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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones

Birding On My Own
Australia &
New Zealand 2002
Emmalee Tarry
Revised 2015

Trip Reports

Table of Contents

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Chapter 16


Great Ocean Road
Gulpa Creek
Phil Mahrer
Plains Wanderer
Dust Storm
Southern Coast and Snowy Mountains
Leaving Australia

Red Wattle Bird feeding on flowers

Red Wattlebird feeding on flowers.

Great Ocean Road
Before I drove the Stuart Higheway north through the red center, I drove the west portion of the Great Ocean Road. from the Twelve Apostles to Warrnambul. After Phillips Island I spent the night at Anglesea at the east end of the Great Ocean Road.

I finally was able to get in touch with Phil Mahrer and make a reservation to take one of his day tours to see the Plains Wanderer. I will have time to spend one more day in Victoria before heading north to Deniliquin just over the state line in New South Wales.

Waiting for the bank in Anglesea to open so that I could get cash to pay Phil Mahrer AU$440, I noticed the Australian flag flying at half mask. A gentleman also waiting for the bank to open made a great show of saluting the flag. From him I learned of the terrorist bombing of the night club in Bali which killed about 100 Australians many of them rugby players celebrating the end of the season. Later it was learned that the bombers mistook the Australians for Americans. That didn't make me feel any safer. It is a dangerous world we live in.

The best part of the eastern end of the Great Ocean Road was a rainforest track at Mart's Rest. There is a huge hollow gum tree in which about 20 people can stand. If you stand inside and look straight up you see up the hollow trunk to the sky. I didn't really see any new birds here, but enjoyed the walk. The rest of the road is twisty up and down hills with few views of the ocean. Not much fun to drive and rather dangerous because there are always impatient drivers trying to pass on the narrow road. Certainly the best part starts at the Twelve Apostles.

By the time I got to Loch Ord the wind had gotten very strong. I saw the Rufous Bristlebird again. Fresh white wash indicated that some of the Mutton Birds had returned to Mutton Bird Island. I had planned to come back here after dark, but it is so windy and cold I cashed it in. I spent the night in the campground at Port Campbell where there is a new owner.

The next day I started a two day drive to Denilquin by way Melbourne stopping at Floating Islands Nature Reserve. There were Coots, Darters, and numerous ducks there. Also the best look I had at Varied Sitella.

Large nest near Denilquin

I made it as far as Bendigo the first day where I spent the night.The next day I continued north through the drought stricken farm land, stopping at a farm implement display in Elmore. It contained a decorative horse watering trough. It was one of 500 provided by the trust of George and Ann Bills, wealthy Australians who left their fortune to provide drinking water for working horses. The trust fund outlasted the days of the working horse and the remainder was used to found the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or RSPCA.  I couldn't help but notice the thin cows with their ribs clearly visible grazing along the road,  They are victims of the extensive drought that is just now starting in Australia.  Apparently the owners unable to feed the cows just let them roam along the roads.

This photo of a large nest deserted by its buildder was taken outside Denilquin. A Nankeen Kestrel and House Sparrows were hanging out around it and perhaps building their nests in it..

Gulpa Creek
Just before reaching Denilquin I stopped at Gulpa Creek Forest following directions in Thomas and Thomas. This is a very dry forest with all dirt roads. Active logging is still going on here. Today is Sunday and there were no logging trucks. I did see several cars and trucks here.

Before I reached the creek I saw a Superb Parrot flying silently through the trees. I could not find it again. The Superb Parrot does not squawk when it flies. At the bridge over the creek I saw Rufous Whistler, Red-browed Finch, White-winged Chough, White-throated Treecreeper.
I crossed the bridge and drove for several hours on the dirt roads on the other side. Be careful here as at one time I lost my way. The map in Thomas and Thomas is not entirely accurate.

There are several campground in Denilquin. I stayed at the Riverside Caravan Park for AU$16. The park is right on the river surrounded by an earthen levee. There is an island of very old Red Gums on one side of the park. Standing on the levee I found the burrow of a Spotted Pardalot. A Little Eagle soared overhead.The Denilquin area is a rice farming and sheep pasture area. The drought of the last two years has been so bad here that the farmers haven't even planted. Grass in the paddocks is thin and some farmers allow their cattle to roam up and down the road edge looking for grass.

Phil Mahrer Bird Guide
Phil picked me up at 6AM the next morning in his 4-wheel drive vehicle. At another campground we picked up three young men who have been working at the Glue Pot Bird Observatory. ( Alan Grenom - Seattle,Wash: Neil Chartier - Western Massachusetts: Richard Thaxton - UK)
We birded until 3:50 PM at various places in and around Denilquin including a stop at Gulpa Creek. Most of the time we were on private land with one of the guys jumping out to open and close gates so we could pass. We were in and out of the car taking short walks at each stop. Bring water and a quick snack.

We saw the Superb Parrot at Gulpa Creek , but actually had better looks along the road. Walking around in Gulpa Creek we got Hooded Robin, Red-capped Robin, Grey-crowned Babbler, White-browed Babbler. Heard but not seen Crested Shrike-tit. At one stop we walked through the milking shed of a dairy farm to scope a pond on the other side. There were 7 Freckle Ducks, Pink-eared Duck, Black-fronted Dotterel, Reed Warbler.  We also saw the Cockatiel a bird you have seen as a caged pet so often you forget it is a real wild bird.

We went to a small quarry that is now filled with water. The water table in the area is rising because the farmers are drawing water from the Murray River. The water is very salty because there is so much salt in the dirt. Black-winged Stilts, Australian Spotted Crake, Red-kneed Dotterel, Pelicans, Herons. We saw Wedge-tailed Eagle and Little Eagle. Blue Bonnet is a hard parrot to pick up and we had it sitting on a fence. Budgerigar (American call this bird a parakeet.) another pet store bird that really does live in the wild. At the end of the afternoon we had checked off 108 birds. About 3:30 Phil dropped us off for supper and a rest.  This was more strenuous birding than I was used to so I did not even try to get photographs of these birds.  Keeping up with three young men was enough for me,.

Plains Wanderer
Promptly at 5 PM Phil picked me up for the evening birding. He was excited that we had already seen over 100 birds and predicted we would see over 130 for the day. Again we went to various pastures unlocking and locking gates.

In the early evening light we saw Australian Pratincole in breeding plumage, Brown Songlark, White-winged Fairywren, Orange Chat.
As darkness fell, Phil got out the spotlight. This is an area of intense farming and very few woods have been left uncut. Phil took us to one of them and we had Tawny Frogmouth on the nest. Phil scraped on a tree and the Owlet Nightjar flew out to perch nearby. The main show is still to come.

The Plains Wanderer is a unique Australian endemic. It is the sole member of the Pedionomid family and may be closely related to Plovers and Dotterels rather than the Buttonquails. The prime habitat of the Plains-wanderer is the Riverine Plain in paddocts where the vegetation is just the right height. .Phil Mahrer has made quite a reputation for himself showing people the Plains-wanderer around Deniliquin. He has estimated that approximately 1,200 birds live on 31 properties in the area. He is a national treasure.

We didn't go to the paddock to look for the Plains-wanderer until it was completely dark. Phil held the Q-Bean and drove the car with the rest of us watching the headlights. Round and round the paddock we went. In the headlights we saw Inland Dotterel, Singing Bushlark and the Dunnart a mouse size marsupial.We continued to go round and round for over an hour. There was a sinking feeling that we were going to miss the big bird. Phil wasn't giving up yet.

Suddenly there it was. A female Plains Wanderer right by the car. The male incubates and takes care of the chicks so the female is the more colorful bird. Large it isn't. In fact it is squating down so that it look like a round flat plate with a long neck and legs. A cow pile with legs one of the guys calls it. It walks away from the light and then stands still staring at us. Phil maneuvers the car so that we see the red brown breast band and the black and white speckled throat. We watch it for some time and finally leave it in peace.

The birding night isn't over yet. We go on to find and spotlight a Barn Owll and a Southern Bobook Owl. Before starting the 25 km drive back to town. The three guys go to sleep in the back seat, but Phil and I continue birding along the road. Just when we were laughing about "birding these young guys under the table", A Tawny Frogmouth flew  right into the car. We stoped to see if it was injured, but apparently it had flown on.  Back in the campground a Southern Bobook Owl was calling,.  What a wonderful day!.

Phil Maher Still Available
The wonderful news is that as of 2015, Phil Maher is still running tours in Denilquin and other areas. Read this web page for a wonderful picture of a Plains Wanderer and more information about the bird.

Don't go all the way to Australia without taking his trip.

We ended up with exactly 130 birds  for the day.  Here is the bird list.  Bolded birds were new for my trip.

Stubble Quail
Freckled Duck
Black Swan
Australian Shelduck
Australian Wood duck
Pacific Black Duck
Grey Teal
Pink-eared Duck
Australian Grebe
Hoary-headed Grebe
Little Pied Cormorant
Little Black Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Australian Pelican
White-faced Heron
White-necked Heron
Australian White Ibis
Straw-necked Ibis
Yellow-billed Spoonbill
Black-shouldered Kite
Black Kite
Whistling Kite
Swamp Harrier
Collared Sparrowhawk
Wedge-tailed Eagle
Little Eagle
Brown Falcon
Australian Hobby
Black Falcon
Nankeen Kestrel
Australian Spotted Crake
Purple Swamphen
Dusky Moorhen
Black-tailed Native-Hen
Eurasian Coot
Common Greenshank
Black-winged Stilt
Inland Dotterel
Black-fronted Dotterel
Banded lapwing
Red-kneed Dotterel

Australian Pratincole
Common Bronzewing
Crested Pigeon
Peaceful Dove
Long-billed Corella
Sulfur-crested Cockatoo
Superb Parrot
Yellow Rosella ( Crimson Rosella )
Blue Bonnet
Red-rumped Parrot
Pallid Cuckoo
Horsfield Bronze-Cuckoo
Southern Boobook
Barn Owl
Tawny Frogmouth
Australian Owlet-Nightjar
Laughing Kookaburra
Sacred Kingfisher
Rainbow Bee-eater
White-throated Treecreeper
Brown Treecreeper
Superb Fairywren
White-winged Fairywren
Striated Pardalot
Western Gerygone
Chestnut-rumped Thornbill
Buff-rumped Thornbill
Yellow-rumped Thornbill
Yellow Thornbill
Striated Thornbill
Southern Whiteface
Spiny-cheekd Honeyeater
Noisy Friarbird
Little Friarbird
Noisy Miner
Singing Honeyeater
Brown-headed Honeyeater
Black Honeyeater
Orange Chat

White-fronted Chat
Jacky Winter
Red-capped Robin
Hooded Robin
Grey-crowned Babbler
White-browed Babler
Varied Sitella
Gilbert's Whistler
Rufous Whistler
Grey Shrike-thrush
Restless Flycatcher
Magpie Lark
Grey Fantail
Willie Wagtail
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike
White-winged Triller
White-breasted Woodswallow
Masked Woodswallow
White-browed Woodswallow
Dusky Woodswallow
Grey Butcherbird
Pied Butcherbird
Australian Magpie
Australian Raven
Little Raven
White-winged Chough
Singing Bushlark
Richard's Pipit
House Sparrow
Zebra Finch
Diamond Firetail
White-backed Swallow
Welcome Swallow
Fairy Martin
Tree Martin
Clamorous Reed-Warbler
Brown Songlark
Common Blackbird
Common Starling

Dusky Woodswallow Denilquin

Parrokeets feeding on the ground at Waga Waga

Dusky Woodswallow
I was so afraid I wouldn't be able to keep up with four young healthy men, that I left my cameras back at the camp during my Denilquin big day. I have no pictures of the birds I saw with Phil. This picture of the Dusky Woodswallow was taken a day later.  It was a new bird for me for the trip.

The Great Dust Storm
I spent another day in Denilquin. I still have two days to get back to Wollongong for the October pelagic.
At the Denilquin library I used the internet and talked to the librarian about the Plains Wanderer. She knew it was a bird found around Denilquin, but was not aware of how unique it is or of the contribution Phil Mahrer makes by bringing birders to the area to see it. She does now.

Driving east the next day I drove into a terrible dust storm. For miles and miles I drove in a total brownout only able to see the headlights of on coming cars 50 yards ahead. This storm was a feature story in the Australian editon of Time Magazine. It covered a substantial part of New South Wales and blew thousands of tons of dirt into the Tasman Sea. Core samples from the Tasman Sea show that this is a phenomenon that happens every hundred years or so.

I spent the night in Wagga Wagga staying in the same campground on the Murrumbidgee River I stayed in on the way to the Red Center last winter. The river is now full and fast flowing due to water released by the engineers for the farmers. I watched a man working out by swimming against the current. He would swim hard and fast for a few minutes gaining a few yards and then let the current carry him back to the starting position where he did it again. I considered trying it myself.
There are more birds around the river now that it is summer. At right: Parrokeets feeding on the ground in the campground on the River in Wagga Wagga.

The next day I stopped along the Hume Highway at Yass to tour the Hamilton Hume Cooma Cottage. Hamilton Hume was an early European explorer who traveled and mapped much of the land just over the Great Dividing Range. I walked over the hills around the cottage seeing: White-browed Woodswallow, Dusky Woodswallow, Horsfield Bronze Cuckoo, Red-browed Finch and Superb Fairywren.

It is early summer and gardens are in bloom. In Moss Vale I stopped at the Red Cow Farm garden. This is a twofer because I can enjoy the flowers and look for birds in the garden. Birds at this delightful spot were Silvereyes, Grey Fantail, Inland Thornbill, Yellow-rumped Thornbill.
A large flock of Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos (below) were feeding on pine cones in the Red Cow Farm Garden in Moss Vale.When you find a flock of Yellow-tailed you should look for Glossy Black-Cockatoos in with them. I did not see any with this large flock.

Moss Vale Garden Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos at Moss Vale

Southern Coast Road and the Snowy Mountains
After the October Wollongong pelagic, I headed south on the Prince's Highway following the coast toward Eden. I camped on a salt water lake with pelicans in my backyard.

Remarkably I saw a new bird here the White-headed Pigeon.This campground also had some birds I had seen many times such as:Rainbow Lorikeets, Red-wattledbirds, Crimson Corella, White-faced Heron, Australian Grebe.

The next day I stopped to tour the Trunktabelle Gardens where there is a large colony of Bell Miners. For AU$4 you can walk a rainforest path to a saltwater lagoon. Birds along this path were: Wonga Pigeon, Yellow Robin, Grey Shrikethrush, Eastern Spinetail, White-naped Honeyeater, New Holland Honeyeater, Noisy Friarbird, Brown Thornbill, Grey and Rufous Fantail, Mistletoe bird, Laughing Kookaburra, King Parrot, Welcome Swallow, Eastern Whipbird, White-browed Scrubwren, Pied Currawong. Nothing new.

I have been here for four months of intensive birding. I can't expect new birds every day. I am happy that I can now identify these birds easily and remember what problems I had with identification at the start of the trip.The gardens are a mixture of native trees and scrubs and exotics like roses. They are very open and good birding. They have a bird list at the gate.

Stopped for lunch at a rest stop and saw 2 immature Satin Bowerbirds under a picnic table. I continued south stopping in a small town to use the internet at a store that was a petrol station, post office, general store and internet station. I toured another lovely garden here.

Eden used to be a shore based whaling station. Historical legend has it that a pod of Killer Whales would drive the Humpbacks in the bay so the men could kill them. The Orcas were then rewarded with jaw and tongue. The Killer Whale Museum displays whales artifacts and the skeleton of a Killer Whale named Tom. The claim is that Tom was the leader of the Killer Whale pod After Tom died the herd moved on. In another museum exhibit a retired telegraph operator sent a telegram in Morse Code to Wagga Wagga for me.

Garden of Eden Campground owner feeds King Parrots. Eden is the starting point for the Eden Pelagics. I was not able to time it to take one. They are very like the Wollongong.

After reaching Cabb River I headed inland on the B23 to Cooma in the Snowy Mountain area. I ended up in the Snowline Campground in Jindabyne on a large artificial lake. Except for a few fishermen the place was empty . There were Australian Woodducks on the lake.I planned to drive through Kosciusko National Park, but discovered it was a one lane road. So I went back out of the park and drove around to Tabingo. The best birding spot was a the The Rest House at Sawyers Hill where I walked a gravel road . Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Striated Pardalot, Grey Fantail, White-throated Woodcreeper, Grey Shrike-thrush, Wedge-tailed Eagle, King Parrot.

Australian Capital Territory or ACT
I stopped in the Australian capital to see two art exhibits. One was the Albert Namanjiro exhibit which I had originally seen in Alice Springs. It was now at the National Gallery of Art. This time it was more professionally presented and arranged. They were not exhibiting the entire collection and I didn't enjoy it as much as I had before.

The second was an exhibit of the watercolors of Ellis Rowan was at the National Library . Ellias Rowan was a wealthy young woman who taught herself to paint watercolors of botanical specimens. Her paintings show native plants in all stages from flower to fruit. They are accurate and beautiful paintings.

She was a remarkable woman traveling to North America and New Guinea at a time when that was considered quite an adventure for men Later in her life she ran into financial difficulties and sold most of her paintings to the state. Occasionally there is a special exhibit of her works and I am lucky to be there for one of them. I have become very fond of the native Australian plants. I was able to purchase a poster of one of the watercolors to mail home.

Leaving Australia
I spent the last two nights in Kiama a lovely resort town south of Wollongong. The train runs from Kiama all the way into Sydney. If I worked in Wollongong or Sydney I would live here. I stopped by the Barren Grounds Bird Observatory and donated several things like the extra extension cord, the heater/fan, left over canned goods, and my gum boots. It took several hours to do my laundry, clean out the van, and repack all my stuff in the two big duffel bags. I went to the post office and mailed home a box with all the Australia bird books and stuff collected here. This cost AU$90. Surprisingly the clerk in the post office was most helpful and I was able to buy a box and wrapping material right there.

Camp ground owner feed parrots

Superb Fairwren Male

Remember the little brown birds on the sidewalk at the Royal National Park HDQ that I could not identify.  It turns out they were females and immatures of the Superb Fairywren above.

 "Would you like to see my bird list?"

I drove into the airport at Sydney and checked into the Hilton Hotel getting the propane tank filled at a gas station. I drove Willy for the last time to the campervan place where I said a reluctant good-by. Willy was a great home for four months.

Everyone is very excited because it is Melbourne Cup day and a state holiday in Victoria. The Melbourne Cup is a horse race, the Kentucky Derby of Australia. Christmas is coming so the stores display snowmen and Christmas Trees. Ads on television show people ice skating. Of course it is also the beginning of summer so the stores feature gardening equipment. This is Christmas down under.

The next morning I flew Quantas to Christchurch. Australian immigration is not pleased because my visa has expired. The agent is just sure that I have been working while I was here.  He doesn't believe that all I have been doing is traveling around watching birds.  Finally I offer to show him my bird list.  He  tells me I am expelled from the country and can't come back for three years. Then he softens and tells me I can appeal the decision.

Before I left the US I applied for an Australian visa for 3 months over the internet. On entry nobody mentioned the visa or even asked if I had one. I truly forgot all about it. It seems that I should have gone to an immigration office and extended the visa which would have required me to leave the country for a day.  . On the other hand everything worked out fine unless I decide to go back before three years is up.  .I am sorry to leave this beautiful, birdy land, but it is getting hot. New Zealand beckons.

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