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Riverina Plains Wanderer Tour Report
DarlingtonPoint - 1
Darlington Point with
Murrumbidgee in flood
Day 1 Wednesday 12 October 2020 Sydney Leeton

I was privileged to travel with two fine women over 5 days across central western NSW during inland floods that were revitalising the river systems and the country.

We began in fine weather which continued throughout although cool at times, but that happens in spring. Our en route glimpse of a Black Kite was unusal before Goulburn but not unheard of; it was an inkling of the birding to come, all a bit unusal. Our first stop at Derek VC had many little birds like Yellow-rumped, Brown and Striated Thornbills, plus Crimson Rosellas and we were swooped by a Yellow-faced Honeyeater and a Grey Fantail, but the Speckled Warbler that has been there for the past few years did not show. After cake and coffee we journey further to Binalong where a flock of 6 Superb Parrots gave Anne and me the runaround until we all stood basking in their bright colours, close by the car. As we travelled, the White-winged Choughs started to mix in Apostlebirds and the usually scuffy dry ground looked very wet. White-necked Herons were becoming commonplace, as were the Nankeen Kestrels and Pied Butcherbirds which abounded throughout the tour.

In the afternoon at Jindalee a Speckled Warbler popped up, quickly disappearing before the others had time adjust the bins, unfortunately. Still, Grey-crowned Babblers, Southern Whiteface, White-throated Treecreeper, lots of Weebills and Buff-rumped Thornbills kept the walk very interesting. The wonderful Historic Hydro Motor Inn in Leeton delivered a huge bowl of risotto in the colourful bar including welcoming hospitality.

Galah - 1
Day 2 Thursday 13 October Leeton Hay

A brisk walk to enjoy the house gardens in Leeton and the oval produced a White-breasted Woodswallow, Little Corella, Red-rumped Parrot, and a Superb Parrot flew by. At Fivebough Swamp 4 Blue-billed Ducks were a highlight as were the nesting Black Swans, Hoary-headed Grebes and many Maggie Geese. With water everywhere, in fact right up to the entrance of the Swamp after recent flooding, we were pleasantly surprised that Fivebough still delivered. Swamp Harrier soared, Yellow-throated Miners zipped past, Australian Reed-Warbler and Little Grassbird sang beautifully without showing. We parted from Leeton with great thick sandwiches held for dinner but had to stop once again by the agricultural paddocks for good views of the yellow sub-species of Crimson Rosella.

At Darlington the full impart of the flooding started to dawn as the Murrumbidgee River breached right up into the picnic ground. The speed of the brown swirling water around the massive River Red Gums was a sight to behold, crowned by many yellow Crimson Rosellas.

On to Hay, chasing Blue Bonnets for the first time, we checked in and had a big stirfry of vegies as the main meal of the day before heading south for the meeting with Robert to search for the Plains Wanderer. We were almost late, halted by Horsfield’s Bushlark, Spotted Harrier and White-winged Fairy-wren commanding our attention. Robert wowed us with a perfectly lit Red-capped Robin, better views of Blue Bonnets, Shining Bronze-Cuckoo zooming in for the playback, White-winged Fairy-wrens viewed from the car vibrating with colour, one male quite black, Brown Treecreeper, Western Gerygone, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Striped Honeyeater and White-winged Triller.

The mozzies started to rise at dusk in a vast cloud looking like smoke on the horizon and swallowing us, so we retreated to the car for protection and dinner while Robert walked for the Plains Wanderer where they had seen a breeding pair the night before. Although the namesake of the tour did not appear we did see a wonderful Barn Owl wide awake and pulling a mouse apart. We all slept well that night and quite late into the morning for a birding tour!

HayPlain - 1
Ladies Relax on the Hay Plain
Day 3 Friday 14 October Hay and Deniliquin area

A walk across the bridge over the flooded Murrumbidgee was pleasant, with plenty of the now familiar but very enjoyable birds before wandering out of town towards Booligal Straw-necked Ibis were in flocks on the plain probing into the ground. We stopped along the Artist’s Trail to relax on some well-designed wire outdoor furniture. As we moved further north a White-fronted Chat bobbed up, causing much more excitement than the watched-for Little Grassbird at a watery pool beside the road. Further on as we drove a cloud of Fairy Martins alerted us to approaching water in the long-grassed plains. There, a few Plumed Whistling-Duck delighted as we approached wielding the scope, as well as Black Swan, Australasian Shoveller, more Grey Teal (prevealent from Sydney down), Hardhead and Hoary-headed Grebe. Four Whiskered Terns with a gurgling call flew past repeatedly and a feeling of empty space prevaded, lifting the final shreds of city hurry from our brows.

A drive over the bridge at Booligal provided good views of a Yellow-billed Spoonbill feeding.

Again we slept well.

Bearded Dragon - 1
Bearded Dragon
Day 4 Saturday 15 October Hay – Narranderra

Departing Hay we travelled into the sun towards Oolembeyan NP. Stops along the way provided a raptor type day of Wedge-tailed Eagles, Collared Sparrowhawk, Little Eagle, as well as the usual Black Kites and Whistling Kites. We ploughed on to find Zebra Finches along the fenceline into the park but the way was barred, the river in full flood, and after a short walk with the Southern Whiteface, the recurring wonderful Sacred Kingfisher, often seen Rufous Whistler and Pied Butcherbird, Little Friarbird and a Black-faced Woodswallow we headed out to towards Narrandera.

Birdcage Rest Stop was the best, with grass over our heads, Superb Parrots feeding on seeding grass close to the ground and a female in good view. Brown Treecreeper also gave some of the best views. An Australian Hobby perched high on a dead tree added to the raptor count.

Again our way was barred by flooding and we detoured back through Leeton.

On arrival in Narrandera our walk over the four bridges across the flooded Murrumbidgee River was truly spectacular, with flood-waters never more beautiful in full sun. A sizable flock of White Ibis looked at home in the right habitat, as was the Sacred Kingfisher. Good views of the Australian Reed-Warbler in the middle of the first bridge were welcomed.

Yellow-billed Spoonbill - 1
Yellow-billed Spoonbill at Boorigal
Day 5 Sunday 16 October Narranderra – Sydney

Our final day included a stop in Junee at the STW where it was quieter than usual due to unlimited options for water birds almost everywhere. Plumed Whistling-Ducks still featured with some of the best views ever of those fabulous upswept cream flank plumes. The wind howled and we scarpered back to the car. A great lunch was enjoyed at Jugiong where a Fan-tailed Cuckoo put the Variegated Fairy-wrens into a panic. Two Southern Whiteface also threw in their lot but disappeared when asked to stay still.

We had a really great time during our birdwatching travels, with the only shopping ever done during a FTB tour in Hay a bit of a hit. Well done Anne and Bernice!

by Janene Luff guiding for FTB

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Photos of Variegated Fairy-wren and Little Tern courtesy of Neil Fifer