South-West WA Trip Jan 2023

Due to its geographical isolation, south-west WA has a lot of lovely endemic birds (including some from recent taxonomic splits), so we couldn’t wait to head there for an extended birding holiday. The idea was to trace a clockwise circuit starting and ending at Perth, heading far out east to Esperance and working our way back through various inland and coastal locales.

It Turns Out That Perth Has Some Nice Birding Spots

As well as the beautiful King’s Park on the west side of the Perth CBD (where we spent our first afternoon), Perth also has a number of other lake- and river-oriented bird sites of interest. Our main target was Herdsman Lake as this appears on lots of WA Facebook posts, and it is not only a terrific birding site, but is as lovely as King’s Park in terms of scenic interest. A few endemics picked up straight away made it a great way to start!

A flock of the WA-endemic Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo kept us company at King’s Park for a time. Can’t complain about that!
The Western Spinebill has the same shape and behaviour as the Eastern Spinebill, but has markedly different markings. At King’s Park.
I’m calling this a Collared Sparrowhawk rather than a Brown Goshawk, because the bird is staring rather than glaring (yep, that’s a distinguishing feature to look for in the field!) At King’s Park.
A Rainbow Bee-Eater spent an inordinately large amount of time trying to subdue this huge dragonfly at Herdsman Lake. In fact, it flew off with it and we never saw the ending. We need closure, dammit!
Great Crested Grebes are a fixture of Herdsman Lake on Facebook posts, and you can see why! They are plentiful there and wonderful to watch. Look closely here and you can see the bird on the right has a tiny fish it is feeding to its youngster.
“I know, it’s only a Straw-Necked Ibis, but I like it” (to the tune of the Rolling Stones)
Little Corellas are just as mischievous here at Herdsman Lake as they are anywhere.
There are definitely worse places to go birding… a serene scene from Herdsman Lake

Rottnest was named based on “Rat’s Nest” by a Dutch sea captain who hilariously thought quokkas were rats

Rottnest Island is famous for its super-friendly quokka population – they’re an uber-cute marsupial (a macropod, a family that includes wallabies and kangaroos), and despite being herbivores, they are largely nocturnal. Talking about making life hard for yourself, searching for grasses and leaves in the dark! To add to the weirdness, they also apparently chew their cud like cows do. Anyway, we lost track of the number of tourists taking their obligatory “insta-selfie with the quokka” outside the town bakery, and once free of the main settlement on our hired bikes, we were off to ride the island with the wind in our hair, and find birds! (And also more quokka, as it turned out).

One of the many adorable Quokkas on Rottnest Island. I kept my distance from this cutie (was using a 500mm telephoto lens), but it was quite curious about me nevertheless.
A small group of White-Fronted Chats were foraging happily in the lakeside samphire at Rottnest Island
Banded Stilt are birds that you’ll never see until you stumble across a massive flock on some inland lake… we knew there was a big group here (700 to 1000) thanks to eBird, it was just a case of tracking them down. There were only 9 or 10 lakes to choose from…
A surprise came in the form of a Red-Tailed Tropicbird, landing in the grasses along the edge of Lake Baghdad on Rottnest Island
The Western Whistler is just like the Golden Whistler, only more western!
Another quokka photo?!? How did that get in there?

Dryandra Woodland: well-named considering the words “dry” and “woodland” are in there

I’m guessing not too many people visit Dryandra Woodland, two hours south of Perth, at the height of summer (the temperature tipped 36 degrees one day we were there), but there still appeared to be plenty of birdlife around. We stayed at the Lions Village right in the middle of the action. It seemed like a place often geared to school camps, and it was close to a couple of dams where birds would come to drink. There were some excellent mid-length walking trails around especially Ochre Walk, where we spent several happy hours.

An Australian Pipit with a lunchtime snack on the country road into Dryandra
Ringnecks were numerous in the grounds of Dryandra Village (as were a couple of incredibly aggressive magpies… I still shudder when hearing a juvenile Maggie’s plaintive call).
The Bush Stone-Curlew’s eerie cries echo through the woods at night, and occasionally during the day, too
We were like: “would we find the wonderful Rufous Treecreeper on this trip?” in hopeful tones, and the universe was like “Yes, yes you will…. especially at Dryandra, where there is a veritable bounty of them.” Insider tip: they weren’t always creeping up trees either: there were plenty foraging about on the ground of the roadsides!
The Western Yellow Robin is one of the many species that are quite similar to their eastern counterparts (in this case, ahem, the Eastern Yellow Robin). On the Ochre Walk.
A Shining Bronze-Cuckoo follows its surrogate parent, a tireless Yellow-Rumped Thornbill. I have never in all my days seen such a lazy, over-privileged, demanding cuckoo. At Old Mill Dam.
Yellow-Plumed Honeyeaters were the most plentiful of the honeyeaters, though occasionally we found Gilbert’s Honeyeaters too (the black-headed bird in the middle of this photo). At Old Mill Dam in Dryandra Woodland.

Rocks, Rocks, Till You Drop

If you like big rock formations in the outback (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?), then Wave Rock makes a good stop if you’re a few hours east of Perth. The main wave rock is really quite impressive (and wavy), and the big rock formation behind it (which is also used as a water catchment device for the town dam) is also worth exploring, especially for lizards. About 20km north of there is a cool place called The Humps (insert innuendo jokes here, folks), which is also another big impressive rock formation that is also used as a local water catchment and has lots of lizards… where was I? Oh yes, birds.

A fearless, juvenile Western Whistler at Wave Rock (though it could be a juvenile Gilbert’s Whistler, no-one is really sure)
No clues needed to know why they call it Wave Rock.
A lizard… of some kind… hiding under one of the many smaller rocks on top of the big rock formation at Wave Rock.
Near the Wave Rock car park this insect landed on a tree right by our heads and we totally freaked out but then took a closer look and later identified it as a Robber Fly. Still quite scary-looking. Nature is metal, as the kids say these days.
At The Humps (which was quite a good birding location), a few Red-Capped Robins were doing their robin thing, which is no bad thing.
There were a bunch of Galahs near the Bush Bakery at Hyden, and some were doing exchange-feeding, which involved a lot of jiggling of heads and beaks, which made the Galahs look even sillier than they normally look.

How far west are we now? Oh, you mean east? Anyway, crystal clear blue water.

Yes, peeps, we’re talking about the town of Esperance, famed for its turquoise blue waters and nearby National Park of Cape Le Grande. All along the coast are more rock formations than you can shake a Nikon camera at, and a reasonable selection of decent birding sites to boot. We went to Lake Seppings in the township a couple of times, the excellent Kepwarri Trail (again lakeside), and had a big fun day at Cape Le Grande (as did hundreds of other people who love the beaches, and especially four-wheel-driving on them…).

The Kepwarri Trail in the north of Esperance is a pretty nice birding destination, as it has tracks which follow along the south side of a lake system. There are two bird hides, and this Musk Duck popped out in front of one of the hides while we were tucked away inside.
New Holland Honeyeaters are super-common all over the southern parts of Australia, like this one at Esperance
Aussie Pic of the Trip – Grey Butcherbird at a beach car park near Esperance
If there was one bird I was hoping to find as much as the Rufous Treecreeper, it was the Red-Eared Firetail. A local regaled us with tales of how common it was (“yeah mate, jumps right in front of you when you’re having a backyard barbeque”), and we finally got onto one at Lucky Bay in Cape Le Grande National Park. This one is a juvenile, so lacks the red ear feathers.
Not ten minutes after seeing the firetail, this gorgeous Rock Parrot waddled around the rocks and fringing vegetation at Lucky Bay. Another lifer, and a great sighting!
Frenchman Peak is a popular one hour hike up steep but rough (and sometimes windy) rock in the middle of Cape Le Grande NP, and the views at the top are very worth the climb.
The Western Wattlebird outnumbers Red Wattlebirds by quite a lot in the Esperance region, which is no mean feat. They’re closely related (and behave and sound similar to) the Little Wattlebirds found along the east coast. At Lake Monjingup Nature Reserve, where we also saw a couple of Spotless Crakes!

This big wide dry land… with its rocks… and forests… and coastal villages…

We headed back west with a stop at Stirling Range Retreat, a dusty caravan-and-cabin site just a couple of kilometres from Stirling Range. Their information took great pains to describe when the last bushfires were on each of the tracks in the National Park (for which the general gist was – recently) and sure enough we saw many more birds in the Retreat grounds than on the Bluff Knoll walk in the national park. (But did we see a Western Shriketit… no). Then to Porongurup National Park, mere tens of kilometres south yet consisting of dense wet forest (but still with big rocks), and coastal Hopetoun, the gateway to the huge Fitzgerald River National Park, with scenic views and walks and… many big rocks.

We got a good look at a group of half a dozen or so Purple-Crowned Lorikeets when they descended in frenzied joy on this flowering eucalypt in the Stirling Range Retreat grounds. They are quite small and squawky birds.
A Red-Capped Parrot checks out the caravan action at the Stirling Range Retreat grounds
A Rufous Songlark catches its breakfast in the Stirling Range Retreat grounds. Good job, Songlark!
We saw a group of Red-Winged Fairywrens at Porongurup National Park (Castle Rock section) as soon as we exited the car, and followed them for ages until, inexplicably two Splendid Fairywren males supplanted them. Weird! Anyway, this is a female Red-Winged.
The view from the top of Mount East Barren in Fitzgerald River National Park, where we saw our first ever Southern Emuwren! (Emuwren not shown)
At a scenic headland called Cave Point in Fitzgerald River National Park we – somewhat inexplicably – found a bunch of Tawny-Crowned Honeyeaters. Which was pretty neat, because we like Tawny-Crowned Honeyeaters.

Albany and surrounds, a.k.a. the Birding Promised Lands

The Albany region is something of a megaspot for birds. One reason for this is the Noisy Scrub-bird, once thought extinct, was rediscovered in the area of Two Peoples Bay in the 1960s. Along with the Western Whipbird and Western Bristlebird – both difficult birds to see – makes the area a magnet for the hardcore birders. But there is plenty of variety in the other birdlife too, as we found out.

A Brush Bronzewing taking a break from collecting nesting material, at Cheynes Beach
This Western Bristlebird became our new best friend after it (a) actually showed itself, and (b) sang it’s little heart out. At Cheynes Beach.
This plucky male Splendid Fairywren was foraging with a female along the edge of the caravan park at Cheynes Beach
At Cheynes Beach we got a better look at a Southern Emuwren pair, like this female. That big feathery thing on the left is the bird’s tail!
We weren’t sure how hard it would be to find Laughing Doves, an introduced species only found in WA, but it turns out they’re fairly widespread. This one is at Rushy Point in Albany.
This is a section of the amazing 450+ Straw-Necked Ibis flyover we saw at Lake Powell, west of Albany. Amusingly there were a couple of Pelicans hanging out in the flock too.
Always a bit exciting seeing a raptor – this is a Little Eagle doing ominous circles around the Lake Powell area.

A Short Digression to Remark Calmly Upon the Ubiquity of Silvereyes

We could have titled this section as “A Short Digression to Remark Calmly Upon the Ubiquity of New Holland Honeyeaters” (as readers of the South Australia trip report would know), and indeed it would be completely justified, as New Holland Honeyeaters are absolutely everywhere in south-west WA. But what is also true is that the diminutive, humble wee Silvereye is possibly even more populous and widespread, occurring in every habitat from wind-blown coastal scrub to dense wet forests. It’s one of those things you only get a good sense of once you’ve birded a bit in the region. (Another is the prevalence of Common Bronzewing, which are much more confiding than I’ve seen elsewhere – we’re talking pecking happily on the sides of suburban streets, crossing the trails in front of you without a care in the world, etc).

Silvereye
Silvereye
Silvereye
Red Goshawk. Just kidding, it’s another Silvereye.

To Denmark, which is not in Scandinavia, then to Margaret River, which is also not in Scandinavia

The WA town of Denmark is a pretty nice little town, and one where we were hoping to find the critically endangered Baudin’s Black Cockatoo. They’re just like the Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo except with a slightly longer beak. We were incredibly lucky to find some after several hours and almost giving up hope: we were literally walking back to the car to leave when some flew overhead! We also stopped at a couple of choice locations on the way to Margaret River, where the birding took a back seat to wineries, fine produce, and lazy coastal/beach walks.

One of the Baudin’s Black Cockatoos that we followed to a tall tree on a street near the middle of Denmark
A Southern Boobook on the Karri Lake Trail in Quinninup – bird was roosting above the lakeside track, and kept a wary eye on us as we passed (and the agitated robins nearby…)
Speaking of robins, the most common one in Margaret River and the coastal south is the wonderful White-Breasted Robin. Dapper good looks, and classic robin posing (cling to side of tree, fly down to catch unsuspecting insect/worm, repeat).
We saw Western Rosellas in many places on our trip but the friendliest by far were at the Rotary Park trails near the Margaret River township.
The only Hooded Plover we saw was at Redgate Beach in the Margaret River region. Quite like ’em.

Busselton and various sites on our way back to Perth and… how good are these bird hides?!

The quite-large town of Busselton boasts the longest timber-piled jetty in the southern hemisphere, over 1.8km long, and you can either walk along it, swim beside it, fly over it in a bi-plane, or take a tiny train ride along it (yes, really). There were some nice – though common – birds there, but more gratifyingly, there is a wonderful bird hide on the river not even a kilometre south of the jetty where we were treated to a juicy range of water birds at rather close quarters. Also, big shout-out to the Dusty Buns bakery in Busselton, all their products are ace, but the New York-style choc chip cookie is divine.

A Yellow-Billed Spoonbill with some successful filter-feeding not far from the bird hide
A Pied Cormorant which spent most of its time asleep, as far as we could tell, on the Busselton Jetty
A Silver Gull chick on the Busselton Jetty
Sleepy Crested Tern at the beach by Busselton Jetty, super unconcerned with close human activity (there was a beach volleyball game going on about 10 metres from the bird!)
Another Swamp Harrier flyover – we were getting used to these at WA wetlands now! – at Big Swamp bird hide
The incredibly vivid colours of a Square-Tailed Kite at Lake McLarty

Summary

The trip was very rewarding from a birding perspective, with tons of great highlights. It did not seem too hard to find a lot of the endemic species we were looking for, with the notable exception of Western Whipbird and Noisy Scrub-bird. Oh, and Western Shriketit. And Western Fieldwren. (Oh dear!) Our itinerary allowed for lots of variety in the landscapes, from dry interiors, lush forests, bluer-than-blue seascapes and rocky coastlines. Although there were definitely some very dominant species (New Holland Honeyeaters and Silvereyes especially), in most places there were interesting – and also rare – birds to look out for. And it’s always fascinating to travel within Australia to experience a different diversity and distribution of birds in a region other than your home area – especially one as geographically isolated as south-west WA.

eBird Trip Report

Stats:
Number of species observed: 145
Number of checklists: 43
Biggest checklist: Herdsman Lake (42 species)
Most numerous birds: Banded Stilt (700), Straw-Necked Ibis (473), Crested Tern (372), Welcome Swallow (248), Eurasian Coot (229), New Holland Honeyeater (209)
Birds appearing on the most checklists: New Holland Honeyeater and Silvereye (24), Spotted Scrubwren (18), Grey Fantail (16), Willie Wagtail (14)
Bird we find on every trip but not on this one: Mistletoebird

AUTHOR: ANDY GEE
BIRDERS: ANDY GEE, K-A

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