My wife and I have just returned from a road trip to Sydney to visit family. Grandchildren can be so persuasive; “We insist you come to stay with us,” said Mr Nearly Five Years Old.
We didn’t get to do much birding because of the wet weather, and the fact that I came down with a severe case of bronchitis while there; as I write this I’m still in the throes of that dreaded lurgy. (“Cough! Cough!”)
While we have flown over to Sydney on several occasions – it’s nearly 1400km each way – we prefer to drive because we enjoy the passing scenery, flora and fauna and the birds, of course. Yes, it’s tiring travelling non-stop for two full days, but we take it in turns to drive. When I’m at the wheel my wife records the birds I see and can identify along the road. Identification can be challenging when hurtling along at 100kph on a busy highway. And when it’s my wife’s turn to drive I can give a little more attention to what is flying around, or sitting on the roadside – or even on the road itself.
I usually try to arrange to be the passenger when we are crossing the Hay Plains between the towns of Balranald and Hay in far western New South Wales. This long stretch of road has huge expanses of grassland and saltbush with only the occasional tree until the last 20km just east of Balranald. Usually the birding along the 130km road is excellent with plenty of birds of prey. On this trip however, I saw few birds other than Emus.
Usually I count on seeing perhaps up to ten or a dozen Emus along this road, but on this occasion I estimate there were between 50 and 80. I didn’t count them but one loose flock alone numbered around 20. as for the rest there were numerous groups of two, three or four. It was certainly the most I can ever remember seeing on this stretch of road, one we’ve travelled on many occasions when travelling to Sydney to visit family. (Now that we have grandchildren there as an added incentive, we are travelling over there up to three times annually.)
- Birding on the Hay Plains – articles from my archives
In my posting yesterday here I mentioned that we recently went on a road trip to Sydney to help out our family living there. At a distance of just over 1300km it is a significant journey to undertake, fully two days of travelling. We’ve done this journey many times over the last 15 years, and now we have the incentive of visiting our only grandchildren in the process.
Because the journey takes up most of the two days there are few opportunities for birding along the way – except from the car while speeding along at over 100kph. It always delights me when I see something special, like the Banded Lapwings yesterday. I usually make a list of the species seen along the way.
One bird species I always look for in the early stages of the trip is the Emu. The western plains of NSW are good habitat for this species and we usually see one or two small flocks. On this occasion we saw two separate groups, the second one being a male adult bird accompanied by about 4 or 5 half grown chicks, a little bigger than those shown in the photo above. This photo was taken some time ago in Monarto Zoo which is close to our home, being only about a 15 minute drive away.
Sydney Trip Report June 2011
When we travel to Sydney to stay with family we usually have to drive over the Hay Plains. This very flat region is in western New South Wales. I guess most people find this drive boring and try to complete this leg of the journey as quickly as speed limits allow. The road is very good and you can maintain 110kph for several hours without having to slow down – unless you get behind a slow moving car towing a caravan.
My wife and I don’t find this drive at all boring. In fact I look forward to it. The region has very few trees; the photo above is a typical view. Trees are usually only found around the few farmhouses and along water courses. The Murrumbidgee River to the north and the Murray River to the south are some distance from the highway, so trees are few.
Despite this limitation, the birding is often wonderfully good, especially as far as raptors are concerned. On our most recent crossing of the plains earlier this year I recorded the following birds of prey:
- Wedge-tailed Eagle (two only)
- Nankeen Kestrel (common)
- Black-shouldered Kite (common)
- Black Kite (common)
- Little Eagle (one only)
Other species seen include:
- Australian Raven (common)
- Australian Magpie (common)
- Australian Magpie Lark (common)
Probably the most outstanding sighting was of the Australasian Pipit (see photo below). I’ve never seen so many in one day before. I’m used to seeing the odd one or two on the road or on the roadside verges. I didn’t do a count but there must have been several hundred present over about a 50km stretch of road. All of them were on the road, not the edges, and would only just fly out of the way of approaching vehicles.
Interesting behaviour; I’m guessing that they were feeding on road kill. This area is rich in insect life and fast moving vehicles account for many insect deaths. This area had recently experienced a locust plague with some remnants of that time still around. It must have been a veritable smorgasbord for them.
By way of contrast, on our return trip over the same route two weeks later, I didn’t see any pipits at all.
2007 New South Wales trip report #7
Morning tea, 55kms west of Hay
Fifty five kilometres from Hay we pulled into a roadside rest area for morning tea. This flat uninteresting looking place seemed not to be a good birding place at first glance. Within minutes I had changed my mind. There seemed to be birds everywhere, and some very nice species into the bargain. My cup of tea soon was forgotten as I chased the birds around the saltbush area near the parking bay. Welcome Swallows were nice but not too exciting. About twenty White-backed Swallows were far more exciting; itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a species I havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t seen all that often.
Several Galahs flew overhead and a Nankeen Kestrel swooped past where I stood trying to identify the local wrens. In vain I tried to find the coloured male and three plain brown females gave me the run around. Eventually one came up from the bushes and perched in full view a few metres away. Ah-ha Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a female White-winged Wren. Wonderful Ã¢â‚¬â€œ but still no male. The metallic deep blue with contrasting white wings has to be seen to be believed. Another lost opportunity. [sigh]
In the midst of all this beating around the bushes, my wife called out, “What’s that?” pointing to a bird perched on top of another bush. A White-winged Triller! I hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t seen one of those for over eight years. A real bonus bird, so I made sure I thanked my wife for this sighting.
Other common birds seen at this stop included Common Starlings, Little Ravens, Australian Magpies, and still more House Sparrows.
It had been a wonderful half hour stop. Forget that my cuppa went cold!
In September 2009 we had a male feeding and calling in our garden. I managed to get some nice photos of him (see below).
2007 New South Wales trip report #6
Balranald to Hay
The road from Balranald to Hay traverses some very flat country called the Hay Plains. Irrigation channels carry water from the river to farms many kilometres away. As we left Balranald we saw a family of White Winged Choughs feeding on the roadside. Galahs in small flocks flew across the road as we travelled along and Australian Magpies were seen every fifty metres or so for the first part of this section.
I soon added Emu to the list with three birds strutting along the fence line. I little further on we saw a lone adult male in charge of about six or seven half grown but still stripy-feathered young.
A short distance on I came to a quick stop Ã¢â‚¬â€œ after checking for following traffic. Two magnificent Major Mitchell Cockatoos had flown in front of us and landed on the opposite side of the road Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and in full sunlight, their yellow and red crests glowing in the morning sun. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Get the camera!Ã¢â‚¬Â I demanded, but then disaster. A car coming from the other direction scared the two birds away. A lost opportunity. [sigh] The photo below of two Major Mitchell Cockatoos was taken by my son in the Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney.
The rest of the journey to Hay was highlighted by numerous raptors (birds of prey). We saw quite a few Wedge-tail Eagles soaring overhead, several of them quite close to the ground. I saw a single Little Eagle sitting on the ground being harassed by an Australian Magpie. Black Kites also seemed abundant as were the Nankeen Kestrels and Black Shouldered Kites.
We stopped briefly so that my wife could take some flower photos and while waiting for her I heard a Skylark, an introduced species from Europe. I was also amazed to see so many House Sparrows along this stretch; they were a long way from human habitation, their usual behaviour. At least two RichardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Pipits flew across the road in front of the car as we travelled along.