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 August 2014

Around Oz Part 32 – Cape Arid: Eye-balling Whales and Wildflowers Ablaze, but no Ground Parrot

Western (Rufous) Fieldwren
Following our stay in the WA south coast town of Esperance (see last post) we headed east 120 km to Cape Arid National Park, a vast wilderness of heathlands, shrubby woodlands and rugged coastline. Cape Arid is the eastern-most distributional limit of many south-west WA animals and plants, notably the endangered Western Ground Parrot, which of course I intended to search for.

Cape Arid
Cape Arid Coastline
I had been advised by the Albany regional office of National Parks to camp near the mouth of Thomas River because our vehicle, towing a camper trailer, would not be able to reach the camping ground at Seal Creek. My Subaru is all-wheel, not 4-wheel, and I was told that road conditions to reach Seal Creek required 4-wheel. This was a shame because Seal Creek is much closer to Poison Creek Road - the main area for the Western Ground Parrot – and I would have been able to listen for the birds at dusk and dawn, therefore being able to possibly pinpoint their whereabouts. (Thomas River, much closer to Esperance, is a long drive of 55km along dirt roads to the area.)  As I learned later, this advice was rubbish. We could easily have been able to get to Seal Creek on roads that were quite good. I mention this for the benefit of anyone wanting to go there looking for the bird. (By contrast, the people in the Esperance office of National Parks were very helpful.) 

There is the option of two camping grounds at Thomas River - one run by National Parks and one by the local Shire. We opted for the National Parks one because of its abundance of flowering banksia, with the potential for seeing Honey Possum (none were seen). There were loads of honeyeaters about, mainly New Holland Honeyeater and Western Wattlebird - the latter far more common here than further west – and a few Western Spinebills.

New Holland Honeyeater & Banksia
We left early on our first morning to drive to Poison Creek Road, which runs south to Seal Creek through a large area of low heathland. I had been given details for two sites where birds were seen or heard recently and found the sites easily enough. Despite several hours of trudging through the heath, however, no parrots were flushed. Compared to Eastern Ground Parrot habitat in Queensland, the heath here was quite low and open – relatively easy to walk through.

Moi in Poison Creek Road heath 
It was the proverbial needle in the haystack – a total of 120 parrots living over such a large area; I had no real expectations, but it’s worth a shot. 

Lots of wildflowers but no parrots - Poison Creek Road heathland
The wildflowers put on a superb show. This is the first site on our trip, other than the mulga lands much further north, where the flowers were in full display with their dazzling array of colours and forms.

It was nice to see plenty of Rufous (Western) Fieldwrens in the heath; I had previously had only poor views earlier in the trip near Cervantes. This was the commonest bird species in the heath, followed closely by Tawny-crowned Honeyeater. A Wedge-tailed Eagle provided surprisingly tame while a Spotted Harrier flew over.

Tawny-crowned Honeyeater

Wedge-tailed Eagle

Western (Rufous) Fieldwren
On the way back, several Shinglebacks were crossing the road. Other herps seen in the area included Carpet Snake, Heath Monitor Varanus rosenbergi, Mallee Tree-Dragon Amphibolurus norrisi, Marbled Gecko Christinus marmoratus and Spotted-thighed Frog Litoria cyclorhyncha and a dragon, a monitor, a gecko and a frog - all to be identified when I get home.

Mallee Tree-Dragon

Spotted-thighed Frog

Marbled Gecko
Heath Monitor

Other birds about the camping ground included Rock Parrot, White-browed (Spotted) Scrubwren, Shining Bronze-Cuckoo and Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo.

Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoo

Rock Parrot

White-browed (Spotted) Scrubwren
On our second morning, we checked out some of the local walking tracks, including to Belinup Hill and Dolphin Cove. The highlight was a female Southern Right Whale with her calf at Dolphin Cove, just off the rocks. These majestic, huge animals were less than 50 metres from us they swam about, the youngster clearly more interested in a frolic than its mother. On one occasion, the calf swam towards the beach shore near the rocks; the adult quickly herded it back into deeper water. We could see the calf suckling at one point.

Southern Right Whale - calf can be seen suckling in this image

Adult female Southern Right Whale
We returned to the cove in the afternoon and the two whales were in the same spot. They had been joined by a second adult.

Southern Right Whale - mother and calf
Southern Right Whale - mother and calf

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