trip report Roper Valley, NT

Subject: trip report Roper Valley, NT
From: (Andrew Taylor)
Date: Wed, 5 Mar 97 15:37:39 +1100
As nocturnal birding is a hot topic, here is an appropriate trip report.

I spent week in each of January and February in the Roper River area of
the Northern Territory.  This is part of a project to study the effects
of Cane Toads on native frogs.  My days were spent working on hardware
or software so I did little diurnal birding but work at night allowed
a lot of nocturnal birdwatching.

Our study sites are strung out along the Roper Valley highway which runs
180km east from Mataranka to Roper Bar.   For those who don't know the
NT Mataranka is 500km south of Darwin on the Stuart Highway (the road
to Alice Springs and Adelaide).

The Roper Valley Highway serves only a couple of cattle stations and
various small aboriginal communitites so it has little or no traffic
at night.  We drove 40-150km every night on this road.

I was amazed at the number of birds that sit actually on the road at
night: I saw 8 species doing this:

Boobook Owl
Barn Owl
Spotted Nightjar
Tawny Frogmouth
Nankeen Night Heron
Bush Stone-Curlew
Masked Lapwing

In particular Boobook Owls were very common sitting on the road surface.
One night I saw 6 in 10km of road.  Usually I saw 1 or 2 sitting on the
road every 20kms.  I'm not sure what they were doing.  I did see one fly
up and seize an insect.  The roads might be good for terrestial prey.
For example,  frogs can be common on the roads.

These Boobooks seem to prefer to perch on the road surface rather than
on road-side posts which surprises me.  If anyone has good explanation
I'd be interested to hear it.

On last year's trip I saw 4 Red-Chested Button Quail sleeping on the road.
This year I saw none.  The Cane Toad front has reached that part of the
road and the toads were quite numerous on the road.  If the Quail are
still present, perhaps they have found quieter sleeping places.

The drive Brisbane <-> NT produce pleasant birding but nothing unexpected.
Budgie flocks to several hundred near Longreach.  Good views of Bustards
around there too.  3 Black Falcons - 2 on the Barkely and 1 north of
Blackall.   Also a distant flock of what I presume were Flock Bronzewing
on the Barkely.

The best tick of trip  was a frog not a bird - Uperiolea trachyderma.
Its known only from a couple of locations and its discovery at one of
our sites was a range extension of several hundred kms.

Also good was an indoor Great Bowerbird bower.  There is old shed with
a roof and most of 4 walls next to the ruins of the old  Roper Bar
police station.  A Great Bowerbird has built its bower in this shed -
undercover and largely enclosed.  I guess the protection from the wet
season storms must save it a  lot of rebuilding.

Andrew  Taylor

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