Central Strzelecki track
October 16, 2013
DUring August - November 2013 we visited the Strzelecki track numerous times as part of Southern Birding Services' tours. A description of the Mt Lyndhurst area, on the southern end of the Strzeleck track, can be found in a previous Wildiaries report. This article focuses on the central Strzelecki track, starting some 180 km up from Lyndhurst.
After having driven through areas of Gibber plains and (usually dry) tree-lined watercourses. the landscape changes quickly. One could be forgiven for thinking you're approaching the coast, as small white sand-dunes stretch all the way to the horizon. This unforgiving landscape has few trees: only depressions (swales) in between the dunes may hold the odd Coolibah tree and/or some Eucalyptus species. Shrubby watttle bushes, in various stages of dying, grow along the sand dunes, the ridges of which are topped with salt bush and nitre bush.
The Strzelecki Regional Reserve protects part of this unique landscape. The Great Artesian Basin lies underneath this landscape and early settlers have drilled wells to tap into this brackish water, providing artificial wetlands that however after over 100 years of existence have become part of the local ecosystem. Montecollina Bore is one of those, and easily accessible from the main Strzelecki track.
The white sand-dunes are habitat to the rare Eyrean Grasswren. Only re-discovered in 1976, it was known only from specimens collected in 1874 at Macumba River, north-west of Lake Eyre. The absence of records in the century since the 1874 collection had raised the possibility that the species had become extinct. However, in 1961 and later in 1972 and 1976, several observers reported seeing birds on vegetated sandhills in the adjacent Simpson Desert that fitted the description of the Eyrean Grasswren, and in 1976 the South Australian Museum was able to collect a specimen.
It is now known that the range of the Eyrean Grasswren is wider than originally thought and the population numbers fluctuate dramatically depending on climatic conditions. In good seasons, Eyrean Grasswrens are widespread but in dry times they can be very hard to find. During the cooler winter months the males sing from vantage points and can be heard from quite some distance.
During our varous tours on the Strzelecki track we ususally see Eyrean Grasswrens around Montecollina Bore and the Art Baker Lookout, as well as further north. Other good birds we come across in this area include Cinnamon Quail-thrush, Pied and Black Honeyeater and Banded Whiteface.
Coolibah trees adjacent to the track often hold Letter-winged Kites. During wet years, when food is plentiful, they breed in small, loose colonies. These beatiful raptors are similar in appearance to the Black-shouldered Kite except for their distinctive black underwing pattern of a shallow "M" shape, seen in flight. They roost during the day in well-foliaged trees and hunt at night, and are the world's only fully nocturnal raptor. It is a specialist predator or rodents (particularly the native Long-haired Rat), which it hunts by hovering in mid-air above grasslands and fields.
After some 250 km from Lyndhurst you arrive at the Strzelecki creek crossing. This major watercourse only runs during wet years but has established a wide floodplain with scattered trees. Raptors breed in the trees, while Blue Bonnets forage on the ground vegetation. In good years, whole areas are covered in yellow and white wildflowers here. Red-browed Pardalotes call from the trees: they are an unusually cryptic bird. You may see the beautiful Black-abreasted Buzzard foraging here, or if you're really lucky, even Australia's rarest raptor: Grey Falcon...!