In early March while staying at a van park near Echuca on the Murray river, I contacted well known birding guide Phil Maher of Australian Ornithological Services, based in Deniliquin, New South Wales. The main reason for my first time use of a guide was to find the Plains Wanderer and Phil was the man, having access to a property where he has been studying these enigmatic birds since 1980. On short notice I was able to join up with him on a full day and night tour with a couple also from Queensland, Jim and Sue Sneddon. Jim is a keen photographer (with some nice camera gear!) and allowed me the use of his great photos, so I have included some on this post.
The highlight of the morning was a couple of small flocks of Superb Parrots, a beautiful Aussie endemic, and a bird that I had only seen once before, in flight, from a fast moving car.
|Superb Parrot - male|
At Phil's place we were treated to the sight of an Owlet-Nightjar flying from it's roosting hollow after he tapped the trunk. It flew to a nearby hollow, one of several close by where we left it in peace. Phil has done a lot of re-planting on his property over the years and also grown thousands of native seedlings that have been planted in various areas of the shire.
Not far from the Deniliquin town centre we explored the River Red Gum forest where a single Button-Quail was trying hard to blend in with the scenery. I am amazed by the ability of these ground dwelling species and others like them, to survive and thrive despite their vulnerability to the depredations of feral cats and foxes. Maybe they're smarter than we think?
|Painted Button-Quail - male (photo - J.Sneddon)|
Along the river flats were some patches of lovely native lilies that Phil named but I have totally forgotten. If it was a new bird species it would have been imprinted on my brain for all time!
I do remember seeing a mauve version of the same plant in a paddock later that day.
|Lilies on the Edward River flats.|
There were quite a few bush birds buzzing around including these little insect eating species below.
The first one is the Orange-winged race of the Varied Sittella, one of five distinct geographic forms in Australia.
|Varied Sittella - male (photo - J.Sneddon)|
The next is Australia's smallest bird at 8-9cm long, the Weebill. This has been one of the most common birds in our travels to date, it's far carrying call constantly in the background, but usually difficult to pick up in the leafy foliage they inhabit. These ones were quite obliging!
|Weebill x 2|
On our way north of Deniliquin we passed a couple of side roads that had been cut by the recent heavy rainfall and in some areas the water was still slowly rising, inundating parts of the grasslands through the region.
Just on dusk we started the search for the Plains Wanderer, walking the paddocks of the property because it was too wet in places to drive, which is the preferred method of searching because it covers the area a lot quicker.
|Moon rise over the plains|
After a few hours and with a some help later in the evening from a couple of locals who were able to negotiate the wet terrain by motorbike and small ute, a juvenile male was finally located. The things that struck me most about this enigmatic bird was its size, being only about 15cm long, and the beautifully cryptic plumage.
|Plains Wanderer - male (photo - J.Sneddon)|
A couple of other birds of note that night were a lone Inland Dotterel, an uncommon endemic of southern and central Australia and another first for me, and an Eastern Barn Owl, a sub-species of Tyto alba with it's worldwide distribution.
|Inland Dotterel (photo - J.Sneddon)|
|Eastern Barn Owl (photo - J.Sneddon)|
I had a great day out with Phil, a laconic and highly knowledgeable guide, and would recommend him for anyone interested in using his services. A big thank you also to Jim and Sue for the opportunity to join them on their pre-booked tour and allowing me to include their photos.
For more information on the Plains Wanderer and Australian Ornithological Services visit the link: http://www.philipmaher.com/main.htm