AUTUMN IN THE MALLEE IN NORTH-WEST VICTORIA
Chris Coleborn

Recently I returned from a 10 day camping trip to various sites in the Sunset Country, (Pink Lakes, Cameron’s, O’Brien’s, Bunny’s Reserve, Linga Reserve and Maxwell’s & Wymlet Tank), and Nth Wyperfeld NP. These Parks and Reserves are basically in the dry, desert area of the North-West of Victoria. I have been visiting these areas at different times for about 10 years now and generally visit in either the spring or autumn.

This visit was with my eldest daughter Lydia, who is also very interested in the bush, with our unique plants and animals. Lydia is particularly interested in our native flora, but enjoys just walking slowly through the woodlands, plains and scrub of the Mallee. Our times of camping were days of beautiful warm, sunny weather with the tang of the dry grasses and the Mallee eucalypts and pine on the breeze. While spring shows the Mallee of in all its beauty, there is a beauty of the autumn as well. I enjoyed the tapestry of warm, dry olive and brown vegetation clothing the rolling hills with alternating thick Mallee scrub, open grassland & rolling hills of casuarinas and cypress pine. What a wonderful tapestry of Australian colour and texture they made. There were wonderful cool still, clear nights under brilliant stars - quiet, wild places with the sound of the Owlet Nightjar and Boobook Owl telling you you are not alone. At Wymlet Tank I have never heard so many Owlet Nightjars - several flying around during the daytime too!

One evening, the great dark purple dome above filled with brilliant stars, I was sitting by our campfire, reading a book by the light of a gas lamp, when a Tawny Frogmouth landed at my feet, scooped up a big moth flapping around, and after a pause to look at me, he flapped off into a tree above my head. Memorable moments aren’t they?

Sitting in the twilight at Wymlet Tank with Lydia, we enjoyed about 70+ Common Bronzewing coming in to the Tank for water. They would land, stay perfectly still for a time to be assured all was well, and then rush with their waddle gait to the water’s edge, and having had their fill, with a crack of wings get out of there as soon as they could. Lydia said it was busier than Spencer Street Station at peak hour! We sat and watched them, hidden by a low Mallee tree, as we ate our dinner.

At the Pink Lakes area and adjoing reserves, we saw about 70 species. Whenever I come in the spring I can usually get around the 90. However, it was great to see the special birds of the Mallee such as the striking Mulga Parrots, (why do I always think of Paradise Parrots when I see them?), Spotted Pardalote (Mallee form with their yellow rump and slightly different call), Grey Currawong, (but being the Mallee form, really a black colour), with their clinking calls echoing through the Mallee. After walking to a ridge covered with low growing Tee Tree, Honey Myrtle, scrub Cypress Pine and other understory vegetation, we came across the Southern Scrub-Robin with its plaintive and sweet call. Several came running towards us, stopping occasionally to stand and look at us, their tails bobbing up and down, before running a little closer or behind a bush. Their dark eyes and the appearance of a "tear drop" in the coloration of their feathers and the deep chestnut on their rumps make them a striking bird. While we were looking at them a Shy Heathwren also came to have a look at us. Lydia had not seen one for awhile, and was again struck with the daintiness of these little birds with their white eyebrow and tip to their wing, and streaked chests. They too have a wonderful rufous rump - at first sight Lydia thought she was seeing a misplaced Rufous Fantail! Though called "shy" they are not really that shy - quite bold at times in fact!

We also saw several Crested Bellbirds, but at this time of the year very quiet. One of the highlights that we particularly enjoyed was two separate sightings of two families of the rare and at times elusive little Mallee Emu-wrens. These delightful little balls of feathers with their wonderfully long tail feathers, just like several Emu feathers, their mixture of shades of grey, blue and Rufous, make them very special. On previous visits we have often seen the Striated Grasswrens, but we were not able to find any this trip, (though I had the feeling they were popping up out of the triodia or porcupine bushes to eye me off after I went by). We only had a fleeting glimpse of a Chestnut Quail-thrush this visit. They are not that common in this area I find. The place where they are most common and least shy that I have found is at South Wyperfeld National Park. Really good and close views can be obtained there. As compensation to not finding and Striated Grasswren, we picked up a White-fronted Honeyeater. Though they aren’t unique to the Mallee or uncommon, I always love to see the Blue Bonnets. I grew up with the more brilliant red-vented form of the north, but these yellow-vented forms are to my eyes also very beautiful.

The sunset country is aptly named with glorious sunsets and sunrises. Who could forget seeing the dying sun, molten gold, dipping into a glowing coral, pink and apricot sea of colour, and the few grey clouds of the far western horizon all glowing violet and purple. The very air seemed to glow with radiant pastel colours. One could not find a better setting to view small flocks of Major Mitchell’s flying over than this sunset hour, when their pearly white-pink and wonderful pink under wings glow in that special light.

In the surrounding reserves, we also enjoyed a good selection of birds. One startling one, and probably the most outstanding, was that of a Black-breasted Buzzard! What a shock to pick up such an unexpected bird in this area. They are normally much more to the north and the inland. At first I thought it was a Wedge-tailed Eagle, then a Square-tailed Kite, but as it details were more clearly revealed, it was a Black-breasted Buzzard. I had seen this bird quite a few times out in Western Queensland and NSW and in the Centre. There was a good selection of other raptors too, including Wedge-tailed Eagles, Brown Falcon, Brown Goshawk, Spotted Harrier, Black-winged Kite, Whistling Kite, Black Kite, Black Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Hobby and Kestrel.

There seemed to be more Chestnut-rumped Thornbills than normal, hopping around the understory, their plain grey fronts and white eyes distinguishing them from the Inland Thornbills, (We saw several flocks of these birds too), who have a streaked chest and dark eye, though both have lovely chestnut rumps. Have you noticed how many birds in the Mallee have rufous/chestnut colouring? It seems to be a very Mallee colouring. There were also great numbers of Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters. They seemed to be poking their cheeky heads out of every bush, shrub and tree. Seeing a few Striped Honeyeaters made up for the surfeit of the Spiny-Cheeks.

We saw few Fairy-wrens. There was one family of Variegated Fairy-wrens at Wymlet Tank, and some Splendid Fairy-wrens at Bunny’s Reserve, Wymlet and Nth Wyperfeld. There was no sign of the Apostlebirds previously hanging around the Pink Lakes and Cameron’s, nor of Chestnut-crowned Babblers in the South of the Sunset NP. I have the impression that Chestnut-crowned Babblers are in decline, but this is over-shadowed the by the plight of the Grey-crowned Babblers and their decline.

We had heard that the Vic Birds Australia group Easter camp-out had had a good time at Wymlet Tank, so we decided to check that spot out too. There was a nice selection of birds to be seen at this spot. We picked up 56 species. I think the camp out got about 72 species. The highlight for us was to find, as did the camp-out, a Red-lored Whistler - beautiful in his breeding plumage, and whistling his heart out. A first Victorian sighting for me - the other Red-lored Whistlers have been in South Australia. We also were happy to pick up a Black-eared Cuckoo. There were also some good numbers of Inland Thornbills to be seen at this good birding spot.

We spent a quiet Lord’s Day at Wymlet Tank, appreciating the works of God, not only in His creation, but also in the wonderful work of His love and salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. We paused to remember, in the words of Psalm 118:24, "This is the day God made, in it we’ll joy triumphantly."

From Wymlet Tank we drove, after a shower and fresh up and a phone call to home from the little town of Walpeup, onto the beautiful and diverse Pine’s Plains area, in the Nth Wyperfeld. I really enjoy this area, for there is such a diversity of habitat. We here also enjoyed some really lovely days and great walking in the calm, warm sunshine, meandering into thick Mallee where we would stumble onto a Mallee-fowl mound or the Mallee-fowl itself, onto open grassland or into the lovely park like stands of Cypress Pine and Buloake and Belah. It is in this latter area where the tinkling like call of the White-browed Treecreeper can be heard, and this increasingly rare bird quietly seen daintily hopping up a tree, searching for its food. It was in this area where we also found a Gilbert’s Whistler - I have found him in a particular spot over several years now. There were also old lakebeds with heathland around them, and patches of Grey Box beside ancient watercourses. It was in one such area where we had some wonderful views of Regent Parrots. We had seen the Regent Parrots fly over at Wymlet, but here one bright morning, there were a pair inspecting a hollow for breeding, and we got very close views of the pair. The male was strikingly radiant yellow, and with the black and red contrast, seen to perfection! Obviously he had all fresh colours for the breeding season.

We picked up 53 species of birds at North Wyperfeld/Pine Plains - adding 3 Malleefowl, Gilbert’s Whistler and White-browed Treecreeper to our more special bird list - though there was a wonderful selection of birds to be enjoyed here by day and by night.

With a heart very thankful to the Lord for being able to spend a great time with a daughter who also loves the bush, and in some wonderful country, we set off for home and our loved ones there.

The full bird list (86?) for the Mallee is as follows:

Emu Malleefowl Black-shouldered Kite B-breasted Buzzard
Black Kite Whistling Kite Spotted Harrier Brown Goshawk
W-t Eagle Brown Falcon Australian Hobby Peregrine Falcon
Black Falcon Nankeen KestrelMasked Lapwing Common Bronzewing
Cres Pigeon Peaceful Dove Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo 
Galah Cockatiel P-c Lorikeet nbsp;
Regent Parrot A. Ringneck Blue Bonnet R-rump Parrot
Mulga Parrot B-eared Cuckoo Sth Boobook T Frogmouth
Spotted NightjarOwlet-nightjar W-b T/creeper BrownT/creeper
Splendid Fairy-wrenVar. Fairy-wren M Emu-wren Spotted Pardalote
Striated Pardalote Shy Heathwren Weebill Inland Thornbill
Chest-rumped T/billYellow-rumped T/bill Yellow T/bill Sth Whiteface
Red Wattlebird S-c Honeyeater Y-thr Miner Singing H/eater
White-eared H/eaterBrown-head H/eaterWhite-fron H/eaterJacky Winter
Red-capped RobinHooded Robin Sth Scrub-robin W-brow Babbler
Varied Sittella Crested BellbirdRed-lored Whistler Gilbert’s Whistler
Golden Whistler Rufous WhistlerGrey Shrike-thrush Restless Flycatcher
Magpie-lark Grey Fantail Willie Wagtail B-f Cuckoo-shrike
W-b Woodswallow B-faced W/swallowDusky W/swallow Grey Butcherbird
Australian MagpieGrey CurrawongAustralian Raven Little Raven
W-winged Chough Richard’s PipitMistletoebird W-backed Swallow
Welcome Swallow Tree Martin Silvereye Common Starling.



This report was published in The Christian Bird Observer’s Magazine, April 2002