Australasian Pipit, Hay Plains, New South Wales
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.
When I was a boy our family travelled to South Australia during a drought. I remember the long haul towards Hay. All the vegetation was brown. It never grows very high, as your picture shows. The horizon is perfectly circular. My dad said it was like driving across an old penny. I don’t recall seeing any birds at all on that trip to Hay.
Hi Ken – sorry about the delay in replying to your comments.
The Hay Plains can be quite a daunting prospect – especially for children. I guess that in those days it was a dirt road too, adding to the misery for a child. I remember travelling that road as a teenager with my father and brother. The road was being sealed but a thunderstorm had dumped its load and we counted about 40 semi trailers bogged up to their axles. We only just got through ourselves.
We actually find this habitat of great interest, not only from the birds but as far as what is actually growing there. Most people are just keen to race through with barely a glance; we stop and smell the… well, at least look at the different plants growing.