Bustards, Grey Honeyeaters, and the land beyond Kunoth...

Subject: Bustards, Grey Honeyeaters, and the land beyond Kunoth...
From: Christopher Watson <>
Date: Tue, 12 Oct 2010 13:40:07 +0930
I was on a drive yesterday, for work, out to the communities along the Gary
Junction Highway. To cut a long story short, I didn't end up picking up any
passengers due to the sudden passing of a senior community member at the
Haast's Bluff community, so a number of people from surrounding communities
were soon involved in sorry business.

What this effectively did was hand me a 16 ton 4wd with a 1600km fuel tank
and the Western Desert as my playground, so this kid was in a very
large candy shop. I thought I'd just take my time on the trip back to Alice
and see what turned up.

With the large number of visiting birders coming through Alice at the moment
I though it was worth pointing out a few things about this area.

If the events of "Parrotgate", still leave a bad taste in the mouth and an
empty spot on your life list, consider a drive out this way. A one day visit
to Papunya is possible WITHOUT a permit, to visit the Papunya Tjupi Art
Centre. So this gets you a good way down the Gary Junction Highway, well
past the Haast's Bluff turn off and only about 60kms short of the Mt Liebig
Community. You never know what might pop up along the road. You can also
stay on the Tanami rd which is sealed all the way to Tilmouth Well, and has
some extraordinary birding at the moment. The Tilmouth Roadhouse is actually
very well run, and has great facilities and good tucker. It is also adjacent
to Napperby Creek and the Lake Lewis Saline System which is a desert
birder's Disneyland after the rains we've had.

For some reason, I always see birders around Kunoth Bore, which is only
about 30kms from the Stuart Hwy, but no-one seems to go much further along
the road. Yes - you're a good chance to get Grey Honeyeaters around Kunoth
Bore, but the Tanami Desert is a vast, swampy, flowering shrubbery of Acacia
and Eremophila at the moment so heading a bit further is well worth it. In a
2wd you'll get all the way to Tilmouth, but for the diversion along the Gary
Junction Hwy you'd better have a 4wd. The graders are out at the moment but
there are still a few dodgy bits The road is mostly dry now.

As the land along here is mostly pastoral property, there are numerous other
bores and dams along the road - Cadney Bore, Hamburger, Comet, Ceilidh Hill
and Mount Chapple are all on the way to Tilmouth and quite 'chockers'.  Of
course, you don't have to trespass to enjoy the birds that these water
sources attract as they are all close to the road.

In the kilometres immediately following Kunoth there are some extensive
swampy areas holding large flocks of White-faced and White-necked Heron,
Straw-necked Ibis, and at least one flock of over one hundred Plumed
Whistling-ducks. There's a radio tower which is like a high-rise raptor
condo with at least two active nests, Hobby and Brown Falcon. In every
creekline there are large numbers of nesting raptors and there are massive
open grasslands with plenty of Brown Quail and Little Button-quail. Both the
harriers are seen in good numbers out this way at the moment and if you
drive from Alice to Tilmouth and don't see a Black-breasted Buzzard or
three, then you're just not trying.

I also saw a single Flock Bronzewing as reported on Birdline the other day,
and I guess where there is one then more could be hot on his heels.

On the Gary Junction Hwy, I saw two Bustards in the middle of the road 2kms
west of the turn off to M'bunghara community, and I found Grey Honeyeater
(amongst hordes of other great bushbirds) at three different sites between
Papunya and the Tanami road. So much unspoilt mulga habitat!

Both trips (Papunya and Tilmouth) are very achievable day trips leaving lots
of time for birding stops.

Lastly, I have a wishlist of birds that I'd love visiting birders to keep an
eye out for during this exceptional season up here. Unfortunately I can't be
everywhere but the more pairs of eyes out on the country the better. There's
a few historical instances of birds that sometimes get forgotten as they are
marginal possibilities at best. However, if these are going to appear then
this is the season for it so keep your eyes peeled for;

Plains Wanderer - lots of quails about, so you just never know.
White-fronted Chat - Reported years ago down through the Karinga Saline
system that roughly parallels the Lasseter Hwy
Flock Bronzewing - be nice to see some big flocks down this way
Bush Stone-curlew - Never an easy bird to locate in The Centre, but with
creeks flowing we might get a few more
Grey Currawong - check all your crows and magpies carefully
Princess Parrot - could turn up ANYWHERE, remember we might not know as much
about their preferred habitat as we think
Night Parrot - again if there was ever a season that we might get some
really good sightings, then this has got to be it

Best of luck and be sure to let me know how you go, or drop me a line while
you're in The Centre.

Chris Watson
Alice Springs

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