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Mini-trip to the Pilbara, NW Western Australia (1 Viewer)

mjh73

Well-known member
In the past one of the perks of being an engineer has been the odd jaunt to interesting places. Lately I've been based on the same contract most of the time for about four years, about 3km from my home, which has some domestic benefits but limited scope to explore anywhere new!

A few weeks ago I was asked by colleagues in our WA office if I could help a client sort out some problems on a couple of their sites in the Pilbara, in the arid zone of north-western WA. An area with some good arid country birds, including some species and subspecies with pretty limited distribution. Once the trip was locked in I looked forward to getting in some birding around work tasks. Luckily I would be based in the township of Tom Price for a few days, which is one of the best areas in Australia for a particularly difficult passerine. I had 12 targets all up of which I thought 7 or 8 were a good bet, the remainder requiring a large dose of luck.

DAY 1
After transiting from the east coast to Perth the previous night I was up at 3.30am to get back to Perth terminal for the 5.15am flight to Paraburdoo Airport in the Pilbara. Airport is probably generous. 'Collection of sheds alongside a tarmac strip in the dirt' is more precise. I arrived just before 7am and it was already warming up!

First bird out of the airport an uninspiring Straw-necked Ibis, along with a few Fairy Martin , Crested Pigeon , and Magpie-Lark , a lone Yellow-throated Miner being the only bird I couldn't have got within a short drive of my house in Melbourne.

First off I headed towards the small township of Paraburdoo, 10km from the airport in the opposite direction to where I wanted to go, to stock up on water and some sunglasses (the weather has been terrible in Melbourne and I'd forgotten I was heading somewhere that was 34C and cloudless).

Along the way there was a small group of Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike of the Pilbara race pallida. These were to be a common bird through the trip. A stop at a dry creek bed along the way yielded couple of Whistling Kite , some Galahs and Little Corella and the first Weebill for the trip. Along the roadside a Black Kite , a small group of Black-faced Woodswallow and a Little Eagle.

Stopping at the town in Paraburdoo ended up being worthwhile, with a small flock of Cockatiel, a larger flock of Little Crow and a Spiny Cheeked Honeyeater added to the trip list.

Next, back up the road north ~80km to Tom Price.

A stop at a roadside truck stop added three displaying Brown Falcon, and a confiding Western Gerygone.

I initially drove past the next rest stop at Bellary Creek, just after the half way point but it did look promising so I turned back and pulled up to check it out. More martins and something moving about in the long grass at the edge of the creek.... Star Finch! First lifer for the trip :) A Black-eared Cuckoo was calling nearby, though I couldn't see it, small groups of Zebra Finch squeaked about the place and a couple of White-plumed Honeyeaters moved around the tall Eucs.

A little further up the road a small-ish pale fast falcon sped in front of the car and I pulled up quickly.... could it be a grey falcon???.... well, no just a Nankeen Kestrel , but as it buzzed low over the rocks up popped a very unimpressed Spinifex Pigeon of the Pilbara race ferruginea , a good candidate for an armchair tick before long hopefully, but for the moment just a cool limited range subspecies.

The next stop I had checked out on e-bird was only 8km or so out of Tom Price and despite potential for Pilbara Grasswren I couldn't find one :(
I did get good views of Spinifexbird, a couple of groups of Variegated Fairy-wren, a Mistletoebird and a Willie Wagtail.

A quick refuel in Tom Price then I headed east inland towards Karijini National Park, the second largest national park in Western Australia. 627,422 hectares of wilderness. That’s about the same size as Cumbria for context! As I drove along I kept my eyes peeled for birds but this is big country, it was the middle of the day and pretty hot and not much seemed to be happening.

As I approached the boundary of the park there was a patch of mulga that seemed to have a bit of movement around and a convenient place to pull up. So I parked to investigate. A Pied Honeyeater flew off as I got out of the car. Some other birds were moving around in some flowering shrubs - my first brief views of Grey-headed Honeyeater. I tried to track them as they moved around for a while but they were being very evasive. After tracking movement for a while I found some Inland Thornbill. The honeyeaters seemed to have moved over to similar flowering shrubs a 100m or so from the car so I followed them. Grey-headed Honeyeater again - marginally better views - and something else. I pished a little and two bland grey honeyeaters. Not just any grey honeyeaters though actual GREY HONEYEATERS. For people unfamiliar with Australian avifauna the Grey Honeyeater is one of our more challenging birds. Dispersed thinly across a wide area of remote arid country mainly in the Northern Territory and Western Australia they are very uncommon, and this coupled with being plain and cryptic in behaviour meant they were firmly on my ‘large dose of luck’ list, and here I had two of them feeding happily in front of me. A few minutes later I was interrupted by another target bird as a small group of Painted Finch flew overhead. I hadn’t even made it into Karijini NP proper yet, and it had barely ticked over lunch time on my first day in the Pilbara. The trip was getting off to a cracking start.

I drove into the park proper and after stopping at the pay station to dutifully put my $13 in the honesty box I decided to head for the Dales Gorge area. Karijini has a number of deep vegetated gorges cut into the rock by streams that are spectacularly different to the arid country above them. And some good potential birds in and around them.

Again driving with one eye on the bush for movement a couple of stops on the way to the gorges added Rufous Songlark , Diamond Dove , White-winged Triller as well as further sightings of Weebill , Painted and Zebra Finch, Black-faced Woodswallow and Cockatiel. At the gorges heaps of pallida Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike , Toressian Crow , another Spinifex Pigeon a nice Rufous Whistler and the sound of a Western Bowerbird. It was quite the ventriloquist and eventually I realised it wasn’t as close as I thought, but feeding on a fig tree down in one of the gorges – cue the awkwardness of watching a bird through my binos in a tree next to a pool with people in swimsuits. No other new birds at the gorges so I decided to head out via the visitor centre – unfortunately it closed at 1600, and I got there at 1620. Luckily on the way out I hit another birdy patch and added Brown Honeyeater , Singing Honeyeater , a cool Red-backed Kingfisher , a pair of Hooded Robin and the first Australian Magpies for the trip.
Leaving the park I added a family of Grey-crowned Babbler at the park fee pay station and Black-winged Kite (too honest to string it into a Letter-winged!) and a Pied Butcherbird.

All up back to the (expensive!) shed-with-a-bed at the caravan park in Tom Price by evening with 44 species for the day and 6 lifers. A great start, but the next couple of days were full working days and likely to get harder.

DAY 2
Another early start – out of the cabin at 0630 to do a couple of hours birding in the spinifex out the back of the caravan park which was a possible spot for another 3-4 birds on my list. It was quite birdy, but only things I’d already seen yesterday – although this did include more sightings of Spinifexbird, Spinifex Pigeon and Grey-headed Honeyeater. Peaceful Doves , calling incessantly and not so peacefully were new to the trip list. Before long though a nice male Rufous-crowned Emu-wren popped up to investigate me. Other new birds eluded me though – in particular the local grasswren that another birder here recently had alleged he’d found ‘easily’. Not a word usually associated with grasswrens!

After adding a Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo to the trip list I had to bail out and earn my living for the rest of the day, although travelling around the work sites added a number of (mainly wetland) birds: Eurasian Coot , Black-tailed Native Hen , Pacific Black Duck , Chestnut Teal , Grey Teal , Hoary-headed Grebe , Australasian Grebe , Australian White Ibis , White-necked Heron , Black-fronted Dotterel , Black-winged Stilt, Australian Reed Warbler
A full on day meant that we did two days work in one day, freeing up tomorrow for more birding before the flight home though ;)

Back at the caravan park a couple of Common Bronzewing was all I could grab before dusk , and a Blue-winged Kookaburra on the drive into Tom Price township to get some dinner.
17 species added for the trip (up to a total of 61) but just 1 lifer

DAY 3
I had until just after lunch time when I would have to drive back to Paraburdoo to start the long trip home. First up back out the back of the caravan park as soon as dawn broke and, after an hour or so that only added a small party of Brown Quail finally I found a pair of the recently elevated to full species Pilbara Grasswren , quickly followed by another couple further along in the spinifex :D
For my caravan park list I added Hooded Robin, Variegated Fairy-wren and Torresian Crow taking my species list for here up to 29 after about 5 hours birding over 2 days. Not too shabby for an incongruous looking patch of spinifex on the edge of a mining town.
The next bird I decided to go for was one of the harder woodswallow species (at least for someone from the SE like me)– little. Mount Nameless above the caravan park was a possible spot but scanning up from the park was no good, so after a 2km drive up the 4WD track to the car park for the walking track up the mountain and off on foot. Before long I could make out woodswallow-y shapes but they were a LONG way off and in the heat haze it was impossible to be sure what they were. It looked like I was in for a long, hard slog….. but then another 100m or so further down the track and still in sight of the car three small dark birds were hawking above a cliff face much closer to where I was. After watching closely I confirmed there were indeed Little Woodswallow And with that the last of my ‘likely’ birds (plus the lucky Grey Honeyeater!) took me to 6+1+2 = 9 lifers for the trip
I didn’t have reliable nearby spots for any of the others – and I’d been scanning every electricity pylon and communications tower for grey falcons to no avail for 3 days so I decided to relax for the remainder of the trip.

Kings Lake near to the caravan park seemed like a pleasant spot and had occasionaly turned up some good birds so I popped by there to add Australian Darter , Ringneck Parrot (Port Lincoln race) , Australasian Swamphen along with a group of Western Bowerbird, a couple more Star Finch along with a bunch of other birds seen elsewhere over the past couple of days.

Lunch in Tom Price then the drive back to the airport and I was expecting that was that until my departing plane flushed two Australian Pratincole as it taxied! 8 species added for the trip today and a grand trip total of 69 .
Not many Australian birders get out this way (let alone international birders) but it really is a spectacular part of the country with some good bird specialties and well worth a visit.
 
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birdmeister

Well-known member
United States
Aesthetics-wise, the Painted Finch, Star Finch, and the Emu-wren seem to be the winners in your group of lifers.

Nice job on all of them and nice report!
 

patkin

Active member
when you retire , lucky lad you will be able to access the parks for $6 as do I. nice report, I,m slightly green!
 

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