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Channel Country Trip Report
Apostlebirds by Jack Shapiro
Alighting from the aeroplane in Charleville, we were hot off the spotting ranks with Yellow-throated Miner (feeding in the Grevillea by the terminal), Apostlebird (sqwarking in the tree next to the café) and Pied Butcherbird (in the palm tree at the motel). After unpacking, we headed to the Warrego River and almost immediately picked up a juvenile Nankeen Night-heron perched close to the water on the opposite bank, its white teardrop plumage scoring a hit with Marg. Scrutinising the bank more closely, we found another three birds: it has obviously been a good breeding year for herons.

Walking on, a lucky few got a brief glimpse of an Olive-backed Oriole hopping through the foliage of a River Red Gum. A Darter sunned itself on the sandy bank and, crossing the river, we picked up Red-rumped Parrot, Peaceful and Diamond Doves feeding on the ground. Jacky Winters hawked insects ahead of us and Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes called from a nearby tree-top. Climbing the levee bank, we saw quail ahead, ducking in and out of the vegetation, which, after much deliberation, were identified as Stubble Quail (a lifer for many of the group). We returned to the river later that evening for a nocturnal walk and picked up the eye-shine of three Brush-tail Possums, the chorus of a puddle full of Spotted Marsh Frogs and great views of a perched Tawny Frogmouth (nowhere near the frogs!).

The following day (after ticking Blue-faced and Brown Honeyeaters at the motel), we headed out on the Warrego Highway towards Morven, stopping at Angellella Creek on the way where we heard Jacky Winter and got great views through the scope of a most cooperative Australian Ringneck. Walking out onto the weir, Little Pied Cormorant and Australasian Darter were seen up the creek. Fairy Martins were frantically building their mud nests under the bridge and White-plumed Honeyeaters darted through the eucalypt leaves, proving very hard to see.

Two Herons by Jack Shapiro
Back on the highway, two colour morphs (light and dark) of the Brown Falcon flew by and we got our first view of Emus. We stopped to admire a pair of Red-winged Parrots, not shy in the least – the perfect photo opportunity. We continued through Morven to Tregole National Park, famous for the Ooline Tree, a relic of Central Queensland’s wetter past. Walking along the nature trail, we picked up two more interesting botanical specimens, the Black Orchid in the fork of a tree and the Narrow-leaved Bottletree, a relative of the Kurrajong (Brachychiton). Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, on the very western edge of their range, were calling and soon seen. Striped Honeyeaters were also very vocal, but took some time to track down for a good look. Small bird noises in the shrubs gave us brief glimpses of Inland Thornbill and Variegated Fairy-wren. Further down the trail we picked up White-browed and Brown Treecreepers, Double-barred Finches, Weebill and a Grey Butcherbird, doing its best not to present a good angle for the photographers! Back at the bus, a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater appeared close by the path, so close that we were able to see its pink bill, buff chin and steely-blue eye.

We then returned to Morven for lunch (excellent toasted sandwiches at the Roadhouse) and had a short, post-prandial wander under the trees looking at Mistletoebirds, a pair of Magpie Larks and their nest, and Superb Fairy-wrens (another species on the western edge of its range). It was then time to return to Charleville, with a stop for a walk through the Mulga, accompanied by a large flock of Apostlebirds, plus Chestnut-rumped, Inland and Yellow Thornbills, Brown Honeyeaters and Mistletoebirds (in the Grey Mistletoe parasitizing the Mulga), Rufous Whistler and the northern form of Black-chinned Honeyeater (which fooled the guide with its ‘golden’ back and pinkish eye-ring). Back in town, we visited the Spotted Bowerbird’s bower (with a good selection of green and white glass on show) at the Park and even got a quick glimpse of the bird itself as it flew into the shrubbery. After dinner that evening, we enjoyed some celestial wonders at the Cosmos Centre.

On the third morning, it was time to pack up and leave Charleville, but not before visiting the scrub at the back of the airport to track down Muriel’s White-fronted Honeyeaters. These birds proved to be elusive, but we did find Little Friarbirds, Rufous Whistlers, Yellow Thornbills, Brown Honeyeaters, a pair of Common Bronzewings and a family of Splendid Fairy-wrens, the male just beginning to develop his (stupendous!) breeding plumage.

We had barely left the outskirts of Charleville behind before spying Straw-necked Ibis and Nankeen Kestrel from the bus. We saw both male and female (grey and nankeen crowns respectively) Kestrel and Marg was particularly pleased because, once she returned home, she would be able to tell if her kestrel was Mr. or Mrs. Stopping at the Ward River bridge, a lucky few saw two Major Mitchell Cockatoos before they ducked into the River Red Gum canopy and completely disappeared. A White-necked Heron was far more cooperative, however, and everyone got great views through the scope.

Ian taking in the Sky
A late morning tea stop at Erac Creek gave us two Restless Flycatchers hovering over the grasses in search of insects and a terrific close-up look at two Striped Honeyeaters constructing a nest. An Eastern Great Egret fished in the creek and White-browed Woodswallows hawked high above us. A Pale-headed Rosella flew by and then it was back on the bus and off to Coolladdi for lunch at the Foxtrap.

Leaving Coolladdi behind, the vegetation began to change, with Inland Bloodwood (made easily identifiable by its large creamy-yellow flowers) taking the place of Bimble Box (glossy round leaves). We also had our first glimpse of Spinifex, blond grass tussocks waving in the wind, and shortly after that the cry of ‘Budgies!’ went up. The Budgerigars dropped to the ground to feed, but then flew into a dead tree and posed for everyone. We saw our first flock of Cockatiels here as well, and three perched not far from the road, giving us the opportunity to identify the males (yellow faces) from the females (greyish faces).

Our next stop, just before Quilpie, was at the Bulloo River, where we strolled along the walking trail (a bit of a misnomer as the locals seem to think it’s a driving trail!), White-plumed Honeyeaters and Little Friarbirds flitting in and out of the Eremophila shrubs, Black Kites circling overhead, Brown Treecreepers gleaning bark and Rufous Songlarks calling from the treetops. We stopped to observe two Sacred Kingfishers perched above the river bank and then returned to the bus, picking up a lone Brown Goshawk among the kites. A small flock of finches caught our attention back at the bus: Plum-headeds! The birds were feeding on the ground, which made them very difficult to see because of the amount of vegetation that had sprouted up in response to recent rains. We persevered, however, and everyone got to see these attractive little birds, the males resplendent in their maroon caps.

Heading through Quilpie, we did a quick drive-by at the cooling pond and picked up Darter, Black-faced Woodswallow, Willie Wagtail, Mudlark and Welcome Swallow before heading to the motel for dinner. We were back at the pond the following morning after breakfast, and got a new species, the Black-fronted Dotterel, playing its usual game of disappearing into the backgroundŠ

Driving around Quilpie, we picked up Little Correllas, House Sparrows and Common Starlings, but there was no sign of the flocks of Zebra Finches we had been expecting. So we headed west and almost immediately came across a small flock of Zebra Finches, plus Horsfield’s Bushlark, Spiny-cheeked and Singing Honeyeaters, Brown Falcon, Whistling Kite, Crimson Chat and a single Plum-headed Finch spotted by Alan.

The birding was getting good and we needed a second stop shortly afterwards to chase down the lovely Bourkes Parrot. Other species here (to which we paid less attention, due to the excitement of seeing Bourkes) included Red-capped Robin, White-winged Triller, Diamond Dove, Mulga Parrot, Pallid Cuckoo and Dollarbird (the last two heard but not seen). A little further down the road, a recently quarried dam yielded White-necked Heron, Little Black, Little Pied and Great Cormorants, Wood Ducks and two loafing Red-necked Avocets (gorgeous), just visible above the edge of the dirt. Although these elegant waders were expected in the region, it was a surprise to see them in such rough surroundings!

The landscape was becoming more and more colourful, daisies and peas carpeting the paddocks, so our next stop was adjacent to some old cattleyards, principally to photograph the glorious patina of petals. The bonus for those of a non-botanical bent here was Yellow-throated Miner, Blue Bonnets and a Brown Songlark.

We stopped for lunch at Kyabra Creek, working up an appetite by wandering across the road and finding White-browed Woodswallows basking on the top of a dead tree, then hearing a Red-browed Pardolote calling – eventually tracking it down to a small eucalypt from which it flew to its burrow nest in the clay. A Ground Cuckoo-shrike flew overhead, beautifully presenting its lightly barred belly to us. Returning to the shelter to eat our sandwiches, we admired the architectural prowess of the Fairy Martins, who had used the corrugated roof as a base on which to construct their vari-coloured mud nests. Travelling further west, we encountered more and more flowering Inland Bloodwoods, and stopped at a patch of Mulga to admire the daisies and observed Hall’s Babblers constructing either a roost or a nest, White-browed Woodswallows feeding in the nectar, Red-capped Robin pouncing on prey and a Varied Sittella sitting on a nest, her white eye-ring just visible above the rim. In the distance, a Crested Bellbird taunted us with its song.

Red Sand Hills at Windorah
Our next stop was at a large patch of lignum, hoping for White-winged Fairy-wrens. Unfortunately, the lignum appeared to have died, in stark contrast to the surrounding greenery. One lonely Hardhead paddled on the dam, White-browed and Masked Woodswallows squabbled in the Bloodwood and Australian Ringnecks flew by. We were soon back on the road to Windorah, spotting Blue Bonnets and Cockatiels on the way.

At Cooper’s Creek crossing, every available rock on the weir was occupied with White-necked Herons, Little and Eastern Great Egrets, juvenile Nankeen Night-herons or Australian White Ibis. Yellow-billed Spoonbills were wading in the creek, swinging their bills through the water; Darters flew overhead, as did a great many Black Kites and Fairy Martins. The herons and egrets were so intent on fishing that we were able to approach quite close for an excellent photo opportunity. On the final stretch into Windorah, two Red-backed Kingfishers were spotted on the telegraph wires.

The following morning (day 5), we headed out to Sandy Kidd’s place, grazier and local character, escorted by the man himself. Our first stop, at a red sandhill just off the highway, gave us Cockatiel, a Magpies’ nest and Yellow-throated Miners’ fledglings (in the same tree) and Little Correllas feeding on paddy melons. We climbed the sandhill, coming eye-to-eye with the Black Kites, getting a lift from the warming air. The summit provided a great vantage point to view the surrounding country, and in the distance we saw a Little Eagle being mobbed by Magpies, and a pair of Spotted Harriers, quartering the grassy paddocks.

After descending the dizzy heights (on foot, rather than the alternative – corrugated iron toboggan), we followed Sandy to a part of his property which was once a meeting ground for local, and not so local (there was evidence of trading in the worked stone blades we saw, made of material not found in the area), Indigenous people. On the way, we stopped for a small flock of Australian Pratincoles, flitting about on their elegant, pointed wings. One or two would land briefly to allow us a better look, their sandy-coloured plumage rendering them almost invisible against the bare ground. Meanwhile, Jack had made a great discovery: Brolgas! Although they were away in the far distance (and appeared as grey smudges through the heat haze), we were very excited to see them; little did we know it would prove to be our only sighting on the whole trip of these majestic birds.

We farewelled Sandy and headed west along the highway, getting a fabulous view of a Spotted Harrier as it flew alongside the bus. In a table drain near Sheep Creek, two Yellow-billed Spoonbills were sifting the muddy water for lunch. We crossed Whitula Creek and headed onto the property ³South Galway², where we left the bus to climb our second sandhill of the day. This one was quite different: it was covered in low vegetation, including the magnificent Regal Bird Flower, with its imposing yellow pea-like flowers, and many different species of Ptilotus (also known as Mulla-mulla or pussy tails).

Big D & Jack
We were soon on the trail of White-winged Fairy-wrens, following their distinctive high-pitched whirling call, but it took dedication and a bit of shoe-leather to finally get a good look at the whole family, including two males in breeding plumage. A White-backed Swallow made a brief appearance overhead, Zebra Finches and White-winged Trillers darted in and out of the shrubs, and Diamond Doves dozed in the shade. A Red-breasted Button-quail made a quick escape from under Janene’s foot, giving a fleeting glimpse of its retreating dorsal plumage, and yet another Spotted Harrier hunted low over the distant tussock tops. The shady banks of Whitula Creek were calling us (it was lunchtime): four Yellow-billed Spoonbills, Budgies galore, Grey Shrike-thrush and a Nankeen Night-heron shared this glorious spot with us. To aid digestion, a short walk rewarded a lucky few with glimpses of Crimson Chats.

We then headed back towards Windorah, went through town and onto the nature trail. By now it was getting very warm and the birds were few and far between: Mulga Parrot, Diamond Doves plus the now almost ubiquitous Zebra Finches and Budgerigars. We stopped for a brisk walk by the Inland Bloodwoods (White-browed and Masked Woodswallows in the blossoms), which became an even brisker return to the bus when Janene noticed a large bull gazing (with too much interest for comfort) at Jane’s red top. We were almost at Cooper’s Creek when a deep gully crossing forced a U-turn and we doubled back on our trail before heading out to the crossing again for an hour or so at the weir. New species this afternoon included Australian Pelican and Royal Spoonbill, plus a Black-fronted Dotterel picked up by Kath. On the morning of day 6, we started well with close-up views of an obliging Red-backed Kingfisher in the scrub on the edge of town, plus an Australian Hobby sitting on the water tower railing. Heading north to Jundah, we were hoping for lots of honeyeaters in the flowering Bloodwood; the Bloodwoods were to prove disappointing, as rain seemed to have by-passed this part of the region. The Honey Grevillea (a glorious orange) was in flower, however, and provided us with Singing and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters. Our final stop before Jundah was at Wuringle Creek, where our patience was rewarded by excellent views of a Hobby at its nest (or was it another bird’s nest that it was hoping to appropriate?). In Jundah itself, Pat discovered an Apostlebird’s nest in a fig tree on the main street and Joan discovered a Magpie Lark’s nest in a eucalypt by the park where we stopped for lunch.

Not expecting great things on our return trip (due to the parched nature of the landscape and the heat of the day), we were very pleasantly surprised to stumble on Crimson Chats at the side of the road, which displayed themselves to their best by perching on dead timber above the low Eremophila bushes. Excited by that success, we could barely contain ourselves when, on the road ahead, a male Emu and his five chicks appeared. Ian was first out of the bus for a better look, but due to the high wind speed, the expanding nature of Ian’s hat (which suddenly took to the air) and the pursuit of aforementioned hat by its owner, the Emus didn’t hang around for long.

Emu & Chicks by Jack Shapiro
After a well-earned siesta, we headed out once more for the weir on Cooper’s Creek for a pleasant hour in the shade, watching the herons and Black Kites squabble over fish.

The following morning (day 7), we went in search of chats on the Birdsville Road and found a pair of Painted Honeyeaters instead, feeding in the Grey Mistletoe (although the male was first sighted ³feeding² in a dead mistletoe on a dead Mulga bush). A little further on Janene spotted a Bronzewing – odd habitat for a Common Bronzewing, we thought, out here on the saltbush plains. Soon afterwards, two more Bronzewings flew by and then we realised that these were Flock Bronzewings! Very soon after that we saw a large flock of them to the right of the road and jumped out for a closer look. As we watched, two flocks joined together and then dropped down into the low vegetation where they were lost to sight. Fortunately, they took to the wing again and we admired their deep chestnut-coloured plumage and striking black and white heads as they banked and wheeled across the sky. Dorothy commented later that it was ³just like being at the races²!

At Whitula Creek, we heard two Grey Shrike-thrushes calling to each other across the road and at Sheep Creek, Variegated Fairy-wrens made a colourful appearance. Then it was back to Windorah for lunch before boarding the ‘plane to Birdsville.

Whilst the plane was late we heard White-winged Fairywren and saw Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters beside the runway. In Birdsville (by Janene) : the group innocently slid beside the billabong only to grow by cms as the grey mud gathered on our boots and Jack found new heights to view Great Crested Grebes with juveniles and two Musk ducks. Overhead were Whiskered Terns, Darter and Whistling Kite, plus the ever-present Black Kite. After much scraping and puddle jumping many of us dinned on roo at the Birdsville Pub.

Next morning Day 8 the bus whisked us out to the Waddi trees where Diamond Doves, Budgies and Zebra Finches haunted us and a pair of Singing Honeyeaters masqueraded as Gibberbirds but were soon found out. Diamantina River Crossing produced a flock of Wood Ducks, a beautiful adult Nankeen Night-Heron, two Black-fronted Dotterels, Intermediate Egret and a fabulous Black-breasted Buzzard. A Western Gerrygone was also heard calling. Final call in at the billabong only produced a Varigated Fairywren as even the bus had trouble negotiating the mud. Whilst waiting for the plane two Long-billed Corellas farewelled our party.

Diamantina River Crossing
Meanwhile, the guide stayed behind in Windorah and headed west on a borrowed bicycle to the sandhills where she spotted Little Button-quail, Chestnut-crowned Babblers and Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo. The following morning (day 8), Windorah Common proved to be a great birding spot: Red-tailed Black-cockatoos, Hall’s Babbler, Black-eared Cuckoo and (actual sightings of) Crested Bellbirds were the highlights.

After returning from Birdsville, we headed to Quilpie, stopping at some flowering Inland Bloodwood (Masked and White-browed Woodswallows) and a stony hillside (Hall’s Babbler, Rufous Whistler and Crested Bellbird calling) to stretch our legs. As the light was failing, we pulled up at a creek near Ray Station and followed the Budgies’ and Cockatiels’ calls as they gathered themselves into large, roosting flocks. Joan alerted us to a couple of Major Mitchell Cockatoos that flew overhead. We got fantastic views of a pair of White-browed Woodswallow, the male’s breast so dark it was almost chocolate-coloured, and of Jacky Winters guarding a nest.

Then it was a quick dash to Quilpie (briefly retracing our tracks for a Major Mitchell Cockatoo, but not for the Hooded Robin, seen out of the corner of the guide’s eye) for our final night in the Channel Country. Our total species count for the trip was 143. Birds of the trip were Australian Pratincole/Linocarpet, Flock Bronzewing, Black-breasted Buzzard, White-browed Woodswallow and that big black and white one we saw at nearly every water hole…

By Tiffany Mason bird guide for FTB

Follow That Bird   Phone: 61 2 9973 1865
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Avalon NSW 2107
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Photos of Variegated Fairy-wren and Little Tern courtesy of Neil Fifer