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During the early-part of 2012 I spent time with a visiting Canadian birder John Reynolds, we had made a couple of local trips to find some of his missing species and he expressed his desire to spend a few days exploring the outback area of South-west Queensland. As I have had a reasonable experience of the area between St George and Thargomindah over the past twenty-odd years I suggested that we rent an AWD vehicle and stay in accommodation rather than tents (the temperature can be very chilly in the evenings out there at this time of year!) Over the past 3 or 4 years drought had lifted in the region so I was keen to see how this had affected the bird-life.
John negotiated with a car-hire company and got 5 days in a Nissan Dualis with unlimited kilometres for AU$345, however on the pick-up day they tried to ‘palm’ us off with a Renault Megane but John stuck to his ‘guns’ and managed to get the original vehicle (with $100 discount for his trouble, he used this to add the insurance excess, which proved very helpful….more on that later)
We left Brisbane at 2pm on Thursday afternoon and traveled to St George through a thunderstorm, arriving there around 7.30pm and booking in to a seemingly over-priced motel (the price you pay for coal-seam gas, cotton-farming and frequent-flooding?)
After a nice nights sleep, we had a good breakfast and commenced the adventure, driving to the Mulgaview area approximately 30 kms west of St George, in the past this has been a good area for Spotted Bowerbird, Splendid Fairywren, Red-capped Robin, Singing Honeyeater and Black-eared Cuckoo and Friday morning was no disappointment, we even saw a pair of White-browed Treecreeper there which I had not seen there before.
Further along the ‘Adventure’ Highway between Bollon and Cunnamulla we came across a pair of Pink Cockatoos feeding on small roadside melons, John was elated when they allowed us to drive close and both get some reasonable images.
We took lunch in Cunnamulla and continued on to Eulo picking-up some of the interesting species of the area such as Black-breasted Buzzard, Chirrupping Wedgebill, Black-faced Woodswallows and our first Budgies!
We stopped at Eulo Bore and the nearby ridge but failed to find any of the ‘specials’ such as Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush or Hall’s Babbler though we did have an interesting sighting of a ‘diurnal’ Southern Boobook just to the west of Eulo.
and so continued on, finding a Red-backed Kingfisher and getting poor-views of a Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush west of Carpet Springs. Towards late-afternoon we arrived at the causeway of Lake Bindegolly, which is currently quite full and home to many breeding waterbirds such as Pelicans, Cormorants, Darters, Terns, Coots, Grebes and Brolgas (amongst others).
We made it to Thargomindah at dusk and were greeted by thousands of White-browed, Masked and Black-faced Woodswallows, this was wonderful but we were behind schedule and had to get to Kilcowera Station and so headed south on the (only partially-sealed) Hungerford road, arriving there at nine pm. We were greeted and shown our accommodation for the next two nights by our hosts Greg and Toni Sherwin and then turned in for a well earned-sleep.
On waking on Saturday morning we realized that the temperature was close to freezing so using the outdoor-shower was somewhat daunting but we seemed to survive the ordeal and began our next leg of the trip driving from Kilcowera to Noccundra. Until now I hadn’t traveled further west than Thargomindah so this was certainly going to be an experience for me too!
About halfway between Kilcowera and Thargomindah we stopped at a dry-creek bed for some Crimson Chats and this proved to be one of the most ‘birdy’ areas, initially only intending to stop for 5 to 10 minutes we were there for over two hours! (….but it was to be worth it)
John found a lot of new species here, and we also recorded a Pied Honeyeater which was the first that I have ever seen in breeding attire. Both Brown and Rufous Songlarks, Plum-heased Finch, Bluebonnets, Banded Lapwing, Chestnut-crowned Babbler and Brolga, Crested Bellbird and Cockatiel were some of many.
The drive from Thargomindah to Noccundra was longer than I had expected (approximately 140 kms) but it was quite scenic and we found some interesting species, Chirruping Wedgebills, Bourke’s Parrots and Rufous Songlarks.
We finally arrived at Noccundra mid-afternoon and followed the advice of a Birding-Aus member Mick Brasher who had discovered Grey Grasswren in a previous year in lignum near the waterhole. However after spending over an hour searching in vain we finally gave up and returned back to Kilcowera. Obviously more time is required for this elusive species!
On arrival at Kilcowera we caught up with Toni Sherwin who told us that she had seen Pied Honeyeater near the homestead, feeding on freshly-flowering eremophilas, we resolved to get up the following morning and search for these before our departure.
Sunday began very chilly and after the tortuous shower ritual we said our goodbyes to the other guests and headed out for a last brief look around the nearby billabong and homestead, on the lake John ‘scoped an unusual duck which was probably a Freckled although we couldn’t get a better view. As we passed the homestead I thought I glimpsed something interesting and we stopped for a quick look and John saw a small passerine which sounded like a Black Honeyeater, this was indeed it’s identity and soon we also found White-fronted and Pied Honeyeaters. A thornbill almost had me believing that there were Slaty-backed in the area (…whose status I’m still not convinced about in SW Qld) this duly turned out to be Chestnut-rumped.
This area turned-out to be far more interesting than we had anticipated so once again we put our schedule out by two hours and finally arrived at Lake Bindegolly just before lunch on a search for the handsome but elusive Orange Chat. In recent years the area has been declared a National Park and more restrictions have been made to public access, we were unable to drive right around the northern edge so walked out to it instead, how different conditions are in winter compared with the rest of the year, lower temperatures and no blowflies made life far easier! Soon I spotted a handsome male Orange Chat on the samphire and endeavoured to get a photograph, as with previous experiences of the species the moment that he realised I was ‘stalking’ him he took off and flew about 100 metres away, consequently all the shots that are displayed are heavily ‘cropped’. In the immediate area I was surprised to see at least 9 birds fly off at one point, they can be extremely cryptic in the glaring sand.
From Bindegolly we headed east and searched for a creek-crossing where I had seen Grey-headed Honeyeaters many years before, fortunately I managed to find it and after a bit of ‘squeaking’ managed to get at least 3 birds.
Our next challenge was to try and get to Bowra and see if we could find a couple of missing species. I had tried to book accommodation earlier and had been told that it was full, so thought that it might be worth putting in an hour or two to try and find Grey Falcon or Hall’s Babbler. We drove out to the ‘Stony Ridge’ area but found very little although we heard several Black Honeyeater calling and I saw a very Splendid Fairywren which would have made an awesome photo had it have stayed long enough for me to get the camera!
Soon the light was fading and so were John’s chances of getting his last two ‘lifers’ so we decided to set off for St George, I thought that it might be a good idea to let the Motel know that we would be arriving late (St George is 290 kms from Cunnamulla) and the receptionist told us that was OK but warned us to be careful of macropods on the highway after dark. Unfortunately her words came true around 20 kms before the town of Bollon when we hit a large male Red Kangaroo and smashed the offside headlight and dented the front bodywork. Personally I’ve travelled the same stretch of road on several occasions but never seen quite as many as we passed on this evening. Fortunately despite a few ‘near-misses’ we managed to crawl into St George without inflicting any more damage on the ‘Roo population, though another car arrived after us and had suffered a similar calamity. We were certainly thankful that John had had the foresight to take up the insurance excess at the start of the trip.
Our return was via a different route, Goondiwindi to Brisbane. John still required Turquoise Parrot and several other species such as Singing Bushlark, Black-chinned Honeyeater and Red-kneed Dotterel so I thought that it might be worthwhile to try for these in the Inglewood to Warwick area, .In an area near Talwood we came upon several parrot species Red-winged, Ringneck and Pale-headed Rosella feeding on the road with Apostlebirds,.However when we finally arrived at Coolmunda Dam, Cement Mills and the Durakai water-hole it was around lunch and consequently fairly unexciting.
Overall, a great 4-days birding with John seeing plenty of ‘lifers’, as he is a great ‘devotee’ of Ebird I thought it might be worth providing a link to one of his lists (from this trip) If this is popular I might add more as he puts them up. At the time of writing I don’t have a full species-list but will put one up when available.
I would like to thank all those that gave advice (especially for the grasswrens) and Toni and Greg Sherwin at Kilcowera (I look forward to returning…..with lots more time!)