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Outback NSW Bird Watching

Author: Carl from Pahrump
Date of Trip: January 2007

In 2006 and 2007 we spent 255 Days driving around Australia. We started in Darwin, drove south to Alice Springs, backtracked to Cairns, went down the East Coast to Rockhampton, cut over to Melbourne, went across the Nullarbor Plain to Perth, drove up the West Coast to Broome, and finished by crossing the Kimberely Region on our way back to Darwin — 24,000 miles & 6 rental cars. Along the way we stayed in 56 cities and saw 693 bird species/subspecies.

This Trip Report covers the 9-days we spent bird watching while based in 2 locations in Outback NSW in Jan 2007– Dubbo & Tocumwal/Deniliquin.

We saw 131 bird species at 10 parks. The parks where we saw the most bird species were: Island Sanctuary = 63, Tocumwal Wetland = 41, Newell Hwy = 38, Slaughter Ponds = 43, Macquarie River Walk = 34, Dirt Rd NE of Deniliquin = 30, Ulupna Island = 30, Deniliquin Salt-bush Plain = 21, Riverina Hwy = 14, & Gulpa Island SF = 12.

The cities where we saw the most birds: 3 days in Deniliquin = 105, 4 days in Tocumwal = 55, & 2 days in Dubbo = 40.

Lodging

Dubbo – We stayed at the Comfort Inn (32.254S 148.604E) in downtown Dubbo.

If you put these coordinates into Google Earth, you can see the locations I am discussing. Typically, there will be lots of pictures as well.

Tocumwal – We stayed at the Coatchman’s Cottage (35.819S 145.577E) near the Murray River and Tocumwal Wetlands. The cottage has bore water, so flowers and green grass abound. The owner was proud of her family of Laughing Kookaburras. They have birdbaths, so there are lots of house birds.

If we were planning the trip again, I would:

Stay in Dubbo at least 3 nights, more if I could find a reasonable B&B or cottage.

Stay in a cabin at the Deniliquin Riverside Caravan Park for a week (http://members.optusnet.com.au/~jesterhall1/accommodation.htm 35.529S 144.968E). The Coatchman’s Cottage was a nicer accommodation, but you really need to be in Deniliquin for the best birding (it takes about an hour to drive from Tocumwal to Deniliquin).

Highlights of the Region:

Meeting a keen local birder in Deniliquin who took us to where we could see Red-vented Blue Bonnets, Superb Parrots, Red-backed Buttonquails, Southern Boobook Owls and Tawny Frogmouths.

Seeing waves of Long-billed Correllas.

Seeing 29 Koalas along the Murray River.

Disappointments

We didn’t see the Plaines Wanderers, but we didn’t go out at night either.

Of the 131 bird species we saw in Outback NSW, 57 were endemic to Australia. Most of the74 non-Australian Endemic bird species we saw in Outback NSW were new for us. 8 species were never seen again during the 255-day trip around Australia; that is: Baillon’s Crake, Red-backed Buttonquail, Flame Robin, Red-vented Blue Bonnet, Fuscous Honeyeater, Yellow Rosella, Painted Honeyeater, & Yellow-throated Miner.

Special Comments:

On Jan 9, 2007 we left Boonah early, drove west across the Cunningham Gap for the last time, and into Outback Queensland. About 9am we turned south and drove thru the Outback of NSW to Dubbo. It was a long drive today, but in Outback Australia accommodations are hard to find.

The drive went thru huge fields of ripe hops. We could see cut wheat fields and the residue of cotton fields. Sunflowers line the border of the road. Later we started seeing large sheep herds. Sometimes there was red clay and pine trees like in Georgia, but the “pines” were actually a form of Eucalyptus trees.

Much of the drive seemed devoid of life; just miles and miles of dry, dry, and more dry! We were very surprised to find a pair of Yellow Spoonbills standing in a pond (the only water for a 100 miles). We saw where recent wild fires had burnt across the road, and saw billowing smoke in the distance.

The speed limit in the Outback is 110KMPH (70mph – even though the road was not all that great). I kept to 60mph. A sign said the fine for speeding is $3300A. We saw more police today than all the other days we have been in Australia combined — I guess they can afford them with $3300A fines.

We ate lunch at KFC. KFC is everywhere in Australia. KFC is a major sponsor of the Australian Cricket team. The menu is totally different from the US. We were surprised they don’t sell potpies, an Australian staple.

We arrived at the Dubbo Visitors Center at 4pm our time, but it was actually 5pm since NSW has Daylight Savings Time. The VC had just closed, but they still gave me some maps and birding info.

We ate at the Rose Garden Thai restaurant in downtown. My Wife had Chicken Fried Rice. I had Thai Spring Rolls and a Green Chicken Curry.

On Jan 10 we went for a leisurely 4-hour stroll along the Macquarie River Walk (32.247S 148.599E). There were dozens of Red-rumped Parrots feeding on the ground. I got a great look at a Red Wattlebird, and a pair of White-winged Choughs. We saw Fuscous Honeyeaters and Painted Honeyeaters (Lipstick Birds) for the first time.

On Jan 11 we were off at 5:30am. About 2 hours later we stopped for gas and our favorite Br — Maxibonds! We continued driving south thru the wheat belt of Australia. All we could see was cleanly cut fields of golden stubble — hundreds of thousands of acres. It hasn’t rained out here for years.

We stopped for lunch in Oven Valley. It was 100F at Noon and expected to reach 110F in the afternoon. We arrived in Tocumwal (pronounced tuc-Um-wall, or Tuck for short) at 1:30pm. At 8pm it was still 95F. Fortunately, we had good air conditioning.

On Jan 12 we were off at 6am for Ulupna Island (35.826S 145.456E) in the Murray River. The route was thru Victoria over dirt roads. We saw a rice field full of Straw-necked Ibis standing in water.

At the island we saw a strange Rosella. While we were trying to photograph and ID it, we saw a Koala in a tree. Over the next hour we photographed 29 Koalas. Most were sleeping, some “bombed out of their head” on fermented Eucalyptus leaves. There were nine cute immature Koalas – they were usually resting in a tree fork while Mom slept on a separate limb close-by.

Back at the car we saw a Rosellas with a bright yellow chest and a red spot over the beak — a Golden Rosellas. On the drive back to the cottage we noticed something different on what we assumed were Cockatoos. On closer examination, we saw pink streaks on their chest and a funny beak, which ID’ed them as Long-billed Correllas. Soon more were arriving, then waves of them. Finally there must have been 500 or more in a field already full of Straw-necked Ibis. Something happened and they all bolted into the air for what looked like aerial combat — then they all disappeared.

On Jan 13 we headed off early for another island in the Murray River. We were hoping for some ducks that are supposed to be around here. All we saw were a few Australian Wood Ducks. There was not a lot of avian diversity today, but there were heaps of Red Wattlebirds, White-browed Treecreepers, and White-plumbed Honeyeaters.

The creepiest thing today was seeing a big Kangaroo get hung-up in a fence. The Kangaroo’s threshing-around to escape was gut wrenching. Fortunately, it was not a barbwire fence, and the Kangaroo finally broke free.

On Jan 14 we were off at 5:45am for Deniliquin (a.k.a. Denny) — a small town west of here that is popular with birders. It took us 2 hours to drive the 60 miles because we kept turning around to check out parrots and raptors.

We had just started birding at the Island Sanctuary (35.532S 144.968E) when we met Tom and Steve. They are local retirees and keen birders. They come here every Sunday to do a bird count. They asked if we would like to see a Twany Frogmouth. Off we went to the tree where they had just seen 3 Frogmouths. We couldn’t see any until they pointed out that what we thought were limbs were actually birds — then we could see the feathers.

Tom and Steve were looking for Southern Boobook Owls that morning. They invited us to come along. When we didn’t find any on the Island, Steve left; but we went with Tom to the nearby State Forest (35.546S 144.978E) to keep on looking. Without much trouble we walked up on 3 Boobooks — a Mom with 2 chicks in a small tree. They didn’t seem to mind that we were real close — what a photo op. We also saw several female Red-capped Robins, but no blokes.

Tom said he often saw Red-backed Buttonquail at this site. We formed a search line and started beating the brush. In a few minutes Tom chased a small buttonquail over to where I could photograph it. By now Tom had a better idea of what new birds we could possibly see around Deniliquin. He suggested we go to the local slaughter yard (they say “Aviator” 35.533S 144.944E) and of course the local sewage ponds. We saw Gray and Chestnut Teals, a pair of Musk Ducks (each one had its own large sewage pond), Red-kneed Dotterels, and White-fronted Chats.

After lunch Tom took us to the local cemetery to see the Black-tailed Native-hens. Then we went to a friend’s farm to see Banded Lapwings and White-backed Swallows. We ended up back at the “Ponds” to see the Little Grassbirds and Australian Shovelers.

We had a fantastic day and saw 77 bird species. Tom invited us to come back on Jan 16 for more birding with him.

On Jan 15 we were off before sunrise to Deniliquin to search for the Superb Parrots Tom had told us about. In the Dawn light we saw a huge tree full of Long-billed Correllas with the pink morning light behind them. Later we saw two more large flocks of undulating Long-bills. We drove the suggested dirt roads (35.539S 145.047E). We saw heaps of birds, but no Superb Parrots.

We headed south on the Cobb Highway to Gulpa Island SF (35.830S 144.938E ) near the small town of Mathoura. The creek here had a lot of water, but the area looked like it was dying of thirst. Around a water hole we found Dusky Woodswallows, Flame Robins, and Restless Flycatchers.

We headed home, but got stopped by a family of Wedge-tailed Eagles putting-away a Gray Kangaroo. Next we spotted a large flock of White-winged Choughs crossing the highway in front of us.

On Jan 16 we met Tom in Deniliquin at 7am and proceeded to the Slaughter Ponds to search for Crakes. Tom had a tape recording of their calls. At soon as we got to the cattails I saw a Baillon’s Crake under a eucalyptus tree. We played the tape but no more crakes showed up.

We moved to another pond on the outskirts of town. This time the tape brought in a Spotless Crake.

We headed south of town on the Long Paddock Road (a.k.a. Cobb Hwy). This road has 1500-foot right-of-ways to allow for cattle drives. About 20Km south of town we turned off onto a dirt road (Walliston Rd) and stopped out in the middle of the Salt-bush Plain (35.704S 144.907E). Right off we saw a Yellow-throated Miner going after mistletoe. Then a pair of Red-vented Blue Bonnets flew in close to us. We continued looking around and found a pair of Superb Parrots — Breath-takingly Beautiful!!!.

We moved to another location and found a tree with a pair of Superb Parrots, then we saw another Superb Parrot across the road, then more, and more — finally we counted 17 Superb Parrots. Tom said he had seen as many as 80 in one place.

We returned to Deniliquin to have lunch with Tom at the Crossings Restaurant. I got Chicken Parmesan, which was a breaded chicken breast deep-fried and served over salad with Italian dressing and chips. Wilma had the Pumpkin and Spinach Quiche — an interesting mixture of flavors.

On Jan 17 we went out late morning birding around the Tocumwal Wetland (35.823S 145.575E). In 2 hours we saw 41 bird species including the Mountain form of the Gray Fantail, some Gray Shrike-Thrushes, an Azure Kingfisher, some Purple Swamphens and a Yellow Rosella. When it got real hot we headed for the house to watch the Australia Tennis Open.

E-mail if you would like a file with the specific birds we saw each day.

Carl & Wilma Ball carlball@yahoo.com

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