Days 40-41: 14th - 15th October
What does it take to distract me from my newfound orchid obsession? Pink beaches, nesting shorebirds and Malleefowl will do it!
After our few days in Mt Barker, it was time to really start heading east. Except that we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to just drive through the Stirling Ranges without taking another look. They are spectacular.
So what perhaps should have been a quick drive through the a pass in the range turned into an hour or so of driving the scenic route … with lots of stops to enjoy the view.
Oh, and stops for birds too, of course. One stretch of the road travels along the boundary between the national park and adjacent wheat farms. Cockatoos and parrots take full advantage of the easy meal placed right at their doorstep.
So it was quite late yesterday afternoon that we returned to Fitzgerald River National Park.
A few weeks ago we stayed at the western end of the park. This time we went to Hamersley Inlet at the eastern end – exactly where Paul and I started a 4 day hike from quite a few years ago. We’re still debating the exact year, but I’m thinking it was 2003 or 2004. He thinks it was more like 2006.
Back then there was a very sandy road in, and no campground that we recall. We road our bikes in from the highway, having caught a coach from Perth, and then left them locked to a tree right here ... and walked. It was wonderful, and our first introduction to the amazing plant life of this region.
Well, things have certainly changed - and not just our bodies! There is a campground, and it is very comfortable, but the level of infrastructure came as quite a shock. Bitumen roads, concrete guttering and pathways, fancy signage and seating … all feels a bit ‘wrong’ in the middle of such a wild and natural place. And, to be honest, my initial reaction was rather negative. I confess … I got a bit grumpy. It felt a little bit like more camping at Federation Square in Melbourne, than camping in the wilderness!
But now I get it. We’ve learned that all this development is part of a multi-pronged strategy to limit the spread of dieback. Phytopthora has devastating effects wherever it takes hold. There’s no way to eradicate it, so the only hope for WA’s flora is to contain the spread. And if that means concrete paths and other methods of limiting the tracking of contaminated soil, I’m all for it.
So having recovered my composure overnight, I faced today back in good spirits.
And it’s been a beautiful day. We spent four hours on a coastal walk that was full of surprises.
We came back to Fitzgerald River NP expecting to explore the plants (and even the orchids!) some more. Surprisingly there is very little in flower along the coastal strip. The vegetation we traversed near the beach contains very few of the iconic proteas that this park is famous for. They’re a bit further west and inland, it seems.
Instead I was captivated by the pink shells covering the beach. They really are pink! All of them!
Paul has just started reading about the geology of the area, so he was focused more on the rocks.
And the rest of the morning it was all about the birds.
Hamersley Inlet is a closed estuary, with a wide sandbar between the lake and the sea. In crossing over to the start of the coastal track we inadvertently disturbed a pair of nesting Hooded Plovers.
The Hoodies here in the west are a different subspecies to our eastern birds, and they have quite different markings. This was our first sighting in WA, and to see them breeding was a special treat.
The parent quickly returned to the eggs as we moved away.
When we next crossed the sandbar we were careful to give the nest a very wide berth. However, the parents were clearly not impressed and put on an amazing distraction display to try to lure us away.
We didn’t hang about, as they really don’t need any more challenges than the ones they already face. We’d sighted a couple of goannas in the bush nearby, and ravens too.
And, sadly, in addition to these natural threats, we also saw car tracks in the sand very close to the nest. Cars really do not belong on beaches! (update: we met the ranger the next day and once he learned of the nest he said he’d set up markers to keep cars away. Let’s hope it works)
Anyway, back to the birds.
Nesting and feeding in the same area was a large group of Red-capped Plovers. They seemed to be everywhere.
A trio we came across near the surf put on an extraordinary display of territorial fighting ... or so we thought at first.
Then it occurred to us that this too might have been a distraction display, and that perhaps they had chicks hidden nearby. We carefully walked away, watching where we placed each step. If they behave as we know Hoodies do, their camouflaged chicks could have been sitting motionless anywhere on the open beach.
Later, and much further up the beach, we spotted this chick. At this age it would be quite mobile, but not yet able to fly.
One last shorebird sighting, just as we’re about to leave the beach. A large flock of tiny Red-necked Stints feeding on the wet sand at the lakes edge.
In contrast to the Hoodies and Plovers, these birds are not breeding here. They’ve just returned from their breeding grounds ... in arctic Siberia. No wonder they’re hungry!
Such a long journey for such seriously tiny birds. At around 30g, the Stints make the little Red-caps look large.
We leave the beach and head back toward camp. I leave Paul behind, as I head back to the loo in a bit of a hurry ... and as I’m charging up the sandy track a Malleefowl appears right in front of me!
Wow! That’s a lifer! Neither of us have ever seen one before ... and sadly Paul still hasn’t. By the time he caught up with me the bird had disappeared back into the mallee. For such a large bird, they are highly cryptic. I was just lucky to find this one walking on the track. Even then, the patterned feathers blend with the dappled light. I was quite stunned. This bird was not even on my radar as a possible encounters at Hamersley. What a bonus!
After a short break back in camp, and with such good weather, we decided do some more exploring. Caves Point is a short drive from Hamersley and is one of many very accessible (i.e. paths and bitumen again!) lookouts in this part of the park.
Again, we were surprised. The vegetation was completely different to that we’d seen along the coastal track and around the inlet.
The views from the high cliffs were stunning, and the vegetation fascinating … but it was again the birds that stole the show. We couldn’t tear ourselves away. Dozens of swallows were riding the updraft of the cliff, mobbing a local Nankeen Kestrel.
Western Spinebills were flitting about, and an Emu-wren made a brief appearance.
And then Paul spotted a not-so-small brown bird dashing between low bushes. We freeze, and wait, thinking this just might be yet another ‘first’ for us … one of the two Fieldwrens of WA. We don't have to wait long before two Rufous Fieldwrens emerge.
They jumped across the track just a few metres from where we stood, feeding in the open just long enough for us to get a really good look at them, before they disappeared again among the dense bushes. Wow … what a day!
We really should be going … but the calls of a Western Whipbird keep us waiting, listening, and hoping to catch a glimpse. In vain as it turns out. But that’s what makes birding so exciting - not knowing for sure whether you’ll see what you came to see. And the calls of this bird are so weird that just listening to it again was a great experience. Paul intends to use the sound track of this movie as the ringtone on his phone.
We leave the Cape to the birds and Kangaroos, and head back to camp … thoroughly amazed by Fitzgerald River yet again.
And this is just the first of two days we’ll be spending here. We’re so glad we chose to make this return trip. Just when we think we are getting to know the place, it manages to surprise us again.