Round Hill & Nombinnie NR and Lake Cargelligo

This trip report covers Lake Cargelligo and Round Hill Nature Reserve in central NSW. In particularly it covers a trip I made there during the spring university break in October 2011. With me were my son Rhys, brother Nic and his son Zac. 

The woodlands around Whoey Tank, in the north-east section of the Round Hill Nature Reserve.

Round Hill Nature Reserve, and the adjacent Nombinnie Nature Reserve, are a hotspots for mallee birds, and include isolated populations of Red-lored Whistler and Malleefowl. Both reserves are 50 km north of Lake Cargelligo, 560 km west of Sydney and, for me, the drive up from Melbourne was about 650 km. On the way up we stopped to have a look at Cocoparra National Park, just east of Griffith.

Accommodation and Roads

Although there are no formal camping facilities at Round Hill Nature Reserve, we bushed camped near the Whoey Tank (see -32.965813, 146.161023). It's located on the Whoey Tank Track, accessed via Euabalong-Mt Hope Rd 3 km east of the intersection with Lake Cargelligo-Mt Hope (Murrin Bridge) Rd. (The turn-off is here -32.960475, 146.159056.) The camping area is ~200 m down the Whoey Tank Track

If you are looking, other accommodation in the area include the caravan park at Lake Cargelligo, and apparently the Mt Hope pub is meant to be good, in a simple pub sort of way.
Black Honeyeater, Whoey Tank.

The roads at Round Hill, Nombinnie and Cocoparra are mostly dirt however, under normal (dry) conditions, they're pretty much accessible via 2WD. After rain you'd need 4WD. 

It's also worth noting that the names of some of the roads in the area are confusing. For example, Google maps names the Lake Cargelligo-Mt Hope Rd as 'Murrin Bridge', and I have also seen it called 'Round Hill Rd'. Many of the road names in the area are sometimes hyphenated, sometimes not, frustrating when you're trying to write trip reports. 

'Chat Alley', a quick birding stop on the way to Round Hill

On our way to Round Hill (from Lake Cargelligo) we stopped at a site known colloquially as 'Chat Alley', a roadside shallow surface drain surrounded by Old Man Saltbush (Atriplex nummularia), which grows up to up to 2.5 meters tall. It's located on Wallanthery Rd, a linkage road to Lake Cargelligo-Mt Hope Rd (here -33.164336, 146.347421). To get there turn north off Lake Cargelligo-Euabalong Rd, 13 km east of Lake Cargelligo. Travel north and then turn west at the T-section. Chat Alley is ~200 m. 

For what's basically a couple of farm paddocks, the birding can be excellent. Here we saw several small parties of Orange Chat, some just north of the road, others on the south. White-winged Fairy-wren were fairly common, and we also saw Brown Songlark, Zebra Finch, Banded Lapwing. Nearby a pair of Black Falcon hunted overhead. 

Keep an open for parrots, with the area to the right of the T-Junction colloquially known as 'Parrot Alley'. We saw Blue Bonnet, Cockatiel, and Australian Ringneck. If flooded, Crake Alley can be excellent for crakes.

Just up the road from Chat Alley turn right - this is the road to Road Hill Nature Reserve. Not far along this road you come to Booberoi Creek (see -33.138627, 146.292835). This is another good spot for birding - we saw parrots such as Blue Bonnet, Cockatiel and Australian Ringneck.

Chat Alley. A great site to see Orange Chat and White-winged Fairy-wren.

Whoey Tank in Round Hill Nature Reserve

One of the best areas for birding is around the Whoey Tank (a large dam), located in the northern section of Round Hill Nature Reserve (see -32.965813, 146.161023). The main habitat-type is White Cypress Pine (Callitris glaucophylla) woodlands. Aside from the pines the main trees around the Whoey Tank are Rosewood (Alectryon oleifolius), Belah (Casuarina cristata), Wilga (Geijera parviflora), Red Box (Eucalyptus intertexta), Bimble Box (E. populneum), Kurrajong (Brachychiton populneus), Mulga (Acacia aneura) and Yarran (A. homalophylla). 

In terms of shrubs, there's plenty of flowering Eremophila including Long-leafed Emu-bush (Eremophila longifolia), Budda (E. mitchellii) and Turpentine (E. sturtii), perfect for attracking nomadic honeyeaters. While other shrubs included Hopbush (Dodonea viscosa) and Broombush (Melaleuca uncinata). The common grass species is Variable Spear Grass (Stipa variabilis). 

Striped Honeyeater
Waking up on the first morning at Whoey Tank was simply superb! At dawn the open woodlands were shrouded in a sunny morning mist. One of the first birds seen was Black-eared Cuckoo, hanging around a family of Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater. There were also large numbers of Black, Striped and White-fronted, all attracted to the area by the flowering Eremophila. Other honeyeaters included Singer and Blue-faced Honeyeater, Noisy Miner, and Noisy and Little Friarbird. 

The place was teeming with parrots such as Mallee Ringneck, Mulga Parrot and Blue Bonnet. Small passerines around the Whoey Tank included Speckled Warbler, Chestnut-rumped, Inland and Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Southern Whiteface, and every few minutes or so I'd hear the wonderful cascading call of Western Gerygone.

There were also several families of Variegated and Splendid Fairy-wren, with the males of the Splendids looking splendiferous in their full-breeding plumage. A few White-backed Swallow made an appearance. Surely, in terms of grace and style, this must be one of Australia's most under-estimated bird.

Sitting down for a cup of tea, I noticed a male Spotted Bowerbird doing a wing display under the tree closest to my tent. Very nice! The tree was Wilga (Geijera parviflora), a drooping tree that looks a much like a European Willow. This seemed to be the preferred habitat for Spotted Bowerbird. Just on dusk a Spotted Nightjar flew through our campsite. Its call, a very distinctive and comical accelerating laugh, continued throughout the early part of the night.

Other birds around Whoey Tank included mallee parrots such as Major Mitchell's Cockatoo, Mallee Ringneck, Mulga Parrot, Blue Bonnet and Cockatiel. We also saw Emu, Collared Sparrowhawk, Peaceful and Bar-shouldered Dove, Common Bronzewing, Crested Pigeon, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo, Grey and Pied Butcherbird, Grey-crowed and White-browed Babbler, Grey Shrike-thrush and Restless Flycatcher. 

It's also worth birdwatching south-west along the Whoey Tank Track (-32.971442, 146.154853). It leads for about 1 km from the camping area, joining up with the Lake Cargelligo-Mt Hope Rd. Red-lored Whistler have been seen in the mallee along this track.

Nombinnie Nature Reserve. The north-west corner of the old wheat paddock.

The Old Wheat Paddock in Nombinnie Nature Reserve

For mallee birding, perhaps the best area is around the north-west corner of an old wheat paddock. The paddock is now regenerating, but still relatively young and open. And the mallee adjacent to the paddock is old growth, and pristine. The paddock is not actually in Round Hill Nature Reserve, but located in the north-east section of Nombinnie Nature Reserve (here -32.961450, 146.112465). 

To get there, turn west on to the Cactus Track, accessed via Lake Cargelligo-Mt Hope Rd 1 km south of the T-section with the Euabalong-Mt Hope Rd (here -32.962454, 146.132099). A Nombinnie Nature Reserve park sign marks its entrance.
Red-lored Whistler

The mallee is fantastic, consisting of Red  Mallee (Eucalyptus socialis), White Mallee (E. dumosa) and Yorrell (E. gracilis). It's intermixed with scattered Mallee Pine (Callitris preissii var. verrucosa), Broombush (Melaleuca uncinata) and has a Spinifex (Triodia scariosa) understory. Perfect habitat for Red-lored Whistler!

During the course of our visit to this area we got on to three, possibly four, Red-lored Whistler, with good views of two of them. The first bird was seen down a short 100 m walking track. It leads west off Cactus Track at the north-west corner of the wheat paddock (around here -32.961642, 146.109238). While another bird was seen in the actual corner of paddock, and two more were heard south down the Cactus Track. I was pretty happy about seeing Red-lored Whistler here. I'd now seen them in every state that they occur. 

It's worth noting that Gilbert's Whistler are reasonably common here, so be very careful with you ID. As a general rule, Gilbert's Whistler prefer the regenerating wheat paddock, while Red-lored Whistler prefer the old growth mallee, particularly areas with a Spinifex understory. 

Nombinnie Nature Reserve. The entrance to Cactus Track, the access track to the old wheat paddock.

Shy Heathwren (the isolated race macrorhyncha) were anything but shy in the old growth mallee, while Southern Scrub-Robin and Chestnut Quail-thrush (again both isolated populations) called loudly, and seemed to prefer the more open areas in the wheat paddock. Honeyeaters included Grey-fronted (always nice to see), Yellow-plumed, White-eared, White-fronted and Brown-headed Honeyeater.
Southern Scrub Robin

There were mixed flocks of White-browed and Masked Woodswallow, hawking for insects overhead, occasionally roosting in trees nearby. Other birds seen included Crested Bellbird, Red-capped and Hooded Robin, Inland and Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Western Gerygone and Mistletoebird.

Lake Cargelligo-Mt Hope Road (marked in google maps as Murrin Bridge)
Keep your eyes open while driving along Lake Cargelligo-Mt Hope Rd. Along the road we saw a Malleefowl (~2 km north of the Broken Hill railway line), Emu, Chestnut Quail-thrush  and reptiles such Sand Goanna (Varanus gouldii), Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) and Shingleback (Trachydosaurus rugosus). 

Red-lored Whistler have also been recorded along Lake Cargelligo-Mt Hope Rd, with the best spot between 5 to 7 km south of the Euabalong-Mt Hope Rd T-section. It is worth noting that Red-lored Whistler has also been recorded along the Nombinnie Track, located in the western section of the Nombinnie Nature Reserve. To get there, from the Kidman Hwy, head west along the Marooba Fire Trail, a track that's 12 km south of Mt Hope. Drive west approximately 11 km until you come to the Nombinnie Track (see -32.940515, 145.809391). Search for Red-lored Whistler in the mallee around the intersection, and north along the Nombinnie Track for about 3 km. Be aware that these tracks are 4WD.

A superb wetland: Lake Cargelligo Treatment Works

Lake Cargelligo Wastewater Treatment Works

For local waterbirds, we visited the superb
Lake Cargelligo Wastewater Treatment Works. Birdwise, this has to be one of Australia's best treatment plants. To get there from the centre of town, travel south down Condobolin Road, past the showground, and then after 500 m turn south down Showground Road. After a further kilometre you will find an access gate to the south-west side of the ponds (here -33.315306, 146.380400). It is located just before the railway crossing. 

Spotless Crake, one of three species of crake seen at the 
Lake Cargelligo Wastewater Treatment Works.
Along the edges of the reeds nearest the bird hide there were large numbers of the crakes, including Baillon's, Australian Spotted, and Spotless Crake. While other birds seen included Buff-banded Rail, Glossy Ibis, Black-tailed Native-hen, Whiskered Tern, White-fronted Chat, White-winged Fairy-wren, White-breasted Woodswallow and Little Grassbird. A spectacular place.

The Ephemeral Wetlands on Condobolin Road 

While in Lake Cargelligo, we stopped at the small ephemeral roadside wetland where Australian Painted Snipe had recently been seen. It's located on Condobolin Road, 1 km east of Lake Cargelligo (here -33.306288, 146.386135).

The birds were seen in the second of the small swamps, just past the Showground Rd (the road to the treatment plant). Although we dipped on the snipe, the pond was full of Baillon's and Australian Spotted Crake, as well as Glossy Ibis, Black-winged Stilt, Black-fronted and Red-kneed Dotterel, Grey Teal, and Purple Swamphen.  

Finally Ostrich in New South Wales!
Our final stop on the return trip home to Melbourne was to see the 'wild' Ostrich
just north of the Murray River on the Moama-Barham Rd. In total we saw six Ostrich, three along Moama-Barham Rd, and another three on the east side of Lashbrooks Rd.  

Aside from being Ostriches and very big birds, the most obvious aspect about them and their behaviour was how flighty they were (for a flightless bird). As soon as we got out of the car, they would ran fast and direct, in the opposite direction, covering a distance of a kilometre or so. 

A Quick Summary of Central NSW

Like much of inland Australia, western New South Wales has had a lot of rain. The whole area, including the mallee, is looking absolutely superb! Water lies everywhere, all the trees and shrubs are flowering, and the dry open woodlands, once quiet, are teeming with large numbers of birds. 

Put simply, if you plan to do any birding over the next twelve months or so, head inland, to the more arid parts of Australia. You simply have to head to the open woodlands around Whoey Tank in Round Hill Nature Reserve to see what I mean.

Whoey Tank Track, Round Hill Nature Reserve

Tim Dolby