Georgina Steytler | Birding in Western Australia

Birding in Western Australia

March 22, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

In another life, I was a sometime travel writer. What follows is an article I had published in The West Australian newspaper a while ago on birding in Western Australia

In Australia, birds are everywhere. Flitting in and out of the wattle trees, hopping across your lawn, hanging out in the eucalyptus trees or stealing your beachside chips.  Even the Queen couldn’t help but notice them. I heard that when she stayed in Canberra she commented on the tremendous ‘noise’ made by a nearby flock of corellas. Noisy they may be, but for us Aussies they represent the quintessential sound of the Australian bush.

Australia has over 810 species of birds, of which up to 45% are endemic (meaning that they are not found naturally anywhere else). That is more than almost any other country in the world. It is no wonder that Rainbow Bee-eater, Merops Ornatus (Lake Gwelup, Perth, WA) it is a popular destination for bird watchers from overseas. South-western Australia has its share of endemic species such as Carnaby’s black-cockatoo, red-winged fairy-wren, red-eared firetail and the appropriately named noisy scrub-bird.

We have all seen a galah and a splendid fairy-wren, but have you ever noticed the shimmering green and orange of a rainbow bee-eater, the spotted head of a spotted pardalote or the iridescent blue of a sacred kingfisher?  When you do, the excitement is addictive.

Unsurprisingly, more and more people are turning to birding (or ‘twitching’) as a recreational pastime that greatly enriches their travels around this great State of ours. After all, in how many places in the world are the birds in the north of the state completely different to those in the south?

Once you start looking for birds, it is difficult to stop. You will see shadows in every tree and investigate every new ‘tweet’ that you hear. Birding soon becomes a passion.  With such a unique and diverse range of avian delights on your doorstep, it would be a shame not to enjoy them. All you need is a watchful eye, a good bird book, some binoculars and a love of the outdoors.

There are infinite ways to ‘bird’ in WA.

In the metropolitan area we are blessed with beautiful walkways teeming with bird life. At Herdsman Lake a well-maintained track meanders along the lakeside through a paperbark forest and over swamp lands, offering a diversity of habitat and birdlife such as rufous whistlers, glossy ibis, little grassbirds, great crested grebes and nankeen night-herons. Picnic areas at parks such as Bold Park and Kings Park make it easy for a spot of twitching to become part of a family day out. Alternatively you can take a walk around Joondalup Lake. At sunset the sky is a spill of pink, purple and soft grey. Last time I was there I saw, sitting atop bare tree trunks in the lake, a swamp harrier, a troop of corellas, a white-faced heron and some swamphens. It was stunning.

To the north, those with an interest in shorebirds cannot miss Broome Bird Observatory (BBO). BBO, located in Roebuck Bay, 25 kms south ofRoebuck Bay Migratory Waders (Broome, WA) Broome, was established in 1988 as a research and education facility by Birds Australia, Australia's peak scientific and recreational birding organisation. Roebuck Bay and 80 Mile Beach are said to have more than 800,000 birds visit annually. They are the most important shorebird sites in Australia.

The peak migration period is from late March to late April. During this period you may be lucky enough to see C3. C3, the name given to it by researchers, is a bar-tailed godwit. In March 2008 she was tagged in Roebuck Bay and imbedded with a satellite tracking device. When C3 returned from her travels at the end of August, researches found that she had covered more than 20,000kms on her round trip to the northern summer breeding grounds in Siberia. This is a remarkable feat for an animal that weighs less than ½ kg.

Spinifex Pigeon, Geophaps plumifera plumifera (Lake Argyle, Kimberley, WA) Even outside the peak migration period you can see many thousands of shorebirds, including black-winged stilts, gull-billed terns, bar-tailed godwits and great knots.

In the east Kimberley, be sure to visit waterholes early in the morning. You may be lucky enough to come across a flock of gouldian finches, budgerigars, varied lorikeets, red-winged parrots or northern rosellas. You should also keep an eye out for the superb spinifex pigeon which, with its ochre-orange body and masked eyes, looks like a ‘pigeon superhero’.

To the south, the Stirling Ranges are a treasury of birding delights. Birders congregate in the Stirling Range Retreat, looking for western yellow robins, Australian owlet-nightjars, and crested shrike-tits.  Flocks of elegant parrots can often be seen feeding nervously on the road-side.

At Cheyne Beach in the Waychincup National Park (65km east of Albany) you may see what are known as the “Big 3” endemic birds of south-western Australia – the western bristlebird, noisy scrub-bird and the western Western Yellow Robin, Eopsaltria griseogularis (Stirling Range, WA) whipbird. The critically endangered western ground parrot has also been spotted here.

Further south east, hugging the coast 50km south of Cocklebiddy, is Eyre Bird Observatory. This observatory, established in 1978, is a sanctuary for up to 250 species of native birds in the area, including the elusive malleefowl, chestnut quail-thrush and Major Mitchell’s cockatoo. It is an invaluable resource for research and conservation. It is testament to the remarkable work done by Birds Australia, most of which is done by volunteers.

Information about the top birding sites in Western Australia is available through Birdlife Australia Western Australia (BAWA). At its local office in Perry Lakes, you will find a variety of pamphlets and bird books. In addition to being very approachable people who are passionate about their birds, the BAWA volunteers conduct bird identification workshops and take regular free bird walking tours around the city’s best birding sites.


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