Birds Places

The Kites of Carrathool.

Saying goodbye to Paika Station, we headed to our next stop at Coolamon, crossing the ultra-flat Hay Plains. Along the way we encountered a mob of emus.

Nearing the village of Carrathool (population 300), we were on the lookout for something that we had been tipped off about: a Worm Farm and Composting facility that was a mecca for Black Kites (Milvus migrans). We had been prepared to expect many birds in the sky, but seeing 100 (at a minimum) circling together was not something that we were ready for. Photos struggle to do justice to just how full of Kites the skies here were:

Had we read up on these birds, we might not have been so surprised. Bird guides agree that Black Kites are gregarious and commonly form loose flocks numbering hundreds of individuals. These flocks most frequently form around cattle feedlots, abattoirs and rubbish dumps. A composting facility fits the pattern, then.
Continuing our bad luck with raptor encounters, the light on this occasion was not great.

Black Kites are so named because they can appear black from a distance, but they are actually dark to mid-brown, rufous in their underparts, and with a pale brown head and neck.

When flapping, their flight is slow, almost lazy, and appears effortless. In contrast to the slightly larger Whistling Kite, Black Kites are more manoeuvrable, and they tend to bank and wheel a lot more. Bird guides seem to indicate that the Black Kite’s tail is “constantly” twisted and fanned.

At road level, the Galahs went about their grass-seed feeding undaunted by the clouds of Kites.

Back on the road, it was not much further on that we came upon the historic Carrathool Bridge (1924) – a hybrid timber truss bridge and a bascule span.

Places Uncategorized

Lake Paika: Dawn and Dusk.

In 1907, as part of wider-ranging Murrumbidgee Irrigatgation Area developments, a levee and dam were constructed that curtailed waterflow from the Murrumbidgee River into Lake Paika. For over 100 years, “Lake” Paika was a bone-dry depression.
In 2008, a group of local land-owners (including our host at Paika Station, Dianne Williams) clubbed together and commenced action to reinstate Paika Lake. Working with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, and the CSIRO, they were successful in rehabilitating the 450 hectare lake, with the first water in 105 years flowing into it in 2011.
The lake now provides important habitat for wildlife, in particular wading birds. And, of course, spectacularly beautiful views for guests at Paika Station.


Eurasian Coots (Fulica atra) and their chicks lived among the reeds behind our cottage.

The drive and generosity of the land-holders in this action group cannot be down-played. One of the bordering stations depended for power on electrical cables that ran across the dry lake bed. The owners had to live many months with generator power while the rehabilitation work was undertaken.


Our new bird friend, the Crested Grebe sailed by in the sunset:

The sunset that Bramanda experienced, sitting on the verandah of the of the old workers’ accommodation with a bottle of local wine, was one of the most memorable we have had.

Birds Places

Taken at the Flood.

While staying at Paika Station just north of Balranald, Bramanda went into town to look at the Ben Scott Memorial Bird Walk. But it wasn’t there! The Murrumbidgee River was at 6.7 metres, and the walk was submerged. (The river at Balranald would go onto peak at 7.38 metres by early December).

A Magpie-lark found a tiny dry patch:

The Blue-faced Honeyeater (Entomyzon cyanotis) was taking care of two fledglings. The youngsters have an olive-green patch of skin, instead of the distinctive blue of the adults.

A pair of Australian Wood Ducks (Chenonetta jubata), with a brood to rival the one we photographed at Parramatta (see Most Ingenious ParraDucks – Sep 2, 2022), had no issue with the swollen river.

Places Uncategorized

Paika Station.

17kms north of Balranald is Paika Station. Paika (rhymes with “baker” not “biker”) is a working station producing a wheat crop, but is nowadays also a popular accommodation site, offering a large self-contained cottage, shared accommodation in the restored Workman’s Quarters, and soon a glamping option as well.

Bramanada spent four days here, using it as a base to see the environs.

If you’re a vintage tractor aficionado, Paika Station has you covered!

The Station was established in 1846, initially running cattle and selling livestock to goldfields butchers during the gold rush. By the 1860s, sheep had overtaken beef cattle as the stock.

The main house, Paika Homestead, was constructed in 1875 from locally-fired bricks. These days the house and garden is a popular venue for weddings. Our hosts Dianne and Iain were happy for us to wander in their remarkable garden.      

Birds Places Walk

Mungo Au Go Go.

Arriving at Paika Station, we dropped our stuff for a quick turn-around, and were picked up for a guided tour of Mungo National Park, and the famous “Walls of China”.

First stop was the historic Homebush Hotel, 27kms north of Balranald, one of NSW’s “true” outback pubs, which has been operating since 1878.
Our tour of four people were the only patrons – but the publican told us that 500+ visitors were expected on the weekend after the funeral of a popular local identity!

After a quick beer, we were driven the 120km north to “Lake” Mungo with a few roadside stops along the way.

At Mungo, we stopped at the Visitor’s Centre, and took a look at the historic Woolshed. This shearing shed was part of the old Gol Gol Sheep Station from a time before this was a National Park. It is made from local Cypress pine using the “drop-log” technique (a technique thought to have been introduced to Australia by Chinese immigrants). Ironically, it was the intense grazing of the enormous flocks of sheep, and the felling of so much local Cypress that led to the erosion which revealed and created the formations we were about to see.

High in the sky, a Black Kite circled, but our attention was grabbed by this Singing Honeyeater (Lichenostomus virescens) who posed for us near the old water tank, looking suitably “outback”.
The Singing Honeyeater is one of the most widely occurring honeyeaters in Australia (though absent in Tasmania), but is rare in eastern NSW.

Not only is Lake Mungo part of the Willandra Lakes World Heritage area, and the site of important archaeological finds, it is also culturally significant to Indigenous Australians. It is a sacred site and burial ground, and the discovery of many middens and footprints mark the area as an important meeting place for First Nations people.
As well as the discovery of the 42,000 year old burial of Mungo Man, the burnt remains of Mungo Woman have been found, and are the oldest record of human cremation found anywhere on Earth.
Legend has it this stone memorial to Indigenous Guide Leslie Taylor (1966 – 2003) was planned to be erected elsewhere, but fell off the truck at this location. This was taken as a sign that the monument should rest here.

The “Walls of China” is a low, curving line of sandy hills – a Lunette – that arcs around the eastern shore of the dry lakebed of Mungo. A lunette is defined as a single, massive dune ridge of sand and clay blown up from a lake bed. The lunette at Mungo is approximately 20 metres high, 200 metres wide, and extends for nearly 30 kilometres. Wind and rain erosion has carved the lunette into dramatic formations and features.
The system is as fragile as it is beautiful. Today, visitors cannot walk out onto the lunette unless they are part of a guided tour by a registered tour operator.

We had booked the Sunset Tour, as this is famously the best time to view and photograph these formations. With record rainfalls bearing down on South West NSW, our booking had to be changed twice, but due to the organizational and driving skills of Amanda, we were fortunate enough to make the one window available for the Sunset Tour before the rains closed the Park for many days.

Trying to eliminate my own shadow from a pic…

A bird highlight was seeing a pair of Major Mitchell Cockatoos (see “Major Look”). Our guide also identified some furtive and fast moving Rainbow Bee-eaters (Merops ornatus) which we weren’t able to photograph, but Welcome Swallows were making their homes amongst the dunes in plentiful numbers:

As the sun dipped lower and lower still, the light was changing minute to minute, bathing the formations in an everchanging range of colour. As German our guide said – cameras love these colours!
At the risk of sounding all New Age and Herbal… it really was a magical and strange location to be in at sunset. You’d have to be pretty hard-hearted not to be affected by it.