Up at dawn from our Nullarbor roadside stop campsite and the flies were already annoying! We stopped at some cliffs and did a brief seawatch with a number of Short-tailed Shearwaters seen which is getting close to their westerly limit. I was quite surprised how green the Nullarbor was and while it is said to be treeless, plenty of shrubs were taller than me. We crossed the WA border and despite having driven over an hour it was still before 6am so we went down to the old Eucla telegraph station. A very nice and placid Carpet Python was an excellent distraction and despite the strong winds and sand we added Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos. Back at Eucla we fuelled up on coffee and a bacon and egg breakfast and headed towards Cocklebiddy. Earlier this year Bernie O’Keefe had posted an excellent trip report of his trip for Naretha Bluebonnet so we relied on this quite heavily – thanks BoK!
At the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse we fueled up and got the details of Arubiddy Station and made a call to let them know we would be travelling through to Rawlinna. This is a polite thing to do – do not say you are there for birdwatching and certainly do not visit the homestead to ask for permission – a simple phonecall is all that is required. The site we were looking for was around 100km north and the road was so bad that it would take 3-4 hours. Just north of the roadhouse we found an Inland Dotterel so already the jaunt was off to a good start. There were plenty of gates and the road got worse as we headed north of Arubiddy Station but there were nice distractions with Nullarbor Bearded Dragon being new to both of us, plenty of Western Grey and Red Kangaroos and eventually a single female Nullarbor Quail-thrush walked across the road. Clearly they are in far lower density in this section of the Nullarbor than around the roadhouse. Around 82km north of Cocklebiddy we found a very active wombat burrow system and could even hear and smell the animals in the burrows. The plain up to this stage had been largely treeless but we could see a line of trees in the distance and right on the 100km mark we turned west and came across the tank where Bernie and others had recently seen the parrots. It had taken us nearly 4 hours to travel here although we had stopped quite a lot for various distractions.
Others had recently driven up to the tank and literally twitched the Bluebonnets from the car but they were not around when we arrived. We got out and wandered around but it was pretty grim with plenty of sheep and flies and not much else. Eventually we met back at the car and sat down to see what would come in to the water. Some Zebra Finches was a good start and a Hobby cruised through a few times stirring things up. It was quite interesting to see a couple of Magpie-larks nesting here – clearly the small patch of mud and water was enough to sustain them. With not much doing we settled back with lunch and then a cup of coffee trusting that the birds would need to come in to drink. The coffee was needed as I had been drifting off but there is nothing like two blue-tailed parrots flying in to wake you up! An excellent pair of Naretha Bluebonnet had slipped in to a tree to wait to drink seemingly much quieter than their Eastern cousins. We maneuvered around and managed to get excellent views and even a few pics of the pair which didn’t seem too fussed by our presence. They were very quiet throughout the encounter and eventually left on their own accord after having a good drink. It would have been good to spend more time to see if more had come in but we were on a bit of a schedule and it was hardly the most inviting campsite so we headed back towards Cocklebiddy – very happy with both main targets out of the way. On the way back I was very happy to get excellent views of Australian Pratincole – a bird I had not seen for quite a while. It seemed to be a quicker run back and we arrived in Cocklebiddy just after dark and decided to get a room as we were both rather knackered and needed a shower.
Up early again we headed west where the plain gave way slowly to stunted mallee and then into the Great Western Woodlands – this is an enormous largely contiguous area of mallee, heath and woodland and is a trip in itself just to explore. Our target for the evening was Jilbadgi Nature Reserve SW of Coolgardie which had interesting records of a number of dunnart and other species. It was a difficult park to access as mining companies had taken over and and blocked many of the access roads – welcome to Western Australia! Eventually we found a way in down south but it was getting late so we had a quick recce and found a place to camp. Jilbadgi is a very interesting area with extensive heath and mallee habitats. On dark there were many bats with 4 species confirmed by bat detector and spotlit – Gould’s and Chocolate Wattled Bats, Southern Forest Bat and White-stripaed Free-tailed Bat as well as a couple of unknowns. A very nice pair of Boobooks were quite confiding and called most of the night. We spent many hours using thermal cameras and had a number of hits but frustratingly could not get visuals on anything. At one stage we startled something large and hot which fled and on examination found a goanna with its head chewed off – probably a cat! Eventually and somewhat frustratingly we gave up. Up early in the morning and things began to look up straight away with Elegant Parrot and Black-eared Cuckoos flying around camp. One of my favourite birds – Southern Scrub-robin were everywhere and even gave me a quick display. We went and birded the recently burnt heath areas and found a number of hopping-mouse burrows which may explain the signals we were getting the night before. Here I got my third new bird of the trip with Western Fieldwrens calling and showing everywhere. Of interest was a pair of Southern Emu-wren which would have to be about as far inland as they get in Western Australia – this is a little known isolated population in this area. Another good area that needs further attention – maybe another time!
We had a long drive through the trashed wheatbelt area of SW Western Australia so looked for things we could break up the journey with. There is an isolated population of the Black-footed Rock-wallaby in the wheatbelt and a quick google gave us a couple of sites to try. We chose Mount Caroline Nature Reserve which was not too far off the main drag and drove to the information board and walked up the easement to the rocky hill. Very quickly we got glimpses of our first rock-wallabies at the site and with a bit of patience were rewarded with excellent views. Fox control in the area has had a very positive effect on population and this site is now used as a feeder population for other isolated sites. We spent a very nice couple of hours with the rock-wallabies with some nice birds and reptiles to help break it up.
We stayed the night on the outskirts of Perth and had a couple of drinks to celebrate the success of the trip. The next morning Rohan left on a plane for Broome and I hired a car to head south to hunt a few mammals. I drove straight down to the Perup area which is one of the best mammal watching areas in Australia. I had plenty of targets here and very quickly knocked off the first with Western Brush Wallaby on Northern Road. I was particularly keen to spot a Numbat so drove a number of roads and eventually on Pollard Road saw what I thought was a leaf rolling down the road but as it got closer I got binoculars on it and it was a NUMBAT!! it turned off the road and I got excellent views as it ran into a bunch of logs. I waited in the area over an hour but it did not reappear as it was late in the day and might have just decided to go to sleep. The Perup Guesthouse is currently closed but I walked in just before dark and saw little except some cool orchids. Right on dusk I had a Woylie prop nicely on the side of the road but camera was not ready so opportunity was missed. Soon after Western Ring-tailed Possum fell with three animals in melaleuca near the road west of the guesthouse entrance and then Tammar Wallaby with two animals near the intersection with Northern Road. Only 1 hour after sunset and 5 out of my 6 targets already down! I then began to drive roads and walk tracks as I was particularly keen to see a Chuditch (Western Quoll) Hours passed and I had no luck but I was determined to get one and eventually 100km of driving and 8km of spotlighting on foot I was rewarded with a CHUDITCH! on a bit of manky roadkill on Cordalup Road. Much smaller than I was expecting i think it must have been a young female. It fled into the bush but I squeaked and it eventually poked its head out but unfortunately the shitty corolla chose that moment to start beeping that they keys were still in the ignition and it fled again never to return. Never hire a corolla if wildlife watching – vision is shit and it beeps randomly for all sorts of reasons! I headed to where I was going to bush camp and rumbled a Western Pygmy-possum crossing the road. I thought I could catch it but misjudged its location only to see it climbing a tree above my head – I blame the fact it was 2am and I was completely knackered. I missed photos of most things but I will be back with more time!
I slept in the next morning and went to Manjimup for coffee and breakfast so missed my numbat leaving its log – I drove around for a few more hours without anything much aside from some nice orchids. I decided to make a run for Dryandra to see if I could ride my luck and hopefully pick up a Red-tailed Phascogale. Dryandra is a favourite birding spot of mine and saw plenty of nice birds before dusk and also checked out a brand new camping area Gnaala Mia which had nice facilities and a bit of heath in the campground itself. A Western Brush Wallaby before dusk was nice but after dark I had no luck with mammals of any sort. While spotlighting for phascogale in casaurina on Kawana Road I did hear a Masked Owl call a number of times but it would not move from its location. In the end no luck this night so I retired to the new campground which I had to myself! I had a couple of excellent hours birding in the morning before heading to the airport. All in all a cracking trip with 3 new birds, 10 new mammals, a pile of new reptiles and 2 new frogs! Thanks to Rohan for the company and Simone and Lucas for letting me go.