Australia / Science and Expeditions

Oodnadatta Track – Bird Survey

25 Jul ’18

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The year is 2017, the month is July and it is the middle of winter in Australia. I got a phone call asking me if I wanted to be part of a team of researcher and volunteers undertaking surveys along 3 known Outback tracks in South Australia and Queensland. They had me at remote, outback and birds.

This project, monitoring the responses of birds in Australia’s arid zone since the 2011 floods in the eastern half of the continent, is run by Professor Richard Fuller ( from UQ, together with international collaborators. The study aims to understand how birds move around the vast landscape under various climatic conditions and perhaps even predict what will happen under future changes in the Australian climate. I was lucky to be part of the OODNADATTA TRACK (South Australia) team with my longtime friend Dr Rochelle Steven and Clare Mason. We spent 14 days surveying birds, drove over 1500kms in total and alongside recording stacks of data we got to experience the outback at its finest every day. Here is a visual snapshot of this expedition, from the incredible skies we saw every night to some great wildlife sightings we had.

Camping wood fire outback sky

I love these field expeditions, whether in a science capacity or a photography/videography one because you get to discover an incredible place and meet with people that share a similar passion for science and conservation. You also get to know scientist on a more personal level and hear their life stories. I could write a book with all the amazing fieldwork anecdotes I’ve been told over the years!

Camping Oodnadatta Track

One of the many road-side camping spots we chose.

Bird research Oodnadatta Track

After a few days, we had a great routine for the daily ritual of tent setups, cooking preparation and debrief of the day.

Field biology diary australia

Clare preparing dinner in the beautiful sunset glow. I can’t remember what we had this night but it was delicious every time!

Aerial image oodnadata track

A bird’s eye view of one of the many areas surveyed.

The fieldwork and what we did – We drove pretty much the whole length of the Oodnadatta Track stopping at regular intervals and running transects on both sides of the track following a set methodology. We recorded various information regarding each bird we saw (species, distance, numbers, etc…). We did this day after day, hour after hour. It can be exhausting to spend hours on end walking in the sun and incessant wind on some occasion but it’s a very important part of field research and collecting data. On top of the good feeling of contributing to science and conservation, we got to see some incredible landscapes and when you spent that many hours per day outside you get some amazing wildlife encounters.

The wildlife of the Oodnadatta Track

It’s never easy to get good wildlife shots while undertaking surveys. You prioritise data collection over everything but as you become familiar with the species you record and the habitat you work in you can better anticipate what you will see. Knowing your equipment is always better so that you can react quickly without fiddling with the settings. Here is a selection of the best images I managed including my first sightings and images of the Rufous Fieldwren (Calamanthus campestris).

Rufous Fieldwren Oodnadatta Track Nicolas Rakotopare

Rufous Fieldwren Oodnadatta Track Nicolas Rakotopare

My first Perentie, what an incredible animal. So big, powerful and with amazing patterns.

Perentie Nicolas Rakotopare Lerako

Wedge-tail Eagle (Aquila audax) were common sightings during our work but on a few occasions, we got quite close! The one day I did not carry my camera with me a black-breasted buzzard literally flew 10m above us to investigate… Still kicking myself!

Wedge Tail eagle Oodnadatta Track

Wedge Tail Eagle Oodnadatta Track

A red kangaroo staring us down from the side of the track, wondering what we are up to.

A red-backed Kingfisher perching in the early morning. A great view to wake up to.

Healthy dingo staring at us. We saw a few in that location, beautiful and quintessential Australian species.

Dingo Oodnadatta Track

A quite bold feral red fox (Vulpes vulpes) in the afternoon light…

Red Fox Oodnadatta Track

Obligatory stop at the Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta (for a photo and a refuel!)

OOdnadatta Track Pink Road House

Photography gear to document this outback ornithology trip.

About a month before undertaking this trip my camera equipment got stolen in Madagascar and with the insurance company deciding not to cover it I documented this whole expedition with my Canon EOS M5 ( and the lenses that were not stolen, the EF-M 22mm F/2 ( for the portraits and general photography, the EF 70-300 L IS USM (, the EF 300mm F/2.8 IS USM ( for the wildlife shots and the EF-S 10-18mm ( for the landscape and night images.

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The Team (image courtesy of Dr Rochelle Steven).



Nicolas Rakotopare

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