4 - 19 May - with Tim Faulkner, Scott Ryan and John Weigel

INLAND GRASSWREN EXTRAVAGANZA


 Day 1  


   
Rock Parrot

    
A single Malleefowl greeted us at roadside 
clearing and provided prolongued views

After arriving in Adelaide we set out for the first location of our busy itinerary, Innes National Park, Yorke Peninsula. A mini-twitch at Clinton Conservation Park yielded Slender-billed Thornbill on the western side of the Yorke Valley Highway in salt-marsh. Upon arriving at the Innes NP visitor centre, we heard a Western (Mallee) Whipbird, which was successfully twitched - a great introduction to the park’s rich birdlife! A half-hour later we were looking at Rock Parrots and a Rufous Fieldwren above the small cliffs that overlook Stenhouse Bay. 


Further into the park, near Lake Inneston in a small clearing we had a very cooperative Malleefowl. A bit further along we saw numerous Purple-gaped Honeyeaters, completing our Yorke Peninsula birding experience in one short afternoon. We were very impressed by the largely unburnt state of the Mallee habitat within the park, and greatly appreciated the ongoing feral-pest control measures that make this location the ideal place to see Malleefowl. 

On the afternoon drive to Whyalla we found a group of 40+ Banded Stilts in a large dam, with a single Cape Barren goose in attendance.




     
          ‘As good as it gets’ – a parting glance of a 
          Western Grasswren typifies the shy 
          nature of Amytornis species

 Day 2 


      
Our first of many exciting Grasswren               
encounters was provided by this               
Western Grasswren               


We got an early start at the Whyalla Conservation Park and by 7am we had seen two parties of Western (Myall) Grasswrens along the Wild Dog Hill Track. An encouraging start to our grasswren quest. We drove the Whyalla Iron Knob  Road along the Middleback Railway between posts 255-257, where we saw 2 Western (Myall) Grasswrens, along with a range of inland species including Redthroat, Crested Bellbird and White-fronted Honeyeater. The later species was seen in very large numbers (hundreds), flying south just above tree-height. 


  
Ground Cuckoo-shrikes
We then headed to Mt Ive Station via Iron Knob to pursue our second Grasswren species - Short-tailed (race pedleri). We were lucky enough to encounter a group of five spectacular Ground Cuckoo-shrikes along the drive. 


        
Short-tailed Grasswren (race pedleri)            
Mt Ive Station             
True to the pattern that would emerge on this trip, we had our Short-tailed Grasswrens within 10 minutes of beginning our search, on the very rocky spinifex-clad hillside of Mt Ive. We found another two individuals thereafter. Of note, the birds appeared to be concentrated on the high flats of the hills rather than the sloping sides. Mt Ive Station is a very scenic location and we would recommend the available accommodation and facilities though we chose to keep moving, arriving at Hawker overnight. 

Short-tailed Grasswren habitat at Mt Ive Station
   
    Short-tailed Grasswren (race merrotsyi)

 Day 3 


We arrived at Stokes Hill Lookout in the Flinders Ranges NP by 7am and found four Short-tailed Grasswrens (race merrotsyi), though these proved to be shy, quiet and hard to locate in the spinifex hillside. Windy conditions did not help. After an extensive exploration, we were rewarded on our return to the car park with grasswrens within 100m of our parked vehicle. Also of note was a small group of Elegant Parrots.

     
Stokes Hill lookout

We made the drive to Lyndhurst Station arriving mid-afternoon. Our initial focus was on finding Chestnut-breasted Whiteface, a species that proved to be elusive. We were consoled by numerous sightings of Thick-billed Grasswrens scurrying around the saltbush creek-beds. By nightfall we had also seen Cinnamon Quail-thrush, Orange Chats, Crimson Chats and Spotted Harrier, but no Whiteface.


Chestnut-breasted Whiteface habitat, Lyndhurst Station, SA  

 Day 4  

 
Blue-winged Parrots

Our morning efforts were concentrated on the two well-known sites – the ‘rusty car/old mine’ site and the ‘two-gate’ site on the opposite side of the Strzelecki Track. Traversing perhaps 20km we had two separate sightings of Chestnut-breasted Whiteface - the first at 600m east of the road at the ‘two-gates’ site, the other 800m north of the rusty car.

 
Chestnut-breasted whiteface



We were quite exhausted but very happy when we set off at mid-afternoon for Montecollina Bore, sighting Blue-winged Parrots about 75km out of Lyndhurst in a dry creek bed. We saw Inland Dotterels on the road at early evening.

 
Eyrean Grasswren



 Day 5 


We had no trouble finding Eyrean Grasswrens at Montecollina Bore. The birds were in the small white dunes several hundred metres west of the bore itself. Also, two small parties of Flock Bronzewings and White-backed Swallows. We found more Eyrean Grasswrens 20km north of Montecollina Bore at a previously known Letter-winged Kite site on our way to the Strzelecki Crossing, where we searched unsuccessfully for the Kites.

      
Small parties of Flock Bronzewings were observed at Montecollina Bore           






Several hours were spent carefully searching prospective roosting trees at the Strzelecki Crossing, but no Letter-wing Kites were to be found. A search for Banded Whiteface 9km north of the crossing was unsuccessful, however, we had Pied Honeyeaters in good numbers, and several more Eyrean Grasswrens. We continued onto Cameron Corner via Merty Merty. About 36km from the Merty Merty turnoff towards Cameron Corner we found a party of Banded Whiteface in low saltbush growth between sand dunes, where we also encountered 20+ Blue-winged Parrots and a single Black Honeyeater. We set up camp in the fading light. 

 Day 6 


      
Bourke’s Parrot
   
       Eyrean Grasswrens were present on this dune,
       the valley to the right yielded Banded Whiteface
       and a party of 20+ Blue-winged Parrots
We found more Eryean Grasswrens 36km west of Cameron Corner on the cane-grass clad sand dunes – quite distinct from the Montecollina habitat preference. 

From Lyndhurst to Cameron Corner, throughout the entire Strzelecki Track, Orange and Crimson Chats, White-backed Swallows and Banded Lapwings were in good numbers. 

After fuelling up at Cameron Corner (ouch!) we headed north to Toona Gate and Sturt NP where we saw a small group of Bourke’s Parrots. 30km north of Tibooburra we saw a Grey Falcon flying low over open rocky grassy area.  The area was about 2km from tree-line and rock formations. While in view it ascended quickly to an impressive height disappearing in the distance. We stayed the night in Tibooburra, celebrating the Grey Falcon sighting with a ‘moderate’ number of cleansing ales. 

Grey Grasswrens in lignum scrub

 Day 7  


An early morning start saw us searching the Bulloo overflow for Grey Grasswren. Soon we had a cooperative party of three Grey Grasswrens in tall lignum, with two additional sightings nearby and more heard. After the ‘high-fives’ and obligatory ‘wanka-shots’, we headed back to Tibooburra, but not before sighting two Gibberbirds on the road. 

We then made the long drive to Eulo Bore, arriving a bit late in the afternoon, but managed to sight a party of Hall’s Babblers west of the town of Eulo in the dying light. 

 Day 8 


Early morning search of several areas around Eulo Bore yielded more Hall’s Babblers and a pair of Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush. Babblers were seen 6.5km east of the bore; the Quail-thrush were seen 2.5km east of the bore on a small rise on the southern side of the road near the power lines. Satisfied, and with another big day of driving ahead we set out for the channel country. Making our way to Windorah for a fuel stop, we discovered that Scotty’s swag had blown off the roof-rack somewhere in the previous several hundreds of kilometres of driving. Fortunately for John and Tim, it was Scotty’s tie-down efforts that were to blame, and each volunteered up a proportion of bedding materials to soften the blow. 

A day-time look at the Plains Wanderer site
A flat tyre on the way to Monkira Station meant that we would be too late to look for roosting Letter-winged Kites at our intended search-area, which was very frustrating. But in one of the many ‘good-news/bad-news’ outcomes for the trip, the delay saw us just 6km along the northward track to Sugarloaf, which begins 23km west of Monkira Station, at just the right time (7pm) to encounter – and almost extinguish, two Plains Wanderers, a species that we had not even considered targeting on our trip! We searched on foot for a short period and then by vehicle for the next few hours, finding a single bird at the location of the first sighting (same bird?), but unable to relocate it on foot once again. Our search did yield some other interesting wildlife species, including numerous Striped Dunnarts, Kowaries and (surprisingly few) long-haired rats. 

We camped near our intended search area for Letter-winged Kites. The kites had been observed in good numbers here in 2010 by Alan McBride, and the general area is believed to be a stronghold for the species. 

 Day 9 


 
A sight for sore eyes – Letter-winged Kite 
     
     Eight of the 17 Letter-winged Kites
     encountered en masse
  
We followed Alan’s helpful directions to the border of Astrebla Downs NP, which is not accessible to visitors. After our previous searches along the Strzelecki Track for Letter-winged Kites, we were ignited by what we encountered at the gate: 17 LWKs, 12 of which obligingly circled and fluttered 10-30 metres overhead. It is no understatement that this experience was very moving for all three of us, and perhaps the highlight of the trip.

With the reptile background of all three of us, we noticed that the landscape was ideal for Fierce Snakes (Inland Taipan), a large highly venomous flood-plains specialist that is renown for having the most toxic venom for any species in the world. We didn’t find any on the Sugarloaf Track, but it was admittedly a bit early in the morning to expect moving snakes. However, at 10:20am, on the road 55km east of Bedourie, Tim excitedly called “Fiercey!!" after spotting a large snake well away from the road. 

Scotty with his first Fierce Snake encounter 
After prolonged ‘good times’, this Fierce Snake 
was in great body-weight condition















This was an exceptionally large individual, somewhere between 1.7m and 1.9m in length. What a morning! We refuelled and had the tyre repaired before back-tracking to Monkira Station for Diamantina Lakes NP, where we saw 2 Gibberbirds, 5 Australian Pratincoles, and 30-odd Banded Lapwings. The track was very rough, but the SW Qld scenery was stunning. We left the NP on nightfall, heading for Lark Quarry. Along the way we saw 30+ Inland Dotterels and 15 or so Spotted Nightjars. Another good-news/bad-news experience was to unfold on the drive – John’s expensive spotting scope fell onto the track somewhere in the night after a bag full of John’s gear somehow slipped from the trailer, got caught in the under-workings, and dragged sufficiently to wear away the bottom of the bag, releasing the contents. Two days later, we were to learn that a kangaroo shooter found the missing contents and thought that the scope appeared to be in good order and was happy to forward the equipment on. 

 Day 10  


We awoke at the Lark Quarry airstrip to begin the search for Striated Grasswren (race rowleyi). We heard one grasswren, but no views. We did find several parties of Rufous-crowned Emuwrens and had our first look at Grey-headed Honeyeaters. It would be advisable to search for the emuwrens very early in the morning as they became silent after 9am and much more difficult to find. 

 
The shy and elusive Rufous-crowned Emu-wren 

Moving on towards Opalton, we stopped 1-2km south of the town at a sandstone formation on the left side of the track heading south.  We saw 3 Striated Grasswrens (race rowleyi) near a dry creek-bed within 200m of the sandstone formation.

Striated Grasswren (race rowleyi)   

Off to Mt Isa for a good night’s sleep. But first, we accepted an invitation to catch up with Tim Dolby, Tim Bowden and Greg Oakley at their camp near Cloncurry.

The guys had been birding regionally, and gave us wonderfully detailed locations for three birds: Carpentarian Grasswren, Kalkadoon Grasswren and Painted Finch. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet and chat with the guys – they obviously enjoy their birding as much as we do – and have well-deserved big reputations for their exploits over the years and ongoing fieldwork. 

 Day 11 


  
Kalkadoon Grasswren at the famous Pamela Street, Mt Isa site
Inspired by the information provided by Tim D, Tim B and Greg, we basically followed their mud maps and had a cracker of a day, beginning with encounters with 2 Kalkadoon Grasswrens at the ‘2 water tanks’ site at the end of Pamela St at Mt Isa.

Kalkadoon Grasswren site
From there we drove to Lake Moondara where the Painted Finches were equally obliging – we saw a party of 10+. We then drove to Lady Lorretta Mine site approximately 65km west of Mt Isa where, at 6.5km along the road, we saw 4 Carpentarian Grasswrens.

Habitat of the Carpentarian Grasswren
 
Carpentarian Grasswren 
(squint and concentrate!)  

We got lucky a second time – 3.8km from turnoff, where we saw two additional Carpentarian Grasswrens between 11am and 1pm. All birds were very shy and frustratingly quiet, responding to some light playback, but losing interest very quickly.

The spinifex here was very dense, making viewing a challenge and photography a near-impossibility. Both the 6.5km and 3.8km sites along the Lady Loretta mine site were approximately 400m east of the road. A very flighty Spinifexbird was seen at the 6.5km site. 

 Day 12 & 13  


The Carpentarian Grasswrens nicely finished off our planned itinerary well ahead of schedule. And so, with four extra days available, there was no need for discussion when we learned of the arrival of Princess Parrots onto Newhaven Station, 375km northwest of Alice Springs. A drive of 1700km was broken into halves, with an unmemorable overnight stay in Tenant Creek. 

 
Dusky Grasswren
Next morning saw us looking (successfully) for Chiming Wedgebill 70km north of Alice Springs. Other birds encountered included Black-breasted Buzzard, Pied Honeyeater and Crimson Chat. With some helpful pointers from Alice Springs based birder, Chris Watson, upon arrival at Alice Springs we went straight to Flynn’s Grave and soon had Slatey-backed Thornbill. We followed the well-worn walking track up the side of Mt Gillen, and about two-thirds of the way up we encountered a party of three Dusky Grasswrens (one male, two females), these being surprisingly cheeky, providing prolonged views when bouncing from the tops of bushes to rock formations and back. 

The final grasswren of our trip under our belts, we high-tailed to Kunoth Well for a try at Grey Honeyeaters. Our progress was interrupted spectacularly at late afternoon by a sighting of a Grey Falcon, the second for the trip, 15.7km north of Alice Springs near the Tanami Road turnoff. Upon arrival at Kunoth Well, a search of the mulga scrub was unsuccessful for Grey Honeyeater, though several bird parties comprised of Slatey-backed Thornbills, Inland Thornbills, Hooded and Red-capped Robins, and Western Gerygones. 
    
One hump or two?

 Day 14  


From an early start, we worked widely through the Kunoth Well site until mid-day, but alas, it looked like our first ‘dip’ for the trip might be at hand. We set off for Newhaven Station with hopeful anticipation that the Princess Parrots would still be in the area the next day.


 Day 15 & 16  


       
The Princess Parrot site
The big morning – the morning that we’d thought about since we first learned of the Princess Parrot sightings finally arrived. We rendezvoused with Peter and Toni and followed them to the designated site in time for sunrise. In previous days the parrots had shown up from between 7am – 7:30am, so the minutes passed slowly in the anticipation – especially as the time approached then passed 8am.


   Regal glory: four of the 14 Princess Parrots observed    


A sinking feeling accompanied our collective realisation that we may well have arrived one day late to see one of Australia’s most elusive birds – and undoubtedly one of the most desired ‘ticks’. But finally, just as worry was merging with depression, we heard the calls of an approaching group of 14 Princess Parrots. What an experience! We didn’t have the luxury of extended views of perched birds as some previous escorted visitors had enjoyed, but

               
Newhaven Station hands Peter and Toni           
supervised our marvellous encounter with one of           
the countries most mysterious and majestic nomads          
   



hallelujah, it was a magical experience when these regal birds flew to within 80-100 meters, a few perching for a minute or two to allow scope-viewing, before continuing on their way. Wow, what a way to finish – or at least almost finish our epic inland birding trip.

Newhaven Station is such a beautiful place, and with reports of Grey Honeyeaters on the property in the past, we decided to stay another night. 



 Day 17  

  
     Bush mechanics 101: Fix broken trailer suspension with rope and sticks  

After the previous day’s unsuccessful search for Grey Honeyeaters, we set out from Newhaven Station for Alice Springs, keeping an eye out for Princess Parrots, but didn’t get far before we experienced a flat tyre in our box trailer. The blowout was associated with the disintegration of the leaf-spring mounts on one side of the trailer, causing in turn the displacement of the axil, and ultimately, the shredding of the tyre against the mud-guard and spring dislodging and pushing through the mudguard. 

   
The elusive Grey Honeyeater    
After some handy bush-mechanics involving rope and mulga branches we resumed our search for the Grey Honeyeater wherever goods stands of mulga predominated along the Tanami Track. Finally about 72km north of Alice on the Tanami Track, we found a single Grey Honeyeater. Noteably, the bird was present in one of the few flowering patches of mulga. We then made a dash for the Olive Pink Botanic Garden in Alice Springs, where the resident Western Bowerbird put on a show at its well-known bower, to provide us with our final inland bird species and a perfect score against our targeted ‘hit’ list. 



Summary 

What a wonderful 17 days of birding we experienced. Hard to believe that we squeezed in so many birds (187) and seemingly endless kilometres (7,500), but we did and most importantly, we found all of the grasswren species and races we wanted so much to see. That the conditions in inland Australia are as good as they’ve been for many years undoubtedly contributed to our success and the country is well vegetated and very scenic after four ‘good’ years. We absolutely recommend anyone with time, to make an inland trip, to do so. For specific location details or other information please feel free to contact Tim at tfaulkner@reptilepark.com.au

We are very grateful for the help we received in the planning stage of the trip, which extended over several months. We attribute much of our success to advice and shared information from many birders. Special thanks are extended to Tim Dolby, Allan Richardson, Alan McBride, Rohan Clarke, Mick Roderick, Chris Watson, Alan Morris and the many contributors to Birding-Aus, whose trip reports we happily trawled through. 

A list of the 187 bird species encountered, 4-19 May, is provided below. 

Purple-crowned Lorikeet                   Scaly-breasted Lorikeet                  Musk Lorikeet 
Rainbow Lorikeet                             Singing Honeyeater                       Common Starling 
Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater                House Sparrow                             Silvereye
White-winged Fairywren                    Little Raven                                 Stubble Quail 
White-fronted Chat                           Black-shouldered Kite                    Nankeen Kestrel 
Rock Dove                                      Welcome Swallow                         Galah 
Emu                                              Brown Falcon                                Willie Wagtail 
Crested Pigeon                                Brush Bronzewing                          Australian Magpie 
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo                  Hoary-headed Grebe                      Black Swan 
Australasian Grebe                           Spotted Dove                                Australian Shelduck 
Western Whipbird (race leucogaster)         New Holland Honeyeater                 Grey Currawong 
Sooty Oystercatcher                         Silver Gull                                    Pacific Gull 
Tawny-crowned Honeyeater               Masked Lapwing                            Rufous Fieldwren 
Rock Parrot                                    Slender-billed Thornbill (race rosinae and iredalei) 
Malleefowl                                      Purple-gaped Honeyeater                Cape Barren Goose 
White-browed Scrubwren                  Red-necked Avocet                         Chestnut Teal 
Singing Bushlark                             Yellow-rumped Thornbill                  Magpie Lark
Red Wattlebird                                Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike               Little Wattlebird
Red-rumped Parrot                          Western Grasswren (race myall)           Bluebonnet 
Variegated Fairywren                       Southern Whiteface                        Mulga Parrot
Crested Bellbird                              White-browed Babbler                     Redthroat 
Chestnut-rumped Thornbill                Red-capped Robin                           Hooded Robin
Brown-headed Honeyeater                White-fronted Honeyeater                Australian Pipit 
Rufous Songlark                              White-eared Honeyeater                  Barn Owl
Australian Ringneck                         Ground Cuckoo-shrike                     Little Woodswallow 
Masked Woodswallow                      Short-tailed Grasswren (race pedleri and merrotsyi) 
Yellow-throated Miner                      Elegant Parrot                               Wedge-tailed eagle
Australian Raven                             Short-billed Corella                        Weebill 
White-plumed Honeyeater                 Cinnamon Quail-thrush                   Orange Chat 
Thick-billed Grasswren                     Black Kite                                     Spotted Harrier
Chirruping Wedgebill                        Crimson Chat                                Zebra Finch 
Black-faced Woodswallow                 Chestnut-breasted Whiteface            Budgerigar
Brown Songlark                               Little Button-quail                          Blue-winged Parrot 
Spotted Nightjar                              Inland Dotterel                              Eyrean Grasswren 
Flock Bronzewing                            White-backed Swallow                     Little Crow 
Cockatiel                                       Diamond Dove                               Pink-eared Duck 
Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo                White-faced Heron                          Pallid Cuckoo 
Rufous Whistler                              Pied Honeyeater                             Banded Whiteface 
Black Honeyeater                           Banded Lapwing                              Gull-billed Tern 
Red-kneed Dotterel                         Wood Duck                                    Pacific Heron  
White-browed Woodswallow             Whistling Kite                                 Little Grassbird 
Straw-necked Ibis                           Black-fronted Dotterel                     Bourke’s Parrot 
Black-tailed Native-hen                   Grey Falcon                                    Gibberbird
Grey Grasswren (race barbatus)            Australian Hobby                             Bustard
Black-eared Cuckoo                        Yellow-billed Spoonbill                     Great Egret
White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike             Little Black Cormorant                     Mistletoebird 
Eurasian Coot                                Hardhead                                       Australian Darter 
Pied Cormorant                              Brolga                                          Hall’s Babbler 
Red-chested Button-quail                 Brown Treecreeper                         Restless Flycatcher  
Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush         Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo                 Little Friarbird
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo                Inland Thornbill                              Apostlebird
Letter-winged Kite                          Plains Wanderer                             Pelican
Australian Pratincole                        Boobook Owl                                Spinifex Pigeon
Rufous-crowned Emu-wren               Pale-headed Rosella                       Spotted Bowerbird  
Striated Grasswren (race rowleyi)          Grey-headed Honeyeater                 Varied Lorikeet 
Red-browed Pardalote                     Kalkadoon Grasswren                      Painted Finch
Rainbow Bee-eater                         Little Egret                                    Peaceful Dove  
Carpentarian Grasswren                  Grey-fronted Honeyeater                 Spinifexbird
Black-breasted Buzzard                   Red-winged Parrot                         Dusky Grasswren 
Slatey-backed Thornbill                   Chiming Wedgebill                         Grey shrike-thrush 
Brown Goshawk                             Western Gerygone                         Grey Fantail 
Splendid Fairywren                         Princess Parrot                              Varied Sitella   
Grey-crowned Babbler                     Western Bowerbird                        Grey Honeyeater