Friday, 30 September 2016

Tirari Desert – Part 2

We spent a few days camping on Warburton Creek both on Cowarie Station and Kalamurina Sanctuary where we recorded 35 and 38 bird species respectively. (For background see previous post: Tirari Desert – Part 1)

Waterbirds are highly nomadic and move to inland waterways when water is present with associated food. During droughts they tend to move towards the coast or permanent inland water.

The Australian Pelican is an iconic species in the Murray-Darling and Eyre Basins. Huge numbers of Pelicans undertake mass breeding events on islands in Lake Eyre on the rare occasions when conditions are right and fish are available to fuel the undertaking.

Please click on images to enlarge.

Australian Pelican

Other fish-eating waterbird species in the Eyre Basin waterways include Egrets, Spoonbills, Herons, Cormorants and Darters. Great Egrets were common along the Warburton as were White-necked and White-faced Herons. They congregated to hunt around rocky sections where fish were forced to swim through narrow channels. However, I found all of these species along the Warburton were very timid and usually took flight as soon as they saw me, even at a relatively long distance. I am not sure why they were so wary? Perhaps in this remote location they were not used to humans?

Great Egret

Pied Cormorants were also attracted by the fishing as were Great Cormorants.

Darters are another commonly encountered water bird in Lake Eyre Basin waterways.

Unlike other Tern species, which are more or less coastal species, the Caspian, Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns have adapted to inland waterways although they also inhabit coastal habitats. While we did not see any Whiskered Terns, both Caspian and Gull-billed Terns were numerous and easily seen as they patrolled up and down the Warburton on the lookout for fish.

Caspian Tern.
Gull-billed Terns are predominantly an inland species breeding on islands in shallow inland lakes.

Gull-billed Tern – this bird is a juvenile – note the dark edge to the tip of the tail feathers and upper wing coverts.

Gull-billed Tern - same bird as the photo above. Adults in full breeding plumage were also present.

Gull-billed Tern - same bird as the photo above.

Other waterbird species we saw included Grey Teal, Australian Wood Duck, Pacific Black Duck, Black-fronted Dotterel, Red-capped Plover, Red-necked Avocet and Black-winged Stilt.

Raptors are important predators in outback arid country ecosystems and Black Kites are probably the most numerous Australian raptor. We saw very large numbers of Black Kites in the Top End and as we came south from the savannah woodlands, Black Kites were constant companions all the way south. In some places between Mt Isa and Birdsville we came upon congregations of Black Kites over open plains numbering in the hundreds.

Black Kite – this is a juvenile bird.
Whistling Kites were also numerous and widespread especially near water.

Whistling Kite - note the differences from Black Kite above, in particular the tail shape.

Whistling Kites were breeding. This bird kept calling with a mate on a nest in a Coolabah less than 100 metres away.

Black-shouldered Kite (not a Letter-winged Kite – we did not see any Letter-winged Kites this trip)

Little Eagle female on a nest in Coolabah (Eucalyptus coolabah).

The much smaller male Little Eagle bringing a small food item held in the left talon to the female on the nest.

The male Little Eagle displaying his light morph plumage.

Australian Raven complaining after being chased by the Little Eagle – this one was one of a pair and they were nesting not far from the Little Eagles.

Bush birds were also breeding along the edge of the Warburton.

Rufous Songlark with moth to feed young.

Chirruping Wedgebills are arid land inhabitants. We have found them in the past in association with dense saltbush species. Along the Warburton they were using the dense lignum. They were in breeding mode and calling incessantly.

Chirruping Wedgebill.

White-plumed Honeyeaters were the most numerous honeyeater and the most numerous bush bird on the Warburton – they were also breeding.

Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters were present but not nearly as numerous.

Cropped version of photo above showing the spiny feathers on the side of the face/cheek.

The only other species of honeyeater we saw were a few Pied Honeyeaters – this is a female.

Diamond Doves, another common arid land species, were present along the Warburton as were Crested Pigeons.

Budgerigars and a Zebra Finch at small water hole for a drink on a side channel of the Warburton.

Little Corella at a nest hollow in Coolabah - they weren’t nesting yet but birds were keeping a very possessive watch at suitable hollows.

They regularly inspected the hollows and carried out a little maintenance.

A male and female pair of Budgies – they had a nest hollow in a nearby Coolabah.

Budgies kissing?  Actually the male, on right, is feeding her.

Black-faced Woodswallows, a good example of a desert nomad, were common and there were also Masked Woodswallows about.

This is the last of 18 posts covering our Winter 2016 Top End trip. I hope you have enjoyed the posts, learnt a little and been inspired to get out there and see for yourself at least some of the areas we visited and most importantly, experience the amazing variety of bird species that live in these diverse inland and Top End environments.  

PS For those interested all of the photos in these posts have been taken hand held using a Canon 5D MKIII full frame camera body, a Canon EF 300mm 1:2.8L IS II USM lens with a Canon Extender EF 2X III fitted giving a focal length of 600mm.