[A stop on the West Queensland Trip Jul-Aug 2021 trip]
If you find yourself on Riversleigh Road, you’re probably travelling to or from Boodjamulla / Lawn Hill National Park. A stop for birding at the beautiful O’Shannassy River crossing, approximately 20km west of the Gregory-Downs-Camoweal Road, could be well worth your while.
It’s worth noting that Riversleigh Road is quite long and pretty rough, with gravel and corrugations and even the occasional patch of bulldust. You probably would want a high-clearance vehicle or 4WD, and be prepared to get stuck behind a caravan or other slower-moving vehicle – and by “stuck behind”, I mean quite a way behind, unless you want to suck in their huge plumes of trailing dust.
A few kilometres before the river crossing, we made a hurried roadside stop as we saw a raptor circling which didn’t look like the more usual Whistling or Black Kites – it turned out to be a Spotted Harrier! It was accompanied by some Masked Woodswallows. It was a little far away for photos to be crisp, but still awesome to see, with its characteristic broad wings and dark “fingers” on the wingtips.
We stopped immediately as we approached O’Shannassy River (coming from the east), not because we knew anything about it, but because we saw finches in the long grass on both sides of the road. They were predominantly Crimson Finch, but we then spotted both Double-Barred and Long-Tailed Finches too – especially obvious when they decided to play in the water where the river flows across the road.
A little clamber around the river’s edge found a small group of Grey-Crowned Babblers, then an Azure Kingfisher, which didn’t sit still for long, taking off in a blaze of vivid blue and orange. Then on the ground a male/female pair of Crimson Finches came very close for some water, leading to a couple of amazing photos.
Incredible stuff, and plonking down by the water on the far side of the concrete causeway (which was easy to cross as it had only an inch or two of water flowing across), we were privileged to see a Painted Finch come down. Then, it was all go, with Budgies, Long-Tailed, Zebra and Double-Barred Finches, Brown Honeyeaters, and a ton of Yellow-Tinted Honeyeaters all coming down to drink.
The Yellow-Tinted Honeyeaters were interesting to watch, as they seemed both sociable but also aggravating to each other – not to mention it was the first time we’d ever seen this bird. Would it be the White-Plumed Honeyeater of The North? (Short answer: yes, definitely!)
During the mayhem, a bird we didn’t recognise (at all, like not even a little bit!) popped in. It wasn’t until we saw this bird more extensively at Lawn Hill that we identified it as a Buff-Sided Robin… another lifer!
It was pretty amazing seeing so many birds in such a short space of time. We were literally just sitting on the edge of the road by the river, with just enough space that birds would feel comfortable flying down from the Pandanus Palms and other trees they were using as staging points before hitting the water.
It’s possible you may not have as transcendental birding experience as we did on our late afternoon stop at O’Shannassy River. Even if that’s the case, it’s at least worth a stop to drink in the gorgeous scenery.
Pluses and Minuses:
+ Idyllic, beautiful river crossing setting
+ Some wonderful bird encounters possible, especially Finches and Budgies
– Small area, only warrants a brief stop
– Long, rough gravel road in and out