourite stretches of road along here is from Orroroo to Hawker! There's always a few interesting birds along here... and it's where the southern end of the Flinders Ranges start to come into view! We were treated to a carpet of wildflowers this time.. which with the Flinders in the background made for a good photo opportunity! 
Mike trying to find a flower to photograph!!!!
 About 10km out of Hawker we decided it might be cool to go through the Flinders rather than skirting up the western edge. So when we left Hawker we took the road towards Blinman! Our plan was to go through the Brachina gorge and try for a Grey-fronted Honeyeater which is one I haven't seen yet!
Along the way to the gorge turn-off we stopped a couple of sites just for a look around... the Flinders really are very pretty!

We failed to find any Grey-fronted Honeyeaters when we ventured through the Brachina... but we did find quite a few Yellow-footed Rock Wallabies feeding in the bottom of the gorge!

Leaving the gorge.. we headed pretty much straight to Lyndhurst from there. This is where the bitumen ends and in my opinion the real outback starts! 
Entering Lyndhurst.....
We had decided to camp at Farina for the night which is about 20km north of Lyndhurst... in-between these two spots is the first telecommunication tower! A favoured hang out for the rare and elusive Grey Falcon! We stopped and checked but didn't have any luck on this one!

Mike checking the for a Grey Ghost! :-)
We pulled into Farina at about 5pm and were greeted by the same nesting pair of Kestrels we had seen there last year! Whilst having a quick look around a Daddy Emu and a bunch of very cute chicks came wandering out of the creek! I managed a shot of the adult in the late light.. but the chicks being shorter were in the shade.. still got an ok shot of them though! Super cute at this age!
Nankeen Kestrels doing a display flight over the Farina campgorund

Daddy Emu and below are his chicks!

Next we got camp set up so we could sit down and relax around a nice warm fire! It would've been about two or three beers later when we thought we should get some grub happening! We eat pretty poorly on these trips :-D Haha no chance of that with head chef Mike organising food for the trip! We eat like Kings... these Scotch fillets below were about half a kilo each and were scrumptious! Needless to say after all that driving it wasn't long before the swag was looking inviting and it was time to put my head on my pillow and enjoy the beautiful outback sky at night!

The morning brought about another beautiful cloudless sky and birds calling everywhere! The Kestrels were displaying still and there were flocks of Budgies passing through...  We went for a quick walk before breakfast... but wanted to keep moving now as today the real trip started! So we headed back towards camp... Mike was a fair way in front as I was busy still looking for things to photograph! Eventually I headed back towards the car.. just as I was about 50m from the tree line a Bronzewing flew through low and fast! I had no chance of a shot.. but was fairly confident it was a Flock Bronzewing! This is pretty south for them and I can't be sure so I didn't call it! For now it was placed in with the possible one we saw on the Strzelecki track in 2010! I was a little annoyed I didn't get a shot off... but such is life! Hopefully there would be more on this trip!

Farina Creek looking back towards the campground from a little north on our morning walk
Leaving Farina fairly early we started off towards Marree. It took a while as we kept having to stop for cool birds! But we eventually got there mid morning!
Below are some of the birds we saw throughout that area!  
Black-breasted Buzzard

Little Eagle leaving it's nest tree!

I rarely see this species perched... so was happy to come across this one! It was quite confiding too!
Black-breasted Buzzard

The same bird when it eventually flushed!

Black-faced Woodswallows were everywhere!

At one spot this Wedge-tailed Eagle actually flew over to check us out! Giving good photo opportunities!
We fuelled up at Marree and headed onto the Birdsville track itself! Heading north we wanted to reach Mungeranie by nightfall so for the first part we kept motoring fairly well.. only stopping at a dry creek to chase a few birds we saw in the trees! Here we scored our first of lots of Pied Honeyeaters for the trip!
A quick stop at the creek at Dulkaninna Station increased the trip list by adding a few waterbirds.. including the first Brolga for the trip!
Just north of here last year we got a Gibberbird... so we kept our eye's peeled this time but it wasn't to be!
Not long later we got to the Cooper Creek.. lunch was had under a shady tree whilst watching a water trough which was about 50m away get visited by lots of Budgie's, Honeyeaters and Galahs! Also saw some Diamond Doves and Zebra finch here  drinking on a leaking pipe as well!
Leaving the Cooper we headed into the first sand dune country for the trip... Poached Egg Daisies (technical term! lol) covered most of the dunes as is often the case in the outback and there where plenty of birds feeding all over the place! We stopped in one spot and easily picked up Crimson Chat, Chirruping Wedgebill, Pied Honeyeater, Cinnamon Quail-thrush and more Budgies!.

Pied Honeyeater

Budgerigar's in the dunes
It was about mid afternoon when we came across another of the many telecommunication towers along the track. The only difference this time... was it was occupied!!! A Grey Ghost was there! Cool! As usual.. just like the other two which we saw last year.. it was right up at the top!! So high! We watched it for a while and then it decided it had seen enough and took off! It circled really high a couple of times and then headed to the east and over the dunes! Once it took off we saw it had just been successful hunting as it still had half of the unfortunate bird in it's talons!

Grey Falcon with kill
 We briefly looked over that sand hill in the hope of finding it landed in a tree or somewhere... but it was not to be!
By now it was mid afternoon and the next stop was Mungeranie! We got there by about 3.30 and went and checked for a good spot to camp! After sussing that out.. the 'to get there' travel was done! Now it was birding full on time! We had two hours of light left.. we spent it searching for whatever we could find! Deciding to head to another tower! The one we got the Grey's on last year! We found it empty when we got there so spent the next hour just out looking for other birds! We spied a group of trees on a sand dune which looked worth a look! Leaving the car about 150m away we walked in... not much there other than more Pied Honeyeaters! (They were in really good numbers this trip!) So we headed back to the car... when we were about 30m from the car a huge bird rose off the ground out of nowhere! An Australian Bustard!! Where the hell was that when we pulled up 15mins earlier!!! Must have been lying flat I guess? Not complaining though! Having never seen one before I was blown away by how big they are! I guess especially because this bird took instant flight and those wings just looked huge that close!! I was spewing though as I managed no decent shots of it! Of course Mike got some which made me even more frustrated at myself! lol  First official lifer of the trip for me though... so I was pretty darn happy really!
We headed back to the tower for the last hour of light in the hope the Grey's would come in and roost like they did last year! This time no grey's showed but it was compensated by the stunning spot we were in! The late light was golden, warm and beautiful.. a full moon was rising.. we both had a beer in hand and there was still plenty to see as a pair of Kestrels did a few display flights near the tower! A pair of Australian Ravens which were nesting on the tower had to deal with a pair of pugnacious Corella's trying to cause whatever mischief they could as well which was quite funny to watch! Then to top it off Mike spotted a pair of birds flying sort of away from us about 200m away... I lifted the camera and clicked off a few shots.. brought them up on the LCD screen on the back of the camera to see Flock Bronzewings!!! Woohoo finally a confirmed sighting of this hard to find species! Lifer number two for me and number one for Mike! Not quite the views I was hoping for.... but better than nothing!
Satisfied it was time to head back whilst there was still a smidgen of light! We even managed a pair of Cinnamon Quail-thrush on the return leg which was pretty cool! :-)
The tower where we spent the hour waiting for the Falcons which never came!
 The weather so far for this trip had been nothing short of sensational! With cloudless blue sky days with temps around 25 degrees.. and mild star filled nights complete with a full moon! We couldn't have asked for anything more!
The next morning we started before sunrise and packed the car as we had a big day planned to head up to the Goyder Lagoon and try for Grey Grasswrens! Before we left I walked the twenty metres or so from the camp to the Mungeranie lagoon and grabbed a pic as the sun was just about to rise!

The first 25-30kms were every quiet and I don't think we saw a bird! But then as often happens on these tracks out of nowhere a couple of Inland Dotterels scooted off the track! The parachute was thrown and we jumped out to try and find them again! We saw a pair of birds about 80m away chasing each other low down and then they dropped into the tiny sand hills in this spot... Mike thought he would chase them and I started off towards one of the Dotterels which was down the track! Mike was half way out to the birds in the sand when he yelled out Flockies! The chasing birds were Flock Bronzewings! I instantly forgot about the Dotterels and headed in a direction to cut off the Flockies as Mike was coming in from my right behind them! We took it fairly slow and were rewarded with good close views as the male followed/chased the female in some sort of courting move! I managed a couple of shots and then eventually they saw us and flew! Now that was a better sighting than the night before!  
Male Flock Bronzewing in the sand pursuing the female! Check the camouflage! Great colour matching! :-)
Mira Mitta bore was the next point of interest another ten or so kms up the track.. so we pulled in and had a look. There wasn't much at the bore itself... but most of these outback bores have an overflow! This bores overflow is quite large and about a kilometre further up the track there was a small dam right next to the track! We pulled up and saw the usual Red-capped Plovers and Pink-eared Ducks... and another new bird for the trip in the form of a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper! Then a single Flockie cam in and landed back behind some Ducks on the far edge! Interesting... then two more came in and banked right in front of us! They didn't hang around... but gave us a chance at some flight shots as they passed! I burst off a bunch of shots... had a look and most where soft! D'oh! Then Mike showed me his best shot on the back of his camera.. what I saw was a sensational shot! I wont repeat what I said but it was something along the lines of "grumble... grumble..." haha

The two Flockies as they passed the dam! This was when they were still distant... the only shots I got of this pair in focus!
I said to Mike with these sightings happening around us now... this would have to be a good spot to stake out on our way home! With that in mind we kept going.. Stopping at another bore where last year we got a Freckled Duck.. This year it was fairly quite with just some Black-fronted Dotterels, Zebra Finches and more Budgies! In the distance a dozen Camels where feeding at the base of a low dune.

Feral Camels.....
We kept on moving only stopping for a pair of Brown Falcons in a small batch of trees on the side of the track! Other than those it was off up to the inside track!

A confiding Brown Falcon which let me get to about four metres from it!
 The inside track had just been re-opened not too long before we were up there so this was our access to the Lignum of Goyder's lagoon. Grey Grasswren can be found throughout this large mostly dry lagoon and where the inside track crosses it is where we would try! We turned onto the inside track and made our way across the 13km of really rough gibber stone track to reach our destination!
Gibber country just up off the edge of Goyder's Lagoon beside the Inside track

It was the middle of the day and quite warm by the time we started walking... not perfect or conducive to finding any species of Grasswren... let alone one of the supposedly toughest! But we tried and failed last year in some different areas... this time we were hopeful! It is a desolate place when dry... and it just looks so lifeless... it would of been very easy to just give up and say too hard! After about 15mins though we came across a Variegated Fairy-wren which at first got us excited until we worked out the call was wrong for a Grey! Eventually it showed itself so we moved on... more and more Variegated FW's followed... until I followed one little female towards a single Lignum bush before she darted away! I was just about to head back towards where Mike was when I heard a different call from this bush! I called Mike over who came in from the other side and we tried to see what it was... It's pretty thick in these bushes and we had worked out it was definitely a Grey Grasswren from the calls before we saw it! Eventually it showed just enough for some average views and a few shots! Nothing more then ID shots but I was pretty stoked! Lifer number three for the trip! We searched some more and heard at least one more which we failed to see before calling it quits... It was now pretty hot and draining, plus it was time for a beer to celebrate another lifer! :-)
The very elusive Grey Grasswren keeping a close but obscured eye on me!
Time was disappearing so we though we better start heading back! We wanted to get back to the Mira Mitta bore overflow again with a few hours of light up our sleeve!

The inside track was pretty rough in this section!
We pulled into the first creek crossing once back on the main track for lunch and watched White-backed Swallows hunting as we ate.. then a Red-backed Kingfisher came in and had a look at us on the other side of the creek so I stalked it and got some shots as it was the first opportunity with this species for the trip!

Red-backed Kingfisher
After lunch it was all about getting back to the Mira Mitta bore! Read all about how we faired in part two of this blog post coming soon!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A tale of two Wrens....

Striated Grasswren 

The Striated Grasswren is one of my favourite birds! They live in a harsh hot environment... they can be hard to find and then can be even harder to see well! They are one of the top birds to find in the Mallee/Spinifex regions of South Australia!
Since I started photographing them about 5 years ago I have had some good sessions and many.. many.. frustrating sessions with them! Back about 4yrs ago we had a few good seasons in a row out in the Mallee and they could be found fairly easily! Although still difficult to photograph with their great ability to zip between Spinifex clumps at super speed! Back then I was using my old camera set up and I gained a few shots but in reality nothing all that flash!
Jump forward a couple of years and I had upgraded to a better gear and sharpened my camera skills... so with it came a desire to get some decent shots of these little rufous beauties! So for about 18mths every time I went to the Mallee of Gluepot Reserve here in the Riverland of SA I searched for this species! Unfortunately by this time the Mallee had gone back to being dry... so with it the birdlife dropped off to an extent! I went for a long time without even seeing a Grasswren... and as such found it a little frustrating!
Then in Spring last year a pair of even harder to find Scarlet-chested Parrots nested in an easily accessible section of Gluepot. This was an opportunity not to be missed so I was back up there again photographing them. Once I had my fill of the parrots I decided to try and find my nemesis of late and head off into a decent patch of Spinifex and see if I could be lucky!
Playing a little call to see if there would be a response... for the first five minutes I heard nothing! Then faintly off in the distance the familiar squeaking call of a Grasswren! Finally I had found a pair! Unfortunately I couldn't manage any decent shots and walked away happy to have found them but with unfinished business!
About a month later I went back to the parrots and so tried the Grasswren spot again... this time nothing! Which made me wonder if they were a pair just passing through...
I never got back again till the new year when I met up with some young birders who had ventured over from the eastern states to see some of our Mallee birds! I was initially a little sceptical as I took them to this spot in the middle of a 40+ degree heatwave but it turned out to be a blessing as their was no one else around! Rolling up at daybreak to beat the heat we headed to the spot I had seen the birds back in Oct 14. Again I played a little burst of call and then after a few minutes we got a response! This time both birds came right in and gave us all superb views! Not sure how many images I snapped.... but it was a lot! Finally I had the images of these cool birds I was after! Happy days!
So it's good to know there's at least one pair of Grasswrens still in-habiting the Spinifew of Gluepot! Although I'm sure there must be more out there! On the way in we saw a little bird run across the track in front of us about 100m up in front whilst checking out a Chestnut Quail-thrush! I'm 95% sure it was a SG! Might have to check that spot next time!
Here's some of the images from that day!  

Mallee Emu-wren
The Mallee Emu-wren is another small wren of the Mallee/Spinifex country and another I have been real keen to see! They live in a few spots in SA although they have been decimated by bushfires knocking out their prime habitats of late! Which has put them into the critically endangered category here in SA mainly due to the fragmentation of the population caused by land clearing around and through their habitat! So when a fire wipes out a block of Mallee... there's no birds to spread back into the regrowth! As these guys are tiny and not strong flyers! Quite a sad situation in my eyes!
So three days after getting back from the Grasswren trip...  I had to drive over to Wagga to pick up my son who was staying with his Nan & Pa for a while! As this drive would take me fairly close to the last stronghold of this species... a place called Hattah Kulkyne National Park in Victoria, I thought I may as well head off a night earlier and have a shot at seeing if I could see these little ones!
Driving over I arrived at about 11pm at the park and just slept in the car as it was raining quite a bit! Waking up at first light... the weather was still rubbish! With consistent light drizzle and rain periods it certainly wasn't conducive to good birding and photography! Too bad basically I was there and had to try! My first walk resulted in me back in the car after 10mins as the rain got too heavy and I didn't want my camera getting too wet! Waiting it out for an hour it wasn't getting any better so I wrapped my camera in a towel and put another over my head and went off searching! After walking half hour listening carefully I had found nothing! I was getting wet so I thought bugger it I am going back to the car! I thought I would head back a different way and still didn't see much till I got within 50m of my car where I tried to stalk a pair of Mulga Parrots... I managed to flush them! But not before I heard a tiny little squeak call coming from over the back of where they were! I waited and squeaked back and BINGO there was a lovely little male Mallee Emu-wren hoping up to look at me! Woohoo! I was pretty excited by that and took what shots I could but by now was getting real wet so I left it there and went back to the car!
Heading off I went to another spot at the back of a truck-stop on the way out of the park and found two more! A few more shots in the rain and I was done! Well satisfied with the finding of these little gems! Gotta get back in good light now and try for some better pics! :-)

So two cool little Wrens of the Mallee in three days! Certainly can't complain about that!
Thanks for reading.... :-)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

October in feathers....

Spring is always an exciting time for birding around my area! Most birds are breeding so they are usually in full voice and the summer migrants are turning up too! So all in all September.. October... and November are pretty fantastic months to be out and about searching for our feathered friends!
As I haven't posted for a while I thought I would today and now that October has just finished put together a snapshot of some of the better bird images I have taken during it!
So below is a bunch of images all taken in October 2014!
Rainbow Bee-eater: The Bee-eaters started arriving in early Oct... this is one of my first shots of the season of one! Not the best image but a colourful start!

Australian Owlet-nightjar: Always a favourite of mine! There's a couple of little Mallee scrubs in my area where I can pretty much be assured of a sighting! This one flushed from a hollow on a mates property and sat nicely for his pic to taken!

Nankeen Kestrel: Sitting in the entrance of her nesting hollow this beautiful little female Kestrel was quite content to just sit and watch as I approached with my camera!

Blue-winged Parrot: Another of the spring time visitors to this area! My mate Michael and I flushed a couple one morning whilst searching through a new little patch of scrub near Salter Springs!

Dusky Woodswallow: This image was also from the scrub where we found the Blue-wings! Sitting on two eggs this attentive mother to be was quite confiding and stayed on the nest till I was about two metres away! When she flushed I moved back and she was back on the nest within 30 seconds!

Hooded Plover: A sad story this one... this pair had decided to make their nest on the foreshore of Victor Harbor SA right near a playground and skatepark! The area was fenced off to try and keep the dogs out... although it wasn't super effective! I didn't give them much hope of successfully raising chicks! In the end it wasn't people or the dogs which wrecked the nest but a super high tide! Disappointing.... 
In this shot she is sitting on the doomed nest!

Peregrine Falcon: Next three images are of the female Peregrine defending her eyrie at a secret spot I know of near Victor Harbor! I have known these birds for about 20yrs now (maybe different birds) and try to visit it once a season to see how the are going! Always a thrill!

Whiskered Tern: Decked out in breeding plumage... this delicate little guy was fishing around the Goolwa Barrage with about 30 of his kin!

Nankeen Kestrel: Found this little male one day whilst driving a dirt road out Reeves Plains way! He was quite tame and didn't fly even when another car passed as I photographed him!

Whistling Kite: Photographed near Pt Wakefield... they are a fairly plain looking raptor.. but I still like to grab images of them! Still haven't got one I am totally happy with yet!

Black Falcon: Also taken when I took the Whistling Kite shot! Always a good day when one of these turns up!

Eastern Barn Owl: The Barn Owls have been pretty far and few in this area at the moment! As the weather warms hopefully more will start to show up! Found two on this night and managed to capture a few flight shots! Also unfinished business for me... haven't quite nailed the shot I'm after yet!

Scarlet-chested Parrot: Highlight of the month was seeing a pair of these beauties nesting up in the Mallee at a place called Gluepot Reserve here in SA! Been three years since my last sighting of this species! Such beautiful little gems these! The first image is of the male.. second is the female then the male again!


Little Eagle: This great bird flew over low when I was photographing Striated Grasswrens also at Gluepot! I clipped the bottom of the wing a touch as it was so close... so I thought I would try a different comp for this one!

Striated Grasswren: SO good to see a pair of these after a period of nearly two years without a sighting! Still no easier to photograph though! LOL

Brown Treecreeper: This I photographed from a hide near a water-point in Gluepot also! Often hanging upside down on tree trunks... somehow I managed to get a shot of this one upright!

Tawny Frogmouth: Starting to get out a little more chasing our night birds now the weather is warming up! The TF's are always a year round staple here and always a joy to find! Funny looking things they are! They can be very individual in the way they react... with some freezing and trying to look like branches whilst others just go about their business and don't seem to perturbed by my presence!

Eastern Barn Owl:  This shot and the next are of a pair which nest in my mate Michael's house yard on his farm! The first shot is of one of the pair near the nest hidden in the tree on the right (out of sight) The one below is the other of the pair which was hunting low of this perch about 200m away!