birding-aus NT trip report, part 1. LONG

Subject: birding-aus NT trip report, part 1. LONG
From: Ian Fraser <>
Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 09:16:58 +1000 (EST)
[I've broken this report into 2 because of its length; in fact the list
server demanded it!!]

This is a selected series of comments on a trip to the NT from late May to
late June 1999; it is not intended to be comprehensive. I shall try to save
your time by not reiterating what's in Thomas and Thomas (T&T hereafter) and
Donato et al ('Finding Birds in Austalia's Northern Territory'; $20 very
well spent - see Niven McCrie's excellent NT website for details and to
order, on, though I'll comment on them where it
could be helpful. Where I don't give location details of a place, it's in
both books.
We hope that this can be as helpful to others as the trip reports of others,
and especially Andrew Taylor, Murray Lord, Roger Hicks and Rod Gardner, have
been to us. Thanks all! I shall never again be able to look at a Spinifex
Pigeon without thinking of Roger Hicks' 8 year old's 'little clockwork red
We were on more of a time budget than we'd have preferred, so we hadn't the
luxury of lingering for extra days to catch up on things missed. Definitely
not our favoured method of travelling, but a lot better than nothing!
We'd been running a tour in the Qld Wet Tropics, and headed quickly across
Qld, covering more or less familiar ground, to cross the border at
Camooweal. Because we were visiting family in Katherine, we spent
considerably more time there, relatively, than we might otherwise have done.
I'm not sure how to make the next point, or even if there's much point to
it, but it intrigued us. We found birding in the NT - or at least the Top
End - to be more difficult than in comparative areas, such as NW Qld or Cape
York. This is NOT a complaint; we're already planning a return trip, and I
have no expectation than birding SHOULD be easy. (In fact I fear that my
protestant ancestry may lead me to feel that satisfaction is in proportion
to effort!) While I make no pretence to expertise, I'm not a novice either;
I'm well on the way to 600, so feel I have some grounding from which to make
the comment. We often felt that it's much harder to find things here; less
seemed to fly off the roadsides, and random walks seemed to produce less.
Maybe it was the time of year - in the Top End we were told more than once
that things (eg Pittas) are harder to find now than in the wet, and the
amount of water around meant that drinking holes are pretty irrelevant. (If
you want to walk at the moment along some of the 'dry' creek beds
recommended by T&T, take a boat!)
On the other hand the Centre was very dry (and I mean relatively!); I saw
not a single flowering Eremophila, which seem always to be flowering
somewhere at other times. That observation was confirmed by Lyn Peddler as
far south as Lyndhurst.
Maybe it was just us; I suppose we all have times like that. It took a few
days of driving and walking in Kakadu (early morning and late afternoon), to
see our first Partridge Pigeon! Any comments would be welcome, and no need
to be too rude!
In the event we found nearly everything we wanted in the end, though some
allegedly 'easy' species took a lot of time, and/or were only seen once.
Re NT parks staff. In a sample of several, in offices and the field, in
Katherine and Kakadu, we found them to be a) uniformly friendly, and b)
uniformly unable to offer any birding advice at all. On the other hand, the
interpretation in the NT, in parks and towns, cultural and 'natural', is the
best in Australia!
QLD; CLEM WALTON RESERVE. (65k west of Mt Isa). This is associated with a
water storage, which has obviously been there for a while. Camping is
possible along the right fork, overlooking the reservoir, which has lots of
waterbirds. At the end of the left fork is a long grassy area extending
along the creek; signs warn not to camp because of potential rising water
levels (presumably from opening the spillway), but lots of people obviously
do - there are even lots of bins provided. Take your pick - we did, albeit
well up from the creek. Lots of NW birds, including Black-tailed
Treecreeper, and a very aesthetic spot indeed. I'd be surprised if there
weren't Grey-headed HEs on the surrounding spinifex hills, but didn't have
time to look properly. (We incidentally, and despite the literature, have
always found Black-tailed Treecreeper much more readily in NW Queensland
than in the Top End.)
BARKLY TABLELANDS. It's an astonishing experience to drive through hundreds
of kms of native grasslands, especially if you're used to fighting to keep
half a hectare! En route up Ranken Road we drove through a loose flock of
Australian Pratincole for at least 100km. We wanted to see Connell Lagoon
Conservation Reserve - the only reserve on the BT - but probably erred in
that in so doing we missed T&T's Letter-winged Kite site on the southern
Tablelands Hway. We misunderstood Donato's comments on the Kite; they
followed the para on Connells Lagoon, and we thought they related to it. We
pushed very hard to get there, arriving just on sunset; there are no
internal roads, and no obvious potential roosts near the perimeter road. We
had passed some likely camps (for us and kites!), such as the river just
north of Alexandria Homestead.
CARANBIRINI SPRINGS. (T&T 7.3). Since their time, it has become a Nature
Park; it is now well sign-posted, so is easier to find than their
description suggests. It also means that with the cattle removed, the
streamside vegetation has recovered and the Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens have
returned. The 2k circuit walk is a truly beautiful introduction to the
sandstone. We of course saw no Carpentarian Grasswrens; someone on
birding-aus once professed to be a 'grasswren agnostic'; I'm not that
certain?. (However, later in the trip my unfaith was challenged somewhat!*)
We did first see Northern Rosellas here.
A viable alternative route to the Carpentaria Highway from here is via Roper
Bar, coming onto the Stuart Highway at Mataranka. (This avoids doubling up
on the Mataranka - Daly Waters section of the Stuart if you're later heading
south.) The trip contains a good array of woodland, sandstone, rivers etc,
and provides a beautiful campsite at Lormaieum Lagoon, below the ruined St
Vidgeon HS, 70k east of Roper Bar.
(* Dusky Grasswrens are so easy that they probably aren't really grasswrens;
I'll have to consult a taxonomic expert such as Pat O'Malley on that?)
KATHERINE: NITMILUK NP, KATHERINE GORGE. This is a very busy and crowded
area, but we did OK by getting out early, and doing the interesting 3.2k
circuit walk onto the plateau (going clockwise, starting near the picnic
area/boat jetty). On the way down through the sheltered gully near the end,
saw and heard our first Sandstone Shrike-thrush, in a tree on the cliff
above us.
KATHERINE RIVER. This will be only of use if you have access to a boat. We
stayed on a rented property 13k east of Katherine on the Nitmiluk road, with
access to the river. About 2k east along the river we found a Great-billed
Heron; we were told there had also been a young bird around. You could
launch from nearer Katherine (eg Knotts Crossing, by the hospital).
KATHERINE: NITMILUK NP, EDITH FALLS ROAD. (Donato p64). After a lot of
driving and walking, finally found both Gouldians and Hooded Parrots in a
recently burnt roadside area (in the same binocular field!) one morning,
though not until about 0800, and just 4.5k from the highway as I was on my
way out, having given up! I'm sure that this site is of no particular
significance, but the area and habitat are.
Ian Fraser, Canberra  
Environment Tours; Vertego Environmental Writing Consultancy
GPO Box 3268, Canberra, ACT 2601
ph: 02 6249 1560  fax: 02 6247 3227

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