Hunting the Wild Plains Wanderer – Deniliquin, New South Wales

Mosquito Trails in the Sunset, Deniliquin, New South Wales

Mosquito Trails in the Sunset, Deniliquin, New South Wales

They’d scented fresh blood.

And in the deathly silence of twilight as dusk fell over the moonlit plain, I could hear them coming for me.

A million manic mosquitoes, and I couldn’t move a muscle.

Actually, that’s a lie.

I COULD move – but I’d chosen not to. For 3 good reasons.

Female Plains Wanderer, Hay Plain via Deniliquin, New South Wales

Female Plains Wanderer, Hay Plain via Deniliquin, New South Wales

Firstly, listening for the call of the enigmatic Plains Wanderer – Australia’s first and world’s fourth most important endangered bird species according to the Zoological Society of London – required absolute stillness and quiet.

I was standing on the Hay Plain – flattest place in OZ, 200 km deep, 300 km wide AND with spring grasses as high as a Plains-Wanderer’s eye.

2 words. Needle. Haystack.

If we didn’t hear one, we’d never know where to start looking.

Secondly, the Plains Wanderer Weekend tours near Deniliquin in rural New South Wales @ $300+ per head were only run a few times each year. And often booked out months, sometimes years in advance.

This might be our only chance to see one – and the only chance for other birdos* on the tour, some from overseas.

Thirdly, in our tour group of 8, I was the only non-birdo. NO WAY was I going to be that person who spooked the Plains Wanderer and blew the REAL birdos chances of seeing it.

Spot the Plains Wanderer! Hay Plain at Dusk, via Deniliquin, New South Wales

Spot the Plains Wanderer! Hay Plain at Dusk, via Deniliquin, New South Wales

Even if that meant staying completely motionless and letting the mozzies** suck out every drop of my blood in a zombie-apocalypse-meets-mosquito-massacre until the dried out husk of my body fell soundlessly to the soil.

So, resisting the urge to slap the little suckers silly, I stayed stock still (in alliterative admiration).

But all I could hear was the frenzied whining of a million*** mini dentist drills. And all I could see were mosquito trails across the sunset as the swarm moved in for the kill.

Mosquito Frenzy!

Mosquito Frenzy!

If the Plains Wanderers were out there, they were lying doggo****.

Unlike the mozzies now covering the back of Pilchard’s hat.

Turns out in the absence of fresh blood, the mosquitoes make do with whatever they could find!

My descent into mosquito hell had started over 12 hours before at 6 am. We’d joined six other tour participants and two guides for a full-on tour of Deni***** birding hot spots, starting with the River Walk.

Or would have but for the simultaneous opening all 13 Hume Dam overflow gates resulting – unsurprisingly – in flooding.  The waters rose so rapidly the Edward River was already lapping at the levee banks when we’d arrived in Deni a couple of days before.

Reflections in Edward River Floodwaters, Deniliquin, New South Wales

Water, Trees, Reflections – A Photographer’s Paradise! Edward River, Deniliquin, New South Wales

Ground-breaking water management technique – or simple cause and effect equation? YOU decide!

Weirdly, the swift and silent river flowing a few metres away didn’t bother us, even when the water level rose higher than our campsite at the excellent Deniliquin Riverside Caravan Park. But the flooding can’t have been much fun for Deni locals as roads, campgrounds, holiday shacks and the sports ground all went under.

Our campsite not quite in the Edward River, Deniliquin, New South Wales

Our campsite not quite in the Edward River, Deniliquin, New South Wales

But any photographer with a thing for reflections knows what to do when the water’s running high.

AND any birdo worth their binoculars knows that waterbirds LOVE ‘wetlands’, even if everyone else calls them ‘swamps’.

The lingo is just one of several ways birding pretenders like me can distinguish REAL birdos from everyone else.

Photobombed by a Kangaroo, Plains Wanderer Weekend, Deniliquin, New South Wales

Photobombed by a Kangaroo, Plains Wanderer Weekend, Deniliquin, New South Wales

There’s the obvious ones like surgically attached binoculars and a general inability to maintain a conversation when a bird – ANY (feathered) bird – comes into view.  Then there’s the dark side – like arguments about features and id, and the fact it’s just NOT POSSIBLE for a non-birder to see a rare or unusual bird BEFORE the real birder.

I thought I’d seen a Plains Wanderer once before on a remote Queensland roadside.

The bird was in the EXACT SAME pose as the picture of the Plains Wanderer in the bird book. Pilchard didn’t see it, but was able to state with absolute certainty it WAS NOT a Plains Wanderer. It probably wasn’t, but that confident non-id became a bit of a thing.

It's NOT all about the birds! Eremophila, Deniliquin, NSW

It’s NOT all about the birds! Eremophila, Deniliquin, NSW

A higher level bit of a thing happened when we stayed at a birding reserve with a birding tour led by a well known university (read: mega-important) birder.

During the evening bird report (yes, people really DO spend the evening listing birds they’ve seen for fun), Pilchard called a not-so-common bird, listing several reasons to nail the id.

Big Birdo (as I dubbed him) loudly disagreed.

The bird had NEVER been seen in this spot.

Then another birder confirmed the sighting.

Big Birdo shook his head again. Not possible.  He’d been coming to this site for 10 years and had NEVER seen it, although he couldn’t come up with an alternative id.  Apparently, if the bird was going to show itself to anyone, it’d be Big Birdo as he seniority.

Who says birding isn’t a contact sport?!

Boardwalk to Gulpa Creek Reed Beds Bird Hide, Murray Valley National Park, New South Wales

Boardwalk to Gulpa Creek Reed Beds Bird Hide, Murray Valley National Park, New South Wales

But I digress.

Luckily, the Plains Wanderer weekend tour wasn’t besieged by Big Birdo’s Buddies – just as well given Pilchard and I shared a car with 2 other birders and a guide for the 1½ days and 123 bird species we saw on the tour.   (Of course you will immediately recognise the Dollar Bird in the middle photo, haha)(yes, it’s the blob on the branch)(no, I’m not a bird photographer either).

Birds sighted on the Deniliquin Plains Wanderer weekend tour

Some of the other birds sighted on the Deniliquin Plains Wanderer weekend tour

But everyone was waiting for evening and the main event – hunting the wild Plains Wanderer. I managed to get a few sunset shots in between bird sightings, but as night fell, the mosquito massacre began in earnest.

Sunset via Deniliquin, New South Wales

Hay Plain Sunset via Deniliquin, New South Wales

Unless (unlike us) you’re very lucky, finding a Plains Wanderer requires patience and stamina. They’re (apparently) curious and if disturbed, they’ll (supposedly) stick their heads up to see what’s happening. In reality, a smallish bird – max height 19 cm (7½ inches) – sticking its head out above grass level at the  exact right moment on a plain bigger than Denmark has lower odds than winning the lottery.

My personal theory, based on the number of Plains Wanderers we didn’t see, is that they’re sitting pretty hoping like hell the big SUVs with bright lights driving slowly in circles will just go away. But what would I know. I’m SO not a twitcher******!

Just enough water to flush this scenic loo! Murray Valley National Park, New South Wales

Just enough water to flush this scenic loo! Murray Valley National Park, New South Wales

Happily, I don’t get car sick. But after several hours my face was freezing cold, my hands numb from mozzie bites and I was brain dead from peering out the window into the semi-darkness. I might not be a real birdo, but I wasn’t going to be the one who wasn’t looking at the critical moment.

I don’t recall who finally won ‘Twitcher of the Tour’ for first Plains Wanderer sighting at around midnight, except that it wasn’t me. But I got to see it all the same.

Female Plains Wanderer, via Deniliquin, New South Wales

Female Plains Wanderer, Plains Wanderer Weekend via Deniliquin, New South Wales

I stayed out of the post-sighting phone call frenzy – I just didn’t know anyone who’d be thrilled to hear about my rare bird sightings at 10 pm. Perhaps I move in the wrong circles.

At around 1:00 am, 19 hours after Day 1 started, we returned to the caravan park, re-convening at 8:30 am after an all-too-short sleep break for the final half-day. Despite some interesting sightings and more mosquito hell at the ‘wetland’, nothing compared with the previous night’s thrill of seeing the rare Plains Wanderer, a true Aussie Oddity and the only representative of its family and genus.

Tree reflections in the Edward River floodwaters, Deniliquin, New South Wales

Tree reflections in the Edward River floodwaters, Deniliquin, New South Wales

Even for this non-birder, the Plains Wanderer Weekend tour was a BIG success. I survived the mosquitoes. I’ve been to birding hot spots not open to the public. I’ve got rare photos of the floodwaters – happily on the right side of the levee banks – some complete with scenic loos. I didn’t blow my non-birdo cover.

And I now know for sure I really HAVE seen the elusive Plains Wanderer!

Fast Facts:

Really? Floodwaters on the Edward River, Deniliquin, New South Wales

Really? Floodwaters on the Edward River, Deniliquin, New South Wales

Where: Deniliquin, generally on the banks of the Edward River and not in it, is 77 km north of Echuca/Moama on the NSW/Victoria border. It’s 725 kilometres (450 miles) south west of Sydney and 285 kilometres (177 miles) north of Melbourne.

What: The Plains Wanderer Weekend Tour is run by Philip and Patricia Maher of Australian Ornithological Services.  In addition to looking for the Plains Wanderer, tours cover birding sites in and around Deniliquin, including some places and habitats not open to the general public.

When: Tours are generally conducted during spring (Sept-Nov in Australia). Check the website below for tour dates and booking instructions.

Deniliquin Oval meets the Edward River, New South Wales

Deniliquin Oval meets the Edward River, New South Wales

Want MORE?

* Birdo = Birdwatcher

** Mozzies = Mosquitoes

*** Exaggerating? Well … YOU count them!

**** Lying Doggo = keeping out of sight

***** Deni = Deniliquin! But you knew that, right?!

****** Twitcher = Obsessive Birdo

Deniliquin Sunset over the Hay Plain, New South Wales

Deniliquin Sunset over the Hay Plain, New South Wales

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66 comments

  • That sounds so intimidating!! How do you manage that? I still think nature is cool and all though but you’re so adventurous 😮

  • Omg so much nature. The birds are stunning!

  • While the pictures of the birds are fabulous, my attention was drawn to the photos of the trees reflecting in the water. These have come out specially well. There is so much clarity in the reflections. You inspired me with this post.

    • I’m more of a reflections person too, Punita – I had to drag my eyes away from the water whenever someone else spotted a bird, haha! But reflections are my fave thing to photograph 😀

  • While I do appreciate your love for nature and seeing cool things, I would NEVER do this because I HATE mosquitos. They love to eat me and I can’t stand being itchy. Other than that, everything looked beautiful and I’m glad I get to live vicariously through your experience. 😉

    • Haha, all you need to do is wait for a dry year, Gina – apparently this was the first time the mosquito repellent had been required for 5 years 😀 But if it hadn’t rained, I wouldn’t have got the flood reflections! Not sure which version would’ve been better!!

  • Now THAT’s what I call an unique experience. Must have been interesting as newbie amongst passionate birdos, like an adult in a Japanese Manga comic store or like Penny in Big Bang Theory… Thanks for the Aussie linguistic course as well! And I hope the mosquito bites haven’t tortured you too much afterwards…

  • I’m usually among the last to be swarmed by mozzies, but I don’t know that I’d be willing to stay still and just allow it… lol… The tree reflections look amazing though.

  • I had not even heard about the Plains Wanderer Weekend tours near Deniliquin in rural New South Wales. Your birding pictures reflect your passion for nature. Loved your post and thanks for sharing your experience. I hate mosquitoes that’s one downer foe me 🙁

  • What an interesting trail..the mosquitoes look big and quiet well fed. It brought a smile to my face when I started reading your post. Mosquitoes are like co-inhabitants here in India, and they reside with us in every home 🙂

  • Pretty scenery, although I would rather stay away, because of the mosquitoes.

  • Considering what the tour offered you, I think mosquito bites is just a tip. The view at Edward River Waterfloods is stunning. I’d not mind mosquitoes bites myself to see this.

  • I can’t imagine lying still with a pack of mozzies flying at me. You’re a much stronger person than I. That’s either a very swampy wetland, or a very wetlandy swamp. Probably somewhere in the middle. Beautiful pictures!

  • This place in looks really amazing. But I’m so shocked to see the amount of mozzies lurking around. I guess I will prepare more mozzies repellant should I visit there…

  • NOPE… no deal. Every mozzie and midget that lurks seems to enjoy dining out on my skin, I’d be dead meat, like actually. What a way to go too, death by mozzie. Shudder! Thank goodness you took one for the team and reported back about your experience, I can tell you I wont be ever doing this tour. But… Deniliquin is beautiful, your pictures take me back to my childhood. My dad used to love taking us on epic road trips from our home town Lake Cargelligo. Deniliquin was often a spot we’d end up at. 🙂

    • Luckily, my partner Pilchard is usually the mosquito magnet – I get the midges! But 2016 was a ‘special’ year for mozzies in Deni with lots of rain. The tour guide told us the mozzie repellent had been sitting in the car unused for the last 5 years – I guess that’s why it didn’t work so good 😀

  • Man those mozzies were thick as thieves, bring on the RID I say. The Murray river area around Deni is typical Aussie countryside. Looks like a wonderful tour to see the countryside especially is the Murray River and surrounds are such an iconic area of real Australia

    • I was absolutely slathered in RID, but it was completely useless against this many mozzies, Mark! The tour guide said he’d had it in the car for the last 5 DRY years when there weren’t any mosquitoes, so I suspect it might have lost its effectiveness!!!

  • Was riveted to the post from the start, right from the moment the mosquitoes launched their attack. Your narrative was really very engaging. The Plains Wanderer is indeed an elusive one, and your journey to track them down is indeed fascinating.

    • Mosquito attacks (on other people) can be totally engrossing Sandy N Vyjay! At least I have the smug satisfaction of being one of the few people in the world to have seen a Plains Wanderer!

  • I don’t know if I would have been able to not smack at those mosquitoes if I were in your shoes. Good on you. And how fantastic that you got to see such a rare bird sighting. It sounds like it was a neat experience (minus those mosquitoes of course).

    • Haha, I did do a surreptitious smack or two, Alouise – whenever they landed on my hand I’d just hit them with the other hand!! It was either that, or run screaming back to the car 😀

  • Oohhh. That’s some crazy mosquito party! Were you required to wear any mosquito repelling item or clothes for this? Your photo made me want to smack them! hahaha.. Apart from the mozzies, your adventure looks and sounds great! Being able to see and capture several photos of the Plains Wanderer is indeed a great reward! 😉

    • I was COVERED in mosquito repellent, Marvi! But it didn’t seem to work 🙁 The night was pretty cold though, so I was covered up – that way the mozzies could only attack my face and my hands whenever I got the camera out!

  • Oh wow the amount of flies and mosquitoes in Central Australia is basically out of control! Luckily you did get to experience some nice flora and fauna (flies included) and glad that the area has so much to offer apart from birds! @ knycx.journeying

  • Not my idea of a good weekend but your shots are terrific.

  • Wow, we are into birding and we would love to go here and click these lovely birds. When I started reading about mosquitoes I thought I am not going to like this post, but these birds got my heart. Beautiful.

  • Looks like a great place to try some landscape photography. The mozzies are a pain by the way. The world could do a lot better without those insects.

    • If you like natural Aussie landscapes, then it’s a GREAT place to take pix, Gokul!! And you won’t get any argument from me about mosquitoes – a global eradication programme would have my full support, haha!

  • Oh dear, so many mosquitos!

    Some really beautiful birds and photos you got there. And quite lucky to see the plains wanderer – also beautiful!

  • Speaking as a non-twitcher, it does sound a bit of an ordeal. After all that waiting and the mosquitos, I probably wouldn’t have been bothered if a Pterodactyl turned up. Seriously, you did get some great pics and it was an interesting story.

  • Wow you did have so impressive adventure in between mosquitos and wild Plains Wanderer. The story is long but your naration is so fun and exciting and we did enjoy it so much.

  • OK, you didn’t win the price to see the Plains Wanderer first but you definitively win my price for writing very amusing of something which can be terribly boring for non-birders and it was for you even a mosquito wise unpleasantly disturbing experience. Well done!

  • The birds are most lovely! However, I hope you brought a mozzie repellant with you next time! 🙂

  • Goodness! Well, at least you DID see the plains wanderer – and that beautiful sunset. I don’t think I’d have managed to stay still though…looks just too much

  • OMG the birds would have to knock my socks off to tolerate that. I have to say I have always really loved the birds when I have visited Oz even if the noisy, pesky buggers woke me at the crack of dawn each day. As if jet lag wasn’t bad enough….

  • Oh my god, no plumage is worth enduring that many mozzies? Don’t they carry diseases in Australia? I am seriously freaked out by mosquitos after getting dengue in Bali. But I do remember when we were kids we would just get bitten and not care at all – by the end of the summer our bodies would be covered in bites!

    J

    • Of the 300+ mosquito varieties in Australia, only a few cause problems, Jane! Apparently, a wet year caused a major mozzie outbreak – if we’d gone the year before, we wouldn’t have even been bitten 😀

  • such a shame about the mosquitos, i hate them! but glad you got some great photos!

  • We love nature preserves, walks and hikes. I will say I am not so fond of mosquitoes though.

  • You are brave to endure those mosquitos. They would have eaten my alive. Looks well worth the trouble though!

  • I think it was definitely a success! Your pictures turned out great. I don’t know if I could have handled al those mosquitos though.

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