Video highlights Barkly Tablelands and Mount Isa, Queensland, Australia

6 Jun 2016 - 10:57 -- Pieter de Groot...

Central Arnhem Road, a 663 km long road which runs through remote Arnhem Land in the NE of the Top End, which is mostly owned by Aboriginal tribes. From a certain length it's required to have a permit to drive the full length of the road. Arnhem is a city in the Netherlands. It is widely believed that the Dutch were the first European explorers on the continent, in 1606:

  • Northern Shrike-tit, endemic to NE Western Australia and the Top End in N Northern Territory. Rarely recorded and not well known, this is the first video of this (sub)species (whitei) of the Crested Shrike-tit for the IBC. This and the other two subspecies occur in three very disjunct subspecies in the corners of the Australian continent. All three sound different and all three look quite distinct. When will they finally be split? The Northern Shrike-tit seems to prefer open eucalypt woodlands, and the first 10 km of the Central Arnhem Road seems to be the best option to look for this species


Barkly Tablelands, a vast area of grasslands which cover around 21 % of the Northern Territory. The Tablelands Highway runs through the area, which offers the best chance in Australia to find the next species:

  • Flock Bronzewing, endemic to Australia, found from inland SE central Australia to NW Western Australia. A highly nomadic species, which, although having a vast range, is a very difficult species to get a hold on. It can exclusively been found in arid grassy plains. The best time to look for them is at the end of the dry season, when birds come in to the last remaining bodies of water in the early morning and late evening. As the name implies, this species occurs in flocks, which can sometimes consist of thousands of birds. Even when foraging in vast numbers, they can be easily missed when they are foraging among the tall grass. A farm along the Tablelands Highway (11) offers the best chance to find this species, as it seems there are at least a few flocks present year-round. This species belongs to the genus Phaps, together with the Common Bronzewing (see location Cheynes Beach), which can be found nearly throughout Australia, and the Brush Bronzewing (also location Cheynes Beach), which occurs in S Australia. They are the only representatives of this endemic genus to Australia

Mount Isa, a mining town in NW Queensland along the Barkly Highway which connects the Northern Territory with Queensland. The following star birds occur in the greater area:

  • Carpentarian Grasswren, endemic to a restricted range in NE Northern Territory and NW Queensland. A new species on video for the IBC. Recently elevated to Endangered status, this large grasswren is one of the Holy Grails of this often elusive family. Two subspecies exist, which are possibly candidates for splitting. It can be found in mature clumps of spinifex, where it's an expert in hiding. A traditonal site (Lady Loretta Road) was burnt a few years ago (a natural event which belongs to a cycle) which meant they momentarily left the area. Indeed, I spent six long hours slowly walking through this location without seeing a thing, until I saw a suspicious bird flying low over the spinifex about 80 meters in front of me. I started to walk little circles where I thought the bird had landed until it suddenly popped out of a thick clump of spinifex
  • Kalkadoon Grasswren, endemic to a restricted range in NW Queensland. A new species on video for the IBC. A common bird which can be found in spinifex covered and rocky terrain. Nevertheless, as with so many species of grasswrens, some effort and patience is required to actually find it. The same rules apply for the whole group, slowly walking through the habitat while looking in front of you (they swiftly run from cover to cover) and listening to their fant contact calls. It certainly helps to avoid windy and cold days

Karumba, a fishing village in extreme SW Cape York Peninsula along the Gulf of Carpentaria. It offers one of the few accesible patches of mangroves along the northern coast of Australia. The best option is to take the ferry with these people, as they know the mangrove birds well. The star bird is most definitely the White-breasted Whistler, which is common in the surrounding mangroves

  • White-breasted Whistler, endemic to coastal N Australia, from NW Western Australia to NW Queensland. Another mangrove specialist, where it centres its territories around small creeks. However, due to the inaccesibility of its habitat I believe it could be underrecorded, albeit less so then the following species. It certainly is very common in the mangroves of Karumba. The males are generally a bit more difficult to see well, as they try to be more out of sight when disturbed, unlike the inquisitive females. Here a male and here a female
  • Mangrove Robin, found in S New Guinea, the Aru Islands and coastal N Australia. A true mangrove specialist, where it is seemingly uncommon and local. But again, like with the White-breasted Whistler, possibly underrecorded due to the inaccesibility of its mangrove habitat
  • Black-necked Stork, patchily found from the Indian subcontinent to Thailand (now very rare there) and N and E Australia. This large and iconic species (max. length 150 cm) is found in swamps, tidal areas and along large rivers. It's reasonably common in Australia, although pairs have vast territories which means they are thinly spread
  • Sarus Crane, a species with three widely separated areas of distribution, N India, Thailand/Cambodia/Laos/Vietnam and NE Australia. The species is fairly common in Australia, although most often outnumbered by the endemic Brolga (see location Bowra Station). It was first confirmed as being present in Australia as recently as 1966, which raised the questions of their origin. Genetic studies suggested the Australian Sarus Cranes haven't interbred with their SE Asian congeners for 30.000 years
  • Brahminy Kite, a very common bird which occurs from Pakistan to N Australia, where it is strictly coastal. It can be found in mangroves, mudflats and many offshore islands, even in harbours

Cumberland Dam, a nice roadside stop near this dam along the Gulf Development Road (which runs from Mount Isa to E Queensland). Cumberland is a ghost town, which was created and subsequently abandoned by the discovery and depletion of gold deposits:

  • Great Bowerbird, endemic to N Australia. This large species is common in many parts of its range in open woodlands and similar habitats. It even builds its bowers in suburban gardens. Their large structures comes with their seize, and they like to decorate their bowers with white objects. Examples being bones, shells, stones etc.
  • Great Crested Grebe, this species has a vast range, which encompasses vast areas of the Old World. Subspecies australis is sometimes thought to be a possible split. The only reason I heard was the fact they wear the same plumage troughout the year instead of shifting in summer-and winter plumages
  • Common Coot, equally widely distributed in the Old World (but in Africa only occuring in the north), which is common nearly throughout its range, including in Australia
  • Cotton Pygmy-goose, found almost entirely throughout S Asia through to New Guinea and NE Australia. It's rather patchily distributed in Australia, while it can be a common bird elsewhere in its range. This was my last edition to my Australian birdlist, which ended around 610-615 species (710 species were seen thoughout my year of travelling)

Shipton's Flat, a return to the famous Roberts brothers (see my newsfeed from my visit in late December 2014) finally produced Bennet's Tree-kangaroo and a Northern Quoll which I failed to find during my first visit to this area:

  • Lovely Fairy-wren, endemic to coastal NE Queensland (almost totally confined to Cape York Peninsula). A new species on video for the IBC. A fairly common species which can be found along forest edges and clearings of rainforests. It spends most of its time in the trees, unlike the other species of fairy-wrens (of Australia at least)