Chris Watson

Centralian Advocate

Birding Central Australia #6

birdingChris Watson

Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva

Here after 13,000km flight

Perhaps not much to look at, but the bird in this picture has arrived here in Alice Springs all the way from the northernmost reaches of Siberian Russia or Alaska. To avoid the frigid northern winter, migratory birds like this Pacific Golden Plover, undertake flights as long as 13000 kms. Most birds will make at least one refuelling stop along the way in places like the Saemangeum in South Korea, and the Yangtze River estuary in China. A few birds, however, have been shown to make non-stop flights of up to 9000 kilometres, flying for 7 days or more without touching down. 

Researchers have only just begun unlocking the secrets of these amazing long distance endurance and navigation skills. It seems that they might shut down one half of their brain while flying. This means the other half can effectively “sleep” while the bird is on those marathon flights across oceans.

50 million migratory birds navigate from the Arctic to Australia and back again each year using the movement of the sun, moon and stars. Some are barely the size of a budgie.

A lucky few will call Alice Springs home for the summer, until the stars tell them the time is right, and they will head back northwards once more.

Sightings this week: 

-          Barn Owls everywhere. Lots of reports of these night birds out at night hunting rodents

-          8 Glossy Ibis, 4 Pelicans and 2 Nankeen Night-heron at Lake Mary Ann in Tennant Creek

-          Danny from Bush Bus spotted some Bustards and young Emus while negotiating floodwaters on the Lasseter Highway during the week

Birding Central Australia #5

birdingChris Watson

Australian Pratincole Stiltia isabella.

An elegant little bird and a long distance champ

The migrants have arrived!

A variety of the migratory birds that desert us during the colder months are arriving back in The Centre in good-sized flocks. Next week, I’ll take a closer look at our long-distance migratory champions, but the star of this week is a migratory bird, within Australia.

The magnificent Australian Pratincole spends the cooler months in the northern reaches of the continent and then makes its way southward for the summer months. This one was giving me some great views at the sewage ponds here in Alice. This bird is in full breeding plumage with bill and gape flushed bright red, and a rich, chestnut brown developing on the breast.

An elegant little bird, it has earned itself a swag of different names due to its distinctive foraging behaviour, including; Australian Roadrunner, Australian Courser, Arnhem Land Grouse, and Swallow-plover to name but a few.

Keep an eye out for more of these birds turning up along roads as we head into the summer months. The continuing fine weather has produced some great bird sightings this week, and here are just some of the highlights.

Sightings this week: 

-          80 Plumed Whistling-ducks at swamps 40kms along Tanami Rd

-          2 Australian Bustards near turn-off to M’bunghara community on the Gary Junction Highway

-          A single Flock Bronzewing 2kms past Kunoth Bore on the Tanami Rd

-          A Pacific Golden Plover in a mixed flock with lots of other waders including Sharp-tailed and Wood Sandpipers, at the sewage ponds

-          3 immature Banded Stilt have appeared at the sewage ponds, possibly from the historic breeding that has occurred this year at Lake Torrens in SA

Birding Central Australia #4

birding, HerpingChris Watson

Central Bearded Dragon Pogona vitticeps.

Reptiles on move

The warm weather has begun with bird activity beginning to drop during the hottest parts of the day. Our reptile friends are becoming active with the warmth though, and I have seen a few big Western Brown Snakes out and about, along with plenty of Mulga Snake and Yellow-faced Whip Snake, so when you’re out bird watching this week… watch your step.

Other things to look out for include the wonderful Bearded Dragons and Thorny Devils that are showing up on all the roads around town at the moment. These icons of the Red Centre are getting squashed by the dozen, so really keep your eyes on the road when you’re out driving during the week.

Thanks to everyone that has been sending me their bird sightings over the last few weeks, it is really building into a great record of this fantastic season.

Interesting Bird Sightings:   

-          Susan Heckenberg has been lucky enough to find a family of four Barn Owls in her back yard in Braitling. Keep your eyes peeled as they may be roosting in trees around this area

-          I saw three magnificent Brolgas by the roadside near the turn off to Ali-Curung community

-          There seems to be an invasion of Feral Pigeons establishing a nice home for themselves in the sheds at The Ghan depot

-          Big flocks of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos seen about town with 150 near Jessie Gap and another 80 on the Tanami Rd

-          Three Black falcons on the power lines near the start of the Tanami Rd

Birding Central Australia #3

birding, RaptorsChris Watson

Grey Falcon Falco hypoleucos, regurgitating a pellet.

Grey falcon pairs cap a top week

Red Centre Bird Week has exceeded all expectations this year. The undisputed star of the show has been the rare and elusive Grey Falcon. The bird in this picture is in fine health and is in the process of regurgitating a pellet of bones, teeth, fur, and other indigestible remnants of its diet.

Two different pairs of these cracking birds have been sighted this week. With fewer than 1000 breeding pairs in the wild, having two of these pairs so close to Alice Springs has been icing on the cake for participants in the Twitchathon over the weekend.

It wasn’t just the Grey Falcons though - with seven teams competing to identify the most species over 24 hours, and a variety of other activities through the week, some really special birds have been seen.

Red Centre Bird Week Sightings:    

-          Visiting Victorian birder, Elizabeth Shaw, got some up-close views of a Buff-banded Rail, well outside its traditional range at the waterhole at Olive Pink

-          Mark Carter helped his team to a win in the “Best Bird” category, and eventual joint 1st place overall, with a Golden-headed Cisticola at the Sewage Ponds

-          Earlier in the week there was a flock of 12 Ground Cuckoo-shrikes reported near Hamburger Creek on the Tanami Rd

-          An immature Channel-billed Cuckoo was on Larapinta Drive 40kms west of Hermannsburg

-          Excellent numbers of Black Honeyeater in a number of spots along the road to Santa Theresa

-          A pair of Peregrine Falcons have taken up residence near the Glen Helen Resort

-          And finally, another surprise with Banded Whiteface turning up at Hamilton Downs

Birding Central Australia #2

birdingChris Watson

Eastern Barn Owl Tyto javanica

Owl makes a meal of road rodent

This week’s magical bird encounter occurred on a late evening drive home from Glen Helen. The plentiful supplies of grass seeds around The Centre have brought with them a healthy population of local rodents. Namatjira Drive was overrun with scurrying mice as I drove along on Tuesday night. On three occasions I had to pull up to let an owl finish its meal on the road before I could pass. This Eastern Barn Owl flew into a roadside tree and decided to stay for a while to enjoy the spotlight. Keep your eyes peeled for more night birds as the warm nights approach and rodent numbers increase.

Sightings this week: 

- 10 Australian Pelicans in formation flying over Ryan Well to the north of town

- Spotted Harrier continue to be seen in good numbers, particularly in open areas north of town

- Australian Pratincole at the sewage ponds in Alice Springs

- Small flocks of Scarlet-chested Parrots seen just prior to road closure, 80kms past Kata Tjuta on the road to Docker River

- a pair of the very rare Grey Falcon seen close to the north west of town

- another rarity, Grey Honeyeater reported from a number of different sites in the vicinity of Hamilton Downs, owing no doubt, to the continuing eremophila blooms in this area

- 8 Oriental Plovers, the first for the year, at the Coober Pedy sewage ponds

Best of luck to all the teams heading out to the Desert Park for the start of the Twitchathon at 6pm today. I’ll see you all at the start line.

Until next week, keep your eyes to the skies!