Bladensburg National Park, Jul 2021

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

Bladensburg National Park is located 17km south of the outback Queensland town of Winton. It was formerly a cattle station and was declared a National Park in 1994.

Although it was winter when we visited, Bladensburg will forever be known to me as a hot, dry and dusty place, due to the arid 36 degree days we experienced there.

Bough Shed Hole

If you’re camping at Bladensburg, as we were, you’ll no doubt find yourself at Bough Shed Hole, a reasonably pleasant and shady spot on the edge of a creek with (very) basic toilet facilities. When we were there, the creek wasn’t flowing but still had plenty of pools of standing water, which attracted a few birds, including Egrets and a White-Faced Heron.

White-Plumed Honeyeaters were (very) abundant around the camp, with the Yellow-Throated Miners coming in a distant second on the Honeyeater front. Zebra Finches also made pilgrimages to the water from around the place.

Cockatiels were present too, and as evening dropped a small group of Galahs stood sentry on the various dead trees near the campground, the setting sun turning their pink feathers a deep blushing colour. At night we also heard an Owlet-Nightjar, but despite vigilant scanning with the torch, we never tracked it down.

To the south of the campground, the road crosses the creek (marked “Top Crossing” on the map), and there was more water here and sort-of half a trail on the west side of the creek.

We followed this half-trail for a long while, and thought we might have heard the sound of a Red-Browed Pardalote, which we were looking hard for. We didn’t see that bird, but we did see Apostlebirds (always a pleasure), Whistling Kites, a Great Egret, and a Darter… plus, of course, the ever-present White-Plumed Honeyeaters and Yellow-Throated Miners.

North of Skull Hole

We accidentally missed the turn-off to Skull Hole (quite how remains a solid mystery), but that proved to be a very happy accident as we found a spot about 1.7km north-east of that turn-off that proved to be a happy hunting ground for us. It is more or less located where the eBird hotspot Bladensburg National Park–Northwest part is, and is a stone’s throw away from the road where a set of trees line a creek.

A Spiny-Cheeked Honeyeater was seen first – no surprise, as they are fairly common in the dry areas. But then a very lovely Mistletoebird came in, and soon after I could hear a different, high piping call higher up in a nearby tree. My birding companion had been chasing some Spinifex Pigeons on the other side of the road so I quickly called him over, and we both pinpointed the source of the unusual call – a Painted Honeyeater!

Painted Honeyeaters are also sometimes called “Georgies” based on their call, and are very often found near mistletoe, the fruits of which they like to feed on (today I learned!) They are considered rare throughout their range, so it was a real buzz to see one (actually, two).

There was plenty of other bird action too, not just in the denser trees along the creek (which – you guessed it – featured White-Plumed Honeyeaters and Yellow-Throated Miners), but in the sparser trees further back from the creek line. This included some gorgeous Black-Faced Woodswallows, a scattering of Budgies and Peaceful Doves, and a few Grey-Crowned Babblers to boot.

The Zebra Finches also came in thick and fast, probably going in for their morning drink then using the dead trees to group up before moving on. We counted about 200 all up – very impressive! Lastly, a male Cockatiel also came along and posed on a dead branch.

It was all a bit exciting seeing these birds in a relatively nondescript spot, and the mostly sparse vegetation allowed good photographs to be taken without too much foliage obscuring things. The Painted Honeyeaters were definitely a huge highlight, and proved to be the only time we saw that species on our entire West Queensland trip.

Skull Hole and surrounds

We then moved on to the more official area known as Skull Hole, though this is sort-of nondescript as well – the car park is merely a dirt patch ringed by stones. Of more interest was the rocky terrain, with the remnants of creek line and just a few standing pools of water. Curiously, despite the availability of water and the tree coverage, we saw very few birds here.

We decided to follow the suggestion in Tim Dolby and Rohan Clark’s Finding Australian Birds book, which said to follow the road from the Skull Hole car park to the south-east for 2.5km to another creek line where Hall’s Babblers and a host of other interesting birds might be found (Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush, Rufous-crowned Emu-Wren and Red-Browed Pardalote were all mentioned).

The fly in the ointment was a sign proclaiming “Motor Vehicles Restricted”, so we had to walk… and the morning was really heating up without a cloud in sight. We wondered if we were being foolhardy, and indeed the dry dirt roads didn’t yield much in the way of scenery or birds for quite a while. We may have joked about Quail-Thrushes more times than was healthy…

Walking at least gives you an opportunity to hear or see birds you might not otherwise see when tearing along in a moving vehicle, and after a while we did get onto some rather neat birds: some Hooded Robins, Cockatiels, and a very vocal Crested Bellbird.

Another surprise was a pair of Bourke’s Parrots, and a Mistletoebird. When we got to the creekline (which was very dry, but at least lined with quite a few shady trees), there were a few birds about, chiefly Singing and Spiny-Cheeked Honeyeaters, and some Purple-Backed Fairywrens that really didn’t want their photos taken.

Behind the creekline we chased a group of 14 Spinifex Pigeons, managing to corner a straggler long enough to take its photo. Such regal, upright birds. While doing this we then heard the Hall’s Babblers, just like the book said! Alas, no other unusual birds showed up, and it was getting hotter and hotter, so we turned back towards Skull Hole, drawing up a plan to pop back into Winton for a boozy lunch.

There was one more surprise in store on the return walk: a group of maybe 10 Varied Sittellas. These were the black-capped subspecies, different looking to the ones in South-East Queensland but just as active and thorough in the way they methodically scoured each tree (this was despite a Willie Wagtail getting very agitated at them…) Seeing these birds was a nice bonus for us and was again vindication that walking was not a completely stupid idea (and also made that beer in the Winton pub taste extra good!)

Summary

We enjoyed our time at Bladensburg National Park, despite the dryness and heat. It isn’t as interesting from a scenery or terrain point of view as many other national parks or reserves (being a former cattle station, there’s a lot of grass…), but the park nevertheless delivers a surprising number of good bird encounters. We didn’t see many other birders while we were there, or indeed that many other people at all, except in the campground, so you do get an unspoiled feel about the place.

Birding around the Bough Shed Hole campground was decent enough, and various sites around Skull Hole were quite rewarding too. We didn’t get too much further afield than that; we spent some time perusing the historical displays at the Shearing Shed, but that wasn’t much of a birding spot. On the way out on our last morning we got our best shots of Spinifex Pigeon, and took a few pictures of the many kangaroos that call the park home.

eBird
Hotspots: Bladensburg National Park (177 species), Bough Shed campground (134), Skull Hole (106 species), Northwest Part (86 species)
Checklists for our visits: Bough Shed campground (18 species), Northwest Part (16 species), 2.5km south-east of Skull Hole (20 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Lots of happy-making bird encounters possible
+ Winton (and its luxurious pub) is close by
+ Pleasant camping spot at Bough Shed Hole
– Some nice rocky mesas but mostly uninteresting scenery and terrain
– Can be very dry and hot
– Some sites (Skull Hole in particular) seemed strangely devoid of birds

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