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Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary
via Kununurra Trip Report
Crimson Finch by Marijke Wester
Day 1 Saturday 12 July 2021 Arrive Kununurra

The tour unofficially began not long after we left the airport (sorry Jan). In the late afternoon we saw our first of the almost daily Black Kites, Straw-necked Ibis, the strange Masked Lapwing and most pleasing of all a flock of finches rose and of course we stopped for a brief hour, encountering Long-tailed Finches, Chestnut-breasted Mannikins and fantastic views of Star Finches. Red-collared Lorikeets were also a win along with Grey-crowned Babblers. At this early stage Rufous-throated Honeyeaters were pleasing as were Brown Honeyeaters, Great Bowerbird and Peaceful Doves. The light was a joy for viewing and the city “girls” finally left to find Jan concerned for our safety “no, we were just birding, sorry”.

Later a couple of us did walk on the lawn in front of our accommodation where we had time to enjoy the sunset and the mass spectacle of Little Red Flying Foxes rising to forage for the night. Comb-crested Jacanas leapt while darters called and I thanked the world for providing Lakeside Kununurra.

Mirima by Marijke Wester
Day 2 Sunday 13 July Ord River & Mirima National Park

Out early on the boat to find White-browed Crake, which Hilary did at the eighteenth hour; thanks! Previous to that the morning was glorious, showing off dazzling Green Pygmy-geese, Azure & Sacred Kingfishers, Rainbow Bee-eaters, male Mistletoebird and Red-winged Parrot: a wow of a morning. Little Red Flying Foxes were noisily roosting, most likely because Whistling Kites and White-bellied Sea-Eagle soared overhead.

Lunching back at the Resort we sorted out Paperbark Flycatcher and White-gaped Honeyeater and after a rest hit the polite highlight of every town, the STW.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoos called by the ponds and Red-backed Fairy-wrens appeared and disappeared with the male showing coyly up the back. Agile Wallabies were disturbed from their afternoon recline. Magpie Geese, Radjah Shelduck, Plumed Whistling-Ducks and Pied Herons were in the enclosure in abundance and 5 White-necked Herons congregated.

White-winged Trillers were a feature of this tour, being seen every day.

Haunting Mirima NP had more Red-backed Fairy-wrens, a Red-winged Parrot obligingly sat near our vehicle and Variegated Fairy-wrens hid in a Turkey Bush in the dying light after a climb to the top to view the mounds of red rock – heart of the Kimberley experience.

Sir John Gorge
Day 3 Monday 14 July Flight to Mornington Sanctuary

Flying with Emma over the ancient ranges and river systems to Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary was breathtaking. Black rock and patterned swept grasses intrigued the most world-weary. And a magnificent Black-breasted Buzzard with wings upswept greeted us as we landed; as did the exceptionally generous Di Scarsi.

There were squeals from the luxury safari tents perched beside pandanus-lined Annie Creek as Northern Fantail was spotted, Buff-sided Robin and fairy-wrens that turned out to be Red-backed.

In the afternoon, after lunch with a flying Brown Goshawk and more than a couple of Little Corellas, we visited Bluebush Wetlands where the recently turned 31 year-old Richard, our guide, screeched to a halt for Diamond Doves and then on the track to the bird hide stepped past a surprisingly large Mulga Snake. Although the water was drying new birds kept turning up as we watched patiently. Among the highlights were White-necked Heron, Royal Spoonbill, a Wedge-tailed Eagle (not the Chatswood variety), Black-fronted Dotterels lifted their heads from the fresh grass, Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo was viewed by all in a dead tree from the hide and a guide disputed the many Little Woodswallows with the local guide who won 100 points, being right, while the other guide buzzed out at -54. Walking back to the joy-ride vehicle a Yellow-tinted Honeyeater and Red-browed Pardalote were seen well by a couple of slow birders.

As we were driving through spinifex savannah to Sir John Gorge a Nankeen Kestrel dropped from a tree into an effortless soar, there was a beautiful Blue-winged Kookaburra, and a Red-backed Kingfisher showed its salt-and-pepper head, then turning his rusty red back on us, to our delight of course. The Gorge was vivid red in the sunset, smudged by a few flying White-quilled Rock Pigeons. Pictorella Mannikins, Star Finch and Masked Finch made an appearance during the day although the guide cannot remember when… we were that busy birding!

Rainbow Bee-eater by Marijke Wester
Day 4 Tuesday 15 July Mornington

Out early to discover flying Brown Quail (most likely?) along the Bog Road. At Adcock Crossing the usual suspects entertained us and later a flock of Varied Lorikeets heralded the start of exceptional birdwatching. Northern Rosellas flew through, tantalisingly close followed by Red-winged Parrots and Red-collared Lorikeets. Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo called, a Banded Honeyeater was seen by Hilary, Varied Sitellas kept us straining our now weary eyes after so much excitement.

Next we walked slowly watching Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens feeding among the pandanus beside Annie Creek and Red-backed Fairy-wrens were confirmed by the beautiful black male. There was also a Brown Falcon and Brown Goshawk seen well.

Our first Australian White Ibis flew over at lunch looking so very different from the Hyde Park mob and a White-necked Heron in breeding plumage dazzled us from the table!

In the afternoon the resident Australian Hobby sat patiently waiting for us beside the nest right on cue for Di who drove us to Fitzroy River and on to the Red-tailed Black Cockatoo watering hole in the late arvo. We searched for quail, which we found, but were most likely Brown once again. Still the walk was golden warm in the afternoon light and smelt of dried grass.

We ate so well at every meal at the restaurant – big bonus points!

Banana Boab by Jan Henderson
Day 5 Wednesday 16 July Lake Gladstone, Mornington

Birdwatching began at 6.00am at the magic Banana Tree, a very special spot not open to the public. Male Gouldian Finches starred in the first of the morning light atop the boab trees. Never will this morning be forgotten. Pictorella Mannikins became common as the detailed male’s plumage wowed. Red-faced male Gouldians alighted for perfect viewing even while we were gobbling “Quoll in the Hole” cooked elegantly by Diane and Trish: thank you so very much!

A Striated Pardalote patrolled patiently waiting to re-enter its hole in the roadside bank where we were “parked” in rapture watching this remarkable watering hole.

As we were driving onto leasehold land Spinifex Pigeons held us up at the gate to Lake Gladstone, about 20 of them and despite the heat we could see Brolgas grazing and a semi dance at a distance.

By the bird hide the daily Grey-crowned Babblers, Crimson Finches, Freshwater Crocodiles, Green Pygmy-geese, a Hardhead, Comb-crested Jacanas and Sacred Kingfisher combined in a thrilling fenced wetland birding refuge.

Later at 2.00pm Black-tailed Treecreepers were seen by all and another dozen Goudlian Finches turned up with a mixed flock of many wonderful birds seen previously. What a refuge is Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary! More credit and power to you, AWC.

Trying not to get blasé we ventured on to the Hann River through Tableland Station where a Rufous Whistler was seen by Bernice and we enjoyed a quite different habitat from previous rivers in the last of the heat.

At night a Barking Owl was heard as were Boobook Owls.

Hard at it by Marijke Wester
Day 6 Thursday 17 July Flight to Kununurra & Parry’s Lagoon

Our last morning birding by North Annie Creek was splendid with close-up views of Varied Lorikeets, Pictorella Mannikins, a Little Grassbird glowed in early light and we had to leave. The flight back to civilization was spectacular and sad.

After lunch back at the Lakeside Resort the now huge Parry’s Lagoon had a couple of surprises: two very large Freshwater Crocodiles, Wandering Whistling-ducks, Glossy Ibis, White-bellied Sea-Eagle and a young Striated Heron.

During our drive we backed up for a reprieve by an Australian Bustard, spotted by some eagle-eye in the back seat, good work. The spectacular Five Rivers Lookout at Wyndham was awash with humans but they could not disguise the vastness of the rivers merging and their muddy flats.

White-quilled Rock-Pigeon by Marijke Wester
Day 7 Friday 18 July Lake Argyle

With a swift drive to Lake Argyle we arrived early to a kind cuppa from the surprised boss. Plenty to look at around the office with a Whistling Kite’s nest with fluffy chick (noted after our ride) the big bird highlight, but the rooster, Long Tom and coriander were equally interesting.

Out on the Lake it was a “purrfect” morning. After a brief glimpse of the Sandstone Shrike-thrush for a couple of fellow sailors/birding gals we decided to come back on the return journey. Breakfast called us to a cove where a White-bellied Sea-Eaglestood sentry beside another large fluffy chick which hunkered down when it became clear we were not leaving: good instincts, I thought. The now regular birds delighted us: e.g. Bee-eater in the morning light and Long-tailed Finches.

Chat Island produced a fantastic long view of a male Yellow Chat, Australian Pratincoles, Red-kneed Dotterels, Tree Martins and one Black-necked Stork resplendent with the sun behind us. Back at the Sandstone Shrike-thrush island our bird appeared on the uppermost outcrop long enough for repeated views of not just the unique silhouette but its paler throat. Success! Further around, Jan spied a Short-eared Rock Wallaby in a cave and we spent time hunting down the White-quilled Rock Pigeons for up-close views of these amusing waddlers. Our only cerise showing Great Bowerbird flew past at lunch, not seen by all sadly, but the Northern Rosellas were, giving every-angle views while feeding in the trees close by.

Durack House’s great bower, by the same bird, was immaculately laid out with dense stick walls and white pebbled interior display-way, with centre piece of pale green glass placed with precision. Eat your heart out, Vogue mag. There were also Spinifex Pigeons resting in the drainway that delighted all. A quick stop at Dead Horse Gap extended because Hilary wouldn’t get back into the car, thank goodness. We started with a small “freshie” in the actual Gap and were led on by Little Grassbirds, seen well but as Hil lingered Pictorella Mannikins flew in and then a White-browed Crake appeared and all, retrieved from the vehicle, saw it well in the scope. Another cracker of a day.

Pre-Mornington Camp by Emma, our Pilot
Day 8 Saturday 19 July Flights Home

The tour officially ended after 6.30am breakfast but a few managed a walk beside the Lake with lovely views of Crimson Finches. No-one wanted to leave, least of all me and after a week back the brain is still popping back to relive moments of magnificence. Gosh we were lucky, thank you Bernice, Marijke, Jan and Hilary.

By Janene Luff guiding for FTB

Follow That Bird   Phone: 61 2 9973 1865
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3/59 Central Road
Avalon NSW 2107
Sydney Australia
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Photos of Variegated Fairy-wren and Little Tern courtesy of Neil Fifer