Saturday, 11 July 2015


From Warri Gate (see last post, Sturt National Park) we drove generally north for 190km on dirt roads to the historic Noccundra Hotel to camp on the Wilson River, a tributary of the Cooper, and search for the elusive Grey Grasswren (Amytornis barbatus).
Historic Noccundra Hotel
The plane was from Byron Bay on a trip out to Lake Eyre and stopped in for lunch at the Hotel.
There is free camping on the Wilson River at Noccundra
Camp site on the Wilson River – this section is a water hole and not indicative of the river overall – not far downstream the river is a series of dry channels which eventually make their way west with no clear course to Cooper Creek.
Unfortunately the news regarding sightings of the Grey Grasswren from the pub was not promising with no records for the past three years. The area has been in the grip of a drought with little rain for a number of years and the river has not flowed for three years.
In the past Grey Grasswrens have been found in lignum growing along the flood plain at Noccundra and this is one of the few places listed in the “where to find birds” books. Another location is at the Cooper Creek bridge on the Thargomindah / Innamincka Road.
We searched the lignum for several hours late in the day and early in the morning with no success. There were very few birds about in general and in the lignum we only encountered a few Variegated Fairy-wrens and Zebra Finches enjoying some early morning sun.
On a late morning walk upstream from our campsite we returned wide of the riverbank through stoney Gidgee (Acacia Cambagei) woodland where we were very lucky and surprised to find a pair of Chestnut-breasted Quail-Thrush (Cinciosoma castaneothorax). Their presence was marked by the male’s repetitive calls, which turned out to be a communication with his female mate. Fortunately the area lacked much understory cover so they took to the Gidgee where I was able to get some photos rather than run for cover on the ground as they so often do.
Gidgee woodland on gibber – the woodland is a lot more open than it appears in this photo.
We have seen this elusive species before at Bowra Sanctuary near Cunnamulla and were not expecting to find it at Nuccundra which is right on the western edge of its range.
iPhone screen shot from Pizzey&Knight apt of range for the CQT
At first we found the male, as the unfamiliar call had attracted our attention.
We followed the male from one tree to another. Note the very short wings – they are not strong fliers being essentially ground dwelling birds where their colours help them blend into the red sand and rocky conditions they favour.
I had not noticed the presence of the female until she appeared in the viewfinder of the camera.
The male continued to call – perhaps this was pre-breeding behavior – the female seemed interested?
The female is less richly coloured than the male.
Unexpectedly finding the Chestnut-breasted Quail-Thrush pair and getting some photos was some compensation for the disappointment of not finding Grey Grasswren.
From Nuccundra we headed west out to Cooper Creek on the Thargomindah / Innamincka Road to try our Grey Grasswren luck there.

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