Gawler Ranges: a little-known gem not far off the beaten track!
October 2, 2013
As part of Southern Birding Services’ Eyre Peninsula/Gawler Ranges tour, we recently spent two days exploring the Gawler Ranges National Park in early October 2013. Combining a scenic landscape with a range of interesting birds, this little visited region of SA definitely warrants further exploration by interested birders.
There are a number of western species here at the easternmost limit of their range, including Rufous Treecreeper, Western Yellow Robin, Blue-breasted Fairy-wren and Western Grasswren and there is also a small population of the rare Shor-tailed Grasswren.
The area is accessible from the towns of Wudinna, Minnipa and Kimba along the Eyre Highway (Pt Augusta – Perth!). The landscape along this highway is pretty dreary, characterised by endless wheatfields and small, quiet, dusty rural townships with enormous grain silos. Upon entering the park from Minnipa we were in for a pleasant surprise: following excellent winter and spring rainfall, the landscape was covered in lush green speargrass and blanketed with wildflowers of all kinds. Poached egg daisies and strawflowers, silvertails and yellow-flowering wattles, and even some Sturts Desert Peas were a feast for the eye. The sky was filled with the song of birds such as Rufous and Brown Songlarks, White-winged Trillers and various species of Honeyeater.
It didn’t take us long to find the beautiful Rufous Treecreeper in one of the many good patch es of woodland here, and we were presented with great photographic opportunities as a pair of these birds were feeding recently fledged young. The same patch of woodland was alive with birds: Western Yellow Robins were in nest-building mode, a pair of Hooded Robins were also feeding recently fledged young, Elegant Parrots were going in and out of nest hollows while Tree Martins buzzed around between the trees. High up in the treetops a Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo was singing while Gilberts and Rufous Whistlers added to the chorus.
There are various campsites in the park, and this area is certainly not busy. Surprisingly, as it’s only 200 km from Pt Augusta, and you could easily spend a few days here. We birded around one of the campsites where we were treated to excellent views of Pied Honeyeaters and White-fronted Honeyeaters, as well as Red-capped Robin, Inland Thornbill and the beautiful Turquoise race of Splendid Fairy-wren. Other fairy-wrens were moving around in the shrubbery and after some effort they showed themselves to be Blue-breasted Fairy-wrens.
We exited the park on the northern side and drove through waving fields of speargrass on well-maintained dirt roads to Mount Ive Station. This privately run sheepstation welcomes visitors and has shearing shed, cottage and camping accommodation. Western Grasswrens live on the saltbush-covered flats at the base of Mt Ive, while on the spinifex-covered slopes of the same, Short-tailed Grasswrens skulk around. We had hours of fun tracking down both, and in the meantime were rewarded with great views of Crimson, Orange and White-fronted Chats, as well as a Black-eared Cuckoo young being fed by its adoptive parent, a Chestnut-rumped Thornbill.
On the way out to the ‘civilised’ world we birded some more woodlands, adding Redthroat, Crested Bellbird, Gilberts Whistler, Pt Lincoln Ringneck, Blue Bonnet and Little Eagle to the list, with great views of 4 Wedge-tailed Eagles at a recent roadkill. This area is definitely worth a return visit!