January 1995 - A Cruise On Lake Argyle

In January 1995 I organised a trip to the Kimberley with three experienced birders from Melbourne.  We spent a week in Kununurra and a week in Broome.  One of the best days of the trip was Sunday 8th when we arose at 3:45am, left Kununurra at 4:20am and arrived at Lake Argyle at 5:05am.  We had arranged a special boat trip on Lake Argyle with Lake Argyle Cruises run by Stephen Sharpe.  The boat is excellent and can cruise at 50kph, with a draught of less than 50cm, and a ramp at the front that allows you to get ashore easily without getting wet.  Stephen provided plenty of drinks plus fruit and raisin bread to eat.  The trip would have been $600 ($150 each), but Stephen had arranged some other people (non birders) so the cost was only $100 each and it was well worth it.

We soon saw some Pied Cormorants (about 100 for the day) and a White-bellied Sea-Eagle (the first of about 10 for the day, mostly immature), both of which would normally be considered unusual this far from the coast.  It took just over an hour to get to the south end of the lake, where we spent most of our time along the Ord River.  Our first goal was Yellow Chat, and we found them easily along the banks in full breeding colour.  We would have seen at least 15 for the day.  Lake Argyle is probably the only place in Australia where they can be almost guaranteed at any time of the year.

We then spent a little time looking for waders as we went up the river.  They were common but scattered (mostly Wood Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper), but we also saw two Pacific Golden Plovers (new for my Argyle list), a few Marsh Sandpipers, a Gallinago sp. snipe (probably Swinhoe’s) which walked into the grass, several Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, three Long-toed Stints (new for my Argyle list), a small flock of Oriental Pratincoles and 6 Australian Pratincoles on the grass near the shore.  There were lots of waterbirds (especially Magpie Geese, Glossy Ibis and some Black-necked Storks and Brolgas) along the shores and in wet areas off to the side.  There were also 200+ Purple Swamphens along the banks, plus many Singing Bushlarks in the grass and a few Brown Songlarks.

A Channel-billed Cuckoo (my best sighting then of this species) flew along the river being chased by a Torresian Crow.  Some Budgerigars appeared to be breeding in the hollows in some dead trees, and a small group of Cockatiels flew across the river.  A group of 6 Australian Bustards close to the shore were also good to see.

Our second main goal was Purple-crowned Fairy-wren (new for me in WA).  We stopped a few kilometres (maybe 4) along the Ord River where there was a large stand of eucalypts.  Between them and the shore was a thicket of an introduced plant Jerusalem Thorn (a Parkinsonia species) mostly covered by wild passionfruit vine.  We split up, and after a few groups of Red-backed Fairy-Wrens I found a male Purple-crowned Fairy-wren in breeding plumage plus two other birds.  The others had also found them, and I had good but brief views of a male and female in the sunlight.  In an area of the thicket less than 200m long by 20m deep we saw 4 groups (although 2 were probably the same) totalling at least 8 birds.  The thicket stretched for possibly a kilometre along the bank, and Jerusalem Thorn is starting to establish itself in some other places.  This area is almost certainly the stronghold for this endangered species in WA, which would provide an interesting dilemma if someone decided to eradicate this introduced plant pest.  Other good sightings for the area were some Bar-shouldered Doves (my first for my Argyle list), 2 Grey-fronted Honeyeaters, 2 Grey Shrike-thrush, a Black-chinned (Golden-backed) Honeyeater and we heard a few Brush Cuckoos (new for my Argyle list).

Our third goal was rare waders, but we were less successful.  We turned back and made our way close to the banks.  We found a few more Long-toed Stints and a very young Masked Lapwing.  On a sand island there were a lot of terns including 50+ Caspian, 10+ Gull-billed, at least 3 White-winged (new for my Argyle list) and 50+ Whiskered.  On the east bank there was a small bay with 5 Black-tailed Godwits and 4 Common Greenshank among others.  Past the point we could see 100+ Australian Pelicans, 2,000+ Eurasian Coot and a flock of 500+ terns probably mostly Whiskered.  Back on the west bank where Argyle Diamonds used to have a barge pumping water to the mine we found a small group of Plumed Whistling-Ducks, and then a large flock of 400+ Oriental Pratincoles with about 20 Oriental Plovers in the grass back from the shore and another Pacific Golden Plover on the shore, plus one Little Curlew.  Nearby there were large numbers of Magpie Geese plus some Comb-crested Jacanas including some young.

On the way back we stopped to look at a Black-necked Stork’s nest (not in use) on the top of a small rock island, and a small group of Brush-tailed Rock Wallabies resting in the shade of a rock overhang.  We arrived back shortly after 12pm.

This was birding in comfort, with spectacular scenery, the history of the lake, and plenty of birds with 83 species seen between us in only half a day.  Many of these were wet season migrants but the birding would be excellent at any time of the year especially if Yellow Chat and Purple-crowned Fairy-wren are of interest.  Stephen Sharpe was very helpful, and I would consider this trip to be a must for anyone visiting Kununurra who is interested in natural history and birds in particular.

Copyright Frank O'Connor 1997-2002 Visits Last Modified 31st January 2002