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News from Mount Isa

Rex Whitehead | Guest Contributor

Following on from my last News from Mount Isa, I did another trip into the desert south of Birdsville, which turned out to be quite successful.

There weren’t the number of water birds on Eyre Creek, as there was last trip. But the Great-crested Grebes amused me in the way they had to handle fish, once caught, to be able to swallow them.

Great Crested Grebe with its lunch, manipulating it so it can be swallowed head-first so the fish’s scales don’t get stuck in the bird’s throat. Photo by Rex Whitehead.

My target for the trip was mainly Grasswrens, plus anything else that may show.

A female Kalkadoon Grasswren at Telstra Hill, Mount Isa a few weeks before the recent fires that have destroyed the habitat at that site. Photo by Rex Whitehead.

I was successful with both the Eyrean and Thick-billed Grasswrens. I was able to get plenty of images of the Eyreans, as they were quite plentiful.

An Eyrean Grasswren: one of several I saw on this trip. Photo by Rex Whitehead.

However, I only saw the one Thick-billed when he popped up on top of a salt bush, at a distance. The images I got weren’t that flash, but a poor image is better than none.

This Thick-billed Grasswren was the only one I saw on this trip. Photo by Rex Whitehead.

A Spotted Harrier and Brown Falcon were working this area, possibly keeping the Thick-billed from showing.

The Spotted Harrier that was working the area. Photo by Rex Whitehead.

I also got an image of a Wedge-tailed Eagle perched on a salt bush, which I thought was different.

Photo by Rex Whitehead.

You have probably heard about the bush fires around Mount Isa. I believe some are still burning further to the north.

I’m sorry to say that much Grasswren habitat has been lost, which would also affect Fairy-wrens, Spinifexbirds, and many others. I guess many of these small birds that aren’t good flyers, may have perished in the fires too.

Grasswren habitat at Telstra Hill just outside Mount Isa after the recent bushfires. I photographed the Kalkadoon Grasswren (see above) here a few weeks before these fires. Photo by Rex Whitehead.

The authorities brought in an Air-tractor Water Bomber which was on floats, and could land on Lake Moondarra, scooping the water up as it went. It could load 3,000 litres of water in 15 seconds. It made a big difference. I believe some houses would have been lost if not for the water bomber. It was a good call in getting him here.

There have been some migratory species arriving. Not as many as usual yet. I have only recorded Sharp-tailed, Wood and Marsh Sandpipers, plus some Swinhoe’s Snipe. Hopefully, more will arrive soon.

Four Swinhoe’s Snipe. Photo by Rex Whitehead.

But the jewel in the crown, while not a migrant, has been a pair of Australian Painted-snipe that has been here for about a month. I have been fortunate enough to get many images of them, along with the Swinhoe’s Snipe (above) which is in the same area.

A pair of Australian Painted-snipe: female on left; male on right. Photo by Rex Whitehead.
The same pair of Australian Painted-snipe. Photo by Rex Whitehead.

Lake Moondarra’s water level is still quite high for this time of the year, making some areas more difficult to get to. But that’s OK. The birds love it. Many of the water birds are breeding, so that’s always a good sign.

Good birding folks, and have a great and safe Christmas. Best wishes for 2024.

Rex Whitehead

Mount Isa

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