Friday, 7 August 1998

AUSTRALIA 1998: Victoria (28 July-7 August)

The following is the second of four blogs covering a trip John Cooper, Gary Edwards and I made to Australia and New Caledonia in July and August 1998.  It is illustrated with prints I took with an old Pentax camera and subsequently digitised.  Another account of the trip, including John and Gary's time around Darwin after I had come home, was published in two parts by John Cooper last year (see  This blog covers Victoria.

Tuesday 28th July.  We left Deniliquin soon after dawn and drove steadily to Chiltern State Forest, arriving there mid-morning.  The weather was a slight improvement but it was still showery, and very cold.  We quickly saw 2 Regent Honeyeaters near Frog’s Hollow and the rest of the day was spent along Greenhill Road and near Cyanide Dam.  Generally few birds were in evidence although a superb male Rose Robin was found in a paddock near Greenhill Road.  After dark we drove to Victorian Alps and camped on the lower slopes of Mount Buffalo. 
Greenhill Road, Chiltern State Forest

Wednesday 29th July.  We awoke to find the tent covered in a thin layer of snow. It had been cold but I had slept well.  Mount Buffalo was closed to vehicles without chains and we decided to return to Chiltern.  Stopping on the edge of the Alps at Eurobin, near Porepunkah, to check some parrots flying over (not the hoped for Gang-Gangs) we were accosted by the owner of an adjacent caravan park who thought we were taking photos of his property on behalf of an unfriendly rival neighbour!  Realising immediately that we were not, and probably somewhat embarrassed, he invited us look round his park where we were surprised to see up to 70 non-breeding plumaged Satin Bowerbirds feeding on the grass, the day’s highlight. We continued to Chiltern and revisited the areas we’d been to the previous day.  After a few false starts with dark-chinned juvenile Brown-headed Honeyeaters we finally saw a good Black-chinned but despite much searching we couldn’t find Chestnut-rumped Hylacola although a perched Collared Sparrowhawk near Cyanide Dam was some consolation as were a field full of Flame Robins at Brown’s Road.  After dark John phoned Mike Carter and arranged for us to meet him the following morning on the outskirts of Melbourne.  We then drove to Toolangi (Kinglake National Park) and drove around for almost an hour failing to find any picnic areas before camping behind the forest centre.
camping on Mount Buffalo
Thursday 30th July.  We spent the first couple of hours of light walking in impressive forest at Toolangi but low cloud obscured the tops of the admittedly very tall trees and the birds were disappointing, although Bassian Ground Thrush and a Superb Lyrebird were nice.  John drove to Melbourne via Maroondah Reservoir hoping for Gang-Gangs but one of the workers there told us they’d not been around for some months.  We met Mike Carter and Des Quinn and after a brief and unsuccessful look at Ferntree Gulley headed for Lysterfield where Des showed us a superb roosting Powerful Owl that he kept a regular eye on.  We left Des and moved on to Edithvale where an Australian Bittern was flushed, Balnaring for a pair of Cape Barren Geese with 4 small goslings and finally, in a rush to beat the fading light, Rosebud where 3 breeding plumaged Double-banded Plovers were on the beach.  We returned to Mike’s house in Mount Eliza where he and his wife were perfect hosts.
me at Toolangi
Powerful Owl at Lysterfield
Ferntree Gulley
Friday 31st July.  We left Mount Eliza after an early breakfast and drove around Melbourne to arrive at Werribee at 09:00 to meet Margaret Cameron.  She arrived with Gordon McCarthy and after getting reasonable views of Purple-crowned Lorikeets by the entrance we were taken on a whistle-stop tour of Werribee.  Keeping up with Margaret along the sometimes slippery dirt tracks around Werribee was an effort at the best of times so her telling us at one point that we would be heading back the way we’d come in a ‘fairly determined manner’ raised a smile, it was hard to imagine her doing anything any other way!  Birds abounded at Werribee, the best for us being a very obliging pair of Australian Spotted Crakes.  We then moved on to a flooded area south of Geelong where a small wintering flock of Orange-bellied Parrots had been seen regularly.  We found them after a good bit of wandering around, although not before Margaret had to go (having other commitments), leaving us in Gordon’s capable hands.  We then had a quick stop at Laverton Saltworks (some distant Banded Stilts), Geelong botanical gardens in Eastern Park (a spectacular flock of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, but still no Gang-Gangs) and finally a marshy pool and very scenic beach west of Barwon Heads.  A pair of Hooded Plovers on the beach were superb, but about a hundred dead Fluttering Shearwaters on the tide line rather depressing.  We said goodbye to Gordon and made for a nearby campsite at Barwon.  A phone call to Mike Carter confirmed the Portland pelagic, scheduled for the 2nd, had been cancelled due to anticipated bad weather.  We had mixed feelings about this!

Saturday 1st August.  We were up at dawn, but wasted nearly two hours trying, unsuccessfully, to track down a couple of parrots seen badly in flight.  A quick walk along the beach then failed to produce the Hooded Plovers seen the previous day.  We returned to Geelong via Drysdale where 3 Blue-billed Duck were seen.  We walked along by the river in Queen’s Park where we found a female Pink Robin that Gordon had told us about.  It was very nice but again no Gang-Gangs.  We drove inland to Brisbane Ranges where we saw 8 cute Koalas and Marsh Wallabys but few birds and returned to the coast.  We immediately saw a Rufous Bristlebird at Airey’s Inlet Lighthouse and then drove a short way inland to Distillery Creek.  Here, finally, our luck turned when two pairs of Gang-gangs came in to drink at a pool by the car park.  They were brilliant (their amazing red floppy crests were far better than expected) as was an immature male Pink Robin in the same area.  We camped in a campsite near Airey’s Inlet.
Marsh Wallaby at Brisbane Ranges
eastern Great Ocean Road near Anglesea, the west was to prove much more spectacular
Airey's inlet
Sunday 2nd August.  We left campsite and tried to find an area of heathland inland from an open cast mine.  The dirt track became increasingly muddy and we gave up but a very tame male Brush Bronzewing beside the road made the effort very worthwhile.  We returned briefly to Distillery Creek where 2 more Gang-gangs were seen and a small, but noisy, flock of Forest Ravens flew over.  We continued along the Great Ocean Road where despite showery and dull weather the scenery was impressive, particularly the 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge and Bay of Islands.  Birds were not very evident, 6 breeding Black-faced Cormorants being an exception, and those that were did not always perform as one would like - particularly 2 presumed Blue-winged Parrots which flew over at cliff top height just at we’d climbed down to the beach at the head of Loch Ard Gorge!  We then hurried along to Warrnambool in time to see 3 or 4 Southern Right Whales offshore before the light went.  We drove steadily north to Little Desert National Park where we camped.
Brush Bronzewing giving superb views right by the road, oh for a decent camera and lens
easternmost of the Twelve Apostles
more of the Twelve Apostles
the superb views were in danger of being obscured by coastal fog, a regular occurrence at this time of year

Loch Ard Gorge
named after an infamous shipwreck
the Loch Ard was driven onto the rocks in 1878 killing all but two of the 50 or so on board

me on the beach at Loch Ard Gorge


rough weather west of Loch Ard Gorge
London Bridge, the left hand span having collapsed in 1990 having stranded some tourists on the end

Monday 3rd August.  We had a quick look around the Little Desert National Park campsite at dawn then moved on to a nearby picnic area in a small block of mallee.  Many honeyeaters were present although some took a while to get to grips with. I eventually saw three that were new (Yellow-plumed, Tawny-crowned and White-fronted) and some superb male Variegated Fairywrens.  There was a Mallefowl mound near the main track but it was the wrong time of year for them to be attending it and unfortunately we did not encounter any.  It was just as well it was a small block of forest as, despite having a compass, I managed to become confused and disoriented for some time before emerging from a completely unexpected side of the mallee.  We left late morning and drove to Wyperfield National Park, arriving mid-afternoon.  Emus were common, but little was seen along the Lake Brambruk Track despite a distinct improvement in the weather.  Spotlighting along the Eastern Lookout Nature Drive produced a single Brush-tailed Possum. 
Little Desert National Park

Emu at Wyperfield
Malleefowl mound at Wyperfield

Tuesday 4th August.  We spent all day in Wyperfield National Park, mostly on the trail to the Malleefowl mound and the first few kms of the Lowan Track.  It was an excellent day with lots of good birds (though not a huge number of species) and pleasant weather.  Highlights were 9 superb Chestnut Quail-Thrushes, Shy Hylacola, Southern Scrub-Robin, Pink Cockatoo and Mulga Parrot.  The only disappointment was no Malleefowl despite my watching a mound for over 3 hours although we later learned that they may only visit the mounds once or twice a week at this time of year.  We left Wyperfield as the light was fading, stopping for food on the way to Hattah-Kulkyne National Park.  We camped by Lake Hattah under a very bright moon.
The Lowen Track at Wyperfield

Wednesday 5th August.  It was quite cold by the lake at dawn, having been clear all night, although a flock of Regent Parrots soon got the blood racing.  We packed away the tents and spent all day in Hattah-Kulkyne National Park, concentrating on the mallee adjoining the start of the Nowingi Track.  Here Mallee Emuwrens were readily found, along with Chestnut Quail-Thrush, Crested Bellbird and a distant view of a Striated Grasswren bouncing away from me.  A drive to Lake Mournpoll produced a superb pair of Pink Cockatoos in roadside conifers but little else.  Grasswren type calls were heard during a final walk down the Nowingi Track, but the light was starting to go and nothing could be seen.  We returned to camp at Lake Hattah.  A Southern Boobook calling near the campsite shut up as soon as we approached it (another clear moonlit night).
Nowingi Track, Hattah-Kulkyne National Park
Hattah-Kulkyne National Park
a rare viewpoint in Hattah-Kulkyne National Park
above the high water mark on the shore of Lake Mournpoul, Hattah-Kulkyne National Park.  We camped here.
Thursday 6th August.  A ranger told us our best chance of Malleefowl at this time of year was driving along the roads at dawn.  We tried the Murray Valley Highway without success.  We returned to the Nowingi Track seeing similar birds, although only one Emuwren and no more Grasswrens.  John failed to reappear at the car and after some time a very faint shout was heard in the opposite direction from that to which he appeared to have gone.  Gary took a compass bearing and ‘rescued’ a much relieved John.  It transpired he’d been ‘lost’ for about an hour, at which stage he’d stayed in the same area periodically shouting in different directions.  The flatness and lack of landmarks in the Mallee clearly required a greater degree of care than we were taking.  We returned to Lake Mournpoll early afternoon, where a distant White-backed Swallow was seen, and then concentrated on the track past it to the kangaroo fence.  We’d been told this was a good area for Chestnut-crowned Babblers and after a couple of hours of searching eventually found a superb group of 4.  Undaunted by his earlier adventure, John and I decided to have a final try for the Grasswrens and had brilliant views of a pair along the Nowingi Track.  We returned to camp for a third night at Lake Hattah.  The moon was so bright the Southern Boobook didn’t even start calling.

Lake Mournpoul, Hattah-Kulkyne National Park
Noisy Miner
White-winged Chough

the shapes of the trees were superb

sunset at Hattah-Kulkyne National Park

Friday 7th August.  We packed camp and left Hattah for the drive north to Yarrarra, stopping for breakfast on the way.  A couple of hours at Yarrarra produced the hoped for White-browed Treecreeper and an excellent male Gilbert’s Whistler.  We continued to the border with South Australia and the fruit check-point.
sunrise at Lake Mournpoul, Hattah-Kulkyne National Park

[blogged December 2015]

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