Western Australia part 2: Albany, Wave Rock and the Kalgoorlie-Kookynie area: 16th – 18th September 2017   Leave a comment

This post continues my travels in south-west Australia on Birdquest’s Western Australia tour. Previous posts have covered my time in Christmas Island and the drive from Perth to Albany.

One of our first birding sites in the Albany area was Emu Point, where there was a notable lack of Emus and I suspect that has been the situation for a considerable time.

 

Overlooking the bay we saw a number of terns, gulls and waders as well as some Bottle-nosed Dolphins.

 

Overhead we saw an Osprey, recently the Ospreys east of Wallace’s Line have been separated off as a separate species based on their smaller size and different face pattern. They are named, somewhat unimaginatively – Eastern Osprey.

 

Australian Pelicans gave good views but most of the other birds seen here were too distant for photography.

 

Lawns and other grassy areas invariably held Australian Magpies ….

 

…. whilst a path by a nearby lake gave us views of another SW endemic, Red-eared Firetail.

 

We made an early departure to get to Cheyne’s Beach for dawn. This site, about an hour’s drive east of Albany is famed as the location to see three of SW Australia’s most difficult birds. One the Whipbird we had already seen (although the birds here are a different race) the other two are Western Bristlebird and Noisy Scrub-bird. This short dirt road to the beach is considered to be the best spot to see the mega-elusive Scrub-bird which seldom flies, but rather runs from cover to cover like a rodent on performance enhancing drugs. We had quite a long wait with just some Western Grey Kangaroos as company, then on a couple of occasions the Scrub-bird shot across the path. It was a real ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ experience and I have to admit on a couple of occasions I did just that.

 

Fortunately we returned later in the morning and one was seen skulking in the grass by the path. Then it shot across the road like a bullet and incredibly Rainer Ertel was able to fire off about half a dozen shots. one of which was actually in focus. Perhaps the fastest reaction to a birds appearance that I have ever seen from a photographer. There are only two species in the scrub-bird family, the other one, Rufous Scrub-bird of the Queensland rainforests is possibly even more elusive and my views in 1999 were brief to say the least, although I did hear it well. It was therefore a great relief to get satisfactory views of a member of this tricky family. Photograph by trip participant Rainer Ertel.

 

With one mega under the belt it was time to look for the other two so we headed for the adjacent heathland. The Western Whipbird showed briefly but wasn’t photographed (see last post for a shot of this species) but a little persistence resulted in ….

 

…. views and photographs of skulker number three – Western Bristlebird. Bristlebirds are another of those ancient relict families that can be found in Australasia. Remember that the whole passerine order probably originated in Australasia and there are many ancient families with just a handful of species each peppered across Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand. There are three species of bristlebird, the other two occur in eastern NSW and southern Victoria.

 

So with the targets sorted it was time to ‘relax’ on the beach. Of course when a birder goes to the beach they don’t put a towel out and reach for the sunscreen they grab scopes and check the gulls and terns and look for pelagic seabirds!

 

In the dunes we saw a couple of Australian Pipits, a bird with a checkered history, once lumped in with Richard’s Pipit of Siberia, then split off with the New Zealand birds as Australasian Pipit they now are a species in their own right.

 

Far away in the bay a Southern Right Whale and her calf frolicked in the shallow water ….

 

…. whilst on the beach the huge-billed Pacific Gull was seen.

 

We retreated to some shade for our lunch and were able to photograph Brush Bronzewing ….

 

…. Common Bronzewing ….

 

…. and the SW endemic White-breasted Robin.

 

Later in the day we headed back to Albany ….

 

…. stopping on route to see another SW endemic, Western Wattlebird.

 

On our second full day around Albany we visited Middleton Beach early morning and in the afternoon and also drove to The Gap, a lookout that faces the open ocean.

 

From the platform you could peer down to the raging surf below.

 

From the platform and from near this natural bridge we did some seawatching and were able to add Black-browed and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, some very distant shearwaters and a Brown Skua to our lists.

 

A few distant whales were seen, both Southern Right and Humpback. This somewhat confusing image shows a distant Humpback breaching the moment before it hits the water. It is coming down on its back with the huge pectoral flippers extended on either side of the body.

 

We had most of the endemics sorted but one eluded us, Rock Parrot. We tried numerous locations and the most reliable site, Middleton beach, was visited three times. We walked the dunes at dawn wandered around the golf course and scanned the hinterland, all to no avail.

 

But in spite of the fact that we had a long drive ahead of us we tried yet again for Rock Parrot on our final morning. Arriving at sunrise we saw three flying over the car park. Never has a minibus decamped so quickly.

 

Along the tide line we watched a number of Red-capped Plovers ….

 

…. before the horse riders and dog walkers booted them.

 

Well we never photographed Rock Parrots but there were plenty of gorgeous (yet widespread) Galahs in the area …

 

…. indeed whilst walking the dunes we were accompanied by a blizzard of pink.

 

The commonest bird in the coastal scrub was New Holland Honeyeater, a bird that we soon tired of, as every movement in a bush or distant perched bird proved to be this species.

 

I’m sure whoever put this bench in place so walkers could enjoy the wonderful view over Frenchman Bay was well-meaning, but a little maintenance is required to keep it that way!

 

As soon as we had finished at Middleton Beach we left Albany. We had a long drive ahead of us as we were heading north-east towards Hyden and the famous Wave Rock. We had a pit-stop back in the Sterling Range where we had good views of Regent Parrot, certainly an improvement on the flight views we had on our way south.

 

We also encountered the flock of ‘white-tailed cockatoos’ again. Judging by the upper mandible this one is a Baudin’s. The books say that the two species don’t form mixed flocks but although the majority appeared to be Baudin’s there were a few undoubted Carnaby’s in there.

 

We also had great views of Sacred Kingfisher in the Sterling Ranges. We subsequently stopped a number of times as we drove north but although the birding was good there was little of real note.

 

However in the late afternoon we reached the stunning Wave Rock near Hyden ….

 

…. and added a number of new birds to our list such as this White-eared Honeyeater.

 

The following morning we headed well off the beaten track. Signs like this are a reminder that you need to be well prepared when travelling in outback Australia.

 

From now on most travel would be on dirt roads. This part of the trip was added to the trip itinerary for the first time in 2017 and it was well worth it as produced  many new species to the list (even if we had to drive over 1000km to see them). Most notable were two species of quail-thrush both of which we were to see today. We would be travelling through the Great Western Woodland, the largest intact area of deciduous woodland in the world, at 16 million hectares it is larger than England.

 

I love that there are four categories of alert greater than HIGH!

 

We arrived at McDermid Rock soon after dawn and soon found the amazing Copper-backed Quail-thrush skulking in the dry scrub. A recent split from Chestnut Quail-thrush, this is a member of the Psophidae, a family that includes the quail-thrushes, whipbirds and New Guinea jewel-thrushes. I have a long-standing ambition to see/hear 50% of all of the world’s bird families and this I had done with the exception of the owlet-nightjars and the Psophidae. With the addition of the Western Whipbird and the two quail-thrushes then its just the owlet-nightjars left.

 

There is relatively little sexual dimorphism in this species, this female is just a slightly washed out version of the male.

 

We also saw the pretty little Redthroat, a member of the Australian Warbler family.

 

The long drive took us further north-west, past the mining town of Kalgoolie and away from the deciduous forest and into semi-desert scrub or mulga ….

 

…. often characterised by the red earth that gives the ‘Red Centre’ its name.

 

We were approaching our destination, the former town of Kookynie, when the leader Andy  spotted something at the side of the road, once again we all piled out in seconds flat and there was quail-thrush number two ….

 

…. the seldom seen Western Quail-thrush, which showed even better than the Copper-backed had.

 

There wasn’t much left of Kookynie. Once a prosperous mining town, just a few ruined buildings, the odd static caravan and ….

 

…. the Grand Hotel, situated beside the long disused railway station, remained. It was quite literally a ‘one-horse town’.

 

The interior spoke of past glories and events never to be repeated, a quaint if rather sad situation.

 

We were up at dawn (of course) and exploring what was left of the town.

 

We saw a Western Bowerbird, here at the extreme edge of its considerable range. Pics of the bird were not useable but the rather more static bower was easier to photograph. It needs emphasising that this is not a nest but a display ground, carefully constructed, maintained and decorated with shells by the male in order to impress a female.

 

Other birds seen in Kookynie or the quail-thrush area included Red-backed Kingfisher ….

 

…. the wonderful little Red-capped Robin ….

 

…. Little Woodswallow ….

 

…. a close up view of a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles and many more birds typical of the interior of the continent. I wish we had a second night in this area as there was much to see but the tour was already quite long. It’s a shame we couldn’t swap the extra day on Christmas Island where we were just marking time for another day here.

 

On the way north we had skirted the mining town of Kalgoorlie and just seen the spoil tips and massive excavations. On the way back we stopped in the town for fuel and were able to admire the 19th century architecture of the town centre.

 

Australia has five regularly occurring corvids and they are all pretty similar. In the south-west the regularly occurring species is Australian Raven (above) but in the Kalgoorlie area we did see (and hear, as voice is one of the best ways to tell them apart) the very similar Little Crow.

 

And so we continued the mega-drive back to Perth, nearly 700km in total. First we passed through desert scrub or mulga, then the deciduous forest and finally through the wheat-belt and intensive cultivation. We arrived back in Perth at 1830 for an overnight stay.

 

Do readers remember when if you drove a fair distance in the UK then your windscreen would be covered with bugs? Well now pesticides have killed all the insects so your windscreen remains clear but the birds have nothing to eat. Fortunately bugs and birds still exist in good numbers in Australia and long may it remain so.

 

So I’ll finish this post with another shot of the magical Western Quail-thrush. The south-western part of the trip was over with all the endemics seen (except of course the mythical Night Parrot) The following day we were to fly to Broome in the north-west for the next chapter of this extraordinary tour.

 

 

 

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