Sunday, 8 September 2013

Bowra Sanctuary Queensland

Our next birding stop was near Cunnanulla so we headed west from Salvator Rosa in Carnarvon National Park in outback Queensland. It was a long slow drive out to Tambo, a small township located on the Landsborough Highway about half way between Blackall to the north and Augathella to the south. The large patches of bull dust encountered on the way in to Santa Rosa had become mud baths thanks to a road contractor who had sprayed water on them ahead of compaction and grading. We must have been about half an hour behind the water cart.
There was no way around most of the wet holes so we had to drive through the mud slurry, which required four wheel drive and care with a near 2 tonne van on the back. Given the van and vehicle had not had a wash for a couple of months the added layers of mud were of no great concern.
From Tambo we drove 200km south for an overnight stay in Charleville, then in the morning another 200km south to Cunnamulla.  Here we took on fuel and food before heading out to Bowra Sanctuary, an ex sheep and cattle station just west of the Warrego River and a short distance north of Cunnamulla. The property is now owned and managed by Australian Wildlife Conservancy.
For more information regarding AWC and their important wildlife conservancy work see their web site at:
This was our third time camping and birding at Bowra and a trip report from a previous visit can be found in the Birdlife East Gippsland newsletter, The Chat, at
Click on Publications and then select August 2011 (see page 12).
At Bowra, we camped near the homestead by a small lagoon fed by artesian bore water. This is an oasis in a dry environment attracting many species of birds, some semi resident at the lagoon while we were there such as the Yellow Spoonbills, Black-winged Stilts, Masked Lapwings (with four chicks), Black-tailed native-hens, Grey Teal, Hardhead and Black-fronted Dotterel. Other birds just visited for a drink and perhaps a bath. A good list of bird species can be achieved simply by sitting in camp with a pair of bins at hand.
The artesian bore fed lagoon where we camped at Bowra Sanctuary.
On paying the camping fees an information booklet is supplied which contains a map of the 14,000 hectare property showing the 68.5kms of station tracks used to access 8 different habitat types across the sanctuary. A bird check list is also supplied which lists a total of 217 species recorded for the property. A realistic total for an experienced birder staying for 3 to 5 days, assuming fair conditions and not drought, would be around 80 to 100 species.
For our two and a half day stay we managed a total of 72 species with 60 recorded on the best day. It is very dry at Bowra at present and many of the water birds are missing. Also the total may have been higher if I had not spent the best part of one day searching without success for both the White-browed Treecreeper and Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush in stony mulga country. This is their preferred habitat, but it is not particularly rich in bird species, certainly not under the current dry conditions.
Searching for the elusive Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush in mulga woodland at Bowra. Mulga is an arid land acacia species. No Quail-thrush was found however there were Hooded and Red-capped Robins, Rufous Whistlers, Grey Shrike-thrush and Chestnut-rumped Thornbills in the woodland.
Here is a selection of bird photos captured over the two and half days at Bowra.
Collared Sparrowhawk
Late on the first afternoon at Bowra I went out to the Saw Pits Waterhole, a good birding location, to see what was about. The waterhole was fast drying out with no water birds present. The lone Whistling Kite perched above the waterhole may have been hoping for a fish to appear in the receding water.
I was pleased to flush four Bourke’s Parrots and as I followed them in an attempt to take a photo, I crossed paths with two Hall’s Babblers. After failing to photograph either species, both being very shy, I made my way back to the vehicle. As I did I noticed a flock of Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos feeding on the ground about one hundred metres ahead. I had just started a careful approach when a Collared Sparrowhawk attacked a Little Friarbird in a nearby tree. The initial unsuccessful strike was followed by a furious chase around the tree and through the canopy several times before the Sparrowhawk gave up and the Friarbird disappeared. I was able to slowly approach the Sparrowhawk as it sat and recovered from the effort of the chase. It was a coincidence to find a Sparrowhawk on the first outing at Bowra just as we did at Salvator Rosa.
The following photos show the slender legs and elongated middle toe, not always visible in the field but a good way of separating this species from the very similar but larger Brown Goshawk.
The Collared Sparrowhawk after the unsuccessful attempt to catch a Little Friarbird for dinner.
The bird is about to fly.
Unfortunately the bird is not all in focus however the shot does show the elongated middle toe and the slender legs which can help identify this species in the field.
Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo
This most beautiful cockatoo is somewhat uncommon and has a patchy distribution across large areas of arid inland Australia. They can often be found at Bowra and as I closed in on this group I was able to count about forty birds.
Some of a group of 40 Major Mitchell's Cockatoos found at Saw Pits Lagoon Bowra Sanctuary.
I eventually got too close to the birds and they flew to a couple of nearby trees. One tree was dead affording some clear photo opportunities.
The birds were not overly concerned by my presence and this pair took the break in feeding as an opportunity to have a cuddle?
White-browed Woodswallow
On this trip we managed to come across all six species of woodswallow. Four species, White-browed, Masked, Black-faced and White-breasted were all at Bowra. For its beautiful colour and elegance the White-browed is my favourite woodswallow and was the most numerous of this group at Bowra. They can sometimes be found in very large numbers, thousands, however the biggest flock I saw late one afternoon contained about 200 to 300 birds chasing insects above the woodland canopy.
Some were nesting. I came across a nest in a eucalyptus/native cyprus pine woodland. The female flew off to a nearby tree. I moved back a little and waited for her to return and sure enough after a few minutes she was back. I captured a few shots of her tentative return to the nest in a dead limb hollow about 3 metres above the ground.
The handsome male White-browed Woodswallow.
I disturbed this female White-browed Woodswallow from her nest. However after retreating a short distance and waiting a few minutes she returned.
She soon decided I was not a threat and approached the nest.
Back on the nest again she keeps a close eye on me. Her soft grey plumage blends well with the grey timber of the dead limb.
Splendid Fairy-wren
White-winged, Variegated and Splendid Fairy-wrens are all found at Bowra. I came upon a mixed group of Variegated and Splendid Fairy-wrens. My presence made them wary and for safety they mostly fossicked about in some dense shrubs peeping out from time to time to see what I was up to. Now and again some of them made bold but brief appearances beyond the shrub when I managed to snap a few shots of one of the young male Splendid Fairy-wrens, feathers a little blotchy but close to being in full breeding plumage. There are three races of the Splendid and this one is melanotus, the Black-backed Fairy-wren.
This young male Splendid Fairy-wren is looking at me from the safety of shrub.
The male above has felt confident enough to make a brief excursion from the safety of the shrub giving a few seconds to capture some photos.
We saw lots of emus on our drive south and there were good numbers at Bowra in groups varying from two or three birds up to thirty or more. Some hung around the camping area and one caught my attention when it sat down for a drink near our camp.
The emu drinking near our camp. I am not sure "sitting down" is the right description for this bird's position?
Yellow Spoonbill
Seven Yellow Spoonbills were in residence at the lagoon camp area while we were there. They alternated between feeding in the lagoon and resting and sleeping on a small island within the lagoon or perched in a large dead tree above the lagoon. Their spoonbills are used in a side to side sweeping motion to find and capture food on the muddy bottoms of wetlands.
Yellow Spoonbill feeding in lagoon near our camp at Bowra.
Close up of the spoon bill.
Black-tailed Native-hen
Three Native-hens were also in residence at the lagoon while we were there. They alternated between hiding in dense bush near the lagoon and feeding out in the open on the short grassed areas around the lagoon or in the shallow water sections where there were grasses.
One of the Black-tailed Native Hens on the lagoon at Bowra. These birds can be found in wetlands across arid Australia.
Singing Honeyeater
A common honeyeater in both dry and arid areas across much of mainland Australia west of the Great Dividing Range.
A Singing Honeyeater one of a number of honeyeater species we found at Bowra. Apart from the White-plummed Honeyeaters which were in good numbers the other species were not abundant due to the dry conditions.
It took three long days driving to get home to East Gippsland ending our 2013 trip. It was good to be home after 12 weeks on the road. While the trip was not about achieving a large bird list, we did record a total of 292 species.
I enjoy looking for birds to photograph, and as we have found on previous trips, using this as a reason to travel often takes you to out of the way places you would not normally visit with many pleasant discoveries along the way.
Eighteen blog posts have been completed for the trip and this has been an enjoyable and rewarding task. I hope you have also enjoyed the posts and especially the images of our precious birds.
With 12 weeks away and 12,000kms behind us we arrived home to spring and one of the first birdcalls I heard was the Pallid Cuckoo, a nomadic species and summer migrant to southeastern Australia. They were also calling at Bowra so some of them beat us home. 
With spring underway there should be plenty of material for some more posts in the near future – as they say, “watch this space”.
All the best and cheers,

Friday, 6 September 2013

Salvator Rosa – Carnarvon National Park Queensland

Our southward journey home to East Gippsland Victoria followed an inland route, shorter and quicker than the coastal route as the roads are generally straight and flat with little traffic and few towns. This is no doubt why so many van-towing southerners come north each winter via inland routes.
The route was through cattle country which is in drought and very dry at present. The road kill was horrendous.  Roos and wallabies which bred up during the last wet period are now attracted to the fenced off road sides where there is good feed and in places even a green pick on the shoulders due to the extra rainfall runoff from the impervious road surface. Add large trucks and road trains travelling at speed at night and you have carnage. The crows, ravens and Black Kites however were enjoying a food bonanza. It was not unusual for as many as 15 Black Kites, and sometimes a few Whistling Kites among them, to fly up from a carcass as we approached.
Our plan was to visit the Salvator Rosa section in the remote far west of the Carnarvon National Park. From Atherton we drove west to Mt Garnet and then generally south through Lynd Junction, Charters Towers and Emerald to Springsure. From there it was west along the rough dirt Dawson Development Road and then south via cattle station roads/tracks to the Salvator Rosa camping area. Apart from the many patches of bull dust, the main hazard we encountered on this road were six or seven road trains carrying cattle. These huge trucks cannot move over and the dust they raise totally obscures the road behind and any vehicles that might be following them. So the only way to deal with this situation is to pull off the road and stop and wait for them to pass and the dust to settle before moving on again.
A double decker road train carrying cattle on the Dawson Development Road. The dust is obscuring trailers. The only way to handle this situation is to get off the road in a hurry and wait for the truck to pass and dust to settle before moving on.
The truck has passed however it is obviously not safe to return to the road until the dust has cleared.
Carnarvon is a large park generally covering rugged sandstone country, stretching from Salvator Rosa on the Nogoa River near the western end of the park via the shortest straight line distance, the way the crow flies, to the well known and spectacular Carnarvon Gorge at the eastern end - over 150 kilometres, making this a large park.
We had previously visited the other three sections, Ka Ka Mundi, Mt Moffatt and Carnarvon Gorge and had been prevented from visiting Salvator Rosa in the past due to rain, which makes travel on the black soil plains tracks impossible. 
Approaching Salvator Rosa. Note the Queensland Bottle Tree, Brachychiton rupestris, which is related to the Currajong, Brachychiton populneus, we find in East Gippsland. There are 30 species of Brachychitons in Australia. The Bottle Tree should not be confused with the completely unrelated Boab, Adansonia gregorii, which is found in the Kimberly and the Northen Territory.
The name Salvator Rosa was given by Major Mitchell whose party passed through the area in 1846 while exploring for an inland route to Darwin. There were various plaques/cairns and signage marking and commemorating this historic journey. The area feels remote today even with our modern vehicles and communication aids. I pondered how it must have felt for Major Mitchell and his party in 1846 exploring new country with no possibility of rescue if they got into trouble.
We managed to see 44 species of birds in this section of the park over two days, in spite of a large area having been recently burnt in a managed back-burn to control a wild fire and subsequent slow recovery due to the dry conditions.
Here are some photo highlights:
Pale-headed Rosella
There are six species of rosella, genus Platycercus, in Australia and two subspecies of the Crimson Rosella. The Pale-headed Rosella is the one you mostly see in Queensland. Like all of the other rosellas they are a multi coloured parrot. The following shots are of a male and female pair feeding together on the ground.
The male Pale-headed Rosella eating the slender seed pods to its left.
The female Pale-headed Rosella feeding on the same seed pods as the male above.
Collared Sparrowhawk
We had just left the camping area and forded the Nogoa River, definitely 4WD only, on our way south to explore the area when a raptor flew up from the river and landed in a tree just ahead of us. A check with the bins revealed a Collared Sparrowhawk based on its small size. The smaller Collared Sparrowhawk and larger Brown Goshawk look almost identical – see photo of a Brown Goshawk in the Wonga Beach – Cooktown – Atherton post for comparison.
The bird waggled its tail and I thought it must have been bathing in the river and was shaking off water even though it did not look wet. Reading a field guide later I learnt that the tail is waggled from side to side when the bird lands, a behavioral characteristic of this species and to a lesser extent in the very similar Brown Goshawk.
After landing in this tree the Collared Sparrowhawk waggled its tail from side to side - a characteristic behaviour of this species.
Striated Pardalote
We found many pairs busy excavating nest tunnels in sandy banks along the 4WD tracks and small watercourses. I am always amazed that such small birds can use their bills to excavate tunnels in hard sand. The loose material is removed from the tunnel using their feet. Once the tunnel is completed a bark and grass nest is then constructed in an enlarged section at the inner end of the tunnel. Tree hollows may also be used.
The Morcombe Field Guide shows five races of pardalote, the ones we saw at Salvator Rosa were melanocephalus, Black-headed Pardalote. In East Gippsland we have ornatus, Eastern Striated Pardalote.
I interrupted this Black-headed Pardalote's tunnel excavation work. Along with its nearby mate it is looking down at me the intruder and waiting for me to leave so it can resume work which I noticed it did once I had moved away a short distance.
Plumb-headed Finch
A flock of some fifty or sixty birds was feeding on the ground near Major Mitchell’s Spring. They were very nervous and hard to get close to for a good photo. As soon as you got too close they flew up into nearby trees where they waited to see if it was safe to return to feeding on the ground. The shot below is of a male and a juvenile bird.
The male Plumb-headed Finch has a plumb coloured throat patch just visible in this shot - the female does not have this patch but is otherwise similar to the male. The bird behind is a juvenile.
Apostlebirds are gregarious, social and often tame birds when they live around places such as campgrounds where they are exposed to humans who either deliberately feed them or inadvertently leave food scraps and crumbs about.
As we packed up to leave, a few of the local group moved into our campsite strutting about boldly looking for any discarded food. I am sure they have learnt that food scraps are a strong possibility when we humans leave a campsite and it was not just a coincidence that they turned up as we packed. I took the opportunity to get some photos, however their occupation of the site and my photo session were suddenly and rudely interrupted by one of the local Magpies who swooped in with its snapping bill sounding like castanets.
The Apostlebirds retreated to the safety of a tree above the campsite from where they looked down with noisy protest as the Magpie now strutted about the campsite to see what tit bits might be on offer. Of course there were none as we are particularly strict on not feeding wildlife or even inadvertently leaving or spilling food. The protesting Apostlebirds attracted one of the local Laughing Kookaburras, which flew in to see what was up, only adding to their trouble.
I managed a couple shots of one of the Apostlebirds as it protested to no avail from the safety of a high perch.
This Apostlebird is complaining noisily following its displacement from our campsite by a Magpie.
This Apsotlebird is focused on the Magpie below. It soon gave up the protest and moved to another camp site to scavenge for food.
There were good numbers of Red-backed Fairy-wrens occupying reeds and dense vegetation along the edge of the Nogoa River. To my surprise I found a male Superb Fairy-wren in full colour along the River edge. Checking the guides, I found these birds must be at the extreme northern edge of their range at Salvator Rosa. The edge of our campsite was bounded by a large log on which someone had carved a fairy-wren – I thought it was good enough for a photo.
Fairy-wren carving at our Salvator Rosa campsite on the Nogoa River.
The Carnarvon National Park has many spectacular sand stone cliffs and erosion over millions of years has produced many unusual rock structures both large and small – a visit to this park is highly recommended, especially to the Carnarvon Gorge at the eastern end of the park, which unlike the other sections, is easily accessed.
There are thousands of interesting sandstone formations within Carnarvon NP. This one is in the Salvator Rosa section of the park. Note the epicormic growth on the eucalypts following a back-burn to control a wildfire.
From Salvator Rosa we headed west to Tambo and then south via Augathella and Charleville to Cunnamulla where we planned to spend a few days at Bowra Sanctuary before heading home.