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Alice Springs and Ayers Rock Bird Watching

Author: Carl from Pahrump
Email: carlball@yahoo.com (More Trip Reviews by Carl from Pahrump)
Date of Trip: October 2006

We slowly drove south stopping at all the rest areas, Truck-Train Sidings, memorials and anywhere we saw birds while driving. We saw lots of Woodswallows and Zebra Finches, and one Hooded Robin. There were heaps of dead Kangaroos along side the road, and Raptors like the Black-breasted, Square-tailed, and Whistling Kites; and one Wedge-tailed Eagle, cleaning up the mess.

We stopped at the Ti Tree Roadhouse (22.131S 133.416E) for lunch. The terrain was changing all day as trees gave way to scrub and scattered grass. Everything was flat and very dry, or burned to a crisp. As we approached Alice Springs the straight and narrow road turned into a curvy but narrow mountain road. The speed limit changed from Unlimited to 75mph, then 65mph and finally 30mph.

On Oct 10 we went to the nearby Olive Pink Botanic Garden (23.707S 133.884E) for our afternoon bird watching. Olive was a free spirit anthropologists and naturalist who moved to Alice Springs in the 1930s. She was a rebel to the end; i.e., her's is the only gravestone facing west in the graveyard.

The Botanic Garden had no flowers, only native trees, which brings in the native birds, especially since there is a waterhole. We saw the knockout beautiful Variegated Fairy-wren, some Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters, White-fronted Honeyeaters, Inland Thornbills, and the Western Bowerbird. We saw a car that said: "Powered by OPAL". Petrol sniffing is a big problem here with Aborigine kids. OPAL is a type of gasoline sold in Central Australia that you can't get "High" from sniffing. It is illegal to bring non-OPAL gasoline into some Aborigine areas, even in your car gas tank.

For dinner we ordered homemade Indian food from an Indian lady across the street. We ordered Green Peas and Mushrooms simmered with herbs, Mashed Potatoes and Cottage Cheese Dumplings stuffed with nuts in a rich creamy sauce, bread stuffed with cheese, bread stuffed with potatoes, and rice. Beautiful vegetarian meal!

We were off at 6am on Oct 11 heading to the West McDonell Range NP. Our first stop was at Simpson Gap. At the Visitor Center we saw a pair of Mulga Parrots in Ghost Gum Trees (they send out roots for 1000's of feet in search for water). This area averages 4 to 10 inches of rain a year

Next we tried the 10 Km Woodland Walk. This is a very romantic walk since you are supposed to kiss all the way to entice Splendid Fairy-wrens to check you out. We gave it our best, but only found a White-winged Fairywren nesting by the trail. We saw heaps of White fronted and Black-faced Woodswallows, and stacks of White-fronted Honeyeaters. Our best birds were the Rufous Songlarks that serenaded us all morning with a Beautiful melody, the Gray-headed Honeyeaters, and Chestnut-rumped Thornbills. After 1.3 Km (1.5 hours) of walking thru Red Gum Trees, Mulga bushes, and a few dry streambeds we decided to turn back.

Our final stop today was at the end of the canyon where the 2 mountains bend down to form Simpson's Gap. We saw a huge flock of White-plumbed Honeyeaters here. The wind was so strong it nearly blew our birding hats off. Some of the boulders were a pale lavender color. By the end of the walk we were knacked (Aussie for ‘very tired'). At 11:45am we headed home for lunch and to hang our birding clothes out to dry.

We were off at 4:45am on Oct 12. We drove west in the McDonell NP stopping along the road when we saw birds. We saw some brilliant Painted Finches at sunrise. We eventually arrived at Ellery Creek Big Hole. It has a spring fed pool with cattails, something I didn't expect to see in the desert. We saw Eurasian Coots and White-faced Herons. We were swarmed by Gray-fronted and White-plumbed Honeyeaters. Later we saw a Black-footed Rock Wallaby sunning itself high on the cliff wall. On the way back we only made a few stops and saw the Brown Falcon and Black-breasted Kite. We arrived back at the cottage at 11:45am.

After lunch we went birding with Will at the Sewage Treatment Ponds. Sewage treatment ponds are always one of the best to go birding - this is particularly true in Alice Springs. We saw 52 bird species at The Ponds in 3 hours including a Black Swan, Black-tailed Native-hens, mobs of Red-necked Avocets, White-winged Terns, Hoary-headed Grebes, Gray Teals, several Clamorous Reed-Warblers that Will called out, White-eyed Ducks, Blue-billed Ducks in the distance, Greenshanks, Wood Sandpipers, and Red-necked Stints.

We walked the Bush near The Ponds and found Variegated and White-wing Fairywrens, Weebills, Willie-wagtails, Common Bronzewings, Red-browed Pardalotes, and a Little Eagle nest. We sampled some Ruby Salt-bush berries the Aborigines use for Bush tucker. They look like small strawberries and don't have much flavor, but were otherwise agreeable to eat.

We were off at 5:45am on Oct 13 with Will for Konuth Well Station. We drove 20 Km north of Alice on the Steward Highway, and then 29.6 Km west on the "half-paved" Tanami Rd to Konuth Well. The center half of each lane is paved creating a good driving surface. The other half of each lane is dense grade aggregate that is almost as hard and smooth as concrete. When you meet on coming traffic, each car uses half the paved road. If you meet a Truck-train, it is best for cars to pull off the road and stop till they go by.

Birding is especially good at the Konuth Well Station because of its remote location and the big pond on the property. We saw several uncommon species here including Bourke's Parrot, Crimson and Orange Chats, White-backed Swallows, and a Brown Goshawk.

We went for a long Bush walk. We found a pair of wild Brombeys. We saw 3 Gray Honeyeaters, a Crested Bellbird, a Varied Sittella, a Slaty-backed Thornbill, and Southern Whitefaces. Many birders from all over the world come here just to have a chance to see the Gray Honeyeater.

We went back to The Ponds with Will in the late afternoon. We found 2 species we didn't see yesterday, i.e., the Red-kneed Dotterel and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.

spinifix pigeonWe were up at 4:15am on Oct 14 and drove to Serpentine Gorge in the West McDonell Range NP before sunup. We walked the 1.3 Km trail to the Gorge in 20 minutes. Fairy Martins were swarming the permanent water hole and flying to their adobe gourd-shaped housing development high on the canyon wall. The light was not great, but we thought we saw a Painted Finch on the far side of the water hole from us -- then in a flash there were 4 females and 2 brightly colored males. As we watched, we looked-up to discover we were surrounded by a flock of 10 Spinifex Pigeons-- they are really hard to find and only live in this desert area where they blend into the Gold Spinifex plants and red rocks, unless you can get them at a water hole.

Back on the road we stopped at a rest area for a panoramic view of the mountain range. We found a tree with 12 Grey-headed Honeyeaters and dozens of Zebra Finches in perfect light for pictures.

We drove on to Orminton Gorge and Pound - the Australians spell many words slightly different than Americans; i.e., pound = pond, tyre = tire, grey = gray. We walked to the river and found the first of many spring fed pools. The pools lay in a strata of polished lavender sandstone laced with white quartz. People were already here sun bathing so the birds had moved on with the exception of White-plumbed Honeyeaters.

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