A brief intro.
Each year Ali and I do a longish trip somewhere around Australia. This year (2019) we decided to head up to Mt Isa. ‘Why Mt Isa?’ I hear you say. Well Mt Isa and surrounds is home to two species of grasswrens, the Kalkadoon and the Carpentarian Grasswren. This year’s trip was going to be different for several reasons. The biggest was that we had a new team member for our adventure, Otto our four month old son. We were also doing a three week trip, rather than the usual two weeks, and we would be heading back from Mt Isa along the same route as we got there, along Birdsville Track.
Highlight 1: Eyrean Grasswrens
Eyrean grasswrens live on the top of sand dunes in the Simson and Strzelecki Deserts where there is plenty Sandhill Canegrass to hide among. They are very much a boom and bust species who’s numbers dwindle when conditions are dry and the vegetation on the dunes deteriorates, but in good seasons you almost can’t walk on a dune without tripping over them.
We started searching for Eyreans on the southern part of Birdsville Track, and were successful in finding them. However, the dunes were relatively dry and the grasswrens were proving elusive. The canegrass on many of the dunes was very dry and grey despite there being some wild flowers present (certainly in less favorable condition than back in 2017 when we were there last). Despite this, further north the dune vegetation was in better condition and Little Red and Big Red dunes west of Birdsville were looking good. We saw Eyreans at both Little and Big Red, and the ones at Little Red were carrying around grasshoppers to feed to their young. However, one Eyrean grasswren on Big Red provided me with one of the most outstanding grasswren experiences I have ever had.
I spotted this Eyrean a bit further along the dune from where I was, and I went and followed it quietly. I managed to get very close to it, within a few meters, while it was foraging in a clump of canegrass. I could hear it moving around and it was well aware of my presence. It would forage in a clump of canegrass, come out to the edge for a look around, then move swiftly to the next clump were I followed it too, quietly and carefully. For about 10 minutes this went on, and it was fascinating to watch the bird so close, at one point picking up a meal worm looking insect. After the grasswrens was finished in one clump of canegrass, and to my absolute surprise and awe, the Eyrean hopped out into the open about 1 m from my leg and watched me for several moments. Grasswrens are generally very secretive and will keep their distance watching a viewer from within bushes (where you can’t see them) or perching several tens of meters away to have a very quick look at you (if you’re lucky). And there was one right there! By my leg! In the open! It was absolutely wonderful seeing this animal so close, seeing the detail in its feathers, its face and the way it stood in the sand. Great pictures are one thing, seeing the details with your own eyes and being so close to such a generally elusive animal, is just next level. I thank that little grasswren for proving me with one of the best wildlife experiences I have had in my life. I wish it all the best for its future endeavors.