Friday, June 17, 2011

Sturt NP to Bowra Sanctuary

May 2011
The dirt road from Sturt NP to Noccundra was in good condition so we made good progress. While having morning tea along the road we were entertained by a couple of calling Crested Bellbirds. Further along the road there were big numbers of Black-faced Woodswallows and Black Kites. These were mainly congregating around the road works along a big stretch of the road.

We arrived at Thargomindah  late in the afternoon, but still in time to take the Riverside walk that starts just opposite the camp ground. Almost as soon as we entered the reserve we heard a mistletoebird that was happy to come in to investigate a brief call back.  Along the river banks there were a number of Australian Ibis and White-necked Herons, but nothing to get too excited about. In the sky however, there were large mixed flocks of Woodswallows that settled into some the large river bank trees as the light faded. Closer inspection revealed that the three species present were; Black-faced, White-browed and Masked Woodswallows. As we watched the Woodswallows grooming, arguing and whatever else they do before getting some shut eye, a flock of 10 Red-winged Parrots landed in an adjacent tree.
Masked Woodswallows
These parrots are good looking birds at any time, but in this light they were spectacular. A nearby noisy group of Apostlebirds caught our attention with their antics. The fading light prevented any serious photography so we headed back to the camp.
The first stop the following day was Lake Bindegolly National Park. We've been fortunate to see this lake both empty and full in the past so we knew what to expect with the waters only slightly lower than last year. As soon as we stopped Brogas could be heard in the direction of the free camp on the other side of the road. Unfortunately they were disturbed by campers before we got near, or maybe it was us. I didn't bother adding to my bum shot collection as they disappeared into the distance. 
Great Crested-grebe
I reckon if you're out this way this is one of the best free camping spots around, with scattered sites just above the lake. At this time last year you couldn't camp there unless you were prepared to walk in, due to water over the vehicle track.
Water birds were prolific with nesting Great Crested Grebes, Australasian Grebes, Darters, Cormorants and Black Swans being the dominant species.
Restless Flycatcher
We took the opportunity to have a quick look round and soon encountered Diamond Doves, White-winged Fairy-wrens, Singing Honeyeaters and Black-faced Woodswallows. We made a quick stop at Eulo bore. Given it was mid-afternoon, there wasn't a lot about. Really, to get the best out of this location you need to be around just before sunset when many birds come in for a drink. Though I doubt that the bore would be that attractive to local birds at the moment as there was a lot of surface water about elsewhere.
This was our fourth visit to Bowra in the last two years and the first since the Australian Wildlife Conservancy took over the property. The actual day to day running of the sanctuary is undertaken by volunteers from Birds Queensland. On arrival we were greeted by the the current manager and shown where to camp. 
Red-winged Parrot

Thankfully the lagoon contained some water, which was not the case on the last visit. The mistake I'd often made in the past was to neglect the area around the lagoon in preference for the far reaches of the property. So on arrival I made an effort to photograph the resident lagoon birds and any others that came in for a late afternoon drink. On the lagoon there were Black-winged Stilts, Straw-necked Ibis, a Black-fronted Dotterel and Grey Teals. During the stay a small flock of Red Rumps, Red-winged Parrots and a few Galahs came in for a drink, or to just check the place out. I also had a visit from the resident Restless Flycatchers, which are always fun to photograph.
The next day with the property map in hand we headed out to find a few of the specialities. It didn't take long to find six Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush exactly where the map indicated. The little buggers didn't want their photograph taken, so yet again came away with shots for my bum shot gallery. As for the other rarities we didn't have much luck so settled for some quiet time by the Gumholes. There were White-backed Swallows, Welcome Swallows and White-breasted Woodswallows chasing insects overhead.
Peaceful Dove
Zebra finches were crowding a small scrub near the water. Meanwhile a Peaceful Dove was kind enough to land close by and pose for a few shots. We had intended staying three nights but stayed only two. To be honest the bird numbers were significantly down on previous visits. I've no doubt that if you spent the time you would find all the property's specialities, however we decided our time could be spent better elsewhere. The truth is Bowra shines when there is not a lot of water about elsewhere as it has permanent water. One of the great things that the Birds Queensland group have introduced is the nightly bird calls. Here  the birds seen during the day are recorded and birders/photographers can share experiences and knowledge.
It was surprising to find Ian still had cattle on the property. Also there were large numbers of feral goats and pigs seen around the property. I know progress was being made in this regard, with a big number of goats removed just before we got there. I'm not sure if the pig eradication program was working as it seemed that the hunters were concentrating on the big animals and leaving the small pigs behind. Maybe they were looking to the future.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sturt National Park

I've just returned from 5 weeks travelling around Central Aus. The first stop on this trip was Sturt NP in the far north west of NSW. My last visit to this National Park was years ago when the area was in the middle of a drought.
We stayed at the excellent Dead Horse Gully camping ground which is located just a couple of kilometres from Tibooburra. This campground is situated amongst the granite boulders that give this area of Sturt NP its distinct character. The camping sites are nicely spaced with reasonable privacy. There are toilets, free gas BBQs, but no showers. If you are desperate for a shower you can pay a small fee for one in nearby Tibooburra. I think we manged about  five days without showering, which wasn't too bad as we didn't meet up with anyone else. In total we spent 7 days in Sturt with five nights at Dead Horse Gully and two nights at Fort Grey.

Dead Horse Gully Landscape
Our routine while residing at Dead Horse Gully was to travel out to the South Myres Tank on the Jump-up Loop Track early each morning for the best light and return again in the afternoon. The first thing that struck me on my return visit was the Mitchell grass plains that stretched for kilometres. I'm sure on my prior visit these were barren gibber plains. The dam at South Myres tank was reasonably full, however the banks were shallow enough to provide plenty of landing and wading areas for birds. One of the target species I was after was the Flock Bronzewing. These had recently been photographed in this area by Rob Drummond and Simon Bennett, so I was delighted when these birds made an appearance on my first visit. Small flocks came in to drink each morning and afternoon.
Flock Bronzewing
They proved to be very difficult subjects as they were very nervous and appeared to take flight for no apparent reason. In hindsight I would have been better off concentrating on flight shots as they spent so much of their time in the air whirling around the dam, usually before coming to land on the opposite shoreline. What really surprised me was their willingness to actually land in the shallow water. Most did land on the banks, however they still tended to move beyond the water's edge.
Cinnamon Quail-thrush
One of the other species I was interested in photographing was the Cinnamon Quail-thrush. While photographing a group of White-winged Fairy-wrens I noticed a couple of Quail-thrush dart between some grass clumps. I set-up in the hope of intercepting them as they moved towards the road. I made no attempt to camouflage myself or call them in, however after waiting about five minutes a group of 6 birds started happily foraging out in the open only metres from where I stood. It was obvious that they were aware of my presence yet they continued to feed to with a couple of metres. They even let me move about them to get better angles. In the end after getting several hundred shots  I left them alone to feed. Another species I had on top of my list was the Gibberbird. I'd seen in my opinion the best image of this species posted on Feathersandphotos by Rob Drummond. Unfortunately even though I spent considerable time looking I was only able to obtain a record shot. 

Red-browed Pardalote
The drive to Fort Grey takes you initially through the Mitchell Grass/gibber plains to sand dune country. Along the way there were pipits, orange chats, woodwallows and plenty of birds of prey. Fort Grey camp is set amongst the sand dunes and near the ephemeral Lake Pinaroo. The camp is set up in a similar fashion to the Sturt NP camps in that toilets and gas BBQs are provided. Fortunately during our visit the lake was nearly full. There wasn't a lot of waterbirds obvious, however the birds of prey were numerous. The woodland and sand dune country surrounding the camp provided the opportunity to photograph some different birds, including Red-browed Pardalote, Red-capped Robin and Crested Bellbird.
Dusky Hopping-mouse
One evening during our stay at Fort Grey our travelling companion, Rod Warnock,  alerted us to the presence of native hopping mice. We all jumped at the opportunity to photograph these cute little mammals. During our stay at Fort Grey the mouse plague was in full cry. I pity the hopping mice as they compete for food and burrows.

The Gorge Loop track is definitely worth checking out, if not for the scenery then for the heaps of Red Kangaroos that can be seen.

The birds photographed in Sturt NP were: Gibberbird, Orange Chat, Brown Falcon, Black-shouldered Kite, Nankeen Kestrel, Swamp Harrier, Black Kite, Whistling Kite, Wedgetailed Eagle, Black-faced Woodswallow, White-browed Woodswallow, Black-fronted Dotterel, Straw-necked Ibis, Grey Teal, Pink-eared Duck, Eurasian Coot, Australasian Grebe, White-winged Fairy-wren, Australian Pipit, Cinnamon Quail-thrush, Red-capped Robin, Flock Bronzewing, Budgerigar, Bourke Parrot, Galah,Welcome Swallow, Singing Honeyeater, Yellow-throated Miner, Blue Bonnet, White-plumed Honeyeater. yellow-billed Spoonbill. Red-browed Pardalote, Horsefield's Bronze-cuckoo, Mistletoebird Crested Bellbird, Emu, Black-tailed Native-hen, White-necked Heron.

I'll post another report on the next stage of the trip shortly.