A very exciting trip with keen English birders and a fast pace was set. We all worked hard and it paid off with some terrific sightings with a total trip list of 208 species.
At Taylor’s Lagoon an excellent sighting of Black Falcon on our first morning set the standard followed by a lone Yellow-billed Spoonbill, a rare bird in the West Kimberley. However disaster struck, whilst we were driving to Willare Bridge only about an 1 hours drive out of Broome – a loud bang from under the bonnet of the land cruiser and a temp gauge in the red had my heart sinking. A major breakdown on the first day of a 16 day trip is my worst nightmare! The vehicle’s plastic fan blade had shattered but luckily apart from breaking the radiator cowling it had not touched the radiator itself, a miracle enabling us to nurse the cruiser to Derby where we replaced the fan and cowing and were mobile by the next morning.
The Derby Wharf and mangroves were reasonably productive with Great-billed Heron being almost a sure thing at this location in 2002. We struggled a bit with mangrove birds initially but our persistence paid off with cracking views of male Mangrove Golden Whistler and Broad-billed Flycatcher, the Kimberley Flycatcher i.e. lemon breasted race, tormenti, we ended up having to kick it out of the way! a female White-breasted Whistler obliged us, the male shy and we made do with half views.
A flock of 30 Star Finches on the roadside at the King Leopold Ranges really hit the spot and things were looking a whole lot better. Several remote camp spots about the Leopold Ranges saw our bird list grow with great views of Azure Kingfisher, White-quilled Rock Pigeon, Silver-crowned Friarbirds, Blue-faced Honeyeaters & Yellow-throated Miners. The widespread golden-backed race of Black-chinned Honeyeater was added to a list of 7 honeyeater species seen in the Bell Creek vicinity alone. Little Button Quail, Masked Finch, Crimson Finch & Pictorella Mannikins were all seen well on the Gibb River Road. The bird of the trip had to be Red Goshawk. Excellent scope views perched, and in flight had to make us the happiest group of birders in the Kimberley that morning. One hour later a male Black Bittern was flushed from long grass growing in a small creek bed. The bittern landing in a nearby acacia, again stunning scope views as the bird made a valiant effort to remain obscured amongst a few leaves and branches.
Purple-crowned Fairy Wrens showed well after some reluctance. I think the cold mornings had something to do with it, all the male birds we saw were in non-breeding plumage, nevertheless this species of fairy wren are hard to beat and we all enjoyed these handsome little birds. We found Gouldian Finches at three different locations but unfortunately no adults which was disappointing.
The Mitchell Plateau and the Black Grasswrens showed mercy on us, we found them within the first fifteen minutes of our search and watched them for 20 minutes, superb views, we were all delighted including one relieved guide – me!! White-lined Honeyeaters and Green-backed Gerygones showed off for us both seen singing close to our rocky lookout. While Partridge Pigeons and Brown Quail were found in the camp ground. Still reeling from our success with the Black Grasswrens a confident group approached a vine thicket well known to me to contain two pairs of Rainbow Pittas. Well there could have been 2 dozen rainbow pittas in this patch but we didn’t see any of them. We did get one call, a response to a tape but that was it. However, we did succeed with Little Shirke Thrush (race pervula), Pied Imperial Pigeon, Barking Owl, Emerald Dove, Northern and Grey Fantail (race alesteri) a winter visitor and both Varied Triller and Yellow Oriole were common.
Chestnut-backed Button Quail were found at several locations but only some of us had satisfying views, many of my known sites have remained unburnt this year making the job of showing birders this species very difficult. An early morning stop in some likely looking woodland paid off with excellent views of a male Northern Shrike Tit a male Crested Bellbird and a pair of Hooded Robins. Black-tailed Treecreepers, Jacky Winter, Grey-fronted and White-throated Honeyeaters, Masked Finch, Grey-shrike Thrush and Grey-crowned Babblers were also milling about and showing well what a magical mix of bird species on a fifteen minute walk in the bush. Sandstone Shrike Thrush called up well, at a small gorge on Bindoola Creek. This activity prompted a White-browed Robin to call from pandanus thickets below us as well. Spinifex Pigeons at the Pentecost Crossing were new birds for some and large flocks of up to 500 Pictorella Mannikins were seen well close to the El Questro turn off.
Wyndham & Parry’s Lagoon kept us pretty busy, success with Zitting Cisticola, Yellow Chats (6 birds) including a full plumaged male, lots of waterbirds including Pied Heron, and some returning migratory waders. Rufous Fantail and Lemon-breasted Flycatcher (nominate race) Mangrove Golden Whistler and Red-headed Honeyeater did us proud in mangroves but we dipped on Collared Kingfisher which was very surprising as they’re usually fairly reliable at the Wyndham Wharf. Shinning Flycatcher, White-browed Crake & Chestnut-breasted Mannikin were new birds for the trip at Kingston Rest and the Bungles were excellent for bushbirds. A splendid male Red-capped Robin graced our campsite here to everybody’s delight. Owlet Nightjars can be awkward to find and much searching of likely trees up to now had revealed nothing. So an evening drive was undertaken with great success good views and plenty of video footage & photos taken as the bird sat quietly on the road. A major dip was the Painted Firetails this really was unusual and unexpected, we searched so many known and usually reliable sites, perhaps we were trying too hard or its something to do with the dry season or cold weather. Other highlights included Grey Falcon, Peregrine Falcon and Pink-eared Duck. An exciting trip with great company. Thanks to all who participated, great birding in the future to all of you.