Alice Springs Trip Report September 1997

Subject: Alice Springs Trip Report September 1997
Date: Wed, 12 Nov 1997 19:08:29 +1000

Chris Gladwin and I spent six days birding around Alice Springs in the
first week of September.

This trip report is on a site by site basis, and the sites are almost all
detailed in Richard and Sarah Thomas' Where to Find Birds in Australia,
which should be consulted for further information on how to get to them.

I recorded 97 species in the six days.  Chris recorded a couple more than


We visited this spot several times.  At first glance there didn't seem to
be an awful lot of birds present, but the strange thing about the place was
that every time we went back there we would add a couple of new species to
our lists.  Between the two of us we visited the site on five different
occasions, so don't expect to see all the listed species in one brief

The well itself was surrounded by huge numbers of Zebra Finches.  Note that
the tiny little pond near the water tanks isn't the one you are looking for
- it lies a little further afield.  We saw White-backed Swallows there, a
Major Mitchell Cockatoo and several Cockatiels.

Most of our birding was on the road to the youth camp, with Chris
particularly keen to see a Grey Honeyeater.  Basically we birded both sides
of the road but mainly the west, from the Tanami Road to about 5.5 km along
the road.

The first brief visit yielded such things as Diamond Doves, Bourke's
Parrots (2), many Masked Woodswallows overhead, Black faced Woodswallows,
and a possible White browed Woodswallow amongst the Maskeds.  On the Tanami
Road between Kunoth and the Stuart Highway I saw Red-backed Kingfishers, a
Spotted Harrier and three Ground Cuckoo-shrikes which flew across in front
of me and then allowed me to get the telescope on them for good views.

Subsequent visits yielded some of the same species, as well as Inland,
Chestnut and Yellow rumped Thornbills, Hooded and Red capped Robins, two
White-browed Treecreepers and at least five Little Button Quails.  The
button quails were in twigs around the bases of bushes, and like all quails
were impossible to get good views of.  Look out for the diagnostic white
flanks when they fly off.  We saw no sign of Slaty backed Thornbills or
Inland Dotterels.

All this time we were trying hard to get Grey Honeyeaters.  They had been
seen a month beforehand, and we had a tape of them.  Whilst looking, Chris
saw a female Redthroat, and we wondered how many people tick them off as
Grey Honeyeaters.  They even have the same white tip to the tail, and it is
not a bird you would even think of if you went there thinking of Grey
Honeyeaters only.

I never saw a Grey Honeyeater, but Chris, who stayed a day longer than me,
did.  It was 2.8 km from the junction with the Tanami Road, on the right
(west) side of the road, and two hundred metres away from the road.  Chris
heard it calling, at 2:30 in the afternoon.  So the use of tapes had been a
waste of time, although in fairness other people have successfully used
them there.  Bear in mind that either one or both of us had been there for
something like fifteen to twenty hours before one was found.  And I'm sure
if it had called when we were anywhere nearby we would have heard it.

A compass is useful when visiting Kunoth.

One day we drove about 30 km west of the Kunoth turnoff.  It didn't yield
much of note except for five Ground Cuckoo-shrikes.


This spot is well worth a visit.  It is reached by taking the first turn to
the right after you head south through Heavitree Gap from Alice Springs.
If you take the short road to the left just as the settling ponds become
visible you come to an entrance for birdwatchers, complete with visitors

Highlights on the ponds included several Wood Sandpipers, Common
Sandpipers, a Red kneed Dotterel, Whiskered Terns, Sharp tailed Sandpipers,
Black tailed Native hens and Red necked Avocets.

One local specialty that can be found nearby is the Rufous crowned
Emu-wren.  You have to go exactly 5 km west of the fenced off area at the
end of the bitumen road.  This involves skirting around the north of the
fenced off area.  It is a single lane dirt track, and in parts it looks
difficult to get across the
dips and holes in a normal car.  However we went very slowly and got
through without any problem.

After 5 km you will see small spinifex covered hills about 100m north of
the road you are on (basically small ridges running parallel to your
direction of travel).  Walk off into them and wander round.  You will need
to be very patient.  I think the slightest amount of wind makes them
impossible to hear, and that's the only easy way to locate them.  We saw a


This recently opened wildlife park is well worth a visit.  It has an
excellent selection of rare Australian inland mammals (including Numbats
and Bilbies), and an extremely wide selection of inland birds in aviaries.

Caged species included Inland Dotterel, Australian Pratincole, Striated
Grasswren, Cinnamon Quail Thrush and Banded Whiteface.

A few good wild birds can be seen in the grounds, including Crested
Bellbirds, Crimson Chats, Red backed Kingfishers and Red browed Pardalotes.
I ticked off Spinifex Pigeons here in rather strange circumstances - one
was sitting on the ground talking to a captive one in a cage.  I only
noticed it wasn't in the cage when I realised there were two layers of
netting between where I was standing and it.  It wasn't an escapee, as it
was unbanded and several others were around.


We had two visits here, and got Dusky Grasswrens each time quite easily.
They were at the top of the rock scree on the left as you approach the gap.

We also got a Painted Firetail quite easily in the early afternoon.  A
single female came down to drink at one of the small puddles in the
creekbed.  We suspect that if that one bird hadn't been there at that
moment it would have taken quite a while to find this species.  Dawn is
supposedly the most reliable time to get them at this site.

Black-footed Rock Wallabies were seen here, and we saw some very strange
Pied Butcherbird behaviour.  Three birds were together, and one was rolling
another onto its back and pecking it quite hard all over.  The victim made
no effort to escape.  The presence of the third bird, an immature, seemed
to us to rule out it being unusual mating behaviour.

Our second visit was at dusk.  I wanted to try for a Spotted Nightjar, and
with no information to go on it seemed as good a place as any.  No luck on
that front, but we did see an Australian Owlet Nightjar, which started
calling from the trees in the creekbed just near the carpark.


A long pre dawn drive saw us at Ormiston by 6.45 am.  As promised Western
Bowerbirds were around the campsite.  We set off on the Pound Walk, in the
anticlockwise direction (which involves walking back in the direction you
drove in initially).

Our two target species on the walk were the Spinifexbird and the Rufous
crowned Emu-wren (we hadn't visited the Sewerage Farm at this point).
After only a short distance we got the Spinifexbird.  It was as the track
climbed up the left side of a narrow valley, only a matter of a few hundred
metres from where the gradual ascent started.  Initially we heard its call,
and ended up getting good views after playing a tape briefly.

The scenery on the Pound walk was certainly the best I saw in the Alice
Springs area, and shouldn't be missed.  A couple of Dusky Grasswrens were
seen as we climbed up to where we could see over into the Pound.

The only information we had for the Emu-wren was from Thomas, but we had no
luck.  Hooded Robins and Red browed Pardalotes were amongst the birds we
did see.  The most memorable birds though were the Spinifex Pigeons.  We
had close views of several displaying to each other as we walked around,
and when we got back to the carpark they were all over the place.  I got
some great photos - you could approach to within two metres of them quite
easily.  We saw over forty in all.


We had a look here too for Thomas' Emu-wrens without success.  They could
well have been present but it was quite windy and we would have had little
chance of picking them up.

On the way back from these sites we stopped at a bore just before where
Larapinta Drive and Namatijira Drive meet, and saw a Mulga Parrot, two
Major Mitchell Cockatoos and two Ground Cuckoo-shrikes.


Another long pre dawn drive saw us 21 km north of Erldunda at dawn.  After
spreading out and walking a few hundred
metres west from the highway we started hearing high pitched calls that we
thought were Cinnamon Quail Thrushes.  Eventually we got a distant view of
one.  As Chris and I stood behind the only cover, a bush that came up to
thigh height, it appeared to get interested in us.  I think it was a result
of my jacket sleeve making a rubbing noise on my coat.  Anyway, this Quail
Thrush ran straight towards us for about fifty metres, stopping only about
ten metres away and giving us a great view.  We saw at least two others in
our time at this site.

Banded Whitefaces proved a bit harder to get, but eventually we found a
group of three.  In the distance we could hear Chiming Wedgebills calling.
We followed the call and eventually found them, but I think we walked about
1500 m from where we first heard the calls to where the birds were - the
call carries a very long way.  They were quite wary and didn't let us get
too close, but at least they were co-operative in sitting in exposed

We had measured where 21 km from Erldunda was and saw the pair of trees
referred to.  However some English birders tried a spot about 1 km south of
where we tried on the same day, and said they could see the two trees, but
one had died and fallen over.  But they got the Quail Thrush and the
Whiteface there.  So I think they are all over that area and a kilometre or
two each way shouldn't matter.

At the Erldunda shop a Major Mitchell Cockatoo was having a great time
washing in a particularly dirty looking puddle not far from the petrol
pumps, getting its clean pink plumage all dirty.

We drove to a spot 20.4 km west along the road to Ayers Rock and walked to
an area on the northern side of the road that Chris saw from the car and
thought might be good for Orange Chats.  We had no luck on that front, but
got Crimson Chats, Southern Whitefaces, White backed Swallows and a calling
Pallid Cuckoo.  The area is best described as a small lagoon area with no
water.  The vegetation, samphire and saltbush, is different from the
surrounding area.  And if anyone finds a windcheater lying somewhere in the
middle of it all, I'd like it back please.

Murray Lord

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