Arkaroola and the Flinders Ranges SA, Dec 2015

Recently I had some spare-time available and decided to ‘explore’ an area that I had previously not visited, looking through the available literature I realised that north-east South Australia had some bird-species that I had yet to encounter and would be fairly accessible in my new acquisition, a 4WD Nissan Xtrail.

I decided that I would aim to spend up to one week visiting the Flinders Ranges and the area known as Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

Driving north on Sunday I arrived at Hattah before dusk, and spent the evening ‘under the stars’ and apart from the odd annoying mosquito had a pleasant night, hearing Australian Owlet-Nightjar, Tawny Frogmouth, Southern Boobook and a nocturnal Red-backed Kingfisher. After breakfast my next priority was to drive along the Old Calder Highway (inside the park) and look for the (…almost mythical) Striated Grasswrens. Sadly, the curse continued and although I continued to have an australian-list totally devoid of grasswrens, I did manage to see Splendid Fairy-wrens, Regent Parrots and Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos amongst others

The route north between Mildura and the cultivated areas of South Australia is rather sparse for bird-life but there seemed to be many Emu with young close to the roads (…indeed, throughout the area this was the case)

The town of Hawker lies at the southern-end of the Flinders Ranges, I arrived there in late-afternoon and refueled. My intention was to spend the night in the national-park so I paid for entry and a camping-permit at the main store. Driving north towards Parachilna I started to see a little more bird-life and recorded several Spotted Harriers, White-backed Swallows, Brown Falcons and also realised that this stretch of road is a ‘killing-ground’ for macropods and Emus.  Black, Whistling Kites and Wedge-tailed Eagles were in large numbers. As I ventured further storms began to appear and bolts of lightning were seen above the ranges, questioning the wisdom of camping in the park I dropped in on the Parachilna Hotel and the manager (who was just shutting-shop) told me not to worry about the storm as they ‘usually go around us’, proceeding towards the hills with lightning-bolts appearing more frequently, signs appeared warning of the dangers of ‘flash-flooding’. Eventually at dusk, I reached the small Angorichina area and pulled off road and made some space in the back of the truck to sleep, however it became unbelievably humid and I decided to sleep outside on my camp-bed (…despite the ominous-weather) Surprisingly, I managed to get a few hours sleep and awoke at dawn, quite cold as a south-westerly change blew through. Birding here was quite interesting and about 30 species were recorded including my first ‘lifer’ of the trip (which I was to see plenty of further north) the Grey-fronted Honeyeater.

My next stop was the rather attractive town of Blinman, and after a superb home-made meat-pie and coffee outside the general-store, the proprietor recommended that I visit the hotel and get a room there, an attractive option as I just spent two nights ‘al-fresco’. This was duly-organized and I enquired about the supply of fuel in Blinman, unfortunately I was told that would have to drive 60 kms south to Wilpena Pound to refuel as the only other outlet was at the resort at Angorichina (where I had previously been). This was OK as it would give me the opportunity to go in search of another near-mythical species the Short-tailed Grasswren.  ‘Armed’ with a copy of Tim Dolby and Rohan Clarke’s excellent “Finding Australian Birds” and on a sunny but fairly-cool morning I made my way to the stunningly beautiful area around Wilpena.  After consulting their tome I followed Tim and Rohan’s advice and wandered through the low triodia ( AKA Spinifex) clumps around Stokes Hill Lookout. Failing to see or hear any evidence of these supernatural-beasts, I tried again at another site, the Appealinna Ruins about 5.5 kms north, but guess-what? Despite trudging through kilometres of suitable habitat no sign, visible or audible there either. Begs the question, has anyone seen them in this area recently?

Fortunately it was not totally depressing as I managed to find some reasonably large flocks of Orange Chat nearby. There were also some very interesting information-boards among the ruins relating to the early-settlers and their clashes with the ‘establishment’ of the time, well-worth reading.

After a very comfortable evening in the Blinman Hotel, I asked the manager how long it should take me to drive the 153 kms on unsealed road to Arkaroola Resort (…where I’d planned to stay for a few days) Google Maps claim that it’s a 5-hour drive but he told me that most people do it in 2, but as I would be stopping for all those birds it might take 3 (….in actual-fact it took more like 7!)

The drive was long and bird-life quite sparse but I did come across some very interesting ‘pockets’ of activity, the first near Wirrealpa Station where I spotted some small birds flying across the road and wandering up a small creek-bed found lots of flowering eremophila bushes. Here I found young and adult White-fronted, Pied, White-plumed, Spiny-cheeked and Singing Honeyeaters and a singing Red-backed Kingfisher. Further along at Wirra Creek there were some nice gums and much avian-sound and I was surprised to hear Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Rufous Songlark and Brown Treecreeper calling.

Another place that I had hoped to see was the picturesque Chambers Gorge but was unable to stop due to time considerations, however near here I did spot my first definite Budgerigars, Crimson Chats and White-winged Triller.

On arrival at Arkaroola Resort I was dismayed to realise that I had a flat tyre but was pleasantly surprised when one of the staff offered to fix it in the workshop, sadly it was unrepairable but fortunately there were two suitable ones in storage so I was able to replace it and continue my trip (….thanks Roger!)

During the next couple of days I visited several local sites and found small concentrations of wildlife and although grasswrens ‘eluded’ me once again I was told by the owner that they often encounter them along tracks with suitable ‘triodia‘ habitat but usually earlier in the season. Obviously in December birding was better early and late in the day so I tended to visit areas which had small waterholes or bores, the best of which I found to be at a site fairly close to the resort at Miniremarkable Mine,  where water leaked from an artesian-well. The most abundant species here were undoubtedly Zebra Finch but there were plenty of Grey-fronted Honeyeater, White-browed Babbler, Diamond and Peaceful Doves and whilst observing quietly from a short-distance I was surprised to see a thirsty Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby drink a large quantity of water.

Over the time that I had spent in South Australia the weather had been generally good with clear skies and mild temperatures however that evening at the resort the helpful staff let me know that it was expected to be very hot by the weekend and probably over forty degrees, so I made the decision to return to the relative comfort of Melbourne.

Early on Friday morning I packed up the tent and ate breakfast in the BBQ shed overlooking the resort, and whilst tucking into my muesli and enjoying the fantastic scenery I heard the unmistakable call of the Black-eared Cuckoo (a species that the resort staff had told me was reasonably common there)  Attempting my best imitation of the sad-sound I was amazed when a shadow flew over my shoulder and the bird was perched less than two metres from me in a small bush! Equally surprisingly it then decided to enjoy the early-morning sunshine and ‘puffed’ its rump up and soaked up the warm rays! It was so confiding that it let me take some fairly close shots. If this wasn’t enough a party of Variegated Fairywrens turned up, at almost the same distance and I managed to get a bit of video of a handsome male.

And so ended an ‘all-to-brief’ trip,  a touch disappointed that I had only found one of several possible ‘lifers’ and still no grasswrens but happy in the knowledge that there are some great habitats that require my return in the very near-future!

Species List

  1. Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) Throughout
  2. Australasian Darter (Anhinga novaehollandiae) Hattah
  3. Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax) Arkaroola
  4. Black Kite (Milvus migrans) Throughout
  5. Little Eagle (Hieraaetus morphnoides) Angarochina
  6. Brown Goshawk (Accipiter fasciatus) Blinman
  7. Spotted Harrier (Circus assimilis) Hawker
  8. Australian Pratincole (Stiltia isabella) Orroroo
  9. Banded Lapwing (Vanellus tricolor) Appealinna
  10. Brown Falcon (Falco berigora) Blinman
  11. Nankeen Kestrel (Falco cenchroides) Throughout
  12. Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera) Arkaroola
  13. Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) Blinman
  14. Diamond Dove (Geopelia cuneata) Arkaroola
  15. Peaceful Dove (Geopelia placida) Arkaroola
  16. Galah (Eolophus roseicapilla) Throughout
  17. Little Corella (Cacatua sanguinea) Throughout
  18. Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) Arkaroola
  19. Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo (Lophochroa leadbeateri) Hattah
  20. Mulga Parrot (Psephotus varius) Hattah/Leigh Creek
  21. Regent Parrot (Polytelis anthopeplus) Hattah
  22. Mallee Ringneck (Barnardius barnardi) Hattah/Flinders Ranges/Arkaroola
  23. Crimson Rosella (Yellow) (Platycercus elegans flaveolus) Hattah
  24. Red-rumped Parrot (Psephotus haematonotus) Hattah
  25. Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus) Arkaroola
  26. Red-backed Kingfisher (Todiramphus pyrrhopygius) Wirrealpa
  27. Sacred Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus) Hattah
  28. Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) Throughout
  29. Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus) Throughout
  30. Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx basalis) Arkaroola
  31. Black-eared Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx osculans) Arkaroola
  32. Fan-tailed Cuckoo (Cacomantis flabelliformis) Wirra Creek
  33. Australian Owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus) Hattah
  34. Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) Hattah
  35. Southern Boobook (Ninox novaeseelandiae) Hattah
  36. Brown Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus) Wirra Creek, Hattah
  37. White-winged Fairy-wren (Malurus leucopterus) Throughout
  38. Variegated Fairy-wren (Malurus lamberti) Flinders Ranges/Arkaroola
  39. Splendid Fairy-wren (Malurus splendens) Hattah
  40. Chestnut-rumped Thornbill (Acanthiza uropygialis) Hattah/Flinders Ranges/Arkaroola
  41. Southern Whiteface (Aphelocephala leucopsis) Hattah/Nepabunna
  42. Inland Thornbill (Acanthiza apicalis) Angorichina
  43. Weebill (Smicrornis brevirostris) Angorichina
  44. Yellow-rumped Thornbill (Acanthiza chrysorrhoa) Hattah/Flinders Ranges
  45. Yellow Thornbill (Acanthiza nana) Hattah
  46. Singing Honeyeater (Gavicalis virescens) Throughout
  47. White-fronted Honeyeater (Purnella albifrons) Wirrealpa
  48. Yellow-throated Miner (Manorina flavigula) Arkaroola
  49. Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Acanthagenys rufogularis) Throughout
  50. White-plumed Honeyeater (Ptilotula penicillata) Hattah/Wirrealpa
  51. Grey-fronted Honeyeater (Ptilotula plumula) Flinders Ranges/Arkaroola
  52. Pied Honeyeater (Certhionyx variegatus) Wirrealpa
  53. Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) Hattah
  54. Yellow-plumed Honeyeater (Ptilotula ornata) Hattah
  55. Blue-faced Honeyeater (Entomyzon cyanotis) Hattah
  56. Brown-headed Honeyeater (Melithreptus brevirostris) Hattah
  57. Striped Honeyeater (Plectorhyncha lanceolata) Hattah
  58. Crimson Chat (Epthianura tricolor) Arkaroola
  59. Orange Chat (Epthianura aurifrons) Flinders Ranges/Arkaroola
  60. Black-faced Cuckooshrike (Coracina novaehollandiae) Wirra Creek/Arkaroola
  61. White-winged Triller (Lalage tricolor) Nepabunna
  62. Grey Shrikethrush (Colluricincla harmonica) Wirra Creek
  63. Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris) Throughout
  64. Crested Bellbird (Oreoica gutturalis) Nepabunna
  65. White-browed Babbler (Pomatostomus superciliosus) Flinders Ranges/Arkaroola
  66. Grey Butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus) Throughout
  67. Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) Throughout
  68. Pied Butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis) Hattah
  69. Grey Currawong (Strepera versicolor) Hattah
  70. Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides) Throughout
  71. Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) Throughout
  72. Striated Pardalote (Pardalotus striatus) Throughout
  73. Apostlebird (Struthidea cinerea) Wilpena
  74. Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca) Throughout
  75. Chirruping Wedgebill (Psophodes cristatus) Arkaroola
  76. Brown Songlark (Megalurus cruralis) Arkaroola
  77. Rufous Songlark (Megalurus mathewsi) Wirra Creek
  78. Australasian Pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae) Throughout
  79. Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata) Throughout
  80. Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) Flinders Ranges/Arkaroola
  81. Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena) Throughout
  82. Tree Martin (Petrochelidon nigricans) Throughout
  83. White-backed Swallow (Cheramoeca leucosterna) Hawker/Nepabunna/Pinnacles
  84. Masked Woodswallow (Artamus personatus) Blinman to Arkaroola
  85. Black-faced Woodswallow (Artamus cinereus) Blinman to Arkaroola
  86. Dusky Woodswallow (Artamus cyanopterus) Arkaroola
  87. Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum) Throughout
  88. Hooded Robin (Melanodryas cucullata) Arkaroola
  89. Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii) Throughout






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