28 NOVEMBER – 07 DECEMBER 2017
By Andy Walker
The geographic isolation and diverse habitats present in the southwest of the state of Western Australia results in a number of endemic species and subspecies. This short tour focused on finding as many of these endemics as possible and was successful in getting great views of many birds and other interesting plants and wildlife, set in some stunning scenery.
A total of 157 bird species were recorded (155 seen) with range-restricted highlights including Carnaby’s (Short-billed) and Baudin’s (Long-billed) Black Cockatoos, Western Corella, Red-capped Parrot, Western Rosella, Noisy Scrubbird, Western Bristlebill, Red-winged, Blue-breasted, and Splendid Fairywrens, Western Fieldwren, Western Thornbill, Western Wattlebird, Western Spinebill, Gilbert’s Honeyeater, White-breasted and Western Yellow Robins, Western Whipbird, Western Whistler, Red-eared Firetail, and Rufous Treecreeper.
There were plenty of other more widespread Australian species enjoyed during the trip, such as Australian Hobby, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Square-tailed Kite, Spotless Crake, a daytime Southern Boobook, Australian Owlet-nightjar, and Red-tailed Black Cockatoo.
Species lists are included at the end of this report.
Southwestern Australia: Main Tour
Day 0, 28th November 2017. Pre-tour arrival in Perth, Western Australia
Clara and Andy flew into Perth from the West Papua tour that had just finished a couple of days earlier, and John arrived from the US. The afternoon was spent at leisure.
Day 1, 29th November 2017. Tour commenced in Perth
Janice arrived at lunchtime, and the tour commenced in the late afternoon with a relaxing brief introductory walk around a small lake near our very comfortable city hotel. During the short walk we started getting our eyes and ears trained for the Western Australian bird songs and calls of some of the commoner species and managed to get some very nice views of many of them. The views of Magpie-lark were some of the best any of us had ever had, other highlights included adult and immature birds of Nankeen Night Heron, numerous Australasian Darters in various stages of nesting, lots of baby Dusky Moorhens, Eurasian Coots, and Australasian Grebes with their attentive parents busily foraging on their behalf. Another nesting species that showed well was Striated Pardalote as it went in and out of its tree-cavity nest site. Brown Honeyeater and Red Wattlebird were numerous, as was the ubiquitous Willie Wagtail.
Day 2, 30th November 2017. Perth to Dryandra
We did some pre-breakfast birding at a couple of wetland sites not too far out of the Perth CBD (Central Business District). They were surprisingly rewarding, and an enjoyable couple of hours gave us good views of many species. On top of these were the Spotless Crakes that eventually showed themselves to us all. We also had staggering close-up looks at both Blue-billed and Musk Ducks, the former, a real beauty, the latter an interesting-looking bird. We found Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Nankeen Night Heron, Great Egret, Australian Pelican, Whistling Kite, Swamp Harrier, Brown Falcon, Brown Goshawk, Grey Teal, Hardhead, Australian Shelduck (such a pretty bird when seen properly), and Black Swan. Grebes were particularly evident, with many Hoary-headed, Australasian, and Great Crested Grebes all seen. A pair of Australasian Swamphens provided a comical interlude as they chased a couple of joggers away from their territory. An Australian Hobby streaked across one of the lakes chasing hirundines (either Welcome Swallows or Tree Martins were on the menu for the falcon). It wasn’t all about the waterfowl or raptors, however, because there also were several interesting passerines in the area, such as Little Grassbird, Australasian Reed Warbler, Western Gerygone, and Yellow-rumped Thornbill. We also found our first Laughing Dove of the trip during the day in Perth, and later in Narrogin. This introduced species is confined to the area around Perth in Australia.
After a delicious breakfast at our hotel in Perth we started our drive south, a few hours later checking into our very comfortable and well-appointed B&B in Narrogin. A large family group of Varied Sittellas provided a brief distraction along the way while we searched for some black cockatoos that disappeared before we could confirm their specific identification.
We had an afternoon session birding in Dryandra Woodland and in no time at all enjoyed looking at several of our target species, such as Laughing Kookaburra, Sacred Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Peregrine Falcon, Western Rosella, Elegant Parrot, New Holland, White-cheeked, Brown-headed, and Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters, Rufous Treecreeper (abundant here), Blue-breasted Fairywren (a real stunner), Weebill (Australia’s smallest bird), Western Gerygone, Inland Thornbill, White-browed (Spotted) Scrubwren, Grey Currawong, Rufous Whistler, and Grey Fantail.
Day 3, 1st December 2017. Dryandra Woodland and Narrogin
We had a short pre-breakfast walk near our B&B in Narrogin. The garden of the B&B and those adjacent were very active with numerous busy birds. A family group of White-browed Babblers was a nice treat, as were the numerous parrots such as Australian Ringneck, Western Rosella, Galah, and Red-capped and Regent Parrots. The introduced Laughing Dove was very vocal, as were a pair of Laughing Kookaburra.
After breakfast we drove into Dryandra Woodland for another birding session. Here one of the first birds we found was the gorgeous Western Whistler. This bird has a beautiful song, and it was busy giving it at full volume in the bright morning sun as we parked the car – a good-looking bird too. After enjoying this sighting we came to grips with one of the region’s other endemics, the slightly less colorful Western Thornbill. Typically, these showed well, and we were pleased to find them so easily. Here we also eventually nailed down good views of a male Scarlet Robin, yet another very pretty bird.
As we made our way around some of the other areas of the woodland we came across many more species, such as Common Bronzewing, Rainbow Bee-eater, Rufous Treecreeper, Restless Flycatcher, Striated Pardalote, Western Gerygone, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Collared Sparrowhawk, more Scarlet Robins, Grey Currawong, Rufous Whistler, Grey Shrikethrush, Jacky Winter, Australian Pipit, and many Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters. However, the unexpected highlight of the morning was a Southern Boobook that randomly, and suddenly, appeared right beside us during the mid-morning. We were alerted to its presence by the screaming of Willie Wagtail and several other species listed above as they mobbed it. The owl showed well for us all before bolting into a tree cavity, where it remained hidden. As lunch approached we found a female Splendid Fairywren provisioning her nest and had a pair of Blue-breasted Fairywrens and a pair of Bush Stone-curlews too.
Our afternoon walk in some woodland near Narrogin was generally very quiet, likely due to the heat. However, we did get very nice views of Common Bronzewing, Brown-headed Honeyeater, Rufous Whistler, Silvereye, Western Gerygone, further Scarlet Robins, and numerous Weebills. A Wedge-tailed Eagle was distant but still impressive.
Day 4, 2nd December 2017. Dryandra Woodland and Narrogin to Stirling Ranges
We again took a short walk near our B&B, seeing most of the species as on the previous day, but gaining better looks at many Regent Parrots. We were also treated to a great display from both White-cheeked and New Holland Honeyeaters that were manically foraging in a garden. After breakfast and packing up we headed back in to Dryandra Woodland, where one of our first stops gave us another of our main target birds of the region, Western Yellow Robin. While we stood in the forest watching the robin, we had the unmistakable Square-tailed Kite fly right over our heads at treetop height. Moving around the woodland a bit we found a few interesting birds, mostly what we had seen over the last few days, but a Brown Goshawk was nice, as were the pair of Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoos that were getting frantically mobbed by Weebill, Inland Thornbill, and Scarlet Robin.
Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from beautiful Dryandra Woodland because we needed to head south to the Stirling Ranges. A brief stop along the way resulted in some nice views of Red-capped Robin, Singing Honeyeater, and a couple of White-necked Herons. Once at Stirling Ranges we checked in to our accommodation and straight away went birding. Excellent views of multiples of the stunning, dainty, and tiny Elegant Parrot were popular, as were the views of the foraging Purple-crowned Lorikeets. A quick walk around some scrub gave us the very vocal Rufous Songlark, the stunning Splendid Fairywren, several noisy Restless Flycatchers, nesting Willie Wagtail, a disappearing flock of Carnaby’s Black Cockatoos, a hunting Brown Falcon, and, probably most exciting of all, an Australian Owlet-nightjar that was peering out of its roost hole while it was still daylight.
Day 5, 3rd December 2017. Stirling Ranges and travel to Cheynes Beach
An early walk around our accommodation gave us some very nice views of Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo. A pair stayed around long enough for us to enjoy watching them go about their mutual grooming and affection display, which was very interesting to observe. We also had another pair of Western Yellow Robins, Jacky Winter, Blue-breasted and Splendid Fairywrens, Restless Flycatcher, and numerous Rufous Songlarks (including finding a bird sitting on its nest).
After breakfast we headed into a patch of mallee woodland, where miraculously we found our main target bird in a matter of minutes – we got a couple of brief, but very good views of Western Whipbird! Surprised with the ease of finding this bird we had a look around the area and found several interesting birds, such as Purple-gaped, Tawny-crowned, and White-cheeked Honeyeaters, a gorgeous male Western Spinebill in full breeding plumage, which eventually showed well, Blue-breasted Fairywren, Southern Emu-wren, Peregrine Falcon, and later Little Eagle. We had some fantastic views of all of these birds.
We took the relatively short drive between the beautiful mountain landscape of the Stirling Ranges and the equally beautiful coastal landscape of Cheynes Beach. A few stops along the way gave us the chance to catch up with a few waterbirds, such as Pied Stilt, Red-capped Plover, Chestnut Teal, Pink-eared Duck, Australian Shoveler, Straw-necked Ibis, and White-necked and White-faced Herons. Andy also got up close and personal with a dugite (a dangerously venomous snake) while trying to find a calling Stubble Quail, but luckily he saw it before treading on it!
On arriving at Cheynes Beach we quickly headed out into the bush (after enjoying a couple of White-breasted Robins outside our bedrooms). Once in the bush we heard a Noisy Scrubbird (considered the most difficult Australian bird to actually see), but it did not come out this time. We did note a couple of Red-winged Fairywrens, Western Spinebill, Brush Bronzewing, and other species such as White-bellied Sea Eagle, Short-tailed Shearwater, Australasian Gannet, and Pacific Gull. A southern brown bandicoot and a short-beaked echidna walked past our viewpoint, which was very exciting to see.
Day 6, 4th December 2017. Cheynes Beach
We awoke to rain, rather unfortunately, especially because our plan for the morning involved trying to see some of Australia’s hardest birds! However, undeterred we ventured outside, wearing our waterproofs. White-breasted Robin and Red-winged Fairywren were right outside our rooms, so we took a moment to appreciate them. As we headed out into the rather damp dunes we could hear Western Bristlebird singing. We managed to get a few feet of elevation on the side of a track and scanned around until we could actually see one singing its head off out in the open! What a great result, but it got better…! As we took our binoculars down from the first bird we could see the reason it was singing so intently: another bird was much closer to us and also singing loudly! A really nice start to the day, despite the rain that was still falling!
Unfortunately, that’s where our luck ran out for the morning. We heard many Noisy Scrubbirds explosively singing from the heathland scrub, but despite our waiting for birds to move across slight gaps in the vegetation, they remained out of sight, or just simply inaccessible. Very frustrating! We decided to head back to our accommodation for a late breakfast and dry off a bit, seeing Brown Quail, White-cheeked Honeyeater, and Western Spinebill along the way, with Western Whipbird heard singing very distantly. We spent the rest of the morning sitting out the (at times rather heavy) rain and taking a forced break from the birding for a while.
After lunch we headed out into the rain once again. A Shining Bronze Cuckoo was a nice sight near our accommodation, as were the many Common Bonzewings sheltering from the rain. Again White-breasted Robins were very evident, and they were typically confiding. We headed down to the beach, where gradually the rain stopped, and found both Pied and Sooty Oystercatchers, Red-necked Stint, Silver and Pacific Gulls, and Great Crested Tern. We decided to try our luck again with a Noisy Scrubbird that we could hear singing near to a road. We waited and waited (but not as long as we’d waited the previous night), and eventually the bird hopped across the road, allowing all to see this super skulker. A great result! There was also a very obliging Brush Bronzewing that perched up in a tree and started singing for all of us to enjoy. Back at our accommodation we found Fan-tailed Cuckoo. We then headed off into the coastal scrub, where, after a short while, we saw two more major skulkers, Western Bristlebird (again) and Western Whipbird (a different sub-species from that seen the previous day in the Stirling Ranges). A few other species were noted as we concentrated on the above two species, such as Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, Black-faced Cuckooshrike, Brown Falcon, Nankeen Kestrel, and White-cheeked Honeyeater. Despite of all the rain it had turned into a really great day, and we were all on cloud nine!
Day 7, 5th December 2017. Cheynes Beach to Augusta via Lake Muir
We awoke to a glorious sunny morning and took a pre-breakfast walk near our accommodation, where we found another of our regional endemic targets, a Red-eared Firetail sitting on an electrical wire (as they often do). But this one was carrying nesting material, not your everyday sight. We could hear Western Whipbird, Western Bristlebird, and Noisy Scrubbird calling, but we didn’t try to see them after having seen them all the previous day. But we did see several other great birds, such as Spotted Harrier (one of the best-looking raptors in the country), White-breasted Robin, Red-winged and Splendid Fairywrens, Brown Quail, Western Spinebill, and Fan-tailed Cuckoo.
We had a long drive ahead, so after breakfast we headed across to Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve. This is a stunning landscape, but unfortunately the cold and rainy weather from the previous day retuned, so we made a hasty retreat to our next stop, after adding Black-shouldered Kite to our trip list. We had more bad luck at our next stop while the poor weather continued, though we did see Spotted Pardalote, Rufous Treecreeper, Gilbert’s Honeyeater, lots of Western Whistlers, and a family of Laughing Kookaburras. Frustratingly, a calling Baudin’s Black Cockatoo rapidly flew out of sight behind the incredibly impressive giant Karri trees we were walking through, and nobody got much of a view of it.
After lunch the weather started to improve, and we found several exciting parrots, first a small group of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, perched in some roadside vegetation, followed by a huge flock of Baudin’s Black Cockatoos (which likely also contained some Carnaby’s Black Cockatoos), and finally the ‘Muir’s’ form (subspecies pastinator) of Western Corella, a delightful pair of birds that we saw displaying.
We also saw plenty of the more-common parrot species, such as Galah, Australian Ringneck, Western Rosella, Elegant Parrot, and Red-capped Parrot. After the enjoyment of the parrots it was time to get some miles behind us, and we drove across to Augusta, the most southwesterly town in Australia, which offered us some of the best fish and chips in the country. We also saw our first Emu of the trip along the way, always a treat to see this huge, flightless bird.
Day 8, 6th December 2017. Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste
We headed out to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, the south-westernmost point of the Australian continent, first thing in the morning, and the hoped-for seabirds were present. Although they were sometimes distant, we managed to identify Shy Albatross, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Great-winged Petrel, Little Shearwater, Australian Gannet, and Greater Crested Tern. Along the shore we found Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Pied Cormorant, Silver Gull, and the huge-billed Pacific Gull. As we scanned the grounds of the lighthouse we managed to spot our main target bird in the area, a Rock Parrot, sitting on some fencing.
After breakfast we had a look for a Western Wattlebird that had been heard early in the morning, but to no avail. We then started our drive north toward Cape Naturaliste, stopping at several forested and coastal areas, where we saw many great birds such as Baudin’s Black Cockatoo, Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo, Eastern Osprey, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Brown Goshawk, Spotted Harrier, Pied Oystercatcher, Sooty Oystercatcher, Red-capped Parrot, Western Rosella, Splendid Fairywren, Southern Emu-wren, Western Spinebill, Gilbert’s Honeyeater, Grey Butcherbird, and Western Whistler. One of the afternoon’s highlights was the views we got of a Square-tailed Kite that flew right over our heads near the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse. A spectacular sight!
In addition to all the birds we’d seen we also had a continuous supply of staggering coastal landscape views, beautiful forest views, and some rather nice food too.
Day 9, 7th December 2017. Busselton to Perth
The final day of this short tour had come around quickly. We did some urban lake-side birding in Busselton before breakfast. There we had some great views of a perched White-bellied Sea Eagle (too close to fit in the scope!) and a wide range of other waterfowl, including close-up Musk and Blue-billed Ducks among the usual commoner species. Several other species were noted in the scrub/gardens around the lake, such as Crested Pigeon, Laughing Dove, Common Bronzewing, and a very showy (and spectacular) Splendid Fairywren. Another flyover Western Wattlebird was rather frustrating as it vanished.
We continued our journey north along the coast, stopping here and there to admire very pretty coastal scenery and a few interesting birds such as Western Yellow Robin, Western Whistler, Striated Pardalote, Red-capped Parrot, and Eastern Osprey (recently fledged young birds at a nest eating a fish). We had a few more frustrating views of a couple of Western Wattlebirds (and what felt like millions of Red Wattlebirds) and a distant and inaccessible Western Fieldwren and more good views of Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo, several Little Eagles, Whistling Kite, Collared Sparrowhawk, and Rainbow Bee-eater.
We arrived back in Perth on the mid-afternoon, where this enjoyable short tour concluded. Clara chose Western Corella as her favorite bird of the tour, Janice chose Baudin’s Black Cockatoo, and John chose Western Spinebill. Thank you to all for making this such a great trip!
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included.