Kimberley Report

To: "birding aus" <>
Subject: Kimberley Report
From: "Allan Benson" <>
Date: Tue, 13 Nov 2001 18:17:47 +1100

Please find report I've written for the local bird club newsletter. Its rather long.

The Kimberley Dash

by Allan Benson

Bushfires had devastated the South Kimberley in late October 2001. Not just the end of dry season grass fires but hot burns, which scorched the trees. following the creek On Mt Barnett Station, the trees around were still burning and smouldering, as we paddled through ash up to our ankles. Surprisingly, there were still plenty of birds around including Crimson Finches, Red-collared Lorikeets, Little Frairbirds and the golden backed race of the Blacked -chinned Honeyeater. We gave ourselves no chance of seeing our target species under these conditions.

As we worked our way further up the creek line, a large dark raptor exploded from the top of one of the trees in the creek bed. It glided away on flat wings to alight about 100 metres away to present a perfect profile in the scope. It was a large reddish goshawk, the size of a Little Eagle with whitish, dark streaked head, richly black-mottled upperparts, prominent rusty red "trousers" and powerful yellow talons. It was the El Dorado of raptors, a mega tick- a female Red Goshawk.

This was our target species for the trip, a 4 day dash into the Kimberley prior to the Ashmore Reef trip. My brother Rob and I had contacted George Swann from Kimberley Birding to guide us on the trip and we were joined by Peter Crabtree from Melbourne.

George picked us up from Broome airport at 2pm on the Saturday and we were away. First stop was Taylor’s Lagoon about 80 km from Broome on the road to Derby. This was supposed to be a quick stop but the birding was just fantastic and we couldn’t get away. The first birds we saw was a pair of Brolga and the most common wader was Wood Sandpiper. Other waders included Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Little Curlew, Australian Pratincole and Black Fronted Dotterels. On the lagoon were Black Duck, Wood Duck, Green Pygmy Goose, Grey Teal and Plumed Whistling Duck while White-winged Black and Gull -billed Terns patrolled the air. There was also good variety of bush birds and the Spotted Harrier and Black-breasted Buzzard that flew over were definitely highlights. However, the real highlight was the Oriental Pratincole which was a tick both Rob and myself and the Oriental Plover which was a tick for Rob.

We camped overnight at the Derby Caravan Park and were up at first light (4.30 am) and down the wharf to check out the mangroves. A pleasant surprise in the scope was a Great-billed Heron. Despite being a fair way away, it provided excellent views of this hard to see bird In the mangroves we easily picked up the Mangrove Grey Fantail and the Kimberley (Lemon Breasted) and Broad-Billed Flycatcher. We eventually got good views of female White Breasted Whistler and very poor views of the male. Grey Goshawk was seen here which is a rarity in the Kimberley.

Next stop was the Derby Sewage Works where a couple of Long-toed Stint were identified feeding on the rocks at the edge of the pond. Unfortunately the overflow from the works has been redirected to the golf course so the very productive swamp is dry and the Yellow Chats have gone.

Onto the Gibb River Road and after 30-50 km of dirt we stopped at a stock dam. There was great excitement as when we spotted a Barn Swallow hawking above the dam but it was the finches we have come to check out. We shifted through dozens of Zebs, Double-bars and Long-tails before we found 4 Pictorellas. This was a spectacular bird and a tick for Rob and myself.

We left the Pindan, crossed the Fitzroy River flood plain and are soon in the rugged and beautiful King Leopold Range. Lunch was taken beside Bell Creek where we are entertained by a parade of Honeyeaters- White Gaped, Bar Breasted. White Throated and Silver-Crowned Friarbirds. Among this parade were Banded Honeyeater which was a new bird for me.

We camped the Sunday night after we saw the Red Goshawk, in a nice spot beside a deep creek (for a swim). Next morning it was the usual routine, up at 4.30 am to walk down to the gorge. White-quilled Rock Pigeon was the target. Initially it proved elusive but we managed some nice birds in the meantime including Pallid and Channel-billed Cuckoo, Koel, Green-backed Gerygone and the usual honeyeaters. After a fair bit of effort we eventually had good views of the Rock Pigeon both on the ground and in flight showing the white wing patches.

Rob went back to the gorge to get some photos and stumbled across a group of Spinifex Pigeons which was a bird he wanted and this proved to be the only time these birds were seen.

We then headed back down the Gibb River Rd, stopping a various likely locations looking for birds. One such stop was Galvan Gorge, a very scenic waterfall and pool where we again saw White-quilled Rock Pigeon, the usual array of Honeyeaters, some Double-bar Finches and a beautiful Banded Catsnake, sleeping high up the cliff under the overhang.

One stop on the Philip’s Range yielded Grey-Fronted Honeyeater .This bird had proven to be somewhat of a bogey for me.

At Mt House Station, we walked along the pandanus on the creek searching for the Purple-crowned Fairy-Wren. Relatively quickly, we located the females(which are very attractive birds) but I was completely blown away by the electric purple of the male that eventually showed itself.

Monday night we camped at Surprise Falls on Mt House Station, with its beautiful rock pool. Bright and early next morning we headed backed toward Broome with stops to pick up the Red-browed Pardalote and unsuccessful searches for Gouldian and Star Finches and the Varied Lorikeet. The highlight of our lunch time stop on the May River was Black Bittern.

We made it to within 90 km of Broome and camped in the Pindan. An early start saw us on Roebuck Plains by 6am to search for Yellow Chats. After a fair search we found about 20 and the first one we saw was a full colour male. Also of interest was 100+ Oriental Plover.

The last stop was Roebuck Bay to get the Asian Dowitcher. Not as easy as it sounds scoping through hundreds of very nervous godwits. No wonder they are nervous, every second bird had a yellow leg flag!! Eventually we got the bird- my 12th new bird for the trip and my 650th Lifer.

This was hardcore birding. Up at 4.30am every morning and birding till dark, while driving 100’s of kilometres every day in temperatures in the mid 30’s + . George was terrific. While Kimberley birding is "easy" compared to rainforest or mallee, in that the vegetation is relatively sparse and birds are not hard to locate or view, you still have to find the right locations in the first place. This is where George was invaluable. Not only does he know the birds and the sites but he is able to get access to places most people couldn’t hope to go. George’s enthusiasm never waned despite the cracking pace.

So this was the Kimberley Dash- 4 days for very intense birding to yield all but Star Finch, Varied Lorikeet and Chestnut Rail (a long shot at the Derby Wharf) for me and Gouldian Finch, Spotted Nightjar and Owlet Nightjar for Rob. A very impressive effort and of course, we saw that mythical bird -the Red Goshawk.

Allan Benson
Niagara Park
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