What should you do if you have 5 free days? Pack the car, throw the tent on the roof and go birding, of course. And where to go? Well, as we did not have Redthroat on our state list, what better place to go than Wyperfeld National Park in western Victoria – well, actually it is the only place if you want to see a Redthroat in Victoria (smile). We found them too, which was nice AND we saw and heard heaps of Boobooks which means this year Joy has seen every night bird (owls and nightjars) in Victoria, and I just need to get out and see a White-throated Night-jar.
|Wyperfeld National Park (Google maps)|
Another reason for going to Wyperfeld was that I had never camped there before. It is about a 5 hour drive n-w of Melbourne and lies between the main interstate highways which means that there are lots of small back roads to bird on before you get there. Going to Wyperfeld also meant that we had to drive through Horsham at lunchtime. This is important because Waack’s Pie shop is in the main street of Horsham and they make a very good meat pie, and a beyond-excellent vanilla slice with the best bottom pastry I have ever tasted on a vanilla slice. Yum.
|Our camp before all the "neighbours" arrived|
With an early start from Melbourne we arrived at Wyperfeld in the early afternoon, set up our camp well away from the other campers and then walked out the Discovery trail in search of Redthroats. We failed to find any but had very pleasant views of White-browed Babblers, Splendid Fairy-wrens, Shy Heathwren, Inland and Chestnut-rumped Thornbills and an assortment of parrots and cockatoos.
|Grey Currawong race melanoptera|
|Australian Ringneck race barnardi|
Back in camp by 7 pm with about an hour of daylight left we opened the cheese and crackers and poured a “wee dram” each before preparing dinner. It was just 2 nights off new moon and as the sky darkened the stars came out in full brilliance as they only can when there are no large towns or cities within 130 km in any direction. As we sat and admired the stars Boobooks started calling and we had at least 4 around the camp. A short walk with our small spotlights soon had us looking at a pale female and a very dark, smaller, male. There was a Barn Owl calling too but we only got one quick glimpse as it flew off into the dark.
|Australian Hobby, looking fast even when it is sitting still|
Our first full day was Saturday and as we had done our “reconnoiter” walk the night before we headed out again to look for Redthroats. Our hopes rose because we passed a camp and met Margaret and Richard Alcorn who assured us that the Redthroats were quite easy to find. Hmmmm, we should have known what would happen after that, we couldn’t find one. Bother. The wild flowers were spectacular though and we enjoyed our walk as we meandered through the park finding birds, butterflies and kangaroos.
|Galah with Redthroat habitat in background|
|Sulphur-crested Cockatoo stained by the red sand of the dunes|
It was a beautiful warm morning with a gentle breeze and during the walk Wyperfeld turned on a special event for us, and it wasn’t even bird related except if we hadn’t walked off the track looking for a Redthroat we may not have seen it. As we turned to head back to the track Joy thought she could see smoke coming from a fire. There in front of us was a dark green tree with smoke billowing off its crown. It turned out, however not to be smoke but huge clouds of pollen. With each slight puff of breeze the pollen would smoke from the tree. A Red Wattlebird flew in and landed on a branch, and pollen erupted. Joy walked down and pulled a branch down and pollen went everywhere. The tree was a Scrub Cypress-pine (Callitris verrucosa) and they were very common but it was just this one that was smoking clouds of pollen onto the morning breeze, and we were watching. Birding is such a wonderful hobby.
|Scrub Cypress-pine "on fire"|
|Pollen release after a quick shake of a branch|
Back at camp we decided that another walk in the heat of days was not a good idea so we had lunch and then drove the loop track and explored some other side roads along the way with many stops for birds. The male Splendid Fairy-wrens were particularly showy and we decided that they actually wanted to sit up and be looked at.
On our evening walk to look for Redthroats we again failed dismally to find these small, drab brown birds that live in dense teatree stands. Three walks, three dips. Bother again. We just about got back to camp, however, when we met Stuart Dashper and he told us about a “guaranteed” location. As strong winds were forecast for the next day we set a plan to go to Stuart’s spot first thing and then do a 320 km return drive east to Goshen, Tresco and Lake Tuchewop to hunt down some more of the local dry-land specialties.
With an early start we were at Stuart’s “guaranteed” location by 7 am and sure enough, after stumbling around sort of lost in eye-high scrub and prickly bushes we walked out on to a clear, grassed swale with tall teatree around the edge. Five minutes later we had our Redthroat and a swag of other birds as well and left singing Stuart’s praises. We walked slowly back to the car, birding as went and had breakfast. By 8:30 we were on our way to Goshen.
|Redthroat habitat - teatree around a grassy swale|
Goshen is not really a “place” at all anymore, it’s just a cross road and a remnant bush patch with a derelict tennis court in the middle surrounded by wheat fields. What it does have though is a large number of species of eremophila and flowering eucalyupts that attracts a wide range of honeyeater species. Black Honeyeater was our main target and pied are also regular visitors, but not this weekend. Almost as good as looking at the birds was running into Nicole and checking out her new-to-her Troopie campervan; now, I need one of those – but please don’t tell my little Subaru in case she gets upset.
From Goshen we headed on to Tresco, where we found a White-winged Triller on the Lakeside track in the reserve, then went to Lake Tuchewop for White-winged Fairy-wren and Orange Chat and found both. The chat put up a bit of a struggle until we decided to drive the track across the salt flats. Normally we drive in off the Benjeroop - Tresco road and use the track that runs along the top of the east side of the irrigation channel, which is perfectly fine in dry weather, even for 2 wheel drive vehicles. From this track we could see movement down amongst the samphire and heath but could not identify the birds. We had been looking at a track down on the flat and found that it joined the track we were on at a brick building, probably a pumping station. We drove down and headed back along this track toward Benjeroop - Tresco road and found that it was hard packed and fine for driving on, but I wouldn’t go near it if there had been any rain. It comes out at the back right hand corner of a small car parking area just past the irrigation channel on Benjeroop - Tresco road. If you are looking for Orange Chat I would recommend this low track highly.
|Lake Tuchewop showing irrigation channel track, car park and lower track (Google Earth)|
Driving out to Goshen and coming back we made sure to drive through Hopetoun because I had heard that the White-breasted Woodswallows like to sit on the power wires in town. We didn’t see them on the way out but coming back, there they were.
|Immature Hooded Robin|
|Immature Rufous Whistler|
Back at the campground things had changed and there were caravans, tents and campervans all around us – but not down at the other end of the campground. This could be another item to add to my “how to make things happen” list – If you want to end up surrounded by other campers, chose a spot that doesn’t have any when you arrive. What we did notice though is there are two gates into the camp area, the first to the western end and the second to the eastern end. It seems that most people drive in the first gate and set up camp so if you want fewer campers near you, go in the second gate to the east end.
After our long drive we decided Monday was going to be our day to properly explore Wyperfeld so we walked out to Lake Brambuk and then back around the Discovery loop. The birding was excellent and we sat under the gum trees around the dry lake and watched Regent Parrots flying all around. Along the walk to and from the lake we found that the Redthroats weren’t too hard to find after all, you just need to look in the right habitat (smile). I had read reports that said “walk out to this sand dune” or “look to the left on this ridge” but it seems that they are actually widely spread across this south-east part of the park and can be found by checking in the 2 metre high teatree bush where it grows on the edge of the grassy swales. They aren’t too common but they are a size larger than the thornbills that are everywhere, and it is just a case of checking all the little brown birds you find on the edge of the open grassland.
|Male Regent Parrot|
|Female Regent Parrot|
We ended our stay at Wyperfeld with a good list of all the expected species and a few special ones including Chestnut Quail-thrush, Splendid Fairy-wren, Hobby, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, Inland Thornbill, Brown Songlark, Hooded Robin, Gilbert’s Whistler, Regent Parrot and Redthroat. We missed seeing a Malleefowl that was seen by John and Stuart on the Malleefowl walk and what did surprise us was we did not see any emus anywhere.
|Australian Magpie - black-backed form|
On the drive back to Melbourne the "how to make things happen" list again proved its infallibility. When we stopped for lunch we watched a pair of Weebills copulating on a branch and then doing an amazing courtship flight where they faced each other and, while flapping manically like humming birds, rose vertically for about 2 metres before breaking off in a game of chasey around the branches. Then 4 Black-tailed Native-hens swam out in line-astern from the shore and headed for a small island, tails and heads erect, looking in the distance like small, black Pushmi-pullyus. My camera was in the car! Sigh!
|Ripe wheat-fields for as far as the eye can see|
All text & photos © Jenny Spry