Highlights of Mt Isa via Birdsville Track 2019: Part 2 Grey Grasswrens and the green outback

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A Grey Grasswren (Subspecies diamantina) on Birdsville Track hiding in saltbush.

Grey Grasswrens are somewhat of a legend in my mind. They are a mysterious, elusive creature that lives in the remote arid interior of Australia where the tales and names of early European explores abound. Grey Grasswrens are peculiar among grasswrens in both looks and habitat. They have striking black and white markings compared to earthy browns, rufous and greys of many of the other species, and they live in tangled clumps of lignum (sometimes with saltbush), compared to hummock grasses (Trioda), chenopods (e.g. saltbushes, blue/black bushes) and canegrass that the other grasswrens reside in.

In 2017 we were fortunate enough to have a wonderful encounter with these birds. However, this year when we went looking for them again on Birdsville Track, we where blown away by the experience. The floods that had come down from Queensland fueled by cyclones had reached out and turned the Grey Grasswren’s habitat green and spurred on abundant new life. There were Crimson Chats foraging, small flocks of brilliant green budgies flying over, Zebra Finches and Diamond Doves drinking from a small pool of muddy water, all surrounded by a verdant green carpet of herbaceous plants speckled with the bright colours of wildflowers. Within minutes we heard the grasswrens calling from all around us, from this or that clump of lignum or saltbush. We waited and wandered around quietly and after not too long the grasswrens were zipping between bushes and climbing to the top of clumps of vegetation to have a look at the visitors on their patch. It was clear that the grasswrens, like the other birds, were benefiting from the floods, as we saw a fledgling hopping around on the ground with its still as yet ill-defined markings. It was wonderful to see these grasswrens again and their habitat in such fine condition. It has been a bucket list item for me to see the desert in bloom and this trip certainly ticked that box.

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Wildflowers blooming in Grey Grasswren Habitat.

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Crimson (top) and Orange Chats (bottom) were some of the more colourful outback residents benefiting from the floods.
Grey Grasswren habitat 2018
Grey Grasswren habitat on Birdsville track in 2017
Grey Grasswren habitat 2019
Grey Grasswren habitat on Birdsville track in 2019 after flooding

 

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