Lake Bindegolly, Jul 2021

[A stop on the West Queensland Trip Jul-Aug 2021 trip].

Lake Bindegolly is just one of a string of freshwater and saltwater lakes found in the 14000ha Lake Bindegolly National Park, 40km east of Thargomindah in the mulga country of Western Queensland.  For the outback traveller it is a welcome break from long arid stretches, and for the birdwatcher it provides protected habitat for over 180 species, including many water birds that give the lake a seaside feel.

A day use area with good parking is accessible via a short access road and is the starting point for the official walking trails in the park. Actually there is just one loop trail with a side spur to a bird watching area on the east of the lake. Just don’t expect to see the lake from the day use area – water levels were low when we visited, with a 4.5km walk to the water’s edge.   

Opposite the day use area on the south side of the highway is a sandy road that leads to some great free bush camping sites where we stayed overnight. There are no amenities but plenty of solitude and some views of the more southerly lakes.

If you are short on time there is also a bird hide just a short 100m walk along the access road (which is actually remnants of the old highway) on the highway side of the day use area, with information on birds you can see in the National Park. This was our first port of call after arriving in the afternoon. It was here we had a lovely up close encounter with a Black-shouldered Kite that was hunting low over the creek that runs under the highway and links into other lakes.

Making our way back to the day use area shelter with lingering wishes the kite could have been Letter-winged, we felt determined to walk to the lake edge proper. The shelter has bins and some information signage including a map of the walks – it’s a good idea to take a photo of this before attempting the walks. It’s best to do the walks early in the morning to maximise your birding opportunities, and also since the paths are very exposed with no protection at all from the sun or wind.

Starting our walk in the afternoon we took the most direct route to the bird watching area, starting by walking around 1km along a sandy vehicular track which meanders along the eastern high water edge through scrubby cover, then taking a left turn onto the walking trail circuit. The next section of the walk was devoid of trees but fascinating for the variety of grasses, bushes and saltwater loving ground covers like samphire.  Initially we were disappointed not to see or even hear much, but eventually we spotted Brown Songlarks, Fairywrens, Black-faced Woodswallows and some small yellow mystery birds.

On reaching the lake edge we followed the 800m path to the left along a sandy spit, to the birdwatching area. The birdwatching area is simply a raised peninsular a few metres above the water level which allows for birdwatching in most directions. When water levels are low you will want to bring a scope for best viewing. Shorebirds and waterbirds are easily spooked and it’s always best to approach these areas quietly and slowly and behind cover if possible. That was the theory, unfortunately there was no cover so we watched as hundreds of birds took off to safety as we walked the last 100m. Luckily they landed close by! It is possible to walk over the dry lakebed sections to get closer to birds of interest, but keep in mind how fragile some of the ecosystems are.

A family of White-winged Fairywrens, including a male with breath-taking electric blue and white plumage, kept us company as waterbirds came into view on either side. So began a frenzy of trying to take in the plentitude of birds around us near and far, interspersed with photo opportunities as Black-faced Woodswallows and Red-capped Plovers approached closer. We didn’t see the Freckled Ducks which are occasional visitors to the lake but spotted plenty of Pink-eared Ducks and Grey Teals with a pair of Shovellers for good measure. 

Pelicans abounded, as did Black Swans who were nesting on a nearby island, accompanied by the various ducks, Cormorants and Darters. Caspian Terns were noisily staking their territory above the lake (who knew they could be so loud) in between plunge diving for fish, only slightly outnumbered by Silver Gulls. Red-necked Avocets gracefully stalked the mudflats and were occasionally swept up in flocks of ducks taking off. By the time we left it was easy to believe that bird numbers can range in the tens of thousands in a good season.

Sunset was close by, and as we returned along the spit, we were excited to see a group of Orange Chats foraging in the lakeside grass. In the last light the males looked a gorgeous golden colour which contrasted with the black face and throat.  We then realised the mystery bird from earlier was a female Orange Chat.

The Orange Chats were plentiful all the way back to the more shrubby areas and really made our day! As we rushed back to camp before dark we had already decided to return the next morning.

The next morning we drove along the access track to the bird watching track turnoff, saving some energy for the walk. We immediately noticed more birds near the start of the track than yesterday, including a Red-capped Robin and squadrons of waterbirds passing overhead to the lake. The Orange Chats and White-winged Fairywrens were also more active in small family groups as we returned to the lake edge.

Once again the water was, ahem, awash with waterbirds. As we predicted, the easterly morning light was better for photography, as it lit the birds from the side or front when we were in the official bird watching area, looking at birds in the water to the west and south. Although we didn’t see many new species there were many more birds than the previous afternoon, so morning is definitely the best time to visit. The Caspian Terns were playing together again, the practice paying off as they also fought off a bird of prey that strayed too close. We also had great up-close encounters with an Australasian Pipit, reminding us that there was plenty of action on the ground as well as the water and sky.

The return walk turned up some new birds including a family of Chestnut Crowned Babblers, as well as Pink Cockatoos, Kestrels and of course more Woodswallows, Songlarks, Chats and Fairywrens. We returned to the car satisfied after a great morning of birding, only to have a Brown Falcon put the icing on the cake as it swooped onto a perch metres away as we drove away across the bridge.

Overall Lake Bindegolly is well worth setting a good morning aside for. It’s also a good alternative if you aspire to visit the lakes in Currawinya National Park but don’t have a 4WD or are not keen on a long drive off-road. If you heading to Bindegolly specifically for the water birds, it’s worth seeking some local advice on water levels before committing to the minimum 6km-return walk. After initially fearing we might be walking to a dry lake bed, we were treated to an oasis in the outback and came away with some fantastic memories.

Hotspot: Lake Bindegolly National Park (193 species)
Checklist for afternoon visit (20 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Fantastic numbers of waterbirds and interesting grassbirds
+ Few visitors so you will likely have the place to yourself
+ Close to the highway, no need for a 4wd
+ Free bush camping close by
– Long sandy walking track to get to lake
– Exposed to sun and wind during walk

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