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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

 
Chapter 7
Little Desert National Park

Barren Grounds Bird Observatory
Grampians National Park
Great Ocean Road
Little Desert Lodge
Yookamura

Comments to webmaster



Great Ocean Road

Sea arch along the Great Ocean Road

Barren Grounds Bird Observatory (BGBO)  and Budderoo National Park
After each trip to Wollongong, I spent a few days at the Barren Grounds Bird Observatory. The BGBO is actually close enough to Wollongong that you could stay in the accommodations there and drive in to Wollongong for the pelagic trip. The observatory is on top of the Great Dividing Range and the road up the east escarpment is steep and narrow.

The road into the BGBO is gravel and the wardens house is on the right. There is no camping here, but there are some accommodation you can rent for AU$25 per night. There is also a campground about 1/2 mile past the entrance in Budderoo National Park.

Drive up the gravel road to the parking area where there are picnic tables and a chemical toilet.. Several tracks start in the parking area and I walked at least part way on all of them. You can see some good birds right in the parking area. This is the best place in Australia to see the Ground Parrot or it is the best place to miss the bird. .

The ranger advised me to walk on "service track" near the observatory that leads to a communications tower. I met several people who reported seeing the bird along this narrow track. I walked it several times with no luck. Usually one person walking or standing quietly sees the bird. Ground Parrots are nocturnal and most active at dawn and dusk. I worked very hard for this bird finally seeing it fly away

Typical Ground Parrot Habitat.
The Ground Parrot walks in the heather without making much disturbance. To see it on the ground you have to get lucky.

This is also good habitat for the beautiful Firetail Finch which I saw here on my first visit.Seen in the woods without difficulty were New Holland Honeyeater, Eastern Spinebill, Gray-backed Silvereyes, White-naped Honeyeater, Red Wattlebird, Golden Whistler.
Another speciality bird is the Eastern Bristlebird and I saw it easily on the first day I was there. Two other specialties were more elusive: Chestnut-rumped Heathwren (Hylacola) and Southern Emuwren. I never saw either. A Fan-tailed Cuckoo followed me around one day in the summer.

Ground Parrot Hbitat

The Pied Currawong a very common bird photographed in the parking lot at BGBO.Just sitting in the parking lot can be profitable. While I was out pounding the tracks another birder had Gang-gang Cockatoo here.

Now for a word about birding in general. Australia has lots of birds. Most of the bird I report seeing in this journal are common and easy to see. Finding these birds is just as much fun as finding a harder bird. When I did let myself get obscessed with a bird like the Ground Parrot I spent a lot of time on this one bird. Now that the trip is behind me, I think it was better just to get the common birds and enjoy the trip. One of the reasons birding is such a good hobby is that there are many ways to enjoy it. While chasing rarities appeals to some people, it is not the only way to enjoy birding.

Just outside the BGBO is Budderoo National Park. There are several tracks and fire roads worth exploring especially for Southern Emuwren. I finally saw the Ground Parrot fly away while walking along a fire road with several Australian birders..

This is a view of the eastern escarpment of the Great Dividing Range photographed from the Budderoo National Park that surround the BGBO.


Koalas and Echidna
From the Barren Grounds I drove through Moss Vale and on to the Hume Highway South. The Hume links Sydney to Melbourne and Western Australia and is a beautiful divided limited access highway.

I saw my first live Echidna walking slowly across the busy highway. It had made 3 lanes safely and I didn't hit it so I hope it made it to the other side. The Echidna is one of the egg-laying mammals or Monotremes. After hatching the mother suckles the newborn until it grows spines. She then puts it in a burrow and continues to suckle it for some time.The Echidna is active in the day time and feeds mostly on insects. The back is covered with spines. Rumor has it that the spines can puncture your car tires. True or not this provides some incentive for drivers to avoid running over one. The Echidna is not endangered.


I spent the night in Wagga Wagga in a city campground on the bank of the Murrumbidgee River. I had White-plumed Honeyeater here and Dusky Woodswallow. The water level of the river is controlled to aid agriculture in the area. Wagga means crow in the aboriginal language so Wagga Wagga probably means more than one crow.

My next overnight was at Seymour, Victoria, a town of little note except for this wild Koala (below left) munching away in a tree in the campground.
This was the only Koala I saw in the wild probably because they are slow moving, nocturnal and spend most of their time in the tops of trees. Unlike most arboreal animals they have a short stubby tail useless for gripping tree limbs. They climb trees using sharp claws to dig into the bark and hold onto branches with opposable toes.The lovable Koala is in trouble. Many are killed by automobiles, but their main problem is habitat destruction.
Almost every zoo has a Koala breeding program and some offer the opportunity to hold a Koala and have your picture taken. Well fed zoo Koalas usually sleep away their days.

The Koala looks very much like a teddy bear. Related to the Wombat, it is not a bear. It should be called a Koala not Koala Bear.

Koala Wild

Koala photographed in the wild in a campground. Asleep as usual.

Zoo Koala awake

Koala photographed in a zoo in Queensland and awake.  At right another zoo Koala sleeps as usual.  Notice the opposable thumb on the hand which aids in holding on to branches.

Queensland zoo Koala awake

Grampians National Park
I drove to the outskirts of Melbourne and then took the M8 west to Ballarat and on to Halls Gap in the Grampians National Park. The M stands for motorway and denotes the best grade of highway in Australia.

Grampians National Park is a beautiful and popular park especially in September when most of the wild heather blooms. Halls Gap is a quiet tourist town located at the foot of the mountains. There are several campgrounds, hotels, YHA youth hostel and at least one independent Backpacker Hotel.
The best restaurant meal I had in Australia was at the Halls Gap Tavern. A flock of Sulfur-crested Cockatoos frequented the bird feeder in the back yard. It is a shame that more restaurants especially those that cater to tourists do not maintain bird feeders. People who do maintain feeders fill them with table scraps not bird seed. The bird seed industry seems to be an American phenomenon. It is surprising how much your learn about your own country by traveling the world.



I spent one day driving the roads in north end of the park. Large flocks of Sulfur-crested Cockatoos and Long-billed Correlas flew overhead. The forest is very mature with many tall trees making birding difficult. I identified Varied Sitella from the orange patch visible when it flew. Later I was able to get an eye-level look at this bird. At Reid's Lookout and fire tower I had a flock of Gang Gang Cockatoos a bird I had just missed at Barren Grounds. Another new bird was White-eared Honeyeater. It is safe to say that the Long-billed Corella seen here cannot be missed if you spend some time in Halls Gap. My second day here I spent driving country roads outside the park in the vicinity of Lake Fayan . Laughing Kokaburra, White-faced Heron, Crimson Rosella, White-plumed Honeyeater, Crested Pigeon , Jackie Winter, Gray Shrike-thrush, White-fronted Chat, and White-winged Chough.

Gallah Grampians

The Gallah is a rose colored parrot common in most parts of Australia. Named for its call it lives in large flocks and often feeds on the ground. The more rare Major Mitchell's Cockatoo looks something like the Gallah. I never did see Major Mitchell's Cockatoo.

At right the Long-billed Correlas.

Long-billed Corrella

At the Lake Fayan Dam I can see just how low the water is due to the drought which has been going on for six years in this area. The water is now about 100 yards away from the dam which stands high and dry. On the lake are Black Swans, European Coot, Pacific Black Duck, Australian Pelican, Lapwings. Tree Martins are frequenting a dead tree.In mud puddle in the parking lot Diamond Firetail Finch and Brown Songlark. A flock of Red-rumped Parrots are in the trees near the parking lot and flying down to drink from the puddle. I had a very hard time identifying another flock of parrots. I now believe that these parrots were Blue-winged Parrots. One would think that parrots would be an easy id, but no. Flocks usually contain both mature and immature birds and there is considerable variation in plumage. I was at first positive I had the Orange-bellied Parrot except it was far out of range. Finally reading the text I find that Blue-winged Parrot can show an orange belly patch. Willy Wagtail, Superb Fairywren were also frequenting the puddles left by some rain the night before. Across the road from the dam were Black-tailed Nativehen.

Three Emu were seen grazing every evening in this sheep paddock outside Halls Gap. Emu have been raised as domestic birds for food in Australia and these birds looked so at home in this sheep paddock that I believe they must be the descendents of domesticated birds. The ranger assured me that there were no Emu farms in the area. I never saw an Emu farm and didn't even see Emu on the menus so its popularity as a domesticated bird has waned. Emus do not fly, but can use their wings to jump over fences.

The Grampians National Park consists of 2 mountain ranges separated by a valley. The Dunkeld Road runs down the valley between two mountain Ranges. There is beautiful Eucalypt forest on either side of the road. As I drove, birds constantly flew across the road, but when I stopped they all ducked out of sight. I am heading south to Warrnambool and the Great Ocean Road.

Outside the park I entered farm country. Black Swans are native and very common in Australia. This bird is on a nest in a pond by the side of the road. It is not unusual to see a pond near the ocean with 500 swans.

A flock of more than one hundred Straw-necked Ibis with a few White Ibis was feeding alongside the road. At this stop I also had: Lapwings, Purple Swamphen, Eurasian Coot, Nankeen Kestrel, Singing Bushlark, Australian Shelduck, Australian Grebe.

Black Swan

Black Swan on nest.

Little Desert Emu

 

Three Emu were seen grazing in this sheep pasture.  The ranger assured me there were no domestic Emu farms in this area, but I was suspicious. At right the Straw-necked Ibis

Straw-necked ibis

Warnambool and Great Ocean Road

Warrnambool is a college town on the coast of Victoria famous for a pod of Southern Right Whales which winter in a bay very close to shore. According to my guide book, at Logan's Beach there is a viewing platform for whale watchers. August is the prime month and I am making this trip south to the coast to see the Southern Right Whale.

I stopped in MacDonalds to use the world famous American restrooms and to get directions to the whale viewing platform. The first person I asked was a very friendly older woman who tried very hard to be helpful. She was enthusiastic and gesturing wildly, but I couldn't understand a word she was saying. I finally thanked her and drove off in the general direction in which she pointed.

This got me down to a beach park where I stopped and asked a gentlemen and his wife for directions to the platform. It happened again. Very friendly talk, something about "cutting" and gestures, but this was not English either. Again I thanked him and started off in the general direction. When I came to a place where the road cut went through a hill I figured that was the "cutting". I am now very curious about this town. One would expect that a college town would produce people who could speak simple English.

I finally noticed a series of signs with little whales on them and followed them for some distance until they ended abruptly. I stopped and asked a third time and this time, the man was able to point to a bus and tell me to follow it. I ended up in a parking lot of the whale watching platform.

It was Saturday and the lot was filled with tourist buses, cars, motorcycles, campers and even taxicabs. Take out food was available from catering trucks. Whale watching is popular,but that was not the only activity as there was a surfing contest going on at the beach.

The platform was a marvel with 3 levels of seats running about 100 feet on each level and room for more than 300 people. I had my telescope but couldn't find room to set it up and besides there was no need. The whales were right off the beach.

I could see the blows, callosities, and the lack of the dorsal fin. There was a mother with a baby close to the shore. Further out in the bay you see the blows and the arched black backs of several other whales. It was certainly worth the trip to Logan’s Beach.

I continued east to connect with the Great Ocean Road, one of Australia's great tourist attractions. Several hundred kilometers of road wind along a highly eroded cliffs with view points overlooking the ocean and many sea stacks and arches. You can't see very much from the road itself. You have to park and walk the tracks in the parks. I found a camp site in Port Campbell and resolved to do the highlights the next day.

The Twelve Apostles is the best known and most popular stop on the Great Ocean Road. There is a visitor's Center and a tunnel under the highway for pedestrians. There are at least 12 sea stacks Actually it seemed like there were more to me. Even in the middle of winter there were large numbers of tourists and the place has a zoo like atmosphere. Winter in Australia is school vacation in the northern hemisphere and so you see families touring Australia. There are Fairy Martins around the cliffs. It was a beautiful sunny day with strong winds and high waves. The very best for enjoying the seascape.

The best stop is at a place called Lock Ord. It takes at least 2 hours to walk the tracks at this stop. A Singing Honeyeater took some time to identify as it was not in full breeding plumage as pictured in the guide. Rufous Bristlebird was a much larger bird than I was expecting. I ran into a Red Fox hunting along the track and it refused to move so I could pass. . The introduced fox is an enormous problem especially to burrowing seabirds.

Muttonbird Island is sea stack separated from the mainland by a channel about 20 yards wide. Unlike the smaller sea stacks it is very green and undermined with burrows of 50,000 pairs of Short-tailed Shearwaters. The guano from the birds fertilizes the grass on the island making it green as opposed to the bareness of the other sea stacks. I suspect that the fox is keeping the birds off the mainland.

The birds nest here from October through April. Then they disburse to the north Pacific passing north up the coast of Asia and returning down the coast of California in the fall. In October you are supposed to be able to see them return to their burrows in the evening. I resolve to be back here in October to see this spectacle. Lock Ord is named for a ship that wrecked on Muttonbird Island with loss of all but two passengers. At one point the sea runs 100 m through a tunnel to emerge in a sink hole. These cliffs are always eroding as is Muttonbird Island itself. Perhaps it erodes more slowly because of the vegetation fertilized by the birds.

Little Desert National Park and Whimpy's Little Desert Lodge
I left the Great Ocean Road about noon drove north to Horsham on the western side of the Grampians to be in position for the Little Desert tomorrow. At the information center I inquired about seeing the Malleefowl and they told me about Whymbie's Little Desert Lodge and Tours and made reservation for me the next day.

I drove west on C240 to Natimuk and then north on the road to Nhil through the Little Desert National Park. The Little Desert Lodge is at the north end of this road just south of Nhil.There was a lot of bird song along the road in the dense brush. The birds were not sitting up in the strong wind and pishing didn't work at least not here. Two large birds walked slowly across the road about 50m ahead of the van. The light was behind them and I could not make out the plumage. They had to be either Malleefowl or Nativehens. I pushed on to the Little Desert Lodge. At the Lodge they assured me it had not been a Malleefowl, but a Nativehen.

Electrified gate at Whimpys

At the entrance to Little Desert Lodge, I was surprised by this electrified fence and gate. This was my first introduction to the Australia approach to protecting native animals endangered by introduced predators. A large area 300 acres or more is surrounded by solar powered electrified fence. Then all introduced predators are eliminated inside the enclosure. To protect Malleefowl, native Echidna are also eliminated within the enclosure.

The Little Desert Lodge was built by one man Whimpey Reichert and his family. He started by fencing about 300 acres of bush with an 8 foot electric fence. To support all this he built a guest lodge and campground within the enclosure. Birds can fly in and out as they please. With patience and using captive birds ,Whimpey was able to get Malleefowl to breed within the enclosure.

The day I arrived the conservation organization Trust for Nature was holding a meeting at the lodge. The Trust has provided funds to purchase and fence an additional 300 acres for the preservation of the Malleefowl. Whimpey was busy with the meeting and not giving the tours today. The reservation made by the information center was to see the captive birds in cages at the lodge. I was not happy that I would not see the wild birds so it was arranged for me to come back the next day and join the tour to be given for the Trust Board members to inspect the birds in the new enclosure.

I did go down to see the captive birds. A pair of Malleefowl are maintained inside a fully enclosed pen. This pair has produced 200 chicks. Breeding will start in September. In early August the pair show only a little interest in their mound. The mound is 10 feet in diameter and about 3 feet tall. The female lays eggs in a cavity in the top of mound. Afterward I walked some tracks within the fenced enclosure and had some good birds including a large flock of Diamond Firetail Finch and my first Flame Robin.

The next day I joined the conservation group to tour the Malleefowl living and breeding in the enclosed area, but not in cages.
The Malleefowl requires mallee thickets or other dense, low vegetation with unburned litter accumulated over 20 years or more.The Malleefowl that choose to remain and breed inside the enclosure have a higher breeding success rate than birds outside.The solar powered electric fence keeps out introduced foxes and native Echidna. The young birds are also vulnerable to native raptors. Their only protection is shelter in the native brush. Notice the bird in the center of the path. Water is provided in the enclosure .

The Malleefowl is one of three mound builders or Megapods in Australia. The other two: Australian Brush-Turkey and Orange-footed Scrubfowl are not endangered. All incubate their eggs in large mounds rather than using the parents body heat. Only the Malleefowl regulates the temperature of the mounds so closely.

The Malleefowl is a large bird. It can fly, but prefers to walk on the ground. If forced to fly to escape it soon drops into the thicket. Notice the hint of a crest on this bird's head and the cryptic coloration of the back and wing feathers. The powerful feet are used to scape dirt and twigs on the mound.
Both male and female build the mound by raking dirt, sticks, leaves with their powerful claws. A mated pair remains in the vicinity of their mound and reuses it.. The mound is 10 feet in diameter and about 3 feet high. There is a depression in the top into which the eggs are laid.This mound is inside one of the enclosures and has a thermometer to record the temperature. The males keep the inside temperature of the mound at 33 o C. In good years a female will lay 17-22 eggs. In dry years only 3 eggs may be laid.

Maleefowl
Maleefowl
Maleefowl mound

Above Maleefowl mound with a thermometer so Whimpy can check the temperature.  On the right Maleefowl habitat.  There is a Maleefowl standing on the right side of the path to the left.  The bird in the foreground is unidentified.

Maleefowl habitat with bird on left

Since my visit, some changes have occurred. Whimpey and his wife have retired and a conservation organization has taken over the Little Desert Nature Lodge. The mission remains the same.

Little Desert Nature Lodge Pty Ltd

PO Box 202
Nhill Victoria 3418
Phone: (03) 5391 5232
Fax: (03) 5391 5217
Email: info@littledesertlodge.com.au
Web: www.littledesertlodge.com.au

Emu at Little Desert Lodge

This Emu was wandering on the grounds of the Little Desert Lodge

.

Yookamura Earth Sanctuary
My next stop was an overnight at the Yookamurra Earth Sanctuary in South Australia. Not realizing that the sanctuary has powered and unpowered camp sites, I made reservations for room,dinner, and breakfast for AU$137. In retrospect I am glad I did because the hospitality services support the sanctuary. Founded originally as a private enterprise, the sanctuary has recently become part of the Australia Wildlife Conservancy.

Guests should plan to arrive at the sanctuary about 4 PM. Access to the sanctuary required driving about 13km on a dirt road which was under construction the day I arrived. Sometimes you have to forget about the insurance and just be very careful. I got there somewhat earlier, but they let me in anyway and I spent the afternoon birding on the grounds

Just outside the dining room there is a pool and a feeding station. Some of the birds I saw here in the hot afternoon were: Common Bronzewing, Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, Singing Honeyeater, Gray Shrike-thrush, Restless Flycatcher, Striated Pardalote, Australian Ringneck Parrot, Gray Currawong.

The sanctuary consists of 3000 acres of fenced enclosure and another 9000 acres that is not yet fenced. Yookamura was built by a man with the dream of using tourism to finance conservation. It was recently puchase by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. Primarily for the protection of endangered distinctive native animals particularly small marsupials including: Bilaby, Wombats, Numbats, Quolls,,Woylie, Boodie, the sanctuary plans to introduce some Malleefowl from Whimpie.

Some of the acreage was chained 70 years ago and you can still see where this was done from the air. After it was fenced foxes, feral cats, rabbits were physically removed. Trapping foxes is the hardest.

The evening began with dinner in the lodge. Joining me were two veterinarians from Britain who had been working in Australia which has a shortage of vets. After a short talk about the animals we would see., we stepped outside into the darkness. As soon as the guide turned the torch on we could see that the desert was alive with Bilby, a small kangaroo with large ears and bi-color tail. Considered vulnerable the new railroad extension to Darwin from Alice Spring is going right through their territory.

The evening walk lasted about 2 hours during which we saw: Brush-tailed Possum, Betton, Quoll, Wombat. These small marsupials hide in burrows during the day coming out only at night. No owls were heard on this walk, but the guide says they sometimes have them.

The next morning we had a walk before breakfast to look for Numbat. The Numbat is especially hard to see at this time of year . They are active in the daytime, but usually hide in logs. We were not successful on this trip. After breakfast we tried again this time with more success. We came upon a female carrying 3 young attached to her teats. She froze for some time and everyone had a good look. The young are not carried in a pouch, but cling to the mother's teats.

There were good birds on both trips: Southern Scrubrobin, Varied Sitella, Spiney Honeyeater, Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Brown Treecreepe
r.I was most impressed with two young men who along with a volunteer do all the work here including providing the meals and hospitality services and taking care of the animals.

Both were dedicated and enthusiastic about their work. All birders should include Yookamura in their trip plans.  See the website for some excellent pictures of the animals I saw there.

http://www.australianwildlife.org/sanctuaries/yookamurra-sanctuary.aspx

I spent the afternoon driving to Port Augusta the jumping off place for the trip up the red center where I stayed in a very nice campground and met some veterans of the trip to the north who had plenty of advice for a wandering American.

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