BellBird Tours Birding Blog

 

This year’s Highlights of South Australia tour was run from 20-25 November, through a variety of habitats within South Australia. Covering the Flinders Ranges, outback, Gluepot, Murray River and coast near Adelaide, the trip was guided by Peter Waanders, assisted by Helga Kieskamp. In 6 days the trip totalled 180 bird species including goodies such as 3 species of Grasswren, Scarlet-chested Parrot, Inland Dotterel, Freckled Duck as well as some interesting mammals. Plenty of waterbirds and waders were present here. Good sightings included Australian Spotted and Spotless Crakes. After an early start we spend the entire day exploring the Strzelecki desert around Lyndhurst and Marree. Stony gibber plains, dry creeks lined with ancient Eucalyptus trees, low sand dunes covered in shrubby bushes, and dry floodplains yielded a wide variety of birds. These included Rufous Fieldwren, Little Button-quail, Cinnamon Quail-thrush, White-winged Fairy-wren, Chirruping Wedgebill, Orange Chat and even one Gibberbird. After trying a number of sites we eventually also found a pair of very obliging Thick-billed Grasswrens. At a lake in the middle of the desert we saw Australian Pratincole and many waterbirds including at least 30 Freckled Ducks.

 

The October 2012 Southern Birding Services Grasswren tour took the popular Strzelecki track route. Taking 8 participants in two 4WD vehicles, the tour was guided by Peter Waanders, assisted by Helga Kieskamp. A total of 169 species were seen (very few waterbirds), including 5 Grasswrens and other highlights such as Scarlet-chested Parrot, Ground Cuckoo-shrike and nesting Black-breasted Buzzards and Letter-winged Kites. Following a succesful pre-tour extension in the Adelaide area (with daytime temperatures of 4C and sleet!) where we saw Freckled Ducks, Purple-gaped Honeyeaters, an Australian Spotted Crake and an Owlet-nightjar, we picked up the remaining participants from Adelaide and drove to Waikerie for the night. We set off early to Birdlife Australia’s Gluepot Reserve. We spent the entire morning in the reserve and soon found ourselves observing Chestnut Quail-thrush, Southern Scrubrobin, Gilbert’s Whistler and Shy Heathwren. Not long thereafter we commenced the search for Scarlet-chested Parrot and luck was with us: within minutes we had a male flying right overhead! Of course longer and better views were desired while we started searching the spinifex for Striated Grasswren. After considerable effort we turned up a pair of them, our first Grasswren for the trip. Returning to the car we found a pair of Scarlet-chested Parrots foraging, then perched, allowing great views for everyone.

 

This was a birding and camping trip which included four days in Broome before travelling up the Gibb River and Kalumburu Roads to the Mitchell Plateau and then returning to Broome. The trip had originally been set up by Rob Morris late last year, Peter Waanders and Michael Kearns also joined up for the trip. The main targets were the two WA endemics, Black Grasswren and Kimberley Honeyeater, which are found on the Mitchell Plateau. I had previously done the trip up the Gibb River Road, from Broome to Kununurra in May/June 2004 with Coates Wildlife Tours. However as there were late rains that year, the water levels on the King Edward River were too high for us to cross safely, so we were unable to get up to the Mitchell Plateau. This trip thus focussed on getting up to the Mitchell Plateau as quickly as possible and once we had seen our target birds, then to make our way back to Broome at a more leisurely pace. The return trip from Broome to the Mitchell Plateau involved a lot of driving over corrugated roads and we managed to travel just over 2,100 km.

 

Following the recent split of Western from Thick-billed Grasswren, the June 2012 Southern Birding Services Grasswren tour included this species for the first time. The tour took 8 participants in two 4WD vehicles up the Birdsville track. The tour was guided by Peter Waanders, assisted by Helga Kieskamp. A total of 148 species were seen (very few waterbirds), including all Grasswrens (though fog prevented good views of Short-tailed). It was a cold, overcast morning and the birds took some time to become active but after a while we were looking at a Southern Scrubrobin singing from a bare branch. Its partner was foraging on the ground below. A very inquisitive family of Emu amused us and a Chestnut Quail-thrush was heard singing, and located with some effort, after which great views of a pair were had by all. Other birds present included White-fronted Honeyeater, Gilbert’s Whistler, Mulga Parrot, Spotted and Striated Pardalote, 7 species of Honeyeater, White-browed and Chestnut-crowned babblers, Restless Flycatcher, Red-capped and Hooded Robins. After a successful first stop we set off in search of our first Grasswren species: Striated. These ground-dwelling birds inhabit large patches of the spiky spinifex grass. At the first site we tried one was heard briefly, but disappeared without a trace. To make up for that we had great views of Shy Heathwren, proving not shy at all. We checked another large patch of spinifex where we soon heard, then saw, a Striated Grasswren.

 

Introduction The ‘Great Southern Tour’ has been specifically designed to concentrate on the many specialties of the southern coastal region of Australia and the South Australian outback. This was the first year this 12-day tour was run in its entirety, from Adelaide to Tasmania. Following two good seasons, birds were abundant throughout and the weather […]

 

The October 2011 Southern Birding Services 6-day Five Grasswren tour consisted of 6 participants in two vehicles. As our private Grasswren tours up the Birdsville track had been highly successful in recent weeks, the itinerary took us there once again. The tour was guided by Peter Waanders, assisted by Helga Kieskamp. A total of 191 species were seen, including good views of all 5 Grasswrens. An early departure from Adelaide. Introductions were made at our first stop on the samphire coast a little way north, where a pair of Slender-billed Thornbills showed on cue. In similar habitat further along the coast we had brilliant views of Blue-winged Parrots. Coastal saltpans at Pt Augusta held an estimated 3,000 Banded Stilts while near Hawker we enjoyed our first of many Orange Chats, White-winged Fairy-wrens, Brown and Rufous Songlarks. Travelling along the edge of the Flinders Ranges we had views of Zebra Finch, Chirruping Wedgebill and Black-faded Woodswallow. We arrived in Lyndhurst late in the afternoon and after some effort saw a pair of Thick-billed Grasswrens.

 

The June 2011 Southern Birding Services 6-day Five Grasswren tour consisted of 7 participants in two vehicles. Guided by Peter Waanders and co-led by Tonia Cochran the itinerary took us up the famous Birdsville track where conditions were excellent following high rainfall in preceding seasons. A total of 176 species were seen, including good views of all 5 grasswrens. Foggy and frosty winter conditions didn’t deter a small flock of Slender-billed Thornbills from putting on a show on the samphire coast north of Adelaide. After some solid driving we arrived in the beautiful Flinders Ranges after lunch to search for Short-tailed Grasswren. Despite windy conditions we located 2 individuals that eventually provided great views and photographic opportunities. A family group of Cinnamon Quail-thrush was observed for some time while other good birds such as Zebra Finches, White-winged Fairy-wrens and Black-faced Woodswallows were omnipresent.

 

The year 2010 will long remain in birders’ memories as one of the best years ever for outback birding. Following years of drought, rain had been falling in the outback since November ’09 and seemingly didn’t stop. Every few weeks another major front dumped inches and inches of rain in the parched deserts resulting in conditions, described by one Aboriginal elder, as ‘never seen before by white people’. Creeks flowing for months on end; inter-dunal swales retaining water well into spring; carpets of purple, pink, yellow, white and red wildflowers; and of course, bird activity second to none. The downfall of all this water was that many of our tours had to have last-minute changes to the itinerary due to road closures and flooding. Nevertheless, thanks to the ingenuity of our staff we almost always found a way to the birds! The October Southern Birding Services Five Grasswren tour, with 8 participants and 2 guides, departed from Adelaide in the morning of 11 October and again, the threat of rain was looming in coming days. We were forced to compress the outback component of the tour by one day but nevertheless this trip was, according to the participants, ‘fantastic’ – ‘fabulous’ – ‘amazing’ etc…! Highlights were all five Grasswrens (yes including Grey!), Inland Dotterel, Australian Pratincole, Letter-winged Kite, Bourke’s Parrot, Cinnamon Quail-thrush, Ground Cuckoo shrike, Chestnut-breasted Whiteface, 4 chats including Gibberbird, etc etc….

 

The June 2010 Southern Birding Services private Five Grasswren tour was, according to the participants, ‘the stuff of legends’. Day after day, rarity after rarity, in stunning scenery following excellent conditions not seen in over 20 years, it was hard to choose a single highlight of the trip –there were just too many. A brilliantly coloured male Red-lored Whistler singing its head off in the mallee eucalypt scrub. Two pairs of Letter-winged Kites on their nests in the desert. Six Chestnut-breasted Whitefaces in the mild early-morning light at some 10m distance in the scope…. A pair of Gibberbirds mating. A family group of Cinnamon Quail-thrush quietly feeding within metres of the vehicle. The calm waters of a large swamp, flooded for the first time in over a decade, where the constant chatter of ibis and spoonbill rookeries provided a background chorus to the crippling views of Grey Grasswren sitting atop lignum bushes in the foreground. Eyrean Grasswrens running along the crest of a wildflower-covered red sand dune in the late afternoon sunlight. A perfect Grey Falcon on a communications tower sitting beside its nest…. Birding doesn’t get much better than this.