Author: Carl from Pahrump
Date of Trip: April 2007
We drove out to where the VC said the dirt road was (17.887S 122.277E). It looked OK at first, but soon we came on a place with a big water hole in the road. The road was very hummocky, so we couldn’t tell how deep the water might be (it didn’t look shallow). We could see more places down the road with standing water holes. We didn’t want to take the rental car into muddy water of uncertain depth, so we returned to the VC.
The VC’s here are mostly reservation services. We told them what we were looking for, and they found us a very nice 1-bed room accommodation with cooking facilities at the Habitat Resort Broome.
On April 12 we were out early for bush walking in the cool (77F) of the morning around the Crown Land behind the Resort. On the walk we saw Parrot Sweet Pea vines, and a lush purple ground cover. We saw heaps of Dragonflies on the walk. The manager at the resort told us Dragonflies are a sign that the Wet was over.
We saw several Raptors flying close over our heads including Ospreys, Hobbies, and Black Kites. We also saw the Kimberly form of the Great Bowerbird and a pair of Western Bowerbirds. We finally got to where we could see the beach from the top of a sand dune. We decided not to go down the 60-degree embankment since we only saw a lone Whimbrel on the beach.
After coffee/tea and Apricot coffee cake, we headed off to the Ponds (a.k.a. Sewage Treatment Ponds 17.975S 122.220E). We didn’t have a very good view from the road, but we did see Plumed Whistling-Ducks and other water birds. Our best bird was the Rufous-throated Honeyeater. You can get a better look at the Ponds from the 11th Green of the Golf Course.
We drove around to Town Beach. The tides are pretty flat today (next week they have 27 ft tides). We walked over the exposed ocean bottom to the Mangroves where we saw a Dark Morf form of the Eastern Reef Egret, a Siberian Whimbrel, and a Striated Heron. My wife thought she saw a Mangrove Robin, so we’ll be back soon to get another look.
About 2:30pm we drove over to Cable Beach (17.927S 122.210E) — actually, right out onto the beach. At first we didn’t see any birds, but then an Osprey dropped into the ocean in front of us and came up with a long skinny fish in one talon. We started walking over the rough rocks on the south side of the beach and began to find small groups of shore birds like the Common Tern, Common Redshank, and many others.
On April 13 we drove over to Cable Beach at 6:30am for bush walking. We saw some Flowering Maples (a.k.a. Abolution) and Blue Sweet Pea Vines along the path to the beach. The bush was alive with birds. Nothing we hadn’t seen before, but soooooo many birds — swarms of Singing Honeyeaters chasing each other, Crested Pigeons galore, Gray Shrike-Thrushes, a pair of Red-breasted Gray-crowned Babblers, heaps of Great Bowerbirds, and a spectacular Mistletoebird.
We drove down to the beach. We walked over to where we had seen some shore birds and tracked down several flocks of shore birds including a pair of Gray-tailed Tattlers and a Curlew Sandpiper. By mid-morning it was hot, so we headed for the air-con.
Midafternoon, we drove over to the hotel section of Cable Beach. Too many people for us, so we headed for the Ponds. This time I got to see the Rufous-throated Honeyeater.
On April 14 it was a hot and humid 75F when we ventured out at 5:30am in the pre-dawn darkness. We walked over to the adjoining Golf Course (we have free green fees there). Our resort manager had said we could go birding on the golf course, but the gate was locked early.
About 6:30am we walked back to the Golf Course (17.975S 122.220E). This time the gate was open. The fairways were hopping with Red Kangaroos and Agile Wallabies mowing down the green grass. The Golf Course sits next to the Ponds and uses Pond water to water the grass. There was a sign at the edge of the golf course that said the Health Dept. required that everyone must wear shoes with toes due to hookworms.
The birds were abundant. We saw an Oriental Cuckoo, an Osprey being chased by a Sea Eagle (trying to get the Osprey’s fish), a Pheasant Coucal, heaps of Rainbow Lorikeets and Red-winged Parrots. My favorite sighting was of a Rufous Morf of the Little Friarbird — the Friarbirds were feasting on the Blue Sweet Peas.
By the time we left at 9:30am it was 84F and the big Goannas and Lizards were out for their morning walk-about.
About 2:30pm we went for a joy-drive. First we checked out the road to the bird observatory — it was still flooded about 1.5Km from the Broome Rd turnoff. Next we turned onto the road to Port Leveque. It was paved for the first 10Km, but then became a red dirt road. We turned back.
Out final stop was 41Km outside Broome where the Fall cyclones had created vast temporary wetlands (and some water standing on the road). There were tens of thousands of terns, Ibis, stilts, egrets, etc. flying around in great black masses. We also found a pair of Square-tailed Kites.
On April 15 we were down to Roebuck Beach (17.953S 122.246E) in time for the dawn colors and to see the sun rise at 6:03am. The overnight low was 72F, so walking was pleasant.
The tide was low so we could walk into the mangrove field. The birds, however, were around the edges and by the big flowering trees. We saw a Mangrove Golden Whistler, Red-headed Honeyeater, and Mistletoebird as a flock of small birds moved thru the area. Parrots, Lorikeets, and Doves were always around. Pretty soon our clothes were drenches with sweat, so we headed home for snacks and a bath.
About 9am we went downtown for the Sunday Market. It was mostly tourist stuff – no fresh food. We bought a bottle of Mango Vinegar (a combination of Mango sauce and vinegar) and left.
We stopped by Cable Beach and Jetty Beach (18.005S 122.211E) on the way home to see what high tide looked like. At Cable Beach the spot we had been parking in was under water. At Jetty Beach there was no beach.
We went to the Warf Restaurant for lunch. The restaurant only had outdoor seating. There was a breeze and shade, but it was still hot. We decided to get take-away food and eat in the air-con of our apartment. My wife got Garlic Squid with chips. I got BBQ whole giant Prawns with chips. Everything was Beautiful! Late afternoon we went to Cable Beach to see what a 15 ft drop in the ocean level would look like. From the high tide point this morning, there was an extra 1100 ft of beach at low tide, with a rocky outcropping going an additional 500 out — none of this was visible this morning.
While I was stepping off the beach, my wife talked to a lady having a day at the beach with her family and German Sheppard. The lady said in February it was 120 to 130F here every day, with 100 percent humidity and violent thunder, but no rain. She thought today’s 95F and blistering sun was just fine.
On April 17 it was sultry at 7am when we left Broome. We only had a 2-hour drive, so we stopped at every rest area along the road and most of the river crossings. We got lucky a few times and saw a Brush Cuckoo, a brilliant Long-tailed Finch, and a pair of Broglas right beside the road. We ended up seeing 35 birds on the drive.
This area is known for Boab Trees (see 17.351S 123.670E). One was so squatty they built a jail out of it.
We arrived at the King Sound Resort Hotel in Derby at 12:30pm. We had lunch at the resort. My wife had a vegetarian steak sandwich for lunch (a lot of veggies and a miniscule amount of beef). I had a huge Chicken Parmigiana (with cheese, olives and BBQ Sauce) with chips and salad. We asked for Tomato Ketchup (Tomato Sauce here). The packets said Tomato Sauce, but it was definitely BBQ sauce. It comes in an interesting container that you squeeze and the sauce pops out the middle.
After lunch we found the Nunga Women’s Resource Center on Loch St (17.308S 123.636E). Nunga means “people coming together and talking”. We ended up buying a hand made Sarong with an Aborigine motif, and a carved Boab Nut.
We drove to the Derby Jetty (17.292S 123.607E) to see the 37-foot King Tide in the afternoon. It can get up to 40 ft on some occasions — only the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia has a bigger tide at 46 ft. Broome has the 3rd highest tide in the world at 32 ft.
Off shore, they have a thing called the “horizontal waterfall” created by the tide running between two islands. It costs $400US per person to fly out there, so we passed.
Instead, we went to the Derby Sewage Ponds (17.333S 123.649E). The road was a little doggy with heaps of soft red sand. Upon arrival we scared up a huge White-bellied Sea Eagle, which set all the other water birds flying as well. They finally settled down, so we could watch them from the viewing platform.
We drove back to the Jetty for sunset at 5:36pm. I got some great pictures of the Staircase to the Sun shimmering in the water.
Driving to the resort we saw an interesting sign at the Health Clinic: “Time for Flu Needles”.
On April 18 we were off at 6:30am for the Derby Wetlands (17.434S 123.718E) near the 20-mile marker outside town. Then we had a hair-raising 2.5 Km drive over a rutted dirt road to the Wetlands. Sometimes the road was so bad my wife had to walk in front of the car to pick a route thru the ruts and loose red sandy soil. It was worth the dodgy drive. We saw a White-breasted Whistler and Yellow White-eye for the first time, plus 4 Broglas and a Cockatiel.
The wetlands were full of water lilies. Strangely, there weren’t many water birds for the vast amount of water.
On the drive back we stopped at the Boab Tree Prison. The massive hollow tree was used by “Blackbirders” in the late 1800’s to store Aborigine slaves overnight as they were being taken to Broome to work in the pearling trade.
We had a ham and pineapple pizza at the resort for lunch. It was Ok, but the sauce had a funky BBQ sauce taste.
After a long nap, we drove out to the jetty to see the 38-ft King tide today. Most of the 2Km of mud flats between the town and jetty was covered with muddy water. We could see a tiny front of water slowly rolling over the mud flat.
In the afternoon we drove out to the Spirit of the Wandjina (Wand-Je-na) Art Center on the Gibb Road (17.353S 123.698E). Wandjina means God in the local language. The Art Center is a newly constructed and very impressive building. The artist we talked to said the building was constructed in the shape of Wandjina with curved walls inside and out. The Art Center conducts a cultural festival the first part of Jy each year.
On April 19 we were off at 6:30am, but the combination of sultry temp and high humidity kept a thick fog on the windshield. To combat the problem we stopped at the Boab Tree Prison for some birdwatching. I got a good picture of the Orange Browed Striated Pardalote and Yellow-tinted Honeyeater. We even saw a King Quail lurking in the deep weeds and running across the dirt road. After the air warmed up some more, we didn’t have any more problems with the windshield fogging up.
We stopped often along the road and at rest areas. Birds were not obvious while driving, but when we stopped we soon heard and saw birds everywhere like Star, Long-tailed, Double-barred, and Zebra Finches. Our best sitting was a rare Gray Falcon (yellow beak and yellow legs).
We got to the Fitzroy Inn at 12:30pm. We were going to eat at the Inn, but the chief suggested we would like the Fitzroy Lodge better. To our surprise, the Lodge has a dress code:
No hats, No soiled clothes, No uniforms, No thongs.
I thought “No hat” was arbitrary and cupreous, but it was cooler with your hat off (even though the restaurant was air conditioned).
“No soiled clothes” and “No uniforms” seemed reasonable (but we were wearing our birding uniforms that were dusty)
I wondered about the “No thongs”. How would they know? Do they have an underwear inspector, or what??
We split a monster bowl of chips with chili and sour cream. I had a mango steak sandwich with the lot (I gave my wife the egg and beet root).
After lunch we drove out to Geikei George NP (18.105S 125.700E) for birding. We could see interesting rock formations from the road, but the park was overgrown with weeds, and in a general state of disrepair. You would think they would be embarrassed to call this a NP. We left, stopping to enjoy the wildflowers along the road.
On April 20 as we were carrying our stuff out to the car at 5am, my wife heard a little dog barking. Then she realized the sound was coming from up in the tree nearby. When I came by she had me listen for the sound. I heard it, looked up, and saw the Barking Owl in the tree. My wife got her binoculars on the owl, just before it swooped down over our heads and took off.
We had to slow-down frequently for Black Kites swooping across the road, and dozens of Magpie Larks standing in the road (Why that?). Once we were stopped dead by 300 Little Correllas stretched across both lanes of the road. We even saw an Eagle standing on the side of the road.
We had driven for a half-hour when the sun came up at 5:50am. The smoke from grass fires hung low on the horizon. We drove past one grass fire. They start burning the countryside in April so the fires can’t get out of control with too much fuel. The Kites love it — they swoop over the fires looking for charred critters.
This morning we drove thru a sea of green grasses and a few wildflowers. Occasionally there would be boulder pile hills and mesas.
We stopped at the Ngumban Cliff (18.748S 126.109E). They had a Mexican style toilet (no toilet seat). The difference being the Australians built the dunny that way; in Mexico someone had pinched the seat.
There was a water hole at the Ngumban Cliff rest area. We saw a couple of Spinifex Pigeon going for a drink. Then a mob of finches and other small birds flew in. We spotted a Pictorella Mannikin with a neat black head mask, but the other birds would chase it away from the water. We saw a Chestnut-backed Button-quail sneaking down to the water hole, but when it saw us it hide in the tall grasses.
In the first 3 hours we drove 100 Km, even though we drove 110 Kmph when we were driving. We stopped at a water hole on the road and saw four Marsh Sandpipers.
We picked up the speed and got to Halls Creek at 10:33am, having gone 302 Km. We filled up with gas and got Memphis Meltdown Gooey Raspberry Ice Cream Bars for lunch – vanilla ice cream dipped in Raspberry sauce and covered in a thick chocolate coating; with the usual choc milk and iced coffee to drink.
Out of town we saw some yellow flowers that reminded us of Lupines. East of Halls Creek the landscape changed from a sea of grass to hilly and irregular terrain. In places it reminded us of the bluffs and mesas you see in Arizona and Utah, except the hills and rocks had green grasses growing on them.
There were numerous one-lane bridges and a few times you crossed the actual creek/river bed. Once water was over the road 4 inches.
The road quality was not as good east of Halls Creek. Sometimes it would be real narrow with jagged edges, and for a few short stretches it would be a fine road. We mostly just drove down the middle of the road at 100 Kmph.
We stopped wherever we saw a water hole. In the later afternoon we found a pair of Brown Songlarks. They are highly nomadic and this was the first time we had come across them.
We arrived at the Discovery Holiday Park outside Kununurra (Pronounced Kun-u-nur-ra) at 4:15pm. The first thing my wife did was empty our bottle of bug spray on the counter top and dish cupboard. Bugs just love the tropics; and of course, my wife just can’t tolerate them.
On April 21 we thought it had rained on and off during the night. When we got up we could see it hadn’t rained at all. What we heard was due dripping off the trees onto the roof.
We went downtown at 8am for the Saturday Market. On the way home we stopped at an Aborigine Art Gallery and got two boomerangs – a Returning Boomerang and a Killing Stick in the shape of a bird. The sales lady said the Boomerang was made by a “desert man” in Outback Queensland – he made the body of the Boomerang and his several wives decorated it.
We spent the rest of the morning birding from our porch. There were heaps of finches in the trees by our porch.
In the afternoon we drove out to the Zebra Rock Gallery (15.843S 128.734E). Zebra Rock is fossilized algae in soapstone. It is only found at one site near Lake Argyle. They had beautiful figurines. We got 2 bags of Zebra Stone pieces to see what kind of jewelry we can make with them.
On April 22 we were off at dawn for Hidden Valley NP outside Kununurra (15.763S 128.751E). The eroded sandstones here were formed by solidifying massive red sand dunes, and then weathering into Beehive formations. Hidden Valley is called the Mini Bungle Bungle. The difference is you can drive to Hidden Valley, but you have to take a $500 flight-seeing tour to go to Bungle Bungle NP.
We walked the track to the Valley Lookout. As we walked it gradually got light enough to take pictures, which also meant it was getting hot. From on high you could clearly see the Beehive rocks. It was a good thing we had on long pants, the Spinifex Grass would have cut your legs to pieces without protection.
We saw and heard heaps of Great Bowerbirds all along the walk. They were acting strangely and didn’t seem glad that we were there. They must have been protecting babies. We saw some delicate lilies and other wild flowers.
There were heaps of butterflies including a Glasswing. When we looked at it with our binoculars we thought it was translucent — Glasswing seemed like an appropriate name. We also saw the small version of the Monarch Butterfly (Lesser Wanderer), and a Common Crow.
We took another track to the Gap. My wife almost stepped on a White-quilled Rock Pigeon. The bird book indicated they were skiddish, but this one walked along in front of us for a couple hundred feet. Once it had to fly up some steps in the path. Finally, it got tired of us and disappeared into the bush.
We also walked thru the Cane Grass track that paralleled the entry road. We saw a Yellow-throated Miner dive bomb a Red-winged parrot. In the aftermath, we saw a pair of Northern Rosellas.
We stopped at Lillie Lagoon (15.780S 128.741E) on the way home. There were heaps of Jesus Birds walking on the water. We got a beautiful picture of a Rainbow Bee-eater and a really big lizard.
Midafternoon we went for a drive in the Webber Plains (15.607S 128.765E). We drove by thousands of acres of raised-bed veggie fields, including a massive field of watermelons. About 15Km out of town we started finding temporary wetlands along the road. Before long we found hundreds of Yellow-rumped Mannikin feeding on the Cane Grass. It was easy to tell where they were – you would see a 10 ft grass stalk bend-over to the ground and then pop-up when the bird flew away. Unfortunately, we were looking into the sun, so the photos were not so good.
A local farmer stopped in the road to see if we were birdwatchers. He said we should check out a spot 10 minutes east of Kununurra.
On April 23 we were off pre-dawn for Wyndham 60 miles NW of Kununurra. Our first stop was the Five Rivers Lookout high over Wyndham. We could see the vast mud flats around town at low tide. Wyndham has the 4th highest tides in the world at 23 feet above mean sea level.
We drove down to the Bessie Wiley Reserve by the wharf (15.455S 128.104E) to check out the mangroves. In the car park we found an injured Giant Red Moth. The mangroves were only 30 ft wide and a couple hundred feet long, but there were several places where you could walk in on solid ground. We were fortunate to find Mangrove Fantails, Mangrove Gerygones, and heaps of Yellow White-eyes. In the mud around the mangroves we saw Red Mud Crabs scurrying around and salamanders wiggling in the wet mud. A Swamp Tiger Nymph posed for pictures.
Close by we stopped for a look at a pair of small birds hunkered down in a chain link fence. I got out to take pictures, but my wife couldn’t. A Masked Lapwing decided my wife was up to no good and wouldn’t let her out of the car. When my wife tried to open her door, the bird flew straight at her. Over at the fence, I was surprised to find a pair of Black-throated Finches. I got close-up pictures from only 5 ft away with the male looking straight at me.
We stopped at the Afghan Cemetery on the way out of town. In the 1890’s a lot of Afghan camel drivers immigrated to Australia to provide Camel Trains into remote areas. The graves were very large. The sign said that when the Master died, they buried the lead camel with him. We found lots of wild Pink Celosias in the cemetery. We also found a Checkered Swallowtail.
We went for a walk around our RV Park in the late afternoon. An Azure Kingfisher dove into water in front of my wife and came out with a fish. She was transfixed by the bright orange chest.
We stopped to talk to an Ozzie camper. He asked if we had heard the Tinny Bird. We said we didn’t know what that was. He said you normally hear them this time of day when people pop the tops on their beer cans.
On April 24 we went for a walk around our RV Park and adjacent lagoons at sunrise. Bats were swarming around my head. The early morning sun was reflecting on the chests of the White-breasted Woodswallows as they flew, making them look like pink-chested Galahs (only smaller).
We went downtown midmorning to the Argyle Diamond Shop to look at their rare Pink Diamonds (they only find a literal handful a year at the world’s largest diamond mine). The diamonds ranged from $1000US for one so small you could hardly see it, to $$50,000US for one big enough to make an earring stud out of (but of course, you would need two).
Midafternoon we drove out to Ivanhoe Crossing (15.689S 128.688E). The road has been closed for months due to high water. We stopped for a walk in the bush. A Blue Argus Butterfly popped up — medium sized dark butterfly with a brilliant blue spot. We continued driving in the agriculture area. We stopped to checkout several flocks of mixed Finches and Mannikins. I got a great shot of a Yellow-rumped Mannikin.
On April 25 as we left Kununurra at dawn we could see thousands of Little Corellas flying in the eastern sky like an undulating dark cloud.
We were on Fish Farm Road at 5:39am when the sun peaked up over the wetland horizon. This is the area the farmer told us about on April 22. We took Fish Farm Rd to Crossing Falls Rd (dirt) to Bells Spring Rd (dirt). At the intersection of Crossing Falls and Bell Spring Road (15.854S 128.749E) we came on a large flock (500) of Red-tailed Black-cockatoos. They were flying, hopping around in the grass, and trying to balance on electric lines (without success — which left them hanging up-side-down). Finally, they started landing in the road in front of us. The males squared off against each other for a while, and then started trying to impress the females with their mating dance (wings outstretched and red-tail feathers exposed). We sat in the road and watched them for an hour (there was no traffic on the dirt road).
We caught up with part of the Little Corellas mob again near the Cockatoos. At one point we were herding them down the road. We came to a bend in the road and they flew off. We saw 44 birds this morning. Our best bird was a Black-eared Cuckoo.
We went for a drive to Valentine Spring in the afternoon. Unfortunately, the dirt road was flooded after 2.4 Km. We looked around and saw a beautiful Black-shouldered Kite. We ended the day resting on our porch. Nothing much was happening till a juvenile Collared Sparrowhawk flew into the trees. The sun was just right to get great pictures.
On April 26 we left at 5am for Lake Argyle (16.118S 128.735E). All went well till we had to stop to checkout water flowing across the road. The water turned out to only be an inch deep, but we found 2 Black-fronted Dotterels wadding in the water. Further down the road a White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike flew out in front of our car and left the Earth in a cloud of feathers.
We spent 3 hours birding along the road and at the picnic area. We ended up seeing 65 birds species for the day, including a mob of Masked Finches and a White-winged Sittella.
The Milk Weed was in bloom and the Monarch Butterflies and their smaller cousins were everywhere. We also managed to see an Orange Tiger Nymph.
It got up to 90F today, but felt like 110F. The Everlastings were blooming, as were the Frangipani Trees. We found some white ground cover that looked like Silver Mound, and a Yellow Pussywillow.
On the way home we saw an Aborigine man lying in the road. A black man on a black road at sunset is a formula for tragedy. Some women were sitting nearby unconcerned.
On April 27 about 2am we heard an Australian Owlet-Nightjar on the porch going “Quark-Quark”. I guess it was eating bugs.
We left Kununurra at 4:55am driving to Katherine. At 5:36am we entered the “Natural Territory” and lost 1.5 hours of the day.
We stopped at the Keep River NP (15.970S 129.041E). The water birds had left the lagoon, but we saw a White-breasted Whistler and a White-lined Honeyeater in the trees.
This is the burning season. All along the road were semi-controlled burns on dried grass and scrubs. Some of the grasses were still smoldering. We stopped along the road doing random acts of birdwatching. We were rewarded with a Tawny Grassbird, Orange Brown Pardalote, and Rufous Whistler. Once we saw a Brolga in the weeds beside the road and a Jabiru in a wetland.
We stopped at a rest area (15.760S 130.031E). My wife went to the bathroom armed with a can of bug spray. The more she sprayed the more flies and mossies appeared. Bugger!!
We stopped at the King Billabong. There were heaps of Blue Water Lilies and some small Yellow Water Lilies on the surface, but no birds. Later, we stopped at Gregory NP (15.763S 130.524E). This is a red-rock butte and canyon area.
We had a good day of birding and saw 59 species. We got to Katherine at 4pm.
E-mail if you would like a file with the specific birds we saw each day.
Carl & Wilma Ball firstname.lastname@example.org
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