Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Birds in the Mangroves at Broome

A few hours in the mangroves at Broome in Western Australia last week with Bill Watson proved to be productive. We had repeated, close views of Mangrove Golden Whistler (above), though only males.

Red-headed Honeyeaters were plentiful in mangroves reached easily - a short walk behind Broome's CBD area. 

Several Broad-billed Flycatchers were encountered, here at the south-western extremity of their range. It was ironic that just last month I saw them at the south-eastern extremity of their range at Corio Bay in Queensland. (The same comment can be applied to Mangrove Golden Whistler .)

The flycatchers spent a good deal of the time among the mangrove roots at ground level searching for insects.

It was nice to see Mangrove Fantail again.

Dusky Gerygone, an endemic of the north-west Australian coast, was vocal and plentiful in the mangroves.

Yellow White-eye was also present in some numbers.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Travelling the Kimberley

My trip with Alexander Watson through the Kimberley this month. Birds are featured in the following two posts; images here are more general in nature. The highlight was the stunning Mitchell Falls (above), a series of three huge waterfalls cascading over the sandstone escarpment. It took us 1.5 days to drive to Mitchell Falls from Broome.   

This signs greets motorists heading north from the Gibb River Road up the Kalumburu Road. All very well, except that much of the wilderness value of the Kimberley will soon be severely compromised by the massive mineral exploration and development projects underway in the region.

Our vehicle crossing one of the rivers en route to Mitchell Falls after leaving the Kalumburu Road.

Aboriginal rock art at a site not far from the Kalumburu Road. We were to see rock art in several places but were surprised that nowhere did there appear to be local Aborigines employed to show it to tourists.

Also surprising was finding these Aboriginal bones in a cave crevice at one rock art site. I had found similar bones in a similar situation in Arnhem Land back in the 1970s, but to see them here, with so many travellers around, was totally unexpected.

Merten's Creek above Little Merten's Falls in Mitchell River National Park.

Our camp at Mitchell River. We had three nights here, though were forced to move camp because of the noise of commercial helicopters.

A warning to campers posted by national parks officers.

Perched above Big Merten's Falls... a woman died here from falling from this cliff top around the same time we were there (we found out later).

The pool below Big Merten's Falls and the sandstone cliffs surrounding it.

Alexander at Mitchell Falls.

Another scene from Merten's Creek. The sandstone cave wall on the opposite bank is adorned with Aboriginal rock art.

It was scandalous that the majesty and tranquility of Mitchell River National Park was undermined by the continual drone of tourist helicopters flying up and down the gorges and rivers all day.

On our way back from Mitchell River, a dingo crosses the Kalumburu Road.

The Drysdale River at Miner's Pool... a wonderful camping spot, where we spent two nights.

Afternoon reflections of pandanus on the Drysdale River.

An Ultimate brand campervan, complete with elaborate annexe and all the bells and whistles, exploded in the camping ground at Miner's Pool while we were there. It took just 30 minutes to be reduced to this... apparently the cause was an exploding petrol container.

Bell's Gorge towards the western end of the Gibb River Road; our last night was spent camping at nearby Silent Grove.

The river above Bellis Gorge.

A Black-headed Python near Silent Grove.

Boabab trees near Silent Grove.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Birds of the Western Kimberley

Following on from my Black Grasswren post, pictures and notes follow on other birds seen during the trip that Alexander Watson and I did through the Western Kimberleys this month.
We camped at and birded four sites - Mitchell River National Park (where the grasswrens were; see grasswren post following), Drysdale River Station (on the Kalumburu Road, 60 kilometres north of its junction with the Gibb River Road), Miner's Pool (a lovely site on the Drysdale River a few kilometres north of  Drysdale River Station) and Silent Grove (20 kilometres north of the Gibb River Road, the turnoff being a few kilometres west of Imintji).
The distinctive Kimberley race of the Partridge Pigeon with its yellow face (image above) was seen regularly feeding about the Mitchell River camping ground.
Another bird found regularly in Mitchell River National Park was the White-quilled Rock-Pigeon, common about the sandstone scarps.
Long-tailed Finch was regular around the Mitchell River camping ground, and was found throughout the trip in open woodland.
This pair of Torresian Imperial-Pigeons were in riverside vegetation above Little Mertens Falls at Mitchell River.
Buff-sided Robin, a recent split from White-browed Robin in eastern Australia, is another sought after species. This one was in a monsoon forest thicket below Little Mertens Falls. Another pair were found along track between Little and Big Mertens Falls.
Bar-breasted Honeyeater was common at Mitchell River and encountered regularly elsewhere on the trip.

The Kimberley Honeyeater is a recent taxonomic split, from the White-lined Honeyeater of Arnhem Land. This was one of several that we encountered while looking for Black Grasswren at Mitchell River.
Green-backed Gerygones were active in thickets along the Mitchell River.
Silver-crowned Friarbird was commonly found in open woodland throughout the trip, this one in the Mitchell River camping ground.
Red-winged Parrot was also regularly encountered, this female at Drysdale River Station.
We looked hard but without success for Red Goshawk, seeing plenty of Brown Goshawks and, at Mitchell River, this Collared Sparrowhawk.
Among other raptors was this Wedge-tailed Eagle feeding on a road-killed dingo on the Gibb River Road.
Blue-winged Kookaburra was frequently seen, this one at Miner's Pool.
Lilac-crowned Fairy-wrens appeared to be quite numerous in Pandanus thickets along the Drysdale River at Miner's Pool, but were typically furtive. This male put in a brief appearance. Another much sought after species.
Birds seen around Silent Grove and Bell Gorge included plenty of Crimson Finches.
The only Northern Rosellas we saw were near Silent Grove.
This Banded Honeyeater was at Silent Grove, but the species was encountered in various places.
Yellow-tinted Honeyeater was probably the commonest bird of the trip.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Black Grasswren at Mitchell River

Black Grasswren has long been one of the Australia's most sought after birds as it is one of the hardest to add to your list. The species is restricted to a relatively small - and difficult to reach - area of sandstone escarpment country in the western Kimberley of Western Australia.  I flew from Brisbane to Broome a couple of weeks ago to meet up with birding friend Alexander Watson and we set off on our grasswren expedition. It was an easy day's travelling to Drysdale River Station on the Kalumburu Road, 60 kilometres north of its intersection with the Gibb River Road. From there it was a half-day to the campground in Mitchell River National Park. The 90 kilometres of road into the park from the Kalumburu  Road junction was a little rough but not as bad as we expected.

During our first morning in the park it took us just an hour to find our first Black Grasswren. First spotted by Alexander, a co-operative pair were easy for us to follow during their morning feeding foray in rocky woodland a short distance south of Little Mertens Falls. Thanks to Frank O'Çonnor, Phil Maher and Don Hadden for their advice about sites to search. Not everyone is so fortunate; another birder who had been in the park for three days failed to find the species.

This is classic Black Grasswren habitat. We found our first pair at the site in the image above, then a second pair about 300 metres to the west. The birds favoured areas of large black boulders at the base of small sandstone escarpments, which fringe both sides of Mertens Creek. Spinifex and other native grasses were plentiful among the boulders, but the birds appeared to be very much associated with the rocks. We did not see them attempting to shelter in vegetation, as other grasswren species often do.

The birds generally kept to shady, sheltered areas between the rocks but sometimes their lovely chesnut upperparts could be appreciated in bright sunlight.

The grasswrens were occupied for much of the time searching for insects, especially among tangles of dead vegetation around the rock fringes. Often they associated loosely with Red-backed Fairy-wrens or Variegated Fairy-wrens.

The black-bellied male was much bolder but the rufous-bellied female (above) occasionally offered good views.
We found Black Grasswrens at a third site, this one some distance away along the newly contructed River View Track. A total of four birds, perhaps a family party, appeared to be resident in the area.

This is the view from the top of River View Track, overlooking the national park with seemingly plenty of suitable habitat for Black Grasswrens.