John Pople
(In this concluding part of John’s account of his trip, we take up with him near Port Headland in Western Australia.)

Saturday 12th September, 1998 It’s 9.30am and I am sitting in a beautiful shady grassed area under large paperbark trees, beside the De Gray river, about 70 or 80 Km’s north of Port Headland. The Keep River National Park where I last stopped over was so very dry and hot. It is getting toward the end of the ‘dry season’.

I drove down the Great Northern Highway from Kununurra. The Bungle Bungle Range was about 55km’s off the highway - a bad road, so I regretfully gave them a miss, and moved down through Hall’s Creek and Fitzroy Crossing and camped in my swag on the side of the road somewhere. The rocky rugged landscape along this stretch of road had mostly been burnt in the last few months and for hundreds of kilometres ‘willy willies’ were funnelling this black ash in long thin columns high into the warm, late winter sky. Actually, I found the roadside scenery and the hot conditions from Kununurra to Derby quite depressing. I think in ‘the wet season’ and perhaps April and May, before they begin any burning the picture would be entirely different and possibly very appealing.

I arrived at this spot on Friday and will ‘park’ here until about next Thursday. I could do with a bit of a rest, so this nice shady camp maybe just the spot.

This morning I noticed the northwestern form of the Ringneck Parrot, (or Twenty-eight Parrot), and also noticed that the White-plumed Honeyeaters here are very yellowish in appearance.

Thursday 15th September It has been extremely windy here for the last couple of days. The days are still about 30-33 degrees by mid afternoon, with the evenings much cooler at approximately 15 degrees.

A Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike nesting in a paperbark close to my campsite are kept busy from daylight to dark, feeding their three almost fully fledged young. Large moths hiding under the loose bark of the paperbark trees, large grasshoppers, lizards, beetles and caterpillars (retrieved from long green grass) and just about any creepy crawly thing seems to be on the menu. I notice the White-plumed Honeyeaters attacking the Cuckoo-shrikes if they go near certain trees, so maybe a bird egg or two or even the young of smaller birds might ‘fit the bill’ as well. One thing I did find intriguing was the habit of both parents, after having fed one of the nestlings, to wait for the casecial dropping to appear from the fed chick, and then promptly swallow it. I had been under the impression that most birds just grasped this sac and carried it away from the nest before dropping it. These blokes are into serious re-cycling! The Cuckoo-shrikes also defend the nesting area very aggressively against any Torresian Crows flying anywhere within fifty metres of the nest. The crows are escorted very smartly, often by both parents, well away from the area.

The red-breasted form of the Grey-crowned Babbler is common along the river frontage here. They also have large young, some already fledged from the nest. They do kick up a cat-awailing ruckus if you dare go close to their freshly fledged young that are clinging tightly to the branches in the stiff breeze. I do like their calls - the ‘yahoos’ and chuckling, meowing noises they make. They seem to be a strong family orientated type of gird, getting about in little groups of five or six. I am not sure where the eastern grey breasted form begins and the red-breasted form ends.

Looking at the Western Australia map, the Pilbara region is quite a large slab of country and tomorrow morning, God willing, I will drive into Point Headland and pick up some re-directed mail and stock up on some food. From there I trust to head for the Millstream Chichester National Park about 300 km from my present position. The nearest ‘big towns’ on the map appear to be Roebourne and Karratha. There are a further five National Parks in the Pilbara region, including the coastal Francois Peron National Park with the famous Monkey Mia beach front with wild dolphins frequenting the shallow water, along with several thousand tourists!

I have listed about 33 bird species near my campsite here. A young chap, Steve Reynolds from Perth called in here yesterday. He had been recently helping with the wader count at the Broome Observatory. The waders are just returning in their hundreds of thousands from their northern breeding areas of Siberia etc. At this time of the year and in autumn they gather in huge numbers, feeding and resting at Roebuck Bay, near Broome.

Had a meditation on Proverbs 21:2, "All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but the Lord weighs the heart." God looks at our motives.

Friday, 18th September One of the pleasing sights on the roadside coming down here was the profusion of Sturt’s Desert Pea growing just off the roadside. The barren rocky, short spinifex covered hills off mainly to the left of the highway coming along seemed too parched and dry to support anything but spinifex grass. But I dare say, with the coming of the rains in the ‘wet’ they could burst into new life with all manner of flora.

My first walk this morning through the mangroves and along the stony, shelly beachfront turned up quite a few birds. The Yellow White-eye was fairly common and also an interesting little Grey Fantail with a buffy cream coloured breast, bit of a white throat with a faint bar under it. I think it might be sub-species of the Grey Fantail - a mangrove dweller. I could hear a whistler that didn’t sound like a Rufous Whistler, but I never actually set eyes on it. There were a few waders - some I couldn’t identify. There were Ruddy Turnstones, Whimbrel, Red-capped Plovers, Pied Oystercatchers, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, & Gull-billed Terns.

There is such an infinite variety of plant and animal life on this beautiful planet that God has created, both on the earth and under the sea. The coral reefs and marine life in this area are supposed to be magnificent. Of course there are also the heavens. I just love looking up into those stars at night. Eternal distances, eternal thoughts. "For everything comes from God alone. Everything lives by His power, and every thing is for His glory. To Him be glory evermore." Romans 11:36 (paraphrased)

Monday 21st September I am now camped at Kennedy Range National Park about 86 km north of Gascoyne Junction. It has a desert type climate and is a plateau comprised of Sandstone and shale that rises about 100 metres above the surrounding sandridge desert country. There are some permanent water holes in the rocks in various places. This water enables about 50 bird species to survive here right through the ‘dry’. The scrub was alive with Chiming Wedgebills, (it may be nesting time for them). There was also a family of Chestnut-rumped Thornbills, with about 4 or 5 juniors chasing their parents around from tree to tree, wanting to be fed. There are Grey-crowned and White-browed Babblers, Masked Woodswallows with fledged young flying (or crashing) around. Pied Honeyeaters, Singing Honeyeaters, Rufous Whistlers, Southern Whiteface (western form with rufous or chestnut coloured flanks. I was hoping to see the Banded Whiteface but not so far. The Western Bowerbird must come very close in here. Emu are numerous, though I only saw three raptors, a Wedgetail Eagle, a Brown Falcon and Whistling Kites.

It is interesting to note the differences in colouration of some of the western counterparts of the various eastern species. The Western Corella has, for example, no pink on its throat, and the White-plumed Honeyeater us quite yellowish. According to an article by Simon Nevill in the BOC magazine, a lot of the western bird calls are slightly different also, and they will not respond to play-backs of calls made from the eastern species.

Thursday 24th September This morning I took off bright and early through the mulga scrub and across patches of gibber and along sand dunes and dry creek beds. I occasionally saw a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater here and a Woodswallow or Grey Butcherbird there. At one place I suddenly came across a ‘hot spot’ for a variety of birds. The first ones I noticed were Crimson Chats flying up from blue bush and wheeling around in the morning sun. They made a brilliant display as the sun caught their vivid crimson crown, breast and flanks. Next there were Masked Woodswallows and Black-faced Woodswallows, then Singing, Pied and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters in a patch of scrub. I just stood still for a while and ‘drank’ it all in. With the beauty and variety of God’s creation all around me, it was an enchanting moment. Whilst standing there, a male Redthroat appeared and came quite close, feeding intently on small caterpillar from under the bark of the mulga trees. In between feeding he would sound off a beautiful warbling little song. I did not see the female. To add to the sounds of all these birds, came the call of the Crested Bellbird. I followed several pair through the bush and got some good sightings of them.

In the sky close to the escarpment of the Kennedy Range a pair of Brown Falcons were putting on an ariel display. As I walked back to the camp, I came across White-browed Babblers, Crested Pigeons, and Common Bronzewing’s flew up from their early morning feeding. Fairy Martins and Nankeen Kestrels were closer to the cliff face - plenty of nesting niches in the weathered sandstone rock face. To top off this early morning walk, about 100 metres from camp, as I was crossing a gibber patch, I flushed a Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush. It flew for about 20 metres and I had to hurry to get further good views of this interesting bird. It obligingly stopped a few times to give me a chance to double-check with Slater’s Field Guide.

Visiting a rock pool near the base of a cliff, I suddenly saw a bird fly into a tree very close by with loud hissing and scalding noises. Lo and behold! there, not twenty metres away was a Western Bowerbird, giving me excellent views as he perched in the tree. Actually all the bird wanted was a drink and there was I, fair in the road. Before I could retreat out of his way, he flapped his wings furiously several times, hissed, squeaked and made all sorts of unusual noises, running backwards and forwards along a branch and then took off in a huff - flying right out of the small gorge we were in. What a great day, and a great trip!

(From this point John continued down to Perth, and enjoyed the sights there. He made his way back via the Nullarbor Plains to Adelaide, and from there to his home district. It was a pleasure to speak with John about this great trip, and how satisfying he found it to be. Thanks for sharing your experience with us John.Ed.)

This report was published in The Christian Bird Observer’s Magazine, April 2000