Last time I stayed at Hattah Kulkyne National Park in north-west Victoria daytime temperatures were in the low 50º C and the birds were looking for any shade they could find, including down rabbit burrows and under logs. We spent a lot of time in the car with the air conditioning on.
This time the weather was perfect for birds and birders with daytime temps in the mid 20s and little to no wind. The birds were not easy to find but when we did find them they were spectacular. Malleefowl were everywhere, especially at dusk and dawn, and we must have seen 20 or so, including active nesting mounds. Feeding waves of honeyeaters and thornbills worked through the mallee scrub calling as they moved through the leaves and ground litter. Even the usually difficult to find Crested Bellbird was comparatively easy to see.
|I never thought I would be able to say "the Malleefowl were common" but they were. Sadly my camera lens died so many of these photos were taken with an old Canon S3 point and shoot.|
I also saw some areas of the Sunset country I have never been to before. At the north edge where the Werrimull South Rd meets the park we found White-browed Treecreepers. From here we drove east and then south down the Rocket Lake track to the wonderfully, beautifully, bleak Raak Plains.
|The Raak Plains. There was a delicious smell of rain in the air and the chats we hoped to find did not show so we moved on.|
South of here on Honeymoon Track we found a Red-lored Whistler and, almost better, we were birding near a couple who found and photographed a Black-eared Miner. Now I MUST go back. I have seen them at Gluepot but never in Vic and it’s special to know that there are some existing colonies in the state.
|When I pished this male pileata came and did a distraction display, hopping back and forward with his head down and feathers puffed out.|
The Lakes at Hattah have some water in them but they are drying out. There were not many waders around but we did find a single Banded Stilt and in the evenings many birds came down to drink. Our camp was back from the lake but, fortuitously, it was under the flight-path of the Common Bronzewings as they came in to drink each night. The Regent Parrots seemed to prefer a morning drink and they flew over just after there was enough sun to light the tops of the trees.
|Evening on Lake Hattah|
|The lone Banded Stilt on Lake Hattah|
Apostlebirds owned the Hattah campground and moved from campsite to campsite checking for dropped crumbs and hand-outs. The shock though, for me, was to be standing in the morning light with a last bite of yummy, hot buttered hot cross bun held gently between thumb and forefinger. As I lifted it toward my mouth there was a rush of air, a brush of wing feathers across my face and a roar of laughter from Joy. A Grey Butcherbird had come through and taken the last bite of bun (and everyone knows the last bite is the tastiest) from between my fingers and carried it to a branch above my head.
|Noisy Miners in the evening light above our campsite|
|Early morning on the road from Hattah to Honeymoon Track|
Event of the trip would have to be when we went spotlighting for Spotted Nightjar. As we drove north on the Mournpall Track one flushed from beside the car as we passed. It rose to just below bonnet level and then paced the car down the track keeping just ahead of us and in the headlights. The wing-spots shone and the colours of the back showed clearly. The car filled with gasps, ooohs and aaahs as we watched, spellbound, until it lifted slightly and veered off across the open heathland. Some moments in birding are just special.
|Spotted Nightjar with its eyes shining in the car's headlights.|
All images copyright Jenny Spry