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Birds of New South Wales - #13 – Broken Hill Region (7 September 2018)

contributed by cougar15
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Birds of New South Wales - #12 – Bourke Region Pale-headed Rosella, Bourke, NSW

Today, we left Bourke and headed for Cobar on our final leg west to Broken Hill – a distance of 618 kms, 6.5 hrs driving time.

Birds of New South Wales - #12 – Bourke Region Spotted Bowerbird (Female), Darling River, Bourke, NSW

The first thing we noticed after leaving Bourke was the quantity of wildlife / livestock grazing along the highway and the disturbing amount of roadkill. Most of the roadkill was kangaroo. However, we also saw decaying goat, wild pig, emu and sheep.

Birds of New South Wales - #2 - Urunga / Forster-Tuncurry Australian King-Parrot, Bicentennial Flora Park, Tuncurry, NSW

As with our leg into Bourke, large numbers of Black Kite and Australian Raven were feeding on the carcasses of recent roadkill. Some were well off the road but every now and then there was the carcass of a large kangaroo in an aukward position blocking off one of the highway’s lanes.

Not only did these carcasses pose a problem, particularly when an on- coming vehicle was approaching at the same time, the large numbers of kites / ravens created havoc when they all flew off together at the last second, as we drove past.

Thankfully, for them and for our windscreen, we didn’t hit any.

On a couple of occasions, these roadkill encounters produced excellent photo opportunities, providing there were tall trees nearby. There the kites would fly a short short distance to wait on a branch until the road was clear when they would return to the carcass. And, in so doing, all I had to do was to pull over and walk back for a relatively close-range photograph.

Birds of New South Wales - #1 - Tweed Coast Region Little Black Cormorant, Brunswick Heads, NSW

We stopped at Wilcannia and had lunch in the little park immediately on the left after crossing the Darling River.

Birds of New South Wales - #13 – Broken Hill Region Apostlebird, Wilcannia, NSW

There, we observed dozens of Black Kite circling overhead or resting in the park’s tall gum trees. Again, they provided excellent opportunities for my camera. So, too, did an Apostlebird and a young Grey Butcherbird that hopped around in close proximity looking for food-scraps.

Birds of New South Wales - #4(c) - Murray River Region (Echuca / Moama) Brown Treecreeper, Broken Creek Reserve, Barmah, NSW

We continued on and got to within 85 kms of Broken Hill when the dreaded ‘tyre-puncture’ message appeared on the computer screen of my car. After stopping and inspecting my tyres, I couldn’t see any that appeared to have a problem. So I re-set the computer and we continued on. I hadn’t gone more than 20 mtrs when the noise from outside was such that I instantly knew a wheel had shredded a tyre.

What a pain that sound is when you have a vehicle full of luggage and need to empty the boot to remove the ‘space-saving’ replacement wheel, on the edge of a major highway on the middle of nowhere.

Murphy’s Law, I guess.

Birds of New South Wales - #13 – Broken Hill Region Galah, Silverton, NSW

Having changed the wheel, our next exercise was to fit the much wider standard wheel into the boot (with all our luggage) so we could ‘limp’ onwards to Broken Hill.

Thankfully, we made it to our accommodation for the next 5 nights – at Miffy’s Holiday Cottages - without further mishap.

Birds of New South Wales - #4(c) - Murray River Region (Echuca / Moama) Restless Flycatcher, Broken Creek Reserve, Barmah, NSW

The following morning, I took our car to the nearby Bridgestone Tyre Service Centre where it was found that the relatively rough (sealed) surface of the outback highways from St. George to Broken Hill had taken their toll on every tyre so we decided to replace all 4 as we couldn’t risk another tyre having a similar failure in some other remote location.

Our first trip next day was the short but uneven (sealed) road drive over to the (now) small village of Silverton.

Birds of New South Wales - #3 - North Haven Region Red-capped Plover, Cathey Creek Lagoon, North Haven Region, NSW

My targeted birding sites, there, were the water storage facilities along the Umberumberka Creek and Penrose Park. Unfortunately, extended drought in this and many other areas in outback New South Wales / Queensland has severely affected all water ways and my targeted sites were completely dry with very little birdlife to be seen.

Birds of Queensland - #8 – St. George (QLD) to Lightning Ridge (NSW) Red-winged Parrot, Sonya's Place, Lightning Ridge, NSW

Nevertheless, Silverton itself is an interesting place and should not be missed. There is a permanent population of around 40 hardy souls that live in this parched location that continue to provide a worthwhile tourist attraction that centres on the local hotel and its collection of memorabilia depicting Silverton’s mining heritage and the filming of the Mad Max series.

There are a few galleries within the village that showcase the work of local artists and the collected vehicle of choice seems to be the humble Volkswagen Beetle.

Birds of New South Wales - #9 – Sawtell Region Pied Oystercatcher, Boambee Creek Beach, Toormina, NSW

The only birdlife I came across in that area were – hundreds of Little Corella (at Penrose Park), good numbers of Galah (nesting in old dead gums along the dry creek beds), Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Yellow-throated Miner, Apostlebird and an unexpected delight, a solitary Mistletoebird.

The following morning, we visited Stephen’s Creek Reservoir the primary purpose of which is to supply potable water to Broken Hill. There is a popular picnic area at the site as well.

We were pleased to see there was plenty of water in the reservoir so our expectation of sighting plenty of birdlife was growing as we pulled up at the carpark.

Birds of New South Wales - #1 - Tweed Coast Region Australian Pelican

Rather disappointingly, we only saw – Australian Magpie, Willie Wagtail, Australian Raven, Whistling Kite and a lone Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, at this site, although I was entertained for some time by the antics of a fairly tame kangaroo along the driveway into the carpark.

Apart from experiencing some of our inland outback, the main attraction for visiting Broken Hill was to take in the considerable wetlands around Menindee – 115 kms / 1.25 hrs out from Broken Hill – where the birdlife was regularly found in abundance.

So, we left ‘the Hill’ early next morning with high expectations that this day would be one of the highlights of our entire holiday.

Birds of New South Wales - #1 - Tweed Coast Region Great-billed Heron, Hastings Point, NSW

Whilst the road to Menindee is sealed there are numerous ‘dips’ in its surface (as is the case with the road to Silverton). These ‘dips’, I presume, are designed to allow excess water to cross the roadway in times of flood. They are well signposted but are not always of uniform profile in that some have a sharper rise than others at the exit point. I’ll make reference to this design anomaly later on in this story.

Birds of New South Wales - #1 - Tweed Coast Region Osprey (Immature), Hastings Point, NSW

Having arrived at Menindee, we did a quick drive around its main street and then went back to the Menindee Lakes turn-off point we saw when coming into that town.

Birds of New South Wales - #1 - Tweed Coast Region Osprey, Fingal Head, NSW

We followed that turn-off road for about 4 kms, stopping every now and then to see if any water was in the lakes’ reserve on the RHS. Nothing, absolutely no water to be seen anywhere in the region we expected to see large expanses of wetland.

We continued on until we came to the payment station for entry into Kinchega National Park. There, we stopped to look at the small run-off dam on the RHS.

Birds of New South Wales - #1 - Tweed Coast Region Little Black Cormorant, Brunswick Heads, NSW

There was some water in that dam but pretty much no birdlife and certainly not what we were expecting. All we saw there was a pair of Pacific Black Duck (which quickly took flight) and a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater.

Birds of New South Wales - #10 – Sydney Laughing Kookaburra, Killarney Heights, NSW

Across the road from that point is a reach of the Darling River. I had more success over in that area, but only marginal, as it was limited to the sighting of a Whistling Kite and a Laughing Kookaburra.

Terribly disappointing !!!

In fact, downright heartbreaking, after travelling so far with great expectations only to find next to nothing of regional interest.

Birds of New South Wales - #4(c) - Murray River Region (Echuca / Moama) Weebill, Horseshoe Lagoon, Moama, NSW

Given the lack of water in the entire Menindee Lakes system we didn’t enter that National Park but returned to Menindee township for lunch which we enjoyed under the shade of some large gums along the banks of the Darling River.

Birds of New South Wales - #1 - Tweed Coast Region Australian Brush-turkey, Pottsville, NSW

I then took my camera for a walk along the river bank during which time I came across - Pied Cormorant, Eurasian Coot, Australian Pelican, Australian Magpie, Australian Raven, Willie Wagtail, Magpie-lark, White-plumed Honeyeater, Brown Treecreeper, Black Kite, White-necked Heron and Darter.

We returned to Broken Hill with a feeling of great disappointment in not seeing the Menindee wetland system at its best but knowing that we would have to return some day after this devastating drought was broken.

Our final full-day in Broken Hill was taken up with lunch at the Musicians’ Club and a visit to the Pro Hart Gallery. Both were pleasant experiences and are recommended.

Having packed the car that night, we headed off early next morning on the next leg of our journey home, from Broken Hill to Swan Hill – 512 kms / 5.5 hrs driving.

However, after filling the car with petrol, we hadn’t left the ‘CBD’ when we got the dreaded warning that we were losing pressure in our tyres again. I pulled over and examined the tyres but couldn’t see anything obviously wrong but decided to return to the Bridgestone centre from which we purchased the new tyres a few days ago.

A process of elimination and a water-tank test determined that one of our wheels had a cracked rim. I could only suggest that the rim was cracked when we were returning from Menindee and hit a couple of the ‘dips’ in the road fairly hard. In any event, it had to be dealt with before we could leave Broken Hill.

Birds of New South Wales - #10 – Sydney Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Killarney Heights, NSW

Further enquiries by the very helpful owner of the tyre centre confirmed that a replacement wheel rim could not be sourced from Adelaide, overnight, and it would take 2-3 days to have one delivered from Sydney or Melbourne - but there were no guarantees and it could take longer.

The other alternative was to have the rim welded, but, again, there would be no guarantees that the weld would hold.

What a dilemma !!!

We finally, accepted the welding offer and waited at our Miffy’s accommodation (which we were lucky enough to extend, for the time being) for advice that our wheel was ready to go.

The hours passed and we thought we would have to stay, at least, another night in Broken Hill.

Finally, the call from the tyre centre came through and, at 4pm, we headed off towards Mildura not knowing how long our wheel might last.

It was the most harrowing drive we’ve had since that terrible drive we had in Tasmania on the goat track to Ringarooma.

Every bump in the road increased our level of anxiety and every km took us further away from civilisation and deeper into the outback. It was over 300 kms / 3 hrs driving to Mildura, in falling daylight and with increasing numbers of kangaroo, goat and sheep grazing along the roadside.

Birds of New South Wales - #9 – Sawtell Region Australian Brush-turkey,  Toormina, NSW

The only birdlife we noted on this leg were Australian Raven and Black Kite feeding on roadkill carcasses or resting nearby in the stumps of old gum-trees. However, at the time, I wasn’t particularly interested in looking out for any of the local birdlife.

We got into Mildura around 7pm and, after a quick meal at Maccas, we decided (rather foolishly, and probably ‘pig-headedly’ on my part) to continue on to Swan Hill – another 223 kms / 2.5 hrs away.

If the trip from Broken Hill to Mildura was scary, the leg from Mildura to Swan Hill was that much more so. With the number of kangaroos we saw along the roadside and the blinding lights of on-coming transports, we really did tempt fate. Thankfully, good luck was with us and we finally made it safely to Swan Hill around 10.30pm.

Birds of New South Wales - #1 - Tweed Coast Region White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Tweed River, Stotts Island, NSW

The next day, was a far more relaxed drive through the more densely populated Victorian countryside, from Swan Hill to our beloved island – 473 kms / some 5 hrs – without mishap. Thanks to the skill of that wonderful welder in Broken Hill.

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