Monday, January 10, 2011

Rather Random South Australian Trip Report

Following on from my Kangaroo Island report I had a further week birding in South Australia. I hadn’t really planned what or where I was going except that I wanted to look for race myall of the Thick-billed (or Western) Grasswren near Iron Knob and I wanted to spend a couple of days looking for Scarlet-chested Parrot in Yumbarra Conservation Park, everything else would just happen as it happened. Had good success with these and plenty of other good birds. Would like to thank Steve Potter and Tim Dolby for the good oil and would also recommend downloading Peter Waanders pdf document on birding SA, certainly worth the $7 J I certainly gave my new Grand Vitara a bashing, it left Melbourne with just over 2000 on the clock and now has 10000 but it served me well and easily got me everywhere I wanted to go. I hadn’t spent time in South Australia except for a scout jamboree as a kid and a few odd visits to Adelaide for work and to meet friends so drunk a lot of West End and listened to a fair bit of Redgum to get into the mood. The real memories of South Australia however are the subtle colours of the land contrasting with the vibrant blues of the sea and the sky.... and listening to us losing the cricket.... again.

Drove from Cape Jervis to Adelaide airport where I dropped Simone off on the 2nd of January. Rather a slow trip due to holiday traffic then I was treated to Adelaide’s bizarre one way motorway... which was off course going the wrong way for us.

From Adelaide I headed north towards Port Augusta for the evening but stopped in at Port Gawler looking for Slender-billed Thornbill. It was blowing a gale and all I saw were many White-winged Fairy-wren and Pipits. The highlight of the trip north was a very nice Spotted Harrier 30 km south of Port Augusta. The Bird Lake on the way into Port Augusta had several hundred Banded Stilts bobbing away which was nice to see after missing them in Victoria all last year. Booked a couple of nights at a caravan park as I figured I may need the time to find the grasswren.

Got to Arid Lands Botanical Gardens for opening and the first bird I heard and saw was Chirruping Wedgebill which was a target for me. In the carpark I ran into Ben Blewitt and we ended up seeing some other good birds like White-backed and Rufous Fieldwren. While some of the eremophila was flowering there were no unusual honeyeaters around. We decided to go look for the grasswren together and headed off to Iron Knob. Started in the paddock next to the abandoned service station which has some good birds like Redthroat, Slender-billed Thornbill and Rufous Fieldwren but couldn’t find any grasswren’s in the time there. Headed south towards Whyalla and stopped around post 255. We managed to get onto a party of the Thick-billed Grasswrens quite easily although getting decent views took a bit of time. I ended up following the group until one bird ran into an isolated clump of bluebush and stayed there. I tiptoed up to the clump and it didn’t pop out so was able to look down in and see it staring back up at me... very cool. Ended up getting further good binocular views of them in the low branches of a tree.

Said goodbye to Ben and headed to Whyalla for lunch and to check out the Whyalla Conservation Park. It was quite hot being early afternoon as I hit the park so there was not much bird activity. I drove to the base of Wild Dog hill which is a sandstone outcrop in the corner of the park. During a walk around the base of the outcrop I found at least 3 separate groups of grasswrens and got some fantastic views. On the way back to Port Augusta I checked the traditional Middleback station site and again found a group of grasswrens. With the amount of habitat that looks suitable in the Iron Knob, Port Augusta and Whyalla triangle they must be quite common. Before grabbing dinner I drove roads and tracks north of Port Augusta seeing some nice birds like Blue Bonnet, White backed Swallow and plenty of woodswallows.

Drove to Ceduna the next morning stopping for a couple of hours at Lake Gilles CP where I had some of the best birding of the trip, would love to come back and camp here for a few days. Found Rufous Treecreeper near the truckstop on the highway. Checked a lot of fairy-wrens on the road in and around the lake but could only find Splendid and Variegated, the Splendid being the lovely race musgravi which was new for me. The lake’s edge (dry) was pumping with heaps of parrots (Mulga, Ringneck and Cockatiel), White-fronted Honeyeater and mixed small birds. On the way back out I stopped about 1.5km from the lake where the bush changes from mallee to a small blueish bush. It was here that I finally found a small party of Blue-breasted Fairy-wren with a resplendent male. Here I also watched a pair of Brown Falcon co-operatively hunting a woodswallow. They would continually take turns attacking the woodswallow which would dodge easily but each time lose height. When the action hit the trees it did not end well for the woodswallow.

Got to Ceduna and booked a couple of days at the Shelley Beach Caravan Park. I had planned to spend the next 2-3 days searching for the SC Parrot in Yumbarra CP but had itchy feet so headed out straight away without even setting up the tent. Got to the electric fence and got out to open the gate... just be aware that the fence must have a bit of a leak.. the gate gives a nice little jolt J I bumped into another group of birders who were heading out very pleased with themselves having just seen a juvenile SCP. This gave me hope and I spend the next three hours searching a number of places and just as I was about to come back tomorrow I flushed a beautiful female from some low vegetation. It flew to a branch and even allowed me to do a little dance of triumph. I was able to watch her for about 20 minutes before leaving her in peace. I returned the next morning hoping for a male just after dawn and searched the area for over 8 hours walking over 22km through the scrub according to the GPS but with no sign of any more SCP’s. The GPS map of my meanderings was a good imitation of chaos theory. Still managed to get great views of some really good views of Chestnut Quail-thrush, unShy Heathwren and I always seemed to have Western Yellow Robins following me around. On the way out of the park had a very inquisitive Red-backed Kingfisher. I had planned to spend another day or two looking but lost some motivation so was to start heading back the next day.

I had a good tip of a very accessible wader roost at the end of Yanerbie Beach which is about 16km south of Streaky Bay. Despite not having a scope was able to get very close to the roosting waders with binoculars using the small cliffs as cover. Whimbrel, Greenshank, G-T Tattler, Turnstone, Curlew and S-T Sandpiper, Grey and Golden Plover, Reef Egret and Fairy Tern were all seen and I certainly think the site would be worth further visits.

Headed back to Port Augusta the long way by turning north at Wudinna and working my way through Gawler Ranges National Park to Yardea, Mount Ive and Iron Knob. It was the hottest it had been so far on the trip with the temperature over 40 as I entered Gawler Ranges NP. I drove along stopping wherever there looked like activity with Southern Scrub-Robin and Rufous Treecreeper being highlights amongst more common birds. I would certainly like to come back here when it was cooler as there was a lot of country that looked good for some decent exploring. About 50 km short of Mt Ive I shredded a tyre which was fun to change with the temperature pushing 45. I was considering stopping at Mt Ive Station for the night to have a crack at the local race of the Short-tailed Grasswren but not having a spare I decided it could wait for another time. There entire 300 km I was off the highway I did not see another car or person.
As I waited for the tyre shop to open in Port Augusta I again visited the Arid Lands Botanical Gardens where I saw much the same species as the previous visit with the notable addition of a Red-backed Kingfisher. After replacing the tyre I headed to Telowie Gorge Conservation Park just out of Port Pirie where I picked up Grey-fronted Honeyeater easily on the gorge walk. I spent a fair bit of time looking for the local race of the Chestnut-rumped Heathwren and eventually got onto a calling male about 300 meters from the carpark in typical habitat. Other good birds here included Elegant Parrot and a Spotted Harrier circling over the gorge.

Drove backroads to Laura during which I had one of the more bizarre experiences of the trip. Stopped to check out some neophemas that had flushed from a creek as I drove past.(On a public road) As I returned to the car I saw an old farmer type watching me from the other side of the fence. Elegant Parrots I explained to him. He explained that he was sick of Greenie Hippie types around the place. I then explained that I was actually more into science based conservation and that I had never discovered the free love movement. Things degenerated somewhat from there and I left while he went to fetch his dogs or guns or both.
As the last cricket test finished up I headed to Morgan where I birded at one of Peter Waanders’ sites at Promitz Road. There was a fair bit of eremophila flowering but it seemed a bit past its best, be worth visiting again a bit earlier in the season. Good birds for the road included Chestnut-crowned Babbler, Redthroat, White-fronted Honeyeater and an Owlet-nightjar which flushed from its hollow and even allowed me to go back to the car and get a camera.

Had decided to spend the night at Hattah so headed across the border dropping in at Yarrara FFR. Plenty of Cockatiel, W-B Woodswallows, Mulga Parrot and I flushed around six Little Button-Quail from various places along the fenceline.

Got to Hattah Campground about an hour before sunset with the place empty aside from a couple of French tourists in their underwear... perhaps making a late run for bird of the trip. The lake is currently full to the brim with water across half the campsite. Cooked dinner while watching the Regent Parrots fly in, one of my favourite wildlife experiences. It was about now that the mosquitoes started... I lit coils, smothered myself in DEET and still they kept coming. Grabbed beer and fled to the tent. About 30 minutes later a car sped out of the campground, that was the tourists fleeing the mosquitoes. It sounded like rain against the tent but that was the sound of the mozzies trying to bash their way in. A Barn Owl screamed close by but there was no way I was getting up to spotlight it.

Got up in the morning after a very bad nights sleep and packed up in a hurry. Birded along Konardin and Nowingi tracks which were really buzzing in a number of places with good birds. Gilbert’s Whistler, Striped Honeyeater, Shy Heathwren, Chestnut Quail-thrush and heaps of Budgies were highlights. Was one of those days where Mallee Emu-wrens seemed to be everywhere and I found a number of parties on both tracks without even really looking.

Had breakfast at Hattah General Store then headed across the Raak Plains into Murray-Sunset where I did a loop around the eastern side. Highlights here were a magnificent Black Falcon on the Raak Plain, over 100 Regent Parrots feeding in various places and my first Victorian Elegant Parrots along the Last Hope Track.

A Red-backed Kingfisher at the grain silos at Kiamal was a nice bird for the trip home. Unfortunately now I am back at work with just a mad beard and a dirty car to show for it. Ended up seeing 183 species in South Australia and site lists for most sites are on eremaea if interested. If anyone wants further info, please let me know.

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