Dates visited - June 2019
Nearest town with full facilities - Waikerie, South Australia
Birdlife Australia Gluepot Reserve - Gluepot website
Location - From the nearest major city Adelaide, South Australia and I have also given the route I drove to get to Gluepot from Sydney, New South Wales.
I love going to Birdlife Australia's Gluepot Reserve in the Mallee Riverland region of South Australia. It is one of my favourite locations anywhere, it has always provided wonderful experiences for me. I love the isolation of being in the the 50,000 square hectare old growth mallee vegetation, the conservation work that has been conducted at the property and of course the birds and other wildlife. I don't understand why it still hasn't become more popular, it still seems to be a secret location known only by the dedicated birdlife / wildlife enthusiasts within Australia but maybe for those in the know, we should keep it this way?
For me it holds a unique place in my heart, it's where I really consolidated my love for wildlife and bird photography. It is one of "two locations" where this passion started for me - I won't go into the other one just now, I'll do that in an upcoming future blog post. I have been fortunate enough to have visited Gluepot 4 times in the past decade and I am consistently thinking of ways I can get back there - this isn’t easy when living 1,350km away in Sydney. Initially, when I first started writing this blog I hadn't been to Gluepot since 2015 but in June 2019 I needed to take some time off work as I had accumulated quite a bit of Flexi time - I didn't hesitate, this was my opportunity... so I drove the 1,350km over 1 day - yep, 1 day - it was a mission but the time had come and it was time to get to Gluepot.
Gluepot is one of the last areas of old growth mallee vegetation left anywhere in Australia. Due to the age and diversity of the vegetation it still contains fantastic habitat, including incredible hollows for native animals and the approximately 190 Mallee bird species that have been identified at Gluepot. Many of these species are now rare or threatened. With sightings of endangered birds including the Malleefowl, Black Eared Miner, Red-lored Whistler, Scarlet Parrots and Regent Parrots as well as other unique species Birdlife Australia, its supporters and other donators banded together in 1997 and purchased the property. It is also now part of The greater Riverland Biosphere Reserve which is officially recognised by UNESCO.
Gluepot has excellent infrastructure. A fantastic information centre is located at the heart of the property, the homestead where if you are lucky one of the permanent volunteer rangers may be around to greet you and give you friendly recommendations of where to go and what sightings have taken place recently. Inside the information centre is the sighting wall - where visitors are encouraged to write down sightings and locations to share with rangers and other guests. At the information centre you can find everything you need, this is where you pay for camping permits and you can also grab maps, pamphlets for walking trails and you can also purchase other souvenir items. Once you have grabbed all your maps you can get on your way. There are a series of well maintained roads throughout the property to connect you to most parts of the reserve - approximately half the reserve is off limits to the general public due to scientific studies - all the birds found in the scientific study area can be found in the areas open to the general public. There are 14 bushwalking trails that are available and are easily accessed from the road network mentioned above, some of which even contain well constructed bird hides with permanent water - sightings of birds pretty well guaranteed! Gluepot map.
Some people can find the vegetation and landscape in the Mallee a little dull and repetitive but I absolutely adore it, its colour, the sunsets, the stillness, the smells and of course it’s such a great place for birding and wildlife viewing.
Birding photography is an absolute joy here due to the unique vegetation structure - the canopy of the Mallee vegetation is relatively low comparatively to the canopy in Forests, giving you a great opportunity to photograph birds which depending on your lens capability could normally be out of reach - an example is how close you can get to the Pardalote species - they are literally right there!
Gluepot Reserve contains fantastic species. I have had numerous great encounters at Gluepot - my most memorable being when I was photographing major Mitchell Cockatoos (a great encounter in itself) when from out of nowhere a Peregrine Falcon came ripping straight through the middle of the flock dispersing the birds in an explosion of colour and noise - to this day I’m still not sure whether the Peregrine was hunting or was just roaring through, it happened all so fast and obviously scared the living daylight out of the Major Mitchell Cockatoos and I swear to this day that I could feel the wind on my face from the Falcon wind beats as it zipped through.
Another fantastic highlight for me was lying in my swag one early morning before dawn listening to the amazing vocalisations of a Spotted Nightjar calling somewhere nearby. If you are familiar with or have heard the vocalisations you will know that Nightjars have the most amazing vocalisations. Unfortunately this call is not a sound that is common in the Mallee bush anymore, this species has become scarce due to habitat loss and predation. Other vocalisations that remind me of being at Gluepot are the songs of the Grey Butcherbird and the secretive Crested Bellbird.
I still haven’t been fortunate enough to locate any Malleefowl, I have found old nesting mounds but as of yet… no actual sightings… maybe my luck will change on my next visit - fingers crossed.
June 2019 visit
I left Sydney at 4.30am and began the 14 hour drive to Gluepot, I started down the Hume Highway towards the Wagga turnoff, I'm really not the greatest fan of the Hume as to me its very monotonous and to date I really haven't had much luck seeing any interesting birds on this drive. Today was to be different - I viewed a wonderful Little Eagle at eye level on the side of the road. I had that conversation with myself pull over, pull over, go back and get some photos but for some reason I didn't and I pushed on... another sighting to be stored in that other hard drive - the memory bank. I exited the Hume Highway onto the A20 Sturt Highway, the road I was going to be on for the next 10 hours - yep 10 hours. Once I was off the Hume I was happy, I love driving on country roads and watching the landscape constantly change - it gives me an insight into the land and also gives me perspective on how far I have actually driven. By the time I had reached Renmark in South Australia it was dark and I knew I still had a good 2 - 2.5hrs to go... this is when things start to get interesting - my eye sight isn't the greatest in the dark so I find it a little more difficult to drive at night. I drove into Waikerie and filled up with fuel, crossed the mighty Murray River on the Ferry and made my way finally to the Gluepot turnoff, I put my spotlights on and I was finally on that beautiful red dirt road that leads through numerous private properties to Gluepot Reserve - once on the dirt I was feeling quite comfortable as now I didn't have to worry about other vehicles / trucks etc - all I had to look out for was now the local wildlife - Roos, Emu's and Owlet Nightjars? Wait! What? Nightjars? Was that one in the middle of the road? Yep it sure was! My first bird within the region! What a start! I finally made my way into Gluepot at around 8.45pm and drove straight to my camp - I decided on the Sitella campground and after driving around half the campground was confident there were no other campers in camp. I was extremely tired so I decided to keep my car running and use my lights to help put up my tent, my tent is very easy to put up and as I was bloody knackered from my drive it was up in no time, I put my mattress down, jumped in my sleeping bag and I swear I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
I awoke at dawn the next day super excited, I came out of my tent expecting to see no one else in the campground, I was wrong - literally 50m directly in front of my tent was another tent - immediately I felt bad as I must have disturbed this campsite on my arrival last night - man they must be a little upset at me - how didn't I notice them! I waited for them to get up and walked over and apologised - they were totally fine and even commented on how impressed they were with the speed I was able to set up camp! Due to the monster drive of the previous day there was no way I was going to jump in my car and drive to a birding location, it was time to walk. Adjacent to Sitella camp is walk number 7 Black Oak Swap Walk and it was time to refamiliarise myself with Gluepot's Mallee Vegetation - let's do it! The first birds I cam across were a family group of Babblers, such noisy characters and seriously difficult to get close to, their family groups are always on the move and able to keep their distance. I then encountered a mixed flock of multiple birds species including Mallee Ringneck Parrot, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Spotted and Striated Pardalote, a family of Splendid Fairy Wrens, Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, White-plumed Honeyeater, White-fronted Honeyeater, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Striped Honeyeater, Grey Fantails and of course the friendly Jacky Winter.
Then things went quiet for a while - I walked down toward Final Dams at the bottom of the loop trail. This area is called Final Dams as it's where a dam use to be located when it was a farming property. Due to this, the vegetation where the dam use to be is different - lower and more saltbush dominated so I thought that it was worth a look as it may provide habitat for different species to that of the adjacent Mallee. Boy its interesting how sightings can eventuate, I was looking towards the horizon and thought what I was looking at was a Wedge Tailed Eagle perched in a tree, once I realised it was not I scanned my eyes just to the left and wouldn't you know it there sitting in a tree was a Wedge Tailed Eagle. I cautiously approached and was able to get extremely close to Australias largest Raptor. I was directly underneath the tree the Eagle was perched in - so cool - they really are massive! I just couldn't get quite the right angle of getting the bird perfectly in frame without an obstruction - there was always a branch or something obscuring the perfect view capturing that perfect Wedgie image. Still, a very cool experience.
After 10 minutes or so I accidentally stepped on a branch which spooked the Wedgie and off it went pumping its powerful wings. After it disappeared out of sight I noticed some white wash (Raptor poo) under the tree it had been sitting in, this bird must have been there for a decent amount of time so I thought there would more thank likely be a good chance it cleaned itself as well, could I find a nice feather to add to my collection? Sure enough I found numerous feathers = stoked!
I decided it was time to make my way back to the track, as I turned a small flock of Mulga Parrots flew over my head and landed in a dead shrub 5 metres behind me. Mulga Parrots have been a difficult bird to photograph for me, I have never been able to get a decent image of one of these beautiful inland Parrots. In my experiences this species has always been shy and super flighty. In contrast this seems to be strange to other bird photographers as numerous people I have spoken to and what I have seen on social media is that they can be extremely approachable and friendly? What? Who are these people and are we talking about the same bird species? Once again my experience was the same, as soon as I raised my camera to capture some images see ya later, they were gone! A great sighting but that familiar stench of disappointment hung in the air with this species, why can't I get a decent photo of this species. I made my way back to the trail and begun to make my way back to camp. After walking for 15 minutes it happened, I came across a pair of Mulga Parrots literally at my feet feeding on some seed on the ground. I was only metres away from them, surely they were going to take off and that would be that but not this time... I was able to spend a good 10 minutes photographing and observing this pair feeding on the ground. So this species being approachable was true! There you go!
I then did something I didn't think I was going to do that day, I jumped in my car. I did have to go to the homestead to pay my camping fees and to check in but I also wanted to check out the writing wall to see if there had been any interesting sightings over the past few days. There had been some sightings of Striated Grass Wren's which was one of my "hopeful" species. I payed my fees and decided to drive to one of the bird hides as I was physically quite tired and thought sitting in a bird hide for an hour or two would be a good way to still see some birds but also to relax. On my way to Emu Tank bird hide I encountered a Brown Falcon sitting observing the landscape and it gave me some great photographic opportunities.
I made my way to Emu tank bird hide and made myself comfortable. Over the next hour or 2 I encountered Mulga Parrots - including 1 male that had no tail, Mallee Ringnecks, Brown-headed Honeyeyaters, Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Superb-fairy Wren, and on the way out back to the car I encountered a White-eared Honeyeater.
I made my way back to camp, cooked up some dinner and went to bed. As I was trying to drift of to sleep I kept hearing this noise similar to that of a branch softly scraping against my car. My car was nowhere near any vegetation and the night was extremely still so what was it? I kept hearing this noise over and over and curiosity and annoyance got the better of me. I got out out of my tent and with my torch I went to investigate. What I found was that bugs were attracted to the colour of my car and micro-bats were swooping down and grabbing them of the bonnet of my car - it was the bats softly scraping my bonnet that was making the noise! I watched this behaviour for a good 10 minutes and then it just stopped, just like that. I went back to my sleeping bag and boy I slept well that night.
I got up early and made the short drive to bushwalking number 2 - Striated Grasswren walk and yep you guessed it that was my target species for this walk. On my visit to the homestead the previous day I noticed on the sighting wall that the Striated Grasswren had been sighted on this walk only a couple of days earlier. These cryptic little birds are found in Spinifix country and are extremely difficult to see - even if you know where a bird is, they are as most grass wrens are experts at hiding and being on the opposite side of the grass clump to that of what you are - well this is what I have heard anyway! I searched in suitable habitat over and over for hours and hours on this trip and didn't even hear a bird vocalisation. I swear Grasswrens are a mythical bird invented to drive us bird enthusiasts mad.
On this walk I did have some fantastic sightings, the first birds I encountered were a small family of Hooded Robins - quite a plain looking bird but I personally think they are little rippers - I do love all Robins though so maybe I am a little biased.
My next encounter was an unexpected lifer. I knew these birds were found at Gluepot but it wasn't really a species I was expecting to see as they can be uncommon. Whilst walking along the Parcooola boundary fence I caught some movement on the ground with my peripheral vision, on turning the movement had stopped so I scanned the immediate area and I locked onto a beautiful male Chestnut Quail-thrush! Wow! What a beautiful looking bird. We both stayed motionless for the next minute or so and then the vocalisations of his mate got the better of him and he literally ran across the road in front of me. I sat down and patiently waited to see if the birds would appear and fortunately for me the male did. He started fossicking nearby and even found some dead logs to climb on and whistle. She was far more illusive and shy and I wasn't really able to get a clear view of her as she was consistently hidden under the undergrowth in shrubs nearby. He seemed to be far more confident. What an experience and I was able to capture some fantastic images over the next 10 minutes.
For the next hour or so I really didn't encounter many birds, the occasional Spotted Pardalote and a small flock of Varied Sitellas few over. I spent over an hour walking through sand dunes where spinifix was the dominant species hoping to find the Striated Grasswren but as discussed earlier no luck...
Approaching the Grasswren Tank bird hide which is part of the walk a Wedge Tailed Eagle appeared on the horizon and literally flew straight over my head at a very low height. Always a cool experience to have these birds so close - seriously massive and such graceful gliders - I wonder if it was the same bird I had seen the previous day? I watched as it circled and a low height and then decided to catch an up draft and get higher and higher until it disappeared out of sight.
As I approached the Grasswren Tank bird hide the bird activity really ramped up, near the road junction it was alive. I encountered numerous Jacky Winters, Spotted and Striated Pardalotes, Brown Tree-creepers, a pair of Gilberts Whistler and small family groups of Varied Sitellas, Splendid Fairy Wrens, Red-capped and Hooded Robins. I spent the next hour observing the interactions of the species and capturing some images - so much fun!
After all this died down I went and sat in the Grasswren Tank bird hide. Similar birds to that of yesterdays sightings at Emu Tank bird hide were sighted including Mulga Parrots, Brown-headed Honeyeyaters, Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Superb-fairy Wren, Striped Honeyeater and White-eared Honeyeater.
I decided to head back to camp but on my way I was going to stop in at the Froggy Dam hide as it was on my way. Once in the hide there was really nothing going on at all - it was eerily quiet, to quiet. On careful observation I found out why - there was what I originally thought was a Brown Goshawk out the back, on closer inspection I realised it was a Collared Sprarrowhawk - happy to be proved wrong though. Initially its position was obscured by the thick vegetation but as I was scanning through with my binoculars I noticed its shape. Once I spotted it, it decided to come in for a drink. What a beautiful Raptor. The bird had a drink and moved back into a ambush position in the Casuarinas. I thought it would be an idea to hang around to see what would happen if other birds came in for a drink. Some Mulga Parrots came in but no action and then everything went quiet for the next 30 mins. It was getting dark by this time so it was time for me to head back to camp and make some dinner. After cooking dinner and sitting outside my tent I heard the harsh vocalisations of a Eastern Barn Owl - boy if you didn't know what it was that noise would scare the living daylights out of you for sure!
The next morning I was up bright and early. During the night Gluepot had a small amount of rain and the damp had crept into my tent over night - it was my fault as I wasn't expecting rain and I hadn't put the fly on so... I guess thats what you get! I was still dry but the inside of the tent was a little damp. It was a crystal clear morning now so I was sure as the day warmed up the sun would dry it out over the next few hours. I was excited about today as I was going to visit an area of Gluepot that has always been productive for me. The area in and around the Old Gluepot Homestead Ruins including the Bird hide. This morning was to be no different, it was amazing morning light, it always is after rain has fallen, the warm light seems to glimmer of the moisture that has accumulated on the vegetation and the Hooded Robins were embracing this wonderful sunrise. I was able to capture some fantastic images of this species and even had them pruning each other only metres away from me when I was in the bird hide.
After this fantastic wildlife experience I began driving down the Leg of Mutton road and stopping anytime I found areas of significant spinifiex just in the hope of locating some Striated Grasswren. I did encounter more Hooded Robins and a large family of Varied Sitellas but once again no sign of the mythical Striated Grasswren.
After a couple of hours of exploring I arrived at Swamp Dam. I parked the car and decided to for a walk. I heard the familiar sounds of Whistlers and thought it was most likely a Rufous or Golden Whislter but after carefully listening and getting closer to the vocalisations i realised that they calls were actually that of Gilberts Whistlers. I had been unable to obtain any decent images of this species to date so I thought I would give it a go. I have found these birds super difficult to photograph especially compared to that of the Whistlers I am use to on the East Coast, the Golden and Rufous Whistlers - those 2 species seem to spend the majority of their time in the canopy and are not shy, whereas the Gilberts Whistler in my experience are the opposite - shy, inconspicuous and feed on invertebrates in the understory. Anytime I would approach and get close they would always be obscured by branches and be on the opposite side of the shrubs. If I would move around to the other side of the shrub the bird would also move, it was so frustrating - one of the most frusting experiences I have had trying to photograph a bird. Anytime I had the bird in the open (which was a rare event) I would set up the frame and as I was about to press the shutter button the bird would shoot off - this happened time and time again. I gave up on multiple occasions but then the bird seemed to almost follow me, almost saying you haven't given up yet have you? This happened 3 or 4 times, I finally got some OK images and enough was enough, it was time to see what else was around... which was unfortunately nothing.
I went back to camp to grab some late lunch and to make sure my tent was dry. After lunch I decided to re-explore the area where I had success on my first day along the Walk number 7 Black Oak Swap Walk. It was once again alive and kicking, plenty of species around and plenty of photographic opportunities.
Today was the day of the Whistlers, I encountered the Golden and Ruous Whistler as well as Splendid Fairy Wren, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill and another specie that I have previously been unable to get a decent photo of, the White-fronted Honeyeater. As with most Honeyeaters these birds are always on the move, I followed a small group of these birds around for 20 minutes and they always kept a safe distance, I was about to head back to camp when one landed directly above me on a dead branch, the light wasn't great but it was still an opportunity I couldn't pass up.
The next day was going to be my last day at Gluepot and I really only had half a day to explore as I needed to be in Adelaide in the late afternoon. I decided to go to another area that previously had been very successful for me road number 9 to long dam. I packed up my camp before I made my way to the dam, due to further light rain that fell over night the red dirt was sticking to everything - it made packing up a very messy process and a little more difficult than anticipated. Did you know that is actually where Gluepot gets its name? Once the soil gets wet, it literally sticks to everything.
I made my way to track number 9 passing so many other great areas I was keen to explore but time wouldn't allow me.
I arrived at Long Dam and explored for a couple of hours. There wasn't a great deal of action for the first hour or so but as I started making my way back to the car, I came across a small flock of Southern White Face, I was able to capture some great images, my first for this species.
As I left this sighting I had my last for Gluepot, I came across a beautiful friendly male Red Capped Robin that seemed to want to have his photograph taken. A great way to finish off another successful and enjoyable trip to the mighty Gluepot Reserve.