Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Strzelecki Track

Our route from Melbourne to Montecollina Bore
With five days available four of us decided to head for Lyndhurst and the Strzelecki Track. Mel had been telling a Polish neighbour about our proposed trip and she said it was actually not the Strzelecki track we were going on but that it was correctly pronounced "Strel - etz - ki". The track was named after Count Paul Edmund de Strzelecki
Wild Flower. As it looks like a bit like a poppy I thought it was appropriate for today's post, 11th November 2015, one hundred years to the day when my Grandfather boarded a troop ship in Melbourne bound for "The Great War".
Actually there were five of us on the trip because Mel bought "Simone" along as well. Simone is a Garmin GPS and she guided, or tried to guide us, to our destination. All in all she did a very good job but she sometimes tried to take us by a longer route than we wanted and on one or two occasions she was obviously asking us to use roads that didn't really exist. For example, at one point she suggested we take a dirt track through the Murray-Sunset National Park. And at another point she was adamant that we should turn off and use a dirt road that paralleled the highway and was probably the original road into Ouyen. Her main use was when she agreed to go where we wanted to go and she could tell us well in advance where we should turn and the name of the road.
Lyndhurst from the high point of the airport
The reason for the trip was to find Letter-winged Kites, a new bird for all of us, and to make the most of the weekend we met at Joy's on Thursday evening and just on midnight we climbed into her diesel Nissan Patrol with its 1000 km range and headed north. It is just over 1400 km from Melbourne to Lyndhurst so with many driver changes along the way we finally arrived at about 1600 on Friday. We had booked cabins at the Lyndhurst Hotel so that we didn't have to worry about camping gear and food cooking for such a short visit and the rooms were basic but very comfortable. The people at the hotel, both customers and staff were all really friendly and it added to the fun of the trip.
Zebra Finches at Montecollina Bore

Budgerigars sleeping in the shade

Seed head
First thing Saturday we headed north on what we had been told the night before was a really rough track. It seems though that definitions vary between what road-train drivers call rough and what 4x4 drivers call rough. Evidently the corrugations were shaking the big trucks to bits and for some sections they were down to 10 - 20 kph. If we kept the speed over 60 kph the road was not too bad but the ride up to Montecollina Bore where Letter-winged Kites had been reported still took about 4 hours.
Simone at sunrise on the track

Sunrise at a rest area on the track

Road Train. As they are usually three trailers long and can throw up large stones it is wise to stop as they pass
On Saturday the temperature got up to 34ยบ C plus and with the wind and extremely low humidity getting out of the car to birdwatch was truly extreme birding. We made many stops as birds dashed in front of us or were seen off in the gibber and saltbush. These birds included Short-tailed Grasswrens, Cinnamon Quail-thrush and White-winged Fairy-wrens along with very large numbers of Orange Chats. Raptors were also present and we finished the weekend with 10 species. It seems it has been a good breeding year for them as along the road we had nesting Wedge-tailed Eagle, Brown Falcon, Kestrel and Black Kite.
Wedge-tailed Eagle family
North of the bore we searched the location mentioned in Dolby and Clark and eventually had a brief sighting of a Letter-winged Kite as it circled with a Black Kite before disappearing back into cover. We considered chasing it again but one of our group was seriously effected by the heat and we decided it was wiser to help her back to the car. After lots of cold drinks and the aircon turned way up we slowly came back into a condition where we could drive and headed back to Lyndhurst.
It was in the trees on the far side of this sand hill that we found the Letter-winged Kite
As we headed south the skies darkened and we could see rain falling off to the south-east. It came closer and closer and suddenly we were in the middle of one of the heaviest downpours I have seen in years. The rain hitting the roof sounded like hail and the visibility dropped so that we had to stop driving. Amid lots of ooos and aaahhhs of amazement we did not have time to think that we might get stuck, but the rain stopped as fast as it had started. It lasted only 4 or 5 minutes but we and a truck that passed us while were stopped left deep ruts in the roads.
The storm approached from the south-east ....

and hit hard ...

so we pulled over and stopped ...

the rain created a weird effect which may have been steam rising from the hot gibber rocks or water bouncing back up as it hit. Anyway, very impressive.
Sunday saw us back up the track and we tried again to find the Letter-winged Kite but without luck. The weather had changed with the rain and it was now cool with a very strong wind and dust everywhere so we spent a lot of the time in the car. We did find extra birds like Crimson Chat up toward Strzelecki Crossing and at Montecolina Bore two of us found Eyrean Grasswrens, one group near the low trees on the track in and another group about 10 metres to the south of the bore inlet.
Dingo on the gibber plains

Cinnamon Quail-thrush

Flock Bronzewings at the edge of dam
As we headed south I wanted to check out one more stand of trees for Letter-winged Kite. I left my camera in the car as I have found a sure-fire way of interesting sightings is to be without a camera (smile). The others sat in the car as I pushed into the wind to look for the kites. I found nests with desiccated rabbit parts under them and huge flocks of Little Crows but no kites. I did find one very special thing though and that was a grinding stone in the middle of a sand blow-out. It had been beautifully made and fitted my hand perfectly with a gripping ridge on one side for my fingers and a recess on the other for my thumb. It was well used, ground smooth to an edge on the side opposite the grip but not broken in any way. I held it for a while and felt a respect for the owner and a pleasure in being able to hold such a special implement. I then carefully returned it to the spot I had found it and walked off while wondering who had used it last and how long had it been lying, waiting for me to find it. I can close my eyes now and feel that stone. It was very special.
View from the top of a sand dune at Montecollina Bore

Landscape near Lyndhurst

Wedge-tailed Eagle in the sunset
On Sunday night we met Andrew and Carolyn Furner, owners of Mt Lyndhurst Station, in the bar of the Lyndhurst Hotel. We had a long talk and they gave us permission to go in and look for Chestnut-breasted Whiteface at the wrecked car site, which we did next morning. We only had limited time as we had to head for home but we eventually found them to the north of the car. After that it was a case of heading for home but on the way we decided on having one last look at the airport where banded Whiteface had been reported. We didn't find the whiteface but we did find one of the locals making a phone call. Evidently the only reliable spot for reception is while standing on top of the very large tank full of avgas.
Old mine building on Mt Lyndhurst Station

White-winged Fairy-wren

Wrecked Car on Mt Lyndhurst Station

Chestnut-breasted Whiteface
Monday afternoon was basically a mad dash for Melbourne with, other than a night in Morgan, only two serious stops. The first at Yarrara FFR for White-browed Treecreeper and then at Hattah for Mallee Emu-wren, both ticks for two of our group.
Making a phone call from the airport terminal

Landscape near Lyndhurst

Crimson Chats

Drinking at Montecollina Bore

Searching for Eyrean Grasswrens at Montecollina Bore

All images & text © Jenny Spry

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