Got up at god-awful o'clock for a 6 am flight to Brisbane and then on to Mt Isa. Having a window seat as we crossed the expanse of the Queensland outback I could see that most watercourses seemed to have at least a little water in them so was hopeful that conditions were good. As we flew into Mt Isa I looked rather hopefully out the window for a Kalkadoon Grasswren amongst the spinifex covered hills. My initial impression of Mt Isa reminded me quite a bit of Alice Springs and that it was certainly warmer than late autumn in Melbourne.
Headed straight out to the famous Mica Creek site on the Diamantina Development Road to look for the Kalkadoon Grasswren despite it being the heat of the day. We worked up the creekline near the rusty car without much success - there was quite a bit of wind and it made listening for grasswrens difficult. We of course had brought no drinks so decided to head back to town to cool down a bit but upon returning to the creek ran into quite a hot spot of birds where we finally got the trip list kicking with birds like Red-winged Parrot, Grey-headed, Grey-front and Black-chinned Honeyeaters and a favorite of mine - a pair of Black-tailed Treecreeper.
Had some welcome refreshments in Mt Isa and then headed to the water tanks at the edge of town at the end of Pamela Road to look for Kalkadoons. On the way we saw my first ever Spotted Bowerbirds which turned out to be a common bird around town. We straight away heard grasswrens at the base of the first tank but they evaded us so we worked up the valley between the tanks occasionally getting excited by Spinifexbirds - this was a bird I really had to work for in Central Australia but here they were distracting from the main target - I still maintain they are the most boring bird in Australia. Reached the top of the gully and then we heard grasswrens back in the direction we had just came - after a few anxious moments we got onto a nice pair of Kalkadoon Grasswrens! First afternoon and one of the main targets out of the way. They went about their business and were not interested in any playback or pishing what so ever. The similarities with the Dusky from which they were split is quite evident and really not surprising as the Mt Isa region bares a strong resemblance to the MacDonnells near Alice. Checked in to the Moondarra Caravan Park and had a few quiet ales to celebrate...
So we headed out to the famous McNamara Road site for the Carpentarian Grasswren - the habitat was looking fantastic and we passed quite a bit of promising looking habitat. We arrived at the famous cairn - shown above - and started searching. It was quite windy which made grasswren searching less than ideal. As we worked our way up a dry creekbed, Greg and Tim caught a sighting of one but I missed it... gutted! Continued to work the area but with no luck. We tried a number of likely spots and possibly heard grasswrens but were mostly just kicking Spinifexbirds out of the way. A couple of flushed Button-quail provided some excitement, the one I got bins on was a Little but another had rustier flanks.
Eventually we stopped for some lunch under the questionable shade of a spindly eucalypt around 2km south of the cairn site and plotted our next move. We decided to cover a lot more ground moving quickly and relying on our decent hearing to pick up grasswrens. After 40 minutes of walking and kicking more Spinifexbirds out of the way we heard unmistakable grasswren calls and quickly got onto a group of Carpentarian Grasswrens! My first binocular view of a male calling with head thrown back is one of my favourite birding moments! This is a bird that the field guides do not do justice. We spent quite a bit of time with this group which may have numbered up to 5 birds as Tim and Greg tried to get photos. On the way back to the car we flushed another grasswren - the birds were getting easy.
Carpentarian Grasswren - Greg Oakley
From McNamara Road we headed back through Mt Isa and headed out towards Cloncurry. We decided to camp at the Chinaman Creek Dam which was a lovely place with Purple-necked Rock wallabies hopping around the campsite. Here we met up with Tim Faulkner, Scott Ryan and John Weigel who were in the middle of a manic dash across the country and back ticking off as many birds as possible for John's Big Year. Was great to share some info with these guys as well as a couple of drinks. Check out http://www.birdingfordevils.com.au/ for more info on John's odyssey.
Buff-sided Robin - Greg Oakley
Four ticks in a day and I thought the day couldn’t get any better, so I climbed the escarpment south of the campground to try and find a view of the sunset. Settling back on a rock, my attention was drawn to a grey raptor gliding across the campground – fumbling with the binoculars I had great views as the bird burst into fast falcon hunting flight then stooping not once but twice at tremendous speed. Detailed notes are available if anyone is interested – but I had my first Grey Falcon under the belt, fantastic bird! Amazingly there was full mobile reception from this point so I googled Tim D’s mobile and called him from the escarpment top to tell him to keep an eye skyward! Was quite amused to see a Brown Goshawk cruise through the canopy and give a cockie a love tap on the shoulder – which caused the cockatoo great indignation! Tim D cooked a great curry dinner as we sat back and had a few quiet ones and were serenaded by the resident Barking Owls who put on quite a show.