We left Keddie with its makers for a few days to get a service and a bit of a spruce-up to sell 😦 Yes in a couple of weeks our trip will be over and we will be adjusting to “normal” life again. While there we took some time to look around Brisbane and head up to Noosa for a couple of nights in the space and comfort of a serviced apartment.
Some lovely old Queenslander style houses in Hawthorne, an inner eastern suburb of Brisbane.
We also did some city bird watching. No new species, but got some nice photos of this channel-billed cuckoo and an Australasian grebe.
Some birds in Noosa: bar-tailed godwit and scaly breasted lorikeet.
Inching our way closer to civilisation we stopped for two nights near Dayboro – a quaint country town about 20 minutes drive from the outer suburbs of Brisbane.
We camped at a ”youcamp” about 6km out of town and did an early morning bird walk at the nearby Juff’s crossing on the North Pine River followed by a day trip into d’Aguilar National Park in the hills behind Brisbane.
Top-knot pigeon – first seen in Conondale, but got a closer view in Dayboro
After breakfast we headed up the d’Aguilar range to do some walks in the mountain rain forests. It was very hot and dry and we saw no new birds, but it was pleasant in the shade of the trees and vines
Strangler figs and vines starting to envelop their host trees.
More birds at dAguilar: black faced monarch, rufous fantail and green catbird.
Late that afternoon we drove up alongside Lacey’s Creek, which is supposed to be a good spot for birds. However, it was bone dry with very little bird activity. However we did come across this disgusting scene of a dead cow being eaten by goannas.
On a more pleasant note, we got a nice view of a king parrot and a huddle of stubble quails heading back to our camp site.
That night we retired early to prepare for the shock of returning to the big smoke. For the next couple of days we would be battling Brisbane traffic and staying in an inner city hotel while we have the car and caravan serviced.
After an unremarkable overnight stopover in the little town of Cooyar, we replaced dry sparse outback with lush rainforest. Well not exactly lush, because like the rest of the country, even the east coast rainforests are looking desperately dry. The normally lush ginger and lomandra plants have curled up their leaves in self defense and so called perennial streams and waterfalls have been reduced to a few scattered pools.
However, the lack of water brought two benefits: no mozzies and no leeches. The forests were still magnificent and the birds – wow, the birds! We based ourselves at Conondale National Park and after setting up camp I went for a brief walk in the last remaining light and already saw a new species for the list: spectacled monarch in the riverside scrub.
However the real treat was in store for the next day when I saw two new birds within the first few minutes of my 4:30am bird walk including number 350 for the list: the beautiful wompoo fruit dove. I picked up another 4 in the next 90 minutes and another 6 during other walks that day bringing the total for the day to 12
Wompoo fruit dove. I guess the name “wompoo” reflects the sound it makes.
Russet tailed thrush, yellow-throated scrubwren and logrunner (if you can spot them).
Emerald dove and little shrike-thrush, also seen on my early morning walk in the forest near our camp.
Despite the dry weather, access to Conondale did require getting Keddie’s feet wet – nothing too impressive however.
Later that morning we did a 3km walk to Booloumba falls, or rather the Booloumba trickle.
White-browed scrubwren and brown gerygone near the Booloumba falls walk car park
Lewin’s honeyeater, Variegated fairy-wren and golden whistler, seen on the falls walk.
More birds seen later that afternoon near the camp. Wonga pigeon, azure kingfisher, red-backed fairy-wren, eastern whip bird and eastern yellow robin.
I failed to find any owls on my night walk, but did bump into this great barred frog and what I suspect was a large group of male yellow-greenish stony creek frogs (yes they were all on a stony creek). As for the little mouse like animal, I am not sure where to start to identify Australian mammal LBJ*s so I have no idea what it is.
*LBJ, or little brown job is a term birdwatchers use to describe small plain birds that are difficult to identify. In Australia I think that this term is better applied to the mammals. Firstly because the birds here are mostly quite colourful and there are comparatively few actual LBJs. Secondly, apart from the big 5** (Big red kangaroo, common wombat, platypus, koala and echidna) I think it’s the other mammals that are rather hard to identify as there seems to be a continuum of hundreds of species from grey kangaroos down to marsupial mice that each look rather similar to their immediate neighbour.
**Although more commonly used to promote the big African mammals in game parks and tourist brochures, I don’t see why Australia can’t have a big 5 too.
The next day we left the caravan at Conondale and drove out to Kondolilla Falls near Maleny on the Sunshine Coast hinterland, but before going I encountered a noisy pitta, another mammalian LBJ and got some good pictures of a male and female riflebird on an early morning bird walk. By early I mean really early – so early that I needed to use my torch to photograph the pitta and wallaby.
Being only about 1 hour from Brisbane, we got our first taste of city crowds. After passing half a dozen eco-lodges on the 3km drive in to the falls we encountered a nearly full car park – despite the fact it was a weekday. Ah, remember the days of the deserted outback… After resigning ourselves to not having the rock pool to ourselves, we set off, but were soon rewarded with some close up views of a cute pale yellow robin.
The falls themselves reflected the dire state of the drought and were not living up to their aboriginal name, but a photograph at the start of the walk showed what one can normally expect.
There was still a trickle of water and some lovely rain forest vegetation and in addition to the pale yellow robin, I also spotted some large-billed scrubwren.
Our final day at Conondale, was relaxing with no driving, but yielded only one new bird: a top-knot pigeon, perhaps it was time to move on. However, I was treated to an awesome sighting of a carpet python as well as some nice photo opportunities of previously seen birds including a spectacular mature male satin bowerbird
The male satin bowerbird makes this brown cuckoo-dove look rather, well – brown.
From Bedourie we headed east towards the coast. After the 500+ kms of dirt road of the Birdsville track there is another 500 ish before we are back on the paving. This is sad for us, as it means less wild places to see. We love the wild parts of the outback and soon this will end. We are heading home but it feels like home is wherever we are now. We pull up to some beautiful place for the night, put up the clock, the thermometer and the calendar, put out the chairs and table and we are home. We wake in the morning somewhere new and it’s exciting to wonder what we will see this new day and where we will be the next night. Can see why some Grey Nomads just keep going! M
The next day we arrived late to the little town of Quilpie to stay the night at the caravan park. More very hot weather and storms were expected. First though, we headed to the very nice town swimming pool and did a lap or two to cool off. There was only one other person in the caravan park at this time of year and they were late grey nomads heading south. The next morning besides getting fuel we headed to the local cafe to spend some money. On the way to the car we stopped to chat to an artist on the town’s median strip who was sitting on her bottom laying a mosaic art installation in 39deg. Quilpie is trying hard to get people to stop here and part of it is all the lovely art around town. We even met the Mayor who came along to view the great works. M
This restless flycatcher is a new bird and number 346. While I had probably seen one when we were in SE Queensland earlier on our trip, I ignored them because my older bird book described it as being the same species as the northern slightly smaller paperbark flycatcher. However from my new field guide, I see that this is now considered a separate species, so I was keen to get another look and officially count it. The right hand photo proves that it is indeed restless. S
The Channel Country is a region in Outback Australia. It’s name comes from intertwined river channels which crisscross the region. The Principle Rivers are the Cooper, Diamantina and Georgina Rivers that all drain into Lake Eyre in South Australia. That is if there is enough flood waters. Otherwise, the waters just evaporate into the hot dry land. With the Winton floods of last year enough water came down the channels and into the rivers all the way to Lake Eyre. It is an arid landscape where rivers flow intermittently, so this happens every 10 yrs or so. M
We left Birdsville heading to Bedourie and passed another stand of Waddi Trees (Acacia Peuce). We saw these same trees on the other side of the Simpson desert near old Andado earlier in the year. They can live up to 1000 yrs out here in the baking desert with little water. Amazing! M
Lunch was on a wetland near this bore, which was being used by a road gang. One of the workers came over to us on the wetland outlet to have a chat, while we ate our lunch. He was from Port Augusta and drove up the Birdsville track whenever he worked up here. Imagine taking the Birdsville track to get to work? They must think tourists are silly!
Our camp for the next two nights was at Cuttaburra Crossing on Eyre Creek, which comes off the Georgina River. It was a beautiful free camp and an amazing spot for birds. We could also get in the river when we were hot. It was just under 40deg, so it was great to cool off. We were amazed to find some Grey Nomads camping there for a few nights out there in the heat and trying to catch some fish from the river. M
An exciting new bird was the Flock Bronzewing which we failed to see in Birdsville. A strange looking pidgeon. This flock left this one behind.
Black shouldered kite, Red-kneed Dotterel, Glossy Ibis, Diamond Dove
We stopped in Bedourie with a population around 140 for a break, a swim and some lunch. Bedourie is famous for it’s camel races in July. We had lunch at the pub and were served by a young German backpacker couple from Hanover. They were running the hotel and caravan park for the owner who didn’t like working at his pub and preferred to be out with his camels. Later we went for a swim at the local pool and the only people that were at the pool- were the German couple having a two hour break and some exercise. Funny how you can get to know half the town in a few hours out here. M
We have not tried very hard to find birds on this trip. There were very few very early morning bird runs. We just go out looking when we feel like it. With the gibber bird we really tried hard, as it was bugging me that we had seen so much gibber, but not this bird. We had cocktails at camp that night to celebrate!
These gorgeous horses were on the side of the road. This was a very new foal still a bit funny on it’s feet.
This area must not have so much of interest as they had no less than three signs to advertise this hole in the hill. One was complete with pointer in case you still didn’t see it. Do you see it?
It’s quite a business loading cattle onto a double decker road train and getting them all to stand in the right direction. All the stockmen worked with a cigarette in their mouths just like the ‘Marlborough Man’.
Birdsville was once known at Diamantina Crossing from 1881. It was located at the border of South Australia and Qld and was a customs depot to collect tolls from the droves of cattle being moved interstate. In it’s heyday, at the turn of the century, there was a population of 300 and there was a school, cordial factory, market garden, police station, court house etc. When the tolls were abolished in 1901 at federation, the town went into decline. The state school opened in 1899 and closed in 1948. It has since reopened and the town has been reborn due to tourism. M
Our first night in Birdsville was spent at a lovely free camp just outside of town on the Diamantina River. Birdsville has many nice places to free camp just on the outskirts of town. They must be set up like this as they would not be able to fit 7000 or 9000 people in this little town. M
The next day we came into town and checked into the caravan park to fill up with water and do some washing. There was only one other camper and we were told we could go anywhere we wanted in the park, so we filled our water tanks and then headed down to camp right on the billabong. It was just as quiet as the night before. The views were even better though. We could not believe we were in a caravan park! It would be very different in winter. M
The cemetery always tells a people story. This area has always had a mostly good relationship with the local aboriginal people right up until today supposedly. What did they do differently here? There were people buried here that were in the Tom Kruse film. M
I had seen this film a few years ago after reading the book about him on a previous trip to Marree. I had it’s images in my mind as we started the Birdsville track and it is amazing how easy the ‘track’ is today. It is hardly an adventure in comparison. M
The Birdsville track became a legendary stock route in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th century as pastoralism established itself in the arid centre of Australia. Before that, is was an Aboriginal route following a succession of watering places. They did and we all still do, rely on the water from the ancient Great Artesian Basin beneath the surface, to sustain life. The Birdsville replaced the Strzelecki as the preferred route as it had a better water supply. It is one of the most famous outback drives and although much improved in recent years it still remains a remote track with very limited services.
We left Marree, lowered our tyre pressure and headed out on the track . We saw one other car day 1 and then only a couple of triple road trains. This was and still is a cattle route. Instead of drovers on horse back, it is now men in road trains moving cattle around these days. The drought in this area has seen no rain for 3 yrs. Only the properties bordering the Warburton Creek that got the Winton flood waters, have something for cattle to eat. Cattle from the dry stations away from this area are trucking their cattle to these “wet” properties to feed them up, so we are seeing this movement of cattle on the roads at the moment. M
Lunch on day one was at the lake Harry Ruins where there was a hot Artesian water shower. Steve inspects the shower. It was a bit too early in the day and not hot enough believe it or not! The site was once an oasis of date palms planted as an economic enterprise. By 1897, there were 2622 palm trees progressing well. Crops were then damaged by crows and cockatoos and many dry years saw it fail by 1912. Nature always rules! M
A road train passed us at the dog fence. The dog fence used to have big double gates. Now there is no gate, just ear piercing alarms when you get near the grid to scare the dogs off. It doesn’t slow these big rigs down. Well not much anyway. M
We stopped next at the Dulkaninna Wetlands, which are artificial Artesian bores flowing along creek lines that supplement surface water collected after rain. These provide a permanent habitat for many birds and so lovely to see in this dry land. They used to run unchecked but now are only supposed to be running at 8 litres/min to try to protect the GAB and it’s natural springs elsewhere. Well finally there were some birds. All you need is water out here. In about 30 min we saw 2 new birds! Australian Spotted Crake and Little grass bird. We also spotted what we thought to be the biggest Emu we had ever seen and then saw that it was an Ostrich! It wasn’t a wild one, so we couldn’t add it to the bird list. It looked very well fed by the station nearby.
What was even more of a surprise was to see a 2 wheel drive Holden Captiva drive up and a man step out of his car with binoculars. He then opened his folding chair and sat down to have lunch on the road next to the wetland, as a road train swerved around him! More rare than finding water out here is finding birdwatchers in the summer in a 2WD with only one spare tyre- and it was in a hire car! He turned out to be a Swiss teacher named Jacques and he was seriously into birds. He was only in the country for a few months to see birds and he knew all about Aussie birds. When I asked him if he had seen this or that rare bird, he told me exactly where he had seen them, like they were not that hard to find. He even told us he had seen not one but two Grey Falcons. We were not sure whether to believe him, as these are very hard to find supposedly. Anyway, I was hoping this guy had enough water etc and made it out of the desert alright. I did tell him to be careful as it was often the Swiss and Germans that died out here in the Summer! He is posting his bird sightings on the “e bird” website, so we will continue to watch where he gets to. M
It was nice to see horses still being used by a few of stations out here. Horse mustering has been mainly replaced by motor bikes, quad bikes, light aircraft and helicopters these days. You hardly see a horse any more.
Next stop was the Mulka homestead and store ruins and the lonely grave of 14 yr old Edith Scobie nearby.
We only saw 2 road trains this day and they caught up with each for lunch together. I don’t think they got out of the aircon!
And then we came upon the Mungerannie Hotel and roadhouse.
We were not there more than 5 min when Phil the owner of the Pub/Roadhouse said “not MORE Crazy Bird people”. He had met the Swiss guy the day before. He asked what WE wanted to see and I said “Grey Falcon” as a joke. He told us to drive 20kms down a road off the Birdsville track, don’t worry about the closed road sign. He said we should hurry as the sun was going down. We were stunned. We didn’t know if he was serious or not. Then he laughed at Steve’s camera, came out with his big camera, gave it to us and told us to be quick. This is about 15 min after meeting us. We got in the car and drove fast down the road with his $4000 camera wondering if he was back at the pub laughing at us while having a drink with the station owner from the next property!
We stayed 2 days at the roadhouse campground which had one other person staying and which was right on the wetlands. These were produced by a constantly running GAB Bore which was pouring into the now dry creekbed of the Derwent River next to the roadhouse. It was an oasis and bird magnet.
The next morning we were up early to look for a Gibber Bird which we still had not seen on this trip. We hit the “gibber pavement” with our camera and binoculars and found not a Gibber Bird but a Cinnamon Quail Thrush.
Our next free camp we were told about by Phil. He said to take the Simpson desert track to the Warburton Crossing. We were to go through the gate even if it said the road was closed. So we did.
We thought there may still have been water at the crossing due to the floods but there was none. It was a lovely camp in the river bed. There was plenty to show that there had been a lot of water though. There was ground cover for a start and green and flowers in areas. There were even birds around and nice fat cattle to be seen.
In the evening we watched huge flocks of budgies come in and land to feed near the caravan. Once they landed they all but disappeared in the grass. They were very skittish though and didn’t like us around. They are the favourite food of the Grey Falcon, so I don’t blame them. So much more impressive out of a cage.
Mt Gason Wattle Project is a fenced area where these rare acacia trees discovered only in 1978 are protected from cattle grazing.
Some of the first signs of the flooded areas from the flooding 7 months ago. This little flooded channel had a group of about 100 pelicans feeding in concert.
We pulled over to check out the old car and found out it was the best shade around for these Cinnamon Quail thrush.
18km from Birdsville, we entered Queensland and the Diamantina Shire. No fan fare and no border security taking away our honey like in Western Australia. Steve was relieved!