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Channel Country Tour Report
Our Fabulous 2011 CC Mob
The trip began with a drive to the Charleville Golf Course, where three Brolgas were assessing the water obstacle on the third hole. This was followed by a walk through the Mulga behind the airport. Brown and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters were calling vociferously, but both proved very difficult to see, enjoying the cool of Grey Mistletoe clumps to a hot exposed perch and photo opportunity! Strolling past the Oleanders, Splendid Wrens made themselves known by their bright blue tails (no males in breeding plumage just yet). As the day drew to a close, the bush (and Bimble Box) was filled with small birds: Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Chestnut-rumped and Inland Thornbills, Varied Sittellas, Weebills, Grey Fantails, a Rufous Whistler, Jacky Winter and Brown-headed Honeyeaters.

The next morning, we saw Blue-faced Honeyeater and Spotted Bowerbird from the bus as we made our way across town to walk along the banks of the Warrego River, admiring the River Red Gums and their inhabitants. A cry of “Osprey!” caught everyone’s attention and we rushed to see a Nankeen Kestrel (slightly smaller and less pied than the Osprey…) perched in the sun. It was soon joining two other kestrels in a game of “hide the mouse”, in what appeared to be some sort of courting ritual where a female entered a River Red Gum hollow with a beakful of mouse, followed by the male, and then both emerged shortly afterwards, not entirely satisfied with the accommodation, perhaps. Australian Ringnecks and Pale-headed Rosellas called cheerfully from the canopy, while a Darter and Little Pied Cormorant struck statuesque poses on fallen timber. Our first glimpse of a rather shy White-necked Heron was just that: it flew off downstream at our approach. A Sacred Kingfisher watched us return to the bus and a Restless Flycatcher fluttered, butterly-like, in a nearby paddock.

It was time to get on the road and head west for our first sight of Emu! At the Ward River, Jacky Winters pounced on prey, seemingly oblivous to our presence, Peaceful Doves “doodle-doo”ed and Fairy Martins swept back and forth, nest-building under the bridge. Walking across the bridge, we briefly spied a Brown Goshawk gliding through the trees. It was a good vantage point for canopy birds, such as the Striated Pardalote, and gave us a new angle on the herons.

Heading to Cooladdie, we admired the purple eremophilas and the burgundy seeds of the hop bush (Dodonea viscosa) growing along the roadside and picked up our first Brown Falcon. Our lunch stop, at the Foxtrap Hotel, gave us close up encounters with Apostlebirds, as well as caged Brown and Stubble Quail (a good opportunity to admire their plumage) and some Indian Ringnecks (not on the list…).

Flowering Bloodwood
30kms east of Quilpie, we stopped for a closer look at a Central Bearded Dragon, recklessly sunning itself on the tarmac, and discovered some excellent birds beyond the verge, including a female Red-capped Robin, a mute Crested Bellbird (most unusual!) hopping along the track, and, very well spotted by Jean, amongst the Zebra Finches, some Plum-headed Finches. Further down the road, we saw our first Black Kite (singular), Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, heard the “pirrup-pirrup” of a Singing Honeyeater and watched the backs of a group of Chestnut-crowned Babblers vanish amongst the grass.

At the Bulloo River walk, the Rufous Songlarks were in good voice and White-plumed Honeyeaters called from every eremophila. A Water Rat (the white tip of its tail the diagnostic feature) was seen swimming rapidly away from our approaching footsteps and evidence of its “dining table” was discovered at the top of the bank. It reminded us that our own evening meal was not far off!!!

We started the third day with a visit to the Quilpie cooling pond, which proved very productive: Fairy Martins catching an early breakfast over the water, an Eastern Great Egret waiting patiently for breakfast to swim to the surface, a Red-backed Kingfisher (the morning light picking out his rump beautifully!) posing on an overhead wire and White-breasted and Black-faced Woodswallows sunning themselves nearby. Keen eyes picked up a Black-fronted Dotterel gleaning the opposite bank at the water’s edge and Ron and Chris tracked down a pair of Mulga Parrots for a closer look. Barely out of town, we stopped for Crimson Chat and alighted from the bus to see Blue Bonnets, Red-capped Robin, clouds of Zebra Finches and, best of all, albeit briefly, a pair of Bourke’s Parrot. At Woorbil Creek, we had better luck with invertebrates than birds, finding the first of many freshwater snail shells and the remains of a crab. There was more evidence of crustacean activity with holes in the creek banks being attributed to Yabbies (Cherax destructor). Rufous Songlarks and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters called from the Mulga as we climbed back on the bus. Just before lunch, we discovered a Hobby perched in an Inland Bloodwood, and got excellent views of this lovely little falcon through the scope. (The name is derived from Old French for falcon, hobet). Its mate was then seen on the other side of the road, checking out an old raven’s nest. All this birding was giving us an appetite, so we headed off down the road to Kyabra Creek.

Four Brolgas greeted us as we arrived at the creek, strolling sedately across the flood plains (the Brolgas, not the birders). There was water in the creek and a great number of White-necked Herons were gathered there for lunch as well. Walking over the road,we saw Little Corellas in the trees lining the creek, then heard the call of the Red-browed Pardalote, which proved extremely elusive and was happy for us to pursue it from tree to tree without giving us a chance for a good look. Fortunately, the Plum-headed Finches proved more obliging, and we were able to observe one male through the scope for some time, admiring his maroon cap.

Heading to Windorah, we stopped for an Emu and his 7 chicks, a small group of Cockatiel who posed on a dead tree, had our first glimpse of Budgerigars, and chased down some Babblers: these proved to be Chestnut-crowned (again) and were visible intermittently as they hopped through the Mitchell Grass clumps. A little further on, a hidden wetland provided us with a feast of water birds: Little Pied, Little Black and Great Cormorants, Pacific Black and Wood Ducks, Hardhead, Darter, Intermediate and Great Egrets, and Australian Grebe. No Pelicans, thoughŠ

Cooper Creek out of Windorah
Day four arrived and flowering Inland Bloodwoods on the edge of town hosted a noisy flock of White-browed and Masked Woodswallows, as well as providing good views of Crimson Chats and a Spotted Harrier. Then it was on to the Nature Trail where Jan found three Bustards for us, which flew gracefully past as we headed for the Mulga, serenaded by Spiny-cheeked and Brown Honeyeaters. We got more good views of Zebra Finches and had some painful encounters with Spinifex (Triordia sp.): don’t forget the gaiters next trip! We then headed back into town for a visit to the museum.

After a quick morning tea at Windorah Cabins, it was out to the airport for a scenic flight across the Channel Country to Birdsville. At Birdsville, the billabong was nearly bursting its banks and brimming with Black-tailed Native Hen. We chased our first Brown Songlark, so much paler than we were accustomed to being a non-breeding bird. A frolicking pair of extrovert Red-browed Pardalote (obviously no relation to the bird at Kyabra Creek) made an appearance at the small park down the road from the Hotel and continued to appear at the front of the Hotel each morning, the male hoping to impress his mate with his ceaseless singing.

The following morning, we set out to explore the area, heading west on the Birdsville Track. Our first stop was on the clay floodplains, stepping through saltbush and bluebush, in search of Orange Chat. A Brown Songlark darted between the grass clumps and we got an occasional glimpse of the retiring Chats… A maze of pathways formed a weblike pattern through the herbage: these were the well-worn tracks of Long-haired Rats, favoured prey of the Letterwing Kite, and they had responded explosively to the excellent conditions. Leaving the rat superhighway behind, we headed further west, picking up three Flock Bronzewings at a shallow water hole and two more Bustards in flight. Three Brolgas appeared at the crest of a small hill and we stopped the bus to have a closer look. Unfortunately, they took off as we approached, but it gave us an opportunity to admire the diversity of the vegetation! Back at the bus, Elizabeth found a dead Boobook and was quite prepared to put it in her pack in order to bequeath it to the Australian Musem…

As we left the clay plains behind, the vegetation began to change and become more sparse: we were entering the red stony gibber plains, home of the Gibberbird. We weren’t disappointed! A pair was seen from the bus, foraging on the verges. Soon after the excitement of the Gibberbirds, there was an exclamation from the front of the bus “Inland Dotterels!” and we alighted again for fabulous views of a small flock of 18 birds, showing their characteristic black “Y” breast pattern. These were unexpected as not only are they quite rare, they also favour nocturnal activity and are more often picked up when travelling at night.

It was time for lunch. Carrying chairs and sandwiches, we headed for a patch of Coolibah Trees, which a stooping Peregrine was not happy to share with us. It dived fearlessly and repeatedly at us until we moved further on, away from its nest, perhaps. As we ate, Zebra Finches and Budgerigars came in to drink at the water hole below; a Chequered Swallowtail butterfly also made a brief visit to the pool.

A Sea of Billy Buttons Birdsville
With lunch finished, we walked to the base of the nearby sand dune and flushed a Barn Owl; unfortunately, Christine, who had expressly asked that we find her this species, was unable to fully appreciate the occasion, having been called away by nature! The crest of the dune was a perfect vantage point for watching raptors: Nankeen Kestrel, Black Kite and Spotted Harrier were all taking advantage of the up rushing wind to assist their hovering. Later that afternoon, we headed to Pelican Point. An Australian Owlet-nightjar was flushed from its hollow and sat patiently while everyone got both a good look and a photo. After we had finished admiring its bristles (which were very obvious around the beak, possibly used to guide prey into the gape), we headed to the Diamantina River crossing and found Red-rumped Parrots, Peaceful Doves and the usual complement of herons. Day six dawned and we travelled north to the Waddy Trees (Acacia peuce). There was a great deal of activity in our first Waddy tree: Black-faced Woodswallows and a Singing Honeyeater were very upset about somethiing… as Tiffany and Janene approached the tree, a Barn Owl flew from it to another, smaller wattle, where it settled and provided us with excellent views through the scope.

We climbed the nearby sand dune, following the calls of White-winged Fairy-wrens, but barely got a glimpse of them. A Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo, initially mistaken for a Black-eared Cuckoo due to its strong facial markings and the overcast sky, was spotted on dead shrub below. It eventually took flight, but not before we’d all got a good look at it, particularly the belly stripes that gave it away as a Horsfield’s, not a Black-eared. At the official Waddy Tree stop (with interpretative sign!), a Mistletoebird serenaded us, mimicking the call of a Splendid Fairy-wren. Nearby, the Emu Apple (Owenia acidula) caught our attention: its bright green pinnate leaves in stark contrast to the dark green, needle-like leaves of the Waddies.

We returned to town for morning tea at the Birdsville Bakery before heading out to the Diamantina River for lunch at one of the Burke & Wills’ trees… and watched a Collared Sparrowhawk through the River Red Gum foliage as it devoured its prey. Crossing the bridge, we hang on the railings, listening to Variegated Fairy-wrens, until Tiffany had enough of their Bardot-like reclusiveness and gave chase through the Lignum (to no avail: they weren’t emerging for anyone!).

In the afternoon, we headed west again to find the Jardine Waterhole, via the Birdsville tip, which yielded Australian Raven and Black Kite by the bucket load. Heading across the floodplains, we picked up Crimson Chat and a White-winged Triller (either a female or a male in non-breeding plumage): “So where are its white wings?” asked Bill. A little further on, we had great views of Orange Chats: three males perched on a bluebush, posing beautifully in the afternoon light.

An Australian Pipit flitted along beside the bus; Budgies swept back and forth across the horizon; a Wedge-tailed Eagle perched on the ground and we next stopped for a Long-haired Rat, which had seen better days (or perhaps had eaten too much), and was sitting comatose on the track. The fields of Billy Buttons were spectacularly beautiful in the late afternoon sun – gold as far as the eye could see.

A Red Sand Hill,
hard to find with all the growth this season
Our next bird was a Stubble Quail, which sat cooperatively in the long grass by the road verge, craning its neck to look at us. Four Bustards strode haughtily through the vegetation and a Black-shouldered (are you sure it’s not a Letterwing?!) Kite hovered, looking for Long-haired Rat, perhaps. We headed back to town without having reached the waterhole, but with plenty of good birding under our belts.

The following day, it was time to head back Windorah. As we drove away from Birdsville, hundreds of Black-tailed Native Hens fled away from the bus, like startled chooks, as the bus raced across the Diamantina Flood Plain. It was some time before our first stop of the day, near a dune, where we (at last!) got excellent views of a male Red-capped Robin, and chased more shy and retiring White-winged Fairy-wrens.

Shortly after, we turned off the road to follow the track to Shallow lake: Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Grey Teal, Coot, Red-capped Plover, Gull-billed Tern, Black Swan and cygnets plus, finally, a good look at a male White-winged Fairy-wren in full breeding regalia: superb! As we headed back to the highway, a Dingo trotted up the dune to our right, stopping at the crest to show a fine silhouette before disappearing over the other side.

We made a brief stop for a Sand Goanna, which quickly vanished into the scrub, then, a little later, a Central Bearded Dragon, sunning itself on the tarmac. Just before lunch, we stopped at Brown’s Creek, where Elizabeth pointed out a Wedge-tailed Eagles’ nest with 2 chicks. The nest was so massive that a few hundred Zebra Finches appeared to be using the lower floors for their own nests.

We arrived at Betoota Environmental Park for lunch and saw 10 Pelicans! Flying overhead, but at last we spot them. There were huge numbers of Little Black Cormorants both flying overhead and swimming in the river. An adult Nankeen Night-heron (a nice change from the juveniles) made an appearance. Chris, Janet and Jannie found a White-plumed Honeyeater feeding young and there was Northern Mistletoe flowering green, yellow and red on the Bauhinia trees.

At the halfway point, we detoured to Dion’s Lookout for a panoramic view of the landscape, which is surprisingly dramatic – mesa-like structures rising out of the plains. Next, we investigated some flowering Inland Bloodwoods, which hosted the usual Yellow-throated Miners, Spiny-cheeked and Singing Honeyeaters, but with the added bonus of a quietly perched Hobby.

Further on, two “native wells” are signposted and we stop to look at the excavations in the rock where water, a few centimetres deep, sits, fed by a spring, perhaps. Here there are Zebra Finches galore! Janene flushes a Little Button-quail, which we fail to find. Crossing the road, we follow the swarms of Zebra Finches and a Black Falcon flies overhead.

Back on the road again when Tiffany calls “Stop!” and the bus backs up to a dam (about 56kms west of Windorah) for Royal Spoonbills. There turn out to be plenty of other good birds here, too, including Plumed Whistling Ducks, Australian Grebe with head tucked under wings looked like a fluffy ball floating on the water, (supposed) Spotless Crake (much laughter – is it very clean?) that was in fact a Buff-banded Rail and Straw-necked Ibis. The day was drawing to a close as a Grey Falcon raced past the bus heading west at 60km/hr, while we raced east at 110km/hr – no time to stop, even for this rare bird, with dinner beckoning!

Deon’s Lookout
We began the eighth day with a walk to Windorah cemetery, passing Apostlebirds and Jungle Fowl (chooks, of course) in the back yards en route. There were plenty of White-plumed Honeyeaters at the cemetery, and Jean flushed some Common Bronzewings. On the way back to town, everything seemed to be feeding in the Inland Bloodwoods, even the Ravens were having a go! We saw Blue Bonnets, Spotted Bowerbird, and White-browed & White-breasted Woodswallows all enjoying the nectar. Opposite the Caravan Park, we watched Red-winged Parrots preening in the tops of the trees; one flew down and swept, at knee height, right between the group for a fabulous – if fleeting – view: champagne birding! On the drive to Whitula Creek, we stopped at the Corroborree Grounds on “Ourdel”, Sandy Kidd’s property, and admired the stonecraft of the Aborigines who once lived and traded there: artefacts, such as cutting tools, were easy to find once you began to look. There was little bird life around, and we attempted to flush Button-quail from the grasses, to no avail. Back on the road, we made a special stop for Muriel: the Australian Pratincole had at last turned up! Unusually, there was only one of these graceful birds, and as it flew off, we admired its slender, tern-like wings.

Heading away from the gibber plain, our next stop was a sandhill, almost invisible below its thatch of grasses. Twice we flushed Little Button-quail, and one bird flew right in front of Chris – a positive tick for the species! We spent some time once again chasing Variegated and White-winged Fairy-wrens through the vegetation for very little return: they really have been very shy and uncooperative on this trip.

We found a shady spot under the River Red Gums and had lunch at the creek, sharing the the environs with two Brolgas, some Crimson Chats, Intermediate Egret, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, White-necked Heron and a Grey Shrike-thrush. We also flushed yet another Barn Owl! It’s obviously been a very good year for them.

After lunch, we climbed the sandhill next to the creek for a good panoramic view of the area. A Brahmin bull stopped for a chat with Elizabeth & Bill, who were guarding the bus. It was at this point that Ron reached the “pinnacle of his birding career” by spotting a Black Falcon’s nest 300m up stream from where we stood, in one of the tallest River Red Gums along the creek (as is there wont, according to Morcombe). After retrieving the scope from the bus, it was possible to see three virtually fully-fledged chicks jostling for space, and, at one point, both parents flew in to complete the family portrait.

We descended the sandhill, climbed aboard the bus and headed back to Windorah, sending up Crimson Chats and Zebra Finches by the cloudful. We also clocked another Spotted Harrier and Bustard on the outskirts of town. Our final bird of the day, a Ringneck, greeted us from the Bougainvillea at the cabins…

The following day, it was time to turn east and retrace our tracks. At edge of town, there was a delightful photo stop for seven Red-winged Parrots feeding in the top of a flowering Inland Bloodwood. At Coopers Creek, we got the usual haul of White-necked, Nankeen night- and White-faced Herons, flocks of Little Black (and one or two Little Pied) Cormorants, Whistling Kite, Royal and Yellow-billed Spoonbills, Straw-necked and Australian White Ibi (plural of Ibis?!), Fairy Martins and Black-fronted Dotterels. A Grey Shrike-thrush called from the scrub, but didn’t make an appearance.

An impromptu stop for Babblers (the Chestnut-crowned again, which led us on a chase through the bush) also produced Budgies, good views of Crimson Chats feeding on the road verge, and “SHUSH!” from the guide, who was trying to pinpoint the call of a Crested Bellbird…it was, however, too far away so we left it to call in peace.

Acacia Fashion – Chris, Jan & Muriel
A stop at some flowering Inland Bloodwood turned up many Yellow-throated Miners and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters. In the Mulga, a Red-winged Parrot was sitting quietly, providing a good close-up of this striking bird. We followed the calls of Splendid and Variegated Fairy-wrens through the saltbush, but there were few visual rewards for our efforts. A Red-capped Robin called in the distance and suddenly the guide flushed a Little Button-quail which beat a hasty retreat past Ron’s nose.

Lunch at Kyabra Creek yielded four Pelicans (in flight) and a good look at a young Whistling Kite with the characteristic white-spotted wings of the species’ immature plumage. Leaving the creek behind, our next stop was for a closer look at some flowering eucalypts that WEREN’T Inland Bloodwood… and weren’t in any of the mobile library’s books, either. Their shiny, claret-coloured bark was unlike any other tree we’d yet seen (now known to be Yapunyah, Eucalyptus ochrophloia) and, once again, the Miners and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters were dominating the blossoms. We caught a brief glimpse of a Collared Sparrowhawk before heading back to the bus, minus Muriel, who was off hunting Striped Honeyeaters…

At the edge of the Grey Range, we stopped for Hooded Robin – not because anyone had seen one, but because the guide promised it would be there. So, with the added incentive of a chocolate frog for the first person to find the bird, we braved the prickly bluebush and headed along the dry creek bed. After 200 metres or so of distinct lack of Hooded Robin, Tiffany decided to try the opposite side of the road. This turned out to be very fruitful since it encouraged the bird to make an appearance… from a point just beyond where Tiffany had headed back. A loud “COOEE!” came from Janene, now nearly half a kilometre away: she had just won herself a chocolate frog. A pair of Hooded Robins and a young male were most cooperative once found and easy to see as they perched on the dead Mulgas scattered across the hillside. Back at the bus, we discovered a group of seven Major Mitchell Cockatoos feeding nearby and we got great views of these beautiful birds (“Flying powder puffs!” said Jean) before heading to Quilpie.

The first stop of the final day was at Beechal Creek, where a Buddhist in his campervan offered us coffee (before he realised how many people were descending from the bus!). White-plumed Honeyeaters were shrieking their alarm calls and the guide tracked down a Boobook, which Jannie and Ron almost saw…our 15 minutes were up and it was back on the road until Erac Creek. Here we were greeted by indignant Apostlebirds and once again Elizabeth turned up a nest for us: the half-finished clay bowl affair of the Apostlebird. Across the road, Peaceful Doves posed in the River Red Gums, Janet sent up some Pacific Black Ducks for us all to see and we stalked three Brown Treecreepers, who were hopping, in typical Brown Treecreeper fashion, across the ground, under the Mulga.

After a lunch of toasted sandwiches (and too many Lamingtons) at the Morven Roadhouse, it was time to see the famous Ooline Trees, remnants of the area’s wetter past. It was overcast and the glare made it difficult to see anything clearly, whether flying high or flitting about in the canopy. A Little Eagle and Brown Falcon, however, proved that you don’t need a perfect view to identify the species, as they flew quite close together above the tree tops, displaying distinct silhouettes.

Blue Bonnet by David Simpson
The vegetation was so different here, that we had plenty to look at – quite fortunate, given that the birds were very quiet. We disturbed a couple of Black (or Swamp) Wallabies, who dashed off through the bush. At last, a flock of Weebills emerged, chatting merrily as they made their way through the canopy: a new species for Christine. A little further along the track, Striped Honeyeaters appeared, another species that favours the canopy on overcast days! Eventually, two birds perched for long enough to give everyone a good look at their striking plumage. Double-barred Finches lined up photogenically on a small branch – the first time we had seen this species on the trip: they had obviously been pushed east by the sheer weight of Zebra Finches further west! As we approached the end of the walk, Yellow-faced Honeyeaters (a species on the western edge of their range) called and a Grey Fantail performed its aerobatic routine by the bus.

On the road back to Morven, we startled some Common Bronzewings feeding on the side of the road and found another Bustard. On the western edge of town, however, we got fabulous views of three Bustards, all feeding together on the road verge. Bill asked what Bustards ate: “House MITES?!” he exclaimed, after mis-hearing the guide (who read out “house mice” from Pizzey). Bill thought he had found a way to get out of the vacuuming, at last…keep a Bustard.

After dinner, we went Bilby watching – yes, we did see one, the female of a breeding pair in a programme to provide animals for Astrebla Downs, where a 25 km2 compound has been fenced off to provide a feral animal free sanctuary. It was a fine conclusion to the trip. We had seen a total of 149 bird species and traversed over 1,600kms to find them!

By Tiffany Mason ornithologist for FTB

Follow That Bird   Phone: 61 2 9973 1865
Fax: 61 2 9973 1875
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Photos of Variegated Fairy-wren and Little Tern courtesy of Neil Fifer