Western Australia’s Wonderful South-West Corner

Honey Possum feeding on Banksia baxteri at the wonderful Cheynes Beach.

The following report covers a birding trip to the fantastic south west corner of Western Australia. Joining me on the trip was fellow birding cohort Greg Oakley.

Itinerary
Our itinerary was to fly 4000 km from Melbourne (Victoria) to sunny Perth in Western Australia. From Perth we’d travel 500 km south to coastal heathland just east of Albany. On the way we’d stop at Dryandra Woodland. Dryandra is not only an excellent mid-point between the southern coast and Perth but also a significant birding site.

We visited a number of sites in south west Western Australia including Serpentine National Park, Dryandra Woodlands, Cheynes Beach (the location of both Arpenteur Nature Reserve and Waychinicup National Park, Mt Trio and Salt River Rd in Stirling National Park, ‘The Gap’ near Albany in Torndirrup National Park near Albany, and on the way back to Perth we stopped briefly at Northam, and in Perth Lake Monger and the impressive Herdsman Lake.

Red-eared Firetail. Cheynes Beach in Waychinicup National Park (Greg Oakley)

The Birds
The south west is an area effectively cut off from other rainfall areas in Australia – eastern and northern Australian, being surround by a large areas of semi-arid deserts such as the Great Sandy Desert in the north, Gibson in the centre and Great Southern to the east. Such isolation has led to good numbers of endemics on a species and subspecies level.  A number of these are regarded as relict species such as the skulkers, Noisy Scrub-bird, Western Bristlebird and Western Whipbird (considered three of Australia’s most difficult birds to see – augmented by the fact that they are crepuscular, being active only at dawn and dusk). Others are similar but different to those on the east coast of Australia – the similarities formed when there was a continuity of temperate habitat across southern Australia.

There are currently 16 endemic bird species to the south-west region of Western Australia, comprising of Carnaby’s and Baudin’s Black-Cockatoo (also known as Long-billed and Short-billed Black-Cockatoo), Western Corella (with two distinct races, the uncommon southern race pastinator and common northern race derbyi), Red-capped Parrot, Western Rosella, Noisy Scrub-bird, Red-winged Fairy-wren (a large fairy-wren that prefers moist temperate forests), Western Bristlebird, Western Thornbill, Western Wattlebird, Western Spinebill, White-breasted Robin and Red-eared Firetail. There are three recent addition to this list are the Western Ground Parrot (formally ssp flaviventris of Ground Parrot), Western Fieldwren (formally ssp montanellus of Rufous Fieldwren), and Western White-naped Honeyeater/or Swan River Honeyeater (formally ssp chloropsis of White-naped Honyeater) – all recently re-classified as full species.

Dryandra Woodland dominated by Wandoo (Eucalyptus wandoo)

There is a collection of other interesting species found in the area including (in no particular order): Mute Swan (an introduced species found only in Northam), Laughing Dove (another introduced special with its range limited to WA), and local species such as Malleefowl, Rock and Elegant Parrot, Regent Parrot, Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Western Gerygone, Tawny-crowed, White-cheeked and Brown Honeyeater, Brush Bronzewing, Splendid Fairy-wren, Bush Stone-curlew, Masked Owl, Flesh-footed Shearwater and Great-winged Petrel, just to name a few.

Noisy Scrub-bird, Cheynes Beach.

Due to the south-west isolation there’s a high degree of local endemics on a subspecies level including the nominate race (anthropeplus) of Regent Parrot, two Australian Ringneck subspecies (semitorquantus, known locally as Twenty Eights – a reference to the parrots call – and Port Lincoln Ringneck race zonarius, with yellow belly), with south-west WA a transition zone between the two ssp. Other subspecies include the Crested (Western) Shrike-tit (white-bellied leucogaster), White-browed (Spotted) Scrubwren (race maculatus) and Grey (Western) Shrike-thrush (brownish backed race rufiventris), and Australian Western) Magpie (race dorsalis, female having a scalloped back), to name a few. Although I didn’t visit Rottnest Island (18 km of the coast of Perth) on this trip, there are interesting subspecies located there: Singing Honeyeater (a race that is 25% heavier than mainland birds) and the Red-capped Robin and Western Gerygone are said to have vocalisations that differ significantly from mainland birds. Rottnest Island also has wild populations of Common Pheasant and Indian Peafowl.

The perfect bush cabin, the Marri, Dryandra Village.

It is worth noting that Western Whipbird, Western Yellow Robin, Rufous Treecreeper and Blue-breasted Fairy-wren are also found across the Nullarbor in South Australia. Another thing worth noting is that most of Western Australia’s endemics are found in south-west, aside from Dusky Gerygone (found between Carnarvon and Derby), the recently split Kimberly Honeyeater (formerly lumped with White-lined Honeyeater) and Black Grasswren (Kimberly), while the rare and endangered Western Ground Parrot (which seems likely to be raised to full species status) is found near Esperance 500 km east of Albany.

Accommodation and car hire
For this trip (Perth to Dryandra to Albany and back again) there were two excellent accommodation options. Firstly we stayed in the Dryandra village one night on the way down, and then one night on the way back. The cost were $25 per person per night – and for this you get to stay in a fantastic bush cottage with 2 bedrooms, lounge, outdoor eating areas, BBQ, fully equipped Fridge, front balcony etc. On the first night it was a warm evening, so I chucked a mattress on the front balcony and slept outside. Their contact details are 0898845231, web http://www.dryandravillage.org.au.

Small heathland near Perth Airport.

Secondly, we stayed at the Cheynes Beach Caravan Park, with one of the modern (but plain) 2 bedroom cabins costing about $120 a night. I particularly recommend the “2BRM Chalets”/cabins in the north-east of the caravan park – particularly 11 or 12, although 10 and 9 are also o.k.  The real benefit of these cabins is that they literally border one of Australia most significant birding locations in Australia. To give you indication of the quality of birding near the cabins, from the balcony I heard Noisy Scrub-bird and saw Red-eared Firetail (a pair roosted on the wires next to the cabin), White-breasted Robin (family of 4), Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo (large flock roosted in the trees in the Caravan Park), Quokka and several Western Grey Kangaroo. Not bad! Cheynes Beach Caravan Park contact details are phone 089846247, web http://www.cheynesbeachcaravanpark.com.au.

WA Fringe Lily in heathland near Perth Airport

In terms of car hire, we hired a new model Nissan X-Trail, a perfect 4WD option, not only because it easily handled any off-road conditions we encountered, but it also had a very large rear cabin space, easily fitting in all our gear.

Heathland area near Perth Airport
Upon arriving in Perth I spent 3 hours (while waiting for Greg O’s flight to arrive from Melbourne) wandering around a small heathland just outside the eastern border of the airport (on the east side of a small channel between Boud Ave and the Tonkin Hwy). Aside from a nice selection of Honeyeaters such Tawny-crowned, Singing, Brown, White-cheeked and New Holland. I also flushed a Southern Brown Bandicoot – it ran across the walking track. A nice start to the trip, and an interesting native mammal so close (5 km) to the centre of a major city. [Interested to hear local WA comment about Southern Brown Bandicoot’s population in Perth.]

Serpentine National Park
Stopped briefly at Serpentine Dam on the way down to Dryandra. 4,500 ha in size, it’s only 60 km from Perth Airport. Around the Serpentine Dam Picnic Area and lookout the south side of the dam are an excellent place to see the WA’s temperate Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) forest endemics such as Red-winged Fairy-wren (unfortunately eclipsed plumage males when I we there, and I was also surprised how large this bird looks for a fairy-wren, alomost Grasswren like), Red-capped Parrot, Western Spinebill, Western (White-naped) Honeyeater and Baudin’s Black-Cockatoo. Other birds seen here include Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Twenty Eights, Splendid Fairy-wren, Golden Whistler and Scarlet Robin.

Western Shrike-tit, Tomingley Rd, Dryandra.

DRYANDRA WOODLAND
After Serpentine NP we headed to Dryandra Woodlands, not just a tremendous birding location – but it’s also a good place to see mammals such as Numbat, Woylie and Tammar Wallaby.

The flora of Dryandra consists of extensive stands of Wandoo (Eucalyptus wandoo), Powderbark Wandoo (E. accedens) and Salmon White Gum (E. lane-poolei). Stands of Jarrah (E. marginata) and Marri (Corymbia calophylla) provide additional top cover, and the understorey contains Rock Sheoak (Allocasuarina huegeliana) and extensive areas of Banksia ser Dryandra. Until early 2007 this latter shrub was classified as a separate genus Dryandra after which the Woodland is named. Species here include Golden Dryandra (Banksia nobilis) and Prickly Dryandra (B. armata). 

Dryandra (environmental) Village
Somewhat similar to Kingfisher Park in FNQ but with a WA dry woodland feel, Dryandra Village is the perfect birders accommodation. Dawn dusk and the nights provided an extremely pleasant birding experience. Dryandra is an excellent stopping / mid point between Perth and the south-coast, we stayed there two nights, once on the way down and once on the way back.

Dryandra Village Dam.

On the first night we arrived late in the evening – both nights were warm, so I slept on the balcony. During the night I was serenaded by Bush Stone-curlew, Southern Boobook and Owlet Nightjar. We also heard a Tyto-type Owl, possibly a Masked Owl (rather than Barn Owl) because the call was more drawn out, stronger and deeper. Supportive of this was that a Masked had recently photographed at the Dryandra Village, and looking at the context of the Village (a small cleared area in the middle of woodland), it sort of makes sense.

In the morning I was awoken to a dawn chorus which including a plethora of honeyeaters such Western Spinebill, Red Wattlebird, New Holland, Singing, White-cheeked, White-eared, Tawny-crowned, Western (White-naped), Yellow-plumed, Brown and Brown-headed Honeyeater. Many of these drank at the water bath near the office, the Australain (Western) Magpie (ssp dorsalis – with the female having a scalloped back), Red-capped Parrot, 28s, Weebill and Silvereye (ssp chloronotus [gouldi], with a sharply demarcated yellow throat and olive back).

Start of the Ochre Trail, Tomingly Rd.

Dryandra Village Dam
A kilometre west of the village on Kawana Rd you’ll find a water supply dam for the Dryandra Village. This was a fantastic dam for drinking birds, just after dawn, particularly Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, Red-capped Parrot and Twenty Eights. The first time I visited the dam no less that 15 Red-capped Parrot were drinking at the dam – and in the north-west corner; dozens of honeyeater lined up to drink – a situation that reminded me of the drinking of the mixed flocks of drinking honeyeaters, finches and parrots at the waterholes in northern Australia. Interestingly finches – other than the uncommon Red-eared Firetail – are totally absent from this part of Australia. The dam is also an excellent place to find the (secretive) Blue-breasted Fairy-wren. They were quite secretive, we found then in the south-east corner, foraging under low scrub. Unfortunately the males were in their eclipse phase.

Western Yellow Robin along the Ochre Walk.

Also here were Western Thornbill (a very plainly plumaged Thornbill, even ‘duller’ than the Mountain Thornbill of FNQ, it contrasts with Inland Thornbill through lacking brownness on the rump), a juvenile Brown Goshawk, Brush Bronzewing, Western Gerygone, ‘Spotted Scrubwren’ (race maculatus of White-browed), ‘Western Shrike-thrush’ (brownish backed race rufiventris of Grey Shrike-thrush).

Ochre Walk and Arboretum (Dryandra)
Rufous Treecreeper was conspicuous at the Dryandra Arboretum (a collection of native trees) and the start of the Ochre Walk on Tomingley Rd – it ringing call being almost continuous. Along the start of the walk we got onto Western Yellow Robin – about 150 metres south of Tomingly Rd (you can see a small ridge line on the south-west side of the track) – the race (griseogularis) of the robin in the south-west has a bright rump. The Ochre Trail is also a reliable walk to see Numbat. 

Tomingley Rd (Dryandra)
While in Dryandra we travelled up and down Tomingley Rd a few times, mainly because of the openness and good quality of the Wandoo eucalyptus woodland. Along Tomingly Rd saw ‘Western Shrike-tit’ (white bellied race leucogaster Crested Shrike-tit), Restless Flycatcher, Fantail Cuckoo, Rufous Treecreeper, Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, Dusky Woodswallow (smaller darker race Perthi – with less whiteness on outer-primaries and tail-tips – looking somewhat like Little Woodswallow), Rainbow Bee-eater, Western, Inland and Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Scarlet Robin (which seemed to be present at every location we visited), Grey Butcherbird, Tree Martin, and there is a possibility of seeing the diurnal Numbat, especially in along the open woodland gullies on the south side of the road.

Dryandra Woodland map

Surrounding Roads (Dryandra)
On the road in and out of Dryandra for Western Rosella, Red-capped Parrot and Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo, we saw a large flock feeding on fresh pine cones along the Wandering – Narrogin Rd. We also found a unusual mixed flock of Black-faced Woodswallow and Varied Sittella (black-capped race pileata) along a dry roadside – this seemed a very strange coupling, for example in eastern Victoria Black-faced Woodswallow are an open country and Samphire species while Varied Sittella are a woodland species, so the chance of seeing them together is very slim. The southern area of Guru Rd, around the two fenced areas, is a good site to see Woylie (Brush-tailed Bettong – we also had a few around our cottage in the village), Numbat and Bilby (part of a release program).

Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo.

WAYCHINICUP NATIONAL PARK AND CHEYNES BEACH
Cheynes Beach, located within Waychinicup National Park is quite simply a brilliant birding location! Here I was targeting the critically endangered Noisy Scrub-bird – one of Australia’s rarest species and an iconic skulking species thought extinct until its rediscovery in the early 1960s. I was also after two other skulking species, Western Bristlebird and Western Whipbird.

The main sites for Noisy Scrub-bird are actually located in a small reserve known Arpenteur Nature Reserve, a sub-reserve of the larger Waychinicup National Park. The dominant flora in the reserve is the reserve is the wonderful Baxter’s Banksia (Banksia baxteri), Dryandra-leaved Banksia (B. dryandroides), Candlestick Banksia (B. attenuata) or Scarlet Banksia (B. coccinea), paperbarks (such as Melaleuca baxteri, M. striata and M. thymoides), hakeas such as Hood Leaved Hakea (Hakea cucullata), or Two-leaf Hakea (H. trifurcata). There are also thickets of thickets of Sword-sedges (Anarthria spp.), and stunted eucalypts (especially Mallee eucalypts such as Ridge-fruited Mallee (Eucalyptus angulosa), Bald Island Marlock E. conferruminata and Jerdacuttup Mallee E. goniantha, and Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea spp.) is common.

Noisy Scrub-bird, Western Bristlebird and Western Whipbird
Looking to Noisy Scrub-bird was a significant milestone in my birding career (along with Eyrean Grasswren, also rediscovered in 1961); it was one of a number of species of bird that I’d talk about with my Father when we discussed rare and unusual birds in Australia. Indeed my Father had made his own trek to this area (visiting Two Peoples Bay in the 1970s) to see Noisy Scrub-bird. Unfortunately he didn’t see the bird; however it didn’t seem to matter to him. I remember him saying “I could hear them very close to me in the scrub, but despite crawling on hand and knees I could not track him down”. I managed to go one crawling step further, and got crippling views of the Noisy Scrub-bird on several occasion.

Arpenteur Nature Reserve, a small reserve immdiately adjacent to Waychinicup National Park, Cheynes Beach.

The best spots for the Noisy Scrub-bird at Cheynes Beach are within cooee of the caravan park. A small population of 14 were translocated here from Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve in 1983, followed by another 16 in 1985, and recently over 200 hundred male birds had been heard singing in the area.

A distant Western Bristlebird.

There were two good sites for them along Cheyne Rd (see map below). The first is on the south side of Cheyne Rd, 100 m west of the intersection of Cheyne Rd and Bald Island Rd, in the areas between a culvert (an enclosed drain under the road) and a dirt track that that leads down to the beach), with the bird first heard calling in a large bush beside the road. The birds here are well known, colloquially known as the “Culvert Scrub-bird”. Upon hearing Noisy Scrub-bird it’s hard to believe that a bird so small can make such as a powerful call – occasionally it was almost deafening.

The second site for Noisy Scrub-bird was on the north side of Cheyne Rd, about 300 m east of the intersection with Bald Island Rd. This is the areas between the road and the Cheyne Beach Car Park. There an old toilet block here, where it would be easy to listen to the Scrub-bird while … well you know … and as a result colloquially the bird here is known as the “Toilet Scrub-bird”. (I just made that up.)

White-breasted Robin, near the cabins at Cheynes Beach

We saw Western Bristlebird at Cheynes Beach immediately east of the Bald Island Rd, about 100 metres south-east of the turn-off to the Caravan Park (60 metres after the road becomes a dirt track). From the Caravan Park entrance travel south for 50 metres past the Caravan Park entrance and then take the easterly track for about 20 metres (see map below).

Western Bristlebird can be found in the heath on the north-east side of this track. Another site for them is along a small walking track immediately south of the Cheynes Beach Caravan Park; on your right as you head to the first site.

Greg and I didn’t see Western Whipbird at Cheynes Beach – although we didn’t actually look for them (we’d planned to target them at Betty’s Beach – see site details below). However if you do want to search for Western Whipbird here look for them 200+ m past the Western Bristlebird site on the Bald Island Rd (track), south-east of here, around the intersection near Back Beach, and 800 m directly south of the Caravan Park, near an intersection that branches west (where Noisy Scrub-bird and Western Bristlebird have also been recorded). See map.

Cheynes Beach Mud Map. (Note the road into Cheynes Beach is called Cheyne Rd. Confusing.

Other birds at Cheynes Beach
White-breasted Robin are common in the Caravan Park near as the entrance area and around the cabins, and also along the tracks leading to the beach from Cheyne Rd. As a complete side note: I reckon the White-breasted Robin should be renamed the “White Robin” (in the same way we have a Yellow, Scarlet, Pink, Rose and Flame Robin). It’s a far stronger, more straightforward, iconic name. A good place to see Southern Emu-wren (race westernensis) is  at the intersection of Cheynes Rd and Bald Island Rd. Red-eared Firetail are found in the area between Bald Island Rd and the cabins in the Caravan Park.

Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo feed and roost in the pines in the centre of the Caravan Park; Purple-crowned Lorikeet seem to prefer the gum (especially when flowering) at the east side of the Caravan Park Other bird we saw here included Brush Bronzewing, Western Rosella, White-checked, New Holland and Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Splendid Fairy-wren, Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, White-browed (Spotted) Scrub-wren, Inland Thornbill, Dusky Woodswallow, Black-shouldered Kite and Wedge-tailed Eagle.

We also saw Regent Parrot on the way into Cheynes Beach, surprisingly in the Blue Gum plantations about 5 km from the South Coast Hwy (~half way to Cheynes Beach). Western Fieldwren also occur along in the heathland along the road into Cheynes Beach – look in the heathland ~1 km before you get to the township.

The area is also an excellent place to see heathland mammals. I had spectacular views of a Honey Possum feeding in a large Baxter Banksia (Banksia baxteri) just east of the intersection of Cheyne Rd and Bald Island Rd, and a Quokka, along with Western Grey Kangaroo, feed in the grassy areas behind the Cabin 11 in the Caravan Park. Other mammals in the reserve include Western Pygmy Possum, Bush Rat, Southern Brown Bandicoot and the endangered Dibbler, a large antechinus (in a surprising parallel context to Noisy Scrub-bird it was rediscovered at Cheynes Beach in 1967 after a gap of 80 years).

A site for Western Whipbird, North Point. I could hear them calling as I got out of the car.

North Point and Betty’s Beach
Located on the edge of North Point (which faces Two Peoples Bay) Betty’s Beach is a really interesting birding site worth investigating. It proved a very good site for Western Whipbird (nigrogularis), hearing them as soon as we got out of the car, as well as Rock Parrot. On a recent trip to Kangaroo Island in South Australia I got onto Western Whipbird and Rock Parrot at Cape Du Couedic on the Weir Cove Track.

Rock Parrot sitting on a rock.

The similarity between that Weir Cove and Betty’s Beach was remarkable. Upon arriving at both sites I heard Western Whipbird immediately as I got out the car. In both sites the Whipbird were on the north side of the road up a short track at the base of a hill, and the site over looked a rugged granite headland massif, with a major headland on the west side of the coast.

At both sites birds include small flock of Rock Parrot, Tawny-crowned and New Holland Honeyeater, White-browed (Spotted ssp maculatus) Scrubwren, Southern Emu-wren, Tree Martin, Welcome Swallow and Australian Raven. The only difference was the species of Spinebill – at Weir Cove they were Eastern Spinebill, while at Betty’s Beach they were Western Spinebill.

Great sea-birding at The Gap, Torndirrup National Park near Albany.

Looking across to South Point, Little Beach and Two People Bay from the Limestone Rocks at North Point provides excellent sea views into Two Peoples Bay.

Here were saw Flesh-footed Shearwater, Great Cormorant and Caspian Tern, while Black Oystercatcher feed on the rocks. At the small fishing locality of Betty’s Beach (where you seem to step back in time 50 years) a large Kings Skink scurried across the road.

The Gap, Albany
From the lighthouse at The Gap we had superb views of the seas. The seas were calm, so there weren’t many seabirds around, however we did manage to see Flesh-footed Shearwater, Great-winged Petrel, Sooty Oystercatcher, and a quick view of a pterodrama, possibly a Soft-plumaged Petrel.

The Gap, in Torndirrup National Park, is on the southern side of Frenchmans Bay 20 km south west of Albany (pronounced, I’ve been informed Al-bany not All-bany). The area consists of wind-swept coastline and rugged headlands, with some protected bushlands. Looking from the cliffs, to an area behind the surf I also saw a very large shark (~15 foot), too hard to tell what it was, but large enough to suggest Great White.

Mt Trio, Stirling Ranges

Stirling Ranges
Brief visit, which didn’t do the area justice. We visited Mt Trio in the Stirling Ranges, an area of mixed mallee heath, and a good site for the mallee subspecies (oberon) of the Western Whipbird and Western Fieldwren. Here we saw Purple-gaped, Yellow-plumed, Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, Western Wattlebird, Golden Whistler and Western Fieldwren, and heard a brief very short and distant of call of what I thought was a possible Gilbert’s Whistler – a very unlikely species to hear here, so worth it was perhaps something else.

A good place to see the distinctive Rosenberg’s Goanna is along the dirt section of the Salt River Rd (also good for Western Fieldwren), it runs along the northern boundary of the park. Along here we had two Rosenberg’s sunning themselves along the road.

Western Corella, the uncommon southern race pastinator, found near the township of Rocky Gully.

Rocky Gully
Rocky Gully is a small town on Muirs Hwy, and is one of the best locations to see the uncommon southern race (pastinator) of the Western Corella. A particularly good location is around a farm 200 m west of the town centres along the Rocky Gully – Franklands Rd. You can view the farm from the Muirs Hwy via a small powerline break in the roadside vegetation (opposite Mills Rd). Here we saw a large flock of Western Corella in the area bordering farmland.

Beverley
From here we headed back to Dryandra (where we stayed a second night) and then north to Northam through Western Australia’s “wheatbelt” via the Great Southern Hwy. Along the way there were a couple of good birding locations. The northern race (derbyi) of the Western Corella, along with Little Corella, flocked to drink at a storage dam on the west side of the Great Southern Hwy in the centre of the township of Beverley – providing a nice opportunity to see both species (Little and Western Corella) side by side (literally).

York
In the Township of York, on the Avon River there was an impressive array of waterbirds between the bridges on Balladong St and South St. Here we saw Nankeen Night Heron, Darter, Little Pied, Little-black, Great Cormorant, Great Egret, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Hoary-headed and Australasian Grebe, all roosting along the river. The best access was via the west side of the South St Bridge (through a small train museum).

Rosenberg’s Goanna, along Salt River Rd in the Stirling Ranges.

Northam
One of the strangest birding twitches I’ve undertaken was heading to the Northam Weir 100 km east of Perth to see Mute Swan. Perhaps romanticized the moment – when I would see a legitimized population of Mute Swan in Australia. However upon reaching the site it was like visiting the wetlands the city Zoo. The birds where there, but it didn’t feel like you’d seen them in the wild. For example I remember seeing Flamingos in Hong Kong and there wasn’t any emotional attachment; it wasn’t until I saw a true wild population in the Camargue in France that it took a real emotive experience. (I could name dozens other similar experiences.)

Mute Swan at Northam

That being said the birds (Mute Swan) were there, and what a superb birds they were! Being in Northam reminded me of the stories of the disbelief that 18th century Europeans felt when they first heard about existence of ‘Black Swans’. Such an idea turned flat-world conservative thinker’s views of reality on their head. Soon we’d believe that mammals could have a bill like a duck!

Herdsman Lake and Lake Monger Reserve
Before heading home we dropped in a couple of the Perth’s suburban lakes, Herdsman Lake and Lake Monger Reserve, both located only a few kilometres from the centre of Perth. Herdsman has extensive areas of reed beds in centre which is shallow at low water levels, and narrow strip of paperbark around lake.

Another Mute Swan at Northam Weir

We birded on the north side getting onto a nice selection of birds including Great Crested Grebe, Australasian Darter, Australasian Shoveler, Pink-eared, Blue-billed and Musk Duck, Great Egret, Yellow-billed Spoonbill (interestingly Royal Spoonbill is very rare in SW WA ), Australian Reed-Warbler, Little Grassbird and Western Gerygone (another surprising city species – in Victoria you’d have to travel well over 100 km out of Melbourne to have a chance of seeing this species).

Lake Monger is also a large lake (~2km diameter) however it’s surrounded by pen parkland. Again there was a nice selection of waterbirds, including a range of ducks that in the eastern states are uncommon (certainly in or near cities), but where the common ducks on suburban lakes, such as Australasian Shoveler, Pink-eared, Blue-billed and Musk Duck, I wonder if this has something to do with WA’s drought i.e. uncommon species pushed into urban landscapes. For example in Melbourne during the drought period this was most obvious with our parrots and cockatoo, such as Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo.

By the end of our trip we’d seen all the local south west WA endemics – and also picked up Mute Swan. The most noticeable about WA was how incredibly dry it was. For example one of dominant aspect of Dryandra (and much of the southern part of the state) was the number of trees that had either fallen over, or were in in the process of falling over. After any strong wind, trees would start tumbling down. The major cause is obviously: the prolonged Western Australia drought (the land was as dry as a bone) has affected the root systems of many of the trees (contracting to the point of non-existence). In many ways it reminded me of eastern Australia prior to recent rains (and floods). The most affected areas, in terms of fallen trees, I came across was in Dryandra along the northern section of Guru Rd; it looked as though it had been hit by a cyclone.

Despite the dryness of south-west WA the birdlife and birding was tremendous – being almost the perfect birding destination, with all the common species a little bit different to what I’m used to in Victoria, intermixed with a nice selection of rare and unusual species. There is also a nice selection of mammals, such as the Honey Possum and Numbat, adding wonderful wildlife experience.

Big thanks to Greg Oakley, Tim Bawden and Frank O’Connor (and his tremendous website birdingwa.iinet.net.au) for their good dirt, and to the birders who’d provided mud map details at Cheynes Beach. Thanks also to the people at Dryandra Village, great stuff.

Tomingley Road in the Dryandra Woodland

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