Last weekend I was invited to join Phil Peel and his bunch of Filthy Flockers and friends for a full days birding on the Hay Plains around Deniliquin. Phil had organised Phil Maher http://www.philipmaher.com/ to take us around for a days birding followed by an evening spotlighting for Plains Wanderer and other targets after dark. Unfortunately Plains Wanderers had not been seen for a couple of months due to the extremely dry conditions so they were not considered much of a chance but it was still worth a look. If nothing else there were a few mammals in the area I could add to my year list and a pretty good chance of Inland Dotterel and Fat-tailed Dunnart which would be lifers.
I left work early on Friday afternoon and headed up to Deniliquin which is an easy 3 hour run from Melbourne arriving just after dark for a few beers and the exchanging of some wild birding tales. Phil Maher arrived around 7:30 am and we all piled into a bus for some birding at some of his local sites – he did warn that it was very dry and was not expecting much. Still we had a good mornings birding with plenty of Superb Parrots, Bluebonnets, White-winged Fairy-wrens and White-backed Swallows being highlights. Unfortunately the bird life was a bit quiet and the area would be well worth another visit after some rain. We were dropped back for lunch which was spent consuming a rather large parma and a couple of beers at the local pub
We were picked up mid afternoon and headed north looking for Ground Cuckoo-shrikes. Did not find these but Red Kangaroo was new for the year list as was Western Grey Kangaroo as we entered the property on which we would be spotlighting. Phil Maher has done a lot of work getting land holders onside and getting access to these properties and the owners of this property are particularly interested in conservation. A number of the locals helped with driving us around in the evening which gives them an additional financial reason to promote a good environment for Plains Wanderers. We had an excellent meal as the sun set and then headed out for the evening spread across four vehicles. We quite quickly found a lovely pair of Inland Dotterel which is a bird I had wanted to see since I was a young boy! They are fantastically camouflaged and would have easily been missed if they had not moved. We had an excellent photography session with the pair before leaving them in peace.
We then headed to what had been a reliable Plains Wanderer paddock up until a few months ago and the 4 cars split up to quarter the paddocks. Pretty quickly I spotted the eyeshine of a small mammal which was a Fat-tailed Dunnart! but it disappeared quickly down a hole. Not to worry, the other cars soon had one out in the open so we zipped across and were able to get a few nice photos of a very cute little carnivore. Apparently Narrow-nosed Planigales also inhabit these plains but Phil had only seen twice in the last 10 years so would be a real fluke to see without a concerted effort. There were good numbers of microbats around with White-striped Free-tailed Bats calling overhead and small grey fluttery ones which were likely Lesser Long-eared Bats. We scoured the paddock for a couple of hours picking up more dunnarts before calling it a night content that we had given it a good go. A celebratory beer for an excellent bird in the Inland Dotterel and we were already planning our next visit for Plains Wanderer.
On Sunday I eventually rolled out of bed and after a Maccas coffee started to head home. I checked out a few area of Red Gum forest between Deni and the border without finding too much of note so I decided to head to the Kamarooka area north of Bendigo. Kamarooka was the driest and quietest I have known it in well over 10 years of regular visits. In fact the Distillery Dam was completely dry! Still with a bit of effort I was able to turn up a few nice birds including Hooded Robins, Shy Heathwren, Jilberts Whistler and Variegated Fairy-wren. It was so quiet I didn’t stay too long and headed for home. Thanks to Phil Peel for the invite!