birding-aus Some Road Observations

Subject: birding-aus Some Road Observations
From: Laurence and Leanne Knight <>
Date: Wed, 02 Jun 1999 21:36:13 +1000
I loaded up my trusty old Suburu a couple of weeks ago and set off
through the back blocks of Queensland to have a gander at the scenery,
take some shots of some different scenery, do some bushwalking and a
spot of birdwatching.  Over a period of two weeks I had a number of
first and second sitings along the 5-6000 km transect I followed round
the state.  No car problems, just lots of dust through every thing.  For
those without [or too lazy to look at]  a map, I headed west from
Brisbane, north-north west, east, and south-south east.  Here are some
observations ...

I pretty much blasted along the bitumen [Warrego Hwy] to Quilpie.  Saw
the usual sorts of birds for that neck of the woods [emus, grey crowned
babblers, wedgies, budgies, peewees, weeros {parrots familiar to people
on the east coast by another name} and magpies etc.]  On a lunch break
by a creek east of Charleville, I had the pleasure of spotting a crested
shrike tit [don?t see too much of them in SEQ].

I dropped the pace west of Quilpie and hopped out of the car on a
regular basis.  About an hour north-west of Quilpie I stopped to look at
some chats - large flocks of crimson and orange chats by the road
[fascinating how one or two insist in fluttering in a downsward pattern
in front of a speeding car - don?t think I hit any, but they always
seemed to cut it close].  I also saw a pair of chirruping wedgebills
[not as shy as chiming wedgebills but much less distinctive call].

I then left the bitumen about half an hour east of Windorah and headed
up to Welford NP.   I saw the first brolgas for the trip near a gully
called Thunda Ck and then had a look at some water fowl on a large
lake/dam on the eastern side of the road [not visible from the car by
saw a heap of whistling kites circling about - also a family of chestnut
browed babblers].

Vegetation wise, Welford is a bit clapped out but has some nice camping
on the banks of the Barcoo River [it is always pleasant to sleep under
the stars full of confidence that it won?t rain, but you do need to hang
a mosquito net from a convenient branch].  Plenty of the usual suspects
- I added horsfield cuckoos to the park list, saw a pallid cuckoo, some
white winged wrens as well as a flock of spinifex pigeons who seemed a
bit out of place.

I had to drive through a 100 metre water crossing on the way to Jundah,
and saw a few pinkeared ducks in a dam just south of town.  There?s a
jumpup about halfway between Jundah and Stonehenge with a
rest-stop/lookout that feels similar to the carpark for the Eyre Bird
Observatory [well worth a stop for the views].  There was a large flock
of Oz pratincoles on the back road from stonehenge to Lochern NP.

Lochern has some nice riparian camping, but the old shearers quarters
proved more attractive [hot showers, fridge, stove etc] while still
being cheap.  Lochern was in much better condition than Welford - plenty
of healthy looking Mitchell grass.  Again, plenty of the usual
suspects.  I did get to see a family of halls babblers near the western
edge of the park in a rocky area with eucalypts a bit of a watercourse
on the side of a bit of a slope [an so met the conflicting habitat
descriptions in the three field guides I had with me].  There was a pair
of major mitchells sitting quietly in a tree and I started to see yellow
throated miners instead of their noisy cousins.  I also came across a
red browed pardolote in a funny sort of tree on the edge of a bit of an

It was  pretty slow driving through the various ranges on the road to
Winton [quite scenic in places].  Lark Quarry is work pulling into - not
so much for the dinasaur footprints [though they are interesting enough]
or for the birdwatching [though rufus crowned emu wrens have been seen
there] but because the scenery is pretty interesting [a bit like the
breakaways near Cooper Pedy where they filmed an episode of Mad Max {for
those of the right age to remember it}].  The standard of the road
improved dramatically after Lark Quarry [100 km/hr material].

Bladensberg NP was very dry - they haven?t had good rain there for 5
years or so [though nice camping by the creek].  Most of the time I only
saw three species - tinted honeyeaters, mistletoe birds and the utterly
ubiquitous zebra finches.  Michael Todd was wanting to know about
finches in that part of the world - the answer was nothing but zebras,
zebras, zebras and more zebras [actually I didn?t see another kind of
finch between Charleville and Mt Isa].  There don?t seem to be any
official record of star finches at the park, though the ranger there is
commonly asked about them.  I did see some hooded robins and grey headed
honey eaters round Logans Falls way.

The country around Winton is pretty boring, and I took a back road that
parallels the ?dusty? Diamentina to the Combo waterhole [the setting for
Waltzing Matilda].  Plenty of coolibahs by the billabongs and some nice
birdlife [easy to see why a swaggie would want to camp there].  Lots of
brolgas along the way [2 offspring seemed to be the preferred brolga
family planning target] as well as a boobook blending into a dam wall [I
thought that block of wood looked a bit strange].

The drive from Cloncurry to Mt Isa was very scenic [like driving through
the Kimberley] and it would be worth spend a bit of time there [I had to
get into the Isa to get my exhaust welded up - banged on the way out of

I stopped off at a spot west of the Isa where carpentarian grass wrens
are said to be seen, but had no luck there, though as compensation, I
did get to see a pair of pictorella mannikins near a large gully as well
as a large family of painted firetails.  There were plenty of crimson
finches hanging around Gregory Downs and large flocks of varied
lorikeets on the way to Lawn Hill NP.

I timed my visit to Lawn Hill to be sufficiently after the wet for the
roads to be open, but enough before the dry to get in before the
Mexicans crowded the place out [the gulf country gets pretty full of
people from the deep south getting away from chilly weather down
there].  The road into Lawn Hill was 100km/hr standard [due to the
establishment of the Century Hill Pasminco zinc mine] for much of the
way [contrary to what the RACQ website said - the locals reckoned that
part of the reason for the RACQ?s conservatism is that Victorians etc
are inexperienced at driving on gravel roads - certainly most Victorians
I came across were driving 4WDs that looked like they rarely left the

All that aside, Lawn Hill is was the highlight of the trip [lovely place
a bit like Kings Canyon with a lot more water].  Certainly plenty of
bowerbirds.  Also heaps of purple crowned fairy wrens [males tending
towards eclipse, but I did see one male who?d retained his crown] as
well as highly conspicious white browed robins weebils and banded honey
eaters.  Plenty of fish in the gorge, and the crocodiles [only freshies]
kept a low profile.  The blue winged kookaburras and channel billed
cuckoos were more seen than heard [I discovered the blue on the Kooka?s
is nicely irrediscent in the sunlight].  Lawn Hill has some very nice
bushwalking [striking gorges, monsoonal type rainforest, spinifex,
snappy gums, blue sky, green water] and one of the features is to sit in
the shade of a tree on the edge of a gorge and listen to the sandstone
strike thrushes [they have beautiful calls and I did get so see one
hopping around on the other side of the main gorge].  I also saw a
northern rosella, white gaped honeyeaters and a silver crowned
friarbird.  One of the rangers was chuffed that I saw the drongo hanging
around his front door.

The road up to Burketown was a bit rougher but still fairly fast.  I
started to see saurus cranes along with the brolgas and came across a
couple of ground cuckoos in a tree.  The drive across to Normanton is
fairly interesting [get to cross some largish rivers - banged the
exhaust again crossing the Leichardt River].  Saw the first jabarus for
the trip as well as a group of 5 banded lapwings by the road about  an
hour west of Normanton - well north of the range listed in Pizzey and
Knight [I think their maps are a bit dodgy in the gulf country - the
maps in the other field guides seemed more accurate].

Normanton has some nice birding on the lilly covered billabongs beside
the Norman River [eg magpie and green pygmy geese].  The replica of the
8.63 metre crocodile caught in Norman River 40 years ago was very
impressive [a dinasaur sized monster that looked like it could swallow a
bloke with a single gulp].

There were heaps of pratincoles on the road to Karumba, as well as a
flock of glossy ibis.  I spent a bit of time poking around in the
mangroves near the airport and got to see gull-billed and caspian terns,
yellow white-eyes [also seen at the nearby caravan park], some suspected
broadbilled flycatchers and a little bronze cuckoo [another one of
Pizzey and Knight?s mapping errors].  Part of the reason the broadbill
flycatchers remained suspects rather than definites was because it took
me so long to find them in P&K [I wish they would use the same order in
which the other guides etc list species - P&K?s ordering does seem a bit
silly in places - eg quails separted from button quails by 100 pages,
sitellas well removed from treecreepers etc].

There were plenty of wandering and plumed whistling ducks along the way
from Karumba to Cairns.  The deserted mine at Cromwell [opposite the
20km sign west of Georgetown] was a great birding site, though overrun
by cattle.  Plenty of waterfowl including jacanas etc. as well as yellow
honeyeaters, masked finch, pale headed rosellas and a squatter pigeon.
The interesting thing about this pigeon was that it has a golden eye
patch [the guides say blue and red, so not sure if this individual was
an unusual variant].

After that, It was pretty much case of getting the exhaust fixed in
Cairns and belting down the Bruce Highway.  I did take a few hours out
to wander the mangrove tracks in the Edmund Kennedy NP [north of
Cardwell] - saw a yellow spotted honeyeater, a juvenile fruit dove [not
sure whether superb or rose crowned] and some varied trillers.  Plenty
of redbrowed firetails and chestnut breasted mannikins by the road.  I
would have stopped off at Eungella NP if I had more time ...

Regards, Laurie.
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