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Friday, October 13, 2006

Outback Australia

I touched down in Sydney on 29 September, met by Simon and his son David. After a day or two acclimatising with Simon's family in the Blue Mountains, Simon was ready to guide me into the Outback in his beloved Toyota Trakker Troop Carrier (with Trakka Conversion, I am informed) fully kitted out with all accessories and spares for camping.

Heading off at dawn over Bell's Line of Road accross the Great Australian Divide into the Western Plains (stopping at suitable places for birding opportunities) we hit the outback somewhere after Wilcannia and spent the first night camping on the bank of the Darling River at Wilga in the Paroo National Park (information about all the National Parks mention in this Blog can be found here). We were now encountering some of the first outback species like Emus, Apostle Birds and a number of parrot species.
Camp by the billabong with Simon's Toyota Troop Carrier
We continued the next day along the Paroo River to the outback station at Tilpa (just a pub and a shop, really) and headed up to the Nocoleche Nature Reserve where we found a great spot to camp by the eponymous billabong (under the shade of a Coolabah tree, of course).
Apostlebird with fledgeling. They normally associate in groups of about 12.
An early start the next morning for a 200 mile drive on a dust track without seeing a single other car, we made it to the town of Tibooburrra and confirmed our reservation at the Sturt National Park centre at Mount Wood, in the heart of the Sturt Stony Desert. Whilst the accommodation verged on the luxurious (for campers) the surrounds were as harsh an environment as I could imagine. A 2.4 km walk to the highest point of Mount Wood revealed horizon to horizon near-barren searing stoney landscape. There was some vegetation (gidgee trees) clinging to existance in the dried up creeks and interesting desert-adapted species like Cinnamon Quail Thrush, White-winged Fairy Wren, Australian Pratincole and Red-backed Kingfisher were to be found.
View of Sturt Stoney Desert from the summit of Mount Wood
Overhead the occasional Wedge-tailed Eagled soared in a thermal to locate a vulnerable rabbit or joey. We spent three days at this centre, during one of which we set out for Cameron's Corner Post, the marker for the intersection of New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. We ventured a few miles beyond the Corner Post to savour the endless parallel red sand dunes of the forbidding Strzelecki Desert, not to be forgotton. And certainly not to get lost in.

Mirage in the Strzelecki Desert

One of the features of the the Mount Wood Centre was a supply of water pumped into small reservoirs ("ground tanks") where a myriad of bird species and kangaroos would come to drink at dawn and dusk. These provided us with some of the best birding moments with emus and several parrot species, and a rare Grey Falcon playing havoc with flocks of Budgerigahs and Cockatiels.

Emu with chicks (the male cares for the chicks safter hatching)

Leaving Mount Wood, we headed for the outback copper mining town of Broken Hill, comparative civilisation where a lunchtime large Porterhouse Steak in the Theatre Royal Restaurant was enjoyed. The quality (and size!) of the steak was certainly well up to memories from 2004!

From Broken Hill to Menindee and then to the Kinchega National Park on the Darling River we stayed in the shearer's quarters of a former sheep station on the Darling River. The best birding location in the Minindee Lakes district was undoubtedly Copi Hollow where a good range of wetland species, including the amazing Darter (Snake Bird), ducks, pelicans, Black Swans and waders were observed at close quarters.
Australian Pelicans on the Darling River at the Kinchega National Park
Two nights at Menindee were followed by a drive down to the more gentle environment of the Murray River catchment in Victoria. Our two-night camp in the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park was rewarded by seeing the lakes filling up by pumping from the Murry River. The water's edge of Lake Maunpall was visibly encroaching by about 25 metres overnight, much to the interest of Glossy Ibises, Spur-winged Plovers, White-necked & White-faced Herons and Butcher Birds which were gorging on the invertebrates (notably centepedes) as they attempted to escape the advancing water. This location presented us with two splendid parrot species, Yellow Rosella and the endangered and striking black and gold Regent Parrot. This National Park is dominated by extensive Mallee Scrub, habitat of the famous Mallee Fowl, though we were not fortunate enough to spot this species.
Leisurely birdwatching under the shade of a Coolabah tree. Simon looks unhappy as his beer has warmed up!
Heading into New South wales, the next stop was back into the desert of the Mungo National Park, a World Heritage Site on account of the presence of human artefacts revealing the site to be the oldest known for human settlements outside Africa.
Erosion of silcrete formations in the Mungo Desert, the location of many ancient Aboriginal artefacts
Our final overnight stop was at the riverside camp at Nyngan, where a few more bird species (including Spotted Crake, Spotted Bowerbird and Hardhead Duck) brought the trip's bird list to 144 species, before arriving at the comparative haven of the Cotter residence in the Blue Mountains.

Our next excursion is expected to be in cooler climes on the shores of the Pacific Ocean!


Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

Oh wow... love all those photographs. When is Simon leading his next outback trip????

1:13 am  
Blogger simon said...

soon! next spring... :o)

5:11 am  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

Maybe one spring I can cycle the coast from somewhere south of Sydney (eg Nowra) around to somewhere south where it starts getting too hot to continue....
There is so much to explore in Australia! (Am I really admitting this???? And me a good Kiwi and all!!!)

10:00 am  
Anonymous Jill said...

Did any jumbacks appear at the billabong. If so I hope you didn't put it in your tuckerbag.

9:30 am  
Blogger simon said...

Jill:- All we have eaten is meat....with a vegetable waved over it....

Kiwi:- we have done about 7000k all up..start pedalling!!!

5:55 am  
Anonymous Jill said...

Simon: I can give you a very good recipe for lentils and tofu.

7:30 pm  
Blogger Anonymous said...

Beautiful photo of Apostlebirds! Thanks Maalie, enjoyed this post :)

1:53 am  

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