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West Coast Bird Watching

Author: Carl from Pahrump
Date of Trip: April 2007

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 10-days we spent bird watching along the West Coast of Western Australia during April 2007.

We saw 100 bird species at 9 parks. The parks by Region where we saw the most bird species were:

Wheatbealt Region – Yanchep NP = 31, Pinnacles Desert NP = 15, & New Norcia Monisteria = 12.

Mid-West Region – Kalbarri NP = 24, & Horrocks Beach = 14

Gascoyne Region – Cape Range NP — 22, Giralia Station = 16, & Ningaloo Reef Resort = 15

Pilbara Region – NW Coast Hwy = 45

The Regions where we saw the most bird species were:

Pilbara = 45, Wheatbealt = 39, Gascoyne = 39, & Mid-West = 29

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_in_Australia for the definition of Australian Regions.

Lodging

Gingin — We stayed at the Neergabby Organic Farm B&B (nofsmith@iinet.net.au 31.332S 115.857E) outside Gingin about 1-hours north of Perth. Our hosts were Robin and Ian. We had never stayed in a Rammed Limestone house before — Beautiful!!!. We took the meals option and were very pleased.

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.

Northampton — It was hard to find a place to stay in this area that had the possibility of birding. We ended up staying at the Willow Gully Farmstay (28.381S 114.454E) between Northampton and Horrocks. We stayed in an old farmhouse, but there was no farm family around and only 5-bird species. We probably should have stayed in Horrocks at the Horrocks Beach Caravan Park in a Park Cabin (28.381S 114.430E) for the night. (http://www.horrocksbeachcaravanpark.com.au/site/accommodation).

Coral Bay — We stayed at the Ningaloo Reef Resort (23.143S 113.769E http://www.coralbay.info/resort.htm). We were not very pleased with our room. We were expecting something more private and beachfront. The kitchen was a joke — a microwave, small refrig, an electric pot to boil water for tea/coffee, a small decrepit toaster and two spoons/knives/forks — no stove. We came prepared to make sandwiches and eat out, so we made do. We were there during a holiday period so the resort was crowded and noisy.

Giralia Station — We stayed at the remote Giralia Station (pronounced Ja-Ray-Le-uh 22.684S 114.368E) about 100 Km from Coral Bay (http://australia.shopsafe.com.au/western_australia_accommodation/
ningaloo_reef_accommodation/exmouth/giralia_station_stay-cabin_cottage_accommodation.htm). Our hosts were Denver & Jennifer, their 3 kids, 4 dogs, 5 cats and 3 horses. Denver said they have a 35 Kw generate for the Station along with a solar power system. The generator runs 10 hours a day and powers the refrig, air conditioning, lights, computers, etc. The generator goes off at 9:30pm, which means no AC during the night. Denver said it costs them $24,000 US to run the generator a year; i.e., $2000 a month. Jennifer said we it is too cool now (102F today) for cyclones. A month ago when they had 3 cyclones in 3 weeks, it was 120 to 125F every day (they ran the AC at night then).

Port Hedland — We stayed at the Cooke Point Holiday Park (http://cooke-point-holiday-park.wa.big4.com.au/ 20.310S 118.638E) in a holiday cabin. We got there after the office had closed, but the staff reopened for us. However, since this was part of the official 4-day Easter holidays nothing was open in town for supper. We made do with snack food we carry with us.

Highlights of the Region:

Eating Panna Cotta for dessert at Gingin.

Learning about the School of the Air at the Giralia Station.

Seeing a 1000 lbs Potato Cod under our tender boat at Coral Bay.

Driving along the edge of the West Coast from Horrocks Beach to the Pinnacles Desert NP near Cervantes to the Kalbarri NP.

Snorkeling with Whale Sharks and Giant Manta Rays on the Ningaloo Reef near Coral Bay.

The Boy’s Chapel at the New Marcia Monastery.

If we were planning the trip again, I would:

Stop in Monkey Mia to see the Dolphines instead of snorkeling with the Whale Sharks at Coral Bay.

Go inland to see Karijini National Park near the remote town of Tom Price (stay at the Tom Price Tourist Park www.smh.com.au/news/Western-Australia/Tom-Price/2005/02/17/1108500208703.html?oneclick=true)

Come during the August-September wildflower season.

Birding Summary

Of the 100 bird species we saw along the West Coast of Western Australia, 38 were endemic to Australia. Most of the 62 non-Australian Endemic bird species were new for us.

9 bird species were never seen again during the 255-day trip around Australia; that is: Kimberely Magpie, Roseate Tern, Common Noddy, Singing Honeyeater, Little Corella, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Oriental Pratincole, White-plumed Honeyeater, & Ostrich.

Special Comments:

On March 31 we started the trek North up the West Coast of Australia. We stopped at the Leschenaunlt Peninsula Conservation Park (33.200S 115.694E) near Bunbury to look at water birds in the vast wetland. Traffic increased as we approached Perth. We managed to find our way onto the expressway that goes thru Perth, and onto the road that goes to our B&B.

We stopped for a picnic lunch at Yanchep NP (31.545S 115.682E). Several Pacific Black Ducks and Purple Swamp Hens decided to join us. In the background were thousands of Short-billed Black-cockatoos – the sky was full of them at times — then every treetop was packed. They are pretty noisy, especially in mass.

We got to the Neergabby Organic Farm B&B at 4pm and met our hosts Robin and Ian. Later we went for a walk by the Gingin Brook.

For dinner Robin fixed Tasmanian Salmon steaks with sweet potatoe slices baked so slowly that they formed a caramelized topping, and a salad of Rocket, Cherry Tomatoes and Feta cheese with Balsamic Vinegar infused with Figs. For dessert we had stewed Plums with Panna Cotta, which is Italian for cooked cream — slowly cook double cream (it must never boil) with vanilla beans for 20 minutes, then add gelatin, then chill slowly till it is solid. After dinner Ian told us how their rammed Limestone house was built. The walls are 300mm (13 inches) thick. It is basically like a poured basement wall, but it is done with a dry limestone/sand/cement mixture and metal forms. The house is cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

On April 1 for Jam Tasting we had Plum Jam and Tahitian Lime Marmalade on freshly made whole grain bread. We also had fresh fruit with Greek Yogurt sweetened with local Bush Honey.

At 7:45am we were off for the monastery in New Norcia (30.971S 116.217E). Spanish Benedictine Monks established the monastery in the 1860’s on 30,000 sq miles of land (most leased from the state, some owned). In its peak there were 70 Monks, upwards of a 1000 kids in the boarding schools (one for white boys, one for white girls, one for Aborigine boys, and one for Aborigine girls — with 8 ft brick fences separating the schools), and hundreds of employees. The monastery has been downsized to 23,000 acres and 7 Monks and 1 trainee today, and no school. It is still the largest employer in this part of WA.

We toured the art gallery. In 1986 some men from Sydney cut out and stole 25 paintings. They were soon caught and the last of the paintings have been restored and put back on exhibit.

At 11am we took a guided tour of the grounds. Our favorite part was a portion of the boy’s chapel where they had religious graffiti painted on the walls

We had lunch at the hotel (everything in town is owned and operated by the Monastery). My wife had a foot long steak sandwich. I had fish and chips. It was exciting to get good fish and chips again!

For dinner Robin fixed chicken and pumpkin in a Green Peppercorn sauce (Green Peppercorns, Bay Leaves, Onion, chicken stock, and Ginger powder), served with wild rice. For dessert we had individual cherry-plumb almond crisp.

On April 2 we learned that Onion Jam is called Caramelized Onions in some cookbooks. At 8:40am we were heading north again. We didn’t get very far before we had to turn around to be sure we had seen an Ostrich.

We stopped at Lanelin Beach for a quick look at the waves and brilliant sand. Not many birds, but heaps of Yellow Primrose along the road.

We pressed north to the Emu Downs Wind Farm. They had several hundred giant windmills pumping out electricity. The road to Cervantes was lined with Bottle Brush Bushes in full bloom. Part of the drive passed thru a Bee Conservation Area.

We arrived at Cervantes, home of the Pinnacles Desert NP (a.k.a. Nambung NP 30.605S 115.156E), around Noon. It was Very bright and starting to get warm, so we opted for the 3 Km loop drive around the pointed limestone formations. I wasn’t sure the car could navigate the loose sand, but squeezing between some of the formations became a bigger worry. This is a very desolate place. We only saw a pair of Black-faced Woodswallows.

The park was full of young women walking a path around the formations. As we left we discovered they were German Backpackers who had arrived on the Big Yellow Backpacker Bus that runs between Darwin and Perth.

We got to the Willow Gully Farmstay at 4pm. We stayed in an early settler cottage on what used to be an Olive Farm. All the walls were plaster over field rocks. The fields also had rock walls.

On April 3 we were off at first light taking the short cut to the coast. This area reminded us of the Nullarbor — no trees. Occasionally, we got a glimpse of the ocean on the horizon.

We stopped in Kalbarri NP (27.736S 114.148E) at several viewing areas. The coastline was awesome, but the flies were horrid. We had a long drive ahead of us, so we got moving north at 10am. Fortunately, the lanes were wide with paved shoulders, so we could cruise at 110Kmph.

We saw a road sign this morning that said: Fix Australia Fix the Roads

We thought a more appropriate sign would be: Fix Australia Put Bathrooms at Rest Areas

We got to Coral Bay Resort at sundown with the sun dead-on in my eyes -several times I had to stop in the road because I couldn’t see.

On April 4 we walked over to the beach around 7:30am to get orientated. It was already getting hot and humid.

About 8:30am we were back to the beach to go snorkeling. The water was warm, but not particularly clear. We managed to see several Sting Rays. There wasn’t much coral or fish life, but we did see a French Angelfish.

We went back to another location on the beach at Noon for more snorkeling. This time we saw baby Giant Clams right off. They flinch, and their lips change color, when you swim over them. We came on a big mob of Parrot Fish and other large reef fish feeding on dead coral. Further out we found live coral and a school of small Electric Blue Fish. The visibility was very poor so we decided to head back and try again later once the tide had stopped going out.

We tried snorkeling again at 4pm. We ended up swimming a lot and trashing around some coral, but the visibility wasn’t good and the water was either too shallow or too murky to see anything, so we headed back to the resort.

We ate dinner at the resort restaurant. We started with Tomato, Bacon, and Prawn Soup, and Turkish Bread with Feta Cheese and Pesto. My wife had seared Scallops salad with Balsamic Vinegar dressing (Scallops in Australia have more parts to them than in the US). I had the Fillet Steak special on stir-fried Asian Veggies with Garlic Soy sauce. Beautiful!!

On April 5 we tendered out to the Dominator at 9am for Snorkeling with Whale Sharks. There were 8 passengers and 3 crew.

About an hour out of port we stopped for a snorkeling equipment check. Everyone jumped into the water and got out almost as quick — except us — we wandered off looking at the seaweeds and ocean fish. When we got back on the boat we could see the 13 ft Tiger Shark that had been close by. No worries — they feed at night.

A few minutes later the crew spotted a Bull Ray. It looked really big in the water. They said one of these is what killed Steve Irwin.

All during the trip today we saw sea birds — Fairy Terns close to shore, Common Noddys sitting on channel markers, and Wedge-tailed Shearwater farther out (they run across the water to get air borne).

About 10:30am the Captain got a call from the spotter aircraft that a Blue Whale was about 6 miles ahead of us. The boat went after it at warp speed, but the whale got away. The whales migrate to the tropics this time of year, but are usually 500Km off shore. The Captain said he had only seen one once two years ago — a Mum and Calf — the calf was as big as a full-grown Humpback — the Mum was the length of 3 snorkel boats

We waited in the general area where the Blue Whale had been seen for several hours. The boat had wonderful snacks to keep us amused — like marinated Egg Plant and an assortment of cheeses.

To pass more time while we were bobbing on the ocean, the crew broke out the fishing gear. They caught a small Sweet Lips, which they used as bait to catch a Robinson’s Sea Brim, which they filleted and gave us at the end of the trip.

Lunch was an assortment of salads and cold cuts that the two young female crewmembers had made.

Finally, the call came from the spotter plane – a Whale Shark had been spotted a few Km away. We raced over, along with another snorkeling boat.

We all lined-up on the back of the boat and jumped in when the Whale Shark came swimming by. I was amazed when I jumped in the water, I was practically on top of the Whale Shark — it captured my entire field of view — very majestic light brown and covered with spots.

In a flash it disappeared in the murky waters ahead of us. I lost sight of my wife also. We all swam off as fast as we could to get back on the boat for our next go at the Whale Shark.

I guess seeing the Whale Shark took my wife’s breath away (or maybe it was the 75F water). When I next saw her, she was holding onto a passenger named John try to catch her breath.

We had 2 more chances to snorkel with the 13 ft female Whale Shark. It always seemed to be swimming into us. On the third try I saw that it had a mob of small fish swimming in front of its mouth. My wife decided to declare victory and rest.

We got back about 4:30pm. The Captain said we had traveled 40 miles today.

When the tender returned from taking the first group to shore, the Captain told everyone to get their snorkel masks on and quietly get in the water for a surprise. When I got in the water I was eye-ball to eye-ball with a 1000 lb Queensland Grouper — absolutely massive and beautiful.

I persuaded my wife to get in the water. Then the Captain had us get in a semicircle and he dropped the head of the Sea Brim we caught earlier today into the water. The Grouper finally got brave enough to come up and swallowed the head whole right in front of us. Wow!!!

We treated John to coffee and ice cream after the trip for saving my wife. John used to work for World Com in Pittsburgh, but lost his job a few years ago in reorganization. He has been traveling around the world ever since.

On April 6 we went for a walk on the beach before sun-up. We checked-out the Fairy Terns that are always sitting on floaters near shore.

On the morning snorkel trip our first stop was at the Coral Gardens. My wife was still feeling knacked from yesterday, so she skipped it. There was a vast profusion of corals — the plate corals always intrigue me, as do the petal corals and stag horns with blue tips. So many fish!

Our next stop was the Manta extravaganza. Manta Rays are actually the fourth largest Shark – not a Ray. The water temp today was 79F.

We divided up into groups like at the Whale Shark snorkel. My wife decided to watch from the top of the boat and try to get some pictures.

The first Manta Ray we saw was a pacer. When I got in the water, I was immediately over top the Manta Ray. It swam off with the guide chasing it. I didn’t try to sprint after it like everyone else. Pretty soon, the Manta came back to check me out. I had a really good look as it approached, swam under me, turned around, and headed back toward me. Then it dashed off, only to return in a minute or so to see why I was so far behind. It did this five times over 10 minutes, until we had to get out of the water so the next group could see the Manta Ray.

While we were resting on the boat, the Captain spotted another Manta Ray close by — so back in the water my group went. This Manta was in a rest mode. It stayed pretty much in one area while its crew of cleaner fish gave it a good going over. After 10 minutes we got out and let the next group have a crack it the Ray.

When it was our turn again, my wife decided to get in the water. But by now, the Manta was actively feeding again — so the guide and passengers had to chase after it. My wife and I returned to the boat along with another young man who thought chasing the Manta was not to his liking either. I thought the Manta was around 16 ft from wing tip to wing tip.

After lunch, we went to an area with Turtle Grass. We spotted a dozen Green Sea Turtles on the surface.

Our last snorkel was near the outer edge of the reef. Most of the passengers went with the guide, thru a break in the reef, to where you could see Reef Sharks. It sounded like too much distance and current for us, so we had a good snorkel with the fish and coral around the boat.

To celebrate our adventure, we had ice cream from the dive shop restaurant (everything else in town was closed for Good Friday). My wife had a scoop of Chocolate and a scoop of Rum Raisin. I had a Connoisseur Sundae — a scoop of Cookies and Cream, Strawberries and Cream, and Berries and Cream in a glass lined with chocolate syrup and topped with Whipped Cream and nuts.

On Good Friday we heard the WA Police were targeting people not wearing seat belts — it’s a $500 fine. They also are going after people driving 45Km over the speed limit (that would be over 100mph)!

To celebrate Good Friday, the Australians at the resort got rip-roaring drunk. This morning the garbage collection bins were overflowing with beer and wine bottles. A table on the veranda near our room was full of bottles, purses and high heal shoes.

It took a long time to get the snorkel stuff packed up, so we didn’t get off till 8:15. It was already HOT. It was soooooo hot (102F) that the Little Crows were sitting on posts panting. It was so hot that Richard’s Pipit was standing in the shade of a speed limit sign (at least they are good for something).

The drive on April 7 to Exmouth (just say X-Mouth) was thru Termite Mound territory — really big ones. I don’t know what they eat, since there is practically nothing out here.

Closer to Exmouth, things started to green-up a little, thanks to the recent cyclones. We saw heaps of Nanking Kestrels on the road. They are so prominent that they named a road in Exmouth after them.

Exmouth is as far NW as you can go in Australia. From now on, we will be going NE.

We spent the afternoon driving thru Cape Range NP. We saw six Brumbies, including an Irish one with a red mane. The Morning Glory Vines out here grow-up and totally overwhelm the surrounding bushes. They end up looking like Roses of Sharon.

In the late afternoon we drove up to Rough Range (22.097S 113.998E). This is where oil was first discovered in Australia in 1953. The road as you might imagine was rough.

The area is a thousand feet above the surrounding planes. It was formed by volcanoes. The views of the Indian Ocean from up here were awesome.

We hurried on to our home for the next two nights – Giralia Station (pronounced Ja-Ray-Le-uh). We met our hosts Denver & Jennifer, their 3 kids, 4 dogs, 5 cats and 3 horses.

Denver said they have a 35 Kw generate for the Station along with a solar power system. The generator runs 10 hours a day and powers the refrig, air conditioning, lights, computers, etc. The generator goes off at 9:30pm, which means no AC during the night. Denver said it costs them $24,000 US to run the generator a year; i.e., $2000 a month.

Jennifer said it is too cool now (102F today) for cyclones. A month ago when they had 3 cyclones in 3 weeks, it was 120 to 125F every day (they ran the AC at night then).

For dinner on the veranda we had home made pizza with a baked potato and salad. I had apricot crisp for dessert. We had dinner with Patrick, the only other guest here today. He owns a car dealership in Perth. He has been in this area for 2 weeks fishing and snorkeling. We spent some time looking at the awesome stars in the sky. We spotted the Milky Way and Orion. Patrick showed us the Southern Cross.

On April 8 we were out just as the sun came up at 6:35am for a bush walk. What we mostly saw were flies. They worried us the whole time trying to get in our eyes, ears, nose and mouth. We had heaps and mobs of them on our backs.

For Br we had toast and bacon, with assorted store jams. They had a neat butter dish — about 3 inches across and 1 inch high. You would have to cut one of our sticks of butter in half-length wise, and them cut the block in half to use it.

I asked Jennifer where she went shopping. She said they fax an order every Tuesday to Woolies in Canarvin (300Km away). The mail truck from Canarvin (they are entitled to get free mail delivery once a week) brings their order on Thursday, for a $4 freight fee.

This mooring we had three Chequered Swallowtails flying around the Red Bougainvillea bushes at the Station. Later in the morning, a couple hundred Zebra Finches came to the yard for water. They huddled in the trees till they decided we weren’t going to harm them. After some went to the water bowel, an Australian Hobby flew over.

For lunch Jennifer fixed lunchmeat and cucumber sandwiches with grapes.

In the afternoon heat we rested. Late afternoon Denver showed us the School of the Air room for the kids. They are part of a school in Carnarvin with a principal and certified teachers. There are 40 kids going thru grade 7 (about 6 kids per grade) in the school. They go to school from 6:45am till 2pm on the state school calendar. They have a computer linked to the school via their satellite dish so they can talk to the teachers and have lessons. They receive 2 weeks of assignments in a packet that has to be returned and graded. Teachers come to the Station periodically to evaluate the kid’s progress. Usually they have 2 governesses (tutors) for the kids, but at the present time Jennifer is doing that job.

India, the oldest girl who is 12 years old, will go to boarding school in Perth (1200Km away) next year. She will be there for 5 years for grades 8 thru 12. It is an all girls’ school.

Denver showed us the pictures from March 1999 when Cyclone Vance came thru this area with winds of 267 Kmph (167mph), the highest ever recorded in Australia. The station buildings were in shambles. They spent a year cleaning up and them started rebuilding. Now things are better than before.

I asked how the sheep faired during the storm. Denver said 6000 lambs died from the storm and the aftermath.

In 2002 they decided to get out of the sheep/wool business. They sold their 30,000 sheep. Now the station is a wild life reserve, with a few feral sheep that evaded the round up.

For dinner we had a T-bone steak with baked French fries and a salad. For dessert we had Chocolate cake with cream. Beautiful!!

On April 9 we were off at 7am. We stopped at the Ashaurton River for birdwatching and a second Br. My wife had a Memphis Meltdown ice cream. I had a Chocolate Wedge Cookie ice cream.

Midmorning things started to green-up due to the recent rains. We saw lots of Ponytail grass along the road, and a dead Water Buffalo.

North of Reobourne we started seeing Yellow Wildflowers along the road. My wife thought it looked like Archangel but seemed to be growing a lot taller than what we have at home in the gardens.

The grass along the road was 2 ft high and very green. The terrain is quite hummocky with deep red rock hills covered with green grasses. The best thing is the return of lots of birds. Our best birds were the Oriental Pratincole, Singing Bushlark, and hundreds of Varied Lorikeets.

We arrived at Port Hedland as the sun was setting at 6pm. Since this was an official holiday (Easter is a 4 day affair here) — nothing was open for supper. We made do with cheese and crackers, and cookies and peanut butter.

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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