[Tweeters] TR-Oz July-Aug 06 WA (PT2)

Levine, Barron S LevineB at bsd405.org
Thu Sep 7 16:13:37 PDT 2006

Western Australia was next on the agenda. On the suggestion of Birdingpal Peter Jacoby we waited until we arrived in Perth to rent a vehicle. This was a brilliant in that it saved hundreds of dollars over the rates we received on line. We called Bayswater, which advertised on a board at the airport. They are a 10 minute ride away from the airport. Car rental agencies can offer cheaper rates by being located away from the airport thus avoiding airport taxes. For the week we got unlimited kilometers, for $221.00A, $175US insurance included). They do have the unfortunate www.nobirds.com tattooed on the rear bumper of their cars. A note on insurance, every time you rent a vehicle you will be charged somewhere from $A20-30 if you want the full insurance. We ended up paying almost as much in insurance for the vehicles that we rented in Oz in relation to what we pay for 2 older vehicles in the states.
Peter and his wife took us out for a fun day of birding east of the city centre. For us it was another enjoyable Birdingpal experience with Buff-Banded Rail being seen well. We felt very fortunate to have spent time with 4 different Birdingpals. The experience definitely goes beyond birding and helped us to feel more connected to a culture.
The next day was a scheduled pelagic that unfortunately got cancelled due to a 4-5 metre swells. Even though we didn't get to go out, Frank O'Connor was willing to meet with me to give me specifics about certain hard to find species. This information was invaluable, as is the information that Frank posts on his website. In lieu of going out on the pelagic we headed over to Rottnest Island. There we saw many Quokka, a small marsupial that looks rat-like and supposedly gives the island its name. Birding was good especially near the golf course and then from the 8th green to the beach as well. Rock Parrots were seen at the sewage ponds.
Our route then took us to Dryandra State Forest. Along the drive south we happened upon Long-Billed Black-Cockatoos. At Dryandra, we missed out on Numbats (mammal) but saw Tammar Wallaby and Woylie (mammals), plus a whole slew of good birds including Painted Button-Quail. We really loved this setting and would recommend at least a couple of days here. John the manager was a great resource. The cottage we stayed in seemed about perfect. John also takes people out on a night drives through a reserve that is close by. The 4 hectare enclosed reserve supposedly holds Bilbys and 3 other endangered mammals.
Stirling Ranges NP, a few hours south was the next destination. The weather, which to this point had been almost perfect, got a little funky and windy. We missed a few common birds, but saw the uncommon race of the Crested Shrike-Tit right at the office at the campground which is located on the north edge of the park. This would be an area that would be worth a few more days if you're interested in taking some hikes. By the way, unlike the Northern Territories, it seemed like many of the roads in this part of Western Australia were sealed and easy to drive. That would of course change dramatically when we headed north.
Noisy Scrub-Bird, Western Bristlebird and Western Whipbird were our next targets at Cheyne Beach. Again the side roads were superb and we were rewarded with a bouquet of fabulous wildflowers to look at. It left us only imagining what this area would look like in spring. Using Frank's directions we were able to see both the Scrub-Bird and the Bristlebird. At the turn for the campground (right) continue straight for about another 50 metres to a track that takes off to your left. Sit at that crossroad and hope you see the Scrub-Bird dash across either the road or the track. Sound dicey? Well it is. Kate was lucky enough to see one do exactly that while I was out looking with a couple of local birders. I had seen one earlier in the day run right past my foot as I was birding in the scrub.
Frank's directions for trying for Bristlebirds worked as well. Take the right turn toward the campground but don't turn into it. Instead walk up the track and veer right at the y and listen for the Bristlebirds in the next 100 metres or so. When you hear the bird, move in stealthily toward it. Then in about 15-20 minutes it will call again and you'll need to move closer. By the third call, I was able to see it pop up in the middle of a small bush.
Cheyne Beach is a lovely place and well worth a few days if one has time. There are Southern Brown Bandicoots at the campground at night.
Heading west we made a couple of stops along the south coast, 2 People's Bay (lovely and another possibility for the birds tried for at Cheyne Beach) near Albany, and Ocean Beach southwest of Denmark, to do some a couple of sea watches and look for whales (no luck with the whales). Then we headed to Pemberton with a stop to look at the Tingle trees near Walpole. We thoroughly enjoyed the canopy walk through Valley of the Giants. Not many birds at the time of the day that we were there, but still worth the excursion. The area has a similar feel to walking through Redwood forests in California.
The area around Pemberton seemed like another spot worth a few days, especially if one wanted to do some hiking. We were running out of time and a date with Cape Leeuwin loomed. The cape, where the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean meet is a stunning spot. We saw more Rock Parrots and had views of Great-Winged Petrels and Yellow-Nosed Albatross from the point.
With one day to make it back to Perth, we set aside birding for a few hours and ventured into Jewel Cave. This part of Western Australia north of the cape, seems to be blessed with a whole slew of interesting caves. Jewel is definitely a perfect name. We found the tour to be enchanting, and the cave maybe a little claustrophobic at times, but certainly something we would recommend.
We made a stop for Tropicbirds at Sugarloaf Rock on the journey north, but didn't see any. We then spent the night at City Waters in Perth. It's a decent place, great location in that it's close to the city centre and reasonably priced at $A81, $63 US.
Broome, in the northwest part of Australia, certainly was a highlight of the trip. The Bird Observatory, where we spent 2 nights, is an incredible place. The setting on Roebuck Bay, which is world renown for shorebirds, is as peaceful and tranquil as any we have seen. Getting into the observatory along the sandy road was not too bad. One group made it in in a regular 2 wheel vehicle. Our rental company (Budget) wouldn't let us do so and so we had a 2 wheel drive jeep at $A110, $86US. I guess it just matters how much you tell the company about where you'll be driving. We went on the Yellow Chat Tour and were able to see lots of these beautiful birds. Dusky Gerygone were pretty easy at the mangroves located at the end of the road. A nice find, right by the shared dining area, was a Little Bronze-Cuckoo. Peter, who supervises the operations at the observatory, was a great resource in pointing us in the right direction for sought after species.
Unfortunately it was still too early in the migration (August 25th) and we missed most of the hoped for shorebirds. Still in all, we got to see a fair number of waders. Made us wonder what it would be like when there were 100's of thousands in the bay.
If we thought the rental of the jeep was expensive, we were totally shocked by the cost of a 4 wheel drive vehicle to explore the Kimberley. Suffice to say we paid over $A250 a day for rental and petrol to cover our 6 day trip. It's for this reason alone that I wouldn't necessarily recommend such said trip. The Gibb River Road allows you entrance into some lovely gorges and an opportunity to try for Black Grasswren on the Mitchell Plateau. Of which we met quite a few birders that had been successful. The road is good for the first 70 or so kilometres, but then is pretty corrugated in spots. There are some long river crossings as well. To really do the road justice you'd need at least 9-10 days and at the exorbitant rates we were paying per day, we decided to do part of the road and focus on the Bungle Bungles, and birding Kununarra and Wyndham.
The Bungle Bungles were well worth the time (2 days) we spent in the area. Not necessarily for the birding, but mostly for the otherworldly appearance of the rock formations and great short hikes. We did see the hoped for White-Quilled Rock-Pigeon, but no other species that we didn't see elsewhere. You will have to have a 4 wheel drive vehicle with high clearance to get in. For the 50 kilometre trip it takes most people anywhere from 1 hour 45 minutes- 2 hours and 30 minutes. There were 3 deep river crossings that were interesting to say the least.
Kununarra and Wyndham about 2 hours to the east were the next destinations. We followed the directions in Thomas and Thomas to the site of the Yellow-Rumped and Chestnut BreastedMannikins and were rewarded with good looks at both species and a few hybrids to boot. We stayed at Hidden Valley Caravan Park and it was a good choice. It abuts up against Hidden Valley NP which has nice short trails. We tried for Button-Quail there but didn't see any. Early the next morning we birded along the---lake and saw 3 White-Breasted Crakes, but none of the other sought after rails, or crakes. A ride along the old Cotton Gin Road (within the first kilometer and a half) which is off to the south side of the highway on the west end of town had Yellow-Rumped and PictorellaMannikins and possibly a Red-Backed Button-Quail. This whole area (Kununarra) seemed to be teeming with birds and is well worth spending a few days.
With time winding down we were faced with a difficult decision about whether to forego Wyndham (about 100 kilometres away), and not try for Gouldian Finches. Kate was insistent that we had to at least make an attempt. As it turned out that was definitely the right choice. As we entered town we inquired at the information booth in a gas station about the finches. The women behind the desk told us to look for Reg Birch at the park (located one block north of the main street). The park with large Aboriginal statues (created by Reg) is written up in most tourists guides and is interesting itself, but the small billabong that Reg has created is even better, in that Gouldian Finches come in to drink at different times of the day. Within 20 minutes of our arrival we had finches starting to mill around the billabong in the trees. Within another 10 minutes we had both the black-headed and the red-headed forms drinking from the edge of the water. We were able to talk to Reg about his upcoming book on Gouldian's, his culture, his artwork, and state of the world. Reg is as an engaging a personality as one could hope to meet. He seems completely devoted to working to save these birds. Interestingly enough he worked for many years as a trapper of Gouldian's. We got the sense he loved to talk to people about his work. For us it made for an amazing experience.
We did not try the site listed in Thomas and Thomas, so are not sure if the birds can still be seen there. A note about some erroneous information that I included in Part 1 about Thomas and Thomas' site for Chestnut-Breasted Whiteface, that should have said Banded Whiteface. I hope I didn't slight the authors, whose book has been instrumental in forming both our trips to Australia at this point. Thanks to Alan McBride, who is helping on an update on the Thomas and Thomas book for pointing that error out to me. Alan asked that I include a note for those trying for the Chestnut-Breasted Whiteface at Lyndhurst. He asked that you seek the farmers permission before entering the site and that it is preferable for birders to stay in his shearing quarters rather than camp on this property. This provides him with revenue. About the Erldunda site, Alan said it still does contain Banded White face but the 2 trees alluded to by Thomas and Thomas are not 50 metres in, but more like 200 metres from the highway. From there you will still need to venture in about another 250 metres and play a tape. They usually will arrive from the west from the flat treeless country.
We've loved our time in Australia. The people are very easy going and helpful. For the most part the laid back attitude is very refreshing and fits the pace of a holiday to a tee. The only negative for us was the cost. For those of you who have been to Australia previously, you will probably be amazed at how expensive it has gotten. Still, it's a great place to travel around.
Thanks to all who helped us to set up this trip. If anyone has questions about specifics feel free to e-mail me.

Barry Levine
Seattle, Wa.
Levineb at bsd405.org

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