Sunday, February 3, 2013

Trip Report: Tablelands and Carpentaria Highway Jan 2013

I drove back into the Northern Territory on January 24th after a bit of a road trip down to Victoria and up the NSW and Qld coast.

For anyone driving in from Queensland, on the black-stuff anyway, you will come in along the Barkely Highway across to Three Ways, Just North of Tennant Creek.  This is the informal division between Birding the Top End and Central Australia.

At the Barkley Homestead ther is a turn-off up the Tablelands highway upto Cape Crawford and Heartbreak Hotel.  This is a vast open landscape  comprising treeless plains and lots of grassland, ideal for grazing, hence you are driving along a road among vast cattle stations.

I chose to go up this path as there was a report in 2004 that some Yellow Chat (Epthianura Crocea) had been observed.  I didnt have an NT Yellow Chat on my life list so the choice was easy.  My first stop at the Platford River crossing, where I thought was going to be successful was dissappointing.  There had not been enough rain to fill the river or the surrounding plains and a 2hour walk around the area producedn some Crimson Chat, Brown Falcon, Peaceful and Diamond Dove, Singing (Horsefields Bushlark) and Masked Woodswallows. List for Playford River Crossing

Hawking Oriental Pratincole

Another 30km North though and I came across a watery crossing and plains filled with Cyperus sedge (great YC habitat).  There was an amazing amount of activity here, with large flocks of Oriental Pratincole constantly hawking for insects, flocks of Flock Bronzewing pigeon and Little Curlew regularly passed through and either landed nearby in the thick plain or continued on an circled in the distance.  Some more Bushlark, a couple of Crimson Chats and then I saw it, Yellow Chat.  The Chat turned out to be at least 20 individuals and I am guessing many more in the wider area.  List for site

Unfortunately I could only manage this heavily cropped image of Yellow Chat Race Crocea, due to the very muddy surrounds (I sank up to my knees trying).

 Oriental Pratincole

I continued up the highway, stopping frequently to see Australian Bustard, Yellow-billed Spoonbill and browsing some small flocks of Whistling duck, Ibis and raptors on the fence like Wedge-tailed Eagle, Black Falcon and Nankeen Kestrel.

On the 25th and 26th of January, I spent some time at the small town of Borroloolla on the McCarthur River.  I was hoping to find the Endemic Carpentarian Grasswren at Carabarina Reserve and the Mcgilvaryi race of the Purple-crowned Fairywren.  Carabarinni is a striking place and well worth the visit if not only for scenic value.

 It has 3 distinctly different habitats within a close range, hence a diverse biota.  I did find a number of Purple-crowned Fairywrens alongside the waterway, but unfortunately didn't happen across the Grasswren.  I did have a couple of nice surprises in Sandstone Shrike-thrush (an endemic to the sandstone areas of the Top End) and a nice view of a day roosting Owlet-nightjar. Carabarinni List

 Sandstone Shrike-thrush (Colluricincla woodwardi)

Australian Owlet-nightjar

Further surveying around the town and environs produced another 30 species, the highlight being Buff-sided Robin at the town Boat ramp.

 Apostle Birds - always interesting to watch

All in all, a very enjoyable few days, despite the lack of rain and high mercury levels in the thermometers (38-42 degrees).

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