Southwestern Australia Trip Report, December 2018

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29 NOVEMBER – 7 DECEMBER 2018

 By Andy Walker

 

Overview

This short Western Australia set departure group tour commenced in the state capital Perth on the 29th of November 2018 and concluded back there on the 7th of December 2018. The tour focused on finding the endemic birds found in the southwest of the state as well as a range of more widespread Australian endemics and a number of distinct subspecies that may warrant full species status in the future.

A total of 157 bird species were seen (plus one species heard only). Full species lists are provided at the end of this report. Highlight birds seen included a number of range-restricted parrots such as Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo, Baudin’s Black Cockatoo, Western Corella, Red-capped Parrot, and Western Rosella. Interesting passerines included great views of all of the ‘Big 3’ – the three really difficult birds to see – Noisy Scrubbird, Western Bristlebird, and Black-throated (formerly Western) Whipbird, often considered three of the most difficult birds to see in Australia.

Other southwestern endemics seen included Red-winged Fairywren, Western Thornbill, Western Whistler, Western Spinebill, Gilbert’s Honeyeater, White-breasted Robin, and Red-eared Firetail. Other species that just get out of the state (but not by far) and are easier to see in Western Australia than elsewhere included Blue-breasted Fairywren, Western Yellow Robin, and Rufous Treecreeper. Other highlights of more widespread species included Hooded Dotterel, Rock Parrot, Elegant Parrot, Square-tailed Kite, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Freckled Duck, Australian Owlet-nightjar, Australian Fairy Tern, Banded Stilt, and Southern Emu-wren. Interesting subspecies worth putting effort into seeing as potential future splits included amazing looks at Crested Shriketit, Scarlet Robin, and Varied Sittella.

 

Detailed Report 

Day 1, 29th November 2018. Arrival in Perth

The group arrived in Perth and met at lunchtime in our comfortable hotel in the city. The weather was bright and sunny but very windy; however, we headed out to a couple of wetland areas in the suburbs, where we got the trip off to a good start with several great species of waterfowl, such as Musk Duck, Blue-billed Duck, Freckled Duck, and Australasian Shoveler. We also had hundreds of Australian Shelducks, a really attractive duck (as if the ones already mentioned weren’t enough!). We spent time admiring some very colorful Rainbow Lorikeets and several Little Corellas that were spending time hanging upside down and swinging about in the wind! A small area of marsh contained both Australian Reed Warbler and Little Grassbird, both giving good views, as did Western Gerygone, Grey Fantail, and Silvereye.

Day 2, 30th November 2018. Perth to Dryandra Woodland 

We had a few hours around Perth after breakfast, finding both adult and juvenile Nankeen Night Heron, plenty of Australian Darters (lots of soon-to-fledge young birds), an incredibly showy Buff-banded Rail, Australian Fairy Tern, Caspian Tern, Australian Pied Oystercatcher, Eastern Osprey, Striated Pardalote, Singing Honeyeater, Weebill (Australia’s smallest bird), and Laughing Dove. It was soon time to drive to the Dryandra area, where we checked into our accommodation and had lunch. Afterwards we drove into the Dryandra Woodland, were a couple of roadside stops and short walks gave us some really nice birds, such as Western Whistler, Rufous Treecreeper, Scarlet Robin, Red-capped Parrot, Western Rosella, Gilbert’s Honeyeater, Square-tailed Kite, Rainbow Bee-eater, Dusky Woodswallow, Grey Currawong, Restless Flycatcher, Common Bronzewing, and plenty more. Here we also saw our first Western Grey Kangaroos and a very large Short-beaked Echidna.

Day 3, 1st December 2018. Dryandra Woodland

We had a short pre-breakfast walk near our B&B and found a few nice birds, such as Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Inland Thornbill, Laughing Dove, Red-capped Parrot, and Australian Ringneck. After breakfast we headed to Dryandra Woodland for the morning. A brief stop when we saw a low Wedge-tailed Eagle turned even more interesting as it was getting mobbed by a Brown Falcon, which in turn was getting mobbed by a Nankeen Kestrel! It was rather amusing watching this aerial battle go on.

Once in the woodland we found plenty of great birds, many listed above. Blue-breasted Fairywren was one of the best-looking birds, and we had excellent views of two pairs. Western Spinebill was another that showed very well with a family group of at least five birds present, the adult male looking glorious. Alarm-calling White-eared Honeyeater drew in quite a crowd of smaller birds, such as Western Whistler, a juvenile male Red-capped Robin, Western Gerygone, Western Thornbill, Inland Thornbill, Weebill, Grey Fantail, Restless Flycatcher, Striated Pardalote, and Silvereye. As we moved around the woodland we also found Dusky Woodswallow, Grey Shrikethrush, and Grey Currawong.

For our afternoon birding we visited a small patch of scrub. But first, as we were leaving the B&B, we had a very low-flying Square-tailed Kite – great views until a pair of Australian Magpies chased it off! In the scrub we found a gorgeous adult male Red-capped Robin, which showed remarkably well. We also saw Common Bronzewing, Brown Goshawk, Striated Pardalote, White-winged Triller, Grey Shrikethrush, and a very pretty male Rufous Whistler. Just before we went to the local pub for dinner we stopped to have some looks at a small group of Regent Parrots. Here we also saw Red-capped Parrot, Australian Ringneck, and Galah.

Day 4, 2nd December 2018. Dryandra Woodland to the Stirling Range

A brief stop and a quick fly-through of a group of Varied (Black-capped) Sittellas right outside our B&B early in the morning was frustrating, as not everyone got good views and we’d have to hope and wait for better views. Luckily we didn’t have to wait too long, as once we were back in Dryandra Woodland we found a very showy pair that gave great and prolonged views. Here we also found a small group of Splendid Fairywrens, the male was just glowing in the sunlight, a really brightly-plumaged bird. Another bright bird was the male Mistletoebird that flew in to an alarm call. Also attracted to the call were Western Whistler, Western Spinebill, Striated Pardalote, and the same species as the on previous day, but we also had Scarlet Robin again.

At midmorning it was time to start our drive to the Stirling Range. We saw a couple of birds along the way, such as our first Emu, Pied and Grey Butcherbirds, Yellow-throated Miner, Black-faced Woodswallow, Australian Pipit, Crested Pigeon, and Peregrine Falcon.

Once at our accommodation an enjoyable short walk in the late afternoon gave us views of a mobile flock of Carnaby’s Black Cockatoos, Little Eagle, Australian Owlet-nightjar, Elegant Parrot, Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Regent Parrot, Gilbert’s Honeyeater, Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo, Sacred Kingfisher, and Restless Flycatcher.    

Day 5, 3rd December 2018. Stirling Range to Cheynes Beach

We took a pre-breakfast walk around the wonderful grounds of our accommodation and found some really great birds. Top bird, although only brief, was a male Crested Shriketit. The western sub-species has widely been considered good for a split, so this is a nice insurance tick for the time when it gets split (if/when it does). While watching this bird we also had great views of a pair of Western Yellow Robins, very cute little birds. The area was really busy with parrots, and we had good looks at several Carnaby’s Black Cockatoos, many Elegant Parrots, Purple-crowned Lorikeets, Regent Parrots, and Australian Ringnecks. More quality was provided by a nesting Restless Flycatcher, Sacred Kingfisher, and Gilbert’s Honeyeater.

During the morning we visited a couple of different spots, but the birding was quite difficult as temperatures soared. We did, however, find Southern Emu-wren, Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, Western Spinebill, Grey Butcherbird, Black-faced Cuckooshrike, Emu, Inland Thornbill, and a few other birds. Unfortunately Western Fieldwren and Black-throated (formerly, until very recently, Western) Whipbird remained heard only. We had to hope to see them over the remaining days of the tour.

After lunch we took the relatively short drive to the coast, where we checked into our accommodation for the next two nights at Cheynes Beach, home of three of the toughest birds to see in Australia – Noisy Scrubbird, Western Bristlebird, and Black-throated (formerly Western) Whipbird. A brief stop near our accommodation gave us a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles, another Southern Emu-wren, and White-cheeked Honeyeater, although the wind was up and not making things easy (but the eagles looked like they were having fun!). After a quick break we headed into the coastal heath with one bird in mind. However, being birders it’s easy to get distracted, and so we enjoyed watching a male calling and displaying Common Bronzewing, which had gathered the interest of at least two females and another male. They put on quite a show. We also saw our first White-breasted Robins of the trip here, with three confiding birds showing well. However, enough of the delays, we needed to get into position… Our target bird was one of the toughest birds to see in Australia and is one of only two species in its family, so trying to see it was really important! We got ourselves into position and sat and waited. We waited for about two hours, trying to avoid the distractions of other birds nearby, which is hard when these include stunning a male Splendid Fairywren, a pair of Red-winged Fairywren, a displaying Brush Bronzewings, assorted honeyeaters, the most insane sighting of Brown Quail imaginable (it walked to within a couple of feet of us). But after a lot of patience we were totally rewarded when the star bird, a Noisy Scrubbird, walked into full view not 12 feet from us. It all seemed to happen in slow motion, and we all enjoyed fantastic views of this incredibly highly-sought mega skulker! To say we were happy would be a bit of an understatement. We were ecstatic to see this bird, and we were in a bit of a state of disbelief for a while. By now it was almost time for dinner, so we headed back to our accommodation, again getting distracted along the way, this time by Pacific Gull, Silver Gull, and Sooty Oystercatcher. So ended a great day in Western Australia!

Day 6, 4th December 2018. Cheynes Beach

An early start was in order today, and it was well worth it. As we left our accommodation we could hear Shining Bronze Cuckoo and Fan-tailed Cuckoo calling, and a distant Red-eared Firetail could also be heard. Other species heard as we were walking into the heath included Noisy Scrubbird and Western Bristlebird. However, the bird that got most of our attention was a Black-throated Whipbird. The former species “Western Whipbird” has been split into two species this year, and the bird endemic to Western Australia is now called Black-throated Whipbird. Once we located the calling bird and maneuvered ourselves a bit we enjoyed prolonged view of this usually very secretive species as it sang on top of the vegetation. A really amazing sight! Eventually we managed to pull ourselves away from this spectacle after taking lots of photos and sound recordings. Other birds noted in the vicinity included White-cheeked Honeyeater, Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, and Western Spinebill.

Over the course of the morning we walked around the village area and had very nice views of Red-eared Firetail, Red-winged Fairywren, Splendid Fairywren, New Holland Honeyeater, Pacific Gull, and Brush Bronzewing. We heard another Western Bristlebird; however, by now the wind had increased substantially and the bird didn’t want to leave its cover.

The afternoon was a bit of a write-off due to the continued 40 mph wind. We did briefly see a Western Bristlebird, but only in flight as it moved between two clumps of bushes, but the conditions were terrible, and there was no likelihood of it showing. We’d have to wait and hope the wind would drop overnight for our final morning in the area tomorrow.

Day 7, 5th December 2018. Cheynes Beach to Augusta via Lake Muir

We awoke to find that the wind had totally dropped, perfect. We headed straight out to try to see the Western Bristlebird that we had glimpsed in the wind the previous day, and in no time at all we were all watching one! We had some really nice views as it moved through the heathland, occasionally jumping up into full view. After getting our fill of the bristlebird we had a quick look at a few of the other birds in the area, such as White-cheeked, Tawny-crowned, and New Holland Honeyeaters, Western Spinebill, and an excellent look at a pair of Southern Emu-wrens. Near our accommodation, before we packed up to leave, we had great views of Shining Bronze Cuckoo and family groups of both Red-winged Fairywrens and White-breasted Robins.

We left the coast after breakfast and headed inland to the Lake Muir area. A couple of stops provided a few very special birds that all showed well and included Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo, Baudin’s Black Cockatoo, and Western Corella, with a supporting cast of Varied (Black-capped) Sittella, Western Yellow Robin, and Wedge-tailed Eagle. During the rest of the afternoon we continued our journey to Augusta, near the southwest point of the country, ready for a morning’s sea watch.

Day 8, 6th December 2018. Cape Leeuwin to Busselton

Our first stop of the day was at Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, where we looked out to sea. However, the conditions were fairly calm, meaning that both Shy Albatross and Great-winged Petrels were quite distant; however, a Rock Parrot was feeding a mere few meters in front of us and gave excellent and prolonged views. Here we also found Pacific Reef Heron, Whimbrel, Sooty Oystercatcher, Ruddy Turnstone, and Australian Fairy Tern.

After breakfast we started our journey north to Busselton. Our first short forest trail was highly productive, and we found some great birds. The best of them was the views we had of a pair of Crested (Western) Shriketits that showed at very close range. Other highlights here included Red-winged Fairywren, White-breasted Robin, Gilbert’s Honeyeater, Western Whistler, Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo, Baudin’s Black Cockatoo, Western Rosella, and Spotted Pardalote.

Afterwards we found a beautiful beach that contained a pair of Hooded Dotterel. Also on the beach were Australian Pied Oystercatchers and Greater Crested Terns. Following lunch in the rather nice town of Margaret River we made the remainder of our journey north. A brief stop at a wetland gave us our first Black-fronted Dotterel of the trip, along with Straw-necked Ibis, White-necked Heron, White-faced Heron, Grey Teal, and several other species of waterfowl.

Day 9, 7th December 2018. Busselton to Perth, tour concluded

For our final day of the tour we started birding at a couple of wetlands near to the town. We found a few new trip birds such as Banded Stilt (there were hundreds!), Red-capped Plover, Red-necked Stint, and White-fronted Chat. In no time at all we’d hit fifty species before breakfast, with other treats including Nankeen Night Heron, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Australian Shelduck, Musk Duck, and Australasian Shoveler. The number of Black Swans here was very impressive, as were the 53 White-faced Herons in a very small pond!

Heading north toward Perth a stop at an estuary gave us a lot of distant shorebirds. Luckily the larger ones were still fairly easy to identify and included Red-necked Avocet, Far Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Australian Pied Oystercatcher, and a rarity in the form of Eurasian Curlew, which had been present at the site for a while.

On reaching Perth we had a walk around an area of scrub, where we found plenty of honeyeaters, with Singing Honeyeater being particularly prevalent. Rainbow Bee-eater showed very nicely as it kept returning to the same low perch. We saw a hunting Australian Hobby shooting through, with Collared Sparrowhawk also drifting over, and with that the tour came to a close.

It was another thoroughly enjoyable tour of the southwest of the state of Western Australia with numerous highlight birds all the way throughout the route. As for “Bird of the Trip”, Tom being a ‘family lister’ unquestionably chose Noisy Scrubbird (and the views we had were excellent), Barry went for Black-throated Whipbird after the astonishing views we had had of a very showy male, and Sharon couldn’t decide, but it was between both of the aforementioned species, so we called it a tie! It’s a tough call when you look through a list of highlight birds of the tour!

Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included.

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