South Australia: From Black Swans to Eyrean Grasswren - 18th - 21st August 2006

Published by Mike Catsis (mikecatsis AT hotmail.com)

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I had been in contact with Peter Waanders earlier in the year about visiting Gluepot Reserve and maybe the Strzelecki track in South Australia as part of my mixed family holiday/birding trip to Australia. In the end it was just a trip too far and demonstrated the need for some kind of restraint in planning a birding trip over a short period in Oz However a couple of months later Peter got in touch again and suggested that I join him in a shared expenses recce to the Flinders Ranges and Strzelecki track as he wanted to prepare the ground for a commercial trip later in the year. I jumped at the chance and thus we arranged a 3-day trip in mid August.

18 August

Peter picked me up at Adelaide airport to where I had travelled from Cairns. Our evening destination was to be Wilpena Pound, a tourist resort in the Flinders Ranges.

On the way up there we stopped to bird a few spots; St Kilda, Port Gawler and Port Augusta ; all sites located north of Adelaide along the Gulf .

St Kilda: not far from Adelaide itself this maritime site produced large numbers of Pacific Black Duck amongst which were a few Pink-eared Duck, Chestnut and Grey Teal , Black Swans , wading birds such as Royal Spoonbill and White Ibis , some early wader returns Red-necked Stint and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and the best of the lot a pair of Sooty Oystercatchers which I had missed up to now on my trip .

Port Gawler: further north rain stopped play at this site , a reliable spot for Slender-billed Thornbill which we picked up on the way back down on 21st August .

Port Augusta: one of the species we had been searching for at the previous two sites was Banded Stilt , somewhat of a specialty in this region . We did not find any until Peter decided at the last minute to turn into a parking space next to a large lagoon coming into Port Augusta and the first birds we saw were a flock of some 30 individuals. A wonderful sighting of a very beautiful and unusual species. On the other side of town is the newly created Desert Botanical Gardens, a fascinating reserve, which can produce some interesting species such as Black Honeyeater at the right time of year. We were a bit early for this species, which usually turns up around september for the flowering Eremophila bushes, however we did turn up Chirruping Wedgebill , White-fronted Chat and White-winged Fairy Wren of which we were treated to a simply stunning adult male .

After this we still had quite a way to go until Wilpena where we arrived after dark, our journey having been punctuated by an unfortunate collision with a kangaroo , felling the beast and damaging Peter’s bumper .

19 August

We set off in the freezing early morning to Stokes Hill, a reliable site for Short-tailed Grasswren, a generally accepted, but not yet formal, split from Striated Grasswren . My first real introduction to grasswren location I was treated to a real tease as this species specialises in hide and seek. The thin ventriloquial calls leading one up the spinifex path as shadowy forms turned this into something of a ghost hunt. Finally, perhaps as the sun began to warm things up a bit, one bird perched up onto a spinifex bush and hey presto we had short but highly tickable views. Peter assured me that Striated Grasswren is quite a different kettle of fish, as I was to find out on the Nowingi Track some days later. Few other birds were around but we did see several Elegant Parrots and disturbed a roosting Tawny Frogmouth. Having found our most wanted we sped off to Arkaroo Rock to look for Grey –fronted Honeyeater, another specialty of this area. We never did catch up with this species but did see more Elegant Parrots and heard a Black-eared Cuckoo, but could not locate it. Our last foray in this area before we began the long drive up to Lyndhurst was on the Wilpena Pound Track where we quickly found our main target a fine singing Redthroat having been treated to a Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, unusual for this site.

Some 5 hours later we arrived at Lyndhurst, checked into the local pub (the only accommodation) and drove the surprisingly good condition Strzelecki track to the legendary km 26, the Chestnut-breasted Whiteface site , for a late afternoon recce. We found little at the rusty car site, on the left hand side of the track going north; one of the local known spots for this rare species. Despite finding Rufous Fieldwren fairly easily we located little else of real interest and retired to the pub for early drinks.

20 August

We arrived at the other km 26 spot on the right hand side this morning between the two gates at around 7:15 am deciding, after our previous grasswren experience, that too early meant too cold and therefore little activity . We were to be proved correct as soon we were hearing the tell-tale high pitched calls this time of Thick-billed Grasswren, which turned out to be much easier to get good views of than Short-tailed Grasswren . Content that we had found this species so quickly we decided to go across the road to a GPS site that Peter had for Chestnut-breasted Whiteface. However this proved unnecessary as on the way to the road we spied 3 birds and got good views of the diagnostic chestnut patches on the breast. Only one species to go, the Cinnamon Quail Thrush. We crossed over to the rusty car and within 2 minutes we saw a pair of this beautifully marked species foraging on the ground. Another pair was then located nearby.

8:30 and all the special birds located we decided to head north. Having not planned to go as far north as Merty-Merty we set our limit to 220km north of Lyndhurst, Montecollina Bore a waterhole in the middle of sand-dunes from where a recent sighting of Eyrean Grasswren had been reported. On the way north long expanses of nothing much other than stony ground rolled past ...but the road was in such good condition that we made good time. We saw little on the way up but what was lacked in quantity we made up for in quality as at km 135 two Ground Cuckoo-Shrikes flew up from their eponymous habitat flashing their white rumps; at km 159 a lone Gibberbird caught our attention at the side of the road and on inspecting this rather greener patch of habitat we turned up a Pied Honeyeater. After seeing nothing much more than White-backed Swallows, one of the more beautiful swallow species, at km 173 the habitat began to change rather quickly at around km 210 to sand dunes covered with cane grass and at around midday we had reached Montecollina Bore .

We had some vague directions about where the grasswren had been seen but it took a fair amount of searching what appeared to be a lot of dead canegrass patches before we finally heard high pitched calling. A scurrying shape running between dunes alerted us to our quarry and soon we were treated to outstanding views of Eyrean Grasswren , a species which I had never expected to see on this trip . Elated we had a leisurely lunch and returned back to Lyndhurst finishing off this extraordinary day with a lone Square-tailed Kite at Yerilina Creek some 75km from Lyndhurst.

21st August

Today we drove back slowly to Adelaide stopping only at Port Gawler once more to look for Slender-billed Thornbill . This time the weather was fine and before long we had located a bird, which seemed to be attending a nest site. Peter dropped me off at the YHA in Adelaide at 4pm after which I successfully searched for Musk Lorikeets in the centre of town along the river. I then returned to my room and collapsed into a disturbed sleep after our 2000km ‘short trip ‘ before getting up again at 4:30 am to get to the airport for a flight to Melbourne.

Postscript

Peter Waanders offers 3-day trips to Flinders Ranges and the Strzelecki track, or can arrange custom tours depending on which species you wish to see. His knowledge of the birds and the sites is excellent and I can thoroughly recommend his services.

Check out his excellent website
http://www.sabirding.com/

and contact him by e-mail at peterw@riverland.net.au .