Saturday, 10 August 2013


Habitat of Kalkadoon Grasswren
I have just returned from a very disappointing trip to a very dry Gulf of Carpentaria.  The highlight for me was the Kalkadoon Grasswren, my one and only lifer for the trip.  The lowlight was the fact that we saw 11 feral cats.

I was on a Kirrama Wildlife Tour with Klaus Uhlenhut and five great birders who were also great company.  How lucky was that!

We started our tour in Mt Isa, visited Lawn Hill National Park, Karumba and Cloncurry before returning to Mt Isa.  I saw 155 bird species.  The official trip count was 160.  I dipped on Carpentarian Grasswren, Black-chinned (aka Golden-backed) Honeyeater, Crested Bellbird and Spinifexbird.  Luckily, I'd seen them all before.

We saw the Kalkadoon Grasswren on the first morning of the first day, as I'd expected and hoped.  This is one of the easier seen grasswren.  There are several well-known sites around Mt Isa.  We started at Pamela Street, between the water tanks.  (This is where I took the photo above.)  We saw lots of Rainbow Bee-eaters - always a thrill.  Also Peaceful Doves, Grey-headed and (my old friends) White-plumed Honeyeaters and a Pied Butcherbird.  Variegated Fairy-wrens made our hearts jump momentarily, but, try as we might, we could not convert them to grasswrens.

Next we visited Warrigal Waterhole Road, where (as elsewhere) much of the spinifex had been burnt.  We found an unburnt patch and, very quickly, had our Kalkadoon Grasswren.  The male sat up on a rock and gave us all very good looks.  Mission accomplished!

In Mt Isa we visited the sewage works and Lake Moondarra, where we saw all the usual suspects, and others saw the Spinifexbird.  I did not.

We spent a fair amount of time looking for Carpentarian Grasswren.  First we visited the famous McNamara Road site.  This used to be called Lady Loretta Mine Road, but for some reason, birders now call it McNamara Road.  There is a cairn beside the turnoff to show where the grasswren are often seen.  It has been rebuilt since I was there ten years ago with Phil Maher.

Me at the famous McNamara Road cairn.

One of our group glimpsed a grasswren hopping across the dry creekbed.  Well done, Chris!  It was not in spinifex, but hopping between clumps of grass.  None of the rest of us was lucky enough to see it.  I was silently delighted that I'd seen the bird a decade ago.  I'd thought it was difficult then, but it seems it is at least as difficult now.  We looked in other places too, wherever the spinifex seemed appropriate.  We had no luck.

From Mt Isa, we travelled to Lawn Hill, a very pretty place which I will tell you about next time.

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