Kerri-Lee Harris

Fitzgerald River NP, WA

Kerri-Lee Harris
Fitzgerald River NP, WA

Days 17-21: 21st-25th September
(4490km)

What do I miss most during a week without power, internet, or proper showers? 

Western end of Fitzgerald River National Park

Western end of Fitzgerald River National Park

Not the showers … I can live for a week without washing my hair. Not my email … that has actually been a rather nice break. Not the coffee grinder or electric blanket (and yes, we have both in the Cub!) … I ground a week’s worth of coffee in advance, and we just huddled together under extra blankets. What I’ve missed is being able to look over our photos at the end of each day. I’ve missed being able to Google-search information on the many new species we’ve seen. And I’ve missed being able to share our thoughts and photos with friends. But we’re now back online!

We’re sharing the fun task of catching up on the past week’s news. Paul will put together a blog on Cape Arid and Cape Le Grande. In this post, let me tell you about the 5 days we spent in Fitzgerald River National Park.

Heading out for a walk in Fitzgerald River National Park - binoculars at the ready, and camera in hand (as always!)

Heading out for a walk in Fitzgerald River National Park - binoculars at the ready, and camera in hand (as always!)

This national park, on the central south coast of WA, is quite extraordinary. It is huge … nearly 300,000 hectares. 

View from atop West Mount Barren … that’s our little car at the end of the gravel road.  More about this walk later in the post.

View from atop West Mount Barren … that’s our little car at the end of the gravel road. More about this walk later in the post.

More importantly, it is incredibly rich in plant life. Fifteen percent of all the plant species of WA grow here. That’s 1665 species! And, even more significantly, 60 of those species grow nowhere else. 

The images below are of Royal Hakea (Hakea victoria). This amazing plant seems to glow when backlit!

The park is also less afflicted by dieback than most other environments in WA. I hadn’t realised just how devastating the phytophthora fungus has been in this state. Frighteningly, plants in the Proteaceae family are particularly susceptible … and Fitzgerald River is home to some extraordinary, bizarre Proteaceae.

Indeed, it it really the plants that we have come here for. The birds are a bonus.

White-cheeked Honeyeater - larger and less common than the incredibly numerous New Holland Honeyeaters

The campsite we’d booked at Quaalup Homestead Wilderness Retreat worked out to be just right for us.

 

It’s the school holidays now, and the campgrounds in the National Park are full … and would have been rather frightful, I think. Too many people, too much noise, and most people more interested in driving on the beautiful beaches than in taking in the wonders of the bush. Quaalup was perfect! 

The property is indeed an old homestead, but it’s not a sheep paddock. It’s full of native vegetation – and it’s full of bird and other animals! But most importantly, it blends seamlessly into the national park.

A short walk from the homestead there is a viewing tower … actually, an old water tank stand.

A short walk from the homestead there is a viewing tower … actually, an old water tank stand.

There are various narrow walking tracks leading out from the property, passing through a whole range of vegetation types. And all the plants for which Fitzgerald River NP is so famous were on show.

The glorious flowers alongside another of the walking tracks from our campsite at Quaalup

The glorious flowers alongside another of the walking tracks from our campsite at Quaalup

It seems that we’ve timed our WA visit perfectly!

The Qualup Bell (Pimelea physodes): another endemic plant … and bearing the same name as where we stayed!

A dragon orchid … species Caladenia barbarosa (perhaps). And the first time we’ve seen this one!


Here are a few more of the wonders we’ve seen and experienced during our 5 days here.

1: More sights close to camp

Watching flocks of these birds calling and wheeling about, then settling in the trees to preen, rest and feed was a real treat. Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoos are listed as endangered, and are only found in the south-western corner of WA.

Here’s a nice example of those small changes that mean we’re in the west. In many ways, the Western Spinebill resembles our familiar Eastern Spinebill from home. But not quite!

Western Spinebill - male

Western Spinebill - male

We spotted a Honey Possum crossing the gravel road one day, and so decided to head out after dark to see what we could see. No Honey Possums, but quite a bit of night life at ground level!

And notice the white sand? That’s what passes for soil in this part of the world. Great for plant diversification … and also great for spider spotting!

One afternoon after returning from a few hours walking, I was just settling in with a coffee when I spotted this lovely creature gliding across the white sand a short distance away. Down coffee, grab camera, call Paul … and we got to watch her hunting under the bark of low branches and in the leaf litter. She wasn’t troubled by us. And perhaps that’s because she’s a top predator. Listed as ‘highly venomous’, apparently. Happily, she didn’t seem interested in our camp, and just continued on her way. Another ‘first’ sighting for us!

Splendid Fairy-wrens are like all other Fairy-wrens in one respect … the colourful males are the most secretive and difficult to photograph. I got very very lucky when I discovered a group of 5-6 during their ‘quiet time’. They were resting and preening … and sometimes in the sun too! I spent a very happy half hour just watching them.

2: The Ridge Walk … also just a short stroll from camp

mount barren 5.jpg
mount barren 4.jpg

Right at the summit of the climb, growing on the granite outcrop, were a small number of these extraordinary trees. The buds and fruits are both huge, and look like something out of Dr Who!

mount barren 6.jpg

3: Point Anne

This rather famous spot draws a lot of visitors, but the well-designed paths and viewing platforms mean that even in the school holidays the drive out there is well worth while. 

A chilly wind was blowing - very handy hoody on my jumper!

A chilly wind was blowing - very handy hoody on my jumper!

point anne 4.jpg

Oh, yes … and there were whales …

The scenery all the way along this coast is quite simply spectacular. I think it’s due to the brilliant white sand and clear water. The ocean always looks bright blue!

point anne 2.jpg
Everything in this photo, and beyond, is part of Fitzgerald River National Park.

Everything in this photo, and beyond, is part of Fitzgerald River National Park.

A short drive from Point Anne and we discovered this beautiful, pristine beach. The only footprints – before ours – were emu footprints!

beach 1.jpg
beach 3.jpg

4: West Mount Barren

Climbing peaks just for the sake of it is not really our thing. But we are so glad we made an exception with West Mount Barren. 

The mountain to the left is West Mount Barren, viewed here from Quaalup. The start of the climb up the mountain was about a 30 min drive from our camp.

The mountain to the left is West Mount Barren, viewed here from Quaalup. The start of the climb up the mountain was about a 30 min drive from our camp.

The entire vista is national park, on the climb and even from the peak. And we had the place all to ourselves for a couple of hours in the early morning. It was quite magical. 


Spring has really just arrived here in the south, at least in terms of temperatures. I even donned shorts and a t-shirt … briefly. Nights are cold, and the wind even colder. We’ve been lucky enough to have no wet days since we arrived, and even some days with lighter winds. The southwesterly winds blow here. A lot. 

The birds show all the signs of Spring’s arrival. It seems they are all busy nest building or guarding tree hollows.

The local 'Golden Whistler used to be considered a different subspecies to ours in the east. It has recently been raised to full species status - the Western Whistler. That’s exciting for us … that’s ‘plus one’ for our life list!! The male is virtually identical to the Golden Whistler, but the female has a little more colour on the breast. Another example of ‘a little bit different’ in the west.

Early one morning, a short distance from camp, we came upon a major territorial dispute. It seems that a pair of Galahs had claimed a nest hollow in the same tree used by a nesting pair of Ringnecks. There was much noise and posturing, and even some actual conflict. Feathers flew, literally! But they seemed to reach an accommodation (ha, pun!), and things settled down soon after.

Spring, but there are still very few insects. And, trust us …. we look pretty closely!

We predict this will change very very soon! And I now have my birthday book - ‘A Guide to Native Bees of Australia’ … so I’m keen to photograph every bee I see!

WE STOP FOR WILDLIFE

Gravel roads are a good spot for reptile spotting. Sadly not everybody stops, or even slows down … we’ve seen way too many squashed snakes and lizards this week. Happily, many do escape the cars, and some may even escape pesky travelling photographers!


LIFERS at Fitzgerald River: first-ever sightings of these bird species

Gilbert’s Honeyeater, Western Spinebill, Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo, Red-eared Firetail, Red-capped Parrot, Western Whistler

Not bad, and still several national parks and several weeks to go! We’re having a ball!

last shot.jpg

The ‘making of’ this post: the challenges

We had a simple plan for today. Select some photos, prepare our blogs, and generally have a day-off birding. It should have been that simple … but the day presented two major challenges.

The first challenge was actually a welcome one. Too many birds! Sitting here at the cub, laptop on lap … but I had to keep jumping up to grab the camera as yet another great bird visited the bush (and bird baths) just metres away. And not just any birds. We actually got 2 ‘lifers’ while we were trying to blog! The Elegant Parrot and the Western Rosella. Plus the local subspecies of the Regent Parrot … such a beautiful bird! … dropped in for a visit too. We saw the eastern subspecies in Hattah-Kulkyne 2 weeks ago, but this was our first sighting of its western cousin. Our campsite is just extraordinary!

The second distraction was a much more worrying one. All the photos from our trip … and there are now 1000s! … are stored on a 2TB hard drive. This morning at about 9am Paul ordered a second one which we’ll use as a backup. We collect it next week, on our way through Albany. And at about 1pm today, our current one spat the dummy. Not good!! The next 4 hours were spent trying to coax it into life, at least long enough to copy all the files across to the computer. Happy ending - all photos now safe - but we’re a bit shaken, and are now really looking forward to visiting Albany.