After an astoundingly good two days in Broome,
where the total rocketed to 654, I found myself pulling into Derby, somewhat
dazed, ready to take on the Kimberley. But the astonishing birding was not yet
done with as news filtered in of the Isabelline Wheatear at Mount Carbine.
Making a few enquiries it seemed that the bird was genuine and it was hanging
around. Even though my budget would be stretched, I simply couldn't resist going
for this Australian first.
The first plane I could get wasn't until the next
day (Nov 20th), so that gave me a day and a half around Derby. Derby (pronounced
to rhyme with "Herbie" not "carby" which I constantly got wrong, much to the
chagrin of the locals) is not the most prepossessing of towns. It is hot, very
hot, and surrounded on three sides by desolate salt pans. But the birding is as
hot as the weather. Down by the wharf, where the largest tides in the world
flood in every day, a Great-billed Heron was feeding on the
incoming rush of water.
Many will remember the stoush over the outfall at
the Derby Sewerage Farm. This area, once a magnificent five hectare swamp
brimming with birds has been emasculated to a one hectare patch (and the local
water board is up for an environmental award for reducing the wetland by eighty
percent- I suppose 20% is better than nothing at all). The remaining area
still attracts a vast array of really good birds. Flocks of Barn Swallows flew
above mobs of Yellow Wagtails, Brolga, waterfowl and waders including: Long-toed
Stint; Wood Sandpiper; Swinhoe's Snipe; and most specially, a big fat
Ruff, a bird I very much doubted I would see this year at all.
George Swann had seen a Gargeny out on the Gibb
River Road and even though I would be going through there in a few day's time, I
thought it would be best to try for it now. And after driving three hundred
kilometres to Mount Barnett, I thought I was too late as there were only three
ducks on the wetland. Two were Black Ducks and the third, blow me down was a
female or possibly young male Gargeny. This was another bird I
seriously doubted ever seeing this year, and I realised it was also the 700th
bird I'd seen in Australia. It took me twenty-one years to reach six hundred and
less than two years to get to seven hundred, that must be some sort of record in
itself. (I'm sounding rather record obsessed aren't I? I'm actually far more
well adjusted than this would suggest and really don't need these arbitrary
milestones to justify my pitiful existence. Honest. Really.)
That night I camped at Windjana Gorge which, like
the rest of the Kimberley had pretty much shut down for the Wet Season. Around
here I added Black-tailed Treecreeper, Bar-breasted and
White-gaped Honeyeater. And so when I flew out of Derby
via Kununurra and Darwin to Cairns, my list was at 660.
The red-eye from Darwin rolled into Cairns at dawn
and I rolled up to Mount Carbine about two hours later. Why on earth a rarity
would want to hang around this bare, cow pat strewn dead badlands dustbowl is
beyond me. After travelling all this way, my tension levels were pretty high
when the bird was not immediately apparent. Twenty minutes of searching proved
fruitless. I needed to use the toilet and the only one on offer was the
dilapidated structure by the sad, grassless cricket ground. And as I approached,
the Isabelline Whatear flew up from within metres of
As a rarity, the wheatear was everything the
Blue and White Flycatcher wasn't. it was not colourful, it was not pretty, it
was not in an attractive locale, but it was a new bird for Australia. And to be
honest, its upright stance and active feeding method did give it a certain
charm. While I was watching it a couple of local birders turned up and told me
about a dam out the back which held Freckled Ducks. We went and had a look and
saw the ducks and a cow that lay exhausted after just giving birth, but we
didn't see anything much else.
Back at Kingfisher Park I bumped into Chris Tzaros
who was on his first trip up to this part of the world and was absolutely
buzzing with the excitement of so many new ticks. He and his partner Julie were
off to try for Rufous Owl so I joined in the search and after an extensive
search we finally got a great view of a pair Rufous Owl looking
imperiously down at us. I also picked up the very cute Buff-breasted
Paradise-Kingfisher but no such luck with Blue-faced and Black-throated
Finches, though I will be back in this area in a few weeks to try again.
Next day I was due to head back West but Ron at
Kingfisher Park told me Dion Hobcroft was arriving that morning to go for the
Wheatear and was probably out there as we spoke. So I headed out to Mount
Carbine again to say G'day and to try for better video footage than I had got
the day before. When I arrived, there was no sign of either Dion or the bird.
Turns out he was over at the Freckled Duck dam finding a Grey Wagtail. I drove
off and only found out about his find when I was back in WA. Doh.
Oh well, you win some and you lose some, and with a
total of 663 species, I guess I shouldn't really be