BIRDING DOWN UNDER. 2. CELEBRITY TREE PARK,
Our month long trip through N.Australia gave so many impressions, that it has
become a glorious jumble in my mind, and I find I am no longer able to remember
exactly what I have seen where. But a few places nevertheless stand out in my
memories. Some of them were probably far from the birdiest places where we
were, but for some reason or other they made an indelible impression. One of
these places is the Celebrity Tree Park in Kununurra, just across the border to
Western Australia along the Victoria Highway.
Kununurra is a new town, which was founded maybe twenty years ago, when L.
Argyle was formed by damming the Ord River. So everything is pretty new here,
and it is a typical 'tidy town' also. Even Lake Kununurra is new, and the
Celebrity Tree Park, which is meant to make the town more famous, and where all
kinds of local celebrities are invited to plant a tree , is pretty new and most
trees quite young, although there are a few venerable boab trees in the park.
We had rooms in a motel just across the street from this park, and the two
mornings we spent in town, I stood up quite early, even before sunrise, and
spent the two hours before breakfast on my own in this park. And had glorious
hours. The lake itself is here quite shallow and almost completely overgrown by
waterplants, while along the shore there is a broad fringe of reeds and Typha.
Early in the morning there are Lotusbirds, Comb-crested Jacanas, everywhere,
with the colourful females displaying to the somewhat duller males, and chasing
other females off their territoria. Also Purple Swamphens sometimes venture out
on the waterplant 'beds' in the early morning. There are also Green Pygmy Geese
here; these elegant small ducks clearly do not need much open water to thrive.
More open parts hold Australasian Grebes , a few Coots and Little Pied
Cormorants. Close to the reed fringes here and there lone White-browed Crakes ,
a life bird for me, potter around on the waterplants; most of them seem to be
immatures, but I see a few adult birds. Half an hour after sunrise all have
retracted into the reeds and are no longer visible. In the reeds themselves
tens of Clamorous Reed Warblers clamour; very early there is some full song,
later on only snatches of song and a lot of calling. One place I also surprise
a Tawny Grassbird.
Along the waterside small flocks of Crimson Finches feed on grass seeds, but
also there disappear largely from view after an hour or so. the small wattles
along the shore are full of small honeyeaters, with Ruby-throated Honeyeaters
most numerous. They are active flycatchers, and especially in the early evening
every tree has several flycatching honeyeaters in it. A more professional
flycatcher is the Paperbark Flycatcher, never seen before, but this time the
first of many to come, so that I get quite accustomed to its scissor-grinder
call, and its long series of 'chwee chwee chwee's. Another professional is the
Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, here with a quite faded 'lemon belly'.
In the early morning, before the sun is up, some of the wattles also house
closely huddled lines of White-throated Woodswallows, birds who apparently
never have heard of the concept of individual distance. Later in the morning,
these woodswallows hunt over the lake, together with Tree Martins; I later
also note Fairy Martins among them.. During the day I later also see Little
Woodswallows, but they hunt over dry land.
The wattles and the strange Tolkienstory-like boab trees hold also other
honeyeaters; the Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters (a life bird for me) are just as
active and aggressive as the Ruby-throated and like them, like to bathe by
flying straight down into the water and then preening on an overhanging branch,
before repeating the process a few times. The somewhat larger, uniformly dark
White-gaped Honeyeaters seem to be less aggressive and a bit more sedate; they
are chased by the others , but I rarely see them chase others themselves, and
this has as one effect that they are easier to watch; they also bathe 'in the
normal manner' by walking into the water from the shore. Other honeyeaters here
are the Brown, the beautiful golden-backed form of the Black-chinned
Honeyeater and the large and cheeky Blue-faced Honeyeater; Striated Pardalotes
are also heard many places, and show themselves now and then. On the
beautifully manicured and regularly mown lawn below the trees there are large
numbers of Magpie-Larks with their electronic beeps, and also surprisingly many
Willie Wagtails, surely one of the most common birds in Australia. Peaceful and
Bar-shouldered Doves trip around, and also show off their endearing bowing
Larger trees have larger birds in them, i.a. a complete suite of the Australian
Oriolidae: the ubiquitous, very colourful and very noisy Figbirds, and both
Olive-backed and Yellow Orioles. Another ubiquitous bird here north, especially
when there are people around, is the Great Bowerbird, a bird of most
interesting behaviour and a large arsenal of calls, few of which can be called
pleasing to the ear. The other extreme is the Pied Butcherbird, also a bird
which is not at all afraid of people, but to my ears maybe the most wonderful
songster of all Australian Birds (and yes, I have heard the lyrebird!).
Colourful Rainbowbirds and Sacred Kingfishers use the trees as a vantage point
for elegant sallies, and both Black-faced and White-bellied Cuckooshrikes are
common here; I am unable to find any difference in habitat. Here and there a
small flock of the comical Grey-crowned Babblers live up to their name. It is
one of those birds that I can watch for long periods; they are always active,
even in the heat of midday, when there is very little bird activity otherwise.
There are parrots here too; THE parrot of the north, the Red-winged Parrot, of
course, but also some Galahs, Red-tailed Black Cockatoos and shrieking
Red-collared Lorikeets; amazingly I did not note any Little Corellas here.
Farther out in the lake, there are, as so often in Australian lakes, groups of
dead trees. They are good perches for cormorants, also Little Black, Darters,
egrets and ibises; in one tree a small group of Wandering Whistling Ducks rest.
But my third life bird in this area came quite unexpectedly the first evening,
during a short first visit at twilight. A pair (well, at least two) Black
Bitterns, clearly quarreling, flew up from the reeds and continued their
quarrel in the air, so that I could watch them quite well for a minute or so.
This fails, I fear, to give you a really good impression of what was so special
with this site for me. That was the early morning light, the sun rising over
the trees, the whisps of morning fog gradually disappearingover the lake, the
heavy dew everywhere, the strange boabs (These were almost the first we saw),
the clamouring of the reed warblers, the silhouettes of flycatching small
honeyeaters above all the trees, and birds everywhere I looked. I would gladly
have stayed here a few days more!
Vader, Tromsø Museum
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