Birding in the Kimberley (Long)

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: Birding in the Kimberley (Long)
From: "Peter Marsh" <>
Date: Sat, 13 Jun 2009 18:04:27 +1000
Dear Birders,
I have just returned from a 16 Day camping trip the Kimberley with George Swann 
of Kimberley Birdwatching. It was an absolutely fabulous trip, magnificent 
countryside, great birding, wonderful food, very comfortable camping in 
secluded campsites (often known only to George!) great botanical knowledge and 
great art sites. We swam every day in crystal clear rivers and pools and gazed 
up at the stars from our tents each evening.

We were a party of 4 of whom I was the only obsessed birder but one other 
member of the party is a somewhat obsessed botanist. Our respective wives are 
really quite normal! I had a small number of target species and sub-species - 
Black Grass-wren, Chestnut Backed Button-quail, Spotted Nightjar ( a bogey bird 
that had transmuted itself into a Notted Spightjar in my mind), Northern race 
of Shrike Tit, yellow faced race of Partridge Pigeon, and the rogersi race of 
Variegated Fairy-wren. All were seen as described below. I also tried for the 
Eurasian Curlew that had been seen in Broome but without luck.

Our route took us from Broome to the Mitchell Plateau and return via the AWC 
property Mornington. I saw exactly 200 species with another 2 heard but not 

Black Grass-wren

We first saw BGW at the usual spot at the end of the rocky shelf on the true 
right bank of Little Merton Falls on the Mitchell Plateau. I was thrilled to 
have a 5 minute of a party of 1 male and 2 females as they moved from left to 
right about 3 m below where we were sitting on a large rock. Shortly after that 
sighting we had a very brief view of a single male bird which I suspect is more 
typical of sightings of this bird. Later that afternoon after we had walked to 
the base of Mitchell Falls to view the wonderful display of art there we had 
our most stunning views of BGW. We had returned to the top of the falls and 
were doing a bit of bush bashing when my wife noticed a party of 3 BGW bouncing 
along a ridge line. We followed them and our botanist friend rushed ahead which 
I thought would scare the birds off completely. In his blundering he did us a 
god service as he passed the birds while they fossicked around a large rock 
outcrop on the ridge. We motioned for him to stay on the far side of the 
outcrop which seemed to have the effect of stopping the birds continuing along 
the ridge away from us. We sat down and watched the birds feeding around the 
rock outcrop continuously for 25 minutes. The male made repeated jumps towards 
the roof of a low overhang apparently to catch insects clinging to the roof. 
The females moved around using their stiff tails for balance among the rocks. 
Eventually the male bird flew off followed some minutes later by a mature 
females leaving a juvenile female still fossicking around he outcrop. 
Eventually it sauntered off in the direction the male had taken and this 
stunning experience was over.

Chestnut-backed Button-quail

George and I walked around a large burnt patch on the Mitchell Plateau in the 
hope of finding some CBBQ. Eventually we flushed a covey of about 10 birds that 
provided good flight views. Unfortunately they flushed from an un-burnt patch 
so there was no hope of deck views. We subsequently saw another  single bird in 
flight at close quarters.

Spotted Nightjar

George was very responsive to my desire to see SN and we went out spotlighting 
on a number of occasions without success. On our second last night we were 
staying at Mornington and were returning from seeing the setting sun on the 
cliffs of Sir John Gorge.A SN was seen at some distance in flight sufficiently 
well to be tickable without any great satisfaction. A couple of minutes later 
another SN flew over the car quite low giving better views. Around the next 
corner there was a SN sitting on the road which allowed us to drive to within a 
few meters of it providing magnificent and very satisfying views.

Shrike Tit

George was able to produce the northern race of ST so often along the Gibb 
River Road early in the trip that at one stage I was accusing him (unfairly) of 
being "a one trick pony". Our first view was of a male bird breaking into the 
pupal case of a case moth. For about 5 minutes it chewed away at the small 
twigs covering the pupal case until eventually it had a hole sufficiently large 
enough to allow it to get hold of the insect inside and gently extract it from 
the case. It then moved slightly and proceeded to devour its catch. Subsequent 
viewings included male, female and juvenile birds.

Partridge Pigeon

The yellow faced race of PP were plentiful in the camp ground at Mitchell 

Variegated Fairy-wren (race rogersi)

A brief view of a male bird was obtained at Surveyor's Pool on Mitchell 
Plateau. Otherwise the bird proved surprisingly difficult to pick up until our 
last day at Bell Gorge. We went into the Gorge for a swim and on George's 
advice I spent some time looking for the bird on the track into the Gorge 
without success. While the others continued their swimming I climbed up the 
cliffs beside the track and eventually got onto a large family group for some 
great views. There were 2 mature males at least 1 immature male and about 10 or 
the beautifully powder blue females with chestnut lores.

Of course there were some other fantastic birding experiences along the way. A 
Peregrine Falcon chasing a flock of duck at a pool along the Derby road was but 
one. I would like to thank George for a most wonderful trip, great company and 
a true ornithological experience. George is a real birders guide, there are 
constant challenges to ones observational; skills and birding knowledge (which 
I regularly failed but learnt from). There is no spoon feeding which makes for 
a richer, deeper experience. This was Georges first trip away after the sad 
death of his wife Lindsey and we are all extremely grateful that he was able to 
make it such a memorable trip for us despite his own grief. Thank you George.


Peter Marsh

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