The Big Bird Trip

Winter 2003

Outback NSW/QLD - FNQ - East Coast


The "Big Bird Trip" report.                

The Big Bird Trip is over. The local post office was pleased to see us back as they handed over two big bags of mail that were cluttering up their lunch room. My local ISP was pleased to see us back as we downloaded and cleared several thousand emails off their servers. The farmers of NSW and QLD were not pleased to see us go, as we continued a long tradition of bringing rain wherever we ventured.

Named the Big Bird Trip not only because it was a big trip, but because we were also targeting a bunch of Big Birds that were missing from our life lists. Over 8,500 kms covered in just 5 weeks. The car performed faultlessly, no punctures, slight fridge problems and one emergency trip to hospital. Despite losing a few days with this adventure and my carefully planned schedule being blown out of the water, we notched up a creditable 286 species not counting the ferals and the "heard onlys". A fair whack of these were new for us, I'm sure you remember the excitement of your first trip to FNQ.

I haven't mentioned all the birds we saw. Just some of the special ones and a few interesting places we found. Feel free to contact us if you would like more details on something specific.

Our trip was originally planned as a big visit to Newhaven Station travelling out over the Plenty Hwy. Our travelling companions ( Jill & Mick Dark) unfortunately due to family circumstances had to pull out at the last minute. Yikes. We rapidly changed plans and started preparing a FNQ trip, but travelling up via outback NSW/QLD. This would allow us to revisit some of the outback birds we had seen on the Outback Twitchathon, do some touristy things in inland Qld, get a taste of the Gulf Savannah and then hit the Atherton Tablelands just after school holidays. As well as the Big Birds, we were targeting some of the FNQ Endemics and some of the Pigeons and Fruit Doves that would be new tous.

Big thanks to some of you who chipped in with some ideas and advice before we got going. For those interested we travelled in a Land Rover Defender, with a roof-top tent, dual battery system, Waeco fridge, UHF radio. We camped out over half the nights, Nat Parks, State Forests, a few whacky caravan parks, a few motels and a B&B or two.

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Luckily Jill and Mick decided they could spare a few days and headed up the road with us towards Cunnamulla. Did I mention it rained? There's a moment on every trip out west from the Mountains when you know you've left familiar territory. It comes at different spots on different trips, but it happens for me when your trip list suddenly reads, Emu, Cockatiel, Blue Bonnet, Apostle Bird. Suddenly the sky is a different shade of blue and you relax into an inland frame of mind. Our trip list had nearly hit 60 by the time we drove into Nyngan on our first night. The Riverside Caravan Park is not one of the whacky caravan parks, it's actually quite nice, and for those of us camping, we get to choose our own spot on the banks of the river. We haven't explored Nyngan fully yet, but there's plenty to see. A Barking Owl seems to be in the tree by our tent that night, but we fail to find him the next morning. Our destination next day is Bowra Station, but we stop off just an hour up the road at Byrock. Next time we visit we are going to camp there as well. There is an extensive camping ground out the back of the pub. Alan Morris has compiled a Bird List for the area which can be found in the Birding Aus archive. The publican seems to be "bird friendly". (We made it a point every where we spent money, to mention that we were there to see their birds.)

I've written up our visit to Bowra before on this list and Jill also. Did I mention it rained? A fantastic spot for a range of birds and a taste of outback life on a working property. Every day was different and highlights included, Black Breasted Buzzard , Budgerigars, Brolgas, Bourkes Parrots, Crimson Chats, Halls Babblers and a big but finally successful hunt for the Chestnut Breasted Quail Thrush. We're looking forward to getting back there.

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Leaving Bowra after three days we part company with Jill & Mick and head North. Bustard was at the top of the days target list and we spotted several on our way to Tambo.
Driving into the tiny caravan park there we ticked Pale Headed Rosella and were also pleasantly surprised to see a stack of bird books at the reception desk and a home made bird list for the area. A very cold night but an incredible sunset against the bottle trees.

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Touristy stuff seems to take up the next part of the trip. Blackall to see the impressive Wool Scour, Barcaldine for the Tree of Knowledge and it's great collection of outback pub architecture. Not to mention a fantastic Masonic Lodge.

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Then Longreach and the Hall of Fame. I was ready to be disappointed as I had read differing reports, but found it to be excellent. We timed our run to hit Winton early afternoon, pick up some local knowledge and supplies and then get down into Bladensburg NP.

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The most amazing flock of Budgies swarmed out of the Mitchell Grass as we drove in and it looked like we were in for an exciting time. Unfortunately it was here that the wheels started to fall off the trip, and as we were setting up at the beautiful camp ground Lynda started suffering. I won't go into the gory details but while I was enjoying an idyllic, friendly waterhole campsite with frisky budgies in every tree and a glorious outback light, Lynda wasn't. Next morning we decided to leave most of our camp gear and proceed down to Lark Quarry and the Dinosaur footprints.

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It was a bit further and a bit rougher than we expected and by the time we started on the return trip, I made the decision to head straight back to Winton and visit the Doctor. (Lark Quarry by the way is well worth the trip and I'm sure there were some great birds to be found in the Spinifex covered hillsides surrounding the impressive structure they have built to preserve the tracks.)

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Reaching Winton, I made the decision to bypass the Doctor and head straight to the hospital. They gave us two choices. Surgery at Mt Isa or Townsville. We choose the later and after staying in a motel in town that night, drove there the next day. I did however get up very early the next morning to shoot back down to Bladensburg to recover the camping gear, thank our camping neighbours who were about to report us missing to the ranger, (I had rung him the previous night) and of course have a quick search for the Rufous Crowned Emu Wren. Well, what's a guy to do! Following detailed instructions (check the archive) and clutching a GPS I ventured into the scrub and quickly found the correct spot.

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I'd love to tell you I saw them, but if I had Lynda would never forgiven me (or possibly believed me) but I could certainly hear a bird that I never heard before in my life and that seemed to fit the description. I didn't linger, as no one knew I was there and I returned past the Skull Rock waterhole and great bunch of Spinifex pigeons, back to town to pick up the patient and to get cracking on the 600 kms to the coast.

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