Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Murray-Sunset 3rd to 6th September

This year has been very wet in Victoria, maybe as wet 2010 when all the lakes and dams filled. With the hope that the Mallee parks around Ouyen would be green and their trees would be in flower three of us headed north for a long weekend of birding. Joy had insisted I was to enjoy by birthday properly and had taken an extra day off work. Mel was working on her Year List in the hope that she could see 400 species in the year, and see some new birds as well. I was along for a fun weekend of birding.
Pink Lakes with camping area
Melbourne to Ouyen is a well-worn track for us. First stop is Lockwood South for a cup of tea at the rest stop and sports ground. Usually a well cared for area the rains had sent everything into overdrive and the ground was covered in a long growth of something that looked like Cape Weed.
Orchid Calandenia parva
Second stop was lunch at Lake Tyrell. Usually this is an all but dry salt pan but this year the water levels are high. Strangely Lake Tyrell, 400 km From Adelaide, 400 km from Melbourne and 800 km from Sydney - all as the crow flies - has become the latest must-visit place for Chinese tourists. Sea Lake, the nearest town with a population of just over 600 is a dying wheat town but check out this website:    and the photos when you Google Lake Tyrell. The photos are fantastic and you can see why the place has become so popular.

As we left Lake Tyrell and headed north west the rain set in and our hoped for afternoon tea in Timberoo Forest Reserve got washed out. We went their because it is one of the closest places to Melbourne to see White-browed Treecreepers. We slipped and slid along the dirt roads and out to the Mallee Highway and the road into Ouyen. Mel also collects photos of "Big Things" and in Ouyen they have the Big Wheat Sheaf and The Big Mallee-root. She collected photos of them both to add to her collection.
Sunrise on the way into Murray-Sunset

Watching Brown Songlark singing at sunrise

Restful is not a word I would apply to the weekend but fun is. We drove out to Pink Lakes to look for Striated Grasswren and Joy was the only one to see one. Into Honeymoon Track hoping for Red-lored Whistler, Black-eared Miner and Chestnut Quail-thrush. Of course we dipped on the first two but Mel got a tick with the quail-thrush. We also found some Mallee Emu-wrens which I had great fun with 'cos I was road testing my new hearing aid ... and I could hear them!! The aid has three settings, one indoor and two outdoor. Of course it had taken me some time with the audiologist before she did what I wanted with one of the outdoor settings which was to crank up the high frequency end. When I finally said I was happy with the settings she had them at the extreme of the capability and she said the sound would be to loud. She was right, inside or for normal use it is too loud but in the silence of the Murray-Sunset bush it was perfect. All the little bush noises I haven't heard since I can't remember when just whispered in my ear. Of course when a Rainbow Lorikeet goes over my first instinct is to clasp my hands to my ears and duck (smile).
Mallee Emu-wren

Mulga Parrots showing banding at base of tail

Female and male Mulga Parrot

Male and young adult male Mulga Parrots

The fight goes on. Male upper and young male lower

I think "bird(s) of the weekend" were the Mallefowl we found working a nest. In all my years of birding this was the first time I had seen Malleefowl at a nest, mainly because I do not like staking out nests. This particular nest was a bit different because we came across it no more than 20 metres in from the road and we could watch without leaving the car or road. I will need to do some more reading though because there were 3 adult birds near the nest so I assume one pair and an interloper hoping to break up the couple. And, again, because of my new hearing aid I could even hear the low frequency "oooom" call the birds were making.

Malleefowl working nest. The male adds or scrapes off leaf litter and sand to maintain the best  nest temperature for incubation of the eggs.

Planning for a birthday dinner in a town where there are only two options is not too difficult. The hotel does a good, umm? well ... , yes, alright, an OK,  "hotel-style" meal and the Ouyen Club has a nice selection of country town style "Asian come Chinese" dishes. Both were available for dinner on the Monday night and I finally selected the hotel. I chose it for two reasons; first, the hotel offers the standard "sticky date pudding" type desert but the club does not offer dessert and, second, my Great Grandfather used to stay at the hotel in Ouyen when he worked as a fertiliser salesman after the first war. So, dessert and sentiment won out. The BIG error though turned out to be not guessing that Monday night might be the cook's night off at the hotel. The meal was memorable and my 2016 birthday dinner will go down in our birding history annals as the worst hotel dinner ever. Perhaps the worst birding dinner ever, just coming a very close second behind an unexpected camping night meal on the Nullarbor Plain where the only food we had was canned meat and baked beans.

Male Chestnut Quail-thrush

My final count for the weekend was 95 and amongst them the best for me were the Mallee Emu-wrens, Chestnut Quail-thrush, Malleefowl working a nest and the Mulga Parrots having an aerial fight.
So, all in all I have declared my birthday weekend a success; a new bird for Mel, fun birding with friends and a TRULLY MEMORABLE birthday dinner that I will never forget (smile).
Mallee Military Dragon Ctenophorus fordi

Noisy Miner

Australian Painted Lady

White-eared Honeyeater

Four locals on the Brim wheat silos

Two more mallefowl made, from corrugated iron

All images and text © Jenny Spry

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