John Pople

In April of this year, I counted it a privilege to go with my friends, the Rev. Chris Coleborn and four of the Coleborn children, Lydia, Anna, Elizabeth and John on a camp-out to Billiatt Conservation Park in the east of South Australia, (just north of the town of Lameroo on the Mallee Highway), and then into the northern section of Wyperfeld National Park, just south of the Ouyen Highway in Victoria. Billiatt is almost exclusievly made up of the unique mallee sand dune country. In the area where we camped, birds such as the rare Western Whipbird and the Red-lored Whistler are found. Malleefowl are also in the area. A little marsupial carnivous mouse, called Yvonne’s ningaui was found for the first time in this area in 1973.

We left Cohuna early one morning, and after driving for four or five hours, and having a stop or two for a cuppa and refreshments, we headed from Lameroo into the Park. Our first stop was to look for the Red-lored Whistler. We had learnt of a site not far off the road into the park, but after a good walk around with no success, we moved on to where we had heard of a good site to fine both the Red-lored Whistler and the Western Whipbird as well as other mallee birds, such as the Striated Grasswren, the Southern Scrub-robin and the Shy (Hylocala) Heathwren. To get to this spot we had to turn off the road onto a narrow sandy track. It went for five or six kilometres, and our vehicles were often brushed with the mallee scrub on each side. Eventually we arrived at out destination, which was in the middle of "no where" by an old fence and on a flat between some large sand dunes. All the area was covered with low mallee scrub, mostly made up of such trees and shrubs Ridge-fruited Mallee, Slender-leafed Mallee, Mallee Cypress, Broombush and such plants as Triodia or Porcupine Grass - a tussock type of grass.

At first I thought that the birding was going to be quite restricted in this area, but after settling in, with cosy camp-fires at night, accompanied by warm Christian fellowship, we became more attuned to our surroundings. Surprisingly, there were really a lot of species in the area. The mallee coved flats and sand dunes were alive with birds. Most of the birds we saw were new to me, having not been in the mallee country before, and being a rather un-travelled senior cit! The Crested Bell-bird and Shy Heathwren (Hylacola) were seen and heard regularly. The Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters was common, along with the Purple-gaped Honeyeater. Splendid Fairy-wrens were frequently seen, but were still garbed in their non-breeding plumage. Inland Thornbills were about, so too the beautiful little Yellow-rumped (Spotted) Pardalote, found only in the mallee country. Many Yellow-throated Miners were seen on the edge of the Park, and as we drove into it. The key "birds of the week" for me were the Southern Scrub-robin and the beautiful Red-lored Whistler. The sighting of these was mainly due to pastor Chris’ patient re-playing of each birds characteristic call, coupled with his sleuth-like tracking down of their where abouts. Several obtained very good sights of the Red-lored Whistler at this spot, but I only obtained a fleeting glimpse. I was not in the right spot at the right time to view the timid Western Whip-bird, but its calls could be heard around us each morning, and at times later in the day. Some have suggested that there is only one individual bird in this area.

Apart from the bird life, some of God’s other unique little creatures were eagerly sought out. Young John and myself spent some time trying to catch one of the very numerous Mallee Dragon Lizards. These very fast little lizards were too good for us though, taking refuge the prickly Porcupine grass clumps, which grow in the open spaces and between the mallee trees. Anna came across a beautiful speciem of Burton’ Legless Lizard, which we all were able to view close up at our leisure. Lydia, who is good on plants, helped us investigate and work out some of the names at least, of the many plants there. Elizabeth, who is actually not the best friend of spiders, was the one who put us onto the Mallee Mouse Spider. We enjoyed seeing all these things, and the stars shinging bright at night.

During the camp the Coleborn girls often broke into song whilst doing camp chores, or around the camp fire at night. Their renditions of Christian songs, Scottish and Asustalian ballads and folk songs was a real tread to listen to, and something that will be treasured in my memory.

After nearly a week at this spot, we voted to move to another area that was renowned for its diverse habitat of Buloake, Black Box, White, Black and Malle Cypress and Mallee country, found in sand flats and dunes and ancient lake beds. This was the northern section of Wyperfeld National Park.

On the way out of Billiatt, we stopped at the spot where we had looked for the Red-lored Whistler to have another look. Sure enough, this time the male appeared, and I was able to get the most clear and satisfying views of it.

At Nth. Wyperfeld, we set up camp, and though there was some light rain around, we got by quite well. This area also produced many birds for us, the most interesting being the White-browed Treecreeper. I also came within seconds of seeing a fleeing Malleefowl we came across in the scrub. It would have been nice to have seen one. I did see however, its tracks, found its feathers, and had a photograph taken of myself at a freshly opened nesting mound! We had some enjoyable games of cricket in between our walks and camp routine.

We also had the opportunity to briefly look in at the Pink Lakes in the Sunset National Park and the southern part of Wyperfeld National Park, where I saw a Chestnut Quail-thrush.

This trip into some of Australia’s mallee country, was an introduction to me to some of the wonders to be found by anyone willing to explore what God has provided in His "great outdoors".

"But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish of the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.
(Job 12:7-10)

BIRD LIST FOR THE TRIP FROM COHUNA TO BILLIATT CONSERVATION PARK (SA), NTH. & STH. WYPERFELD NATIONAL PARK, AND PINK LAKES NATIONAL PARK AND RETURN TO COHUNA. Tuesday 14th to 24th April, 1998 Cool, at times fine with occasional rain. (Chris, Lydia, Anna, Elizabeth & John Coleborn and John Pople)

Birds in italics are the more rare and interesting that we saw.

Emu Malleefowl Aust. Pelican
Darter Little Pied Cormorant Aust. Grebe
Black Swan Pacific Black Duck Grey Teal
Hardhead Dusky Moorhen Purple Swamphen
Eurasian Coot White-necked Heron White-faced Heron
Cattle Egret Great Egret Intermediate Egret
Aust.White Ibis Straw-necked Ibis Royal Spoonbill
Yellow-billed Spoonbill Masked Lapwing Silver Gull
Caspian Tern Black-shouldered Kite Black Kite
Whistling Kite Wedge-tailed Eagle Brown Goshawk
Spotted harrier Peregrine Falcon Grey Falcon
Brown Falcon Nankeen Kestrel Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon)
Peaceful Dove Common Bronzewing Galah
Long-billed Corella Little Corella Major Mitchell Cockatoo
Sulphur-crested CockatooMusk Lorikeet Regent Parrot
Cockatiel Yellow (Crimson) Rosella Eastern Rosella
Aust. Ringneck Red-rumped Parrot Mulga Parrot
Blue Bonnet (Yellow vent)Sth. Boobook Tawny Frogmouth
Spotted Nightjar Aust. Owlet-nightjar Laughing Kookaburra
Varied Sitella (Black head)White-throated TreecreeperWhite-browed Treecreeper
Brown Treecreeper Superb Fairy-wren Splendid Fairy-wren
Striated Grasswren Spotted (Yellow rump) PardaloteStriated Pardalote
Shy (Hylacola) HeathwrenWeebill West. Gerycone
Inland Thornbill Chestnut-rumped Thornbill Yellow Thornbill
Buff-rumped Thornbill Yellow-rumped Thornbill Sth. Whiteface
Red Wattlebird Brush (Little) Wattlebird Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater
Little Friarbird Blue-faced Honeyeater Noisy Miner
Yellow-throated Miner Yellow/t X Black/e MinerYellow-faced Honeyeater
Singing Honeyeater White-eared Honeyeater Purple-gaped Honeyeater
Yellow-plumed HoneyeaterWhite-plumed Honeyeater Brown-headed Honeyeater
White-fronted HoneyeaterTawny-crowned HoneyeaterWestern Whipbird
Chestnut Quail-thrush White-browed Babbler Red-capped Robin
Hooded Robin Jacky Winter Sth. Scrub-robin
Crested Bellbird Grey Shrike-thrush Golden Whistler
Gilbert’s WhistlerRed-lored WhistlerRufous Whistler
Grey Fantial Willie Wagtail Magpie-lark
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikeWhite-browed Woodswallow Dusky Woodswallow
Grey Butcherbird Pied Butcherbird Aust. Magpie (White back)
Aust. Magpie (Black back)Grey Currawong (Black winged form)Aust. Raven
Little Raven White-winged Chough White-backed Swallow
Welcome Swallow Tree Martin Richard’s Pipit
Singing Bushlark House Sparrow Zebra Finch
Silvereye Common Blackbird Common Starling
Restless Flycatcher White-fronted Chat Crested Pigeon
Swamp Harrier Aust. Shelduck

(Total species or forms seen on the trip : 134)

This report was published in The Christian Bird Observer’s Magazine, October 1998