Friday, June 17, 2011

Alice Springs Birding Trip Report

From the 8th of June I went on what was meant to be a five day birding trip around Alice Springs. Thanks to a certain Chilean volcano the trip was extended by an extra few days. Joining me on the trip was Kris Reinertsen my future father-in-law who has a particular interest in plants, aboriginal culture as well as all things that wiggle, fly or walk. As our first child is due at the start of August it was a bit of a last birding hurrah before my life changes (for the better of course) Thanks to Simone for letting me go, she is a bit of alright!!! Special thanks must also go to Tim Dolby for his detailed and comprehensive notes on the area.

We stayed most nights at the YHA in Alice Springs which was adequate for our needs. Hired a Nissan Patrol from Apollo which was perfect as well as having unlimited kilometers at a competitive price. The staff there were also very helpful and I certainly will be using them again!
If you are looking for something to eat then you can go past Alice's Vietnamese Restaurant near the airport - Excellent!

I had read a lot of trip reports from the last couple of years and I think the conditions were quite different to what I was expecting. There was plenty of vegetation but little flowering, so the rarer, nomadic honeyeaters were absent. We also saw only what I would consider low numbers of Diamond Dove and Zebra Finch compared to reports from last year and only a single flock of Budgies. Black-faced Woodswallow were the only woodswallows seen but were very common. Also surprising was the lack of roadkill, only 3 dead kangaroos seen in 2200 km of driving, I think the sheer amount of fodder around means they dont have to forage on the roadside at the moment. This also meant that large raptors were quite scarce, although smaller raptors like Brown Falcon and Kestrel were extremely common.

Following is a summary of most of the main sites visited.

Olive Pink Botanical Gardens - after picking up the hire car and doing a bit of shopping, this was the first site we visited. Upon stepping out of the car I could hear a Western Bowerbird which turned out to be a male trying so seduce a mate at his bower. Spent quite a bit of time walking around picking up Diamond Dove and Little Crow amongst others. There were quite a few Euro's on the hill above. A further visit didn't reveal much else aside from a young Western Gerygone which had me scratching my head for a moment. I can highly recommend the chickpea nachos from the canteen!

Santa Teresa Road - Later on the first day we made the trip to the "tyre in the pole" site but the weather was very inclement - driving rain and wind. The road became quite bad in places and was glad to have the 4wd, having to lock the hubs when we started sliding all over the clay road. While most of the time the road might be ok in a 2wd there is no way it should be attempted when wet or shortly after rain. Walked around for a couple of hours in the wind and rain before giving up, was getting in serious risk of hypothermia! We returned a couple of days later and quickly found several groups of Rufous-crowned Emu-wrens in the spinifex gullies north of the pole. Also heard a Spinifexbird here but could not track it down. Other birds of note included Red-backed Kingfishers on the wires, plenty of Mulga Parrots and a single White-backed Swallow.

Simpson's Gap - woke up on the second morning and headed to Simpson's Gap, arriving just before dawn - we saw an Owlet-nightjar flying off the road. Once again the weather was quite foul, spent several hours at the gap but hardly heard or saw a bird - at least we had the place to ourselves. After a hot cup of tea we did a couple of the short walks but again birds were in short supply. The numbers of Brown Quail and Little Button-quail were impressive as was a young Brown Goshawk who kept following us, peering down perhaps qanting us to flush a quail. We did return later in the trip to do the Cassia Hill walk which was quiet aside from a couple of Dusky Grasswrens at the top of the hill.

Trephina Gorge - headed out to Trephina Gorge and as we did the weather started to improve. The river at Trephina was flowing quite well so there was no real chance of birds coming into drink at any waterholes but it did mean there were quite a few Black-fronted Dotterels around the edges. Had lunch which we shared with the local Peaceful Doves and Grey Shrike-thrushes which both had a taste for cheese. Did the gorge walk which involved a bit of wading and tracked down quite a number of very approachable Dusky Grasswrens which capered around my feet for some minutes. This is a great place and would love to come back and camp sometime. Driving back to Alice, just past the turnoff to Trephina, we flushed a couple of small parrots with light blue backs from the side of the road, BOURKE'S PARROTS! Slammed on the brakes and jumped out and were able to observe a pair foraging on the road side which hardly seemed concerned by our presence. It was at this stage of the trip that I finally felt I had my birding mojo back.

Old Telegraph Station - Back in Alice it was time to chase a mammal tick. Searching around the rocks above the Bradshaw Track we found good numbers of Euro and then finally a group of Black-flanked Rock-wallabies. These are very cute little buggers and quite approachable, I ended up going back a couple more times during the trip to "visit" them. As the big red gums along the Todd River are supposed to often hold Red-browed Pardalote I spent a lot of time walking between town and the station over several days with no luck. Did see plenty of Western Bowerbirds and even a couple of Buff-banded Rails.

Kunoth Bore - Got up early and headed for the mythical Kunoth Bore area. Not much on the drive there so drove down to the eremophila patch and started there. Very little erempophila in flower so just the usual Singing and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters as well as many Little Button-quail.  Then started in the mulga across the road and worked my way back towards the dam itself. After sifting through many Chestnut-rumped and Inland Thornbills I eventually came across a pair of Slaty-backed Thornbills. Had lunch at the dam itself where there were 8 Hardhead looking a little out of place. Ended up visiting again later in the trip where we found an Australian Bustard male on the main road opposite the windmills, Kris ended up seeing what was probably the same bird again near the dam. Bush birds were similar although this time I had Crimson Chats and plenty more Slaty-backed Thornbills although they were still the least common of the four thornbill species in the area. Raptors were abundant including a Spotted Harrier and two Black-breasted Buzzards further down the Tanami Road.

Erldunda - drove down to the T&T site 21 km north of Erldunda arriving about 4:00 pm. As there were cows on the traditional west side of the road I decided to try the east side. Within 10 minutes I came across a mixed flock of Banded and Southern Whiteface and Crimon and Orange Chats! Three new birds in one flock, it has been sometime since I have seen that! According to C&B 2008, the Banded Whiteface was my 600th Aussie bird too. Also found a couple of groups of Bourke's Parrot and the odd Chiming Wedgebill which were quiet until I set one off by playing a tape. Also of note were our only flock of Budgerigar for the trip. Kris was particularly impressed by the site as he found large numbers of Aboriginal stone artifacts and tools. Searched quite hard in the morning for Cinnamon Quail-thrush and had to conclude they are either not in the area currently or are being extremely quiet. Stayed at the "resort" at Erldunda which was in the midst of a mouse plague... was quite amusing to watch them scurrying around the bar and kitchen area. A Major-Mitchell's Cockatoo was the most interesting bird here.

Ernest Giles Road - we drove this road to get across to Watarrka. It was quite cut up following the recent rains so a 4wd would definately be recommended. We passed some rocky hills just short of the Palmer River which I thought looked good for quail-thrush. Sure enough after 5 minutes of searching I heard their high pitched calls and soon managed to track down a couple of pairs of Cinnamon Quail-thrush which I was quite happy to see after missing them around Erldunda.

Watarrka - Watarrka was one of those places that if I knew we had the extra days, we would have stayed longer. As it was we only had a couple of hours so I just birded around the carpark and up the creek. This was very productive however with my first Painted Finches, Grey-headed Honeyeater and Spinifex Pigeons. I would recommend checking out the rock pool directly behind the carpark. The scenery too is spectacular!! Some nice raptors around as well, including Little Eagle and Peregrine Falcon.

Mereenie Loop - from King's Canyon resort we picked up a permit and drove the "famous" Mereenie Loop to Glen Helen. The road had recently been graded and was like a super highway! While we did stop for a few "toilet stops" the birds seemed to be very few and far between aside from the odd raptor. When we got to Glen Helen we discovered there was a folk festival on so no chance of accomodation. Made the long drive back to Alice in the dusk, seeing a number of dingos and Bush Stone-curlew but fortunately no larger animals.

Ormiston Gorge and Pound - Got up early on what we thought was going to be our last full day in Alice and headed to Ormiston, arriving just on dawn. Birded for a couple of hours in cold conditions at the patch of spinifex just past the turnoff looking for Spinifexbird which I did not find. I did hear Rufous-crowned Emu-wrens in a couple of places but they were wisely staying bedded down in the spinifex. Decided to try back here later in the day if necessary.    

Parked in the carpark, which has a resident Western Bowerbird, and headed off to do the Pound Walk. There were signs warning of a long cold swim at the end due to the water levels so we ended up doing half the walk and then returning. Almost immediately we started running into groups of Dusky Grasswrens as we climbed up the hill, almost kicking them out of the way in places. I would easily have seen 50 birds by the end of the walk and heard many more. As we got higher, Grey-headed Honeyeater became the common honeyeater in small flowering eucalypts. The scenery on this walk is outstanding and it is worth doing for this alone. Other birds on the walk in included Spinifex Pigeons and Little Button-quails. In the pound itself I left Kris to have a smoke and to take in the scenery at the pile of rocks while I went searching for more mature spinifex and the Spinifexbird. Crossed the creek which had a lot of water and the spinifex clumps became larger, in this area I quickly found a Spinifexbird which must be a contender for the most boring bird in Australia, it is dull, plain and skulking and its song is rather bland too. Still it gave me good views and I was a rather happy chap. Searched around the carpark and along the entrance road as well as a number of dry creek beds on the road back to Alice unsuccessfully for Red-browed Pardalote which became the theme for the next few days!

Ellery Big Hole and Ochre Pits - dropped in and did short walks at both these sites but not much of interest from a birding perspective aside from a few Hardhead at the big hole.

Standley Chasm - visited here early in the morning on the last full day and we were the first tourists here. From a scenery perspective this is well worth a visit but get here before the tour buses do! As Kris had a cup of coffee I birded down the entrance road and finally heard a Red-browed Pardalote calling from a ridgeline! I climbed up only to have a White-plumed Honeyeater chase a small bird back down to the road. Finally managed to get a good view of the bird and was very happy to finally get that one under the belt. It certainly supported my theory that they were keeping quiet due to harassment from the large numbers of WP honeyeaters everywhere! Also in the area were a number of Grey-headed Honeyeaters.

Around Alice - like any new town it was interesting to observe the behaviour of common town birds. Little and Torresian Crows, Ringnecks, Galahs and Little Corella's seemed to be everywhere. Unfortunately the only feral birds of the trip, Spotted Doves, appear to be on the increase and were quite common. On the last morning a Western Bowerbird was fossicking up and down Todd Mall, perhaps looking for a new trinket for its bower.

Ended up seeing 101 bird species for the trip of which 18 were new for me. My bird lists for most of the sites above are available on

1 comment:

  1. Good report. I am going to try for the birds in the Alice Springs area from the 22nd to the 26th of February. I shall be doing it solo and was hoping to find a "tape" of the birdsongs. Probably a CD or some high tech wonder. Anyway, would there be any "All the Birds' Songs Of Australia" tape available? Perhaps you could get back to me, whether there is such a tape or not. should do it. Good birding to you.
    David Narins, Sarasota, Florida, USA