Trip Report - Perth to Neale Junction 24-29 Sept (long)

To: Birding-Aus <>, Birds WA E-Mail List <>
Subject: Trip Report - Perth to Neale Junction 24-29 Sept (long)
From: John Graff <>
Date: Thu, 14 Oct 2010 14:58:35 +0800
Hi all,

Following on from Sue's posting about Neale Junction, this is a trip report 
from my lightning 5-day twitching trip out to Neale Junction with Martin Cake 
and Greg Howell. Martin originally suggested the trip about this time last year 
after Princess Parrots were reported in the area by Greg Roberts and others. 
The trip was great fun, and although we dipped on Princess and Scarlet-chested 
Parrots, we did pick up some good birds to compensate. Particular highlights 
included Striated Grasswren, Rufous-crowned Emu-wren, and Ground Cuckoo-shrike. 
All up, we recorded 87 species for the trip, including 17 lifers for Greg, 7 
for me, and 5 for Martin. The weather was generally pleasant, and the Anne 
Beadell Hwy was relatively good (we drove it in a Ford Territory) but badly 
corrugated and sandy in parts. I have an annotated trip list that I'm happy to 
send to anyone who'd like a copy

Friday 24th: We left Perth at about 1230, aiming to knock off a chunk of the 
driving and leave more time for birding on Saturday. The trip list was started 
as we headed west of Northam (a bit over 1hr out of Perth) and the first real 
bird of note was a Spotted Harrier seen being harrassed by ravens just west of 
Kellerberrin - sadly the views weren't great, but it was a promising start. As 
we moved into the woodlands of the Goldfields, we stopped at a promising spot 
west of Yellowdine in the late afternoon to kick off the proper birding. Our 
(optimistic) target was Gilbert's Whistler which we dipped on, but 
Brown-headed, Spiny-cheeked, and White-fronted Honeyeaters, breeding Australian 
Hobby, White-browed Babblers and a large Tiger Snake were all nice sightings. 
We camped at Boondi Rock just west of Kalgoorlie, which was a very pleasant 
camping spot. A spotlighting expedition yielded good views of a Southern 
Boobook and a Tawny Frogmouth, but not the Spotted Nightjar or Owlet-nightjar 
we were hoping for. Large numbers of wolf spiders and trapdoor spiders around 
camp were also interesting, as was a small scorpion.

Saturday 25th: An early start (the first of many) as we were up and packed by 
0545, having picked up some nice birds like Grey Currawong and White-eared 
Honeyeater in the dawn chorus. After a brief detour to find the headlamp I'd 
dropped during the spotlighting the previous night, we were on the road by 
0615. A brief stop just north of Kalgoorlie yielded Yellow-plumed Honeyeater 
and a Crested Bellbird calling in the distance (the first of many) and further 
on, another stop produced Splendid Fairy-wren, Redthroat, Mistletoebird, and 
Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, amongst others. We continued on to Laverton, 
stopping briefly for a couple of White-backed Swallows, which immediately 
performed a disappearing act, and the first Emu of the trip. We reached 
Laverton at about 1300 and fuelled up and filled our water tanks - this was an 
interesting experience! A brief stop to let the tyres down at the start of the 
dirt on the Great Central Road and more Crested Bellbirds calling, but little 
else. This was more than we got on a quick lunch stop soon after though, the 
area chosen (Atlas records for Striated Grasswren) being totally bereft of 
birds. We reached the turnoff to Point Sunday Rd shortly after the end of the 
grand final which distacted us from birding for a while (we did finally pick up 
good views of a Crested Bellbird though, a lifer for Greg, as well as a Little 
Woodswallow). The Point Sunday Rd was excellent for driving on and the country 
looked magnificent in the afternoon light. As an added bonus, we picked up our 
first Grey-fronted Honeyeater - my first lifer for the trip, and also a lifer 
for Greg). We also stopped for some wrens calling by the road, but they 
disappeared and we were running out of daylight, so we had to let them go. We 
had a nagging suspicion that they may have been something different though, and 
GPS'd the location for checking on the way out. We subsequently heard several 
more groups of wrens, but did not have time to stop and check them out. We 
arrived at Yeo Lakes shortly after nightfall and met up with Sue and Xenia. 
After setting up tents and a quick dinner, we were birding again - this time 
trying to spotlight the Spotted Nightjars calling around camp and work out what 
the large bat-like animal we were seeing was. After some confusion about flying 
rabbits, ghost bats, and 'night butterflies', we got a better look and realised 
the bat-like animal WAS the nightjar. We subsequently found one on the ground 
and had crippling views (Martin's first lifer of the trip and his 500th for Oz, 
and a lifer for Greg too), so everyone went to bed happy

Sunday 26th: Another early start and we were up and about by 0500, picking up 
White-fronted Honeyeater, White-winged Fairy-wren, and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater 
around camp, before walking west along the road for 1km or so to a puddle on 
the road. Here we picked up more White-fronted Honeyeaters, Southern Whiteface, 
and our first camels of the trip! Soon after seeing the camels, we heard Pied 
Honeyeaters calling and were able to get reasonable views of a couple of males 
displaying as they moved through the area (lifer for all three of us). We 
returned to camp and after the luxury of a quick shower, headed for Neale 
Junction at about 0900. The early highlights of the drive were somewhat 
un-birdy; the rugged Morton Craig Range, more camels, and our first Thorny 
Devil of the trip (a non-birding lifer for all three of us) - but we also added 
Varied Sitella to the trip list. Bird life was generally quiet for a lot of the 
drive in the heat of the day, but we did pick up a male White-winged Triller in 
some flowering honey grevillea, and another (better) look at a male Pied 
Honeyeater. As the afternoon wore on, birds became more active and we picked up 
Rufous Treecreeper for the list as well as large numbers of Black-faced 
Cuckoo-shrikes and Yellow-throated Miners (two of the commonest birds of the 
trip). We arrived at Neale Junction at about 1500 and met a party of South 
Australian birders (Tony Russell et al.), who greeted us with the somewhat 
discouraging news that the birdlife was fairly quiet. Nonetheless, after 
setting up camp, we went for a walk north-east of the campground that lasted 
until dusk. Unfortunately, the bush was exceedingly quiet and we picked up 
little more than a Pied Butcherbird and a few Yellow-throated Miners. After 
dinner at camp where we heard a Southern Boobook call severa times, we set out 
on another spotlighting expedition, but without success. Some compensation was 
provided by a great look at the night sky away from the lights of civilisation 
and a good look at a White-striped Mastiff Bat (we saw the white stripes!)

Monday 27th: Another early start (anyone picking up a pattern here?), and we 
were birding on foot west along the Anne Beadell by 0530. The birds were more 
active and vocal than the previous afternoon, but the variety was relatively 
disappointing - Rufous Treecreeper, Black-faced Woodswallow, Grey-fronted 
Honeyeater (from lifer to chook in less than a day!!), Crested Bellbird, and 
Pied Butcherbird making up the bulk of the species. Things did get better 
briefly (much better in fact), as we left the track about 2km west of Neale 
Junction to chase up an unusual call. It came to nothing, but we did see and 
photograph some interesting tracks in the spinifex (possibly a hopping mouse - 
any track experts out there?) another unusual call we heard shortly afterwards 
yielded excellent views of a group of 5 Ground Cuckoo-shrikes - one of our 
major targets for the trip and a lifer for all three of us. A pair of 
White-backed Swallows were also present. After this brief excitement though, 
things quietened down in a big way and despite plenty of walking, we picked up 
very few birds from then on. Having returned to camp at about 0930, we had a 
brief rest before heading east by car along the Anne Beadell. This payed 
dividends very quickly as a single Major Mitchell's Cockatoo flew across the 
track soon after (my 4th lifer for the trip, and another lifer for Greg). 
Martin was keen to check a small salt lake c. 1km north of the highway and when 
we stopped atthe nearest point on the highway, we found an excellent grove of 
mulga, which yielded White-fronted Honeyeater, Chestnut-rumped & Inland 
Thornbill, Weebill and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater. We headed toward the salt 
lake, picking up an Australian Hobby on the way. The lake was dry as expected, 
but the low vegetation did hold numerous White-winged Fairy-wrens and an 
Australian Pipit, plus more mulga to the west had more Chestnut-rumped and 
Inland Thornbills and White-fronted Honeyeaters. Despite a lot of effort, we 
were unable to confirm any Slaty-backed Thornbills. As we walked back to the 
car, we heard and briefly saw a bird Martin and I felt may have been a 
White-browed Treecreeper, however we couldn't relocate it and retired to camp 
for a lunch break. After lunch, it was on the road again (if only to charge our 
various electronics!) and we headed south from Neale Junction along the Connie 
Sue Hwy, stopping about 5km along when we heard wrens. Initially, these looked 
like fairy-wrens, but as we were contemplating leaving, a Rufous-crowned 
Emu-wren appeared briefly in a low bush. After some tense waiting and pishing, 
everyone had crippling views of male and female and Greg and Xenia were able to 
photograph them (another lifer for all 3 of our group). White-winged 
Fairy-wrens were also around. Buoyed, we pushed on and stopped at a patch of 
Callitris on a sand dune, hoping for White-browed Treecreeper. No luck on that 
one though, and after a brief tek north up the Connie Sue, we returned to camp 
to consider our options and decided on revisiting the mulga patch we had 
success at earlier in the day. On the drive there, we picked up our first (and 
only) Australian Bustard (another lifer for Greg) in amongst a group of camels 
(we were realising just how common they are in the desert areas). The mulga 
gave us a Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo and more thornbills, but again we couldn't 
find a Slaty-backed and there was no sign of the possible treecreeper from 
earlier. A male Variegated Fairy-wren as we walked back from the car was also a 
late highlight. Then it was back to camp for dinner then another brief 
spotlighting expedition, which failed to yield anything other than spiders

Tuesday 28th: The early starts were starting to take a toll, but we still 
managed to be up and walking by 0530 in overcast conditions to check out a dark 
patch on Google Maps south east of the camp site. This turned out to be another 
patch of mulga and was sadly birdless, but we did get a good look at Red-backed 
Kingfishers on the walk back and it was interesting to see fresh dingo tracks 
on the Connie Sue from overnight. We walked to the Len Beadell marker at Neale 
Junction and took the obligatory photos and signed the visitor book before 
packing up camp and hitting the road again to start heading back. Nothing 
particularly interesting was seen until we stopped for a Pallid Cuckoo for 
Greg, which we eventually had excellent views of. Further on and a small group 
of White-browed Babblers in some mulga had us stopping again as Greg still 
needed tickable views. He duly got them (just) and as an added bonus, Martin 
located a pair of definite Slaty-backed Thornbills, the first for the trip and 
the first time I've been happy enough with the views to tick them! We drove on, 
picking up both Red and Western Grey Kangaroos (the latter apparently reaching 
the edge of their range) before a brief lunch stop, where Sue & Xenia left us 
to push on to Laverton by nightfall. We had other plans however, as after 
checking field guides and mp3 calls we were more convinced than ever that the 
wrens we stopped for on the Point Sunday Rd had been Striated Grasswrens. After 
a brief stop at Yeo Lakes, we reached Point Sunday Road by about 1530 and 
scoped out Point Sunday as a possible campsite for the night, picking up a 
Western Bowerbird flying over in the process and then started out for our GPS 
location for wrens, listening as we drove. Unfortunately, we heard no wrens and 
after walking around at the site for about 20 minutes with no luck, we pushed 
on up the road, eventually hearing a group of wrens to lift our hopes - 
unfortunately they were all Variegated. A brief discussion led to the decision 
to drive back down Point Sunday Rd but we heard nothing and things looked grim 
as we stopped for a last forlorn look at our GPS'd site. After 15 minutes, we 
were about to give up and head for Laverton when Martin picked up a group of 
Striated Grasswrens! Unfortunately, Greg and I didn't get decent views, so much 
tense stalking followed until after 15mins or so, I finally had a good view of 
them. Greg was still missing them though, so more stalking was required - 
unfortunately, the birds were always one step ahead and we started to ran out 
of daylight. After another brief discussion, we decided that rather than 
camping at Point Sunday and leaving a massive drive for the next day, we would 
head for a campsite recommended by Sue & Xenia just west of Laverton and knock 
off 200km or so from the next day's drive. We reached the campsite at about 
2100 after a generally uneventful drive (with one or two exceptions) and set up 
camp and had dinner. For the first time on the trip, we decided against a 
spotlighting trip and retired to bed

Wednesday 29th: A big day's driving with birding thrown in meant an even 
earlier start, and we were on the road a little after 0500, having heard 
Redthroat, Red-capped Robin, and Brown & White-fronted Honeyeaters near the 
campsite. Our first target was White-throated Treecreeper, which we searched 
for at several sites in the Goongarrie area between Menzies and Kalgoorlie. 
Unfortunately, we had no luck, altough we did pick up more White-fronted 
Honeyeater, White-winged Fairy-wren, Brown Goshawk, a pair of female 
Redthroats, and Zebra Finches in the process. More driving took us through 
Kalgoorlie and onto Coolgardie, where we decided it wouldn't be a proper 
twitching trip without a visit to a least one sewage farm. Compared to places 
like Broome and Leanyer, Coolgardie Sewage Ponds were not especially productive 
(!!), but we did add a few waterbirds to our trip list, including Black Swan, 
Eurasian Coot, Hoary-headed Grebe, and Grey Teal with young. Our next target 
was Gilbert's Whistler in the woodlands west of Coolgardie - sadly again we had 
no luck at a number of stops, although a dark morph Little Eagle was an 
interesting addition to the trip list. After briefly meeting Sue and Xenia 
again at a fuel stop, we tried a last ditch spot for Gilbert's Whistler south 
of Merredin. We recorded Golden & Rufous Whistlers, as well as White-eared 
Honeyeater and Elegant Parrot, but could not add a Gilbert's Whistler as we ran 
out of daylight again! All that was left then was the drive back into Perth, 
where we arrived at about 2130 (much better than our original predictions of 
0000 if we'd camped at Point Sunday)

All up, a very enjoyable expedition

TRACK CONDITIONS (courtesy Martin - chief driver):
Anne Beadell Hwy was in reasonable condition west of Neale Junction;
minor sandy corrugations throughout with short stretches of heavier
corrugations, occasional shallow sandy patches, and a few easily-
negotiated rocky areas. Beyond Neale Junction the Anne Beadell
degenerated quickly, the 5km we travelled passed through a rock bed
and several deeply-rutted sand drifts. The Connie Sue Hwy south is a
wider well-graded track in excellent condition for at least 15km south
by reports. Point Sunday Rd is a very scenic, compacted sand road in
excellent condition - highly recommended.
See these photos for an idea of track conditions:

John Graff
Perth, WA
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