Wednesday, 5 August 2020

We were Seen in the NT or a Bit of NT Birding

LIFER! Chestnut Rail

This morning I write from the north west town of Camooweal, perched a mere 13 kilometres within the Queensland border. It is the last town one encounters on the way, or in our case, the way back from the Northern Territory.

Which brings me to my point in writing; to summarise the last few weeks of birding and travel in the mighty NT.

First, though, I need to make an admission. Two weeks in the NT actually takes three…. In other words I underestimated how much we could do in the territory in the time we had. 

So our time was spent sneaking in the ‘back way’ through Borroloola before heading to Daly Waters and north to Katherine before the big smoke of Darwin. Post Darwin a quick slide through Kakadu National Park before heading south in a big straight line and then east in a big straight line.

Highlights and observations?

First from a purely selfish birding perspective my highlight was getting the lifer of Chestnut Rail!!! A resident of the most northern of Australian mangroves, this bird saved itself for my third trip to the northern NT.

Other top top end birds included Rainbow Pitta, Gouldian Finch plus Long tails and Masked, Mangrove Fantail on the gulf near Borroloola, Sandstone Shrike thrush – to name a few.

my only photo of a wonderful bird Gouldian Finch
Masked Finch
Sandstone Shrike thrush
Hooded Parrots

Yellow Whiteeye

Broad billed Flycatcher

Grey Whistler

Rufous banded Honeyeater

Little Bronze Cuckoo at Fogg Dam

Dips? A few too many…

Sensational Dip number 1 was the Citrine Wagtail observed at the Katherine Poo ponds. We showed up the day after the last time it was seen. To the best of my knowledge it has not been seen since. The Poo ponds, for reasons that will continue to both confuse and mortify me, have sensational security. Tall wire fences with triple strands of barbed wires atop surround the place as if the shit was planning a massive break out….. Birders then are left to feebly peer through thick chain wire at birds often too far away to see well. Why such security? Do Australia’s birders and their activities present such a threat? It is crazy that there is not a reasoned process such that people can get entry to public facilities to observe the birds there.   

While I’m getting shitty at the shit ponds in Katherine I would also point out that this situation occurs elsewhere. The ponds at Palmerstone on the southern side of Darwin, have long had a reputation as an excellent birding locale and not just for the birds within the perimeter fence as the mangroves behind hold populations of some mangrove specialties. A where to find birds in the top end, indeed, herds birders in that direction, outside the perimeter, to enjoy the mangrove species. Since publication a new top flight fence has been installed to prevent anyone even peering into the ponds let alone getting around to the mangrove behind.  All in all a frustrating waste of time for reasons that are, like poo pond waters, murky.

Northern Rosella
The Katherine Ponds, like others elsewhere in the NT, could be an environmental asset. From the outskirts there were Pied Herons, Australian Pratincoles, early waders like Wood and Common Sandpipers, Burdekin Shelducks plus some impressive Freshwater Crocs. Outside Little, Masked and White breasted Woodswallows flew around, Great Bowerbirds were common and Yellow [Green?] Orioles sounded.

Partridge Pigeon

Quick – another positive. I loved seeing Yellow bellied Flycatchers in the Northern Territory. These birds are a different race from Queensland; brighter yellow with clear white throats. They were common, conspicuous and beautiful birds and they generally good at posing.

Yellow bellied Flycatcher [Flyrobin?]

Rainbow Pittas. These birds are definitely in my top 3 of Australian Pittas. Tantalisingly we heard them a few too many times before we locked eyes on them. It was one of those times where the wait was worth it as a single bird in Kakadu National Park decided that it was a showman.

Rainbow Pitta

Rainbow Pitta

Kakadu seemed to be in a state of confusion. Many walks and the information centre closed. Target species heard but not seen. Let’s blame everything on Covid and return again in happier times…

Nourlangie Rock in the foreground

Buffalos were common. There were easily 50 animals in view at Fogg Dam and we had one stampede loudly through nearby shrubs in Northern Kakadu, hooves stomping and branches breaking, uncomfortable close to where we were walking in northern Kakadu. Nearby girls, unsure of the reason for the noise or the culprit, stampeded themselves up nearby sandstone.
in our experience a necessary but useless sign

A properly planned tour to the top end of the Northern Territory will be planned though, with some assistance from on the ground experts, for 2022. Please consider joining us.  
Blue faced Honeyeater - the longer billed sub specie - albipennis

Friday, 24 July 2020


Kalkadoon Grasswren

As I said in the last blog post that the area of Mount Isa has been built on traditional Kalkadoon lands. There is one bird, pretty much an endemic to the spinifex covered ranges surrounding Mount Isa, that has been named after the local indigenous people.
Kalkadoon Grasswren

It is the Kalkadoon Grasswren. Previously a sub specie of Dusky Grasswren, it was elevated to full specie status a few decades ago now, leaving the Dusky Grasswren, an endemic of central Australia in and around the MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs.
Kalkadoon Grasswren

It is, of course, an important target specie for any birder venturing here.

And as a Grasswren never a 100% sure bet. I am pleased to say though given 24 hours in Mt Isa we have been quite successful with this bird. Now the bird is relatively common but it is difficult to see well and it is difficult to photograph - especially when you have a point and shoot with slow zoom and a slow focus.
here is a picture which suggests why the birds are hard buggers to photograph..
And here is another one... Spinifex grass steals the focus as well as hiding birds

Why are they called Grasswrens?

While looking for the Kalkadoon we also saw Spinifex Bird, the beautiful Painted Finches, Grey fronted, Black chinned and Grey headed Honeyeaters and Camels!
Grey fronted Honeyeater
Black chinned Honeyeater
Camel - one of three
Here;s looking at you kid...
Painted Finch
Painted Finches

Plus a few other common species.
Zebra Finch
Kalkadoon Grasswren habitat
During the heat of our winter day we retreated in doors for a while to view the Riversleigh Fossil Centre, a museum interpreting what is a fossil bed of international importance which is located between Mount Isa and Lawn Hill Gorge National Park.

The museum was good, without being excellent. I think they need to present Australia’s contemporary fauna first before they launch into interpreting what these fossils tell us about the mammal [and other] fauna of our past.

Having said that it is amazing to see the reconstructions of so many wonderful animals, some of whom became extinct relatively recently; surviving to only 20 000 years ago. This means of course that they were  contemporaries of Aboriginal people for, perhaps 30 000 years. Given that modern Australia has accounted for a record number of mammalian extinctions within a period of time just over two centuries it seems reasonable that Indigenous people with targeted hunting and contributing to some ecological changes through fire use contributed to their demise…
Gilbert's Dragon

The gardens beside the museum were small but good. An easy place to fill a half hour or so, particularly if you enjoy trying to photograph anything from dragonflies to lizards to birds.

Dragonfly sp. Any ideas?
Lake Moondarra is a large reservoir some 20 kilometres from the city and an essential locale for birding. We ended up spending much of the afternoon there and found some great birds.
Lake Moondarra water view

Varied Lorikeet
Striated Pardalote
Green Pygmy Goose
Green Pygmy Geese
Fresh water Crocodile
Painted Finch
Pictorella Mannikins
Pictorella Mannikins
Long tailed Finch
Paperbark flycatcher
Silver crowned Friarbird
Rainbow Bee-eater

Thursday, 23 July 2020


Today we left Cloncurry for the Mount Isa area where we intend to stay for a few days to seek out a veriaty of the resident bird species [just for something different]. I will write about the birds in a following post as today I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and highlight some of the stupidity and racism that some of our countrymen are still guilty of. I would also like to share some of the history of this area, identified below by being in bold and italics and it has been lifted from a Queensland government website.

Mount Isa is situated on the traditional lands of the Kalkadoon people who followed patterns of hunting and gathering, fishing and trade for many thousands of years before the arrival of the first Europeans. Kalkadoon craftsmen were famous for the quality of their stone implements. Hand-crafted tools were traded by the Kalkadoon people with other Aboriginal groups across western Queensland, as far south as Birdsville. 

The first Europeans to visit the lands of the Kalkadoon people were the four members of the Burke and Wills expedition in early 1861. The expedition travelled northwards, to the east of Mount Isa, through to the Gulf of Carpentaria before returning south to Coopers Creek. Oral traditions of the Kalkadoon people recall that they watched the expedition from a distance but did not make contact with the explorers.

In December 1861, William Landsborough took a relief expedition into Kalkadoon territory searching for the lost party of Burke and Wills. Landsborough made peaceful contact with a small party of Kalkadoon men, presenting them with a tin pot and two glass bottles.

The Kalkadoon people resisted the invasion of their lands by the pastoralists and miners and frontier violence occurred across North West Queensland from the late 1870s through to the mid-1880s. A Native Police detachment was based at Cloncurry from 1883 until 1889. This detachment was instrumental in crushing Aboriginal resistance in North West Queensland. 

After the arrival of the Native Police at Cloncurry, frontier violence in North West Queensland escalated. In 1883, Kalkadoon warriors ambushed and killed a Native Police officer called Marcus Beresford and wounded five of his Aboriginal troopers in the McKinlay Ranges. James Powell, a prominent pastoralist with family connections to the English aristocracy, was also speared by the Kalkadoon in July 1884. In retaliation, large numbers of Kalkadoon men, women and children were killed at the hands of the Native Police and armed parties of pastoralists. 

A last stand was made by the Kalkadoon against an expeditionary force led by Sub-Inspector Urqhart of the Native Police in September 1884. On a rocky hill near Prospectors Creek, Kalkadoon warriors hurled missiles at the Native Police and then levelled their spears and charged Urqhart’s men, before dying in a hail of rifle fire. The area was later named Battle Mountain. A memorial to the Kalkadoon people killed at Battle Mountain was officially opened at Kajabbi by Charles Perkins and the Kalkadoon elder George Thorpe in 1984.

Aboriginal survivors of the frontier violence were drawn to fringe camps on the outskirts of settlements and pastoral stations across North West Queensland, where diseases such as measles were endemic. Government assistance to the Aboriginal people in the late 19th century was limited to the occasional distribution of blankets and rations, at towns such as Cloncurry and Camooweal. By the late 1880s, pastoralists in North West Queensland had begun to employ Kalkadoon and other Aboriginal people on their stations. Since then, Aboriginal stockmen have continued to play an important role in the North West Queensland cattle industry. 

Between the years 1933 and 1967, there were 28 documented removals of Aboriginal people from Mount Isa. The majority of Aboriginal people removed from Mount Isa were admitted to Palm Island, with smaller numbers taken to Woorabinda and Cherbourg. Between the years 1892 and 1968, large numbers of Aboriginal removals also occurred in areas neighbouring Mount Isa, with 208 people removed from Cloncurry, 39 from Camooweal, 5 from Duchess and 4 from Dajarra.
Which brings me to today or at least recent history.

We stopped at a sign welcoming travellers to Kalkadoon lands.

The sign post, to my mind was, honest and respectful. It was a reminder of the truth of history. It was a reminder to place value on their / our heritage. But most of all it was a reasoned call for reconciliation and peace. But some white fellas have not accepted that as this part of the monument demonstrates.

The top of the monument was a stylised Aboriginal head which had been riddled by bullets.

Why would someone gain satisfaction over such a pathetic cowardly crime?

It is a reminder, if one is needed, that people who value equality and who recognise that Indigenous Australian's culture and history are also ours to honour and preserve, need to be forever vigilant against the racist Australian.
The small monument had two sides - one for the Kalkadoon side and the other, Mitakoodi - people of the greater Cloncurry district 
We then went to Fountain Springs - a beautiful place and another marred by the careless actions of our countrymen.
Fountain Springs
'Superior' White culture?