LEITCHVILLE (Nth. Victoria) TO PERTH VIA DARWIN -1998 (Part I)
John Pople

I set out on a cold Winter’s day on Monday 29th June, 1998. It took several days of travel and camping in a swag by night before I reached Olive Downs Camping ground in Sturt National Park in the North West of N.S.W. I found Tibooburra an interesting outback town. There were plenty of Wedge-tailed Eagles in the area. Other interesting birds for me were Chestnut-crowned Babblers, and Variegated Wrens. The Park lists 171 other species! I had a touch of the flu, which did not make me very active in birdwatching. It was still quite cold.

Within a few days, I was camped at Adel’s Grove Camping Park in the Lawn Hill National Park between Camooweal and Burketown in North West Queensland. I travelled to this Park via Mount Isa. It is a magic place - the bird life is magnificent. In my first hour of birding on the day I arrived, I added five new species to my life list. I really appreciated seeing the Great Bowerbird.

Though there were quite a lot of people about due to it being the school holidays, it was still a beautiful place to be. It is a beautiful little tropical wonderland, lined with tall palms and tropical trees, with cascades of water moving along the Pandanus Palm fringed waterway. The steep rocky gorges are beautiful - deep red in colour with Ghost Gums and scrubby undergrowth merging into the palms and taller trees along the creek. There is a host of wildlife to see. I had a first viewing of the Crimson Finch and the Blue-winged Kookaburra here. The Rufous Fantail and the White-browed Robin were frequently encountered. During the day the weather was very warm.

Exploring the left side of Lawn Creek, I enjoyed the blue waterlilies lining the edges of the crystal clear pools, overhanging by magnificent paperbarks. It was a very pleasant mornings walk. The noisome whistles, chuckles and squawks of Bar-shouldered Doves, Great Bowerbirds, Brown Honeyeaters, White-browed Robins filled the air. Black Kites wheeled overhead, setting off the alarm calls among the honeyeaters. One Little Eagle was sighted.

Wandering into the grassy woodlands bordering the more tropical edges of the river, I came across some Bloodwoods flowering. Here I found the Varied Lorikeet, which I found to be an extremely attractive bird, with a bright red crown, forehead and lores, large white circles of skin around dark eyes, with other tonings of lime-yellow, pale pink and green. Masked Woodswallows were numerous, small flocks of Budgerigars were wheeling swiftly all around me. On a sandy track, I came upon some beautiful Crimson Chats, which seemed not to be concerned as I passed closely by them. One solitary Black-tailed Treecreeper flew from a dead stump to the trunk of a nearby tree and started probing the niches and loose bark on his way to the top.

Walking back to camp I came across my first viewing of the Purple-crowned Wren. I noticed the female first, rather resplendent as female wren’s go. She had a large chestnut patch through the eye and across her ear covers a rather nice shade of cinnamon grey with a blue tail. The male was in eclipse plumage with just the narrowest bar of lilac above black ear patches. I thanked God for bringing me to this little patch of paradise.

On another day, taking a stroll recommended on the Parles brochure, I came across a small group of Long-tailed Finches, and next to them two small flocks of Double-barred Finches. Both were firsts for me. Agile Wallabies were everywhere. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of a Fresh-water Crocodile. They are here in some numbers, so they say, but they must be rather timid. While standing quietly looking up and down the stream, a group of about 10 wild pigs moved quickly along a much travelled path under the understudy of scrub.

I heard Barking Owls one night, but they stopped calling before I could see them. I did see some Red-collared Lorikeets, Red-tailed Black Cockatoos and Little Friar-birds the next day though, in addition to the regular birds, and to make up for the failure to see the Barking Owl at night, I disturbed one roosting in a shady paperbark, and had a good view of it.

After another good nights rest, I took off to explore a small creek that runs into Lawn Hill Creek. The further I walked the more interesting the scenery became. Pandanus Palms began to fringe the water’s edge. Fresh water Crocodiles were sliding into the water ahead of me. Some were approximately 10-12 feet in length, and made a tremendous swish and splash as they thrashed noisily into the water. Beautiful Crimson Finches were fairly common and I again encountered the little Purple-crowned Wrens. The males were again in eclipse plumage. On the steep side of the rocky cliff face on the opposite bank a small flock of Spinifex Pigeons were disturbed and half of them ran to the top of the ridge to peer down and watch my progress. Many Peaceful and Diamond Doves were about. Because it was getting quite hot (32 degrees) I headed back to camp and a cool drink. On yet another day, I came across a Pheasant Coucal. They are the largest member of the Australian Cuckoo family, but do not parasitize other birds. I enjoyed the country - the trees of this savanna woodland were short in height, making for good birding. They are mainly White Bark Snappy Gums mixed with Orange-barked Bloodwoods - colourful names. On the ground the surface, apart from rocks, gravel and sand, is covered in short clumpy spinifex grass. Termite mounds fairly evenly dot the country side.

The day after a quiet Sunday, where I remember how God is good, Exodus Is: II, I set out for a long walk past Adel Grove airport towards the Lawn Hill Nation Park gorge. I really wanted to see if the Sandstone Shrike-thrush was to be found in the area. I did not find it though. After seeing birds that I have already mentioned I did came across White-bellied and Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes, White-winged Trillers, and numerous Weebills. On a walk along the main Gorge, I came across a new Honeyeater for my list, a White-throated Honeyeater. I thought it was a Black-chinned at first, but there was no black chin. There were also Yellow-tinted and White-gaped Honeyeaters to be seen. The White-throated Honeyeater brought my tally of new birds to 19 in this area.

After checking out some minor damage done to the car on the trip here, I got away for Darwin on Friday, 24th July. I went via Camooweal and the Stuart Highway. On the way to Camooweal, during a lunch break at a creek crossing, I heard a strange bird call, and caught my first sight of a Silver-crowned Friar Bird. It is well named, with a showy mop of silvery grey feathers sticking up over the top of his head and the knot on the top of the long beak was quite prominent. I was able to see a Spinifexbird in this area also. Near Katherine, feeding near the edge of the road, and moving up into the grassy, scrubby bush, was a small flock of 8 or 9 feral Helmeted Guinea Fowl. On Saturday the 25th. July I arrived at Kakadu National Park. I enjoyed a quiet Sunday. Deuteronomy 32:10-13 and Job 25:5-6 were my meditation for the day. I had a really good night’s sleep that night. The only sound I heard during the night was a pack of dingoes howling in unison. It was a beautiful wild sound. The honk of many Magpie Geese welcomed the day.

(We continue John’s interesting account of his trip in Part II.)

This report was published in The Christian Bird Observer’s Magazine, October 1998