The glorious grasslands

To: Birding-Aus Mail <>
Subject: The glorious grasslands
From: (Richard Johnson)
Date: Tue, 18 Apr 2000 13:33:56 +1000
Hi all
Am back after two weeks in the Julia Creek and Boulia areas (NW Qld), to find acrimony and pleas for more birding reports accumulated in the email 'in tray'. Well, here goes with some highlights:
The mitchell grass downs from Longreach north are a picture at the moment thanks to the best season in years. Stacks of birds about, from Singing Bushlarks to Bustards.
I spent a week at a property on the Julia Creek - Three Ways Rd. The birding highlight would have to be nesting Pictorella Mannikin, a species thought to be in decline in Qld (see Don Franklin's article in the latest 'Wingspan"). Other goodies were Black-breasted Buzzard - probably same bird seen three times during the week, both on the property and over the adjacent road; a single Flock Bronzewing over the house one afternoon; plenty of Rufous-throated Honeyeaters; and an abundance of grassland birds. Migrants were in evidence too: a Sacred Kingfisher was about the house for a day and small flocks of Rainbow Bee-eaters seemed to be passing through, as were a couple of Grey Fantails seen one morning only (don't ask me what ultrataxon they were!). The nearby Cloncurry River crossing proved good for birds and would make a very pleasant campsite for the touring birdo. Two immature Black-necked Stork were patrolling the shallows and a good variety of bush birds was present in the red gums and melaleucas, including Blue-winged Kookaburra, Rufous-throated Honeyeater, Red-browed Pardalote and several flocks of Varied Lorikeet.
A week at Marion Downs, south of Boulia, though disrupted by heavy rain, proved a birding bonanza. A good flood in the Georgina R had filled channels and greened up the floodplain, and follow-up local rain had worked wonders for the higher, stony downs. The herbfields and grasslands of the channels and floodplain were alive with birds, including one flock of 80 Flock Bronzewing at water one afternoon, and several pairs seen subsequently; numerous Bustards; several breeding pairs of Banded Lapwing; and an unexpected Black-necked Stork along with the Brolgas, herons and spoonbills. Huge schools of young fish were backed up at a 'bottleneck' concrete causeway on the river, struggling to cross in the fast-running water and providing a feast for Darter, Great and Little Pied Cormorants, White-necked Herons, several pairs of Whistling Kite and at least 300 Black Kite. A surprise bird in the coolibahs of the river was a Channel-billed Cuckoo - according to HANZAB, there are a scattered few historical records for this neck of the woods.
On the stony downs above and to the west of the river, I saw many Australian Pratincole, some with recently-fledged young, as well as several Gibberbird (a new one for me, and what a beauty!). Driving on station tracks in this country at night I saw Little Button-Quail, Spotted Nightjar and Barn Owl.
The stony downs extend out from a series of low, eroded hills and tablelands. A walk up here one afternoon yielded Painted Finch and a Grey Falcon among others.
Two pours of rain totalling 38mm curtailed movement on the property, restricting me to the main road, so I probably missed out on some things. The good thing about this country from the travelling birders perspective is that much of it can be seen from the roadside, without intruding onto private property. However, access is problematic at present. The Boulia-Bedourie Rd is open to 4WD only with the road closed to all traffic beyond there. I think that access from the east is out at the moment. Nevertheles the country should be accessible by the time it cools off a bit (not too bad last week - 32 in the shade). Indications are that birding this winter in the downs and channel country is going to be spectacular.
The Flock Bronzewings were patchy on this trip. Apart from those mentioned already, I only saw one other bird, flying over the Boulia-Winton road near the Lucknow Station turn-off. I don't know whether they are scarce or just well spread out considering the huge amount of habitat available just now.
One final comment. I know I shouldn't advertise but I can't help plugging the yummy coffee  at the soon-to-be-opened Min Min Centre at Boulia (pop. about 250). Cafe society comes to the wild west! Happy birding everyone and don't forget your 'birder business cards'.

Richard Johnson
Roma District
Tel: (07) 4622 4266  Fax: (07) 46 22 4151

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