Trip Report: Southwest Australia, South of Perth, September 25 - October 3, 1999

Rod Gardner, Australia;

In a short trip south of Perth, WA, Stuart White and Rod Gardner saw all the endemics and near-endemics bar the big three at Two People's Bay (Noisy Scrub-bird, Western Bristlebird and Western Whipbird). Frank O'Connor's webpage was invaluable in planning the trip, and he also accompanied us for a day around Dryandra State Forest. We weren't trying for a big list, but to see as many of the south-western specialities as possible. In the end we managed to see about 125 species. Check Frank's webpage for details of how to get to these sites:

25th September - Wungong Gorge and Bungendore Forest

These are the best sites close to Perth for bush birds (an easy drive from the centre to the south west along the Albany Highway). In our first hour at Wungong Gorge, we picked up seven of the WA endemics, something of a dream start. On the road into the gorge, two Red-capped Parrots flew across the road, their yellow rumps a giveaway. At the gorge itself, we had hardly left the car park when a fairy-wren call caught our attention, and we were quickly on to three Red-winged Fairy-wrens, a male and two females. In trying to squeak these closer, we also attracted a male Western Spinebill.

We left these birds and within metres found a Western Rosella, the smallest and cutest of the platycercus. Within another hundred metres, after Splendid Fairy-wren and Scarlet Robin, we found a White-breasted Robin, exactly where Frank had predicted it would be. After this, things slowed down, as it took us about fifteen minutes before we latched on to two Red-eared Firetails, the only ones of the trip, again where predicted by Frank. Walking back to the car park, we got our first black cockatoos with white in the tail flying over, which on call, we later established, were Long-billed Black Cockatoos.

Next stop was the drier Bungendore Forest, were birding was, inevitably, slower. This site is a few kilometres from Wungong. In a walk of a couple of hours, though, we picked up Western Thornbill (several), but failed to connect with Western Yellow Robin or Rufous Treecreeper. However, a party of three Red-tailed Black Cockatoos was impressive, and 'Black-capped Sitella' a good, distinctive subspecies, with the black cap and unstreaked breast. Western Brush Wallaby was the first of several great mammal sightings.

26th September - Rottnest Island

Stuart went his own, non-birding way on this day, whilst Rod went to Rottnest Island to pick up a couple of 'shame' ticks. A single Wedge-tailed Shearwater was the only seabird of note during the crossing, and withing minutes of landing, I had Indian Peafowl and Common Pheasant. It seems totally weird that these birds count as much on the national list as, let's say, a Sooty Albatross, or a Noisy Scrub-bird. Might as well mention another shame tick that we'd picked up easily, Laughing Dove.

Back to real birds, at the wetlands there were White-fronted Chats, and a small selection of waders, best of which were about 50 Banded Stilts. On a cycle around the island, two pairs of Fairy Terns were seen patrolling the rocky coastline, and towards evening the Quokkas came out, whilst an Osprey sailed above the island.

27th September - Cape Naturaliste

Stuart managed a short sea watch on a very windy day at the cape; the wind was coming from the east at near gale force. Though limited time, visibility (due to heavy showers) and only binoculars produced only 3 Shy Albatross, 1 Great-winged Petrel, 100+ Wedge Tailed Shearwaters. He was sure there were other more interesting birds out there! The best bird seen though was a superb male Orange Chat seen perching low on the ground trying to keep out of the wind. This record is unusual as it is 400 km away from the usual range for this species.

28th September - North Mole, Fremantle

In the middle of several days of work for Rod, he grabbed a couple of hours on the Tuesday to do a seawatch at the North Mole. This was disappointing, as weather conditions were not good, with a light offshore wind, but a Banded Lapwing on wasteground on the way out to the mole was some compensation. They are apparently regular here.

30th September - Dryandra State Forest

On the Thursday we met up again, and with Frank O'Connor, to look around Dryandra. Frank was a great help in tracking down some of the less easy birds and the mammals. We saw a good range of birds of the drier woodlands, most notable of which were plentiful Rufous Treecreepers, but a pair of Western Yellow Robins took more searching, as did a small party of Blue-breasted Fairy-wrens. Other good birds included Purple-crowned Lorikeets, White-winged Triller and Elegant Parrot. But at least as good as the birds were a Woylie (Brush-tailed Bettong), flushed from its daytime hiding place, and bounding off like a joint creation of God and George Lucas. A little later, and even better, was a Numbat, out in the open for several minutes foraging around on the forest floor. As we were leaving the forest, an Echidna crossed the track.

1st October - Albany and Two People's Bay

We returned with Frank to Perth to pick up a hire car, and set off in the evening on the four hour drive to Albany, where we stayed overnight. The next morning we set off for the legendary Two People's Bay, passing some wetlands on the way, which had a good selection of waders, including Whimbrel, Eastern Curlew, Marsh Sandpiper, Pacific Golden Plover, Common Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler and a Grey Plover.

Two People's Bay itself is stunningly beautiful, and worth a visit for that alone. For the three special birds, though, it was predictably frustrating. We managed to hear one Western Bristlebird at the Little Beach car park, but by that time of day there were dudes milling around being noisy, so not much joy there. We didn't even hear Western Whipbird or Noisy Scrub-bird, the latter in full denial of its name. It was already the end of the breeding season, which perhaps explains their silence, and a visit in July or August might be a better bet. Also, turning up for a day in the hope of seeing them doesn't do justice to their specialness. These are birds that need several days of tracking down. Originally Rod had planned not to visit Two People's Bay, thinking of a special, focused week's trip to the area just to concentrate on these three. In retrospect, that would have been a good decision - except the area is stunningly beautiful. But unlike the rest of the endemics/near endemics, these birds are most definitely not easy.

1st October - Lake Muir

In the afternoon, we headed west towards Augusta, not via the reputedly beautiful south coast road, but along the inland road via Mount Baker and Manjimup. There is a good site for Western Corella near Lake Muir, between these two townships. We looked for Hannekamp Road, where they were supposed to be, and couldn't find it, so tried Thompson's Road, on the west side of Lake Muir, running south from the highway. This turned out to be a good decision, as there were flocks of Western Corellas feeding in the paddocks between the lake and the road. We also saw Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, a Banded Lapwing with two chicks, and at a little swamp by the road a female Blue-billed Duck and three Yellow-billed Spoonbills.

We stayed the night at Augusta, near the south-west tip of Australia.

2nd October - Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste

The next morning we headed out to Cape Leeuwin, seeing Long-billed Black Cockatoos on the way (about our sixth sighting), and Pacific Gulls, Sooty Oystercatchers and Eastern Reef Egret along the rocky coast.

The day was, unfortunately, another fine one, too fine for a good seawatch, but a flock of six Rock Parrots in the grounds of the lighthouse was good value, with great views of the tame birds through a scope.

The seawatch, in what must be one of Australia's best sites on the right day, produced only distant views of Shy Albatross, Yellow-nosed Albatross, Flesh-footed Shearwaters, Caspian Terns and Australasian Gannets. We've been spoilt for seabirds over the past few months.

Later in the morning we headed north towards Margaret River and Cape Naturaliste. Not far along the road, we finally caught up with the last of our targetted endemics, a flock of Short-billed Black Cocaktoos in a paddock. They are not dead easy to separate from the Long-bills, so we spent about fifteen minutes making sure of our ID, through the scope. One point that struck us, apart from the less pointed upper mandible, was that the lower mandible looked incredibly deep.

A little further on we had views of the local, coastal subspecies of Inland Thornbill, which apparently may be split. It is more heavily streaked on the underparts. The official proposed name is Broad-tailed Thornbill, but perhaps a more fun alternative would be 'Coastal Inland Thornbill'.

At Cape Naturaliste in the afternoon, some Humpback Whales were performing well, with breaches, flipper slapping and lobtailing. Sugarloaf Rock failed to come up with the hoped-for Red-tailed Tropicbirds.

That evening Stuart headed back to Perth, leaving Rod for one more day at Cape Naturaliste.

3rd October - Cape Naturaliste

Rod headed out to the Cape and Sugarloaf Rock in the morning. Nothing special was seen at Cape Naturaliste, with another disappointing seawatch in calm conditions with a light northeasterly wind, and very similar birds to Cape Leeuwin. However, in a third visit to Sugarloaf, two superb Red-tailed Tropicbirds, perhaps the bird of the trip, put in a nice performance, one of them bathing in the water close to the rock, then both rising above the rock to circle and show off their tails, before one set off out to sea. This was at 10.30 to 11 in the morning.

A final twitch of the trip was for the fourth scrunge-tick, a two hour drive out to Northam, to the east of Perth for a Mute Swan. I'm not quite sure why I'm admitting this.

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; October 28, 1999