Murray-Sunset Magic

I had really wanted to get out to the western edge of Victoria and look for Red-lored Whistler and Striated Grasswren (the striatus one). The RLW was not a bogey bird, but it was one that I had previously put quite a bit of effort into without success. The same goes for that grasswren. With a bit of work, luck and info from Mark Carter, Lynn and I had gotten the “Striated” Sandhill Grasswren subspecies, oweni, out in the Red Centre. However, despite excellent gen from Tim Dolby and others, we had dipped on the ‘regular’ Striated at Murray-Sunset earlier in that year of birding. My buddy, Bill Twiss, also wanted both birds (one a lifer and one a Victoria tick) and a few others of that mallee region. So we made a plan to go out there for a few days.

On Tuesday morning, 23 May, I headed out to meet Bill in Ouyen, Victoria on the far eastern side of Murray-Sunset NP. After a anxious start, with Troopi having an “issue” that was gratefully resolved quickly at the local auto repair, I left. That did put me a couple of hours behind schedule and I arrived in Ouyen about 3pm. We decided to drive to the western side of the park on the main roads and enter the 4WD tracks from there. We left Bill’s car parked at the Ouyen Pub and drove west. As we entered South Australia, it was getting dark. We decided to stay in a tiny 10 dollar a night caravan park in Paruna and go into Murray-Sunset first thing the next morning. We were safe, sound and Troopi was running fine. I was grateful.

We took a route about 30 kilometers straight across through Meribah to the junction of Millewa South Bore and Pheeny’s Track in Murray-Sunset. This route did not show on some of the maps, but it turned out to be a good unsealed road. We were soon birding on the Millewa South Bore Track.
On the corner of Pheenys and Millewa South Bore Tracks.
We followed the suggestions of my trusty, beat-up but indispensible, copy of Tim Dolby and Rohan Clarkes’, “Finding Australian Birds.” As the book suggested, we stopped and listened every so often when we were in what looked to be the right habitat. We were looking for mallee woodlands with a sparse, open canopy, some good understory, and some spinifex. We tried several spots before, lo and behold, we had a Red-lored Whistler! It was an immature male. It visited us, singing beautifully a few times, over the next fifteen or twenty minutes. The bird consistently perched frustratingly backlit, or slightly obscured by branches. However, I had very good looks through my bins as I followed it and I managed a couple of recording shots. I was very grateful! Red-lored Whistler! YES! Lifer Pie coming soon.


After our RLW success, we tried a few more spots along the South Bore Track. We found one of the coolest spiders I have ever seen. It was Red and Blue! My friend Lily informed me later that it was a Red-headed Mouse Spider. It seems that it was marching down the track on a mission to find a girlfriend. I read that they hold their long pedipalps (carrying the mating organs) extended forwards when they are looking for a lady spider in her burrow. As you can see in the photo, he was holding his pedipalps out. We followed him at least 15 meters and finally left him still heading south on the track. I hope he finds his girl. I drove very carefully around him as we moved on.

It gets dark early and the day was definitely getting away from us. We decided to do the Pink Lakes area in the morning. As we headed out of the park toward Pink Lakes, we stopped in Pinnaroo. We ended up staying there in a nice (cheap) little caravan park and having a celebratory meal at the pub. The fish and chips were really good.
Before leaving the park we also had a lovely little group of White-browed Babblers

And a Common Burrowing Cockroach with really cool feet.
Speaking of “Finding Australian Birds,” I talked with Tim Dolby that evening regarding the Striated Grasswrens at Pink Lakes. He suggested a specific area for us to look. I cannot overstate how generous and patient Tim has been over the years with information and advice. He is a treasure. First thing Thursday morning, we headed over to Pink Lakes.
It has been literally all the way around AUS and more with me. Indispensable. Do not leave home without it!
We stopped at an area just the other side of the lakes on Pioneer Dr. Parking Troopi on the roadside, we walked basically north. We were walking in to a point about 500 or 600 meters in from the road. The technology of the map GPS on my phone was guiding us (and comforting to have) as we headed deeper into the bush. Tim had suggested birding by walking sort of a “grid” pattern. Going in several hundred meters and then to the side, and then back out. We were about two thirds of the way back to the road when we (even I) heard a Grasswren. We stopped and looked at each other in excitement and disbelief. We heard it! And then there it was running across the ground! YES!

A pair of Striated Grasswrens ran, hopped and flitted around us for about ten minutes. One eventually perched up on a dead stick giving us wondrous views. After about a minute of posing, it hopped back down and was off. We left its area in peace. Bill and I fist-bumped and grinned like idiots. We had a bit of mobile signal and posted a back-of-camera shot on facebook. I was, and am, incredibly grateful.

See why they are called the Pink Lakes?
As it was only late-morning, we decided to pack it in and head for our perspective homes. With the wonderful birding “high” going on, I drove us back to Ouyen and we went our separate ways. Both our main targets were achieved and Bill added a beautiful look at a Mallefowl on the roadside (as well as two other brief glimpses in the bush- so SA and VIC).

Troopi will go anywhere, but she is slow on the highway and does use a bit of diesel. A five-hour drive can take about six. On the way home I did not stop for fuel. I switched to the sub tank and made it back to the tiny house in five and a half hours. I was tired but exceedingly grateful. It was about 1400 kilometers, two nights camping and a wonderful experience. And most importantly, I got out amongst it! And... I got Red-lored Whistler and Striated Grasswren! I am so very grateful.
My Lifer "Pie" supper of Brisket Burger at Millars Restaurant back in Lara, absolutely delicious!
Peace. Love. Birds. Gratitude.