Dates visited - August 2018
Traditional owners of Country - Kunja (Koun-yah) people
Nearest major city - Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Nearest town - Cunamulla, Queensland, Australia.
Our Accommodation - Shearing Quarters at Bowra Station
Bowra Wildlife Sanctuary lies 16 kilometres northwest of Cunnamulla, in central southern Queensland. Cunnamulla is approximately 800 kilometres (9.5 hours) west of Brisbane.
Animals sighted - NOTE: Only animals positively identified have been included.
Bird Species Seen
White-Headed Stilt, Black-fronted Dotterel, Masked Lapwing, White-faced Heron, Emu, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Whistling Kite, Black Kite, Brown Goshawk, Brown Falcon, Australian Owlet-nightjar (vocalisations at night), Major Mitchell Cockatoo, Galah, Cockatiel, Little Corella, Red-winged Parrot, Mulga Parrot, Bourke's Parrot, Blue Bonnet Parrot, Common Bronzewing, Rainbow Bee-eater, White-plumed Honeyeater, Brown Honeyeater, Yellow-throated Miner, Grey-crowned Babbler, Varied Sittella, White-winged Triller, Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike, Black-faced Woodswallow, Pied Butcherbird, Australian Magpie, Apostlebird, Australian Raven, Spotted Bowerbird, Magpie-lark, Restless Flycatcher, Grey Fantail, Willie Wagtail, Jacky Winter, Hooded Robin, Red-capped Robin, Rufous Whistler, Grey Shrike-thrush and Mistletoebird.
Visiting Bowra Wildlife Station
Bowra Station, located in the Mulga Lands Biogregion of South East Queensland, is approximately half an hours drive from Cunamulla or a 9.5 hour drive from Brisbane. The station consists of 14,000 hectares of natural vegetation. Multiple vegetation communities are present, which include a complex mosaic of flood plains, numerous types of woodlands, rocky hills, grasslands and most important of all - especially in the middle of the drought - permanent water holes. Bowra is home to over 300 native animals of which 29 are mammal species, 62 reptile species and 218 bird species, of which 9 are threatened.
The Station is an internationally recognised birding location. It is a unique property which was purchased in 2010 by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy with the assistance of the Australian Federal government, Birdlife Australia and other private donors. It is primarily managed by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, with Birds Queensland managing visitor information, accommodation and bird related activities on the property. It has been well known in the Australian Birding community for a very long time, even when it was privately owned, and is now open to the general public/visitors from 1st March to 31st October 2019 and bookings are essential.
There are numerous bush tracks to explore either in the comfort of your vehicle or on foot, and if you are like me, you can just walk off into the bush and start exploring.
As our time was relatively short at Bowra, we decided to stay in the shearing quarters. It is simple but comfortable accomodation, with cooking and kitchen facilities as well as private bedrooms (with electric blankets - very important as it was quite chilly at Bowra at our time of visit) which open out into the communal living area. The volunteers representing Queensland Birds were extremely friendly, helpful and went out of their way to ensure our stay was memorable. There is also plenty of space available for camping at designated camping sites adjacent to the water holes.
The first evening I explored around the shearing quarters, homestead and permanent water holes adjacent to the homestead. I had 2 fantastic sightings that made both my day. Both involving Parrots!
The first was whilst walking through the bush when I heard the familiar sounds of Parrots munching and grinding on some fruit, where were they? Slowly and carefully I made my way closer to the sound and there they were, a small family group of 10 Major Mitchell Cockatoos all on the ground, going about getting their afternoon feed. They really didn’t mind my presence at all, and I was able to get quite close to them as they "waddled" around. After spending time with these magnificent Cockatoos I walked back up to the smaller waterhole adjacent to the homestead. I was patiently watching a Black Fronted Dotterel slowly walking towards me on the waters edge, I was hoping it was going to come within striking distance so that I could capture some decent photos. It was getting quite close when I heard the vocalisations of Blue Bonnet Parrots approaching, I turned my head and they literally landed in the dead tree right next to me, this was unbelievable - one of my target species right here, right now!
I nervously raised my camera and was able to obtain my best images of this species to date. They stayed in that tree for all of 30 seconds, became nervous once they knew of my presence and disappeared into the Mulga.
I then made my way down to the main waterhole, I wanted to see what kind of action there was here in the late afternoon and I wanted to use that knowledge to work out where the best place would be to set up and position myself for the following evening. Numerous bird species came down to quench their thirsts, it was a fantastic place to watch other wildlife as well - primarily the iconic Red Kangaroo. The sunset was stunning, those outback skies are always so special.
The next morning I was up bright and early watching the sunrise over the waterhole. A lone Major Mitchell Cockatoo landed on one of the dead stag trees in the waterhole. The light was perfect and this Parrot put on quite the display. Parrots are known for being quirky characters, but this individual must have been having some kind of morning, this bird was extremely active and playful, rotating and spinning around the branch, vocalising, raising its impressive crest and just clowning around having an absolute ball! This was magic for wildlife photography, beautiful light, a bird displaying wonderful behavior and a perfect backdrop - it was brilliant. I able to capture some of my personal favourite images to date during this sighting.
There are numerous habitats to explore and some fantastic dry creeks (dry at the time of my visit due to the drought) as well as the permanent waterholes at Bowra Wildlife Sanctuary. I continued my mornings exploration and came across numerous birds including a Jacky Winter that was hunting using its favourite saltbush as its launching pad, a group of Grey Crowned Babblers jumping raucously through the bush - no wonder they are sometimes called "Yahoo-birds" and 3 pairs of Australian Ringneck Parrots searching for and eating seed on the ground similar to the sighting I had of the Major Mitchell Cockatoos the previous day.
I then decided to walk along the road to find somewhere that looked ‘interesting’ to wander off into the bush. I found my spot and wandered off into the vegetation and encountered numerous Red Capped Robins and a family of Hooded Robins and as I walked back to the shearing quarters through the bush I came across a small group of Varied Sittellas.
Once back at the shearing quarters I encountered the energetic resident Restless Flycatcher singing his heart out from his favourite tree adjacent to the buildings. After taking some rest in the afternoon heat, as the day cooled I made my way down to the edge of the water to set up for hopefully another fantastic session of wildlife photography. The first bird to arrive was a Spotted Bowerbird. It landed in a tree above me, cautiously made its way down to the waters edge and had a drink - love his little pink mohawk - what a punk!
A flock of hundreds of Galahs was the next to arrive, a common bird, especially in the outback, but still when they are in those kind of numbers, with that beautiful outback light, it truly is a magnificent sight - their vibrant colour is just stunning and don’t forget about the noise! You certainly know they are there! The sound that really sticks with me on this occasion is a sound I wasn’t expecting or familiar with - when the majority of the flock were resting, roosting in a couple of the dead stag trees in the waterhole, they were all at the same time simultaneously grinding their beaks - it was quite the sound I have to say - almost similar to running your fingernails down a chalkboard x 1000 (if you’re old enough to remember that sound that is). It was a unique sound to say the least.
I managed to capture some great images of these Galahs together sitting on a log in the water - all individuals showing unique behavior, drinking, landing, hanging upside down ,erecting their crests in excitement or just generally clowning around as Parrots do. A fantastic wildlife photography opportunity and experience!
I spotted some Ringneck Parrots and Mulga Parrots on the other side of the waterhole with my binoculars - unfortunately out of reach for my camera equipment to capture images but for the caravan that was set up at that location, I could see that they had their tripods and cameras out and that they were busy snapping away, I am sure they would have captured some wonderful images.
At the time I was surprised not to see any finch species coming into the waterhole this particular afternoon to quench their thirsts, but as I was contemplating this thought, I realised there didn’t seem to be much food for them on my walks so far, so no wonder there were no Finch sightings.
It was now time for the star of the show to arrive, the bird I had been waiting for, the beautiful Major Mitchell Cockatoo, 2 pairs of this species landed in one of the dead stag trees, vocalised, then waited for the hundreds of Galahs to scream of into the sunset - they were massively outnumbered. They then cautiously made their way down to the logs in the water to get their drink. Once again I was lucky enough to capture some fantastic images of them drinking and displaying their spectacular crest. It really does have to be up there for one of the greatest of all birds crest worldwide wouldn’t you agree? Such a stunning bird - just wonderful. Really, really happy with the image below - probably my favourite personal image to date.
Once darkness fell across the waterhole, I went back into the shearing quarters where each night all the guests that were staying at the property are invited to join in a group discussion on what birds they had seen and identified that day - a "bird call" as they so appropriately called it. There were 8 of us that evening and there were some interesting species sighted.
One of which was another Parrot I was hoping to see - the fascinating Bourke's Parrot. Guests spoke about where they had sighted the species that day and I asked about other locations that would be suitable to find the Bourke’s Parrot. I only had the next morning to find them as we were leaving the next day for the long drive to Longreach, Queensland.
The caretakers and guests agreed the best opportunity for me to see these Parrots would be to wake up an hour before dawn, go and hide and set up under the shrubs adjacent to the waterhole and wait patiently - they all discussed that photography would be near impossible as they come in for a drink when its still pitch black - that was fine… I just wanted the opportunity to see these birds in the wild.
I woke super early, went down to the waterhole and lied down under some shrubs. I patiently waited in the cold and then the birds started arriving, they sounded like Pigeons coming in as they flew overhead and landed which fascinated me, I have heard of people confusing them with Diamond Doves - surely this must be the reason why? I reckon there must have been 10-20 birds come in - not all together but in phases and in pairs. I had 6 or so birds approximately 5 - 10metres away from me - it was extremely peaceful and I was enchanted by these birds, one of my favourite wildlife encounters and I was loving every moment of it. I stayed at this location and watched the sunrise - I was truly happy to be here, in the bush and this was just the start of my adventure!
Did you know due to their behaviour of visiting waterholes pre dawn and post dusk that an alternative name for the Bourke's Parrots are the Sundown Parrots?
The sun had risen and we had a long day in front of us. We had some breakfast, packed the car and off we went - I had viewed plenty of awesome birds at Bowra Wildlife Sanctuary - I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to obtain photos of the Bourke's Parrot and a couple of other species I was hoping for but equally I had finally been to Bowra and it had lived up to all expectations and I will be back, thats for sure!
On the way out on the main access road to Cunamulla, I could see movement just to the left on the side of the road - man they looked like Parrots - I stopped the car and pulled out my binoculars to have a look - they were small, grey, pink and blue - they were Bourke Parrots! How fortunate was this!? I noticed a car travelling in from the other direction and clearly he/she was also taking an interest in these birds as they too had their camera out but they were fortunate enough to be shooting images from inside their car!
After 10-15 minutes the car coming in from the other direction moved forward and we exchanged pleasantries as he drove past - he let me know there were quite a few birds just out of view from the road so I drove up to his previous location, got out of the car and slowly made my way out into the open. These birds had fantastic camouflage and it took several minutes to eventually locate them, some birds were on the ground feeding and some were roosting - I was able to obtain some fantastic photos - my first for this species and I left feeling pretty bloody good about what I had just experienced - so good in fact that for the next 45 minutes I didn’t actually realise I was driving in the complete wrong direction to our next destination! Better turn around and do all of that again - lets start this drive again! Lucky my wife has a sense of humour.