Saturday, April 16, 2011

Stuart Highway Birding - Marla and beyond

In October 2010 I went on a short road trip along the  Stuart Highway with a friend of mine. The aim of this trip was to get the Bourkes Parrot and I figured Marla would be a good place to try.

Our first night was spent at Port Augusta before driving to Coober Pedy.
The next day we headed to Marla enjoying Sturt Desert Pea on the roadside.

On the way we stopped at a variety of places, one of which was between Pootnoura and Cadney.  I pulled in to search a nice looking bit of vegetation which combined a dry creek bed with gibber near a native grass field.

We were rewarded with Diamond Dove, Chiming Wedgebill, Mistletoebird and a “mystery bird” which I flushed which looked remarkably like a Plains Wanderer but without a photo I decided not to tick it.

Diamond Dove


We called in and had a meal at the Cadney Roadhouse and browsed the amusing souvenirs available before heading onto Marla. That evening I checked my email to find an urgent message from my friend Chris telling me that Princess Parrots had been seen in the tree out the front of the Cadney road house! For the next 30 min I experienced a range of emotions – why did  I browse those stupid postcards? What was I thinking? Why oh why didn’t I check the one and only tree out the front? Woe is me…I’m a failure….

Well, I’m still a failure because we searched continuously for the rest of the trip for Princess Parrots to no avail….

We stayed at Marla before driving the next morning to Kulgara in the Northern Territory for lunch.

This drive produced numerous birds including numerous flocks of Budgerigar who appeared to all be heading in the same direction. Also seen were Cockatiel, Inland Dotterel, Brush Bronzewing, Blue Bonnet, Black Eared Cuckoo, Ground Cuckoo-Shrike on nest, Crested Bellbird, Cinnnamon Quail-Thrush, White Winged Fairywren, Yellow Throated Miner, Black Honeyeater, Pied Honeyeater, Little Woodswallow, Red Browed Pardelote & Torresian Crow.

Ground Cuckoo-Shrike

Pied Honeyeater

Blue Bonnet

We then got  Black Breasted Buzzard soaring over the road. I hit the skids, jumping from the car with my camera before it had even stopped! This was a Lifer for me so I was STOKED!

Black Breasted Buzzard

During the drive back to Marla (approx 65km North of Marla) we discovered a small watering hole. We drove in and checked it out and it looked perfect!

The Billabong

It was then I discovered my camera battery was flat and the spare was in the Motel in Marla! THIS WAS A DISASTER OF GREAT MAGNITUDE for this location looked like a dead cert for Bourke Parrot! So, 130km round trip later we were now armed with spare camera battery, ice cold Pepsi Max, Iced Coffee, crisps and Magnum icecream. With all the major food groups represented we were ready to get this bird!

Having consumed the perishables we were then armed with deck chairs, hats, water bottles, cameras and litres of aeroguard we sat and waited…..and waited…. And waited. During this time we were entertained by Zebra Finches, Crimson Chats, Galahs, Cockatiels, Aust Pipits, Rainbow Bee-eaters and even some 4 legged visitors, all coming in to drink at the end of a long hot day. A Whistling Kite also came in for a drink and was stunning to watch as he sat at the waters edge.

Crimson Chat


I was getting ready to need a blood transfusion due to the megafauna mozzies by the time we were finally rewarded with a pair of Bourkes Parrots who came in to drink!  They were stunningly beautiful and posed for photos before flying off. Another pair then visited for a drink. In all we saw 3 pairs and we were elated! The long drive, heat and being eaten by the mozzies was worth it for this moment. AWESOME!

Bourke Parrots

The next day we started heading back, birding along the way. We explored The Breakaways which is stunning and had a look at the dog fence. While driving back out of the gully found a small flock of Banded Whiteface! Nice! 

The Breakaways

The Dog Fence

The Breakaways

A short stop in and Coober Pedy for a meal before heading to Glendambo to sleep. Again overnight I received another message from Chris - "don't come home - go back - A GREY FALCON has been seen on a nest near Alice Springs". Oh the inner turmoil - if only we had time to go for it!! Sadly this was impossible so with was with heavy hearts we headed home the next day.

The Stuart Highway is very enjoyable and relaxing but allow a lot of time as the vegetation changes frequently and the creek beds constantly tempting you to pull over to look for birds!!

                                                               Southern Whiteface