With the drought biting hard, we had anticipated dust, dust and more dust. Instead, scattered rains over the preceding few weeks gave us a surprisingly green countryside and muddy roads.
Our first stop at Lithgow presented us with delightfully vocal Yellow-rumped Thornbills, a closeup view of an Eastern Spinebill plus Goldfinches picking seeds from Liquid Amber trees.
Lake Canobolas near Orange proved extremely chilly but we did see the unusual sight of a Musk Duck displaying. Nearby Mt Canobolas proved eerily quiet but we did manage a glimpse of two Wedge-tailed Eagles, a bird we would see commonly on the rest of the journey.
Gum Swamp just south of Forbes proved to be duck heaven with hundreds of Pink-eared Ducks, White-eyed Ducks, Black Ducks, Grey Teal, plus 18 endangered Freckled Ducks and a few impressively coloured Blue-billed Ducks. Excellent views were also had of a Clamorous Reed-warbler, an unusual sighting for this time of year.
The morning saw thousands of beautiful Galahs swirling around and sitting at the top of eucalypts waiting for the warmth of the morning sun. An Australian Hobby grabbed a Starling in mid air and a Whistling Kite languidly cruised above the trees.
Lake Cargelligo must have many thousands of Little Black Cormorants because the middle of this large lake was covered with them, along with an assortment of Pelicans and at least 38 Great Crested Grebes.
Willandra National Park gave us nice views of Grey Fantails catching their dinner, our first views of White-winged Fairy-wrens and an Echidna waddling across the track.
The sleepy hamlet of Euabalong proved an exciting place to stop with Zebra Finches and Brown Treecreepers flitting about right on the edge of town. At a nearby creek bed we were knocked over by a pair of stunning Diamond Firetail Finches plus we saw some Eastern Yellow Robins, a bit of a surprise this far west.
At Round Hill Nature Reserve we closely observed a pair of Red-capped Robins picking up insects from the track and soon after, near Mt Hope, we had the most amazing views of a pair of Splendid Fairy-wrens. The male was in full colour, something which has to be seen to be believed. As we watched he came closer and closer, and with the sun illuminating his plumage, it's a sight never to be forgotten.
More birds seen that day were colourful Ringneck and Blue-bonnet Parrots as well as Emus dangerously running across the road right in front of the bus.
Our few days in the Broken Hill area were spent chasing inland species with one morning being very memorable. We picked up three chat species within 3 hours! On the way to Menindee we stopped by the side of the road and discovered a group of about 6 Crimson Chats, at least three of them males. Although some flew off the others gave us great views as they ran along the ground. A little bit further along the road we stopped to see a Chirruping Wedgebill singing contentedly from the top of a bush and discovered a White-fronted Chat which was very happy to sit on a rock for us.
At Kinchega National Park the water level of the lakes was low, so we walked out onto the dry section of the lake bed trying to get better views of the many waterbirds swimming out in the centre. We were all speechless when we stumbled upon a pair of Orange Chats. What a glorious sight they were, the male in particular. They fossicked around on the ground running in amongst the small plants. We all had excellent views of them through the scope and we voted them the best birds of the trip.
Big blue sky of the outback
On the way back to Sydney we saw another good collection of waterbirds at Cobar's Newey Reservoir including Red-kneed Dotterels, Pelicans and Silver Gulls.
In total we saw 132 species of birds including 9 species of raptors and an excellent collection of waterbirds - a wonderful journey into outback New South Wales.