We were aware that the area was in drought but some widespread rains had fallen in March and it was hoped that the pressure on the land would have eased and that the birds would have responded to the improved conditions. So we departed from Sydney early on the Friday morning at 7 am and headed out via Southern Cross Drive, passed the airport and the Botany swamps where we were farewelled by a flock of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos. Our first birding spot was at Towrang near Goulburn where Golden & Rufous Whistlers and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters were active, and then we lunched at Wallendbeen, passing into the area where we would expect to see some western species. It was pretty dry here but a pair of late Sacred Kingfishers and a Noisy Friarbird were found along the mostly dry creek. Jindalee State Forest however turned on an immature male Turquoise Parrot and an adult female Painted Button-quail along with Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters, Brown Treecreepers, Common Bronzewing and White-browed Babblers, and we were then pleased that we had made the trip! A brief stop at Beckom added Apostlebird, Grey-crowned Babbler and Blue-faced Honeyeater while at a waterhole north of Leeton, we found Blue Bonnet, & Cockatiel for our list.
Gloria, Robert & John (Dad) Deniliquin 07
Our early morning walk at Leeton near the water tower the following day found 25 species before breakfast including White-breasted Woodswallows, Singing & Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters and a Black Kite. Along the road to Yenda we watched a Hobby while at a shallow off-river storage pond, along the main irrigation canal near Yenda we came across a large number of waterbirds, including Royal & Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Pelican, 3 Greenshank, 30+ Black-fronted Dotterel, Hoary-headed & Little Grebe, 100s of ducks including Shoveler, cormorants & Great Egret etc, along with Zebra Finch & Yellow-throated Miner. Our morning tea stop was at Spring Hill in Cocoparra NP where we had great views of Mulga Parrots & White-eared Honeyeaters.We spent a long time in Binya SF for little reward although we all had good views of an imature male Crested Bellbird, and Mistletoebirds & Chestnut-rumped Thornbills. We returned to Cocoparra NP visiting Store Creek & Jacks Creek camping areas. The highlights here were Inland Thornbill, Mallee Ringneck, Yellow Robin, Speckled Warbler, while Grey Fantails were a common feature where ever we went. We madea brief visit to Campbells Swamp, Griffith and it was almost dry, but there were Black & Black-shouldered Kites to be seen as well as Blue Bonnet & Eastern Rosella. At Lake Wyangan there were Mallard, Darter and Pied Cormorant all new to our list, while more Shoveler, Whistling Kite & White-breasted Woodswallow were seen. Three Cattle Egrets were found with cattle at Beelbangera and our last stopping place for the day was Leeton STW where about 300 Australian Shelducks were seen on Fivebough Swamp and 60+ Pinkears on the Ponds as well as the usual ducks. A pair of White-fronted Chats were new for the trip. We retired to the historic Leeton Hydro Hotel birded out but happy!
Our first stop on the Sunday morning was Fivebough Swamp where we spent 2 hours. The first birds to greet us as we walked pass the visitor centre was a pair of Ground Cuckoo-shrikes and as were leaving we were able to watch them again, allowing quite close views. As we came out onto the open water after walking through the reedbeds, we were greeted by the trumpeting sounds of a flock of Brolga and watched as 62 Brolgas flew into the swamp and commenced to feed! What a great sound & sight! There were about 300 Shelduck and maybe about 1000 Black Duck & Grey Teal and 20-30 Shoveler, Royal & Yellow-billed Spoonbill, White & Straw-necked Ibis and many Swamphens & Masked Lapwings. Black-fronted & Red-capped Plovers were busy on the exposed mud and 2, but possibly 4 Pectoral Sandpipers were seen in a loose group. A lone Black-tailed Native-hen was found as well as a Cisticola, while Little Grassbirds were common. Zebra Finches, & Variegated Fairy-wrens were located. From here we travelled south to Jerilderie via Darlington Point where we saw Yellow Rosellas and Wedge-tailed Eagles at Yanko Creek. We stopped by a recently harvested rice crop 8 km west of Jerilderie to check out the birds and found 26 Black Kites, a Black Falcon, Straw-necked & White Ibis, White-necked & White-faced Herons and many Little Ravens all enjoying a feast. We picked up our first Emus in and around Conargo, and then travelled to private property near Wanganella. Late in the afternoon we saw a number of Wedge-tailed Eagles & Brown Falcons and were shown a flock of 22 Banded Lapwings and 16 Inland Dotterels, the latter feeding very contently in a lightly grassed paddock. We ate our dinner in a clump of Black Box on the Hay Plains, the meal consisting of quiches and the most scrumptious Jewish Passover Cake with cream, made by Janene, The sun was setting, there was a great sunset and Robert found an Owlet Nightjar for all of us to view. After dark we went spotlighting and saw Emus, Pipits, a Boobook Owl, a Brush-tailed Possum & Fat-tailed Dunnarts but alas none of the target species, the elusive Plains Wanderer. We travelled the 80 km into Hay, watching out for the many Red Kangaroos on the road. A great days birding!
Inland Thornbill by Nevil Lazarus
We had a late start on Monday, and went down to Hay Weir, 15 km further west to recover! At the weir there were the usual waterbirds, and plenty of raptors including Wedge-tailed & Sea-Eagle, Whistling Kite & Kestrel, as well as Great Cormorant & Great Egret, and smaller birds like Yellow & Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Weebill and great views of White-winged Fairy-wrens. Between morning tea and lunch we explored the River Red Gum Forests around Hay, where we had good views of Grey-crowned Babbler, Grey Shrike-thrush more Blue-faced Honeyeaters, Brown Treecreepers and Peaceful Doves. We returned to Narrandera's via various roads along the Murrumbidgee River and near Carrathool, again were attracted to a recently harvested rice-crop where this time along with the usual Ibis, Herons, Ravens were 2 Brown Falcons and a Black Falcon. More Wedge-tailed Eagles were seen, while Narrandera yeilded plenty of Pied Currawongs, Blackbirds and Yellow Rosellas.
The last day required an early start and it was not long before we had a short stop at Ganmain SF looking for bushbirds, we did managed to see 2 Superb Parrots and 2 Cockatiels, both pairs flying over and way before we could obtain any decent looks, alas those were the only Superb Parrots for the trip. Yellow Robin, Yellow Thornbill & Grey Fantails were the only other birds of interest here! South of Coolamon there were more Cockatiels and a short stop at Junee found c. 150 Plumed Whistling Ducks at the STW, along with some Australian Shelduck and Hoary-headed Grebe, amongst the usual waterbirds. In the town park where we had our morning tea a Common Bronzewing & Blue-faced Honeyeater ! Our final birding for the day was at Jugiong, along the Murrumbidgee River where we checked out the Red-bowed Finches, Yellow-rumped & Yellow Thornbills and Grey fantail and saw our final Whistling Kite for the Trip. Overall we saw 146 species but it was hard work. The drought appears to have had a disastrous effect on the small bird population and in most bushland areas and state forests the understorey had died or had been grazed out, and there was no habitat left for thornbills, fairy-wrens, scrub-wrens & warblers, while with the exception of a few, most wetlands were dry. It is hoped the drought in inland NSW is soon over and the bushland can return to good times again. Despite this everyone had a great time birding and I thank Gloria, Marcia. Patricia, Rose, Stella, Val, Alan, Chris & Janene, for their company and camaraderie during this trip.
HayPlain watching Inland Dotteral
by Alan Morris guiding for FTB