Birding at 100kph on the Hay Plains

Emu at Monarto Zoo, South Australia

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.)

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Hay Plains, western New South Wales

Baby Emus on the Hay Plains

Male Emu with babies, Monarto Zoo, South Australia

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.

A mob of young emus

Juvenile Emus in Innes National Park

The birding on our recent visit to Innes National Park at the southern tip of Yorke Peninsula was less than exciting. It was blowing a gale, overcast and threatening to rain. The birds were generally keeping a low profile and I don’t blame them.

Emus have a problem keeping low because of their size. As we entered the national park we found a small mob of five juvenile Emus wandering along quite unafraid of our vehicle only metres away. These birds are obviously quite used to cars and buses travelling along the roads in the park because it is a very popular holiday and day tripper destination here in South Australia.

This group was about three quarters adult size and I’d estimate that they were between 12 an 18 months old. They were also independent of their father. The male Emu sits on the eggs, hatches them and then cares for the young for up to 18 months.

If you look carefully at the photos (click to enlarge the image) observe how the strong wind is creating an interesting effect on their tail feathers. Almost looks like they were not enjoying the wild weather either!

Juvenile Emus in Innes National Park

Juvenile Emus in Innes National Park

Emus swimming

Over the weekend I had a comments from a reader about Emus. He had observed a group of Emus entering the water at Coffin Bay on the west coast of South Australia. Michael said he had seen 6 Emus swimming in sea water there.

This brought to mind an article about Emus swimming I wrote several years ago. As a result I have completely updated that post, now with photos and links to more articles about Emus.

You can read the article here: Do Emus Swim?


Emus in aviary, Pinnaroo Caravan Park

Emus in aviary, Pinnaroo Caravan Park

When I visited Pinnaroo in eastern South Australia last week I visited the local aviaries  next to the caravan park. I’ve featured some of the birds seen over recent days. Next to the aviaries was a large enclosure containing a small flock of Emus. They cam over to the fence to see what I was up to. I ignored them as I took photos of the birds in the cages. By the time I’d finished, the Emus had lost interest in me and had wandered off.

If you look carefully in the photo above, you can see an Emu sitting under the tree on the left hand side. It looks as though this is a male sitting on eggs. The female Emu will mate with the male, select a nesting site on the ground, a rough scrape in the dirt lined with a few twigs or leaves. She will lay the 5 to 11 large green eggs and then will leave.

The male takes over the task of incubating the eggs and caring for the young for up to 18 months. Meanwhile, the female wanders off and may mate with several other males during the breeding season.

Emus can be found throughout most parts of mainland Australia, especially in pastoral and cropping lands, plains, scrublands and national parks.

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