Thursday, 16 July 2015

Cooper Creek to Eyre Creek

From Cooper Creek (see previous post: Cooper Creek) we headed back east and then northeast through the small township of Eromanga and then northwest to Windorah before heading west again along the Diamantina Development Road. About 60kms short of Bedourie we turned south down a short-cut track towards Birdsville and after reaching the Eyre Development Road drove a short distance north to Eyre Creek, another possible Grass Grasswren (Amytornis barbatus) site.
Bush camp near Eromanga in acacia woodland (Mulga and Gidgee) - white van just visible on edge of clear area.
Diamantina Development Road looking west.
In country that can run flat for long distances, small rocky hills make an interesting photo subject.
We usually start looking for a campsite from about 3pm on in this remote and arid country where vast flat and treeless plains are the norm. It can take some time and distance to find watercourses and rocky hills which often afford good camping opportunities away from the road.
Camp site (white van visible towards the right hand side of image half way down) on Diamantina Development Road taken near sunset from the top of a mesa which is casting the shadow in bottom right hand corner of image. The colours have not been enhanced, this is how it looked.
From the top of the mesa the Diamantina Development Road can be seen curving east into the distance.
Mesa from our campsite at sunset.
Mulga silhouette and cloud from campsite just after sunset.
The country was very dry with few birds. Bird species typically seen away from water and watercourses as we travelled west included raptors such as Wedge-tailed Eagles, Black and Whistling Kites, Brown Falcons and Nankeen Kestrels, the odd Pipit, small flocks of Black-faced Woodswallows, Crested Pigeons, fast moving small flocks of Budgerigars and flocks of Zebra Finches.
We had an encounter with an unusually large number of Wedge-tailed Eagles at one road kill on the Diamantina DR where there were seven Eagles clustered around a roo carcass. We slowed and approached gradually and as we did six birds departed and one remained on the kill. Of the six that departed two alighted nearby at a safe distance and four left the area. 
We continued to move up slowly, the remaining bird went on feeding and look at us from time to time. We observed the feeding bird from the vehicle and then one of the Eagles perched on a fence post at a safe distance flew in and landed near the kill. The bird on the kill fanned out its wings to cover the carcass and raised its neck feathers, a signal to the other bird to stay away. The display seemed to work because the other bird walked gingerly around at a distance and did not come near the carcass. The bird in possession of the carcass continued to feed.
Wedge-tailed Eagle on kangaroo carcass on Diamantina Development Road, one of seven Eagles at the carcass when we first arrived at the scene. The other six birds flew off as we approached.
As one bird flies in to the carcass, the bird in possession spreads its wings over the kill and ruffles its head and neck feathers, a protective actions signaling to the other bird to stay away.
The second bird walks by, keeping clear of the bird on the carcass.
The second bird continues on by, not game to come in for a feed.
The second bird reached the edge of the road and stayed there watching the bird on the kill until we moved up closer again and it departed.
 It is interesting to observe the reaction of birds to human presence and how variable it can be depending on circumstances and individual birds. Clearly some birds are very wary while others seem to be more tolerant. We would say in human terms that some are bolder and take more risks while others are risk averse. In the natural world, like the human, there must be a balance between taking risks and being careful, there are rewards for taking risks but also in the bird world too much risk may result in death and being too cautious may also ultimately lead to starvation or failure to pass on genes.
Of the seven Eagles at the road kill only one took a large risk for a feed, two stayed nearby but at a safe distance and four departed the area completely.
After taking some close up photos we drove on past the carcass, which the Eagle very reluctantly moved away from, but only a few metres until we had passed.

The hooked beak is used to rip flesh.

Keeping an eye on us between each mouth full of meat.
The bird reluctantly leaves the carcass as we pass by.
If you find any water in an arid area during drought it is worth a stop to see what birds are about as many bird species must come for a drink at least once or twice a day. Seed-eaters such as pigeons, parrots and finches are particularly dependent on daily water.
We stopped at a water storage near the road for morning tea. One Hardhead duck and one Australian Pelican, the only water birds on the storage departed when we approached the dam. This left hundreds of Zebra Finches intent on a drink or a bath, however they were extremely nervous as they clustered in small groups in thorny acacia bushes on the dam bank. Small groups would fly down quickly, have a drink or a bath, and then up again to the safety of the bushes. Often they would fly down and up again before having a drink when something startled them.

Water in an extremely dry landscape is essential for some bird species and therefore a good place to look for birds.
This male Zebra Finch was very cautious so approached the water in two stages first stopping on a clod of clay to see all was safe before approaching the water’s edge.
Still looking to see all is safe.
Finally he flies down for a drink.
This female has adopted the same cautious approach.
Some went in for a bath.
When one bird departs it pays to see why.
We continued on to Eyre Creek on the Eyre Development Road south of Bedourie where we camped for a night and once again searched lignum for the elusive Grey Grasswren – to be continued in the next post: Eyre Creek.

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