Murray-Sunset National Park, Ned’s Corner and Yarrara FFR (Far Northern Vic)

The following is a compilation report from several recent trips made to the Murray-Sunset National Park and its surrounds. A massive 633 thousand hectares in size, the Murray-Sunset is Victoria’s second largest national park. The park has extensive areas of Mallee woodlands, dominated by deep sand dunes and swales, some covered with Spinifex (Triodia scariosa) hummock-grassland. For a detailed map of the park see the park notes

The region has a number of sought-after birds such as Red-lored Whistler, Striated Grasswren, Mallee Emu-wren, Orange Chat, Inland Dotterel, Striped Honeyeater, Apostlebird, the inland parrots and White-browed Treecreeper, just to name a few. As a result of these birds, in 2007 the Murray-Sunset, Hattah and Annuello were all declared an Important Bird Area (IBA).

The best time for birding in the Mallee is during spring, when birds can be abundant and the temperatures are pleasant. Temperatures and birding conditions are also very good in and autumn. In winter it can get very cold, particularly at night. In summer temperature regularly in the high 30s and low 40s. There are a number of deep sanding tracks in the Murray-Sunset National Park, so access is pretty much limited to 4WD drive. The park is also very remote you should always have plenty of water, a GSP or Compass, and let people know where you are going before-hand.

Northern Section of the Murray Sunset
If you are entering the national park from the north a good entrance point is via the North South Settlement Road (-34.279383, 141.097259). Along here you drive through extensive areas of open grasslands, with scattered patches of open woodlands, before arriving at sections of Mallee.

Striped Honeyeater can be quite
common along the Murray River, such as at Ned’s Corner.

The Grasslands
Along the first section of North South Settlement Road, while driving through the grasslands, look for Little Crow, parties of Orange and Crimson Chat, Zebra Finch and White-backed Swallow. It is also a good place of observe the different phases of  Brown Falcon – on one trip I got dark, light and brown phase all side by side. Grey Falcon has also been recorded in this area, and probably represents the most likely place to see this rare raptor in Victoria.

Open Woodlands
In the open woodland look for Red-capped Robin, Hooded Robin, White-browed Babbler, Chestnut Quail-thrush, Varied Sittella (black-capped ssp pileata), Crested Bellbird, Gilbert’s Whistler, Masked, White-browed and Black-faced Woodswallow, Grey Currawong (black-winged ssp melanoptera), and Apostlebird, Zebra Finch and White-backed Swallow.

The Mallee
Further south, along the southern end of the North South Settlement Road and east, particularly when you come to the Pheeny Track (-34.700345, 141.099727) you’ll find some of the most pristine section of Mallee woodlands in Australia, and the mallee birds can be abundant. Here I’ve seen Blue Bonnet, Australian Ringneck, Regent Parrot and Mulga Parrot, Peaceful Dove, Shy Hylacola, Splendid Fairy-wren, Variegated Fairy-wren, Spotted Pardalote (yellow-rumped ssp xanthopyge), Striated Pardalote, Southern Whiteface and Thornbill such as Inland, Chestnut-rumped, Yellow-rumped, Buff-rumped and, occasionally, Yellow.

In a good year, when this section of Mallee is in flower, you can also expect to see some lots of honeyeaters, including Striped, Spiny-cheeked, Singing, Yellow-plumed, Purple-gaped, White-eared, White-fronted, and Brown-headed Honeyeater. Yellow-throated and, more rarely, Black-eared Miner also occur here. The latter has a preference for Mallee that has remained unburnt for 20 years or more, particularly area that have been unburnt for 40 years plus.

This section of the park is also a good place to see Striated Grasswren and Mallee Emu-wren, both species occur in areas dominated by Triodia.

While at night, look and listen for Spotted Nightjar and Australian Owlet-nightjar, sometimes flushed during the day, and commonly heard throughout the night.

Tim with a Golden Orb Spider

One of the national parks specialist species, and one of the Australia’s hardest birds to see, is the Red-lored Whistler. If you want to try to look for Red-lored Whistler in the northern Murray Sunset I’ve seen them in the dense Mallee next to the campground that’s located just east of the intersection of North South Settlement Rd and Pheenys Track. (Note: I’ve also seen Red-lored Whistler in the south of the park. For a more detailed description of how to see this bird, see notes below.) 

The Southern Section of the Murray Sunset
The southern section of the park also contains some excellent area Mallee woodlands. A good place to access this area is via the Honeymoon Hut Track.

Wymlet Tank
Wymlet Tank – really just a large dam – is located at the east end of the Honeymoon Hut Track (-34.913515, 142.033450). It’s an extremely interesting place to go birding. An oasis in a desert, you never know just what will turn up. For instance, on several occasions that I’ve visited, there have been literally thousands of White-browed and Mask Woodswallow hawking around this dam.

It’s a great place for inland parrots, I’ve seen Blue Bonnet, Mallee Ringneck, Mulga and Red-rumped Parrot, Budgerigar, and Cockatiel. I also reckon the area around Wymlet Tank is probably the most likely place in Victoria to see Scarlet-chested Parrot. When the water level in the dam is right, you might get waterbirds such as White-faced Heron, Black-tailed Native-hen, Wood and Pink-eared Duck, and Black-fronted Dotterel feeding on, or around the dam.

In the mallee just north of the dam, look for Chestnut Quail-thrust, Crested Bellbird, Inland and Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Red-capped and Hooded Robin, Collared Sparrowhawk, while the very rare Black-eared Miner have been recorded in the Mallee just west of Wymlet Tank. Other birds recorded include Brown Quail, Splendid Fairy-wren and honeyeaters such as Yellow-plumed, Spiny-cheeked, White-eared, Singing, White-plumed and Purple-gaped.

Not a bad spot!

The Honeymoon Hut Track and Red-lored Whistler
The place I have most often recorded Red-lored Whistler is along the Honeymoon Hut Track, particularly west of where it intersects with Meridian Road, most reliably between 4 to 6 kilometers west of the Meridian Rd (such as 4.7 km west). On most occasions I’ve seen birds on the north side of the road, foraging and calling mainly from the ground. The best method for finding Red-lored Whistler is to stop every 100 meters or so in the appropriate habitat and listen for its distinctive call.

This site is readily accessible for people who are staying at Hattah-Kulkyne National Park. Also, although the tracks are all dirt with several sandy rises, they are generally OK for soft 4WD (such as Subaru Forester or Nissan XTrail) during dry periods.

You can access this site from two directions:

  • Firstly via the excellent Trinita Track (a really good birding spot and strangely not shown in the national park notes), which heads west from the Calder Highway 15 km south of the township of Hattah. Follow this track for approximately 20 kilometres, then turn left into Galah North Road, and then right into the Honeymoon Hut Track, which takes you past Wymlet Tank and to the Meridian Road intersection. From there drive 4.7 km west along the Honeymoon Hut Track.
  • Secondly from Walpeup drive north up Meridian Road, and then turn left once you reach the Honeymoon Hut Track, and drive ~4.7 km.

Some tips for finding Red-lored Whistler
Recent research indicate that Red-lored Whistler has a very specific habitat preference.  Firstly, this habitat consists of Mallee woodlands that has a sparse open canopy with two to five metres Mallee trees such as White Mallee (Eucalyptus dumosa). Secondly this habitat includes a moderately dense shrub layer, a mosaic of species such as Callitris, Allocasuarina, Banksia, Baeckea, Melaleuca and Leptospemum. Thirdly, an important factor is the presence of occasional tussocks of Spinifex (Triodia scariosa) and occasional sand dunes. It is worth noting that Red-lored Whistler rarely occurs in tall Mallee, i.e. with trees that exceed 5 metres.

The Honeymoon Hut Track:
a good place to see Red-lored Whistler

In essence, Red-lored Whistler like Mallee woodlands that contains native pines and have a ground cover dominated Spinifex and occasional sand dunes. They do not like Mallee woodland on the plains with tall Mallee trees.

It is also worth noting that fires are a dominant part of the Mallee landscape and are a major factor in determining the nature and distribution of vegetation and, therefore, the presence of Red-lored Whistler.  Fire age i.e. when was the Mallee last burnt largely determines were you can or can’t see Red-lored Whistlert. Their response to fire depends on the changes in vegetation structure, such as leaf litter, Spinifex cover and tree barks, all affected by fire, and all recover in slightly differing time-frames.

In the Murray-Sunset, Red-lored Whistler tends to favour early post-fire, intermediate post-fire and long-unburnt age-classes i.e. vegetation which exhibits a post fire age of between 5 to 50 or more years. Recent studies suggests that the fire age-class of moderate age, i.e. 21 to 44 years since the last fire is of greatest importance to Red-lored Whistler.

Trinita Road
Accessed via the Calder Hwy, 13 km south of the township of Hattah, Trinita Road is a relatively unknown spot for birding. The habitat along the road is a fascinating, being a wonderful mix of open woodland that contrast nicely with the Mallee woodlands. When the plants and trees along this road are flowing it can be one of the best places to going birding in the Murray Sunset, with an abundance of birdlife, particularly at dawn. To add to this, it’s easily accessible from Hattah-Kulkyne National Park.

Looking down across the plains of Neds Corner.

There’s a nice small dam along the road, which is a good spot to base yourself (-34.899853,142.256016). Here you can go birding in the open woodland on the south side of the Trinita Road, or birdwatch in the Mallee on the north side of the road. Birds I’ve recorded include Emu, Malleefowl, Crimson Chat, Major Mitchell Cockatoo, Blue Bonnet, Regent and Mulga Parrot, honeyeaters such as Striped, Black and Pied, White-browed and Masked Woodswallow, Southern Scrub-robin, Crested Bellbird, Rufous and Brown Songlark, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill and Splendid and Variegated Fairy-wren – now that’s not a bad list!!! In general it reminds me of Goschen Bushland Reserve and the the open woodlands at Round Hill Nature Reserve.

Pink Lakes  
Immediately north-east of Pink Lakes, look for Striated Grasswren and Mallee Emu-wren are found along the north-east end of Pioneer Drive (4WD) and along the southern end of Mt Crozier Track (-35.031344, 141.754432).

Last Hope Track
Mallee Emu-wren and Striated Grasswren are also both found in areas of Spinifex (Triodia) along the Last Hope Track, looking for them in the first section of good Mallee woodlands, west of the township of Hattah. Note that this areas is readily accessible via 2WD.

Ned’s Corner: a wonderful Trust for Nature property
Ned’s Corner Station is a pretty special place. Located in the banks of the Murray River (-34.168535, 141.335586), the massive property is a 30,000 ha former grazing property, it was purchased by Trust for Nature in 2002. It’s is also notably as being the best spot in Victoria to find Inland Dotterel. If you wish to stay there (camping on the banks of the Murray River! ah..), simply contact Trust for Nature; their details are on their website – http://www.nedscorner.com.au.

Ned’s Corner floodplains habitat for Inland Dotterel

Essentially there are a few main habitat types on the property. The vast majority is what’s known as Murray Scroll Belt floodplain. In the vast areas of open space Saltbush, Blue Bush, Lignum and Inland Pigface grow, and there are a few scattered trees and shrub.

The other habitat type is riverine, with River Red Gum woodland and smaller Black Box woodlands bordering the Murray River. Along the river there are also a number of anabranches and billabongs, where reeds, sedges and small herbaceous plants spring into life when the Murray water levels rise and trickle into the often dry beds.

There is scattered section of semi-arid Mallee woodlands that contain Belah (Casuarina pauper), Sugar Wood (Myoporum platycarpu) and Murray Pine (Callitris glaucophylla).

In the salt plains, look for Inland Dotterel on the roadside, with the best time to look is at night. For instance, I once recorded a  bird at 4 am in the morning, approximately 13 km from the main entrance. The floodplains are also a good place to see flocks of Banded Lapwing – recently I saw several separate parties, one of five, one of ten and another of twenty on the east side of the property.

Chestnut-crowned Babbler also occur in the flood plains, and you will see large numbers of Blue Bonnet along the roadside into Ned’s, roosting on any tree they can find. White-winged Fairy-wren are regularly encountered in the low-lying floodplains – look amongst the Saltbush and Lignum – there is usually a resident family immediately behind the main shower block. Other birds to look out for in the flood plainsare Emu, Little Button-quail, Australian Pratincole, Budgerigar, Cockatiel, Black-fronted, Orange and Crimson Chat, Black-faced Woodswallow, Zebra Finch, and White-backed Swallow.

The Murray River at Ned’s Corner.

Striped Honeyeater can be quite common, feeding in the River Red Gum woodland along the banks of the Murray River, as can be Blue-faced, Spiny-cheeked and White-plumed Honeyeater, and look for Apostlebird, Pied Butcherbird, large numbers of the Crimson (Yellow) Rosella and, occasionally, Regent Parrot.

Along the Murray River itself, look for Caspian Tern, Australian Pelican, Great Egret, White-faced Heron, Pacific Heron, Nankeen Night Heron, Australasian Darter, and Red-kneed and Black-fronted Dotterel and Black-tailed Native-hen.

Aside from the birds, a wide range of other wildlife species have been recorded at Ned’s Corner. These include three types of kangaroo – Eastern Grey, Western Grey and Red, Fat-tailed Dunnart, Echidna, the endangered Giles’ Planigale, De Vis Banded Snake, Carpet Python, Tessellated Gecko, Shingleback, Hooded Scaly-foot, and Growling Grass and Long-thumbed Frog. There is also talk of re-introducting  some species that have become locally extinct, such as Bridled Nailtail Wallaby and Brush-tailed Bettong.

Yarrara, a great place to see White-browed Treecreeper
and Gilbert’s Whistler

Yarrara Flora and Fauna Reserve Yarrara Flora and Fauna Reserve is located half way between Ned’s Corner and the Murray-Sunset National Park (-34.408445, 141.426011). A remnant vegetation reserve, it provides some excellent bushland birding.

In areas dominated by Belah, Buloke, and Slender Cypress-pine it is one of the best places to see White-browed Treecreeper, a species that is rare in Victoria.

Gilbert’s Whistler is also common here, and also look for Hooded and Red-capped Robin, Splendid Fairy-wren, Crested Bellbird, Striped, Spiny-cheeked and Singing Honeyeater, Blue Bonnet, Australian Ringneck, Mulga Parrot, and Chestnut-rumped and Inland Thornbill.

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