Day 42: 16th October
We’ve had some crazy days on our WA trip. But I think this one takes the cake.
We rose early on our second day at Hamersley Inlet. We didn’t need an alarm. This male Golden Whistler calling insistently right next to the cub did the trick.
East Mt. Barren
We had a pretty simple plan for the day. Climb a nearby peak - East Mt. Barren - before continuing on to Esperance.
The national parks pamphlet advised that this was a two hour walk, so we expected to arrive in Esperance in good time in mid afternoon.
We spent some time at the lookout at the base of East Mt. Barren before starting the climb. While the view to the clear waters of the Southern Ocean was great, we were distracted by the site itself. This looked like a beautiful, artistically designed rock garden, but was actually entirely natural.
One plant that we discovered on our first visit to Fitzgerald River National Park years ago - Barrens Regelia, Regelia velutina - but hadn’t yet seen on this trip, was growing there. For some reason, this one species had stuck in our memories over the years as a reminder of that wonderful trip.
It was quite nostalgic to see it again.
Like several of the plants at that lookout, Barren’s Regelia is endemic to the eastern side of the Fitzgerald River National Park. We have never seen anything like it anywhere else and never will.
The level of endemism in this part of the world never ceases to amaze us - it makes it quite special and quite precious. No wonder the Park is a UNESCO recognised biosphere reserve - only the second in Australia.
The East Mt. Barren ascent, like the West Mt. Barren climb which we did 3 weeks ago, is rated Grade 4.
You follow one of the spur lines to the top, which means the path is made up of various sized slabs of beautiful, white quartzite.
However these are not exactly arranged like pavers! So technically it was more challenging than the West Mt. Barren walk, even though the peak is lower at 300m.
The view is stunning just a short way up and gets better and better as you ascend.
The plants were also spectacular and the mix of species changed as we ascended the 200 vertical metres of the climb. We even saw a couple of species of orchids!
Reptiles favour rocks because of their thermal mass and so we weren’t surprised to discover numerous skinks and dragons on the walk. Like the plants, the species changed as we climbed higher.
The last bit of the climb is the most difficult. You have to squeeze your body through narrow gaps between the vertical rock faces.
However, the views from the top make it all worthwhile.
It was midday by the time we finished the climb and we still had a 3 hr drive to Esperance in front of us. So we headed towards Hopetoun, a small, nearby seaside town to buy some lunch.
As is often the case, we got distracted. The cause this time was Culham Inlet, a 11.3 square km shallow transient estuary at the base of East Mt. Barren. We had memories of being almost blown off the causeway that crosses the inlet when we rode our bikes into Hamersley Inlet years ago.
As the Inlet came into view, we sighted a large flock of large, brown waterbirds on the water. These turned out to be Australian Shelducks.
We have sighted this species on numerous occasions in south eastern australia, but never in as large a flock as this - we estimate there were over 150.
That in itself was pretty special. But as we rounded the next bend, we caught sight of something even more amazing. Hundreds and hundreds of Red-necked Avocets! We have only ever seen these birds on two occasions - at the Western Treatment Park at Werribee and on Lake Hattah in Hattah-Kulkyne NP. According to the local signage, they are rarely seen at Culham Inlet - so we were quite fortunate!
They were doing the typical avocet thing of sweeping their upcurved bills back and forth as they waded through the shallow waters. They feed on brine shrimp, which abound in this salty inlet. A few Black-winged Stilts were in their midst and flocks of Pelicans and Grey Teals fed nearby.
It’s not hard to understand why the inlet is listed in the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia, despite having a degraded catchment due to land clearing and saline run-off.
After spending a while watching all of this action from a hide on the edge of the inlet, we continued on into Hopetoun - pretty hungry by this stage but we solved that problem at the local bakery.
OK, we were definitely headed directly for Esperance now. But Kerri happened to find mention of a good orchiding site en route - on a side road, just a few kilometres the other side of Ravensthorpe - in her little orchid bible. So we just had to check it out, didn’t we?
Sadly no orchids found, but as I drove back along said quiet side road to join the highway, she let out a loud scream - STOP!!!! MALLEEFOWL!!! I readily complied with her request. Fortunately no one was behind us as we came to a sudden halt.
She grabbed her camera and made a beeline back towards the wheatfield where she had sighted, not one, but two birds. I fumbled for my binoculars in the back seat as I tried to get out of the car quickly but unobtrusively. You can perhaps appreciate my mild sense of panic after having missed out on the chook the previous day.
Fortunately, the pair of malleefowl, which were feeding in a wheatfield when Kerri first sighted them, seemed unconcerned by our presence. They made their way through the fence between the road and wheatfield, wandered slowly across the road into an area of mallee on the other side and melted away.
What an amazing sight! I could hardly contain my excitement as we resumed our journey towards Esperance. Should be there in a couple of hours now...
Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoos - Lots of them!
Kerri was snoozing as I noticed a few black birds flying across the highway ahead of me. They looked like crows, but not really. Within seconds they were joined by dozens of similar shaped, black birds. Definitely not crows. Definitely Black Cockatoos.
I wakened Kerri from her slumber just in time for her to catch a glimpse of them as we passed by at 100km/h.
As another car was following close behind, I couldn’t slam on the brakes and come to a screeching halt - which had been my modus operandi in situations like this.
We had travelled quite some distance down the road before I could pull over safely and turn around - hoping the birds would still be where we had seen them. This was actually the fourth time we have done a sudden U-turn for Black Cockatoos on our trip. It’s been worth it every time.
Fortunately the birds were still there. And they were being joined by the second by more of their kin.
There must have been hundreds of Carnaby Black Cockatoos in the collection of tall chittick bushes and eucalyptus trees on either side of the highway.
You can imagine the noise as they squabbled for roosting sites. It wasn’t clear at the time, but later inspection of Kerri’s photos showed that they were feeding on pine cones from the nearby windbreak.
All the while, new birds arrived which just added to the general sense of mayhem. Periodically a large flock would take off and fly over to the opposite side of the road. Finally, the whole mob took off with a raucous cacophony and flew back down the highway for no apparent reason.
We were tempted to turn around and follow them. But somehow sanity prevailed and we continued our drive towards Esperance, where we finally arrived around 6pm.
Esperance - finally!
We booked into the same caravan park where we had stayed almost exactly a month earlier. It was well after 7pm by the time we had finished setting up camp and showered (we were overdue for the latter after our 2 day stay at Hamersley Inlet Campground, which has a toilet and nothing else).
I had no desire to make dinner, so we headed into town to find a pub meal. For a number of very boring reasons, this turned out to be a fruitless quest and we ended up eating pizza by ourselves in the local Dominos outlet at 9pm - tired, emotionally drained and a bit cranky. A fairly inauspicious end to an otherwise amazing day.
We promised each other that the next day would be a quiet one. We had clothes washing and food shopping to deal with in any event. Although Kerri did mention in passing that there were a couple of good orchiding spots in the area. And Lucky Bay in Cape Le Grand National Park was only 50km away...
Esperance Postscript: Days 43-44, 18th-19th October
Our time in Esperance was largely occupied with housekeeping tasks - clothes washing, food shopping, downloading photos, blogging. No photos necessary.
However we did make time for a brief return trip to Cape Le Grand NP. This was virtually mandated, as we hadn’t visited Lucky Bay, the iconic Cape Le Grand beach on our previous visit a month earlier.
The weather was fantastic, showing this picture-postcard spot off at its best. The pure white colour of the sand is extraordinary, as is the aquamarine hue of the water in the bay. The squeaky sound the sand makes as you walk along it adds to the whole slightly surreal experience.
It’s a trite saying, but the photos really don’t do it justice.
However, this shot of Kerri proves that it actually was warm. She’s not wearing her trusty mittens and this is only the second time I’ve seen her in shorts for the entire trip. Coincidentally, the other time was in Cape Le Grand NP.
On the drive back to Esperance we took the opportunity to visit a couple of nearby bays - Thistle Cove and Hellfire Bay. They are also pretty stunning.
LIFERS at Eastern Fitzgerald River NP: first ever sightings of these bird species
Rufous Field-wren, Malleefowl