The Birdsville Track

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.

weird birdsville track sign
Like many road signs on the Track this one has been cooked by the sun and heat and sand blasted by the wind.

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

warning sign birdsville
The first part of the track is open.
dust machine
Full of cows, so not moving so quickly. When these triple road trains with cattle come past, you can see the dust for kms!

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

camp one birdsville
First camp we stayed at was Clayton’s Wetlands campsite which we had to ourselves. It is so strange, to be so remote and find a flush toilet and hot shower. It is all compliments of the Artesian water that comes out of the ground here for free and at 50degC. It seems farmers can have an unlimited supply of this water, so we had a shower and a bath at our disposal. This is owned by the nearby station. M

the gabgabsi

looking for the wetlands
Looking for the wet in the wetlands! I think they turned off the tap. Possibly as part of the Artesian Sustainability project! There was no water except for the end of the pipe which emptied the “spa bath”. We also could not find a bird! Very bad for a track called the “BIRDS VILLE” ! We want a refund! M
artesian spa at claytons camp
Now this is a bath! Artesian water comes out naturally at 50deg here. It is good it was a cool day on the Birdsville track! Just empty when you are done please or it becomes a stock watering station. The Artesian water made me feel 10 yrs younger! Who needs an expensive European Spa. This one cost us $10 to the farmer. M
roadtrain dust
Day 2 began with a double road train and we saw only 2 other cars all day. The great thing about this was there was very little dust, only your own. In the “season” you would be driving in dust all day following people and passing them. It would be terrible! We were camped this close to the road but there was no traffic all night and probably 2-4 vehicles during the day.  M
oasis of dulkaninna
Not quite!

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.

 

biggest emu ever
Biggest emu ever!

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

drop your dust
This road train slowed down enough so he wouldn’t hit crazy birdwatchers on the road, dropping his dust from his wheels!

 

little grassbird
Little grassbird

 

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.

birdsville track view
View on the track.
great artesian basin hair
Steve suffering from Artesian Bore hair! Who cares as there is nobody to see you out here!

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!

mv tom brennan
Steve driving the MV Tom Brennan. This punt used to take people and supplies across the flooded Cooper Creek in days gone by. Now there is a one car ferry when required.
birdsville track sign
In the middle of nowhere this appeared!

mungerannie station

really on the birdsville
Really?  Out here?

And then we came upon the Mungerannie Hotel and roadhouse.

mungerannie hotel

old truck mungerannie
One of Tom Kruse’s (The old mailman of the Birdsville Track) old trucks sits out the front. He wore out a few in his time.

 

bus stop
The bus stop at the Mungarannie Hotel/Road house said to hail the bus! The owner of the roadhouse likes a joke!
mungerannie tyres
Mungerannie is the only place on the Birdsville track to get a tyre fixed. The side of the road all the way along is littered with dead tyres. These are the one’s that made it all the way to Mungerannie Road House.
inside mungerannie pub
Mungerannie Hotel

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!

another sign
Just ignore the road closed sign we were told. So we did!
steve and phils camera
Steve trying to work out how to use Phil’s camera very quickly.
grey falcon p
And there it was. Just where he said it would be. It was a young grey falcon waiting for it’s parents to come home with his nest just above him. Very exciting, especially for Steve as the birds had made their home on a communications tower of all places!

gorgeous birdiegrey falcon p3grey falcon back

grey falcon screech
After awhile he decided he wasn’t too sure about us and started calling out for his mother. It was a sign it was time for us to go. We could have watched it for hours he was such a big beautiful baby.

grey falcon p 2

grey falcon
It stood on one yellow foot and had the other tucked into it’s feathers.
moon falcon
Is was pretty exciting to see such a rare bird and we would have loved to stay until his parents came back to see a full grown bird, but we felt he had had enough of us after awhile and we left him alone. We headed back to the pub for dinner with Phil who then asked us to manage the pub/roadhouse while he took a break. Failing that did we want to buy it, as it was up for sale?

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.

yellow and royal spoonbill
Yellow and Royal spoon bill

 

spotted harrier flying
We watched this Spotted Harrier come in for a hunting session.
drought cow
These are dead cattle from Mungerannie station. They died of starvation due to drought. This is the reality out here. There were many of them further away along the wetlands area, away from where we camped thankfully.
mungerannie wetlands
Mungerannie wetlands are pretty dry at the moment.
white breasted woodswallow
A very hot White Breasted Woodswallow near camp.

 

spotted crake
Spotted Crake a new bird seen at Dulkannina wetlands, but I got a photo here at Mungerannie
f__k
This guy was swearing the whole time!

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.

mungerannie gibber
Gibber pavement.
searching for gibberbird
There were mirages everywhere but it wasn’t as hot as it looks.
cinnamon quial thrush
Cinnamon Quail Thrush

 

phil
Phil tried to shock us city slickers at times while we were here, but by the end of our stay we were mates. Despite the look, he was a real sweety. You just had to watch his hands! We left the Roadhouse and headed up the track.
mungerannie gap
The view going through Mungerannie Gap
emu on birdsville track
Emu on the gibber plain
bull dust sign
Strange signs
mitta mitta bore signs
Mirra Mitta Bore is a bit warmer than the previous bores. The have now had to fence it off due to silly tourists that don’t know what hot means. This bore was sunk in 1901 to a depth of 1076 metres. This is a place where you can see the Grey Falcon but were there at the wrong time of day.

mitta mitta bore

pink eared duck
The strange beaked, Pink Eared duck seen at a lunch stop at road side bore dam on the track
variegated fairy wren males
Fairy wrens hanging on in the wind.
lunch time bird hide
Lunch time bird hide. The caravan has turned out to be an amazing (expensive) bird hide. We see so much more inside than when we put our chairs outside. The birds just don’t seem to notice us. This is an area that was flooded and their were many small birds around.
desert flowers
Very tiny wild flowers growing after the flood

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.

Simpson desert sign from the other side
In another 2 weeks the Simpson desert would be closed for the summer due to heat. They had not bothered to fix the road or take down the sign.
road closed
It looks locked but you just lift the chain up and replace it again.

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.

warburton creek
Warburton Creek. Who would know this was flooded not that long ago! How do these trees survive!

 

mudmoss
This looked like something you would see in constantly wet Tasmania!
fried egg flower
Tiny and gorgeous wildflower in the creek bed.
chestnut and dusky whiteface
They seemed shocked to see us. We were shocked to see such fat cows.

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.

high tailing roos
There were not many roos out here but these one’s were not hanging around.
sturts stoney desert
Sturt’s stony desert.
sad tyre and wheel
I think this guy drove on this one for a bit too long.  Dead tyres litter the roadside all the way along, but it was exciting to see a whole rim!

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!

rufous songlark
While the first 100km of the track was birdless, things got better once we started passing artesian bore overflows.   Although we passed hundreds of kilometres of gibber and never saw a gibberbird, we did end up adding 5 new species to the list including the amazing grey falcon sighting, not to mention this rather drab little rufous songlark seen a few km before Birdsville. S
birdsville sign
We made it! 519kms of dirt from Marree and it’s only a few hundred more until we get back to a paved road!

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “The Birdsville Track

  1. Wow, wow, wow – what a wonderful chapter…… beside ourselves wanting to retrace your steps…… thank you so much for your educational and uplifting commentary….. I don’t know about nursing – I think you should write the book! Take care both of you….. Graham and Liz.

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      1. Thanks Wazza,

        The Grey Falcon was unbelievable. Cannot believe our luck! But where is the Burke’s Parrot and that bloody Gibber bird? Where did they go???? M

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