Friday, 15 July 2016

2016 Victoria Trip - Brisbane, Mt Kaputar, Victorian Mallee Country & The Grampians

Planning a route for our trip to Victoria was influenced by a few dozen hours researching the eBird Australia website.  I use this website to submit my bird sightings whenever I am birding.
When travelling to new & unfamiliar areas this website is very useful in showing where to find birds in any area at any given time of the year when narrowing down the dates required. 
I eventually had 16 pages on Word doc full of lists of sites & what target birds I could expect to look for.
As you read through the chapters, you'll find us zig zagging across the state covering most of this beautiful state.

We had our Kedron caravan & 4x4 packed & ready by the 2nd March. It had been a warm week @ about 35*C prior to leaving & the temps didn't change for the next several weeks. 
Actually the temps got higher for the next 10 days or so as we travelled south. 

Our first night was at Karara Showgrounds, a free camp (if not using power or the shower) about 50kms west of Warwick. The nearby  Durikai State Forest is a birdwatchers paradise - especially at a very popular water hole in the state forest. 
I dropped Rod off at the nearby pub where he had a refreshing beer & handed over $4 for us to use some power & the showers.
I went to the Durikai waterhole & mostly sat in the shade & watched hundreds of birds - mostly honeyeaters - come in for a drink & bath. 
I will later create a few chapters dedicated to the birds I see during this trip, but to whet your appetite here's a few from that 1st afternoon.

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater
 White-eared Honeyeater

To my surprise a beautiful Turquoise Parrot also came in for a drink.

Narrabri was our next stop as I was to visit Mt Kaputar NP with a friend for a day of birding.
Rod wasn't feeling well when the alarm sounded & so was left behind as Tony & I headed for the hills. The NP land mass covers 51,000 ha & the scenery is quite spectacular at the lookout. 
It was a cool relief up in the mountain from the hot conditions back around Narrabri.

We stayed at a free camp in Forbes & then a caravan park in Griffith for me to visit a couple of wetlands en route to Kerang several days  later. We stayed a few nights @ Kerang, which is 36kms SW of  the Murray River that is the  Vic / NSW border. 
It was a quite warm 40* C when we arrived & consequently we had a powered site so we could cool ourselves down with some aircon later in the afternoon. 
It was to remain around 36-38*C for the next few days around Kerang. 

The Murray River in this area has several lakes that attract hundreds of waterfowl & bush birds.
Qld, NSW & Vic west of the Great Dividing Range had been suffering a drought for many months, some areas for more than 12 months, so many of the popular lakes were bone dry. 
Travelling through central NSW & then Vic was devastating to see bare brown farming lands. 
The Murray River was also suffering with low water flow & due to the high temps, Blue-green algae was growing in the river water, which made it unsuitable to swim in. 

There were a few lakes around Kerang that had water in them due to the water board providing small amounts of water to them to sustain the community & birdlife. This wetland is Middle Lake with an Ibis rookery. 

1 local farmer near Kerang used  his ingenuity to provide some humorous relief to any passerby motorists who were interested in looking at his artistic flair with hay bales, making special attention to the 2 animal bales on the right :-0

Following Kerang, we drove to the NW region of Victoria called the Mallee region. 
There are several well known National Parks in this vast area that encompasses over 1 million hectares that "birdos flock"  to to search for over 230 bird species including the elusive Mallee Emu-wren. The area is normally a dry region, & a range of plant & animal species have adapted ti the dry mallee environment. Hattah-Kulkyne & Wyperfiled NP's are the most popular for birders.

Our 1st NP was Hattah-Kulkyne NP  beside Lake Mournpall. 
Whilst it was quite hot during the 2 days here, the evenings & nights were fairly pleasant. 

The beautiful & old Red River Gum trees were an impressive site & a haven for nesting birds & most likely marsupials. 
Along with Murray-Kulkyne Park, these 2 parks feature the merging of rolling mallee dunes with the Murray River.  Hattah-Kulkyne has 2 main lakes -  L Mournpall & L Hattah. 
There are camp grounds at both lakes.

I found this skink called the Painted Dragon when out walking amongst the spinifex grasses.

The spinifex grasses (aka Porcupine Grass) throughout the mallee region is where my target bird the Mallee Emu-wren would be hiding in. There's a lot of it & sadly I didn't find that elusive little bird.

Murray-Sunset NP was the next place to stay for 2 nights. This area is the largest NP in Victoria of 677,000 ha & is well know for it's Pink Lakes. 
Stretching from the Murray River south to the Pink Lakes, this park is one of the world's few untouched semi-arid regions.
The NP protects 183 species of threatened plants & animals. 
Camping in this NP is free, I think due to it's remoteness. 
There were other more remote camp grounds not suitable for caravans & areas that we did not explore.
Unlike Hattah-Kulkyne NP,  Murray-Sunset NP was desolate in appearance near the Pink Lakes. 
On arrival to our camp ground right beside the dry Pink Lake the hot dry air was evident & 100's of bush flies began to attach themselves to us. The bush flies were so bad that when outside the caravan we had to wear our head nets to give our faces some relief from them. Thankfully the bush flies were only around the Pink Lakes campground & not further up any of the tracks.

The water is actually crystal clear & very salty. The bed of the lakes is solid salt & a species of red algae gives the lakes their characteristic pink colouring.
The intensity of colour varies throughout the year & is strongest after rains wash in fresh nutrients, triggering increased growth of the algae.

The vast salt lakes had a commercial salt mining industry from 1916 to 1979.
There was a small town & school established here. I cannot imagine the hardships that the men, women & children endured as whilst it was the 2nd week of March for us with temps being 36*C,
it must have been unbearable during the peak of the summer months for those mining families.
In 1979 the salt mine closed & the area was declared a state park & then incorporated into the Murray-sunset NP in 1991.

Besides driving around the lakes looking for birds, we visited a "small" section of this NP by driving a 4x4 only, 50 km loop track with many places of deep sand & wide wheel ruts  in my mission to find some birds there.

Spinifex grass & Mallee trees in Murray-sunset NP.

By the time we had finished visiting these 2 National Parks we had had enough of the oppressive heat with 12 days of 36 - 40* C since leaving Brisbane. 
We made our way towards town looking for some cooler environs in Hopetoun. 
Thankfully there was a cool change in the air that evening as we sat beside Lake Lascelles that is also a free camp. 

The temps dropped about 10*C in the space of a couple of hours with the cool change that came through.  
It was a welcome relief  & refreshed our souls to go & tackle the next NP called Wyperfield the next day.
Whilst it was still dry, the temps weren't as bad as the previous 2 wks & we enjoyed  32*C temp.
We were the only campers here at Wonga Campground which is on the southern end of Wyperfield NP.
 Unfortunately the graders were maintaining the road further along the track from Wonga, so we were unable to go & explore more of the NP after lunch.
My main focus here was the Discovery Walking trail just behind the campground which I set of on at sunrise the next morning. I only needed to walk to the 1st sand dune before I located 2 of my 3 target birds. I was unable to find the 3rd bird & I was due back at the caravan as we only intended to stay 1 night. 

Wonga Hut

We had 1 more Mallee region NP to visit. Little Desert NP is 132,647 hectares & is the most southerly of the Mallee NP's. We didn't stay in the NP campgrounds this time but instead chose Little Desert Nature Lodge as it is nearest to the bird sites I wanted to visit. 
Little Desert Nature Lodge has a small fenced off conservation park where the Betong & Bandicoots are housed. They seem to breed well.
We also saw a couple of Sugar Gliders. There are a pair of successful breeding Malleefowl, but the night tour doesn't take you to them. Next morning I went around the back fence to see if I could find the visiting wild Malleefowl that had been seen a few days ago. He wasn't there. 

I found this sign a little further north of Little Desert, sadly it is the wrong season for the Malleefowl to make regular appearances along this road. When it's grain harvest time, the Malleefowl can be seen regularly along many roads in the district, particularly this 1 as there's bushland on 1 side of the road. The bush is only a narrow strip on the other side here.

Grampians National Park is renowned for rugged mountain ranges with breathtaking views & is 1 of Victoria's most popular destinations. It was exciting to see the rugged mountain range as we approached the Grampians. More so after being in remote mallee country that was though beautiful with mallee trees, heath & spinifex & beautiful in it's own right, but it was refreshing to see the mountain ranges that gave a cool atmosphere about it.

The Grampians area mass is 168,000 hectare, much of it inaccessible. 
I'm guessing spring time would be the best time to see the Grampians at it's most glorious with over 1,000 wildflower species blooming.

There are more than a dozen walks within the NP & we did our best to tackle quite a few of them.
For the more adventurous there are longer full day walks on offer as well.

Because of it's ruggedness we saw these signs everywhere.....someone thought a little humour was needed on some of the strenuous walks.

Our 1st walk was about 1.2km to see the Silverband Falls. It had been quite dry for the previous several months, so I guess we were lucky to see any water flowing down her at all.

 The Boroka Lookout was a short easy walk from the car park, but gave us a taste of how stunning the Grampians actually are.

MacKenzie Falls was a little more strenuous on the way back to the car park. The 2km walk was easy on the way down :-)

I counted 198 steps.......

Down the bottom of the falls is it's most spectacular.

In January 2014, a lightening strike caused a major bushfire that swept through the northern area of the Grampians NP. it caused widespread damage to the environment & popular visitor sites.
There are still several walking tracks, roads & campgrounds in this section closed to visitors.
The regrowth on these eucalypt trees is taking time & will most likely be years before they are back to their glory again.

This shelter at Zumsteins picnic ground was severely damaged by the bush fire of 2014 & still shows blackened stones. The picnic tables had to be completely replaced.

Reed Lookout walk to the Balconies was an easy 2 km walk & gave us 360* views of the Central Grampains.

Lakeview Lookout walk - Lake Bellfield is near Halls Creek caravan park / campground.

Looking at Grampians NP from Halls Creek

Mt William is the highest peak of the Grampians at 1.16m. You don't see it in these  photos as these were the stunning views we had on the slightly strenuous walk up to the 360* peak......1.8km up hill most of the way, winding along an access road for maintenance vehicles only.

 The Pinnacle walk was 1 of the more strenuous walks on your body. The brochure said medium-hard grade track that was 2.1 km each way  of rugged terrain, stepping over / up / down rocks.

Once at the end of the walk we were rewarded with stunning views.

The walk back retraces the same track.

I found this skink sunning itself on a rock.