Friday, June 29, 2012

Newhaven – The Princess Parrots

We only stayed at Newhaven for 5 nights but it is such a magic place, and we did and saw so much, that I have decided to split my visit into two entries. The first will be about the Princess Parrots and the second about the rest.
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At the entrance gate
So, what does it take to get you out of the house in winter? How about the prospect of seeing Princess Parrot, Banded Whiteface, Rufous-crowned Emu-wren and Grey Honeyeater, all in one trip? It worked for me. Back on the 7th of June Melbourne was cold and windy. Lorna Mee emailed from the Hunter wanting to know if I want to go on a trip to Newhaven. I thought about the offer for a full seven seconds – sun, warmth, mega-birds – and emailed back that yes, I would love to go.

Lake Eyre and a river on the flight from Melbourne
We met in Alice Springs on the 14th, a week later, and Jim had arranged to hire a Troopie and camping gear from Kevin Reid at Central Car Rentals. It seems that this was the only 4X4 left and what a 4X4 it turned out to be! It only had 4860 km on the odometer when we picked it up so it was all shiny and new. And it was not just a Troopie, it was a V8 diesel Troopie. We kept the speed to between 80 and 100 kph on the Tanami Track and for the trip, Alice to Alice including our time in Newhaven, a total distance travelled of 1350 km, we used 150 litres of fuel.

Typical birder's car - all doors open
We thought the Troopie would be more than we needed but with a fuel capacity of 180 litres it was perfect for 5 days out at Newhaven as we had plenty of fuel without worrying about getting back to the Tilmouth Well Roadhouse to refill. The driving time from Alice to Newhaven, at birdwatching speed and with stops, is about 6 – 7 hours. Tilmouth to Newhaven is about 160 km.

The camp site and our swags
We arrived at about 1600 and the campgrounds were wonderful. The volunteers keep the fireplaces stocked with cut firewood that they collect from trees that have fallen across tracks, and the bathrooms are spotless, they even have hot water, hand towels and bathmats – how luxurious is that! We had rented swags and it was the first time I had slept in one. The nights were cool in all ways with temperatures around 2ºC and no clouds so that the stars shone brightly. On two mornings we even had the crescent Moon, Venus and Jupiter clustered together on the horizon. It was magical. During the days the temp got to about 26ºC and there was no wind at all.

Moon conjunct Venus and Jupiter above them
The next morning we met Peter and Toni at 0600 and followed them to the far corner of Newhaven where the Princess Parrots have been seen. Most of the drive was in darkness but by 0700 when we arrived at “the spot” the sun was just appearing over the dunes and the country shone in all the pastel shades of a desert dawn. The parrots gave us a slow start and all we got in the first 2 hours was a distant view of 18 +/- as they flew along the horizon.

Mt Liebig in the early morning light.

Ghost Gums in the morning light

From the top of the dune where we saw the flock of parrots
One good thing about this slow start was that we ended up walking out across the dunes for about 7 km as we looked and listened without luck. We saw many of the desert plants though, including Green Birdflower, Crotalaria cunninghamii, the flowers of which the parrots have been seen to feed on. It seems that they pick the flowers off and chew the succulent tip. With the assurance of Toni that it wasn’t poisonous I ate one and it tasted just like a fresh snap-pea. There were lots of other plants just starting to flower including a wattle that had the strongest, sweet-peppery scent I have ever smelt from a flower; how I wish I could be there when the whole bush was in flower.

If the birds won't come to you ....

Green Birdflower, Crotalaria cunninghamii. Fresh picked flowers lay under the bush
Crotalaria cunninghamii flowers
We then moved on to a second spot where Peter and Toni had seen the birds and finally two showed up and gave us some good looks as they perched in front of us. They are evidently harder to find now than they have been and Peter and Toni said the reduction in sightings seemed to coincide with an increase in the number of budgies. It may also just be that the flocks are breaking up into pairs and the birds are quieter and less noticeable.

Half asleep in the morning sun
Multiple shades of green in the upper wing.
Such a beautiful bird

On the second morning we went out again to give a ride to a birder who had arrived in an X-Trail. We certainly did not complain about going out a second time and once again two birds finally arrived and fed on the ground in company with a pair of Australian Ringnecks. They were also very interested in a tree that had a hollow and spent some time checking it out. They were very confiding but we did not push them, relying on scopes, binoculars and long camera lenses.

Spellbound watchers
There was a potential nest hole in this tree
And after the birds came a cup of tea, Toni's home made cookies and a chat
There was a lot of other bird life in the area but it got scant attention as we watched the parrots. I would have loved to go back for a third morning and concentrate on these birds but time was limited and there were other places to go and other birds to see. A second visit to Newhaven is now on my mandatory to-do list.

Major Mitchells Cockatoos

A flock of Crested Pigeons
Peter and Toni have now left Newhaven so the guided trips have stopped but I do hope that some other volunteer carries on documenting the bird’s habits as Toni and Peter have been doing. They have gained a lot of information about the parrots and it would be a real shame if the work stopped just as it looks like the birds might be going to nest.

When they stretch their necks more pink shows and it goes a darker colour
The Yellow-throated Miners showed no respect
The tree where the first PP landed with the dunes behind

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1 comment:

  1. Great stuff. Really inspiring, Jen. It's worth the trouble to do a blog well.