Central Australia Trip Report

To: "'Birding-aus'" <>
Subject: Central Australia Trip Report
From: "Bob Cook" <>
Date: Wed, 1 Jun 2005 18:34:48 +1000
Hi Birders


Report of 3 week trip from Port Augusta to Central Aust by self, wife and
our Qld friends Russ Lamb and Maria Dam from 4th to 27th May.  It was our
third trip to the Centre but the first for our friends.


Overall impression and impact on sightings was the incredibly dry
conditions.  As others have reported, Central Australian birding in the
weeks following good rains is highly successful (e.g. see report by Nicholas
Talbot from June 2004), while dry times can be very frustrating (e.g. Alan
Morris May 2003).  Central areas have had no more than 12-14 mms in the last
twelve months.


Overall for the trip 136 species, with four ticks for Russ and two ticks for


Port Augusta, S.A. Early success was Redthroat (tick for us) in Stirling
(Spear Creek road) easily found a group of 5 or 6.  Failed on Rufous
Fieldwren here or at Arid Botanical Gardens.


Travelling North on the way to Alice Springs, we tried locations around
Coober Pedy and Marla mentioned by Frank Pierce and T&T's spot north of
Erldunda for Banded and/or Chestnut-breasted Whiteface, all unsuccessfully.
Of note was a count of 56 Wedge-tailed Eagles in one day between Coober Pedy
and north of Erldunda.  They certainly thrive on the road-kill.


>From Alice Springs, we visited N'Dhala, Trephina, Emily and Jessie Gorges to
the East, with the only notable sightings being a very active group of about
6 Varied Sitella, Slaty-backed Thornbill (Russ tick) and a Western
Bowerbird, (Russ tick) for which we had several further sightings later,
always where there were Desert Fig trees.


Alice Springs sewerage ponds, for which you MUST now pay $30 deposit and get
a key from Power & Water, was good, with highlights being pair of Black
Falcons (seen food exchanging in mid-air), a single Freckled Duck, a single
Yellow-billed Spoonbill, single Banded Stilt among many Red-necked Avocet,
hundreds of Pink-eared Duck with smaller numbers of Grey Teal, Wood Duck and
Hardhead, Black Swan, Black-tailed Native-hen, Brown Honeyeater,
White-backed Swallow and Crimson Chat. Only waders were both Dotterels,
Red-capped Plover and Red-necked Stint.


Out for a day to Kunoth Well where conditions were extremely parched.
Around the well itself, birds were plentiful, including Slaty-backed
Thornbill, Mulga and Ringneck Parrots, Galah, White-winged Fairy-wren,
Inland and Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Zebra Finch, Southern Whiteface, Singing
and White-plumed Honeyeater and Yellow-throated Miner, Hooded and Red-capped
Robin, Grey-crowned Babbler, Crested Bellbird, Black-faced Woodswallow,
Richards Pipit.  On the open area, 5 kms along the Hamilton Downs road, were
plenty of Southern Whiteface and Yellow-rumped Thornbill, as well as Hooded
Robin, White-browed Babbler and a Grey Shrike-thrush.  In the Grey
Honeyeater target areas however we spent over three hours at three points
along about a 3 km stretch with virtually nothing flowering and virtually no
birds at all. At least we gave it a reasonable effort, but became 100%
convinced that one needs to be here after reasonably recent rains.  Again,
check the trip reports mentioned above.  We atlassed a couple of spots
further down the Hamilton Downs road, but variety and numbers were again
pretty poor.


Interesting observation was that all over Northern S.A. and southern NT, we
frequently and consistently saw groups (only small, up to 10-15) of
Black-faced Woodswallows, but not one other Woodswallow species sighting for
the whole trip.


Out to West MacDonnell ranges, based at Glen Helen.  A group of 5/6 Painted
Finch (Russ tick) were seen at Glen Helen Gorge, and a bigger group of
perhaps 30 at Ormiston Gorge.  It was great to get close enough to get
reasonably good photos of a pair sunning themselves on a rock at Glen Helen.
The Ormiston Pound walk, while very enjoyable, was pretty frustrating
birdwise, no Spinifexbird, Emu-wren or Grasswren although we saw a group of
Spinifex Pigeons and an interesting find was a pair of Pacific
(White-necked) Heron near one of the very few remaining small areas of water
along the river.


A trip out to Gosse Bluff produced White-winged Fairy-wrens and a Dusky
Grasswren at a random spot along the road on the way and then a brief
sighting of Red-browed Pardalote in the Bluff itself (Russ tick) but we got
brilliant views of two more Red-browed Pardalote at the Limestone Walk at
Ellery Bighole a few days later.


We then went to Uluru/Kata Tjuta for a few days - little interesting birding
there - again very, very dry.


After parting from Russ & Maria, we took the 4WD trip down to Old Andado via
Santa Teresa and the Mac Clarke reserve.  This was a bit rough in parts,
very dusty and lonely (passed only one car in 2 days and 650 kms).  We tried
several dunes before and after Mac Clarke reserve specifically looking for
Eyrean Grasswren without luck, but did get a female Chestnut Quail-thrush.
Into Mac Clarke Reserve primarily targeting Letter-winged Kite (although we
had seen it on the Strezlecki track in 2003), but with little confidence
here given the extended dry period.  First highlight was Gibberbird (our 2nd
tick for the trip) just on entering the Reserve.  We then proceeded slowly
by car along the fence line until we spotted a raptor sitting on a fence
post.  Turned out to be immature Grey Falcon.  We watched this bird fly to
the ground, then fly away into the sun.  Kept checking markings for a very
pale Brown Falcon, but it stayed a Grey Falcon with grey not brown on the
back, completely pale underwings and no brown trousers.  Without the
distinctive yellow bill/face, one kept doubting.  After turning around and
retracing, we spotted the same bird perched about 10m up on a small dead
tree.  It allowed me to slowly approach on foot to within about 15m of the
tree and I have a brilliant photo of the bird front on and a lesser quality
photo from behind.  I would love someone to check the photos for
confirmation and I am happy to email these if asked. (Stephen Debus, are you
out there?).  Just before leaving the Reserve, we also saw several Orange
Chats, male and female, getting a good photo of a striking male.  This
sighting allowed a good comparison between the Gibberbird and female Orange
Chat to notice differences in "bulk", stance, colouring and behaviour on the


At Old Andado the caretakers told us Eyrean Grasswren had been seen just 6
weeks earlier on a nearby dune, so we spent about an hour early the next
morning looking - again without success.  Although the dunes were well
covered with Cane grass, I wonder if the general dryness has also affected
these Grasswrens?? Surely this is the climate that is their element.  Any


Leaving Old Andado, we traveled across to Finke and back to the Stuart
Highway at Kulgera.  At two spots, firstly about 35kms past Old Andado and
then about 45kms past Old Andado, we saw groups of about 6 to 8 Banded
Whiteface.  It appears that this area between Old Andado and New Crown
Station is a reliable spot for Banded Whiteface, given a 1999 report by Ian
Fraser of these birds in the same area.  It certainly is "good" Whiteface
habitat and we also saw Southern Whiteface further on.


An amusing sighting was stopping at a bore on New Crown Station, extremely
remote from anywhere, virtually no vegetation apart from a few struggling
trees, otherwise sand dunes and gibber, and some dry and dusty cattle.
Water from the bore was being pumped into a small dam about 30m by 25 m and
happily sitting in the dam were four Pink-eared Ducks.  Only other birds in
the area were a small group of Zebra Finches and a Pied Butcherbird. It
always amazes me how the waterfowl find any suitable little patch of water.


On crossing the Railway line just before getting to Kulgera, we spotted
another Raptor soaring just ahead.  Jumped out of the car and got quite good
underneath views of another adult Grey Falcon.  Two Grey Falcons in two
days, about 300 kms apart was pretty amazing!


We returned via Port Augusta and across to home at Mildura with a final
highlight being a group of 9 Freckled Ducks on the settling ponds alongside
the sports ground at Paringa, near Renmark in S.A.


A great trip but I will not return again until the Centre is blessed by some
good rains.


Bob Cook

Mildura  VIC

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