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Birds in the Centre

This section has information on birds I am frequently asked about. It therefore includes birds that I have never seen, or see only rarely, and leaves out a lot of common relatively easily found species.

It is no longer possible to keep this section up to date.  However excellent topical birding information can be found at Chris Watson’s website.

The following websites contain a lot of useful information bird distribution and abundance. Be aware that these are accumulations of data, and that birds may have long left the area where they were recorded.

Birdata has maps showing records of the Bird Atlas Australia wide. This is a very useful source, but remember that it is an accumulation of observations for nearly 10 years. A cluster of, say Pied Honeyeater, records means that an observer was there in a good year, not that you are likely to see them at any other time.

NT Bird Atlas also contains Atlas data.

Both of these give an excellent indication of how commonly (or rarely) some species are seen.

For birds at Uluru - Kata Tjuta

Birder Services

At present there is one nature guide operating out of Alice Springs, Alice Springs Budget Tours.

In addition there are two places with birder friendly accommodation:

Solar Bed & Breakfast Pathdorf

Nthaba Cottage

Seasonal Note

Following the good rains in of the 2010/11 summer most of the Centre is fairly lush.

**This site was originally written and updated by our long-time Club President Bob Read, who is currently travelling and only occasionally comes back to Alice Springs. As the new web master for the site, I have begun to update some of the pages but have not yet had time to bring the bird reports up-to-date.

Any comments and reports of success or failure at the sites mentioned would be welcome. As I have only limited time to go birding, I have to rely heavily on second-hand information to try to give up to date information, please email me with any new information. 

Thank you, Pamela Keil.

 

 

 

ROAD ACCESS

I have added the following symbols to indicate access.

Sealed road, suitable for all cars.

Includes gravel road, generally suitable for all cars, BUT car hire companies will not allow their 2WD cars to be used on un-sealed roads. They may make an exception for short access roads, such as the one into Ellery Big Hole, but check this with the hire company.

 4WD needed

  Conditions vary with time. Before travelling check road conditions and be sure that your vehicle is prepared for and capable of handling the conditions, and note the restrictions on hire cars as above..

For up to data information on roads see NT Road Conditions

Species are in taxonomic order. I suggest using Find (Ctrl F) in your browser to find a species. 

 


Species

Notes

Freckled Duck

Notes

These are at the Alice Springs Sewage Ponds fairly often. As of January 2007 the numbers of all duck species were depleted, and I saw no Freckled Ducks. I suspect that this is following the same pattern as last year, with most ducks moving north to the areas where heavy rains have fallen.

Recent Sightings

The Freckled Ducks seem to have deserted the ponds for the time. The last report I know of was November 2006.

Australian Spotted Crake

Sometimes seen, one at Alice Springs Sewage Ponds (May 2006)

Spotless Crake

Notes

8th August 2002, on the swamp that takes the overflow from the Sewage Ponds, north of Ilparpa Road. Rob Burgoyne.

July 13 2004 "very vocal Spotless Crake, which gave a couple of us a fleeting look as it dashed between reeds" Alice Springs Sewage Ponds, Dick Jenkin 2

Recent Sightings

None known. The swamp is receiving water from the ponds infrequently, and is not likely to provide suitable habitat.

Letter-winged Kite

Notes

In 2001 and 2002 these were often seen at   Mac Clarke Reserve . As of March 2003 they had disappeared. With the drier conditions the Plains Rats they were preying on have gone and kites with them.

They are unlikely to be seen around the Centre at present, but might be seen on the Barkly Highway. 6

Recent Sightings

None known

Grey Falcon

Notes

Grey Falcons have been reported over a wide area. Around Alice Springs they have been reported at the Old Telegraph Station and Olive Pink Botanic Garden. According to Donato et al. the species was regularly seen near Kata Tjuta in the Uluru-KataTjuta National Park, but none have been reported from that area in the most recent Atlas.

Has been seen at Newhaven .14

Recent Sightings

Black Falcon

Notes

This turns up infrequently around Alice. Could be anywhere in the region. Quite often seen near the Alice Springs Sewage Ponds.

Seen several times along the New Crown to Mount Dare road  in July 03.

Brown Quail

Notes

Field guides indicate that this species does not occur in Central Australia. After the good rains in 2000 it was fairly common around the Centre, mostly in well-grassed areas near creeks. Two pastoralists told me of large numbers of a kind of quail they have not seen before.

With the return of normal (drier) conditions they are much more scarce, but as of mid 2003 there were still some along the Hugh River north of Namatjira Drive.

Recent Sightings

Common in areas with good grass cover north of Alice Springs and probably elsewhere in the region.

Australian (Inland) Dotterel

Notes

This is a scarce and cryptic species is very hard to find. It has been recorded only twice in Central Australia in the most recent Atlas.

Thomas and Thomas' sighting of 29 at Kunoth Bore was a rare event, as they have not been seen on numerous other visits to this area. They would be equally likely to turn up on any other piece of suitable habitat. I know of no recent sightings in this area.

They have been seen at Newhaven.

Occasionally seen near the intersection of the Andado - Alice Springs road and the road to Mac Clarke Reserve 

Spotlight searches on foot on two occasions were unsuccessful, as was driving slowly along many kilometres of track over similar gibber plains. I also searched gibber plains near the New Crown to Mount Dare road both by day and with a spotlight at night without success.

6/8/2004, success at last! I found a flock of about 10 next to the road north of the Mac Clarke turnoff, at 24o 59' 23" S 135o 24' 03" E . I only found these because I stopped to look at some Orange Chats and a dotterel happened to be in the field of view of the binoculars! Without binoculars they were invisible except when moving. This is a very difficult species to spot. Keep looking for stones that move.

It has been reported 5 km from Marla on the Oodnadatta road, near a borrow pit on the N side of the road, but I had no success there in July 2003. 27o 17' 48" S 133o41' 15" E. 

Strangely at times road-killed Inland Dotterels have been found on Alice Springs streets. Apparently they were hit at some unknown location and carried a long distance on radiator grilles.

Recent Sightings

July 2007, 5 adults and 1 chick between Mac Clarke Reserve and the turnoff, 25o07' 37" S 135o 29' 06" E (M.and G. Goode).

14/9/2008, three seen on road from Finke to Abminga Siding, about 2 km south of SA/NT border (Don Hadden)

Spinifex Pigeon

Notes

This species is widespread near rocky spinifex-covered hills. Sometimes on the side of Mount Gillen

To the north around Tennant Creek they are more common, and are seen on the plains.

E.g. near Mary Anne Dam near Tennant Creek, on hill before car park (RobGosford).

Often in the car-park and picnic ground at Ormiston Gorge

 

Pink (Major Mitchell) Cockatoo

Notes

If you travel a reasonable distance on roads in the area, such as the LasseterHighway, the road to Andado or the Plenty Highway, or on the Stuart Highway from Port Augusta to Alice Springs, you have a good chance of seeing them. They are often seen feeding on the seeds of melons (Citrullus colocynthus and C. lanatus) that grow on the edge of roads.

Princess Parrot

Notes

This species has always been scarce in the southern NT, and is possibly even scarcer now. The only recent sightings I am aware of are the two in the current Bird Atlas.

I have been told of a small flock of the birds near Alice circa 1990.

Recent Sightings

In 2010 they were seen near Alice Springs.  Bred on Aboriginal Lands west of Alice Springs, but this is only accessible to organised tours.

Budgerigar

Notes

This species is very much influenced by rains. At times it is very common around Alice Springs, and then may disappear for months.

Bourke Parrot

Notes

Sometimes seen coming for water at the small dam near KUNOTH BORE at sunrise and sunset. 

Can be anywhere in the mulga scrub around Kunoth Bore. 

Early July 03 fairly common in creeks with Red Mulga and Gidgee along the New Crown Mount Dare Road . For example the creek just north of the NT-SA border fence near 25 59 25 S 135 11 53 E.

Scarlet-chested Parrot

Notes

This species was recorded in Central Australia in the first Bird Atlas, but has not been reported in the current Atlas. I regard it as a rare vagrant.

There was a chance sighting of this species south of Alice Springs in 2005, but the birds could not be found the next day and have not been reported since.

Recent Sightings

None known or likely.

Black-eared Cuckoo

Notes

A few of these are around in early spring and sometimes after good rain. 37

Spinifexbird

Notes

This is a difficult species for the visitor to find. Its numbers fluctuate dramatically with the seasons.

Areas where this bird was known to occur such as the Pound Walk Ormiston Gorge and the Dolomite Walk at Ellery Gorge were burnt in fires of autumn 2002. To the best of my knowledge they have not been seen in these locations since. Reported to be fairly common at Newhaven. However I did not find them there despite searching a lot of promising looking spinifex.

The area west of the Sewage Ponds where they were formerly found burnt out in 2002.

They are said to have been seen in the MacDonnell Ranges near Alice, but my opinion is that most (or all?) of it is too frequently burnt and lacks the maturespinifex this species needs.

It could occur anywhere there is suitable mature spinifex. It also sometimes occurs in other tall thick grass. They have been seen along the Santa Teresa Road, including at the site mentioned below for Rufous-crowned Emu-wren. However they are much harder to find and may take some hours searching. Less than half searchers find them at this location. In the past I have found them fairly easily, but on 22/7/2006 extensive searching of this area and other similar habitat, including the two additional sites mentioned below under Rufous-crowned Emu-wren was unsuccessful.

About 12-14km along the Warrego Rd outside of Tennant Creek - in the large stretch of mature spinifex along the southern side of the road. Suspect that they are in reasonable numbers in any large mature patches of spinifex in that area (Rob Gosford).  

I visited this area on 25/6/2007. The habitat certainly looked suitable, but I was unable to find any Spinifexbirds, possibly because of the unusually cold rainy weather.

Glen Helen, on spinifex-covered slope opposite the entrance to the resort fromNamatjira Drive. This site has bitumen road access and is probably the most accessible location from Alice Springs for this species.  71

Recent Sightings

Was widespread in 2010, and probably still is with the good seasonal conditions.

Rufous-crowned
Emu-wren

Notes

I suspect this species is widespread, just hard to find because of its habit of hiding inspinifex tussocks, emitting occasional faint squeaks. I mostly see it in out of the way places. It has been seen in the Alice Springs Commonage, west of the dump. This area was burnt out in 2002, and on top of that recent fencing off of the track has made access to this area more difficult.

The only reasonably accessible sites where it is found fairly regularly that I know of is;

Santa Teresa Road, 32.8 km past airport roundabout at 24 00 49 S 134 04 43 E. Note this is gravel road. Seen here 25/4/03, again in May, and again in September. There is an old tyre stuck in an electricity pole, not easily visible until you are almost level with the pole. The emu-wrens could be anywhere in the spinifex to the north or south of the road. Often quite close to the road. Most visitors seem to find them here with some searching -

Seen south of the road 22/7/2006. Also at 24 02 24 S 134 07 40 E and 24 03 20 S 134 12 19 E. They are probably distributed throughout the spinifex-covered limestone ridge habitat, which occurs intermittently from the "tyre in pole" site up to the Santa Teresa gate.

Ellery Big Hole, The areas where there this species was formerly seen all appear to have been burnt in 2002, and it will probably be years before the birds return. Likewise the area near the Ochre Pits.

Ormiston Pound. This area burnt out in 2002 and the emu-wrens have not been seen there since.

Ormiston Gorge Access Road. 1.Eastern side of the Ormiston access road, 200 m south of the major creek crossing after leaving Namatjira Drive, among tall spinifexand shrubs. 

2. 100 m from Namatjira Drive in mature spinifex on the left of the road April 2007 (Greg Oakley, birding-aus).

At Tecticornia on Newhavenand also at the northern Lake Bennett lookout  , 22 45 52 S 131 00 35 E. In both cases the birds were in low Melaleucashrubs with spinifex understorey.

White-browedTreecreeper

This is a rather scarce species. I have seen it occasionally, and there seems to be no particular pattern.

White-winged Fairy-wren

This species is widespread and common, but can be difficult for visitors to find. It is found in spinifex and low shrubland (especially chenopod) habitats. It appears to be sedentary, remaining in drought periods. In my experience it is the commonest bird in the Simpson Desert.

Places it can be found include;

Coolibah Swamp in Alice Springs township,  at the intersection of Stott Terrace and Sadadeen Roads. (Caution: Drinkers sometimes use this area. Women should be particularly careful.)

Sewage Ponds  in low vegetation to the south of the ponds. They can nearly always be seen from the road around the edge of the large pond. There are also some Variegated Fairy-wrens.

The low vegetation around Ilparpa Swamp.

Rainbow Valley Conservation Reservenear the information shelter.

Along the Hugh River Stock Route Road.

In low vegetation along the Stuart Highway north of Alice Springs, such as McGrath Creek 23o 18'36" S 133o 47'28" E. 

582

Eyrean Grasswren

Notes

This species is restricted to areas of the Simpson Desert where canegrass grows on the dunes. The only easily accessible part of the desert in the NT is in the Andadoarea. Eyreans can be found on the dune near the Mac Clarke  turnoff, and sometimes other dunes in the area. In spring they may be easy to find. At other times the only indication of their presence will be tracks and perhaps a few faint whistles. Note that canegrass makes squeaking noises as it moves with the wind, and White-winged Fairy-wrens share the same habitat. 6/8/2004, seen on the dune next to the road north from the Mac Clarke intersection, 25o 05'24" S 135o 23'13".

The best strategy is to sit and wait among the canegrass, rather than to actively search.

Dusky Grasswren

Notes

This species is common on steep rocky spinifex covered hillsides. Its relatively low reporting rate is largely a result of birders' lack of enthusiasm for its habitat. It appears to be sedentary, not disappearing in droughts. Places it may be found include;

Near Alice

They can always be found on the upper part of Mount Gillen, though not everyone will be happy to scramble up 200 to 300 m (vertical distance) of rocky slopes. From Flynn Grave. Go through the foot gate about 80 m west, and follow the path that leads mostly west to the  summit.  The grasswrens can be anywhere past the saddle about half way up or on the summit ridge, but most commonly in the area between a clump of pine trees and the foot of the cliffs.

West of Alice

Simpsons Gap, on the slope at the foot of the cliff on the west side of the path from the carpark to the Gap. Seen here in 21/7/2006. One opinion is that you need to be there very early before the crowds, but I once saw them in mid-afternoon.

Standley Chasm , near rocky areas along the access road.

Ormiston Gorge, on the Pound Walk where it crosses the ridges into the Pound. Despite this area being burnt in 2002 they were back here in late May 2003.

Ellery Big Hole, in West Macdonnell National Park , on the Dolomite Walk, the bit that did not burn in the fires of 2002.

Larapinta Trail, Stage 6, at the saddle 2 km east of Ellery Big Hole.

Mount Sonder, along Stage 12 of the Larapinta Trail.

East of Alice

The Rim Walk, Trephina Gorge , on the side of the valley where theTrephina Gorge Walk descends to the creek.

Arltunga Historical Reserve , in Joker Gorge .

South West of Alice

Kings Canyon, start of Creek Walk July 2007 (Tom Wilson).

South East of Alice

Santa Teresa Road, 32.8 km past airport roundabout at 24 00 49 S 134 04 43 E, as the site given for Rufous-crowned Emu-wrens above. Note this is gravel road. Seen here 22/7/06. The grasswrens seem to prefer the steeper rocky areas along the ridge -

North of Alice

At Native Gap . This locality has bitumen road access 115 km north along the Stuart Highway from Alice Springs and requires only a short climb to the top of the ridge above the microwave repeater station. It is very convenient for anyone travelling the Stuart Highway north of Alice Springs.

On the hills around Anna's Reservoir Conservation Reserve  .

Reported on Newhaven, though I could not find them myself despite searching promising habitat.

Recent Sightings

This is a sedentary species and there is a good chance of finding it at any of the localities above.

StriatedGrasswren

Notes

This species is hard to find.

In the most recent Atlas this species was recorded 6 times at Watarrka, and once at Uluru. It seems to be regularly seen at these locations.

"In the brush area between the Ayers Rock Resort and the Water Treatment complex which is across the road about half a mile away." (Bruce Reynolds)

It has also been recorded further north west in the Tanami region.

It occurs at Newhaven, but few visitors see it there.

Near Tennant Creek in spinifex near the road to Mary Anne Dam . This is an easily accessible site close to the Stuart Highway, and any birders travelling through should consider searching this area. The species was recorded in the Tennant Creek area in the first Bird Atlas. Please let me know how you get on. 7

Recent Sightings

Redthroat

Notes

This is an erratic species, which seems to turn up in occasionally in varioushabitatfor no obvious reason.  Most likely to be seen in unburnt mulga in the winter months when breeding and the males are calling

 

Rufous Field-wren

Notes

This species occurs in the area around Andado close to the SA Border. This NT population is right on the edge of the species range. I spent some time working in this area and had the opportunity to search for it. Despite walking through kilometresof apparently suitable habitat (I had seen the species in SA many years ago) I was unable to find it, and I conclude that it is scarce in this area. Those wishing to tick it off would be better advised to search for it in SA. 0

Recent Sightings

None known

Slaty-backed Thornbill

Notes

This species is scarce, but could turn up in any good mulga habitat, as along the PLENTY HIGHWAY  

Near KUNOTH BORE on the Old Hamilton Downs Road, 21/7/2006.

Often in the mulga to about 6 km south of Kunoth Bore.

On walk west of Old Hamilton Downs. 

Sometimes reported around the Old Telegraph Station.

Kings Canyon. On the Resort Walk July 2007 (Tom Wilson).

Glen Helen, July 2007. Opposite the entrance to the resort from Namatjira Drive (Tom Wilson).

Uluru, on the walk to the cultural centre July 2007 (Tom Wilson).

They are reported to be relatively common at Newhaven , but I have seen none in two visits.

Recent Sightings

Chestnut-breasted Whiteface

Notes

This species is not known to occur in the NT (the South Australians will be annoyed if it is found, as they would lose their only endemic), but is found just south of the border in SA. In June 2003 they were seen near the Stuart Highway about 32.5 km north of Marla, close to a 'kangaroo' sign 2703' 38" S 133o 27' 18" E. They were in low saltbush and bluebush shrubs in a mixed flock with Southern Whiteface.

Reported to be still in this area August 2003.

Banded Whiteface

Notes

At times this bird has been reported around Alice.

In April 2003 it was common on Newhaven . However in April 2004 I saw only one bird, a short walk (say 500 m) south of Main Camp.

Its stronghold is the area in and around the Simpson Desert. Most of this is difficult to get to. It sometimes occurs in the Mac Clarke Reserve  , but I did not find in in June 2006, nor anywhere along the road from Alice Springs toAndado via Santa Teresa, probably because of the very dry conditions. There is a chance of seeing it in suitable habitat along the Stuart Highway from about Marla toErldunda.

Grey Honeyeater

Notes

My experience is that this species is very nomadic. I am lucky to see it once a year. It appears erratically, and is seldom seen at the same location on the next day. It is often reported from KUNOTH BORE , and 5 km south at the eremophilapatchprobably because that is where it is most often looked for.

Olive Pink Botanic Garden . Ask the caretaker for the most likely spot. In 2005 a pair bred at Olive Pink Botanic Garden. I suspect that they are resident in the nearby area, but are not always present in the garden.

Some sightings at Newhaven .

It could turn up anywhere with suitable shrubland habitat. For example it has been seen at the Old Telegraph Station, (most recently that I know of April 2003) and in the area SW of Flynn Grave, but not very often.

The Atlas records for this species (Birdata) show the following pattern:

Clusters of sightings around Alice Springs, Kunoth Bore and Newhaven.

A few sightings at Ayers Rock and Watarrka.

Scattered sightings elsewhere.

This is pretty close to the density of Atlas surveys, that is GHEs are most often found in places where a lot of people look for them.

Pied Honeyeater

Notes

This species is nomadic. It turns up after rain, and is extremely scarce in droughts.

Black Honeyeater

This species is nomadic, similar to the above, but scarcer.

Crimson Chat

Notes

This is a highly nomadic species and it is difficult (or impossible?) to predict where they might be. In 1997 after good summer rains they bred in the area SW of Flynn Grave. Despite even better rains in 2000 and 2001 I did not see them in this area again until 14/12/2002, following the November rains, after which they disappeared again.

If you travel any distance on outback roads you are quite likely to seem them flying ahead of you. Watch for small brown birds with an erratic or zig-zag flight. This is the only species with a red rump in the region.  (not counting Red-backed Kingfisher which is quite different.) 

Orange Chat

Notes

These are also seasonal and highly nomadic. In good seasons they may be common in suitable habitat, as around the edges of saltlakes. In drier times they disappear.

Yellow Chat

Yellow Chat has been recorded at the Sewage Ponds, circa 1990. It seems a pair may have been blown in by freak weather conditions. This species appears to be a rare vagrant in Central Australia.

Gibberbird

In the NT this species is restricted to the stony plains ("gibber") near the SA border. It is rather cryptic and seems to be relatively scarce.

I have seen it near the intersection of the Andado - Alice Springs road  and the Mac Clarke Road, but it took a great deal of searching to find it.

6/8/2004, one in the gibber the eastern end of the Mac Clarke Reserve, outside the fenced area.

One seen at Mac Clarke Reserve, May 2005. In June 2006 this area was drought-stricken and I saw none.

Cinnamon Quail-thrush

The first Bird Atlas had records across the southern NT. The second only has records south and east of Alice Springs. The reasons for the change are not known.

This species can sometimes be found on the first 20 km or so of the Hugh River Stock Route Road, which turns off the Stuart Highway (Maryvale signpost) 12 km south of Jim's Place, about 100 km south of Alice Springs.

Also on the road to Chambers Pillar, especially where it crosses the Charlotte Range. 

Chestnut Quail-thrush

This species is listed as regular for the Southern Region of Central Australian on the Parks and Wildlife Bird Check List for Central Australia.

The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park checklist lists it as rare. It was recorded in that area in the first Bird Atlas, and nowhere else in the NT.

It was not recorded in the NT in the second Bird Atlas. I suspect that it occurs in parts of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park no longer accessible to the public, and possibly also on Aboriginal Land.

Historic records indicate that its range extended to Bushy Park, northeast of Alice Springs, but I do not know of any recent sightings in this area. It is a mystery what has caused the contraction in range.

Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush

The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park checklist lists it as rare. I suspect that it occurs in parts of the Park no longer accessible to the public.

White-backed Swallow

Generally seen in flight. This and the Welcome Swallow (less common ) are the only two species in the Centre with long deeply forked tails. It is easily recognisedby the white in both the upper and under-wing views.

Golden-headedCisticola

At Alice Springs Sewage Ponds in summer.

Painted Finch

Notes

These are widespread in rocky areas, nearly always close to water. At times they are on the side of Sewage Ponds , but no recent reports.

They are likely to be abundant in N'Dhala Gorge Nature Park if there is water in the creek.

Also Palm Valley , John Hayes Rockhole , Standley Chasmand Trephina Gorge .

Western Bowerbird

Notes

This species is fairly common throughout the region, including urban Alice Springs. Occasionally seen flying over Todd Mall, or foraging in garden beds. There are several bowers in suburban gardens.

There is a resident bird and a bower in Olive Pink Botanic Garden, near the John Blakeman shelter, ask the caretaker. Semi-tame ones often scavenge in the Ormiston Gorge carpark and picnic ground. Often seen at the Old Telegraph Station.

Recent Sightings

Seen more or less continually at Olive Pink Botanic Garden and around Alice Springs.