REGION 4.  North-West Victoria - the Mallee Country

Malleefowl

This far north-western corner of Victoria, some 400kms from Melbourne, has the state's lowest rainfall and highest average temperatures. It is a region where agriculture is at its limits of viability with large tracts of land remaining uncleared and pristine making it one of Victoria's birding highlights.
The word mallee is an aboriginal word for the varieties of eucalyptus trees dominant in this landscape, which are multi stemmed and low growing, creating the distinctive semi-arid woodland- “the mallee”.
An important feature of the region is the lack of surface water across large areas and for most of the year. This has led to a high degree of specialization in the fauna.
Hazards when visiting the mallee region include the chance of extreme heat in summer (Dec to Feb) when birding may only be possible in the early mornings, the remoteness, and the bush tracks where it is easy to become bogged in deep sand. When walking in mallee country it is extremely easy to become disorientated especially on a cloudy day without the sun to guide you. It is strongly recommended that you either stay to formed tracks, or if you do wander into the scrub take a GPS or mark your way. 
The mallee regions of southern Australia constitute a truly unique ecosystem. At any time of the year a visit will be productive for birds. A number of the Victoria’s most stunningly beautiful species occur here.


 Wyperfeld National Park

 Cypress Pine and Casuarina woodland in Wyperfeld NP

Cypress Pine and Casuarina woodland in Wyperfeld NP

Getting there: There are two main access points. Via Hopetoun and Yaapeet in the south, or via Patchewollock in the north. Both are well signposted.

Key sites: On entering the southern part of the park, the main entrance road follows the nearly always dry Outlet creek, through Black Box woodland and surrounding dunes with Cypress pine. Many Kangaroos and a range of dry country woodland birds may be seen including Regent Parrots.
The Discovery walk starts at the Wonga campground and travels over high dunes covered in tea-tree heathland with scattered mallee trees. Good for Redthroat, Shy Heathwren, Inland Thornbill, Splendid Fairy-wren, Gilberts Whistler and Southern Scrub-robin, but avoid the heat of the day in summer.
Eastern Lookout drive takes you to typical mallee eucalypt woodland, home to Chestnut Quail-thrush and Malleefowl. Try walking along Lowan track or Dattuck track which are both 4wd only.
Desert Walk is also dune heathland with similar species to the Discovery walk

In the north the open country with Cypress Pine and Casuarina is great for Emu, Western Grey and Red Kangaroos, and Major Mitchells Cockatoo. Try Mt Jenkins track, Outlet Creek track or Snowdrift Picnic area. 
Meridian track heading south travels through an open shrubby Cypress pine and Casuarina woodland with Gilberts Whistler, Splendid Fairy-wren, White-browed Treecreeper, Striped Honeyeater and Mulga Parrot. Moonah track (4wd) takes you to a mallee ridge with Shy Heathwren, Southern Scrub-Robin and Malleefowl.   
 
Key Species: Emu, Regent Parrot, Mulga Parrot, Major Mitchells Cockatoo, Malleefowl, Chestnut Quail-thrush, Striped Honeyeater, Shy Heathwren, Southern Scrub-robin, White-browed Treecreeper, Gilberts Whistler, Black-eared Cuckoo, Redthroat. 

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In the north the open country with Cypress Pine and Casuarina is great for Emu, Western Grey and Red Kangaroos, and Major Mitchells Cockatoo. Try Mt Jenkins track, Outlet Creek track or Snowdrift Picnic area. 
Meridian track heading south travels through an open shrubby Cypress pine and Casuarina woodland with Gilberts Whistler, Splendid Fairy-wren, White-browed Treecreeper, Striped Honeyeater and Mulga Parrot. Moonah track (4wd) takes you to a mallee ridge with Shy Heathwren, Southern Scrub-Robin and Malleefowl.   
 
Key Species: Emu, Regent Parrot, Mulga Parrot, Major Mitchells Cockatoo, Malleefowl, Chestnut Quail-thrush, Striped Honeyeater, Shy Heathwren, Southern Scrub-robin, White-browed Treecreeper, Gilberts Whistler, Black-eared Cuckoo, Redthroat. 

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Murray-Sunset National Park

 Pheenys track

Pheenys track

Getting there: From Ouyen either drive west on the Mallee Hwy towards Adelaide for access to the southern sections of the park, or continue north on the Calder Hwy for access to eastern and then northern sections. This is big country and quite remote, so be well prepared. It is always advisable to let the ranger know of your visit.

Key sites: The whole of the park is worth exploring, but distances and road conditions are the limiting factor.
The Wymlet tank area can be accessed by driving north on Meridian road from Walpeup. Close to Walpeup roadsides can be very birdy with pine, mallee and emubush habitat. Once you reach the park you arrive in mallee vegetation. Turning right takes you down to the site of Wymlet Tank, a permanent water source, where birds come to drink in the heat of summer. The mallee woodland here is good for Emu, Australian Owlet-Nightjar, Mulga Parrot and Australian Ringneck plus many other woodland species. Turning left at the end of Meridian road takes you onto Honeymoon Hut track which eventually ends up close to Pink Lakes. This is 4wd only, but the first 6 or 7 kms can be driven in 2wd with care (beware a sandy section early on). This stretch of road can produce many of the mallee specialities including the rare Red-lored Whistler, and Black-eared Miner (potentially no pure bred birds remaining), although both of these species are a challenge to see. Along the way look for Mulga Parrot, Striped Honeyeater, Crested Bellbird, Masked Woodswallow and Chestnut Quail-thrush. Malleefowl may be spotted on the track early morning, and the denser spots have Shy Heathwren and Southern Scrub-robin. Both Spotted Nightjar and Australian Owlet-Nightjar are present through the area.
Pink Lakes is a drive north from Linga just west of Underbool. The well maintained tracks here take you through open country around the salt lakes where Black-faced Woodswallow, Major Mitchell Cockatoo, Blue Bonnet etc may be sighted. The more open mallee woodlands have Crested Bellbird, Mulga Parrot, Southern Whiteface etc, and the denser mallee spinifex woodlands along Pioneer drive hold populations of Striated Grasswren, Mallee Emu-wren, Striped Honeyeater and Mulga Parrot. The 4WD Salt Bush Flat track runs off Pioneer Drive and takes you through some quality mallee woodland where Malleefowl and Chestnut Quail-thrush are scarce residents. 
The Raak plain is an area between the Calder highway and the National Park, and can be accessed by driving west from Hattah along Last Hope track. This drive takes you through a range of habitats including gypseous flats ( look out for Blue Bonnet and White-backed Swallow), mallee spinifex woodland ( possible Mallee Emu-wren) and open grassy plains ( a chance for Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo).
Rocket Lake track in from the north of the park is accessible with care in 2WD, except perhaps in wet weather taking you to Rocket lake, a dry salt lake surrounded by mallee and Casuarina woodland. Further down Rocket Lake track Mallee Emu-wren occur.

The western sections of the park are well worth visiting also if time allows and you have means of contact with the outside world.  Always worth contacting the rangers too before heading out to remote parts of the park. Millewa South Bore track and Pheenys tracks are hot spots for the most sort after species,  such as Red-lored Whistler, Striated Grasswren and Mallee Emu-wren. 
 
Key Species: Striated Grasswren, Mallee Emu-wren, Red-lored Whistler, Black-eared Miner, Chestnut Quail-thrush, Malleefowl, Major Mitchells Cockatoo

 Striated Grasswren

Striated Grasswren

The Raak plain is an area between the Calder highway and the National Park, and can be accessed by driving west from Hattah along Last Hope track. This drive takes you through a range of habitats including gypseous flats ( look out for Blue Bonnet and White-backed Swallow), mallee spinifex woodland ( Mallee Emu-wren) and open grassy plains ( a chance for Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo).
Rocket Lake track in from the north of the park is accessible with care in 2WD, except perhaps in wet weather taking you to Rocket lake, a dry salt lake surrounded by mallee and Casuarina woodland. Further down Rocket Lake track Mallee Emu-wren occur.    
 
Key Species: Striated Grasswren, Mallee Emu-wren, Red-lored Whistler, Black-eared Miner, Chestnut Quail-thrush, Malleefowl, Major Mitchells Cockatoo, Spotted Nightjar


Hattah - Kulkyne National Park

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Getting there
Turn east at Hattah from the Calder hwy onto the Robinvale road and after about 3kms turn left into the National Park’s main entrance. Further along the Robinvale road you can access River track which follows the Murray river north.

Key sites
The Hattah lakes system can be accessed from near the visitor centre and also along Mournpall track. Open country, dunes, and lakes fringed with River Red Gums provide a great place to see Emu, Regent Parrot, Major Mitchells Cockatoo, Australian Ringneck and Splendid Fairy-wren. When the lakes have water a variety of waterbirds will be present, such as Black-tailed Native-hen, Blue-billed Duck, Freckled Duck, Darter and Dotterels. Further along Mournpall track in open shrublands Chestnut-crowned Babbler may be seen, and further on still in the open mature mallee woodland, Crested Bellbird and various Parrots are likely.
Murray-Kulkyne regional park is the section adjacent to the river, accessed via River track (be careful in wet weather). Camping is allowed along much of the river which is good for Regent Parrot, Striped Honeyeater, Splendid Fairy-wren, Apostlebird, Chestnut-crowned Babbler and much more.
Nowingi track is the best known area to see Mallee Emu-wren and Striated Grasswren. Their preferred mallee-spinifex woodland is mainly found in the western section of the park. Konardin track is also good. Both these tracks require 4WD, but walking in either from the Old Calder hwy or from Mournpall track is quite realistic. Malleefowl and Chestnut-Quail-thrush also live here.
The Old Calder hwy is a wide well maintained but very quiet road from which good birding can be had. The northern end runs through mallee-spinifex country. The southern section travels through a mix of habitats including open county, mallee and gypseous flats. Nearly all of the parks special birds may be seen along the length of this road, with slow driving and random stops where there is bird activity recommended.     
 
Key Species
Mallee Emu-wren, Striated Grasswren, Regent Parrot, Major Mitchells Cockatoo, Spotted Nightjar, Chestnut-crowned Babbler, Chestnut-backed Quail-thrush, Malleefowl, Apostlebird, Splendid Fairy-wren, Shy Heathwren.
 

 The endangered Mallee Emu-wren, photo by Steven Jmaes

The endangered Mallee Emu-wren, photo by Steven Jmaes

Lake Tyrrell

 Lake Tyrell

Lake Tyrell

This vast salt lake north of Sea Lake is a good stop off on the way to the mallee. There are rarely any waterbirds present, it is the saltbush vegetation surround the lake that provides the interest.|

Getting there: The lookout, a few kms north of Sea lake on the Calder hwy is a good place to start. In dry weather it is possible to drive right around the lake, but any rain at all and it’s walking only as the salty clay quickly turns into a sticky ice rink. Access is also possible from the Robinvale Sea lake road where the Tyrrell creek runs into the lake.

Key sites: Extensive areas of saltbush habitat are found right around the lake, especially on the eastern side, with the key species occurring widely. For a quick stop the lookout is convenient. To spend a bit more time try driving up the eastern side of the lake.
Key Species: Rufous Fieldwren, White-winged Fairy-wren, Orange Chat, Black-faced Woodswallow

 Orange Chat

Orange Chat


Timberoo Flora and Fauna reserve

 Mulga Parrot

Mulga Parrot

This fairly small reserve south-west of Ouyen preserves some good quality cypress pine and casuarina habitat, which is now much depleted in north-west Victoria. There are few facilities, just a quiet and beautiful piece of pine woodland to wander in.

Getting there: Take the Ouyen-Patchewollock road south-west from Ouyen and after around 14kms turn right onto Scott Road. This takes you through the north-eastern part of the reserve. At the five way junction turn left heading south to join McIlvena road where you can turn right and eventually come out on the Walpeup lake road near Lake Walpeup which is usually dry. This route will take you through some of the best birding spots

Key Species: White-browed Treecreeper (rare but scattered throughout), Mulga Parrot, Splendid Fairy-wren, Little Eagle, Gilberts Whistler, Apostlebird (sometimes seen along Scott road)


Wandown Wildlife Reserve

One of a number of undeveloped mallee woodland reserves with no facilities and just a few sandy 4WD tracks. Wandown is a quality bit of mallee country on deep sandy dunes with a healthy population of Malleefowl plus other mallee specialities. The nearby Menzies block, just east of Marshell road is very similar country

Getting there: Wandown reserve is south-west of Boundary bend. Access from Koorkab road which runs between Annuello in the west and Haysdale in the east. The roads to get there, and those which go right around the perimeter, are kept in good condition, as are many mallee roads made for large agricultural machinery. Inside the reserve is definitely 4WD only, and it’s possibly just as good to wander in on foot. As with any mallee reserve, it is easy to become disorientated so never take chances on finding your way back to where you started.  

Key Species: Emu, Malleefowl, Regent Parrot, Mulga Parrot, Splendid Fairy-wren, Chestnut Quail-thrush, Crested Bellbird

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Bronzewing Flora and Fauna reserve

As with Wandown, Bronzewing has no facilities and only 4WD tracks within the reserve, and as with Wandown it is a pristine expanse of mallee woodland well worth spending time in.
Unfortunately in early 2014 an extensive naturally occurring bushfire raised large parts of the reserve, which will take many years to recover fully to its former glory, however that recovery is well underway and the dense regrowth is already supporting plenty of birds.


Getting there: The Sunraysia highway runs through the reserve from 10 to 20 kms south of Ouyen. Merrett road runs along the northern boundary and there are any number of access points.
It is also possible to access the reserve from the highway itself or from the track running west from Gypsum on the highway.

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Key Species: Emu, Malleefowl, Regent Parrot, Mulga Parrot, Spotted Nightjar, Splendid Fairy-wren, Chestnut Quail-thrush, Striped Honeyeater, Shy Heathwren, Southern Scrub-robin