Search Results for 'Lowan'

A Shy Heathwren comes out of hiding

Shy Heathwren, Lowan CP

One of the more interesting birding spots near my home in Murray Bridge South Australia is Lowan Conservation Park near Bowhill, about a 40 minute drive to the north east. This park is mainly mallee eucalypt scrub with some native pine (Callitris) and smaller shrubby undergrowth, including acacias, eremophilas, spinifex and some annual flowering plants.

The birdlife in this park can vary from overwhelming in number to very few. It all depends upon what is flowering at the time. When many of the mallee trees are in flower the honeyeaters flock there in large numbers. When nothing is flowering I’ve struggled to list more than a dozen species – and sometimes no honeyeaters, with the possible exception of a solitary Red Wattlebird. It can be very rewarding – or downright frustrating.

On a visit early last year I was delighted to catch a glimpse of a Shy Heathwren, not a species which is common in this region. True to its name it proved to be elusive but very vocal. A birding friend had a bird field guide application on his phone, so he played the call of this species. Within seconds it was almost hopping around our feet. I was therefore able to get a few not-so-brilliant shots. Wish it had sat still for more than a half second!

As a result of this experience I just had to go and buy myself a smart phone – along with a bird guide app.

UPDATE: I have since bought a smart phone AND have a field guide app on it. I haven’t used it much for calls out bush, but my grandchildren think it is really cool. [sigh]

A more recent article about this park can be found here.

Updated July 2015.

Shy Heathwren, Lowan CP

Shy Heathwren, Lowan CP

Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater up close

Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater

The Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater is a resident breeding bird species in our garden. We see them every day as they go about feeding and especially enjoy their visits to our bird baths. The above photo was taken quite close to one of the bird baths. I also enjoy hearing their mournful call because it reminds me of my children. Both are now adults, but when they were quite young they renamed this bird the “yoo-hoo” bird, imitating its call. The name has stuck.

Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters are found over large areas of Australia, primarily the drier inland woodlands and scrubs. It is absent from Tasmania, the northern tropical regions and the extreme south western and south eastern Australia.

Related articles and photos:

Speeding Bronzewing Pigeon

Common Bronzewing Pigeon

Common Bronzewing Pigeon

Most people who take an interest in birds know that the fastest bird is the Peregrine Falcon. In a stoop (dive) it can reach speeds of over 200kph and perhaps as fast as 300kph. Most other birds are quite pedestrian by comparison.

Common Bronzewing Pigeons and their cousins the Brush Bronzewings have always amazed me with their speed as they dart through the mallee scrub near here in Murray Bridge. I did not realise just how fast they are able to fly until recently.

We were returning from a visit to Lowan Conservation Park about 40 minutes drive northeast of home. The roadside vegetation is mainly mallee trees, typical of many roads in this area. Our approach disturbed a Common Bronzewing from the side of the road. It proceeded to fly at speed about twenty metres in front of the car. I was driving at about 90kph and was only steadily gaining on this speeding bird. It gradually veered off the road a little but still kept flying along parallel to the road. On catching it I slowed down and kept pace with it at about 85kph until it decided to veer off for a rest. In all, it must have covered at least 500 metres at this speed.

Brush Bronzewing Pigeon

Brush Bronzewing Pigeon

Great Birding Moments # 21 Splendid Wren

Lowan Conservation Park

Lowan Conservation Park

A few days ago we went to visit Lowan Conservation Park, a relatively small patch of mallee scrub about 40 minutes drive north east of our home in Murray Bridge. This park can be very rewarding to the birder – or it can be extremely frustrating. It usually depends on what trees and bushes are in flower.

We arrived mid afternoon in bright sunshine with a gentle south westerly keeping conditions pleasant. We drove slowly through to a nice spot in about the middle of the park for an afternoon cuppa. As we stopped there were about 150 Dusky Woodswallows overhead, their lovely calls filling the sky. Within minutes they had moved on. (For a photo of a Dusky Woodswallow taken elsewhere click here and scroll down the page.)

All else was fairly quiet. A few Weebills called nearby and a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater called a distance away. I could also hear a Magpie calling and a Grey Shrike-thrush called somewhere in the scrub nearby. During the twenty minutes break for our cuppa we didn’t see a bird. I had been hopeful of seeing a Chestnut Quail-thrush because we parked a few metres from where I had seen two of them on a previous visit. No luck there.

We drove very slowly back towards the entrance gate but stopped a short distance from it so Corinne could take a photo of some plants. To see the photos click here and here and here.

While she was taking the photos I wandered off into the scrub for about thirty metres. A sudden flash of colour in the low bushes nearby attracted my attention. For about ten seconds I had a great view of a male Splendid Fairy-wren in full breeding plumage. This has to be one of Australia’s most beautiful birds. I’ve only managed to see one on a few occasions. This area is one fairly reliable spot to observe this species.

The excitement of this sighting was shattered a little when I realised that my camera was in the car! By the time I’d collected the camera it had flown elsewhere and it wasn’t calling, so I couldn’t track it down. I tried to attract it by making kissing sounds (this usually works with wrens) but to no avail. So I haven’t a photo to show off. Instead you will have to be content with someone else’s photos here.

UPDATE: on my recent holiday in New South Wales I managed to get some reasonable photos of this beautiful species. Check out “A Splendid Result”

This post was updated on July 6th 2015.

Mallee Fowl – the Incubator Bird

Malleefowl, Innes National Park Visitor Centre

In yesterday’s post I highlighted seeing six Mallee Fowl in a ten minute period one exciting day last year. This almost doubled the total number of this species I had seen in over thirty years of birding. Previous to that eventful day I had seen seven individual birds on five different occasions. (On two of these occasions I saw two birds at the same time.)

Mallee Fowl – Leipoa ocellata

Other names for the Mallee Fowl include Lowan, Incubator Bird and Malleehen. It looks like a smallish turkey and ranges in size from 55 to 61 centimetres in length. It is sparsely distributed throughout south western Western Australia, southern parts of South Australia, northern Victoria and south western New South Wales where suitable habitat remains.


The Mallee Fowl has a preference for mallee scrub and eucalypt woodland habitats. Over the last century large tracts of this type of habitat have been cleared for cereal production and sheep grazing. The Mallee Fowl has been slow to adapt to these changes and is now extinct in some regions of its former range, and highly endangered in other areas. The widespread occurrence of the introduced fox has also had a devastating impact on the population.

Malleefowl nest, Ferries McDonald Conservation Park, South Australia


Perhaps the most unusual feature of this species is its nesting habits. The Mallee Fowl is one of three mound nesting species in Australia. The male makes a nesting mound of earth, leaves, twigs and bark from nearby trees and bushes. These he scrapes together into a cone shaped mound. The rotting vegetation causes the mound temperature to rise, just like in a compost heap.


The male maintains the internal temperature at about 33 degrees C while eggs are in the mound. The male excavates a hole each time the female comes to lay an egg, usually at intervals of 2 to 14 days. During the breeding season, which stretches from September to April, the female can lay anything from 5 to 33 eggs. Once laid, the male refills the hole and continues to monitor the temperature of the mound on a daily basis.

Malleefowl nest, Gluepot Reserve near Waikerie, South Australia

Nest Mounds

The mound can vary in size from about 2 to 5 metres in diameter and up to 1.5 metres high. In my searches through Ferries-McDonald Conservation Park some 20km SW of where I live I have found seven of these mounds, some still in active use. I have even sat quietly for many hours near a nest hoping to see the birds – to no avail. Finding the nests seems easier than finding the birds!


When the chicks eventually hatch – often after more than 7 weeks – they struggle through the sand of the mound to the surface. This struggle can take hours. They then run off rapidly into the surrounding bush. They are not tended by the adults at all but are left to fend for themselves. The chicks can fly a few hours after hatching.

Amazing Bird

The Mallee Fowl is indeed an amazing bird in its habits and nesting methods. Its status is a major concern. The local zoo, Monarto Zoological Park used to have a special recovery programme. The keepers were given special permission to remove eggs from mounds in the district and incubate these eggs artificially. The chicks were raised by hand and released back into the wild. Some were fitted with radio transmitters and tracked. Most were taken by foxes within days of their release. Farmers in the district often have a baiting programme to kill the foxes (because they kill their lambs) but there are so many the Mallee Fowl is still extremely vulnerable.

I haven’t heard in recent years whether the zoo is still pursuing this breeding and conservation programme. There is currently no information in the conservation section of the zoo’s web page.

UPDATE: this article was updated with photos on 14th October 2011.

This article was updated on October 3rd 2015.