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Wyperfeld or Bust! A north-western Victorian Trip Report. (1 Viewer)

MikeMules

Well-known member
Or, how not to see a redthroat (or a malleefowl; or a slender-billed thornbill).

This is a report of my trip last week up into some north-western parts.of the state I haven’t visited yet. My holidays started a week before my kids’ and the wife’s, so with gracious spousal blessing I organised a 4-day solo trip with two aims in mind: to visit places I hadn’t been before, and to try and find Redthroat and Slender-billed Thornbill. These two species are only found in very specific locations in the state, namely Wyperfeld and Little Desert National Parks respectively. And, I’d never visited them before, so that was where I decided to go.

Wyperfeld was the real draw for me. I love the mallee, and have been to Hattah NP many times over the years, Murray Sunset NP a couple of times and have spent quite a bit of time in the South Australian mallee north of Renmark, but had never been to Wyperfeld before. It’s a huge, sprawling park, abutting the Big Desert Wilderness. It’s around 3570 square kilometres (almost exactly the same size as Cornwall), and has a mixture of casuarina, cypress, mallee and ephemeral lake habitats. Unfortunately of me, most of it was inaccessible in my little softroader (a Mitsubishi Outlander), which while capable of some off-road driving, just doesn’t have the clearance to cope with the deep sandy tracks that allow access to the more remote regions of the park. I would just have to go in as far as I could and hope the birding was alright.

About a week and a half before I was due to set off though, reports started coming in of an invasion of White-winged Trillers (an occasional, but not uncommon visitor to the north of the state) and large numbers of Crimson Chats, a very rare sighting in Victoria. Both would be new additions to my Victorian list. At the same time, people had also been seeing, along with the chats and trillers, Black Honeyeaters and Pied Honeyeaters (more potential lifers) at the Goschen Bushland Reserve. Which is another place I’d never been to, but it is about 150km away from where I was going to stay in Wyperfeld. That’s alright, I just needed to adjust a bit, get up a bit earlier, go via Sea Lake instead of Hopetoun. With the added bonus that Lake Tyrell (after which Sea Lake is named) is home to Rufous Fieldwrens (another potential lifer), White-winged Fairywrens and often Orange Chats into the bargain.

So that was the itinerary sorted - Wychitella (250km from home) for breakfast, Goschen an hour further away, then lunch at Lake Tyrell, and head towards Wyperfeld. Then, 3 nights in Wyperfeld (one at Casuarina in the north, and two at Wonga in the south), and finally return home via Nhill and the Little Desert. Now I just had to wait and hope the Crimson Chats wouldn’t disappear before I could get up there.
 

MikeMules

Well-known member
DAY 1 MELBOURNE-WYPERFELD (Casuarina)

The alarm got me out of bed at 4:30 am, so that I could be at my first stop, Wychitella Nature Conservation Reserve, by 7:30. Wychitella is just outside Wedderburn on the Calder Hwy, and was a place I had driven past many times, but never stopped at before. It was light enough to birdwatch by about 6:20, and after my first bird of the trip (Little Raven), I had picked up Black Kites, Galahs, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and a random Australian Pelican amongst others, by the time I pulled up next to the (unfortunately empty) dam in the middle of the reserve. Wychitella is a mixture of mallee, box and other vegetation and has had plenty of human disturbance over the years, firstly as part of the central goldfields (prospecting is still allowed in some parts of the reserve, and there were a couple of people camping where I pulled up, with the intention of doing just that) and then for cropping for eucalyptus oil distilleries. There were the remains of what I think was an old oil boiler embedded in ground next to my car where I had breakfast. But before I ate, there was a loud calling bird in the scrub that needed to be found. 10 minutes later, and it was a Southern Scrub-Robin, a first for my Victorian list. Brown-headed, Yellow-plumed and White-plumed Honeyeaters and a Superb Fairywren kept me company while I ate my porridge, and at the park exit, where I stopped to track down a whistler, I had Varied Sitella, Chestnut-rumped and Yellow Thornbills, and both Golden and Rufous Whistlers. eBird checklist

Then, off to Goschen (95km almost straight north from Wychitella)! As I pulled into the carpark, there were already three other cars there before me, an interesting sight in what is essentially a little triangle of scrub in the middle of nowhere. Goschen Bushland Reserve is, I think, the remains of a township that has long since died - only the old town hall is still standing; that and a plaque to the long since demolished State School. Being the independent sort that I am, I headed for where I saw some people standing, and where Pied Honeyeater calls were coming from. As I got about halfway there, a black-and-white bird shot across the road and disappeared, and with it the calls. Yes, I was told, the Pied Honeyeater has just flown (as they pointed across the road) - Well, it was tickable, just (except for the fact that there are at least 5 other pied species of bird in Goschen, and all evidence was circumstantial). Don’t worry, I was told, it keeps coming back to this spot, you’ll see it here soon enough (I didn’t, and checking in with one gentleman as I left, it hadn’t returned to those particular bushes).

So feeling a bit ripped off, I walked into the reserve to see what else I could find, and very quickly saw half a dozen White-winged Triller, followed by one, no two, no 10 Crimson Chats! It was very, very satisfying and made up for the poor views of the Honeyeater.

Crimson Chats, especially the males are ridiculously gorgeous birds - I’m not a bird photographer; my photos are purely record shots so I recommend you go onto eBird and see some of the stunners that others have taken of it - little blobs or red, white and black in a grey-green landscape, like someone has spattered bits of paint on the bushes and grass. It turns out that Crimson Chats would become almost unavoidable, turning up almost everywhere I went, and on all days of the trip. And almost always accompanied by White-winged Trillers. I estimate I saw over 500 of them by the end of the 4 days. They were almost everywhere along the edges of the canola fields and wheat paddocks, even down into the legume crops south of Lake Hindmarsh.

Continuing to wander I found some Blue-winged Parrots hiding in the shade (it was already getting into the mid-20s, heading for a top of 32 degrees that day, warm for early Spring) and then in the distance, saw a small, grey and white bird with a crest - a Cockatiel, another infrequent visitor from further inland (I had a small flock of them at Lake Tyrell later that day too). So far, Goschen was coming up with the goods, and heading back towards the Chats’ location, I tracked down a singing Rufous Songlark, but got sidetracked by a small brown bird in the dead tree next to it - a female Black Honeyeater (lifer #1). This became my bird of the morning, especially as about ¾ of an hour later, I found the male calling from a eucalypt on the south side of the road.

Goschen Bushland Reserve is not a big place, and I had covered most of it and was heading back to the car when I heard another Pied Honeyeater calling. It took about 10 minutes of patient stalking until I got very good views of its rear-end and underside as it kept darting through the canopy, which was now moving very rapidly in what were on the way to becoming almost gale force winds. These views were the best I had of the bird, but they allowed me to unequivocally identify it as a Pied Honeyeater, ruling out all the other black and white birds in Victoria in the process. Lifer #2! Picking up Hooded Robin on the way back to the road, and then White-browed Woodswallows as well as more chats and trillers in the bushland to the south of the road, I left Goschen for Lake Tyrell, in the hopes of picking up the resident White-winged Fairywrens and another potential lifer in Rufous Fieldwren. For such a tiny, battered, unkempt piece of land, Goschen Bushland Reserve is amazing. Definitely one to return to again. eBird checklist 1. eBird checklist 2.

About an hour later, after a quick stop in Sea Lake for a ham-n-salad sandwich and some petrol, I was eating lunch at the Lake Tyrell lookout. Well, eating it in the lee of my car, as by this time the wind was howling and a more unlikely set of conditions (30 degrees, screaming north-westerly, middle of the day) for birdwatching I hadn’t seen in a while. But, down onto the Lake I went, along the track and out towards the pink, salty waters, keeping near the saltbush in the hopes of… a small yellow flash - it was a pair of Orange Chats (deep yellow, rather than true orange), there one second, then sailing away on the wind. With that start, I heard an unknown call about 10 minutes later, which turned out to be a Rufous Fieldwren, defying the elements from the top of a saltbush (lifer #3). A neat little bird, very much like its cousin the Striated Fieldwren. There was a small family of them that were hopping unconcernedly through the bushes for several minutes before I moved on. To find, as I headed back towards the track and the car, a small party of White-winged Fairywrens, the male out-paint blobbing the Crimson Chats for solid bright colour in an otherwise drab landscape. I apologise for the photos, but on top of my poor skills and cheap lens, the wind was so strong I struggled to hold the camera steady in any case. On the way back to the car, Black-faced Woodswallows swooped back and forth, there was another flock of Crimson Chats and White-winged Trillers, with a group of Cockatiels streaking away, and a Brown Songlark in the nearby paddock. eBird checklist.

I now had a choice - go straight to Wyperfeld (about a 45 minute drive), or detour via Wathe Flora and Fauna Reserve (a large, infrequently visited patch of mallee sandwiched between wheat and canola fields). I’d been warned some of the tracks were very sandy and deep but if I stuck to the main ones I should be OK. So I risked it. After half an hour of travel and 20 minutes at the diminutive Gama Bushland Reserve (meant to be good for honeyeaters, but with nothing in flower, it was a bust), I got onto the Wathe Reserve Road, a good solid gravel road that led me in, turned a corner and disappeared into a wheat field. The road itself was two sandy ruts through the middle of a paddock! Still, nothing ventured, so on I went, stopping at the entrance to Wathe at a closed gate with the track disappearing straight away into sand dunes. After driving through and closing the gate again, I had immediate wheelspin, and seriously almost turned around there and then. There was no mobile phone reception (and I had none for the next 30 km of driving), and there were no tyre tracks into or out of the Reserve. For all I knew, I was the only car through there that week, so chances of a random rescuer coming along if I got stuck was highly unlikely.

But, no. I had a spade and after putting the car into proper 4wd, I made it out along the track. There were enough hairy moments, particularly on some of the corners going up the dunes that I was sufficiently rattled to not want to stop anywhere if I heard noise or saw movement. But, there was precious little of either. An emu sharing the track with me for a minute was about as much as I had - no songs, no flitting, no flocks of anything. I think I saw about eight, common species, with no hint of anything else the entire time through the reserve. Which is doing the reserve a grave disservice - It looks very promising, and if I had been travelling in convoy (or even with another person in the car to help get it unbogged), I would have stopped, and reckon it’s well worth a visit, but probably in the morning, not the middle of the afternoon with hot, howling nor-westerlies.

Anyway, I made it safely through Wathe without getting bogged (although at the very end of the reserve I took a slight wrong turn onto a tricky soft section which got the adrenalin pumping a bit until it came back onto the main track), and passing through Patchewollock (with its painted grain silos and, more importantly, mobile reception), finally made it to Casuarina campground in the northern part of Wyperfeld National Park 12 hours after I got up. The final new birds for the day were Major Mitchell Cockatoos and a Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo on the hillock overlooking the campground, just before the sun set on a very long and very successful first day.
 

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MikeMules

Well-known member
some of the day 1 birds

Apologies for the poor quality of the photos. They're meant to be record shots, not to have any particular photographic merit.

Birds are Southern Scrub-Robin, Blue-winged Parrot, Crimson Chat (the tiny red blob in the middle of the picture), Rufous Fieldwren and White-winged Fairywren (the out-of-focus tiny blue/white blob in the middle of the picture)
 

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foresttwitcher

Virtually unknown member
United Kingdom
Looking forward to the rest; there's something about the writing style that almost made me feel like I was actually there!
 

MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Enjoying it too - but it does sound like hard work, excellent driving skills, a 4WD and endurance are pre-requisites to catch up with some tricky species.

Cheers
Mike
 

MikeMules

Well-known member
DAY 2 WYPERFELD (Casuarina) - WYPERFELD (Wonga)

My day started before it dawned, with Australian Boobooks calling overnight, and I was up about half an hour before the sun was in order to get out and looking as early as possible. Fortunately, the wind had died down during the night so I was greeted with a mild, stillish morning. In the end, I went for a solid 4-hour wander and had some excellent birding. The cuckoos, in particular were everywhere. Pallid, Black-eared and Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoos were abundant, especially the Pallid, several of which earning the ire of the Red-capped Robins and thornbills (Chestnut-rumped, Inland, Yellow, Buff-rumped and Yellow-rumped all present). The highlight bird though, was a pair of Gilbert’s Whistler, a new addition to my Vic. list. And yes, there were Crimson Chats and White-winged Trillers a-plenty. And some very splendid Splendid Fairywrens in a frankly unbelievable array of blue.
eBird checklist.

By the time I had finished everyone else in the campground had packed up and left, and I was totally alone to pack up in the wilderness (and loving it, I must say). Unfortunately my car wasn’t rugged enough for the direct (53km) route to that night’s campground in the south of the park, as the tracks through the dunes were just too soft and deep for my car’s ground clearance. So it was the long way around for me. I chose to “detour” by Bronzewing Flora and Fauna Reserve for lunch and almost as soon as I left, started regretting that decision as the wind had started picking up strongly again with the temperature over 30 degrees by midday and little hope of much birdlife about. So instead of driving through the reserve I chose to go direct to a small firefighting dam on its farthest edge, in the hopes that birds would be coming in to drink. And they did. I had White-backed Swallows, Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters, Orange, Crimson and White-fronted Chats all come in, and Masked and White-browed Woodswallows overhead (here and for the rest of the trip, every time I came across a flock of woodswallows it was always mostly White-browed with a few Masked mixed in). It was a struggle to cook and eat lunch because every time I thought I had a break, another wave of birds would come in and I’d stop what I was trying to do and go look at them instead. eBird checklist. eBird checklist. eBird checklist.

With the wind now stronger than the previous day and the cloud cover increasing, I turned the car back south and headed the hour and a half drive to the southern entrance to Wyperfeld (passing plenty more Crimson Chats and White-winged Trillers on the way). There, I was greeted by Emus, 4 species of cockatoo (Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Galah, Long-billed and Little Corellas) and, of course, Crimson Chats and White-winged Trillers. A few km in along the entrance road, I pulled in to Wonga Campground, originally in the late 19th century a farming ‘homestead’, but now a very well appointed bush camping site.

Wonga Campground is at the base of a large sand dune and near the edge of a dry lake bed (last filled, I think, in 1975, the year I was born) with handy composting toilets, a communal undercover shelter/bbq area and room for what looks like about 50 or 60 campsites. When I got there, there were two other campers, so of course I set up as far away from them as possible. And for the next couple of days, that was how many of us there were - one young family, one grey nomad couple and me. We would wave at each other in the distance as we went on our separate ways. Setting up the tent was - interesting - in the wind, but I soon had everything set up and it was off for a late-afternoon watch on the adjacent Discovery Track; a 5km loop through the dunes and mallee.

It was hard going. By now the wind had started to swing from hot, dusty northerlies to stronger south-westerlies, dropping the temperature but bringing darker, more threatening clouds. The birds had taken note; they were few and far between, but I did have the pleasure of seeing a couple of small flocks of Regent Parrots flashing golden against the dreer sky as I went. They completed my list of expected psittaciformes (8 parrot and 6 cockatoo species including the unanticipated Cockatiel) nicely. I wasn’t really expecting to see Elegant Parrot this trip, which was a good thing because I didn’t.

Halfway along the track are the Devil’s Pools, small depressions ringed by dunes that ephemerally hold water, so after going past them to Lake Brambuck (the track to which is meant to be a relatively reliable place for Redthroat - which being sensible, retiring birds were nowhere to be seen), I returned to overlook the Devils pools from a conveniently placed bench to wait and see what might come in for an evening drink after what was a very hot spring day.

To say that the pools had water is a very optimistic statement. It looked more like a mud-ooze, but that didn’t stop the Emus and (I am assuming Western) Grey Kangaroos from having a drink. There was an abundance of Little Corellas and Galahs festooning the nearby trees and as I waited in the encroaching gloom Common Bronzewing Pigeons flew in one-by-one to wait until it was dark enough for one brave soul to walk to the pool’s edge, whereupon the rest all approached like a series of small portly children’s toys. It’s a sight I’ve seen many times over the years but to me it is one of the most evocative of dryland birding and one I don’t think I will ever tire of. But the sun was meant to be setting (not that I could see it through the clouds) in 15 minutes, and I had half an hour of walking back to the camp and no torch apart from my phone, so walking as briskly as I could, I made it back before it got too dark to see. And so ended the second day; another very successful and enjoyable day’s birding. With a full belly and the hopeful wish that the wind would die down again overnight, it was time for bed. eBird checklist.
 

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MikeMules

Well-known member
and some more of the Day 2 birds

Including a Red-capped Robin going cuckoo at a Pallid Cuckoo, an out-of-focus Major Mitchell's Cockatoo, Gilbert's Whistler, Black-eared Cuckoo and Southern Whiteface.
 

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MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
More good stuff - not sure I'll truly believe Major Mitchel''s actually exists until I see the bird for my self - just astonishing!
 

MikeMules

Well-known member
DAY 3 - WYPERFELD (southern section)

Well, my overly optimistic hopes of another still morning weren’t to be - the wind, if anything, increased overnight and the temperature dropped to about 6 degrees. Then as I got up at quarter to 6, it started raining. What a glorious morning it was promising to be! It stayed raining most of the morning, incidentally, and the wind kept up the whole day. If I had been anywhere other than in the middle of the bush with this being my only full day here, I probably would have gone back to bed or gone to the movies. But since I was here I had best try my best and get out into the elements. My plan of attack was to visit the three accessible walks other than the Discovery Walk, but to start with a look around a recommended malleefowl site, which is where I found myself in the driving rain shortly after sunrise. It was a very underwhelming hour of watching - very little of any great interest around - and not just because of the wind and rain. Most of the vegetation, although green, with plenty of small herbaceous groundcover, was not in flower. Baeckias, daisy bush and some hop bushes were flowering, but the bird-attracting Eremophilas and eucalypts were all quiescent. This was true for every site I visited on days 2-4 and helps explain why there was such a low abundance of some of the nectivorous birds I was expecting to see more of. The highlight of this spot was that as I climbed a dune, I briefly got phone reception, enough at least to text my wife to let her know I was still alive. Familial duty done, I returned to the car, and absent any sighting or sign of Malleefowl, drove around the corner to the promisingly named Malleefowl Walk.

So much promise, so little delivery. No Mallefowl to be seen, and about halfway in an old, years-abandoned Malleefowl mound; not as the sign suggested a seasonally-active mound. The last season it will have been used is long lost in the mists of time . As if to make up for the lack of megapodes, there was a huge (100+ birds) mixed flock of White-browed and Masked Woodswallows at the mound, feeding on the ground, in the trees, in the air and filling the landscape with movement and sound - a marvellous sight, but it was hard to register any other birds in their presence. I think I heard a Chestnut Quail-thrush’s thin ‘seeep’, but lost the sound in the woodswallow’s raucousness. It took about 10 minutes to walk through to the edge of the flock, and there were some wheeling above the entire time it took to get back to the car. I also had some nice sightings of Mulga Parrot, one of the few times I saw them on this trip.

Then, it was on to to the Tyakil Walk, stopping briefly to peer at a couple of Major Mitchell Cockatoos in a stand of native Cypress Pines and to watch the black-winged subspecies of the Grey Currawong lollop through the air behind them. The rain (but not the wind) was starting to ease, which was a blessing, especially as the start of the walk was sheltered in the grey box eucalypts lining the edge of Lake Tyakil. Here were Regent Parrots, Brown Treecreepers, the ubiquitous White-winged Trillers and a vocal Rufous Whistler. As the walk left the shelter of the lake bed and moved up into the dunes I had a momentary thrill as a couple of small greyish birds with orange throats foraged in the cypress beside me. Were they Redthroat? As it turns out, no. They were Yellow Thornbills, which in Wyperfeld are the inland subspecies which is more grey-green than yellow, and have a little orange wash on their chin. It did get my heart racing for a few moments though before I worked out what the were and at any other time I would have been happy to see them, as they are a delightful little bird. But, I seen them by the hundreds over the years, and have still yet to see a Redthroat. The rest of the walk through the dunes was nice, but with little flowering and the wind there wasn’t much else to see. It was notable though as one of the few walks where I had two species of birds of prey - Wedge-tailed Eagle and Brown Falcon. Raptors from the two families (Falconidae and Accipitridae) were very (and atypically) few and far between on this trip. By far the most common was the Nankeen Kestrel seen semi-regularly along the roadside from Wychitella onwards, and at several of the sites I visited, including Wonga campground. But apart from a single Australian Hobby at Casuarina and a couple of Brown Falcons here and there, there had been almost nothing else. Black-shouldered Kites were conspicuous by their absence; I was expecting them about as frequently as the Nankeen Kestrels, but only saw some on the last day travelling home along the Western Highway, well to the south of the mallee region I had been visiting. eBird checklist.

After lunch, I headed out to the last of the accessible walks around Wonga, the Desert Walk; a 7 ½ km loop into, well, the desert. Most of the area the walk goes through was burnt out in a bushfire in 2014, and the vegetation is as a result very different from the other areas I had already visited. The dead stems and branches of the mallee eucalypts straggled untidily everywhere as new growth sprouted from the lignotubers at their base. The smaller shrubs and herbs were all going strong, but the lack of living greenery in the canopy gave the dune part of the walk a feeling of moving through heathland rather than mallee. There was still not much in flower though, and the birding was patchy (as one would expect on a cold, windy afternoon - although at least the rain and clouds had been blown away). There were two highlights, the first being a pair of striped honeyeaters in some Grey Box, a beautiful and not always easily findable inland bird. The second was my fourth and final lifer of the trip, Tawny-crowned Honeyeater which was first seen in the swale of a dune, keeping company with some Chestnut-rumped Thornbills, Weebills and the now almost-ubiquitous Crimson Chat and White-winged Triller. Obligingly, several more Tawny-crowned showed themselves towards the end of the walk, turning an otherwise hard slog of a day into a successful one. eBird checklist.

That evening, with the wind starting to drop I had an early dinner and then set off back to the Devil’s Pool, spotlight in hand, to try a pick up Spotted Nightjar as it is meant to be a semi-reliable location for them. By the time I made it out there I was too late for the Bronzewing parade (and with the rain, they won’t have needed to visit anyway), but early enough to take an unobtrusive seat with a clear view of the pools and the chance to see flying silhouettes against the skyline. Well, the nightjars were a bust. Not a sign of them anywhere for the two and a bit hours of watching I put in. No rapidly shifting shapes or shadows, no silhouettes, not wingbeats, no accelerating, ascending calls of ‘whucca, whucca, whucca, whucca’. There were tiny bats however and kangaroos and rabbits that were unfazed by me or the spotlight.

What I did have though, lying back amongst the spinifex, were spectacular night sky views of Scorpio and Sagittarius. Naked eye, I could pick out Ptolemy’s and the Butterfly Clusters, as well as M4 and M22, all of which were bright in the binoculars. The Triffid and Lagoon Nebulas were clear and distinct and the False Comet Cluster was a delight through the binoculars. To the south, the Southern Pleaides, Football Cluster and Jewelbox Cluster were all gorgeously bright and crisp. On the way back, I stopped at Mount Mattingley (at 93m above sea level, it’s a sand dune named after Arther Mattingley, a birdwatcher who was instrumental in having Wyperfeld declared a National Park in 1921) and had an almost hemispherical view of one of the richest night skies I have ever seen - the milky way almost glowing, the constellations almost invisible, swamped as they were by the thousands of smaller stars that normally go unseen and the two glowing smudges of the Small and Large Magellanic clouds off to one side. This, I think, more than any of the birds was the best moment of the entire trip and words just cannot adequately describe the overwhelming majesty of the view. It was an uplifting end to a solid day of hard yakka. Over 24km of walking for only 30-odd species, but one lifer and some spectacular galactic scenery to make up for that. Sleep came to the antiphony of Australian Boobooks calling from opposite ends of the campground.
 

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etudiant

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What I did have though, lying back amongst the spinifex, were spectacular night sky views of Scorpio and Sagittarius. Naked eye, I could pick out Ptolemy’s and the Butterfly Clusters, as well as M4 and M22, all of which were bright in the binoculars. The Triffid and Lagoon Nebulas were clear and distinct and the False Comet Cluster was a delight through the binoculars. To the south, the Southern Pleaides, Football Cluster and Jewelbox Cluster were all gorgeously bright and crisp. On the way back, I stopped at Mount Mattingley (at 93m above sea level, it’s a sand dune named after Arther Mattingley, a birdwatcher who was instrumental in having Wyperfeld declared a National Park in 1921) and had an almost hemispherical view of one of the richest night skies I have ever seen - the milky way almost glowing, the constellations almost invisible, swamped as they were by the thousands of smaller stars that normally go unseen and the two glowing smudges of the Small and Large Magellanic clouds off to one side. This, I think, more than any of the birds was the best moment of the entire trip and words just cannot adequately describe the overwhelming majesty of the view. It was an uplifting end to a solid day of hard yakka. Over 24km of walking for only 30-odd species, but one lifer and some spectacular galactic scenery to make up for that. Sleep came to the antiphony of Australian Boobooks calling from opposite ends of the campground.

Just splendid! Lucky you!!
Hope to someday be able to follow in your footsteps on this route, it seems magical.
 

MikeMules

Well-known member
Day 4 - Wyperfeld - Nhill - Little Desert - Home

The last day of my trip started as usual with a 5:45 getup time, a little harder to do this morning as the wind dying away and clear night saw me greeted by a frosty morning, with ice on the tent fly, the car and all around the campsite. After the previous two nights of mild temperatures, it was a bit of a difference, to say the least. Fortunately with my secret weapon of a properly insulated hiking mat and a proper down sleeping bag, I had spent a toasty night.

Speaking of toast, I struggled to make any as my little butane cartridge stove struggled in the cold. The cylinder was cold to start with and as the gas left it, of course it cooled down even more until the butane wouldn’t become a gas and stubbornly stayed as liquid. A quick warm-up under my jacket and it gave me enough gas to at least have a cuppa before the sun was up and it was time to go out on the Discovery Walk before needing to leave for home.

What a difference a day makes! It was still and bright and fresh and felt like an entirely different place from the morning before. More birds, more frequently and more evenly spread out. If only there were more flowers out. Early on I picked up a new bird for the trip, a Shy Heathwren (Hylacola) perching at the top of a hop bush and proclaiming its territory to the world, contrary to its given name. And then, about 30m down the track I made my biggest stuff-up of the trip, when a bird called from behind a tangle of clematis and banksia just off to the side. It was a weird call that I hadn’t heard before, sort of a low ‘ooom’ but with a rattlely buzz included. In my defence, the ‘ooom’ part was quite similar to the call of the Common Bronzewing, one of which I had seen not two minutes beforehand, but the buzzy overtones were something different. Then, as I started to approach I heard the rattle of wings, again similar to a Bronzewing and thinking it had flown I left it at that. It was only as I was sitting back down at the tent after this walk that I thought to listen to what what a malleefowl might sound like. Yep, it’s a low ‘ooom’ with buzzy overtones. One of the main target birds of the trip, I was less than 5m away from and didn’t even go to follow it up! So near, yet so far and no-one to blame but myself.

But at the time I hadn’t realised how big a miss it was and so kept on happily, eyes peeled for Redthroat (of which I saw none). I had another close miss of Chestnut Quail-thrush, with a pair calling in the spinifex but never actually showing themselves. Which is a shame, they are such striking birds and are always a joy to see. Both Splendid and Purple-backed Fairywrens showed well, and I again got a couple of good views of Southern Scrub-Robins singing from the tops of trees, which was to my mind a fitting farewell from Wyperfeld.

Camp packup was straightforward and with the breeze starting to pick up again I set off on the 550km or so trip back home, with one or two minor detours planned in the hopes of lucking it onto a Slender-billed Thornbill one the way.

First stop on the way home was the top of Lake Hindmarsh (dry) outside of Rainbow for a spot of morning tea and a toilet break, picking up more White-browed and Masked Woodswallows and a Shining Bronze-Cuckoo munching on a caterpillar (giving 4 cuckoo species for the trip). Then, on to Nhill but halfway there I needed to stop and take in the sight of an adult Spotted Harrier (a new Vic. list addition), possibly the prettiest bird of prey in Australia with its rufous trousers, spotted sides, barred underwings and grey upperparts. And so to the Nhill Wetlands Boardwalk for lunch which gave me my first waterbird watching of the trip. It’s a lovely little lake and swamp that appears to be worth another visit in the future. By the time lunch was over it was getting almost too late to make it home before sunset, so I needed to make the call as to whether to go direct, or detour via a known site in the Little Desert for the chance of Slender-billed Thornbill. A quick glance at Google Maps and the site was only going to add another 25 minutes of travel, so that was a no-brainer. Thornbills ahoy!

By the time I got there, the wind had picked up even more and the low heath was moving and roiling like a khaki sea. My chances of seeing anything, let alone my target bird were slim. Then, as I was putting the binoculars over my neck and juggling the camera off the car seat, a small thornbill on the fence next to the car! Was it? No, the call sounded wrong, it sounded like a Yellow-rumped Thornbill call. Which, the binoculars confirmed, it was. Still, I took it as a promising sign of things to come.

Unfortunately, like most attempts at predicting the future, it came to naught. No Slender-billed Thornbills, but in the ¾ of an hour I had available, I turned up an interesting array of 20 species in spite of the weather. New Holland, Tawny-crowned and White-fronted Honeyeaters were around, there were more Masked and White-browed Woodswallows and the White-winged Trillers were accompanied by White-fronted Chats this time instead of Crimson. I also had male Purple-backed and Superb Fairywrens in the same copse of mallee at the same time, an unexpected treat. And that was it. In order to get back home, I had to leave and so this became my last stop on what was an epic and very satisfying trip to places never before seen (by me, anyway). Driving along I added 5 more species before nightfall and was home about an hour after sunset, feeling simultaneously exhausted and refreshed; my first multi-day solo birdwatch since my children came along over a decade ago. eBird checklist.

And what a trip it was - multiple lifers, re-acquaintance with birds I hadn’t seen in 10 or 20 years, and some great new places visited and mentally bookmarked for future visits. Wyperfeld especially I want to explore a lot more - but first I think I need to find a friend with a proper 4wd or at least find someone else to go in convoy. Either that, or hike in - which is a potential option for the west of park. Decisions, decisions - time to start planning my next trip to Wyperfeld I think. The Redthroat still awaits!
 

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MikeMules

Well-known member
By The Numbers

Birds seen: 123
Birds heard but not seen: 3 (malleefowl, quail-thrush, boobook)
Lifers: 4
Victorian List additions: 10
Year List additions: 48
Kilometres travelled: 1327
First bird: Little Raven
Last bird: White-necked Heron


Thanks for reading!|=)|
 

3Italianbirders

Registered User
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Italy
When I read reports like this, the first thing that comes to mind is: so many birds so little time! Well done. I loved reading this.
 

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