South-west Queensland July 2012


View SW Qld 2012 in a larger map

 

During the early-part of 2012 I spent time with a visiting Canadian birder John Reynolds,  we had made a couple of local trips to find some of his missing species and he expressed his desire to spend a few days exploring the outback area of South-west Queensland. As I have had a reasonable experience of the area between St George and Thargomindah over the past twenty-odd years I suggested that we rent  an AWD vehicle and stay in accommodation rather than tents (the temperature can be very chilly in the evenings out there at this time of year!) Over the past 3 or 4 years drought had lifted in the region so I was keen to see how this had affected the bird-life.

John negotiated with a car-hire company and got 5 days in a Nissan Dualis with unlimited kilometres for AU$345, however on the pick-up day they tried to ‘palm’ us off with a Renault Megane but John stuck to his ‘guns’ and managed to get the original vehicle (with $100 discount for his trouble, he used this to add the insurance excess, which proved very helpful….more on that later)

Nissan Dualis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We left Brisbane at 2pm on Thursday afternoon and traveled to St George through a thunderstorm, arriving there around 7.30pm and booking in to a seemingly over-priced motel (the price you pay for coal-seam gas, cotton-farming and frequent-flooding?)

After a nice nights sleep, we had a good breakfast and commenced the adventure, driving to the Mulgaview area approximately 30 kms west of St George, in the past this has been a good area for Spotted Bowerbird, Splendid Fairywren, Red-capped Robin, Singing Honeyeater and Black-eared Cuckoo and Friday morning was no disappointment, we even saw a pair of White-browed Treecreeper there which I had not seen there before.

White-browed Treecreeper

Black-eared Cuckoo

Black-eared Cuckoo
Black-eared Cuckoo

White-browed Treecreeper
White-browed Treecreeper

 

Further along the ‘Adventure’ Highway between Bollon and Cunnamulla we came across a pair of Pink Cockatoos feeding on small roadside melons, John was elated when they allowed us to drive close and both get some reasonable images.

Pink Cockatoo

Pink Cockatoo

We took lunch in Cunnamulla and continued on to Eulo picking-up some of the interesting species of the area such as Black-breasted Buzzard, Chirrupping Wedgebill, Black-faced Woodswallows and our first Budgies!

Black-faced Woodswallow/Budgerigar

Juvenile Black-breasted Buzzard

 

Cunnamulla Scenery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southern Boobook
Yellow-throated Miner

 

We stopped at Eulo Bore and the nearby ridge but failed to find any of the ‘specials’ such as Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush or Hall’s Babbler though we did have an interesting sighting of a ‘diurnal’ Southern Boobook just to the west of Eulo.

Eulo Ridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and so continued on, finding a Red-backed Kingfisher and getting poor-views of a Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush west of Carpet Springs. Towards late-afternoon we arrived at the causeway of Lake Bindegolly, which is currently quite full and home to many breeding waterbirds such as Pelicans, Cormorants, Darters, Terns, Coots, Grebes and Brolgas (amongst others).

 

Caspian Tern

Australian Darter

 

We made it to Thargomindah at dusk and were greeted by thousands of White-browed, Masked and Black-faced Woodswallows, this was wonderful but we were behind schedule and had to get to Kilcowera Station and so headed south on the (only partially-sealed) Hungerford road, arriving there at nine pm. We were greeted and shown our accommodation for the next two nights by our hosts Greg and Toni Sherwin and then turned in for a well earned-sleep.

 

White-browed/Black-faced Woodswallows

Masked Woodswallow

On waking on Saturday morning we realized that the temperature was close to freezing so using the outdoor-shower was somewhat daunting but we seemed to survive the ordeal and began our next leg of the trip driving from Kilcowera to Noccundra. Until now I hadn’t traveled further west than Thargomindah so this was certainly going to be an experience for me too!

About halfway between Kilcowera and Thargomindah we stopped at a dry-creek bed for some Crimson Chats and this proved to be one of the most ‘birdy’ areas, initially only intending to stop for 5 to 10 minutes we were there for over two hours! (….but it was to be worth it)

 

Banded Lapwing

Australian Ringneck

Bluebonnet

Black-faced Woodswallow

Red-capped Robin

Red-capped Robin

Crimson Chat

Brown Falcon

Wedge-tailed Eagle

White-necked Heron

John found a lot of new species here, and we also recorded a Pied Honeyeater which was the first that I have ever seen in breeding attire. Both Brown and Rufous Songlarks, Plum-heased Finch, Bluebonnets, Banded Lapwing, Chestnut-crowned Babbler and Brolga, Crested Bellbird and Cockatiel were some of many.

The drive from Thargomindah to Noccundra was longer than I had expected (approximately 140 kms) but it was quite scenic and we found some interesting species, Chirruping Wedgebills, Bourke’s Parrots and Rufous Songlarks.

 

SWQ Panorama
SWQ Panorama

We finally arrived at Noccundra mid-afternoon and followed the advice of a Birding-Aus  member Mick Brasher who had discovered Grey Grasswren in a previous year in lignum near the waterhole. However after spending over an hour searching in vain we finally gave up and returned back to Kilcowera. Obviously more time is required for this elusive species!

Eremophila?

Eremophila?

 

On arrival at Kilcowera we caught up with Toni Sherwin who told us that she had seen Pied Honeyeater near the homestead,  feeding on freshly-flowering eremophilas,  we resolved to get up the following morning and search for these before our departure.

Sunday began very chilly and after the tortuous shower ritual we said our goodbyes to the other guests and headed out for a last brief look around the nearby billabong and homestead, on the lake John ‘scoped an unusual duck which was probably a Freckled although we couldn’t get a better view. As we passed the homestead I thought I glimpsed something interesting and we stopped for a quick look and John saw a small passerine which sounded like a Black Honeyeater, this was indeed it’s identity and soon we also found White-fronted and Pied Honeyeaters. A thornbill almost had me believing that there were Slaty-backed in the area (…whose status I’m still not convinced about in SW Qld) this duly turned out to be Chestnut-rumped.

 

Pied Honeyeater

Chestnut-rumped Thornbill

 

This area turned-out to be far more interesting than we had anticipated so once again we put our schedule out by two hours and finally arrived at Lake Bindegolly just before lunch on a search for the handsome but elusive Orange Chat. In recent years the area has been declared a National Park and more restrictions have been made to public access,  we were unable to drive right around the northern edge so walked out to it instead, how different conditions are in winter compared with the rest of the year, lower temperatures and no blowflies made life far easier! Soon I spotted a handsome male Orange Chat on the samphire and endeavoured to get a photograph, as with previous experiences of the species the moment that he realised I was ‘stalking’ him he took off and flew about 100 metres away, consequently all the shots that are displayed are heavily ‘cropped’. In the immediate area I was surprised to see at least 9 birds fly off at one point, they can be extremely cryptic in the glaring sand.

 

Orange Chat

Orange Chat

Orange Chat

Orange Chat

 

From Bindegolly we headed east and searched for a creek-crossing where I had seen Grey-headed Honeyeaters many years before, fortunately I managed to find it and after a bit of ‘squeaking’ managed to get at least 3 birds.

 

Grey-headed Honeyeater
Grey-headed Honeyeater

Grey-headed Honeyeater
Grey-headed Honeyeater

 

Our next challenge was to try and get to Bowra and see if we could find a couple of missing species. I had tried to book accommodation earlier and had been told that it was full, so thought that it might be worth putting in an hour or two to try and find Grey Falcon or Hall’s Babbler. We drove out to the ‘Stony Ridge’ area but found very little although we heard several Black Honeyeater calling and I saw a very Splendid Fairywren which would have made an awesome photo had it have stayed long enough for me to get the camera!

 

Bowra Stony Ridge
Bowra Stony Ridge

Splendid Fairywren
Splendid Fairywren

 

Soon the light was fading and so were John’s chances of getting his last two ‘lifers’ so we decided to set off for St George, I thought that it might be a good idea to let the Motel know that we would be arriving late (St George is 290 kms from Cunnamulla) and the receptionist told us that was OK but warned us to be careful of macropods on the highway after dark. Unfortunately her words came true around 20 kms before the town of Bollon when we hit a large male Red Kangaroo and smashed the offside headlight and dented the front bodywork. Personally I’ve travelled the same stretch of road on several occasions but never seen quite as many as we passed on this evening. Fortunately despite a few ‘near-misses’ we managed to crawl into St George without inflicting any more damage on the ‘Roo population, though another car arrived after us and had suffered a similar calamity. We were certainly thankful that John had had the foresight to take up the insurance excess at the start of the trip.

Our return  was via a different route, Goondiwindi to Brisbane.  John still required Turquoise Parrot and several other species such as Singing Bushlark, Black-chinned Honeyeater and Red-kneed Dotterel so I thought that it might be worthwhile to try for these in the Inglewood to Warwick area, .In an area near Talwood we came upon several parrot species Red-winged, Ringneck and Pale-headed Rosella feeding on the road with Apostlebirds,.However when we finally arrived at Coolmunda Dam, Cement Mills and the Durakai water-hole it was around lunch and consequently fairly unexciting.

 

Red-winged Parrot
Red-winged Parrot

Red-winged Parrots
Red-winged Parrots

 

Overall, a great 4-days birding with John seeing plenty of ‘lifers’, as he is a great ‘devotee’ of Ebird I thought it might be worth providing a link to one of his  lists (from this trip) If this is popular I might add more as he puts them up. At the time of writing I don’t have a full species-list but will put one up when available.

I would like to thank all those that gave advice (especially for the grasswrens) and Toni and Greg Sherwin at Kilcowera (I look forward to returning…..with lots more time!)

Species trip-list

Kaikoura, New Zealand 2012

Buller's Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri)[
Buller's Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri)
In February 2011 I was introduced to Alan and Celia Shaw, UK/NZ residents visiting Queensland for a brief visit. Alan is a long-time videographer of birds and has created film-clips of many of the vagrants recorded in the UK over the past 40 years. Whilst birding with them I mentioned that I’ve always wanted to visit Kaikoura in the Southland of New Zealand (arguably the regions premier pelagic birding-site.) Since they run a guest-house there I was delighted to accept their offer of a short-stay as mutual payment for my guiding-services, however as they were going to return to the UK for their regular summer vacation at the end of March my trip would have to be imminent.

Fortunately I managed to find a fairly cheap fare to Christchurch with Virgin (the downside being that I would arrive at half-past midnight!) Alan kindly agreed to pick me up from the Airport and we proceeded to Waikuku Beach near Rangiora where we slept in the car until dawn. As day broke we walked out to the wetland near the estuary and soon realised that the temperature was twenty degrees cooler than the place that I had come from. However this issue was soon put behind me when Alan pointed out my first Black Stilt, one of the rarest birds in the world! The reserve was teeming with nice species and I also saw two other ‘lifers’ Black-fronted Tern and Spotted Shag. Great stuff!

Black Stilt
Black Stilt

We then made our way north towards Kaikoura and stopped at St Annes Lagoon near Cheviot where I saw NZ Scaup (somewhat less exciting than the stilt but still my first!) Alan had recently photographed a rare vagrant here (an Australian Reed-Warbler) and noted the difference between the numbers of birders that turned-out for this and any rarity back in the UK!

 

View from Whitby Place
View from Whitby Place

 

Kitchen View
Kitchen View

Eventually we arrived at the Shaw residence, Huia House (10 Whitby Place, Kaikoura, +64 3319 7535) and admired the area and it’s surrounding scenery….snow-covered mountains and sea-views. (How many birders can watch albatross and other seabirds from their kitchen-windows?)

Alan and Celia Shaw
Alan and Celia Shaw

After settling in, Celia and Alan took me down to Fyffes Quay (4kms away), which is a rocky-headland at the end of the Kaikoura Peninsula much-frequented by ‘grey-nomads’ and overseas tourists in their campervans.

 

View from Fyffe's Quay
View from Fyffe's Quay

Bird-life is prolific here, with rock-loving species such as Variable and South Island Pied Oystercatcher, Double-banded Plover, Ruddy Turnstone and several kinds of Shag, plus many different seabirds such as White-fronted and Caspian Tern, Arctic Jaegers, Kelp, Red and Black-billed Gulls and just offshore, pelagics such as Hutton’s and Buller’s Shearwaters, petrels and quite a few albatross but beware the large brown beasts strewn across the rocks and under the bushes….NZ Fur Seals are easily surprised and can inflict nasty wounds so tread carefully. A short walk above the headland is an excellent lookout where less ‘sea-worthy’ birders can enjoy observing the passage of many species of seabird and cetacean (….with a reasonable ‘spotting-scope’, of course!)

 

NZ Fur Seal
NZ Fur Seal

 

Before leaving I had visited the website of the Kaikoura pelagic-tour operators “Encounter Kaikoura” and had booked a spot on Sunday’s ‘extended’ (4 hour) trip, however whilst there on Saturday morning I couldn’t help myself and booked a place on a standard (2.5 hour) trip too (and to the dismay of my bank-manager did Monday’s ‘standard’ trip as well!)

 

Albatross Encounters HQ
Albatross Encounters HQ

 

Encounters boat
Encounters boat

 

Back of boat
Back of boat

Three pelagics in three days…..fantastic! The trips themselves were excellent with guides Gary and Tracy using their boating and birding skills to show us many species of seabirds (and a few cetaceans, though I missed a Sperm Whales tail through sun-glare.) The ‘Great’ albatrosses (Gibson’s and Royal) arrived at the back of the boat within minutes of departing from South Bay and we didn’t need to go out far to see most of the available seabirds due to the depth of the ‘shelf’ (1000-1500 metres!) The views were also breathtaking, huge seabirds ‘wheeling’ around with a backdrop of snow-covered mountains.

NZ White-capped Albatross
NZ White-capped Albatross

 

Species seen by myself over the 3 days:

  1. Royal Albatross (Northern)
  2. Royal Albatross (Southern)
  3. Wandering Albatross (Gibson’s)
  4. Wandering Albatross (Snowy)
  5. Campbell Albatross
  6. Black-browed Albatross (Subantartic)
  7. New Zealand White-capped Albatross
  8. Salvin’s Albatross
  9. Buller’s Albatross
  10. Northern Giant Petrel
  11. Westland Petrel
  12. White-chinned Petrel
  13. Cape Petrel
  14. Cook’s Petrel
  15. Fairy Prion
  16. Hutton’s Shearwater
  17. Buller’s Shearwater
  18. Flesh-footed Shearwater
  19. Sooty Shearwater
  20. Pied Shag
  21. Spotted Shag
  22. Little Shag
  23. Black Shag
  24. Brown Skua
  25. Arctic Skua
  26. White-fronted Tern
  27. Black-fronted Tern
  28. Black-Backed Gull
  29. Black-billed Gull
  30. Red-billed Gull
  31. Australasian Gannet
  32. Blue Penguin

 

 

On Sunday afternoon Alan and I visited the Kowhai Bush Conservation Area close to Kaikoura (under Mt Fyffe) and we managed to see native species such as Rifleman, Tui, Bellbird, Brown Creeper, Silvereye, Grey Warbler and Fantail amongst the many introduced Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Yellowhammer and finches. However although we heard a NZ Robin at the main carpark we didn’t manage to see any on the trail.

Rifleman
Rifleman
Grey Warbler
Grey Warbler
NZ Bellbird
NZ Bellbird

The following day was very wet but Alan had a tip-off that NZ Falcon could be seen near in the foothills north of Kaikoura however the only new species that we caught up with were NZ Pigeon.

Overall the trip was a great break and the hospitality shown by my hosts outstanding, I will have to return to do another pelagic-trip and see some of the harder species. If you are planning a trip to New Zealand a visit to Kaikoura is a must, Alan and Celia have requested that I promote their accommodation to the birding-community but remember that currently they will only be there from November to April.  Have a look at the gallery which follows this.

More images

Darwin 2010

View Darwin Trip 2010 in a larger map

After all the exertion of the Gulf-trip I had built up quite a few days in lieu from work and had intended to spend a week searching for grasswrens with a couple of friends in the Corner-country (SW QLD/SA/NSW). Unfortunately due to wet-conditions this was postponed and so I had to find a way of using up a weeks leave, I decided to contact some old friends and take them up on their previously-issued invite. Sheryl and Arthur Keates have become stalwart members of Darwin’s birding-elite and I knew I would be up for some great-birding, I was given the ‘green-light’ and booked tickets with Qantas (….as they seemed to arrive and depart at civilized times, unlike Jetstar & VirginBlue!)

Alas, my in-flight optimism from Brisbane was soon eroded as the 767 was delayed for two hours after an engine ‘warning’ light was detected (see previous experience on the trip to the Gulf) Approaching Darwin the flight was delayed again for a storm (…and this is supposed to be the ‘dry’ season?), we finally landed after at least seven ‘circuits’, and I was relieved when I saw Sheryl waiting at the ‘passenger pick-up’.

Barking Owl (Ninox connivens)

One of the main targets of the trip was to find Rufous Owl (which I’ve yet to see on numerous trips to North Queensland), Sheryl suggested we do a tour of Darwin Botanic Gardens where a pair had been resident for some time. Unfortunately despite combing the area every day for a week they now seem to be absent, although I had cracking views of a pair of Barking Owls near the fountain (a species I have only encountered once before.)

Saturday morning began with a visit to Lee Point, Arthur and Sheryl were keen to check new wader arrivals and I was pleasantly surprised when Sheryl spotted a pair of Rainbow Pitta in the scrub near the beach, one of these was very tame and allowed reasonable photographs. The metallic-blue shoulder-patch on a black body is almost day-glo, making them particularly easy to track through the vegetation and they seem to spend more time on branches than other pitta species that I’ve encountered.

Pitta iris

Another species that I was keen to photograph was the Green-backed Gerygone and they were plentiful and vocal in the area.

Green-backed Gerygone (Gerygone chloronota)

On the high-tide roost Arthur had found quite a few Sanderling and lots of Greater Sand Plovers with a Lesser-crested Tern, later we were joined by a Dutch birder Bas Henson and a couple of old friends, Peter Kyne and Micha Jackson.

Sanderling (Calidris alba)

Pete and Micha

We returned to Darwin for lunch then went up to the Royal Darwin Hospital  for an afternoon walk. The area around the hospital is excellent for birding with a mixture of monsoon forest, mangroves and grassland, I was keen to see a Little Kingfisher which is frequently recorded at Sandy Creek, however I failed to catch up with one on this trip but did see Black Butcherbird, Broad-billed and Shining Flycatcher. Returning to the car we came across many honeyeaters drinking from a small creek, Banded, Rufous-throated and Rufous-breasted, and Bar-breasted.

Bar-breasted Honeyeater (Ramsayornis fasciatus)

Leaden Flycatcher (Myiagra rubecula)
Leaden Flycatcher (Myiagra rubecula)

Leaden (Satin?) Flycatcher (Myiagra rubecula)

I also came across an odd ‘myiagra’ flycatcher which I initially suspected to be a Satin but after photographing it and questioning it’s identity on the Birding-Aus mailing-list, I’m still no wiser. Personally I think it’s an aberrant Leaden Flycatcher but I’ve had plenty of response suggesting that it is a Satin (although I don’t have a great deal of experience with this species, so will have to reserve judgment)  There are more images on my Picasa site, would welcome any more comments. (Please note: I’ve uploaded most of this birds images in a Gallery, please visit this for better-quality pics and comparison shots)

Gouldian Finch (Chloebia gouldiae)

Gouldian Finch (Chloebia gouldiae)

We were up early on Sunday, Arthur, Sheryl and myself headed out east towards Kakadu, near Mt Bundey Arthur stopped at some old gravel-pits where he had seen Gouldian Finches in the past. We noticed other visitors positioned close to the water but probably preventing birds from coming in to drink, then spotted a flock of 20-30 Gouldian’s landing in the trees between us. Unfortunately they were obviously being deterred from drinking by the other party but we ended up counting nearly 80 birds, including red, black and orange-faced individuals and lots of juveniles. Apparently 2010 has been a very successful year for this species though I don’t want to be too precise with the location of this sighting publicly but can provide details via email if required.

Black-tailed Treecreeper (Climacteris melanurus)

From Mt Bundey we headed back towards Darwin then went south on the Marrakai Track, unfortunately there appears to be ‘development’ occurring along the northern part of the road and sub-division looks imminent. However we did manage to see one of the ‘target’ species early on, my second ‘lifer’ for the day, the Black-tailed Treecreeper. Further along we found another bird which I was keen to catch up with, the ‘leucoptera’ race of the Varied Sittella, this has white rather than orange wing-panels and black on the head, although the sexes have differing amounts of black on their heads, males are ‘capped’ whilst females appear to have a full-‘hood’.

Varied Sittella (Daphoenositta chrysoptera)

Varied Sittella (Daphoenositta chrysoptera)

Continuing along the track we stopped at a dried-up creek-bed with flowering melaleuca, there was an intense ‘gingery’ smell (if only you could ‘bottle’ it!) and singing their plaintive  “three-blind-mice” song, I found my first stunning Buff-sided Robins.

Buff-sided Robin (Poecilodryas cerviniventris)

Also present in the same creek-bed was a nice male Shining Flycatcher and a Banded Honeyeater feeding on the melaleuca blossom. From there we moved to a dry open flood-plain where I spotted a Red-backed Kingfisher. We stopped for lunch at a wonderful river crossing, heard Azure Kingfisher, saw more Shining Flycatcher and Arthur spotted a large fish. In a nearby billabong we had a Black-necked Stork, some Radjah Shelduck and a White-bellied Sea-Eagle perched near it’s large nest. Before reaching the Stuart Highway we passed through a nice rainforest area known as “Bamboo Creek”, here we saw a pair of Brown Goshawk, and a flock of Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo.

Broad-billed Flycatcher (Myiagra ruficollis)

Grey Whistler (Pachycephala simplex)

View of beach and mangroves at Kulaluk

Red-banded Jezebel (Delias mysis)

Female Mangrove Golden Whistler (Pachycephala melanura)

Arafura Fantail (Rhipidura dryas)

Red-headed Myzomela (Myzomela erythrocephala)

During the following couple of days before Sheryl left for a brief return to Brisbane. I concentrated my efforts on the greater Darwin area and visited some of the more accessible areas such as Kulaluk Reserve at Coconut Grove, East Point Mangrove Boardwalk, Royal Darwin Hospital and Aralia Road at Nightcliff. The search for the elusive ‘Rufie’ Owl continued in the Botanic Gardens without success, though we did find an Orange-footed Scrubfowls wing, which raised my hopes somewhat. At Kulaluk we managed to find a pair of Mangrove Golden Whistler, Mangrove Robins and an Arafura Fantail, at Aralia Road I saw 3 species of Kingfisher (Collared, Forest and Sacred), plus several species of wader. Despite several returns to the hospital I failed to re-find the mystery flycatcher.

White-throated Honeyeater (Melithreptus albogularis)

Rufous-banded Honeyeater (Conopophila albogularis)

Banded Honeyeater (Cissomela pectoralis)
Banded Honeyeater (Cissomela pectoralis)

Before leaving for Brisbane Sheryl generously took me around and late-afternoon on Monday we visited Buffalo Creek to search for the big red ‘Chook” (…or Chestnut Rail) She decided that it our chances were greater observing from the bank further upstream and as the tide started to return we entered the muddy world of northern mangroves by crossing ‘dubious’ bridges and covering ourselves in ‘deet’ to combat the hordes of mossies and inevitable Saltwater Crocodile attack! Even the fisher-folk seemed to be packing up to go home , but as I was endeavoring to photograph a wily female Shining Flycatcher was amazed when she told me to look over to the other bank…..there it was, a big red chook wandering along the mud for a few seconds before re-entering the dark-jungle from whence it came! I managed to get some shots but they were distant and quite heavily ‘cropped’.

Buffalo Creek

Northern Fantail (Rhipidura rufiventris)

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

Chestnut Rail (Eulabeornis castaneoventris)

On Wednesday I had the good-fortune to meet Darryel “Biggles” Binns, a local Darwin birdo and well-known guide. He drove up from his home at  McMinn’s Lagoon and attempted to find ‘Rufie’ for me at the Botanic Gardens, failing again we headed out to Howard Springs Nature Reserve where we saw Rainbow Pitta and Large-tailed Nightjar with ease.

Large-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus macrurus)

From Howard Springs we headed for Fogg Dam, a nature-reserve I had visited twenty-one years ago in a vain search for White-browed Crake, which Biggles found within ten minutes of our arrival! I re-acquainted myself with Pied Heron and near the hide my guide had a conversation with a Barking Owl, which remained invisible…..most entertaining, especially as it was lunch-time.

Fogg Dam Scene 1

Forest Kingfisher (Todiramphus macleayii)

Fogg Dam Scene 2

Pied Heron (Egretta picata)

From Fogg Dam we proceeded on to the Adelaide River, where the crocodile-cruises run from. Here we hunted for Mangrove Golden Whistler eventually finding a male in a large tree behind the restaurant, much to the delight of the patrons. A Paperbark Flycatcher was nest-making near the bridge.

Male Mangrove Golden Whistler (Pachycephala melanura)

Paperbark Flycatcher (Myiagra nana)

Early start on Thursday, Biggles had agreed to drive down to Mataranka to help find the nesting-pair of Red Goshawk on the condition that we had a look for the northern race of Crested Shrike-tit. The journey is approximately 4 hours straight driving from Darwin so it was some relief when we arrived at Pine Creek and I managed to photograph one of my target species the Hooded Parrot, we also had great views of Northern Rosella, a species that I had only seen once before, twenty-one years ago at Howard Springs.

Hooded Parrot (Psephotus dissimilis)

Northern Rosella (Platycercus venustus)

After a coffee-stop at Katherine, we headed towards Mataranka turning east along the Central Arnhem Highway to look for the Shrike-tit, some of the areas had been extensively burnt and bird activity was very low (probably due to the time of day) but we did manage to see Yellow-tinted,  Golden-backed Honeyeaters, Black-tailed Treecreepers and a small group of Varied Sittellas. At the point of giving up, we reached the distance-marker sign 10 km to Stuart Highway and I thought I heard the birds plaintive-calling, similar to the eastern race. Suddenly Biggles announced that he was on one and we had a total of three birds, I managed to get a couple of reasonable shots.

Kilometre Sign

Northern Shrike-tit (Falcunculus frontatus)

From this good-fortune we continued on to Mataranka, in search of the Red Goshawks. Apparently the birds have moved their previous nest-site across the road and it didn’t take long to find the new one with a bird sitting, though we thought we would hang around and wait until it’s partner turned up. After 15-20 minutes Biggles heard a call which sounded similar to a Brown Falcon and looking on the outside of the tree we realized that the other bird had been perched there all along (…and it was practically asleep!) I’m fascinated how a bird that has taken me 23 years to find can be so obvious and easy to see here.

Mataranka Scene

Red Goshawk nest

Red Goshawk (Erythrotriorchis radiatus)

Red Goshawk (Erythrotriorchis radiatus)

Elated by the latest ‘lifer’ we headed back towards Katherine and resumed our search for Chestnut-backed Buttonquail (we had stopped at several likely-spots with no success)  At Chinaman and Chainman Creeks on the Victoria Highway west of Katherine we drew ‘blanks’ but I was quite worried at one point when Biggles disappeared into the scrub and then I saw a large ‘willy-willy’ in the same area. Fortunately he returned several minutes later, safe but quail-less!

Big Willy-willy
Big Willy-willy

Freshwater Crocodile (Crocodylus johnsoni)

At Katherine Sewage-works I was rewarded with a new reptile, a Freshwater Crocodile (or ‘Freshie’) was photographed basking on the bank. We continued on to Copperfield Dam,  just outside Pine Creek and had a look around for the buttonquail but the highlight here was another surprise, I had heard a slight noise which I attributed to a small reptile, and so scanning the rocky-ridge, I got a great fright when about ten Partridge Pigeons erupted at my feet! As they flew off like rockets in totally random directions views were poor but I did manage to see the red eye-colour on one bird. Despite the sun having set Biggles decided to try for the buttonquail at Pine Creek Sewage-works (…where we had searched in the morning) and this time we had more luck and flushed a group of about ten birds. We then returned to Darwin after an incredible day’s birding!

The last two days were taken up trying to find a few odds’n’sods and we visited Palmerston Sewage-works, Lee Point, the Hospital and other spots, though the Leanyer Sewage Works were still out-of-bounds to birders (supposedly from fear of a croc attack!)

Australian Pratincole (Stiltia isabella)

Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)

Azure Kingfisher (Alcedo azurea)

Crimson Finch (Neochmia phaeton)

So ended a great week’s birding, ten ‘lifers’, 179 species and some reasonable images, many thanks to Arthur & Sheryl, Pete & Micha and Biggles for their hospitality and great company. If anyone requires further information on this trip please let me drop me a line.