Tanami & East Kimberley trip report: Part 1

Subject: Tanami & East Kimberley trip report: Part 1
From: Carol Probets <>
Date: Sun, 1 Aug 2004 19:39:13 +1000
Hi all,

I've recently returned from a 4 week trip across the country, primarily to join an expedition to search for the Night Parrot in northern WA, but with some nice birding experiences on the way there and back as well.

The Night Parrot expedition was organised by Richard Jordan and Fred van Gessell as a follow-up to a reported sighting of 4 birds near Wolfe Creek Crater in 2001. Other members of the team included Walter Boles, Michael and Penny Hunter (from this list), and Jan England from Qld. As you've probably gathered, we didn't find any of the elusive 'chartreuse-coloured' parrots, but it was an interesting exercise which drove home how very little we know about this mysterious bird and the fact that it will take either a huge amount of time and effort or an even larger dose of luck in order to crack this one.

Michael Hunter has already posted the highlights of the 8-day expedition including the visit to Lake Gregory, a truly stunning place. For me the highlights were definitely my first views of numerous YELLOW CHATS in the samphire and at least 3 FLOCK BRONZEWINGS along the lakeside drive. I only saw the bronzewings in flight, but how distinctive that flight behaviour was. Each time one flushed from beside the track I followed it in my binoculars as it flew in a huge loop, right across to the far side of the lake where it became a mere speck, to circle a couple of times over the distant trees before - minutes later - it headed back towards me and landed in almost exactly the same spot where it had flushed from! Then, no matter how quietly and slowly I tried to sneak up for a better look, it would suddenly burst up from under the small shrubs with a clatter of wings and repeat the whole procedure.

Other good birds included PICTORELLA MANNIKINS at a small waterhole between Billiluna and Lake Gregory, BANDED LAPWINGS, various terns and a multitude of waterbirds at the lake, RUFOUS-THROATED, GOLDEN-BACKED, GREY-HEADED & GREY-FRONTED HONEYEATERS feeding in flowering grevilleas near the Wolfe Creek Crater, SINGING BUSHLARKS everywhere, a BLACK FALCON, BLACK-BREASTED BUZZARDS and several SPOTTED HARRIERS.

Apart from the birds it was great to see such an interesting and beautiful part of the country and an area that I would be unlikely to have been able to visit otherwise. Thanks to the Aboriginal people of Billiluna and Mulan for allowing us permission to enter their land, as well as the owners of Ruby Plains station.

The remainder of my month away was spent travelling there and back independently and squeezing in a quick visit to the East Kimberley. I drove a total of 10,400 km, travelling up via Port Augusta, Alice Springs and the Tanami Track and, due to a very fortunate spur of the moment decision, returning home via Wyndham-Kununurra, then on through Mt Isa and Charleville. Below are some of the highlights.

Day 1 (30/6/04) set the tone for a 'chatty' trip when a small flock of ORANGE CHATS flew up from the roadside 70km NE of Hay on the Mid-Western Hwy, NSW. There had been recent rain in this area with water still lying around.

A BLACK FALCON 13km west of Hay, NSW.

A SPOTTED HARRIER at Gulnare, SA was the first of many seen during the trip.

Port Augusta, SA (1-2/7/04)
4 BANDED STILTS near the bird hide at the bridge. Also, good views of CHIRRUPING WEDGEBILL in the shrubby vegetation in front of the Shoreline Caravan Park.

Coober Pedy, SA
I searched the monument area 12km south of Coober Pedy for Chestnut-breasted Whiteface. This is the site described by Ken Rogers in the Birding-Aus archives dated 27/8/02. I searched the area for 1 hour before sunset on 2/7 and for 1 hour 15 minutes early on 3/7, without success. Two WHITE-BACKED SWALLOWS and some WHITE-WINGED FAIRY-WRENS were the only consolation.

The Breakaways, north of Coober Pedy
I stopped here for an early lunch and it proved to be a rich little patch with CRIMSON CHATS, RED-CAPPED ROBIN, WHITE-WINGED & VARIEGATED FAIRY-WRENS, CHESTNUT-RUMPED THORNBILLS, plenty of BLACK-FACED WOODSWALLOWS, etc, etc.

15km north of Marla, SA
An afternoon stop in a patch of dense mulga near a small dam provided one of the best highlights of the northward journey. At least 2 pairs of PIED HONEYEATERS performing song-flights above the mulga, singing that ethereal 'morse-code' song which is so difficult to pinpoint. I finally tracked down their location and was treated to my best ever views of a male on a dead branch, highlighted by the afternoon sun. After this I encountered good numbers of Pied Honeyeaters all the way up the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs and the Tanami Road.

At the same time, a pair of CHIMING WEDGEBILLS started up their incredible loud chiming right next to me and my pishing brought these inquisitive birds out to the edge of a shrub for a great view.

21km north of Erldunda, NT at the "Banded Whiteface site" (4/7/04)
No luck with the Banded Whiteface but the nearby floodway produced more PIED HONEYEATERS, SPLENDID FAIRY-WREN, CRIMSON CHATS, BROWN SONGLARK, CRESTED BELLBIRD, etc.

Alice Springs area, 5-7-7/04
Extensive fires have burnt out much of the spinifex habitat in the western MacDonnell Ranges, including parts of the Pound Walk at Ormiston Gorge. Currently the best spinifex habitat is in the centre of the Pound and on the Ghost Gum Track, so aim to be there early in the morning before the mobs of tourists arrive. I wasn't. The best I could do was to hear what were almost certainly DUSKY GRASSWRENS on a spinifex-covered hillside near Simpson's Gap. This was very frustrating considering their reputation as being the 'easiest' grasswren to see! Of course many of the commoner birds were seen, too many to list, and great views of a WESTERN BOWERBIRD at the Olive Pink gardens.
As usual, never enough time to do everything, go everywhere.

Tanami Track, 7-8/7/04
Notable mainly for the abundance of wildflowers after what has obviously been a good season. Recent rains have turned the ground into a carpet of bright green growth. More Pied Honeyeaters along the first few kilometres. BUDGERIGARS and COCKATIELS were common.

I camped the night at Renahan's Bore amongst spinifex and masses of flowering grevilleas. At dusk a flock of 12 MAJOR MITCHELL COCKATOOS flew in and dozens of MASKED WOODSWALLOWS filled the sky. I found two sets of BUSTARD footprints in the sand, a male and a female judging by the relative sizes.

To be continued in Part 2.

Carol Probets
Katoomba NSW
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