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Across the Nullarbor Plain and SE Coastal WA Birding

Author: Carl from Pahrump
Date of Trip: January 2001

In 2006 and 2007 we spent 255 Days driving around Australia. We started in Darwin, drove south to Alice Springs, backtracked to Cairns, went down the East Coast to Rockhampton, cut over to Melbourne, went across the Nullarbor Plain to Perth, drove up the West Coast to Broome, and finished by crossing the Kimberely Region on our way back to Darwin — 24,000 miles & 6 rental cars. Along the way we stayed in 56 cities and saw 693 bird species/subspecies.

This Trip Report covers the 7-days we spent bird watching in SE Coastal Western Australia during March 2007.

We saw 91 bird species at 8 parks. The parks where we saw the most bird species were: Monjingup Lake = 34, Fitzgerald River NP = 32, Lake Warden Wetlands = 26, Fraser Sheep Station = 19, Dundas Rocks = 18, Cape Le Grand NP = 17, Eyre Hwy = 16, & Fitzgerald River B&B = 16.

The cities where we saw the most bird species were: Esperance = 60, Jarramungup = 40, Norseman = 30 & Mundrabilla = 3.

Lodging

Mundrabilla — We stayed at the Mundrabilla Motor Hotel (mundrabilla@bigpond.com 31.834S 128.177E). The rooms were pretty dowdy, but the food at the restaurant was good. You can make reservations by Internet.

If you put these coordinates into Google Earth, you can see the locations I am discussing. Typically, there will be lots of pictures as well.

60 Miles East of Norseman – We stayed at the Fraser Sheep Station (www.fraserrangestation.com.au 32.029S 122.795E). The Station sits in the middle of 700,000 acres. The nearest neighbors are 60 miles east or 60 miles west. They don’t raise sheep anymore. They have converted the buildings into guest housing and developed a RV park. We stayed in the 1891 housing for ranch hands. The one we had still had the rock floor and original doors and windows. We had our meals supplied by the Station — Beautiful!!! The owners have developed a modern bathhouse. We originally planned to stay 3 nights, but only stayed 1 night since it was so dry and there were not many birds around.

Norseman — We ended up staying 2 nights in Norseman at the Norseman Eyre Motel. We thought we should move to Esperance early since we didn’t see many birds at the Fraser Sheep Station. However, it turned out it was a long weekend, and all the hotels were full. We ended up driving 2-hours back to Norseman to find a place to stay for Sunday and Monday nights. We got the Executive Room at the Norseman Eyre Motel in town (AAA 3 Star) — I feel sorry for the people who got the standard or budget rooms!

Esperance — We stayed at the All Season Esplanade Apartments (esperance_allseasons@bigpond.com ) close to downtown.

Jerramungup – We stayed at the Fitzgerald River B&B (http://members.westnet.com.au/fitzriverbb 33.960S 119.170E). Our hosts were Janine and Trevor Barrett. They live on an active station with 7000 sheep and 7000 acres of wheat, barley and canola. This is a place where you usually can see the highly endangered Malleefowel in the evenings in the Barley field. The meals were Beautiful!!!!!!

Highlights of the Region:

Seeing the highly endangered Malleefowel at the Fitzgerald River B&B.

Eating Yabbies at the Fitzgerald River B&B.

Seeing 27 Wedge-tailed Eagles while crossing the Nullarbor, and innumerable Ravens and Crows chowing down on the overnight road kill.

Seeing a pair of Rufous Treecreepers nesting at the Fraser Sheep Station.

Seeing a mob of Emus at Cape Le Grand NP.

The bird cacophony at Monjingup Lake and seeing several Red-capped Parrots and a dozen Elegant Parrots feeding off the Showy Banksia plants (Bottle Brush to us). A Musk Duck was in the lake.

If we were planning the trip again, I would:

Consider staying at the Madura Roadhouse (www.nullarbornet.com.au/towns/madura.html 31.900S 127.020E) 110 km west of the Mundrabilla Motor Hotel. No Internet reservations, but they have a phone.

Stay 3 nights in Esperance.

Disappointments

Not being able to go to the Eyre Bird Observatory (32.246S 126.302E) because of the bad road.

Birding Summary

Of the 91 bird species we saw in SE Coastal WA, 47 were endemic to Australia. Most of the 44 non-Australian Endemic bird species were new for us — only the Laughing Gull was not. 9 bird species were never seen again during the 255-day trip around Australia; that is: Cape Barren Goose, Scarlet Robin, Jacky-winter, Slender-billed Thornbill, Laughing Gull, Stubble Quail, Malleefowl, Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, & Purple-gaped Honeyeater.

Special Comments:

On March 2 we got to the WA border at 5:30pm. Just across the border we came upon a “Crow” in the road. We assumed it would move, but it didn’t, so my wife ran over it. Turns out we ran over our new bird of the day, a Brown Currawong. We saw more later.

When we stopped for gas, we learned this part of WA has their own time zone; i.e., they are 45 minutes ahead of Perth and 45 minutes behind Adelaide

We go to the hotel about 5:45pm. After a little rest we had lunch at the Roadhouse. I got Chicken Parmigiana with chips and salad. My wife got a T-Bone Steak. The chicken was great.

On March 3 we were off pre Dawn for the push West. Early on there were swarms of Ravens and Crows chowing down on the overnight road kill (Kangaroos), but the showstopper was the Wedge-tailed Eagles. We saw 27 Eagles today, on the road, soaring, flying in front of the car and sitting in trees.

Gas was $4.61 US per gallon. We were glad to get some Maxibond ice cream bars (which were at the regular price).

About 9:30am it started misting, followed by Grasshopper rain. It was cloudy all day, which kept it cooler. It can get to 113F out here (133F in the sun).

On the side-road to the Eyre Bird Observatory (32.246S 126.302E) we saw a Red Kangaroo and Joey. The road was so rough we only went 5 of the 33 Km.

At Noon we got to the Western time zone, where we set our clocks back another 45 minutes. The road out here is a series of very long straight stretches. In the afternoon we drove a 90-mile straight stretch — the longest in Australia, before a slight course correction.

We got to the Fraser Sheep Station at 4pm. We spent time talking to the managers — a couple from Queensland that will work here from March till Christmas. The station is closed January and February because it’s too hot. They have to generate their own electricity ($190 per day) and can’t afford air conditioning.

My wife told the managers about having her honey confiscated Friday at the WA border. Later, they brought us some honey produced on the station.

We went for a late afternoon walk about the property. My wife spotted a pair of Rufous Treecreepers nesting. They are a beautiful reddish-brown, with a striped pattern on their wings when they fly.

For dinner the owners had prepared Corn Beef with cream gravy, mashed potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and cooked cabbage. For dessert we had chocolate cake with chocolate pudding and whipped cream. Beautiful!!!

Water is at a premium out here. To encourage conservation, they charge $1 for a 5-minute shower. After showering, we crashed!

On March 4 we saw it getting light about 4:30am thru our one and only window. We got dressed for birding and went out. Then we discovered the light was coming from the almost full Moon shinning in our window.

We left at 9am heading west to Norseman, then south to Esperance. The Yellow Gazanias along the road looked like Dandelions. We stopped at pull-offs along the route. We were rewarded with a Slender-billed Thornbill, a Regent Parrot, ten Purple-crowned Lorikeets, and a flock of Black-capped Sittellas.

We got to Esperance at 2:15pm. We didn’t have a hotel reservation till March 6. It turned out this was a long weekend, and all the hotels were full. After exhausting our rooming options, we drove 2-hours back to Norseman to find a place to stay for Sunday and Monday nights. We got an Executive Room at the BP in town (AAA 3 Star) — I feel sorry for the people who got the standard or budget rooms!

We ate dinner at our hotel. On Sunday night they only have one meal to choose from. We got veggie beef soup, followed by lamb roast and gravy, potatoes, Japanese Squash, cooked Cabbage, green beans, and pea pods. For dessert we had chocolate cake, pudding, and ice cream. Very Good.

On March 5 we drove out to Dundas Rocks (32.468S 121.784E) in the early morning. We parked on the narrow road several times to look for rocks and minerals. Flocks of small birds were working the Mallee trees for bugs. Our best sighting was a Lesser Wanderer Butterfly.

Water out here is more valuable than Gold. We examined a water catchment system built on the side of a granite hillside over 100 years ago to catch rainwater during the past gold rush. For lunch we had Snapper and chips at the BP Restaurant.

On March 6 we left at 6am in the pre-dawn darkness. We had to carefully watch for errant Kangaroos. All we saw was a pregnant Brumbe and three Red Fox pups.

Our first stop in Esperance was the VC where we got a Concessionars (retired person) national park pass. We spotted a Western Wattlebird in the trees at the VC.

We stopped outside Esperance at the Lake Warden Wetland System (Kepwari Trail 33.803S 121.891E). We went on a track around Wood Lake and saw a Western Shrike-thrush and pair of Red-eared Firetails amongst the Bottlebrush Trees and Wild Geraniums.

We drove 60 Km east to the Cape Le Grand NP (33.990S 122.219E). As we got to the park we saw a mob of Emus — there were dozens of them. The beaches here were spectacular — brilliant white sugar sand, light blue water, surrounded by Mulga greens. We went to the bird sanctuary where we saw hundreds of Western New Holland Honeyeaters and a White-cheeked Honeyeater.

We had tea (Dn) at the Loose Goose. We started with Herb Bread and Garlic Bread, and Creamy Garlic Prawns with rice (our second choice was Avocado and Strawberry Salad with Mango dressing). For the Main, my wife had Crayfish. I had a Veal Steak encrusted with peppercorns over home made noodles mixed with fresh spinach and Esperance olive oil with pureed Pumpkin & Coconut dipping sauce. We also got a side order of baked Pumpkin, and Cauliflower in a thick cream sauce. Beautiful — especially the Veal.

On March 7 we stopped at Monjingup Lake, 10 Km west of Esperance (33.821S 121.834E), early in the morning. This is an extremely bird rich environment — probably the most movement and singing we have ever heard. Right off we saw several Red-capped Parrots. Other best birds were the Western Magpie, White-tailed Fantail, Scarlet Robin, and Western Spinebill. We also saw a dozen Elegant Parrots feeding off the Showy Banksia plants (Bottle Brush to us). We found a Musk Duck in the lake. Quite a morning!

As we were getting ready to leave a man walked into the park. It turned out he was the manager/caretaker of Monjingup Lake. He got to be the retired “manager” since he talked the Council (similar to our county government) into designating the area as a park. Ten years ago it was a motorcycle camping area.

We continued driving west till we saw a turnoff for Oldfield Estuary and Munglinup Beach. We drove the 26 Km to Oldfield Estuary. We would have to walk 3 more Km in blazing sun to get from the road to the estuary, so we just drove on down the dirt road to Munglinup Beach. We spent an hour at the beach picking-up treasures (quartz and shells).

We arrived at the Fitzgerald River B&B near Jerramungup at 4pm. Our hosts were Janine and Trevor Barrett. They live on an active station with 7000 sheep and 7000 acres of wheat, barley and canola.

At 7pm we left with Trevor to look for Malleefowel on the Station. The Malleefowel doesn’t come out during the heat of the day, but if you wait too late you can’t see them either. Malleefowel build huge mounds where they incubate their eggs. They are highly endangered because of the loss of habitat to fires and farming — foxes take a toll as well.

On the drive out thru the Barley field Trevor scared out a Stubble Quail. Then we spotted three Malleefowel in the field. One got spooked and flew away. The other two let us walk up close to them, and even posed for pictures.

While we were watching the Malleefowel we heard a loud commotion in the distance. Then we saw big birds fly into the trees 300m away. We got our binoculars on some. They were Cockatoos with white tails. They turned out to be a WA specialty bird — the Short-billed Black-Cockatoo, or Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo. You can’t call them a white-tailed Cockatoo because there is another cockatoo out here that also has white in the tail.

Janine had dinner ready when we came back. We had Steak Salad with Smashed Potatoes (cut a boiled potato in half, press it down with a potato mashed, drizzle on some Olive Oil, salt, pepper, and cheese; bake in the oven till the cheese melts). For dessert we had Mango Trifle with Pavlova, custard, Mango Jelly, and Sponge Cake with Cointreau.

On March 8 we drove to the nearby Fitzgerald River NP (33.975S 119.177E) for early morning birding at the entry booth for the park where the bird book says you should be able to see a Western Whipbird and other specialty birds. The birds seemed to be sleeping in today (or maybe the recent bush fire chased them away). Anyhow, after an hour of beating the bushes and seeing only a few of the usual suspects, we went back to the B&B.

For Jam Tasting Janine had prepared home made whole grain bread and Strawberry Jam, followed by fresh fruit salad with vanilla yogurt and cereal. Yummy!

We left at 10am for another birding foray into Fitzgerald River NP. 26 Km into the park we found the Bird Mother-load. First, we saw a Twany-crowned Honeyeater in a flowering bush. Next there was a Purple-gapped Honeyeater close by. Wattlebirds were whizzing everywhere. Then my wife spotted 4 Purple-crowned Lorikeets — they are only 6 inches long and blend into the green tree leaves. Even with my wife pointing at them for me, it took a long time to actually find them, even though they were only 15 feet away.

Down the road we found a group of 100 or more of the Little Lorikeets. They were so confident we couldn’t see them, they would let me walk around them trying for the best lighting conditions without flying away

It got to 40C (104F) today. We would often see the birds sitting on limbs panting. My wife decided the birds needed some water, so she pored some of our bottled water into a Glad storage container for them to drink out of. The first customer was a Red Wattlebird. He liked the water so much he wouldn’t let any other bird have some.

We drove on across the park and finally arrived at Point Ann Beach (34.166S 119.576E) at 2:30pm. This is a Right Whale watching location from July to October — not many people here today. We spent some time picking up treasures on the beach. We got back to the B&B at 5pm.

For dinner Jennie served grilled lamb-kabobs over rice and onions, with baked potato wedges and sweet potatoes in a mustard cream sauce (sour cream, mayonnaise, and whole grain mustard), and mixed pea pods and green beans. The lamb came from their farm. For dessert we had homemade macadamia nut ice cream with honey (instead of sugar) topped with fresh red raspberries and home made rocky road chocolate squares. Beautiful and delicious!!!!

After dinner my wife commented on their water garden. Trevor said it attracted mice, which brought in snakes. He said the snakes were poisonous, but Australian snakes don’t inject the venom thru hollow teeth like ours do — the venom comes from glands on their gums. If you wear long pants, you might get a bite, but the venom will only get on your clothes (not kill you).

At Dawn on March 9 we went for a small walk-about on the 17,000-acre Station. The highlight was seeing a Painted Appleberry vine climbing up a tree.

For Jam Tasting we had Orange-Lemon Marmalade on Crumpets (a fancy English muffin). After Brekky, Janine showed us the 20-liters of Yabbies Trevor had brought in from 1 of the 70 lakes on the Station. Yabbies are like our crayfish, but bigger.

At 10am we went for a 188 Km circuit drive thru Jerramungup, south to Devils Creek Road (34.212S 119.115E), NW thru Fitzgerald River NP, and back to the B&B. We saw several flocks of Black-cockatoos with white tails. One group flew low over our heads as I was photographing them. We saw Ringneck Parrots (the so called “28 Parrot” because its call sounds like someone saying “28”) and Red-capped Parrots feeding in a field.

At a river crossing we saw a few Coots and a Blue-billed Duck. Splendid Fairywrens were running along the banks. It started sprinkling, so we moved on.

For dinner Janine fixed Yabbies in noodles with Mornay sauce (saute lots of garlic in butter, add half a bottle of white wine, reduce, add cream) and avocado salad with honey mustard dressing. For dessert we had Pavlova filled with Passion fruit filling (the Passion fruit come from a friends Station).

E-mail if you would like a file with the specific birds we saw each day.

Carl & Wilma Ball carlball@yahoo.com

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