Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Little Desert weekend

For the last five or six years Joy and I have gone birding in the Little Desert every Queen’s Birthday weekend. This year we had three target birds being Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, Southern Scrub-robin and Slender-billed Thornbill and we found them all, along with the other regulars such as Grey Currawong, Buff-rumped Thornbill and a variety of other honeyeaters.
First light in the cold; looking for Southern Scrub-robins

There had been rain in the area so all the crops were coming up giving the paddocks a low green coat. High clouds made the days dull and photography difficult but they did promise more rain and the locals were really waiting for it to give the wheat a good kick along. 
Roadside Gilbert's Whistler with its crest raised

The weekend started with a rush, literally. We had booked into a motel in Nhill for two nights and it is built in a “U” shape around a central yard with a large tree in it. As we drove in a Collared Sparrowhawk flashed into the yard, did a lap of the tree scattering small birds everywhere, chased one, gave up and landed in the next door’s backyard. What a wonderful way to start the weekend.
Collared Sparrowhawk showing its forked tale and typical stare

On the way to Nhill we did a bit of a scout around the top end of the Little Desert and found McCabe’s Hut Track. It looked like a promising spot because Birdata showed it as a good location for Slender-billed Thornbills. We went back on Sunday morning and drove down the track and, as the saying goes, had Slender-bills “dancing on our toes”. Well, not really, they were really shy so it was more like we had Slender-bills dancing like distant spots before our eyes. Four-wheel drive is essential and unless you have something bigger than a Subie I would recommend doing a u turn after seeing the thornbills and going back out to the north. We didn’t and we did get through to Dimboola, but it was a bit exciting in spots. We could have let air out of the new heavy tread 4X4 tyres but that would have lowered our ground clearance and we needed all we could get. Even so, we did do a redesign job on the plastic sump guard and now a torn part of it hangs downward as a memento (smile).
Tawny-crowned Honeyeater

Tawny-crowned Honeyeater

McCabes Track at the Slender-billed Thornbill site, before the track got really nasty.

Slender-billed Thornbill

Three Slender-billed Thornbills. That is more in one photo than I had ever seen before!

Leaving the Little Desert at Dimboola. It was the last 5 km or so until we reached this sign that were the worst with soft deep sand, just like the sign promises.

Getting a night meal in Nhill can be a bit tricky but the local take-away is excellent so we went in and ordered a pizza. They were so busy the wait was 40 minutes. What to do? Obvious, go owling! We drove down the Winiam East Rd, turned right into C Werners Road, and a beautiful Barn Owl flew across the road in front of us and landed in a paddock. Gorgeous, we were so glad dinner was a 40 minute wait.
The morning after at the Barn Owl site with our tyre tracks from the night before aimed at where the owl landed

Coming home we decide to try again for the Bush Stone-curlews that are meant to live near the hospital in Horsham. As this was about our third attempt to find them we were joking as we drove in as to where they might be, “in that yard?”, “how about that vacant lot?”, “no, under those trees looks like perfect habitat” – and there it was, standing with its back to us. We eventually saw three and it was a new state bird for both Joy and me. What a brilliant way to finish the weekend.
Horsham Bush Stone-curlew

The colouring is just startling

And this bird was in the process of chasing off another Bush Stone-curlew

... possible because he had a mate tucked in under the trees.
As I am always looking for a good country meat pie we stopped at The Ararat Bakery and I got an excellent one (4 stars out of 5) and then went down to Green Hill Lake on the Western Highway, just east of town. This is a great spot to stop and it has a large free camping area with plenty of sites beside the lake and toilet blocks and tables, all in a well maintained park-like setting. There were water birds everywhere and large reed beds that look perfect for bitterns.

All photos and text © Jenny Spry

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