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.

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.


  1. Hi Greg. Great shots! Spectacular bird!
    Are they "whiskers" around the males lores?
    Cheers, John.

  2. Incredible images Greg, that must have been some experience.
    Great stuff, Steve Davidson

  3. Thanks John and Steve. I think bristles might be a better term than whiskers John.

  4. GPS co-ordinates for two maim Black Grasswren sites:
    Site 1 near Little Mertens Falls:
    Site 2 on River View Track:

  5. Black Grasswren is THE Aussie bird I most want to see. I'm not sure why. I think its habitat and remoteness is a factor. And I love the other grasswrens. Well done on seeing several.

    Lorne Johnson
    Bundanoon NSW

  6. Thanks Lorne, yes it has long been around the top of my want list

  7. Hmm! Two young families on our trip with the one birder (yours truly). Do I encourage the detour to try to pick up this delightful bird (great pictures Greg)? Or do I just stick with the family thing an enjoy the myriad of new species I'll be enjoying anyway!? We'll see how we go I guess!