Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ouyen, Hattah & Murray Sunset

With a 3 day Queen's Birthday weekend we needed to get out of Melbourne. Camping would take too much organising (well, OK, truthfully, winter in Victoria is a bit cold for a tent these days, I'm getting old. I need my creature comforts, like warmth - smile). We got a room at the Ouyen Motel and had dinners at the hotel across from the railway station. The food was OK pub food but the building which opened in 1919 when the publican was a Mr Greed is special. There is a grand central staircase out of the foyer and all the doors have ornate lead-light panels announcing the "Commercial Travellers" room, "Lounge", "Bar" and three "Dinning Rooms". I felt totally under-dressed in my birding gear and wished I had packed my full Edwardian dinner gown (smile).
Major Mitchell Cockatoos outside our room in Ouyen

Our plan for the trip was to stop at Lake Tyrell to look for Rufous Fieldwrens (found) and Orange Chats (dipped) then look for new birding locations around Ouyen. The final items on the weekend agenda were to try Honeymoon Track in the Sunset Country to look for Red-lored Whistler (dip) and Black-eared Miner (dip) and have a look at Hattah Kulkyne National Park.
Rufous Fieldwren at Lake Tyrell

The new location we found was the Timberoo Nature Reserve. It is on Scott Road to the south-west of Ouyen and turned out to be an excellent birding spot. About 2.5 km west of the Ouyen to Patchewollock Rd there are some good stands of Pine-belah and when we saw these trees we both thought "White-browed Treecreeper". We stopped and got out and yes, there they were. A little further down the road we found the Timberoo Water-well. The well was dry but the surrounding bush was full of birds. It is a magic location and for those without a 4X4 it is a sealed road location for White-browed Treecreeper that is closer to Melbourne than Yarrara.
Timberoo Nature Reserve

Further along there is a turn off for Walpeup Lake. This was a good place for birds but rather sad. The lake is totally dry but the depth indicators suggest that some time in the past it held deep water. Tucked into the bush around the edge are old camp sites with tables and concrete cooking pits, but all long uncared for and ghostly. The old toilet block has totally decayed and is way past being used. At some time in the past people would have come here to camp and spend holidays by the water but now it is steadily reverting to bush.
White-browed Treecreeper

Honeymoon Track in the Murray Sunset National Park was very quiet but we tried it on Saturday afternoon and again on Sunday morning. The roads from Ouyen into Murray Sunset are in very good condition at the moment and by using Meridian Rd from Walpeup or Trinita Track from just south of Hattah you could get a good sample of this wonderful piece of Victorian mallee in a 2 wheel drive car, as long as there has been no recent rain in the area. Check before you go because the area is remote and more than 25 km from any help.
Trinita Track in the morning light as it passes through a newly planted wheat field

Mallee in the morning light, not with dust on the lens but coloured fairies which when seen at night are called Min-Min 

Trioda (Spinifex or Porcupine Grass) and Malle, favoured habitat for Striated Grasswren

From there we took back roads across to Pink Lakes and found they are full of water. A quick drive for about 1 km along the Mt Crozier track (X-Trail or Subie etc but not 2 wheel drive) got us to our Striated Grasswren site and Joy heard them calling before we were out of the car. I couldn't hear them but I saw them first as I nearly stepped on one getting out of the car – OK poetic license again, it was about 2 metres from the car. I guess it would be possible to walk into the grasswren site but the road is deep sand and it would be hard walking. You also need to watch out for the 4X4s that like to thrash along the track with their little orange flags waving from the front bumper.
Striated Grasswren

To squeeze in lots of birding and in the hope of seeing Malleefowl (dip) and Spotted Nightjar (dip) we started well before dawn each day and watched the sun rise over the mallee. A non-birding surprise was that some of the mallee trees turn their leaves sideways at night so that when you drive the tracks the leaves shine silver in the headlights.
Mallee Tree in morning light

Taking photos of the sunrise near Hattah Kulkyne

The big surprise for the weekend was when we got into Hattah Kulkyne National Park. It is a MUST visit right now if you have the time because all the lakes are full and they are actually still pumping water in as part of an environmental flow. Even the campground at Lake Hattah is flooded and they have built a causeway across it. From what I have heard the pumping is continuing and access to the park will soon be limited so check ahead if you are planning a visit this year.
Mulga Parrot at Hattah Kulkyne

Mulga Parrot

Apostlebird Bird at Hattah Kulkyne where it is a regular campground bird

White-browed Babbler in Murray Sunset

Out on the road to Mournpall Lake we stopped at a group of tall redgums and 7 species of parrot were sunning and checking out nesting hollows. There were Regent Parrot, Australian Ringneck, Yellow Rosella, Major Mitchell Cockatoo, Little Corella, Galah and Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. It was a magic sight. The sun was out and the mix of colours, pinks and greys and yellows and greens, all flashing and shining, was spectacular. I have never before seen so many beautiful parrot species crowded into such a small space.
Regent Parrot

Male and female Regent Parrots

Major Mitchell Cockatoo

Three days of birding gave me 77 species but this time quality definitely outweighed quantity. To see so many Major Mitchell Cockatoos and Regent Parrots that they rated as the "common" birds of the trip was very exciting.
Little Corella

Galah snoozing in the morning warmth

Australian Ringneck race barnadi

All images & text © Jenny Spry