Tour Report written by client, Nigel Harland
It is difficult to compare birding trips, you need good company, great scenery and special birds. I have just returned from one which had everything. It is not often that the centre of Australia is like it is at the moment, the consistent rain has caused creeks to run, lakes to fill and vegetation to grow. Perhaps the birds have dispersed making them harder to find, but the recent trip along the Birdsville and Strzlecki Tracks put paid to that theory. Dougald Frederick and I went on a personalised tour in mid September 2010 with Peter Waanders after a tour last year failed to find the Grey Grasswren due to windy weather and dust restricting visibility severely.
The first day we drove straight to Lyndhurst and along the Strzlecki Track to the well known site for the Chestnut-breasted Whiteface. We found them relatively easily and had terrific views.
Next day we set off along the Birdsville Track and after an adventurous crossing of the Frome Creek made our way (slowly) to the Cooper Creek, where a small ferry operates for the first time in 20 years. The sight of the Cooper takes your breath away. We found a flock of Wandering Whistling Duck, possibly the first record for SA. Then on to the Mungerannie pub. The site of the Grey Grasswren is some 200km further north, advice from the pub was negative, but we had a go. After 20km, which took nearly an hour, we made a sensible retreat. A slight diversion along sand dunes produced prolonged views of the Eyrean Grasswren sitting on top of a shrub perhaps 20 metres away.
Rain was forecast the next day, so we got up early and made the long trip back to Lyndhurst. The countryside along the route defies any written explanation, you just have to see it. The only things not green are the masses of flowers – yellow, white, purple and orange. I don’t know their names, but that makes no difference. On the way we found Inland Dotterels and Australian Pratincoles.
Peter had found Letter-winged Kites on an earlier trip along the Strzlecki Track, so the aim was to try for them the next day. We woke early to find that there had been heavy showers overnight, but we set off and the track was quite treacherous for the first 25km. We then hit some sealed road and decided to find out what things were like at the other end. Fortunately, the road was a lot better and soon it was clear that the showers had not reached this far. We saw a Black-breasted Buzzard and further along we found a Gibberbird on the Track, less than 20 metres from where we were standing. We then drove to the site where Peter had found the Letter-wings. A search of one site found a Kite sitting on the top of a dead tree. It didn’t take long to find out that it was of Black-shouldered variety. Tension set in as we headed for the other site. The intensity of that tension grew as we approached the second site, there weren’t many trees and there was nothing visible on any of them. We got closer to one tree and suddenly a whitish raptor appeared and before long we saw the “letter wings”! Before long another three birds appeared and settled not far away. There was one adult and three juveniles, suggesting that the earlier breeding had proven successful. We never saw the other adult – which may have been sitting on another brood. High fives all round before we headed back to Lyndhurst.
We headed home the following day and managed to get bogged for the first time less than 50km from Waikerie! The main reason I went on the trip was to find the Grey Grasswren. The fact that we dipped would normally be a negative, but not this time – it means I can go again. It gets better every time I go.