Archive for the ‘Australia’ Tag

Western Australia part 5: Kununurra, Lake Argyle, Wyndam and the journey home: 25th – 27th September 2017   Leave a comment

This is the fifth and final post about my trip Western Australia in September 2017. In addition I initially uploaded a post about our visit to Christmas Island.

The post covers the last two and a half days based in Kununurra where visited areas close to the town, Lake Argyle and the outskirts of Wyndham.

 

On the first morning in the Kununurra area we took a boat trip on Lake Argyle. Compared to the birding we had been doing onshore, it was relaxing and cool. A most pleasant experience. Lake Argyle is a man-made reservoir a short distance from the town and is one of the largest bodies of freshwater in Australia.

 

We expected to see Little Pied Cormorants …

 

… and Australian Darters …

 

…. but were not expecting a Black Bittern, a species normally confined to dense waterside vegetation and not rocky slopes.

 

The shallow, vegetated areas were full of birds: Magpie Geese, Wandering  Whistling Duck, Glossy Ibis, Pied Heron and Intermediate Egret in this photo alone.

 

The boat took us near an island where a pair of Black-necked Storks were nesting.

 

The male (identified by its dark iris) was on the nest ….

 

…. and hunkered down as we passed.

 

The female, with a yellow iris, was feeding nearby.

 

In the waterside vegetation we had good views of a Baillon’s Crake (a bird that occurs in Europe and may even have bred in Britain, but is normally very hard to see) …

 

… and the rather more showy White-browed Crake, which occurs in much of SE Asia, New Guinea, northern Australia and some Pacific islands.

 

Comb-crested Jacanas showed off their combs …

 

…. whilst White-breasted Woodswallows collected nesting material.

 

We had close up views of a Freshwater Crocodile devouring a catfish.

 

We moored up by a low-lying island and waded ashore, fortunately there were no crocodiles here! (I know Alison is wading in the wrong direction, but if I’d have taken the shot as we disembarked rather than when we got back, all I’d have photographed was backs).

 

The bays were full of birds, more Magpie Geese …

 

… Grey Teal …

 

… and Rajah Shelduck.

 

We circumnavigated the island seeing many birds …

 

… ranging from the now familiar White-headed Stilts and Pied Herons …

 

… and Australian Pelicans …

 

… to the more seldom seen Australian Pratincole …

 

… and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, a migrant from Siberia.

 

Overhead we saw White-bellied Sea-eagles …

 

… but our main quarry was Yellow Chat, a rare and restricted range species that is actually a honeyeater and not a chat, like say, the Old World Stonechat.

 

They were quite furtive and hard to approach but I did capture the striking black band on the chest (even if it was partially hidden by a twig).

 

Suddenly we came across a group of 58 pigeons feeding in front of us. They were directly into the sun and very flighty. Scope views yielded what I had hardly dared hope for, Flock Bronzewings, a nomadic and elusive pigeon of the northern interior, here at the very edge of its range. My photos show little more than bumps on the ground so …

 

… as my photo is so poor I have used one of a group of male Flock Bronzewings taken by ‘Salvadori’ in the Northern  Territory see: https://www.hbw.com/ibc/species/flock-bronzewing-phaps-histrionica 

 

On our way back we saw the much more sedentary, but range restricted White-quilled Rock Pigeon. Known only from the Kimberley region, we also saw this bird on the Mitchell Plateau (see previous post).

 

We also had very close views of Short-eared Rock Wallaby.

 

Any closer and I would have been unable to focus!

 

Around Kununurra there are large areas of cultivation crisscrossed by canals used for irrigation. This area is very attractive to finches and we spent much of the afternoon searching for species like Crimson Finch …

 

… Chestnut-breasted (four birds) and Yellow-rumped (2nd from bottom on the left) Manikins.

 

We also saw Zebra Finches …

 

… and the lovely Star Finch.

 

Several Spotted Harriers circled over the fields.

 

During our time at Kununurra we paid a couple of visits to the ponds and woodland near the golf course seeing many birds like this Yellow Oriole …

 

… Fairy Martin …

 

… Sacred Kingfisher …

 

… White-winged Triller (a species of cuckooshrike) …

 

… and two species of cuckoo, Brush Cuckoo …

 

… and Pallid Cuckoo.

 

Some populations of Dollarbird (a species of roller named after the pale circles or ‘silver dollars’ in its wings) breed in Australia, others are migratory arriving from as far north as Japan.

 

On the ponds we had good views of Australasian Grebes …

 

… Dusky Moorhens …

 

… the enormous Australasian Swamphen …

 

… and the trips only Green Pygmy Geese.

 

Our late afternoon at the golf course ended with a spectacular sunset.

 

The following morning we set off early for Wyndham, a former gold rush town on the coast to the north of Kununurra. The area has quite a high indigenous population which is commemorated by these giant statues of an aboriginal family.

 

We headed for a campsite where a riverbed usually has a number of pools where birds come to drink. Whilst waiting we saw a spectacular dawn flight of many hundred Little Corellas leaving their roost.

 

We saw many birds in the area ranging from the ubiquitous Willie Wagtail (a species of fantail) to a Pacific Swift which Andy declared to be probably be ‘the first to be recorded in the whole of Australia that spring’, having flown all the way from north-east Asia to escape the northern winter.

 

The pools in the riverbed had dried up but people at the campsite had filled up metal containers for the birds to drink from. We had cracking views of Double-barred Finches …

 

… and Rufous-throated Honeyeaters (this was one of the very few individuals that actually sported a rufous throat).

 

In this photo we can see (L-R) two Double-barred Finches, a Long-tailed Finch, a Striated Pardalote and a Masked Finch.

 

As the mercury rose we were obliged to get out of the open. Fortunately there was some shade by the camp site shop where a Straw-necked Ibis strolled round in the open (note the straw-like feathers on the lower neck).

 

We were lucky that the staff had placed some drinking containers outside the shop and as the temperature rose to over 37 degrees a steady stream of birds came in to quench their thirsts. Here is a Peaceful Dove …

 

… and here a Bar-shouldered Dove.

 

Other visitors included Little Friarbird …

 

… a Silver-crowned Friarbird …

 

… the inevitable Magpie-lark …

 

… Blue-faced Honeyeater …

 

… Bar-breasted Honeyeater …

 

… Yellow-tinted Honeyeater …

 

… and the rather drab Olive-backed Oriole.

 

If there was one bird I really wanted to see in the Kununurra/Wyndham area it was the exquisite Gouldian Finch, named after by ornithologist John Gould after his wife Elizabeth. These drinking bowls were our best chance but we also visited an area where some nest boxes had been put up for them. It was my turn in the front seat of the lead vehicle and as we arrived I caught a glimpse of four finches in flight with a strikingly banded underparts. These may have been Gouldian Finches but no-one else saw them well and we will never know for sure. Later back at the camp site we waited and waited ….

 

… what we hoped for was this …. (photo was taken from the factzoo.com website)

 

… what we eventually got was this – a very plain juvenile Gouldian (sorry to include a photo of captive individuals in the previous photo, but it does show the three different colour morphs). This juvenile proved to be the ‘disappointment of the tour’, ok I got the tick but I didn’t get the ‘value’. It was a was a shame to end the tour on this note, but hey, there’s a good reason to come back!

 

That wasn’t quite the end of the tour, the following morning we had time to check some woodland by this ford where we found the last new bird of the tour – a Shining Flycatcher.

 

From here we drove to the airport and said goodbye to Andy and Stuart who had to drive the hire cars all the way back to Broome. This time they took the longer (1000km) but faster tarmacked road that lies to south of the Kimberley. The rest of us flew home by various routes. Most went back to Perth before flying on to Europe but I went the other way on to Darwin.

My original route was: Kununurra – Darwin – KL – Heathrow; which was a lot more direct than going back to Perth. However I later found that Malaysian Airlines had ceased to offer the Darwin – KL flight so I was routed: Kununurra – Darwin – Melbourne – Dubai – Heathrow; a much longer journey which took the best part of three days!

At least staying overnight at a very hot and humid Darwin allowed me to see a few more birds like this rather tame Orange-footed Scrubfowl.

 

The onward flight to Melbourne took me across the entire continent from north to south.

 

Much of the flight was over the Red Centre …

 

… and afforded spectacular views of the desert …

 

… and as we approached Melbourne the view changed to one dominated by agriculture.

 

The tour of both southwestern and northwestern Australia plus Christmas Island had been excellent. I personally recorded 377 species and had seen about 50 life birds. There are still several areas of Australia that I wish to visit and I hope to be back there before too long.

 

 

 

Western Australia part 3: Broome: 19th – 21st September 2017   1 comment

This is the third post about mainland Western Australia (the fourth if you include Christmas Island) and deals with the area around the town of Broome on the northwest coast.

We flew from Perth at 0700 and arrived at Broome at 0920 and after collecting the vehicles and dropping baggage off at the hotel we were straight out birding (well we were hardly going to rest in the shade with so many top quality birds to see!).

 

The flight from Perth to Broome took us over some amazing desert scenery which helped pass the time.

 

We arrived at Broome mid morning ….

 

…. and after collecting the 4×4 cars and meeting Stuart who was to be be second leader and second driver on this section of the tour, we made a quick visit to the hotel to drop off our gear ….

 

….. and headed down to a jetty in the mangroves.

 

…. a site of local historic importance as the pearl lugger fleet used to disembark and unload here.

 

There were plenty of Fiddler Crabs on the mud below us but the birds tended to be elusive in the 35 degree late morning heat.

 

However at a nearby overflow pipe Red-headed Myzomelas, a tiny species of honeyeater, arrived for a drink.

 

Magpie-larks were common throughout the town ….

 

….and we had a real treat when we scanned a cricket pitch in the town centre, a group of eight Oriental Plovers fresh in from Mongolia were giving excellent views.

 

This enigmatic species can be hard to find but I have been lucky to see this species on two previous trips (Java and Australia’s Northern Territory) and saw it at three locations on this trip, but I have never encountered it in its gorgeous breeding plumage. However I will be visiting Mongolia in May this year so should catch up with that plumage at long last.

 

Also on the pitch were a number of resident Masked Lapwings.

 

We spent some time at the water treatment works where an elevated platform had been erected to let you watch the birds. There were many species here, ducks, waders, terns and these Australian Pelicans.

 

Among the many birds we saw were Royal Spoonbill ….

 

…. and Australasian Grebe.

 

Later that afternoon we visited nearby mangroves and walked along the sandy beach ….

 

…. and admired the rocks carved into bizarre shapes by wind and water.

 

Our main target here was the ‘Kimberley Flyrobin’, a very plain race of Lemon-bellied Flyrobin that was once treated as a separate species. The two subspecies group look different, occupy different habitats and are allopatric so there is no gene flow between them. The Handbook of the Birds of the World ‘Illustrated Checklist’ treats them as full species, its a shame IOC doesn’t as well.

 

Other mangrove species we saw in the area were Mangrove Fantail ….

 

…. White-breasted Whistler ….

 

…. and Dusky Gerygone, a species of Australian warbler.

 

We were back in a nearby area the following morning but our main targets were now waders (or shorebirds as they are known in North America).

 

A few White-headed Stilts were seen along the tide line. This species/race is found throughout Australasia. If we exclude the very different Banded Stilt of southern Australia and the similar but all-black Black Stilt of New Zealand, we are left, worldwide, with four stilt ‘species’; White-headed, White-backed, Black-winged and Black-headed, all of which differ only in the exact distribution of black and white on the head, neck and back. In the contrary situation to the Kimberley Flyrobin, IOC splits them all and HBW lumps them all. Obviously I like the idea of having the extra life birds on my list, but in reality I think the days of having four ‘pied stilt’ species are numbered.

 

The vast majority of the waders (or shorebirds if you are from North America) were very distant but as the tide rose we headed back along the track ….

 

…. to a number of lookouts where we could scope them (note the wader flocks along the shoreline, especially behind the grass).

 

 

…. although any attempt to get closer just resulted in flushing them. In this photo a few Black-tailed Godwits, tattlers and others can be seen in flight but the majority are Great Knots with a few Red-necked Stints in the foreground.

 

However in a few locations we could at least photograph the flock, if not individual birds.  Great Knots predominate in this photo as well. There is one still in partial summer plumage at about 10 o’clock to the centre. Like many of the species present, Great Knots breed on the tundra of eastern Siberia and winter in Australia.

 

This photo shows mainly Red-necked Stints, plus a few Curlew Sandpipers and sand plovers.

 

And there’s more! Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Curlew Sandpipers, Red-necked Stints and a few Terek Sandpipers are illustrated here.

 

A lot of Grey-tailed Tattlers, plus a few Black-tailed Godwits and Turnstones were roosting on the rocks, and a Pacific Reef Egret is taking shelter from the ferocious sun ….

 

…. as was this Great Egret.

 

On this sand spit smaller waders are joined by the odd Whimbrel, Greenshank and Bar-tailed Godwit. Also in the photo are a number of Gull-billed (or gullible as I like to call them) Terns. These are interesting, as the HBW Illustrated Checklist treats the Australian population macrotarsa as a separate species based on its larger size, differently shaped bill and nomadic and kleptoparasitic behaviour.

 

Also in the high tide roosts were a number of Crested Terns, Silver Gulls ….

 

 

 

…. and the odd White-faced Heron.

 

 

The roosts at Broome are one of the great wader gatherings in the world. Destruction of coastal wetlands in Korea and China has led to a marked reduction of the population of some species (most notably Far-eastern Curlew and Little Curlew of which we only saw fifteen and one respectively) and the general opinion was that we were too early and there were still enormous numbers of birds still to arrive. That said, our estimate of wader numbers in Broome area was amazing and an estimate of numbers is given below: (an asterisk indicates that the species was mainly seen away from the high tide wader roosts).

Bush Stone Curlew* 1
Pied Oystercatcher* 10
Sooty Oystercatcher* 4
White headed Stilt* 1
Masked Lapwing* 10
Red-kneed Dotterel* 2
Pacific Golden Plover 50
Grey Plover 80
Red-capped Plover* 10
Lesser Sand Plover 1000
Greater Sand Plover 500
Oriental Plover* 8
Black fronted Dotterel* 5
Black-tailed Godwit 50
Bar-tailed-Godwit 800
Little Curlew 1
Far Eastern Curlew 15
Whimbrel 30
Marsh Sandpiper* 2
Greenshank 500
Common Redshank 4
Wood Sandpiper* 1
Grey-tailed Tattler 200
Terek Sandpiper 200
Common Sandpiper 12
Ruddy Turnstone 30
Great Knot 10,000
Red Knot 5
Broad-billed Sandpiper 3
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper* 10
Curlew Sandpiper 200
Red-necked Stint 1000

 

Back at the hotel for lunch and a chance to scan over the mangroves and see birds like

 

…. Brahiminy Kite ….

 

…. and White-bellied Sea-eagle.

 

During the afternoon we watched a number of roadside pools which was surprisingly successful with a nice range of species like Red-winged Parrot ….

 

…. Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (the red panel in the tail can just be seen on the foremost bird) ….

 

…. and Great Bowerbird, although this individual looks more interested in collecting pebbles to decorate its bower than coming for a drink).

 

Dabbling around the edge around was a trio of Pink-eared Ducks. You have to look hard to see the ‘pink ears’ but can just make out a small pink area behind the dark surround to the eye.

 

On the 21st we packed up and left Broome and drove towards Derby (a town that is presumably named after the British city where I spent much of my teenage years.). On route we saw our only flock of Budgies.

 

Seeing wild Budgerigars is always a high on the wish-list of any birder visiting Australia, but the species is nomadic, travelling from one area that has had rainfall to the next and the flocks are restless and not prone to posing for photos.

 

Whistling Kites were quite common (primary moult in this individual gives it an unusual outline) ….

 

…. and at a river crossing we saw the magnificent Black-necked Stork ….

 

…. the equally magnificent Australian Bustard ….

 

…. and the more mundane Intermediate Egret.

 

Other species seen on route included the delightful and diminutive Diamond Dove ….

 

…. the ubiquitous Magpie-lark (a relative of the monarch flycatchers and not either a magpie or a lark) ….

 

…. and another common bird, Torresian Crow, which replaces Australian Raven, Little Raven and Little Crow in the north.

 

Yellow-throated Miners (a species of honeyeater) ….

 

…. and Little Corellas also kept us company.

 

In due course we reached Derby, had a very late breakfast and then headed west along the Gibb River Road. We weren’t far out of the town when we ran out of tarmac.

 

We wouldn’t see a paved road again (apart from a few short stretches over bridges) until we were almost at Kununurra in three days time. It was a given, especially for those in the second vehicle, to be enveloped in dust at all times. Note the radio aerial on the left of the bonnet has snapped of from all the vibration.

 

Our drive across the Kimberley region will be the subject of the next post, however I like to end with an eye-catching shot (mainly because Facebook has stopped selecting a photo at random and now choses the last one to head up a post). This sunset was photographed at the rocky beach at Broome where we visited the on the first day to look for Kimberley Flyrobin.