Join Australian Ornithological Services on the Strzelecki Outback tour – their 41st and maybe last Strzelecki Track expedition. This is the tour we started with in 1987 and while we thought 2023 would be the last, we've been persuaded to do another.
The tour takes in the southern and western divisions of New South Wales, SW Queensland, the desert country of South Australia, the Flinders Ranges and the mallee country of South Australia and Victoria. Nearly all the inland specialities are sought with ample time to seek out the harder species. September/October is a good time for birding the inland as it is the start of the breeding season for inland species and the punishing inland heat and flies of late spring and summer are still some way off.
A wide diversity of habitat will be traversed including pine/box woodlands, saltbush plains, grasslands, mulga scrub, rocky hills, gibber and sand dune deserts and mallee shrub. This tour is totally accommodated. We'll experience the best of the outback pubs and motels and rub shoulders with the locals after a hard day's birding; a stay at a working sheep station will give us another perspective on life in the outback.
Pre-tour night: 31 August 2024
We will organise safe places to leave your vehicles if you are driving to Deniliquin.
1 September 2024
We’ll bird the Deniliquin area, visiting river redgum forest, saltbush plains, black box and boree woodlands, and if there are any, wetlands. Some of the birds we’ll be looking for today include superb parrot, crested shriketit, bluebonnet (yellow-vented), striped honeyeater, diamond firetail, black falcon, tawny frogmouth and white-winged fairywren. Overnight: Deniliquin
2 September 2024 Deniliquin to Hillston
We travel north to Hilton, crossing the vast Riverine Plain. Once covered in saltbush, these plains are now predominantly grassland. We’ll be on the look-out for banded lapwing and brown songlark and could see our first emus. Raptors, such as wedge-tailed eagle, brown falcon and nankeen kestrel can be abundant across the plains if the season has been a good one. Spotted harrier is also a possibility. Around Gunbar, the plains give way to woodland timbered with native pine, yarran, warrior bush, belah and boree. This area holds a variety of birds, which could include ground cuckoo-shrike, Australian ringneck, bluebonnet, cockatiel, southern whiteface, red-capped robin and jacky winter. We should see our first apostlebirds through here.
3 September 2024 Hillston to Cobar
We head to the Nombinnie NR this morning. Key birds here include the notoriously difficult red-lored whistler, as well as Gilbert’s whistler. We have a chance here for malleefowl, southern scrubrobin, shy heathwren, chestnut quailthrush, mulga parrot and grey-fronted and yellow-plumed honeyeaters. After lunch we continue on to Cobar, travelling through an immense woodland of native pine, wilga, rosewood and poplar box. We might see our first pink cockatoos through here.
4 September 2024 Cobar to Bourke
Birding the woodland around Cobar in the early morning, we'll seek out the red-vented form of bluebonnet (race haematorrhous) that inhabits this area. Other birds of note around Cobar include spotted bowerbird, brown, painted, striped and blue-faced honeyeaters and double-barred finch. If the Eremophila oppositifolia is in bloom, the spiny-cheeked, white-fronted and possibly black honeyeaters could be about. Travelling north to Bourke we pass through some of the most picturesque woodland in inland Australia. Stunning trees including wilga, beefwood, leopardwood, ironwood and whitewood grow in this area. Birds to look out for in the woodland include splendid fairy-wren, chestnut-crowned babbler, crested bellbird and the breathtaking red-winged parrot. Overnight: Bourke
5 September 2024 Bourke to Cunnamulla
Birding along the Darling River at Bourke in the early morning, we should encounter flocks of the primitive looking red-tailed black cockatoo feeding in the river redgums and coolabahs that line this famous watercourse. As we cross the Darling River and travel north the woodland becomes more stunted and desert-like. We'll continue on through large areas of mulga shrub, mulga being a species of acacia that covers vast areas of the inland. The easily overlooked white-browed treecreeper could be seen in the mulga feeding quietly on the trunks. We might encounter the shy chestnut-breasted quailthrush, as well as Hall’s babbler in the stony mulga country. Overnight: Cunnamulla
6 September 2024
We’ll spend today birding Bowra Station with its phenomenal array of habitats. It has everything from sand ridges with native pine and bloodwoods to gidgee flats, stony mulga country, open country and river redgum lined creeks and water holes. Bowra is a good locality for chestnut-breasted quailthrush and Hall’s babbler. Other species we could encounter here are the delightful Bourke’s parrot, spotted nightjar, black-breasted buzzard, chestnut-crowned babbler, little woodswallow and the nomadic honeyeaters — as black, painted and pied. Overnight: Cunnamulla
7 September 2024 Cunnamulla to Thargomindah
We’ll spend some time birding around Cunnamulla for any species we still need. The nomadic plum-headed finch could be about if the season has been good. Towards Thargomindah we’ll check out Lake Bindegolly, which sometimes has freckled and blue-billed ducks and brolga, as well as orange chat on the samphire flats around the edges. Overnight: Thargomindah
Day 8 and 9
8 and 9 September 2024 Thargomindah to Tibooburra
More chances for Bourke’s parrot today as we head west for Thargomindah. If there’s been rain, there could be flocks of budgerigars, crimson chats and white-browed and masked woodswallows about. South of Noccundra, we cross a vast gibber plain. Here we have chances for gibber chat, Australian pratincole, inland dotterel and occasionally see frock bronzewing. Overnight: Tibooburra Day 9 9 September 2024 Today we search the lignum and canegrass swamps of the Bulloo Overflow for nothing less than grey grasswren. The grey grasswren remained undetected in this vast uninhabited tract until the 1960s. Other species we sometimes see here include redthroat, blue-winged parrot, orange, crimson and gibber chats, and more chances for inland dotterel and Australian pratincole. Good rain can bring flock bronzewing into the area.
10 September 2024 Tibooburra to Strzelecki Desert
Travelling west from Tibooburra we come into rolling sand dunes country which, if the area has received rain, can be good for crimson chat and black and pied honeyeaters. Along Frome Creek we sometimes see a pair of black-breasted buzzard. Owlet nightjar can also be found in the hollow redgums along Frome Creek. In the thick coolabahs around Lake Pinnaroo, we sometimes see our first red-browed pardalotes and we have our last chance for Bourke's parrot in this area. Later in the afternoon we cross the Dog Fence, reputedly the longest fence in the world at 5,614 kilometres. This near six-foot barrier was built to keep dingos out of the sheep country on the eastern side of the fence. Only cattle are run the western side. We spend the night in accommodation west of the Dog Fence.
Overnight: Cameron Corner
11 September 2024 Strzelecki Desert
We'll spend most of the day in the sand dunes of the Strzelecki Desert. The key bird today is the Eyrean grasswren, which lives atop of the dunes in thick sandhill canegrass. That this species was undetected for most of last century attests to its secretive nature. Rabbit plagues have destroyed much of the sandhill canegrass on the dunes so the species is now restricted to those dunes that carry a good cover of canegrass. Other species we will be looking out for today include cinnamon quailthrush, which lives around the base of the dunes, and banded whiteface which likes the areas of bluebush between the dunes. White-backed swallow can usually be seen in this area and sometimes blue-winged parrot. Grey falcon and letter-wing kite are also possibilities in this area, particularly the latter. We’ll keep an eye out for dingos in the desert country — always a great sight.
Overnight: Cameron Corner area
12 September 2024 Strzelecki Desert to Lyndhurst
Up extra early today as we have a long journey down the Strzelecki Track to Lyndhurst. We cover a range of habitats from sand dune desert to coolibahs lining the Strzelecki Creek, through the starkly beautiful Cobbler Desert and across the vast gibber plain to Lyndhurst. Today is our best chance for the nocturnal letter-winged kite, which often roosts during the day in the coolabah-lined watercourses that thread the sandy deserts. This nomadic species is one of the three most difficult raptors to get in Australia. Traversing the gibber plain we have our last chance for gibber chat and inland dotterel, should we still need those species. We could also encounter our first rufous fieldwren in the Cobbler Desert. Australian pratincole can also be plentiful if the area has had rain.
13 September 2024
Lyndhurst to Flinders Ranges
The declining thick-billed grasswren (race modestus) resides in the saltbush country about Lyndhurst and we’ll spend the morning searching for it. Rufous fieldwren is another denizen of the saltbush we’ll target this morning should we have not seen it yesterday. Once upon a time, chestnut-breasted whiteface would have been a major target today. Sadly, it seems to have become locally extinct due to the effects of climate change. After lunch, we’ll head for the Flinders Ranges, perhaps encountering our first elegant parrots en route. Late afternoon, in Brachina Gorge, we might see the handsome yellow-footed rock-wallabies springing along the craggy ridges. Overnight: Flinders Ranges
14 September 2024
This morning we’ll seek out the tiny remnant population of short-tailed grasswren in the spinifex-covered hills of the Flinders Ranges. Rarely easy, we’ll give it our best shot. Other species in the gorges include redthroat, black-eared cuckoo and elegant parrot. We should also encounter the Flinders Ranges form of Australian ringneck (zonarius x barnardi — an intermediate form between Port Lincoln parrot and mallee ringneck). We could also see grey-fronted honeyeater, peregrine falcon and little woodswallow are sometimes seen around the gorges. Overnight: Flinders Ranges
15 September 2024 Flinders Ranges to Burra
We’ll bird in the Flinders for anything still missing. Other birds in the Flinders include inland thornbill, brown treecreeper and white-browed babbler. After lunch in Hawker, we head south, travelling through the historic mining town of Burra. Spotted harrier can sometimes be seen hunting over the paddocks. Brown and rufous songlarks and white-fronted chats can be seen at times. Overnight: Burra
16 September 2024 Burra to Lameroo
Adelaide rosella, a distinctive subspecies of crimson, should be easily seen around the township of Burra. We move on to the Morgan area where we have back-up sites for redthroat and black-eared cuckoo. Musk lorikeets are sometimes seen in the flowering gums in Morgan. After crossing the Murray River by ferry, we’ll lunch among the giant redgums. Pied Cormorant and Caspian tern are sometimes seen from the ferry. The lignum and redgum near where we have lunch could produce Gilbert’s whistler. We'll travel east along the Murray, checking out lakes and swamps for waterbirds, such as red-necked avocet and pink-eared duck. A surveying White-bellied sea-eagle is sometimes spotted.
17 September 2024 Lameroo area
We'll spend the day in the mallee scrub in Ngarkat Conservation Park. This extensive tract of mallee heathlands contains good populations of most of the specialised mallee species including malleefowl, slender-billed thornbill, chestnut quail-thrush, southern scrub-robin, shy heathwren and purple-gaped, white-fronted and tawny-crowned honeyeaters. There is also a good chance of the difficult red-lored whistler in the low mallee scrub, should we still need it.
18 September 2024 Lameroo to Ouyen We'll continue easterly into Victoria where we will visit Murray/Sunset National Park for the secretive mallee emu-wren and striated grasswren that reside in the dense spinifex understorey of the mallee. Pink cockatoo is sometimes seen here, and we have another chance for malleefowl and chestnut quailthrush.
19 September 2024 Ouyen to Deniliquin
We’ll bird the mallee en route back to Deniliquin. We should encounter the stunning black and gold regent parrot in this area. We also have back-up spots for malleefowl should we need them. We make our way to Deniliquin after lunch. This evening we head out to the plains for our flagship species, the plains-wanderer. Owlet nightjar may be seen before sundown and little buttonquail and stubble quail after dark. On the way back, we might see barn owl and tawny frogmouth.
20 September 2024
The tour finishes after breakfast.
Cost: $11,873.00 AUD per person twin share
Single supplement: $1,256.00
The deposit for this tour is $300 per person.
Notes: In the Flinders Rangers, we’ll be staying on a sheep station. While it is set up for tourists, the shearing quarters do not have en suite facilities.
We will take two 4WD with three passengers in each vehicle, so a total of six participants, two drivers and Patricia in the supply vehicle.
Current Vline Saturday schedule: A Vline bus leaves Southern Cross Station, Melbourne, Saturday 31 August at 5 pm and arrives in Deniliquin at 9 pm. The bus swings by Melbourne Airport for pickup at 5.25 pm. It would be prudent to book a flight that arrives by at least mid-afternoon if you were to choose an airport Vline pickup as (in our experience) the bus does not wait.