Grasswren Hunting at Mt Isa Qld 15-18/5/03

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Subject: Grasswren Hunting at Mt Isa Qld 15-18/5/03
From: "Alan Morris" <>
Date: Mon, 9 Jun 2003 17:18:30 +1000
Hi Birders,
On our recent trip to northern Australia seeking out birds that we had failed to find so far, Robin Benson & I headed to Mt Isa after a successful time at Bladensberg NP. As we had been successful with the Rufous-crowned Emu-wren and Spinifexbird at Bladensberg, our only target species at Mt Isa were the ballarae race of the Dusky Grasswren (Kalkadoon Grasswren) and the Carpentarian Grasswren. So armed with information provided by Bob Forsyth, John McLennan and others, together with recent postings on Birding-aus by Michael Hunter, we sallied first to Mica Creek and Sybella Creek, just south of Mt Isa on the Djarra Road, to find the Kalkadoon Grasswren. As we had now found most of the other grasswrens in the past 3 years, and other than Michael Hunter's experience in not findind this bird, all other reports seem to indicate that finding this bird would not be a problem, and so we set out with high hopes.
We started at the now well known wrecked car at Mica Creek, and search the spinifex covered flats and hill slopes in the vicinity without any luck. Later that morning we moved onto the other well known site, Sybella Creek, 8 km further down the road. By lunch we again had found nothing. Later that afternoon we again spent time at Mica Creek without success. We returned next day and in addition to searching these locations we also search some hillsides around Mt Isa and along the Djarra Rd where Bob Forsyth had said that they had been seen there as well. On the third morning we started at Sybella Creek at 700 hrs and spent two hours there before returned again to Mica Creek. At 1100 hrs, when we had thought of giving up and with 14 hours of searching behind us, we finally came across a party of 4 Kalkadoon Grass-wrens, 80m NE from the wrecked car and 50 m in from the access track. These birds gave us very good views at distances of 20-30 m, and initially we had thought there were only 3 birds until one flushed from between my feet and joined the other three. I don't know who was more surprised! These grasswrens often ran up the trunks of the small eucalypts to a height of 2m feeding and calling, as well as hopping up onto the large rocks and small antills that occurred at the site Good views were had of the rufous of the back, wings and belly, and the grey heads and overall the birds seemed to be marginally bigger that the Dusky Grasswren. We watched the birds for 15 minutes before they hopped up over a ridge, and we returned to the car for a well earned cup of tea!
Other good birds seen in the vicinity at Mica and Sybella Creeks included both Collared Sparrowhawk and Brown Goshawk; Painted Firetails and Spinifex Pigeons coming to drink at a small waterhole in Sybella Creek; Grey-fronted Honeyeaters were more common that Grey-headed Honeyaters; Grey-crowned Babblers, the Cloncurry Parrot form of the Ringneck Parrot , Spotted Bowerbird, Diamond Doves, Budgerigar, Red-browed Pardalote and plenty of Varieagted Fairy-wrens, many of which pretended to be grasswrens.
Our search for the Carpentarian Grasswren overlapped somewhat with that of the Kalkadoon Grasswren and in fact one of us had seen a female Carpentarian Grasswren before we found the former. The Carpentarian Grasswren site is located along McNamaras Rd (formerly Loretto Mine Rd) and is about 73 km west of Mt Isa. We had no dificulty in following the directions and soon found the cairn that has within it a plastic box containing the famous note book. We eagerly read all the comments in the book particularly that of the most recent visitors that included Michael Hunter. These comments document the successes and failures of the searchers, and if the book is to be believed, the success rate appears to be about 50:50. After 7 hours searching over two days, one of us saw a Carpentarian Grasswren at 1715s in a dry creek bed with a spinifex covered bank, presumably it had run ahead of Rob and hopped into the creek. This site c.500 m south of the cairn, is a location mentioned in the book where a bird had been seen recently. After 3 hours of searching the following morning a pair were located in another creek, 50-80 m SW of the cairn, and not long after, another pair were located 80 m NW of the cairn in a patch of spinifex adjacent to a creek, in an otherwise burnt area. The last pair gave us the best views spread over 6 minutes, both male and female could be identified on size and plumage.  Both pairs that morning were seen hopping across the gibbers and rocks, only to disappear into the spinifex and then appear briefly in a small clearing in the spinifex before moving on. Unlike the Kalkadoon Grasswren they made no move to hop into low bushes or onto the trunks of the Eucalyptus trees.
Other good birds at this site included a pair of Grey Falcons that passed within 10 m of me as they attempted to take Diamond Doves that I had flusheds from near a waterhole, circling around several times before disappearing; a Black Falcon flew over in the same area earlier; plenty of  Budgerigars and Zebra Finches, Painted Firetails, Grey-fronted & Grey-headed Honeyeaters, Common Bronzewing, a group of 3 Ground Cuckoo-shrikes, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, two parties of Black-tailed Treecreepers, Little Button-quail, Cockatiel and Red-winged Parrot. A good selection of birds.
20 km west of Mt Isa we had great views of a Black-breasted Buzzard, while at Lake Moondarra where we went for lunch each day, we were entertained by both Great & Spotted Bowerbirds in the picnic area, Painted Firetails along the road in the Park,  Caspian Tern and Great Crested Grebe on the Lake; Cattle Egret, Intermediate Egret, Black-winged Stilt and Glossy Ibis feeding around the edge of the Lake, Olive-backed Oriole and the usual ducks and grebes.
Enroute to Mt Isa we stopped at Clem Walton Lake and picnic area, located midway between Cloncurry and Mt Isa and a site recommended by the QOS. At the Lake we saw the usual waterbirds as well as Jacky Winter, Spinifex Pigeon, White-winged Triller and Brown Songlark, while at the picnic area, there were Grey-crowned Babbler, Rainbow Bee-eater, Grey-headed Honeyeater, Rufous Songlark, Red-winged Parrot, Spotted Bowerbird and Red-backed Kingfisher. All together we saw 82 species in the Mt Isa area obver the 4 days.
We are very grateful for the hospitality shown to us by Bob Forsyth, as well as the information he provided, and that provided by others that made our time there most successful.
Robin Benson & Alan Morris
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