Trip to the inland sea (almost)

To: Birding-Aus <>
Subject: Trip to the inland sea (almost)
From: Robert Gosford <>
Date: Mon, 19 Feb 2007 07:19:51 +1030
Dear all,

This last weekend I had the good fortune to travel to a site to the north-west of home (Yuendumu, NT) to a site on the Tanami Track 20km west of the Granites gold mine. There is what I understand to be a paleodrainage system that drains from the huge expanse of the Tanami Desert to the north of the site. 20km west of the Granites there is a swampy plain several kilometres across that drains to the south and crosses the road at a couple of points. There is a large body of open water just to the north of one of these crossings and the low ground to either side is inundated under the tussock grasses and low shrubby vegetation. We had good rain (several hundred mm) at Yuendumu in late January and Rabbit Flat roadhouse (the closest recording point to the site) recorded several very large falls during that time. Leaving the flooded area to the north-west the road rises to cross an area of higher ground about 7 km wide. Descending from that higher ground you come across another floodout area. The first drainage line travels to the south, around the higher ground and then crosses the road again - this time flowing to the north! Again there are areas where water crosses the road and the edges are soggy in both areas so care needs to be taken not to get bogged. All of the low ground is inundated and there is a substantial area of boggy plain around the inundated area. From maps of the area it appears that the flooded area covers some hundreds of square kilometres and the drainage basin must some several thousand square kilometres in area. There are a couple of large ephemeral lakes to the north, well into the Tanami Desert, that this system drains into. Rainfall sufficient to get this system working is fairly rare (though it did fill last year in about May) and two good years in a row would be an exceptional event. I believe that the value of this system, both to the birds in the area and to the country generally, is not well appreciated and is certainly worthy of further study. Dave Gibson et al surveyed this area in the early 80's but I am not aware of any more recent systematic survey efforts in this area (or the larger Lake Mackay further to the west) in recent years. When Gibson surveyed the Tanami area I recall that there had been no substantial rain for some time. There is a fair amount of water in rockholes, soakages & gravel pits etc along the way and the country generally has been well-watered and is generally 'fat'.

Preliminary list of birds seen en-route and at the area included:

- Swamp Harrier (several in small groups up to 4 birds);
- Brown Falcon (common);
- Royal Spoonbill;
- Black-fronted Dotterel;
- Unidentified Sandpiper (small flocks at water);
- Red-capped Dotterel;
- Masked Lapwing;
- Black-winged Stilt (previously observed breeding (May 2006) and many juveniles present);
- Pink-eared duck;
- Plumed Whistle duck;
- Eurasian Coot;
- various Terns UNID to date;
- Intermediate Egret (& possibly Great);
- Straw-necked Ibis;
- Wedgetail Eagle;
- Diamond Dove;
- Crested Pigeon;
- Splendid Fairy-wren;
- Black-eared Cuckoo;
- Zebra Finch;
- Black-faced Woodswallow;
- Singing Honeyeater;
- Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater;
- Budgerigar;
- Singing/Brown Bushlark;
- Fairy Martin;
- Whistling Kite;
- Australasian Grebe (breeding);
- Black Kite;
- Grey Teal;
- Nankeen Kestrel;
- Pied Honeyeater;
- Magpie Lark;
- White-plumed Honeyeater; and
- Rufous Whistler.

Nothing exceptional really. It was nice to see numbers of one of my favourite birds, the Swamp Harrier (and a couple of unconfirmed Spotted Harriers) and I'm sure there are many more species at the site. Access via the Tanami Track is good (and open as long as you don't access the Aboriginal Land for which a permit is required) but large areas of the site are inundated and access would be difficult in any event. A scope would assist greatly to see the many birds sitting at some distance from the road.. The weather was extremely hot (40 C plus) limiting movement during the day. I'll try to get back there again later this week or next weekend for a better look.


Robert Gosford


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