Archive for the ‘Kununurra’ 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 4: Derby to Kununurra: 21st to 24th September 2017.   Leave a comment

This is the fourth (of five) blog posts about my tour of Western Australia, in addition there is a post on Christmas Island which was offered as a pre-tour extension.

The post covers our journey along the Gibb River Road from the town of Derby (close to Broome) to Kununurra near the state border with the Northern Territory.

 

As I mentioned before all of the journey was on dirt roads, this was particularly tricky if you were in the second vehicle and were driving into the sun (as we were driving to the north-east this occurred in the morning).

 

Guess which vehicle was in the lead and which was following!

 

We had spent much of the morning birding in the Derby area so the afternoon was taken up with the long drive to Mt Elizabeth Station. We arrived at 1700 so there was only a short time to had time for bird around the guest chalets, but we did see a number of Agile Wallabies ….

 

…. and Black-faced Woodswallows.

 

The following morning near the Station we saw our first Silver-backed Butcherbirds. Formerly lumped with Grey Butcherbird which replaces it to the south, this species is actually more closely related to Black-backed Butcherbird of New Guinea and the Australia’s Cape York Peninsula.

 

We birded along the Gibb River Road the following morning and then turned north on the Gibb River-Kalumburu Road. We arrived at our accommodation at Drysdale River Station mid-afternoon (a ranch of a mere million acres) but didn’t stay long as we had some birding to do at a nearby billabong ….

 

…. but the sign that greeted us as we left didn’t fill us with confidence!

 

The partially dried up river bed (or billabong ) was a great place to bird.

 

The water levels were low but marks on a tree by the river bed reminded up of just how high the flood water can reach.

 

The area was home to several species of kingfisher, Sacred ….

 

…. and the diminutive Azure.

 

Also during our travels in the north we came across a number of the enormous Blue-winged Kookaburras, one of the largest kingfishers in Australia.

 

Along the edge of the billabong we saw some Paperbark Flycatchers, a recent split from Restless Flycatcher and named after the paperbark trees of the northern woodlands.

 

Our main target was the exquisite Purple-crowned Fairy-wren a declining species that has become quite hard to find in recent years.

 

Crimson Finches …

 

… and Double-barred Finches enlivened the proceedings.

 

We stayed on till dusk …

 

…. and not only saw but were able to photograph a restless pair of Barking Owls.

 

The following day was one of the most exciting of the whole tour. We had been warned from the outset that there would be a very early start, but even so the announcement of a 0100 departure was a bit of a shock. We headed northwards bumping along the Gibbs River-Kalumburu Road in the dark. A few of the grou saw Spotted Nightjar on route and we all saw a female Bush Stone-curlew with two chicks in the middle of the track that she tried protect by hiding them under her wings. We arrived at the remote Mitchell Plateau just after 0500. I say remote, but there was a well-developed campsite and a helicopter service that took tourists to see a nearby waterfall. The area can become very hot and we were warned that we must not wander off on our own (as has happened in the past), drink lots of water and protect our skin. To get to this rocky outcrop was a bit of a scramble …

 

… but soon we reached level ground which afforded great views over the surrounding forest.

 

Our target birds fell one by one, the restricted range White-quilled Rock Pigeon …

 

… Kimberley Honeyeater, which is endemic to the Kimberley region …

 

… and the more widespread Sandstone Shrikethrush.

 

But the outstanding sighting, indeed the main reason for making the long drive through the night, was to see the diminutive and elusive Black Grasswren. The eleven species of grasswren (related to the fairy-wrens) are some of the most skulking of Australia’s birds, usually only affording brief views as they scuttle through the undergrowth. Most trips to the Mitchell Plateau just glimpse the bird as it runs from one rock to another but we had a pair out in the open singing and we saw it well long before the area heated up to it’s 40 plus degree norm.

 

Even the leader Andy, who had made this trip several times, had never seen them so well. It was not surprising that this was unanimously voted ‘bird of the trip’.

 

We spent a while overlooking the lake and scanning the distant horizon and saw some distant displaying Pacific Bazas and a number of cockatoos, but with all species except Partridge Pigeon (which I have seen before in NT) under the belt we left by 1020, hours earlier than on most previous tours.

 

The early return gave us plenty of chances to stop and bird on the way back. Rainbow Bee-eaters showed well …

 

… as did this singing Leaden Flycatcher.

 

White-throated Honeyeaters were no big surprise …

 

… but this was! We walked an area of dry eucalypt forest in the hope we might flush a Chestnut-backed Buttonquail. We didn’t flush a single one – but we found a group of six feeding out in the open. So good were the views of this normally mega elusive species (well mega-elusive family to be more precise) that it got voted number two ‘bird of the trip’.

 

We were back at Drysdale River Station by mid-afternoon. Some opted to rest after the extremely early start but the rest of us returned to the billabong where we saw much the same as the afternoon before.

 

One species we didn’t want to see was the infamous cane toad. The introduction of these toads to Australia has been described as the worst decision in the country’s history. Cane toads, native to the Neotropics were introduced to coastal Queensland in 1935 to control the native cane beetle which was damaging sugar cane production. Cane Toad numbers now exceed 200 million and have spread as far west as the Kimberley. They have failed to control cane beetles but due to their poisonous neck glands, which can clearly be seen in the photo, they have almost wiped out native predators like quolls, goannas and snakes and have killed many cats and dogs plus some humans who have inadvertently come into contact with their poison. They predate many smaller species and compete with others for food supplies. By killing goannas the number of crocodiles has risen due to reduced predation of their eggs and a huge decrease in dung beetles due to the toad has resulted in a massive increase in cow dung which may lead to disease outbreaks in cattle.  They are a classic example of the folly of introducing a predator into a region where the native wildlife has no natural defense against them.

 

So it was back to the chalets at Drysdale Station and an early night to catch up on sleep.

 

We heard from the staff at Drysdale Station that there were some recently arrived Oriental Plovers on their airstrip.

 

We also found a very dark falcon. Hopes that it was the rare Black Falcon (which would be a lifer for me) were soon squashed and it proved to be a dark example of the much commoner Brown Falcon.

 

The drive through the desert scrub was long and at times uncomfortable, but who would have expected a sign advertising scones, jam and cream out in this wilderness!

 

This area was populated with a number of boab trees, the name an Australian contraction of the African name baobab. This genus (of nine species) is found only in Africa and in particular in Madagascar. Probably evolved too recently to be a Gondwanaland relict, the species probably reached Australia as seeds in rafts of vegetation carried on sea currents.

 

More birds were seen on our journey, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos ….

 

…. and Red-tailed Black Cockatoos,, a bird that looks very like a Black Kite in flight.

 

A distant Brolga, a species of crane that largely avoided the photographers on this tour, was seen in this creek.

 

Here we found a group of Pictorella Mannikins, a new bird for me although they were hard to photograph well in the heat haze and glaring light.

 

Hardly surprisingly given the rough road conditions, we had a puncture. We then realised that sharp shale fragments had been used as a road dressing and this had caused the flat. We met several other vehicles all with the same problem along this stretch.

 

A river crossing had a few pools along its edge, home to this group of Magpie Geese. This species is so different from all other wildfowl that it’s in its own family.

 

Also by the river were a number of the gorgeous Spinifex Pigeons. This made it as number three ‘bird of the trip’ even surpassing the amazing Noisy Scrub-bird by one point.

 

Eventually we reached an open area with views across the Pentecost River flood plain towards Kununurra …

 

… and another hour or so of dirt road driving got us to the tarmac on the Wyndham – Kununurra highway, a route that will take you all the way to Katherine in the Northern territory if you wish.

 

We arrived at Kununurra just after dark for a three night stay. The past four days had been a bit tough on hot, dusty and bumpy roads (but I’ve known worse) but we had traversed some real wilderness and seen some great birds.

Our time around Kununurra, Lake Argyle and Wyndam will be the subject of the final post in this series.