Birding South-West Queensland

by Tom and Marie Tarrant


Pink Cockatoo

During the past 10 years I have made many visits to the area west of my own base in South-East Queensland, the change in flora and fauna is a gradual one, linked to the decline in rainfall towards the centre, however, the change in bird-life can surprise the first-time visitor. Most overseas visitors would travel west from Brisbane either on the Warrego Highway via Toowoomba to Charleville or the Balonne Highway via Toowoomba or Warwick to Cunnamulla. Initially, after Toowoomba most of the original forest is known as Brigalow, a type of Wattle(Acacia), unfortunately most has been replaced by agriculture, (currently cotton and sorghum) so the birdlife is less than prolific. This situation occurs up to Roma and St George where the native vegetation is known as Mulga, a grey fan-shaped Acacia, which is predominant west to Windorah and Thargomindah, a large swathe of land, fortunately not as spoilt by man as the Brigalow belt appears to be.



My first introduction to the mulga country was in the late-eighties when I travelled to the St George area and camped about 20kms further west overnight. In the morning I saw my first Mallee Ringneck, Red-winged and Bluebonnet Parrots, Crested Bellbird and delights such as Pink Cockatoo and Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo, since then when travelling this route I normally stop and check out a Spotted Bowerbird's bower, (which is still in use after nearly ten years!) I've also been fortunate in finding the rare Painted Honeyeater and Black-eared Cuckoo at this site. When driving in South-West Queensland be sure to check maps as towns are few and far-between, for instance the distance between St George and Cunnamulla is approximately 300kms and there is only one small town, Bollon where fuel is commercially available in between.

In the area around Cunnamulla there are large Mitchell Grass plains which usually host many Brown Songlark, Brown Falcon and regularly Black-breasted Buzzard and Black Falcon. The raptors are probably preying on rodents but there are also usually large numbers of Little Buttonquail and Stubble Quail. Travelling west about 70kms through vast expanses of mulga it would be well-advised to spend some time in the small town of Eulo. There is a hotel and campsite where one can make a base and explore. Drive approximately 10kms back east to a turkey's-nest bore and look for Bourke's Parrot and Chestnut-breasted Quail-Thrush, the former can be a challenge but listen for their high-pitched whistling calls, also in the area are usually Chestnut-rumped Thornbills, White-browed Treecreeper and Chestnut-crowned Babblers (somebody should inform the taxonomists that there are various shades of brown!)

In Eulo itself check trees for Black-chinned Honeyeater, Restless Flycatchers and Spotted Bowerbird, these are often present, then drive over the Paroo River to the area known as Carpet Springs, frequently very swampy it is usually full of birds, Chirruping Wedgebills, Masked and White-browed Woodswallows are all usually easy. There are often Brolgas present in this area. South of Eulo is the area known as Currawinya Lakes, a recently named National Park, one lake is freshwater the other salt and it is a good area for Freckled Duck although at the time of writing I have not yet made a visit. Apparently a 4-wheel drive is essential to see this area properly.


White-browed Woodswallow

From Eulo to Thargomindah (a distance of 130kms) the landscape becomes increasingly arid and the trees much smaller (there no facilities between the towns at all) At approximately 60kms a small ridge becomes evident on the right hand side of the road, look for a creek crossing the road and explore this area, I was shown Grey-headed Honeyeater here several years ago and they can often be 'squeaked' out! This is normally a species found in north-west Queensland and a well south of their known range.

A few kilometres after Dynevor Station, a large area of water should suddenly be apparent (depending on drought conditions) this is called Lake Bindegolly or the Dynevor lakes. Well worth a camping stop, many species can be found here. From the causeway listen for Chirruping Wedgebill and watch for large flocks of Pied Cormorants usually travel north and south with other waterbirds including Australian Shelduck, Caspian and Gull-billed Tern, all Ibis, Australian Pelican and Brolga. Search the clumps of Lignum for Musk and Freckled Duck. Walk along the north-eastern shore of the lake and look for Orange and Crimson Chat in the samphire vegetation (short heath-like plants) At the right time of the year many waders stop here travelling between Victoria and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Waterfowl can be very numerous, look for Blue-billed Duck and Hoary-headed Grebe.


Gould's Sand Monitor

Thargomindah is a small town notable for being the third town in the world to have electric lighting! Motel accomodation is available and Budgerigar and various Woodswallows usually common, I once saw Bourke's Parrot from the motel. From Thargominah it's possible to travel in a 4-wheel drive along the Bulloo River in search of Grey Grasswren. The sealed road continues out to Noccundra Oil-fields in an area I haven't currently explored.

From Thargomindah travel north to Quilpie along a partially sealed road, stop at the Toompine Hotel where Hall's Babbler and Crimson Chat can be seen and refreshment taken! Quilpie is a fairly large town and is the terminus of a rail link to Charleville, accomodation is available here. From Quilpie to Windorah (240kms) is a long but interesting drive, Australian Bustard can usually be seen and Hall's Babbler appears to be the commonest babbler in the area. Recently we over-nighted near Thylungra station and spent the morning birding seeing Black Honeyeater, Black-eared Cuckoo, thousands of Masked Woodswallow and Budgerigar.

Towards Windorah one passes through the area known as channel-country, with many branches of Cooper Creek crossing the road, before here blow-flies are usually just an irritant, now they are a downright nuisance. Try following a bird in the viewfinder of a video-camera with flies attempting to enter most facial-orifices and you will understand! However, birding is usually still productive and many goodies can be seen, such as Rufous Songlark, Red-browed Pardalote and Black-faced Woodswallow.

Windorah is a small town with about 80 residents, accomodation is available at the Western Star Hotel and food and fuel available here, according to locals Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos are quite regular near the town. About 5 kms west of the town is a large microwave tower surrounded by spinifex and a large sand-dune system, 1n 1991 I observed Spinifexbird here but not 5 years later when we visited, the dunes are interesting and Spotted Nightjar, Swamp Harrier and Brown Falcon were all observed hunting the small animals whose footprints are conspicuous on the sand.

Brown Falcon

From here the road is surrounded by flat floodplain and if the area is fairly moist explore the many creek crossings for Black-tailed Native-Hen, Ground Cuckoo-Shrike and Banded Lapwing. At night Inland Dotterel can sometimes be seen on the road. Near Whitula Creek and Caranya Station a system of small dams have been cut near the road and when wet these can harbour a wide range of birdlife such as waterfowl and waders, Pied and Black Honeyeater were seen here in 1996. Further along the road one passes an area with ridges on both sides, this was the former settlement of Canterbury but little remains today. However birdlife here is still very interesting, explore the creek system and the rocky hillsides and one should find Chestnut-breasted Quail-Thrush, Spinifex Pigeon, Hall's Babbler and with luck Redthroat can be seen accompanying small flocks of the very grey race of Inland Thornbill, Weebill and Red-capped Robin. Between here and the end of the bitumen road the area is flat gibberplain with distant limestone outcrops similar to those found in the South-West of the USA. In 1996 we camped near the Birdsville Track turnoff on Morney Creek (an area supposedly infested with Fierce Snakes....we saw none!) In the morning we were fortunate to see Inland Dotterel, Australian Bustard and Gibberchat. Before dusk we recorded Flock Bronzewing, Australian Pratincole, Black Falcon and after dark Inland Dotterel again.

In August 1991 I joined a small group driving to the area now designated as the Davenport Downs National Park, approximately 200kms from Morney Creek, we headed for an area known as No.2 Bore past Monkira and close to Coorabulka Station. At the time hot water was flowing from the bore and creating a reed habitat, here we were fortunate to see Letter-winged Kite, Grass Owl, Yellow Chat, Flock Bronzewing and huge numbers of raptors including Spotted Harrier, Black Falcon, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Black Kite and Barn Owl. After dark it became obvious why there were so many raptors, Long-haired Rats had reached plague proportions and made preparing dinner very difficult! A spot-lighting trip was undertaken and although the hoped-for Plains Wanderer was not seen good views of the endangered Bilby or Rabbit-eared Bandicoot were had by all.

During our 1996 trip we visited the newly designated Mariala National Park near Adavale (population 17!) a former station with good mulga habitat, initially it appeared to be lacking in birds but later in more varied vegetation I found mixed flocks of White-browed and Brown Treecreeper, Crimson Chat, White-plumed and Grey-headed Honeyeater, Little Woodswallow and Spotted Bowerbird, Black-eared Cuckoo was heard and Hall's Babbler were seen near the campsite.

An area I haven't yet covered is the Warrego Highway between Quilpie and Charleville out to Dalby, the first half of this between Quilpie and Mitchell is still mulga covered, however further east most is under agriculture. Stops should be undertaken as less arid-country birds can be seen here such as Brown-headed Honeyeater, Yellow Thornbill and Common Bronzewing.

Related Subjects


Birding Southern Queensland-our home page

A guide to birding in South-East Queensland






Last updated 16 Nov 02