The Big Twitch Under a Kimberley Moon

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch Under a Kimberley Moon
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Sun, 8 Dec 2002 11:42:51 +0800
To get back to the West, I had to go via Ayers Rock and Alice Springs. On the last leg of the trip, turns out I had done law with the guy I was sitting next to. I didn't remember him- I suppose if I had turned up to classes his face may have rung a bell. His name was Tom Cannon and after working for the Aboriginal Legal Service in the Kimberley he had set up a private practice representing mainly Aboriginal clients in personal injury cases, earning him the nickname "Smash and Bash". On landing in Broome, he had to see a client who had injured his shoulder in a fall ( a whitefella would probably have been straight to the lawyer with a negligence claim, without "smash and bash" the blackfellas would remain ignorant of their rights) and as the battery in his video had gone flat, I offered my camera to film the interview and scene of the accident. The proprietors of the establishment must have been pooping themselves when they saw my big fat professional looking TV camera as I filmed this guy's story. I probably scared them into an early settlement.
I may have to engage Tom's services myself to compensate for the debacle that followed. Broome airport was being upgraded and so all flights had been going out of Curtain Airforce Base which suited me fine as I was in nearby Derby. But by the time I got back Broome Airport was open and I had to find a way to get to Derby to where my car was. This entailed a bus ride to Derby, but as Curtain is forty kilometres out of town, I had to stay the night in Derby and catch a taxi out there the next day. But on arriving at the airport , the gates were locked and I had to get the taxi to take me out to the caretaker's house on the base to have the carpark opened up. The whole deal (taxi, bus, extra night's accommodation) cost me an extra two hundred bucks- a very expensive Wheatear indeed.
And so it was into the Kimberley. Like Cape York, this is a truly remarkable area; hundreds of kilometres of unbroken woodlands to remind us of what we have lost down South. James Blundell had a song, "Kimberley Moon" and like most country songs, romanticises the countryside but I don't remember much reference in it to the exhausting heat and incessant flies and other bities. The Wet had not yet fully kicked in but spectacular lightning storms would roll in every afternoon occasionally dumping big loads of rain, but in a sporadic manner so that in some parts water lay all over the road whilst nearby areas remained dusty dry.
Despite the lack of monsoon onset, the road to Mitchell Falls had been closed, thereby denying me access to the prime area for Black Grasswren. It was always a gamble arriving in this part of the world so late in the season but it looks like it hadn't paid off. My only option for Black Grasswren now was to try at Mount Elizabeth Station, though Peter Lacey, the station owner, told me that no birders had been looking for the last couple of years.
For two days I camped out at the sandstone outcrop where this outlying population were sometimes seen. For two days I scrambled across the rocks, dripping in sweat from the forty degree heat. For relief I could always swim the in the headwaters of the Drysdale River, but the water was so shallow, and the sun so fierce, that taking a plunge was akin to swimming in a kettle. The birding was pretty good though. Flocks of Varied Lorikeets flew overhead, but I failed to ever get a tickable view of them. Northern Rosella  was quite common and up in the escarpment I managed to add White-quilled Rock-Pigeon, Sandstone Shrike-thrush, White-lined Honeyeater and Green-backed Gerygone.
But no Grasswrens. The best I had to content myself with was one calling in the midst of a thick spinifex clump just metres from me. Or at least I think it did. I had been in the hot sun for hours and perhaps I was just hallucinating. I probably should have stayed out there another day but I had told the station owners I would be back after two days and didn't want them to trek the fifty bumpy kilometres out to the site thinking I was in trouble. And besides, they had told me that they had been getting Gouldian Finches near the homestead. An afternoon's searching failed to turn them up, but I did add Masked Finch, bird number 669.
My only hope for Black Grasswren was to charter a plane to Mitchell Falls. On arriving in Kununurra I checked out the possibility. It would cost me two thousand dollars. they would have to drop me at the airfield where I would then have to hike about sixteen kilometres up to the plateau in forty-one degree heat. Stay overnight, then hike back to the airfield to get picked up. Though I couldn't afford it, and would have been placing myself in a very risky situation, the decision not to go for it, sticks in my craw even now, two weeks later. This is the first land bird that I have gone for that I have undoubtedly dipped on. The birding around Kununurra and the Top End would have to pretty good to make up for it.
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