Quilpie and Lake Houdraman, Jul 2021

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

Quilpie is a small and likeable outback town that we spent a night at while passing through on our way to Windorah. From our time there we reckon it packs a pretty good punch from a birding perspective.

We headed out on the Diamantina Developmental Road towards Lake Houdraman which is about 6km east of the township. However, we had not gone far when we had to stop on the roadside as a veritable swarm of woodswallows was active above the trees. They were mostly Black-Faced, but a few White-Browed featured in there, and some Budgies were present too.

Lake Houdraman is actually on private property so we drove to the main reception area where there is a lot of camping and other accommodation on the east side of the water. Camping is only $5 per night, and there is a huge area where you can go, in fact you, can camp on both sides of the lake. The main building itself is (confusingly) called “The Lake”, and there they said to go to the other side of the lake for birding, though I am not sure why. Maybe we should have stayed there instead of in the town to enjoy better access in the morning?

We drove back down to the main road and then turned right onto Adavale Black Road. Here again we had to stop for woodswallows, though there proved to be quite a few more birds including White-Plumed Honeyeaters, Spotted Bowerbird, White-Winged Triller, Jacky Winter and Budgies. What was strange was that the woodswallows were behaving like the honeyeaters, perching in the flowering trees and almost looking like they were foraging for nectar. It was a very busy spot for a variety of birds.

Off Adavale Black Road there is a large swinging gate set above a cattle grid, that opens onto a dirt road that leads directly to the lake, and there were a few campers along the water’s edge here.

After such a promising couple of roadside stops, we were ready for the main event at the lake, which is quite a large and inviting-looking body of water. Unfortunately, being on the western side of it, the morning sun was shining straight into our cameras, so the other side would have been better, perhaps. Not to worry.

We did a combination of walking and driving to scope out several hundred metres of the lake edge, but we didn’t see as many birds as we expected. There were a few water birds on the lake (Pacific Black Ducks, Pelicans, Egrets, and some swooping Welcome Swallows), and White-Plumed Honeyeaters were predictably present in numbers in the trees around the lake’s edge, but the more interesting encounters actually came when we explored well back off the lake’s edge, even though the terrain was pretty sparse (dry grasses and not many trees). Here there was a Cockatiel flock flyby, and a Restless Flycatcher doing its “hovering above the grass” hunting method.

A Black-Faced Cuckooshrike was also in the area, occasionally flying from tree to tree, probably looking for the best spot to launch its aerial strikes from.

We didn’t see the point in hanging around, so we headed back to Quilpie to get petrol and supplies, and saw a bunch of nice birds there (don’t you just love country towns…) Some of the Galahs we had seen lining up in huge numbers on the powerlines the evening before were still around, and a clutch of super-cute White-Breasted Woodswallows similarly sat on some powerlines above a road intersection. That made three species of woodswallows seen in the morning, had to be happy with that!

On another street corner not far away some Apostlebirds and Crested Pigeons, along with a Spotted Bowerbird, were attacking some sort of spilt seed on the ground, as well as enjoying a nearby house’s garden sprinkler run-off. A pair of Crested Pigeons next to them seemed to be either sunning their wings or having a dirt bath, though the sprinkler water might have been reaching them there too; either way it looked amusing.

It just goes to show you don’t always need to go to the most well-known “big ticket” sites to have good bird encounters. I could have watched the Apostlebirds all day…

On our way out we popped in to the rocky hill area known as Baldy Top, about 7km to the west of Quilpie, from about 11:30 to 12:30, knowing that at the height of the day (and it was a warm one) we would probably need to be lucky to find many birds.

There is a good set of walking tracks here including some interesting winding paths around the top of the hills, and great views from the top. We did see a Peregrine Falcon at one point, though not very close, as it soared past the hill top, but we couldn’t find it again once it was obscured by trees. The only other birds we saw were Chestnut-Rumped Thornbill.

Summary

Being private property, Lake Houdraman was a little confusing with its access, and we were surely there at the wrong time of day for Baldy Top. But in general, the Qulpie town area has much to offer on the birding front. Our (short) experience turned up some great bird encounters mostly during unexpected moments – on the roadsides, and in the town streets.

eBird
Hotspots: Lake Houdraman (139 species), Quilpie (120 species), Baldy Top (70 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ We had some great bird encounters in the town and on the roadsides to the east
+ Sites around Quilpie are all pretty close
– Lake Houdraman and Baldy Top were disappointing for us
– Lake Houdraman is private property with potential access issues if you’re not camping

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