On my recent visit to Tintinara on a business trip I was able to take out some time to do some birding on the way home. I’d finished work, so the time was my own. Between Tintinara and Coonalpyn in the upper south east of South Australia the highway travels through some very interesting country. The dominant vegetation is mallee and wattle, mixed with banksias and a whole range of interesting smaller plants. My wife wasn’t with me; she is the plant expert in the family. She writes a blog about Australian plants (click here.)
About halfway between these towns is a locality known as Culburra. There was a small town there at one time; now only a few houses. At one point there is a road side rest area for tired travellers. I drove in here, parked the car and wandered into the bush. Nearby there is a water tank; I’m not sure of its purpose as there was a sign warning against drinking the water. A few metres away there was a metal slab set in the ground with water weeping from it. This probably covered a pipeline or possibly even an access point for fire fighting trucks.
The seeping water had formed several little pools and the local birds were taking advantage of the freely available water. I watched in the shadow of a nearby tree for some ten minutes while the procession of birds came to drink. The most frequent drinkers were the Silvereyes – shown in the photos. These beautiful little birds are common in the area and would have to be one of my favourites.
Click on the images to enlarge.
Last year we visited Mt. Boothby Conservation Park in the upper South East of South Australia. This park is about 20km south west of Coonalpyn where we were staying with friends of ours. We had experienced driving through some very interesting country to the east of Coonalpyn during the weekend, including Ngarkat National Park. This park had been severely burnt by a bushfire about six months previously, and the regrowth was amazing.
But I digress.
Mt Boothby Conservation Park is predominently mallee and banksia country. The “mount” is actually just a hill about 200 metres (a guess) above the surrounding wheat and sheep farming country. Two tracks lead to the summit, one from the south east and one from the south.
As I was driving slowly towards the summit – it is a very rocky 4WD track – friend John said, “A perfect ending to a great weekend would be if a Malleefowl were to come out on to the track in front of us.” I had to agree.
Right on cue, a malleefowl came into view and strutted along the track in front of us for some 200 metres before disappearing from view in the dense scrub.
Duck! Duck! Duck! (Goose???)
It was Julie, his wife, who saw it first. “Duck! Duck! Duck!” she shouted in excitement. Of course it wasn’t a duck – but that was the first thing to come into her mind! Now I need to explain several things here.
One, a Malleefowl is nothing like a duck! In fact, it is the size and shape of a small turkey.
Two, Julie had never seen a Malleefowl in the wild before, so she had no reference point for her possible identification.
Three, the Malleefowl is a rather rare, endangered species. In fact, in nearly 30 years of birding I had only ever seen about 6 of these beautiful Australian birds. Anticipation all weekend had been high; sighting one heightened the excitement level to fever pitch!
An Even Better Weekend
After we calmed down – and explained to Julie that it was NOT a duck and that she wasn’t even close with her ID – we stopped at the summit for a few minutes. The view was unspectacular, so we headed of down the south track to the boundary track. This took us along the farming country next door.
John commented, “Wouldn’t it be an even better end to the weekend if we saw another Malleefowl?”
You guessed it. As if responding to a director’s cue, said Malleefowl strolled casually out in front of the car! Whoopee! Two in ten minutes! Wow time!
The Best Ending
I do not to this day know what made me turn away from looking at the second bird and look over the fence into the adjacent paddock. Not thirty metres away, in full view, were another FOUR Malleefowls casually feeding.
Six in ten minutes!
It had taken me 30 years to see the other six – now six in ten minutes!
Wow! Wow! Wow big time!
The only downside was the resulting photos. It was a few minutes after sunset and the shots we took were all rather dark and a little blurry. Never mind! Next time, perhaps.
To see a photo (not mine) of a Malleefowl click here.
Update: Since writing this article I have taken the photo below which shows an active Mallee Fowl nesting mound. This nest is in Ferries McDonald Conservation Park near my home town, Murray Bridge.