An early morning walk around Dead Horse Gully, hoping for Cinnamon Quail-thrush but not finding much of anything. We checked out Golden Gully Historic Mine, which is a reconstructed gold mining site from the 1880's.
Gold mining didn't last too long around Tibooburra because of the lack of water. In town we visited the replica of Sturt's whale boat. Convinced that he would find an inland sea, Sturt brought the boat and a sailor to skipper it, along on his 1844-1845 expedition.
We fuelled up, phoned home and then began the journey west to Fort Grey campground along Cameron Corner Road. The road is unsealed, but not too bad. Mostly gravel with a few sand hills and a claypan crossing. My Grand Vitara handled it with no worries.
Along the way we watched for birds, and just past the Wompah Gate turn off saw something small and yellow fly across the road which looked promising. We stopped to investigate initially thinking Gibberbird, one of the tougher species on our target list, but discovered the birds to be Orange Chat.
We arrived at Fort Grey campground about two hours after leaving Tibooburra. Upon arrival we discovered that we could walk right across Lake Pinaroo, an ephemeral lake that Sturt crossed in 1844 while searching for the inland sea. The lake only fills every twenty years or so and takes seven years to dry up once it does. When Sturt was here the lowest parts of the lake still had water, today when we crossed it was bone dry.
The loop walk was 4 kilometres and took us to the ruins of Fort Grey homestead. In the 1956 flood the homestead was abandoned, and in the bigger 1974 flood it was destroyed. We were lucky enough to get a great sighting of a Mallee Military Dragon on the red sand hill near the homestead. It scampered off the track and stopped near the entrance to it's burrow. A very pretty little orange lizard with striking markings, and a reptile lifer for me.
Along the dry lake bed we passed remnants of the pastoral era. Keeping sheep out here must have been unimaginably difficult and I can understand why the pastoralists gave up on it. After 2 kilometres we had the option to do another 3 kilometre return walk across the lake to see Sturt's tree. Figuring we had come this far and might as well go all the way, we trekked across the gilgai covered black dirt. Sturt's tree was marked by expedition member Browne, who left a letter there for Sturt. Sturt had gone on ahead, and Browne's letter was to inform him that the rest of the expedition party were turning back. The land out here is harsh and barren, and it's a incredible they made it as far as they did. Continuing the walk, we followed an old timber and brush fence line and then climbed over a red sand dune back to the campground, examining all the animal tracks along the way.
Attempting to eat lunch and fight off the hoards of flies, we looked up to see two large birds of prey in the sky. Looking through binoculars we found them to be Wedge-tailed Eagle and Black-breasted Buzzard, one of our target species.
The only complaint I have about this place is the flies. I don't think I've ever seen so many flies in my life! So after our long walk and lunch, we decided to take a siesta, retreating to our swags to avoid the flies and the heat for a little while. At around 5:00 p.m. we decided to go for walk around camp to see if any birds had emerged after the heat of the day. Again we had views of Black-breasted Buzzard, a pair this time. They circled slow and low enough for us to see the white wing patches, blunt tail and black breast, but on the whole the birding was very quiet because of the dry conditions.
A quick dinner of noodles as we waited for night to fall so we could try our luck at spotlighting. With our headlamps on, our first and best sighting was a massive female Hoggicosa natashae (wolf spider) who caught some prey that was draw in by the light. We saw a bat and heard a few more, but apart from that things were very quiet.
The best thing about Fort Grey campground is it's isolation. We are the only campers tonight, and are 100 kilometres from the nearest town. The bush is dead silent, no wind or insect calls. Nothing. It's the quietest place I've ever been and I love the feeling of disconnection from the outside world.