South West Western Australia Trip Report
It was a very small group for this year’s trip to the beautiful south-west, with Bernice and Wendy my companionable co-travellers. Our main focus of course was those bird species endemic to the south-west, and a few others that don’t occur on the east coast. Being two weeks earlier than the previous year’s trip, we found the landscapes clothed in every shade of yellow with many wattles at their peak. But these certainly weren’t the only wildflowers, and a profusion of other species was always there to keep us captivated whenever there was a lull in the bird activity.
Diuris-sp. by Carol Probets
The action began with a walk in Kings Park where various orchids, pea flowers and red-and-green Kangaroo Paws, Western Australia’s striking floral emblem, set the scene. A Pallid Cuckoo was our first bird followed by Singing and Brown Honeyeaters, a Western Gerygone and Australian Ringnecks providing a preview of some of the species that would appear numerous times throughout the tour.
Heading out of Perth we saw the first of almost daily black-cockatoo sightings, these ones Carnaby’s flying over the road. At Wungong Dam, another group of black-cockatoos with a distinctly different call were too far away to see, but fortunately this wasn’t our only crack at Baudin’s. Our only Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos flew past and our first Splendid Fairy-wrens with great looks at a female and eclipse males. As we walked, dozens of Monarch butterflies sailed around.
Our lunch stop gave us superb views of Purple-crowned Lorikeets, the Gilbert’s (Swan River) Honeyeater, and a White-browed Scrubwren showing us the streaked breast which characterises the WA subspecies.
Gilberts Honeyeater by Carol Probets
We drove onward adding Emus and stopping to check the woodswallows, which were all Duskies. A roadside wetland was full of Black-tailed Native-hens scuttling in and out of the reeds. We couldn’t resist stopping to photograph the spectacular red-flowering gum on the roadside at Wandering: Eucalyptus caesia with its huge flowers and curling minni-ritchi bark.
The Dryandra Woodland is a special place populated with old wandoo trees full of character, but the difference between this year and last was marked. Absent were the many Purple-crowned Lorikeets coming and going from nest hollows and the enthralling diversity of wildflowers; instead we were treated to a brillant show by very confiding Rufous Treecreepers, dazzling patches of wattle and a profusion of Gastrolobiums, the pretty Poison Peas. Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters, Inland Thornbills, Scarlet Robins, Grey Currawong and a Western (Golden) Whistler added to the excitement. As daylight faded two Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoos came to drink as we replenished our energy with snacks by the dam. To cap it all off, an Echidna waddled along the road during our twilight drive to Barna Mia.
The informative night tour within the predator-free sanctuary had Bilbies, Malas, Woylies and Boodies feeding around our feet, punctuated by bursts of calling from the nearby Bush Stone-curlews.
White-browed Scrubwren by Carol Probets
Next morning, Foxes Lair reserve was so full of life that we visited twice – before and after breakfast – before we could pull ourselves away. Best of the bird sightings was a pair of Red-capped Parrots at a nest hollow but it was also great to see a party of 4 Sittellas: the Black-capped race pileata of the west. Flowering Parrot Bush (Dryandra sessilis) was providing nectar for Red Wattlebirds, Brown-headed Honeyeaters and Red-capped Parrots which held the sweet flowers in their right foot. There was plenty of botanical interest including Donkey Orchids (Diuris sp.) and the same big sundews (Drosera macrantha) that we’d seen in Dryandra.
Eventually we were heading east with water lying in all the drains and lakes after recent rains. East of Harrismith we stopped to search for Regent Parrots, but instead Bernice spotted a pair of corellas at a tree hollow. Closer inspection revealed their long bills and long crests – Western Corellas! A fortuitous sighting which gave us some extra time to play with later in the week.
The mallee on White Dam Road was abuzz with small birds: Red-capped Robin, Western Gerygone, Weebills, Yellow-rumped and Inland Thornbills…but the jewels in the crown were the Blue-breasted Fairy-wrens. This group had not one, not two, but at least three fully coloured males and one in the process of changing. These little flashes of intense lilac-blue took our breath away as they dashed from shrub to shrub.
Rufous Treecreeper by Carol Probets
Red-capped Plovers added to our list at a lake near Pingrup before we pushed onward to Ongerup where we enjoyed a private tour of the Malleefowl breeding facility. The Purple-gaped Honeyeater here was a bonus.
Our next two nights were spent at the idyllic Stirling Range Retreat where the buzzing chatter of Purple-crowned Lorikeets, attracted by blossom in the Yate trees (Eucalyptus cornuta), filled the air. A male Scarlet Robin right outside the cabins took to fighting his reflection in the car mirrors while a pair of Sacred Kingfishers led us around the campground before posing nicely. Regent Parrots flew around and we enjoyed more close views of the Gilbert’s Honeyeater, but unfortunately the Elegant Parrots were not to be seen during our stay.
A morning at the famous Cheynes Beach gave us the opportunity to search for the three skulkers. No sooner had we arrived than the Noisy Scrub-bird was calling, gradually coming closer through the dense undergrowth. Two White-breasted Robins entertained us as we waited hopefully for the scrub-bird to appear but today’s matinee left us hanging in suspense. We headed up into the heath where Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters were performing high display flights. A Western Bristlebird’s song rang out, tantalising us for a good half hour while another scrub-bird piped up, and nearby a Rufous Fieldwren sang a refrain. Listening was a treat and ultimately we had to be content with that. Two Western Spinebills were much more co-operative, giving us great views of first the female, then the male. A small goanna scuttling across the track turned out to be a Rosenberg’s Monitor and a family of Western Grey Kangaroos were a picture as their heads popped up surprisingly close to us in the blossoming heathland.
Dampiera at Foxes Lair by Carol Probets
Back at the retreat we joined resident guide Bully for two unforgettable hours of ‘kerb-crawling’…in pursuit of orchids. Bully tailored his tour specially for us while, as always, delivering a mind-blowing variety of orchids and anecdotes in his unique style. Intriguing was the mystery spider orchid, and a grevillea which contains a chemical that stops joeys going blind.
So far all our views of Regent Parrots had been birds in flight, but finally on our second morning at the retreat, an unusual call drew our attention to two birds high on a dead branch. At first we thought it was a begging juvenile with its parent but we quickly realised we were seeing courtship behaviour as the pair of Regent Parrots proceeded to mate, balancing precariously. A Little Eagle was heard and seen and we found a pair of Western Yellow Robins feeding around a log. All this on our way to breakfast.
Red-capped Parrot by Carol Probets
The Bluff Knoll Cafe provided us not only with amazing dinners and breakfasts, but great views of Splendid Fairy-wrens, Purple-crowned Lorikeets, Yellow-plumed and New Holland Honeyeaters feeding in the Silver Princess gum right outside the window.
After breakfast we headed off toward the wetter habitats of the south coast. A diversion to Ocean Beach near Denmark gave us what turned out to be our only Western Wattlebird of the trip, and brief views at that.
We continued on to the tall wet forests, stopping near Walpole for a stroll among massive Red Tingles and Karri decorated with the white star-like flowers of native clematis. Here was the first of our Red-winged Fairy-wrens. We noted more White-breasted Robins (which seem to be more like the Eastern Yellow Robin in habitat and behaviour than the Western Yellow Robin is) and Inland Thornbills, somewhat of a misnomer in the west.
White-breasted Robin by Carol Probets
Our late afternoon walk at Northcliffe paid off when we turned a corner to find a Red-eared Firetail feeding on the track (we wondered if it was taking fallen seeds or perhaps grit to aid digestion) followed by close views of an immature and adult Western Rosella, ensuring the day finished on a high note.
Even better sightings of the firetail were to come the next morning at Pemberton, when we noticed one carrying a fresh twig of native ‘Peppermint’ into its nest high in a Marri tree. We were delighted to find Red-winged Fairy-wrens inhabiting the motel garden and Western Rosellas feeding in a neighbouring garden.
Karri (Eucalyptus diversicolor) are the tallest trees in Western Australia and we admired their majesty at Hollow Butt picnic area, named after a hollow trunk of a giant Karri. Spotted Pardalotes called all around, their song distinctly different to the ones in the east, and the gentle see-sawing song of the Western Gerygone floated through the air.
We spent most of the afternoon at the peaceful hamlet of Windy Harbour, with plenty of wildflowers distracting us along the way, including pink Pimelea rosea, cheerful wattles springing out of pure white sand, Granny Bonnets with their striped backs and a stunning patch of Purple Enamel Orchids with spotted backs. Brown Falcons hovered over the heath with a close view of one perched in a dead tree.
Wendy & Bernice at Hollow Butt by Carol Probets
Seagrass wrack had washed up on the beach at Windy Harbour and the Ruddy Turnstones blended in perfectly. We counted 19 turnstones together with 10 Sanderlings, a Pacific Gull, Sooty Oystercatcher, Caspian Tern, Pied Cormorant, Australian Pipits, Splendid Fairy-wrens, Silvereyes and others.
But it was the faint call of Rock Parrots that got our heart racing. Heading in the direction they flew, we found ourselves at a secluded picnic area just in time to see a group of small parrots fly away. “They’ll be back” I promised optimistically, so we parked with a good view of the lawn and sat in the car waiting…and a man began mowing the lawn. Fortunately he didn’t do much work before stopping for a smoko and it wasn’t long before the Rock Parrots turned up: 7 in total feeding just a few metres away as we watched from the comfort of the car. Regarded as Australia’s least colourful parrot, they were nevertheless a handsome sight.
Our second-last morning began with a visit to the Gloucester Tree as soft rain fell among the towering Karri forest. An uncharacteristically tame Common Bronzewing collected nest material close to our feet while we had our best ever views of so many species we didn’t know where to look. Red-winged Fairy-wren, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, White-breasted Robin, Rufous Treecreeper, Gilbert’s Honeyeater and Australian Ringneck all vied for our attention and provided what was possibly the best hour of birding of the whole trip.
Ruddy Turnstone by Carol Probets
On the road after breakfast we reminded ourselves not to get blasé about Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoos as we had yet another good sighting, each time checking carefully for Baudin’s. Finally, a quick U-turn and checking 7 Black-Cockatoos near Karridale revealed the longer, narrower bills of Baudin’s. Surprisingly, they were feeding on the ground, momentarily putting us off the scent.
A White-bellied Sea-Eagle and Square-tailed Kite were nice sightings near the Blackwood River. Cape Leeuwin produced more Rock Parrots with 5 at the lighthouse and we found a Bobtail, the western form of the Shingleback, sheltering among the grass. Lunch was enjoyed at a cove overlooking two oceans and a pair of Sooty Oystercatchers.
Driving up the scenic Caves Road we detoured to the mouth of the Margaret River where big surf pounded the coast. A pair of Nankeen Kestrels hunted dragonflies and an Osprey soared low overhead. We arrived at Cape Naturaliste where we found more Western Spinebills but still none of our hoped-for better views of Western Wattlebirds. The track to Sugarloaf Rock was lined with yellow Hibbertia and it was here, gazing west over the Indian Ocean, we watched gannets performing spectacular dives, migrating shearwaters further out, and a Humpback Whale breaching. Crepuscular rays illuminated the horizon as the sun dipped toward the west on our final afternoon of the trip.
Rock Parrot by Carol Probets
The south-west had provided a fantastic week of birds, wildflowers, orchids, scenery and camaraderie with 115 bird species including 12 WA endemics seen.
By Carol Probets guiding for FTB