Kununurra in the Kimberley Tour Report
Day 1 Saturday 13 July 2021 Arrive Kununurra
After flights through Perth the Canberrans and I arrived in the warmth of the Kimberley, temperature-wise and to the friendly staff at Lakeside Resort.
The first Black Kites sentinels on lamp posts from the airport heralded Straw-necked Ibis littering the park-like roadsides. Green Pygmy-geese, Comb-crested Jacanas and silhouetted Darters called eerily; becoming the daily accompanying song at Lakeside.
A ramble across the lawn brought the first Bee-eater before a mass-rising saw a flock of 70+ head towards the east as the sun set across Kununurra Lagoon. 20 Red-winged Parrots flew back and forth together with a similar flock of Rainbow Lorikeets. Rising insects were caught by White-breasted Woodswallows and then our binoculars rested upon tens of thousands of Little Red Flying Foxes passing across the agricultural plains. We retired to the first of many good meals.
Day 2 Sunday 14 July Mirima National Park
Mirima National Park delighted us with 2 White-quilled Rock-Pigeon beside the road on the drive in, so we were off to a good start. The Kapok trees flowered bright yellow and Brown Honeyeaters zipped about. Entering the carpark a Great Bowerbird greeted us from a treated pine stump (designed to back into unsuspecting cars). Mary revelled in the plant life while a Northern Fantail showed off in the Emu Apple tree. After a climb to the very top to view Kununurra’s Kimberley feel the sunlight glowed on Variegated Fairywrens. A female Rufous Whilstler kept us guessing as did the first of the White-gaped Honeyeaters.
Down by the Lagoon Park the Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants dotted the dead trees and a Sacred Kingfisher obliged us with great views.
After a post-lunch rest we ambled along the walking path sighting dazzling Crimson, Chestnut-breasted and Star Finches, Grey-crowned Babblers, Restless Flycatchers, Rufous-throated Honeyeaters, Striated Pardalotes, Bar-shouldered and Peaceful Doves, Whistling Kite and the Caspian Tern’s red beak glowed in the last glow of the purple and green hills.
Day 3 Monday 15 July Lake Kununurra Boating
Mirima National Park
At 7.30am we launched our “a room on the water” (Kaleela’s description) to a truly wonderful morning, cool, no wind, sun behind us showing off the White-browed Crakes to perfection. Long views were enjoyed with Elizabeth spotting the second specimen edging the cumbungee. Jacanas glowed red through their combs, Great Pied Cormorants basked, as did the Darters and usual suspects, all gloriously enjoying the morning. The bends to the Ord River brought a memorable Pheasant Coucal flying across in front of us with some the best views I’ve encountered, with water reflections! Further another Coucal sat giving intimate views of the heavy striations, particularly on the pale head. Shining Flycatchers, male and female Darter about, making Kaleela exclaim: she was starting to get the hang of this birding caper. Little Red Flying Foxes were roosting and one along the river’s edge gave eye-level views of a very cute face much our surprise. Pleasant boating weather was enjoyed down to the Diversion Dam and back up to Elephant Rock. A Gull-billed Tern joined the Whiskered and Caspian, and the Pelicans cruised slowly in the ideal setting. Australasian Grebes and Hardhead were prevalent beside the close-up views of the velvet coloured Green Pygmy-geese.
Retreating from the unseasonal heat, which had the locals grumbling, we emerged late in the day to try our luck down the Golden Gate Drive. Alex spotted a blue-winged Kookaburra, our first. It was a bit too late in the day, as I suspect the birds had headed down to Lake Argyle’s edge. Still we managed to see our first Red-backed Kingfisher, wonderful flowering grevilleas, a Common Bronzewing flew up from the roadside and Red-tailed Black Cockatoos noisily, lazily flew.
Day 4 Tuesday 16 July Wyndham
Alex, first mate Kununurra cruise
A knock at the door brought Alex and Elizabeth out of the rooms to see the Yellow Oriole before breakfast. First stop of the day was amongst the flowering grevilleas by the side of the road. This patch revealed our first White-throated Honeyeaters, Yellow-throated Miners, White-winged Triller, Singing Honeyeater, Banded Honeyeater and Black-faced Woodswallows started to be seen everywhere. Long-tailed Finches were becoming the norm and this continued for the rest of the tour, as they had obviously had had a good season. We stopped a little after Pumpkin Springs this trip but it was the same savannah with dry watercourses filled with pandanas where the Varied Lorikeets were feeding on the flowering Bloodwoods with “chocolate-box” views had by all.
The famous Parry’s Lagoon was crowded with Magpie Geese, 20+ Brolgas, Radjah Shelduck, Wandering Whistling-ducks, our first Pacific Black Duck, 4 Pink-eared Ducks, Glossy Ibis, Pied Heron and a magnificent adult White-breasted Sea Eagle. Spotted and Swamp Harrier crossed the plains and lagoon while the Black-fronted and Red-necked Dotterel kept the scope in use. Lunch at Wyndham Pub was ever the experience and we searched endlessly for the Gouldian Finches under every sprinkler in the district, great fun, plenty of Long-tails but no luck. Views of Black Kites from Five Rivers Lookout were just as good as the epic vista of our great north. There isn’t another lookout like that one. Black-breasted Buzzard also highlighted the day, as did dear Diamond Doves and Australian Pratincoles began to make their presence felt as they would over the next few days.
Day 5 Wednesday 17 July Mitchell Plateau
Mary at Parrys Lagoon
Mitchell Plateau, yabadabadoo, fantastic flight up with a very nice pilot who gave us a memorable landing when a dingo ran out in front of the fixed-wing craft just we landed…he gallantly swerved and we looked at Pied Butcherbirds as our hearts regained normal momentum. The 6 minute chopper ride was uneventful, just plain thrilling to be skimming the tree tops for what felt like 15 minutes!
Once safely down we headed off in search of that elusive Black Grasswren. We listened high, we listened low, jumped rocks and slithered through spinifex grass but we never saw the little rascal. A group achievement was finally sighting the Mistletoebird, instead of just hearing it each day, and Mary did enjoy wonderful views of the Variegated Fairywren in magnificent sunlight. There were Shining Flycatchers, a fleeting Bar-breasted Honeyeater and a flock of 30+ Flock Bronzewings when we were leaving the Mitchell Plateau landing strip were the best of it. After a dip in the creek with what turned out to be tiny cane toads (sad but a sand goanna was close by happily) we made it to the hotly contested “Bradshaw” paintings which were well worth the effort. Back at the campground the Yellow-faced form of the Partridge Pigeon was viewed with hasty pleasure as we were whisked back to civilisation. The light on the return fixed-wing flight was superb with our pilot helpfully naming rivers from the charts to the delight of Mary and co pilot Alex. The diminishing remoteness of this area is still a treat but rumour has it the road will be tarred in the near future.
Day 6 Thursday 18 July Lake Argyle
Boarding the boat at Lake Argyle the professional Greg Smith started us out early and we breakfasted by the Sea Eagles’ nest where both adult birds were testing the nest as we munched on muesli and raisin bread. Radjah Shelducks graced the side of the Lake as did a Pied Heron, Glossy Ibis with Whiskered Terns and Pelicans looking serene in the morning light. Our first Northern Rosella was briefly sighted before disappearing. Yellow Chat Island proved to be riddled with medallioned males, and lovely females of course, but the views of a Black-necked Stork wowed the crowd as 9 Nankeen Night Herons vied for attention. Red-capped Plovers ran and bobbed along the shore, 6 Australian Bustards flew and gathered as we walked the circumference of the island spotting Richard’s Pipits, Wandering and Plumed Whistling-Ducks. Island hopping as we returned with the magnificent Kimberley light breath-taking as we looked for the Sandstone Shrike-thrush which we finally had great views of in a small leafless fig tree. Hmmm and all before lunch!
Whilst we were nailing Masked Finches out the back of Durack House, true to her calling 14 year old Kaleela interrupted our intense search drawing our attention to the bird a half a metre behind us on the track “What’s this bird with the green back?”, well it was an immature Gouldian Finch. Well done angel girl!! Alex also alerted us to very good views of Brown Quail. Young eyes were holding the line.
Day 7 Friday 19 July Ivanhoe Crossing and Kingston Billabong
Ivanhoe Crossing brought lovely views of Crimson Finches and massive amounts of water still flowing stopped our journey short. We drove the agricultural areas of Kununurra for the rest of the morning sighting lots of birds we had seen on the other days but some completely unknown plantings, wildly optimistic no doubt. Chia was one I suspect and the sandalwood is massive as seen in the afternoon. And at Valentine Springs we heard White-throated Gerrygone and the cuckoos, mostly Brush, that kept haunting us with never a view to be had.
After a tantalising lunch at the Pumphouse we drove to Kingston Billabong, courtesy of Chris Done and were enchanted by the beauty of the spot together with Yellow Oriole, our ever friendly Double-barred Finches, Diamond and Peaceful Doves, and Leaden Flycatchers performing defending their territories. A perfect end to a splendid tour.
Day 8 Saturday 20 July Flights Home
We headed back to Perth on the early flight after a delightful family holiday birdwatching in the Kimberley, inspired by Elizabeth and enjoyed by Kaleela, Mary, Alex and myself, thank you. May you all bird together often, with great joy.
By Janene Luff guiding for FTB