Pamela Street Water Tanks, Mount Isa, Jul 2021

[A stop on the West Queensland Trip Jul-Aug 2021 trip]

The water tank area at the far eastern end of Pamela Street is a popular birding hotspot in Mount Isa. Part of the reason for this is that it is a known site for finding the Kalkadoon Grasswren, which is endemic to the region; but it is also productive for other birds too.

We visited three times, on July 21, 22 and 25, spending about 90 minutes to 2 hours there each time. Basically you just drive to the end of Pamela Street and park somewhere, then walk up the concrete road towards the huge white water tank.

Our first visit had an auspicious start, with Red-Winged Parrots seen even as we were getting out of the car. Walking up the road, we could hear a fair deal of bird noise, and could see movement on the barbed wire fence that surrounds the white water tank (to the right as you walk up) and in the bush that drops off to the left.

I’m not sure if it’s supposed to, but the white water tank leaks water, and the birds love it. The water runs down the side of the road and we saw plenty of birds coming down to drink from that rivulet too. A Spotted Bowerbird was easily photographed on the fence, and further along a Brown Honeyeater decided to hop along the ground for a while.

Past the white water tank, on the right, is a little clump of trees and bushes that had lots of birds within it all three times we visited, including Zebra Finches. We ventured further and explored a couple of hills, getting good views of the surrounding countryside.

The dominant bird at this location was without doubt the Grey-Headed Honeyeater. Looking back through my camera images, every second bird is one of these. That’s ok; you don’t get those guys in Brisbane, and maybe we’d passed the region where the White-Plumed Honeyeaters dominate (though we did see a few here, too).

We also explored to the north of the water tanks, where the track is a little steep and rough, though there is a little shaded seat at the top that affords an excellent view across Mount Isa. Yes, you can really see the mine nicely from up here! We also saw a Rufous Whistler up here, and as we ventured back down to the road, a couple of Brown Falcons and a few Black-Faced Woodswallows.

Back near the start a Rainbow Bee-Eater was launching its hunting forays from a power line, leading to some nice photos.

For our second visit, we had done a little more research and it seemed that Kalkadoon Grasswrens were likely to be found further south of the water tanks, in the spinifex-filled gullies. So that is where we headed, scouring the spinifex clumps for a glimpse of this elusive bird, without luck. We walked back along one of the high ridgelines which was pleasant enough.

As sometimes happens when you’re looking for a particular bird, you have great encounters with other birds instead. One was a Silver-Crowned Friarbird at reasonably close quarters, which was cool. Then where the water rivulet was running down the road, we saw honeyeaters gathering and, more excitingly, a pair of dark crimson birds that we hastily looked up on the Merlin app to find they were Painted Finches – lifer birds and spectacular looking to boot!

We returned one final time a couple of days later in the late afternoon with an hour or so to kill to walk the gully and hope for a Kalkadoon Grasswren again. According to eBird, these grasswrens were regularly found here, so we were still hopeful. We didn’t know how much luck was involved or whether you needed some expert local knowledge to spot them. The fact that there was only 88 photos of this bird on eBird – ever – suggested it might be difficult to find, and even harder to photograph.

Mind you, there are only 92 photos of Spinifexbird on eBird, and we saw one here while looking for the grasswrens (we saw a total of three Spinifexbirds on our whole trip – here, at Chinaman Creek Dam in Cloncurry, and at Lake Moondarra). The only other birds (apart from the odd far off raptor) to be seen in the spinifex gullies were the ever-present Grey-Headed Honeyeaters. Though, we did see a kangaroo.

I had long outdoor pants on but the material was kinda thin, so slogging through the spinifex without seeing many birds at all did start to drag. That grass is sharp! I felt good that we were giving it a red hot go, at least…

…and then we heard the unmistakeable super-high pitched peep of a Kalkadoon. Getting a visual on it was the next challenge – but we spied it half way up the hillside, and slowly approached, thinking there was actually more than one. We ended up giving a merry chase (sorry, birds!) and gained a better shot on the rocks near the top, but apart from a heart-stopping what-could-have-been moment where one was atop a high rock in perfect sun (for a microsecond), that was that. They then disappeared as mysteriously as they had arisen. Success, though!

One more sighting of a Silver-Crowned Friarbird and the sun was setting, our job done.

As a birding site, Pamela Street Water Tanks is one of those slight curiosities: you might otherwise only ever go there either to see some views from the hilltops, or to get some fitness activity in, as plenty of people were doing power-walking past the water tanks and up towards the communication towers at the top of the hill. But it’s definitely worth going there for the birds, and – at least in our experience – was a reliable site (and there aren’t many) for spotting the elusive Kalkadoon Grasswren.

Hotspot: Pamela Street Water Tanks, Mt Isa (100 species)
Checklists for these visits: July 21, July 22, July 25.

Pluses and minuses:
+ Great range of birds attracted to water tanks
+ Site for rare and elusive Kalkadoon Grasswren
+ Lovely views from tops of hills and ridges
+ Lots of tracks
+ Right on the edge of the town
– Spinifex is pointy
– Main interesting area is fairly small – low percentage birding away from the tanks
– No ducks, geese, waterfowl etc

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