Plains Wanderer Expedition Trip Report
Day 1 Wednesday 12 September 2020 Sydney – Leeton
Plains Wanderer male
With fantastic spring weather we departed Sydney with a sense of freedom and excitement at our prospects of no responsibilities and birds: the luxury of touring I believe. At our first stop Mackey VC we were greeted by a Grey Shrike-thrush and as we wandered down to the bridge tuning our ears to familiar calls we recognised a White-browed Treecreeper. We delighted watched a cruising Brown Goshawk, Yellow-rumped Thornbills, great views of White-browed Scrubwrens, lots of Superb Fairywrens and Grey Fantails. We were out and about birding – yippee!
Flying flocks of 200+ Straw-necked Ibis dazzled us as we drove past Goulburn and we saw the first of our numerous Black-shouldered Kites and Nankeen Kestrels that were the sentinels for the rest of our trip every few kilometers. Lunch at small and gorgeous Binalong where Blackbird was a piece of cake compared to “the likely Brown Falcon” that initiated much discussion. Day 1 brought us the first of many Spotted Harriers gliding magnificently beside the bus and in sharp contrast to the bright yellow canola paddocks. We were to see these almost daily, along with families of White-winged Choughs and Apostlebirds.
Other hightlights were a Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, one Dusky Woodswallow and the long-tailed Superb Parrots kept us jumping out of the bus for the ultimate perfect view of a perching male which Bernice had tracked in. At Inglebar NR Black Honeyeaters delighted all, with a few as a lifer. Blue Bonnets towards the end of day finished a perfect day’s birding while travelling, and the food at the Hydro in Leeton was delicious as always.
Day 2 Thursday 13 September Leeton Hay
Rain tumbled down as dawn came, dampening high hopes for our visit to Five Bough Swamp but it cleared quickly and we birded happily until a cold breeze forced us over the other side of the swamp. The swamp was a lot lower than it had been in May when FTB last visited, but still so full that we could only get to the rotunda at the start of the walkways. We had crippling views of a Reed-warbler, after a Yellow-throated Miner welcomed us, found a Swamp Harrier among the many Whistling Kites, the colours of the male Variegated Fairywren never ceased to enchant, a few Chestnut Teal with the hordes of Grey Teal and Pacific Black Duck, Black-tailed Native Hens ran chook-like eluding us until the first was nailed and then they became a familiar sight for the first few days of the trip; a beautifully marked bird seeming to have spread from Birdsville area where we saw hundreds in 2011. There were Hardheads, Little Pied, Little Black and Great Cormorant, Little Grassbird seen by most, Singing Honeyeater, Rufous Whistler, immature Collared Sparrow-hawk sitting and flying giving a demonstration of the long square tail and fast flapping flight, and a Western Gerygone was heard.
On the other side of the swamp White-necked Herons in breeding plumage, Great and Intermediate Egret and another Spotted Harrier flew leisurely beside the bus for about 5 minutes, truly a delight! White-plumed Honeyeaters on the bridge at Darlington Point. Very windy after a main meal of pasta and pizza. Chestnut-rumped Thornbill showed up with Superb Parrots and smashing Red-capped Robins near Murrumbidgee Valley NP. Brown Songlarks abounded from here across the Hay Plain country, as did the Horsfield’s Bushlarks that gave me heartache trying to see them at 80-100kms an hour, until the next evening.
In the late afternoon we reached Oolambeyan NP with Black Kites above and big Red, Eastern and Western Kangaroos relaxing, seeming to know where they were. After cake and sandwiches we walked with Michelle from NPs across the plain for a couple of hours, having tremendous views of Stubble Quail, getting down the flight patterns of disturbed Horsfield’s Bushlarks down from Pipits, seeing a couple of fearless cats strolling the same territory as us (a worry) and the tremendous feel of the plain’s wildflowers, grasses and huge canopy of stars. It was all very worthwhile but the target Plains Wanderer eluded us.
Day 3 Friday 14 September Hay and Deniliquin Area
After late breakfast in Hay during which a Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo called and Yellow Rosellas ploughed across the big sky overhead, we headed out into a glorious day to 4 Mile Bend on the Murrumbidgee River. There were nuchal plumes on one of the Yellow-billed Spoonbills, Whistling Kites soared, Pied Butcherbirds caroled and there were Yellow-throated and Noisy Miners. We drove north-west towards MacFarland State Forest that we were never to find as every hollow contained water with birds! Never has the country looked so good. White-fronted Chats alerted us to a bonanza of birds: 30 Yellow-billed Spoonbills, a good 50+ Red-kneed Dotterels, Black-winged Stilts, Black-tailed Native Hens abounded, as did Brown Songlarks on every post. Highlight again was the constant 200+ Straw-necked Ibis, this time on the road, seemingly impenetrable and immoveable.
Back down to Hay and some moseying around Booroorban State Forest where there were glorious views of Red-capped Robins and the usual array of thornbills. At the pub Black Honeyeaters, male and female, delighted newly arrived Robert as did the Little Friarbird and Blue-faced Honeyeater feeding on an enormous flowering Mugga Ironbark.
Robert from Warwillah Station took over the driving and guiding and at Coopers Swamp produced our first Spotted Crake, a male White-winged Fairywren and 8 Whiskered Terns. Bravo! We also stopped to sort out the Horsfield’s Bushlark and had stunning views from the 4WD. Banded Lapwings were a welcome sight as were Inland Dotterels and only an hour or so into a long-night’s anticipated paddock driving found the female Plains Wanderer!!! with her brown male. What a triumph. We hovered for some time, watching and enjoying her preening and collapsible black-and-white neck. As we left Warwillah 6 individual Barn Owls were seen – every post had one.
Day 4 Saturday 15 September Hay – Narranderra
We made an extended drive up to Boolingah, stopping at the corner of the road to elusive MacFarland SF at One Tree Crossing to see the waterbird life. There we had 400+ Grey Teal put up by a couple of Wedge-tailed Eagles, Native Hens by the dozen, 200+ Sharp-tailed Sandpipers plus one Marsh Sandpiper, hundreds of Fairy Martins, Pelican, and Coots. At Robin’s Nest Rest Area Purple Swamphen, Australasian Grebe, a couple of Hoary-headed Grebes traversed the pond there.
After a memorable lunch at Boolingah we travelled to Gunbar and found a spectacular lake filled with Pink-eared Ducks and Freckled Ducks: what a sight, wall to wall 200+ of each species. As we drove on a Black-eared Cuckoo flew straight across the road in front of the bus, seen only by me and try as we might to find it we only turned up White-browed Babblers in the callitris heading for Griffith. Two flocks of Cockatiels gave us some nice roadside birding at dusk.
Day 5 Sunday 16 September Narranderra – Sydney
Alan Mathew birding on the Plains
After a nice stay in Narraderra we hit Junee STW not expecting much as there was so much water everywhere we went. Well, wrong! It turned into a mega-spot, wowing us with 2000 Plumed Whistling Ducks, a few hundred Pink-eared Ducks and the now usual collection of incidental others. Grey-crowned Babblers were spotted on the road to Illabo, and with beautiful travelling weather we arrived back in Sydney well satisfied with our sightings of birds, the target species and outback country NSW looking truly remarkable. Thank you fellow birders and travel companions, Alan, Bernice, Jane and Brian, you made the tour possible and very memorable. 138 species were seen or heard.
By Janene Luff guiding for FTB
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