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Around Alice after rain : birding the green Red Centre.


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I hadn’t been to “the Alice” since 1990 and was looking forward to birding for outback specialties such as Painted Finch, Bourke’s Parrot and Dusky and Eyrean Grasswrens. The trip was booked through Bellbird and ably guided by Michael Greenshields. We drove 1,979 kilometres in 6 days exploring the Red Centre. We were unlucky with the birds because there had been some unseasonal rain just 3 weeks before the trip. The Bureau of Meteorology advised that the July 2023 rainfall was 284% above the 1961-1990 average and that this year was the ninth wettest July on record since 1900 and the wettest since 2010.  Consequently, the birds weren’t always where they were supposed to be, no doubt off enjoying some remote waterhole far from the madding cameras.




The outback comprises the vast, barely populated Australian inland and unsettled coastline that is more remote than “the bush”. It is deeply ingrained in the Australian spirit, experience and folklore. Geographically, the outback covers the northern tropical and monsoon zones, the deserts of the Red Centre and the semi-arid areas of the south. Driving for hours through the desert in the relentless sun, the lack of shade and the red dust that covers everything can be monotonous. Occasionally the MMBA (Australia in this case) are relieved by lonely landmarks such as an outback lake, Mt Conner (aka Fuluru) and Uluru (aka Ayers Rock, the largest rock in the world) that rise from the plains enhanced by remoteness and the desert ochre landscape.



Mt Connor


802-AyersRock.JPG.227e3fb894febba29208dac844925831.JPG    Uluru


The Red Centre geology switches from giant rocks to ravines such as Kings Canyon and Trephina Gorge that split the plains and provide shade and water.


674-TrephinaGorge2.JPG.a539c6540ea259b1f4eb0b2acdf84965.JPG        Trephina Gorge


768-CanyonwallKC.JPG.bb59f4f6e6f8d7b6c7f5c9245d867414.JPG       Kings Canyon


Outback towns are few and far between, likewise station homesteads marked by a dusty letterbox, a cattle grid and access road are also thin on the ground. The trip started in Alice Springs and visited the Macdonnell Ranges, iconic Uluru and Kings Canyon.  Here’s the full itinerary:



17 July – Hobart to Alice Springs

18-20 July – Alice Springs

21 July – Erldunda Roadhouse to Kings Canyon and Uluru

22 July – Uluru

23 July – Alice Springs



I arrived around lunchtime and caught the shuttle into Alice, driving through “the gap” along a road lined with ghost gums. There are still planes parked opposite the airport, left to wait out Covid in the Red Centre. I saw Scoot and Cathay Pacific livery amongst others.  The Macdonnell Ranges begin just outside town.







Edited by Treepol
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oh this should be interesting. But I am stymied by "MMBA?"

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I will enjoy reading this.


@janzinI initially wondered what MMBA stands for, but then it came to me, Miles and Miles of Bloody Africa or in this case Australia, there's fair bit of similarity between parts of the two continents, visually at least, that view of Mt Connor in the second photo, could almost have been taken in Namibia. 

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2 hours ago, inyathi said:

I will enjoy reading this.


@janzinI initially wondered what MMBA stands for, but then it came to me, Miles and Miles of Bloody Africa or in this case Australia, there's fair bit of similarity between parts of the two continents, visually at least, that view of Mt Connor in the second photo, could almost have been taken in Namibia. 

Aha okay, I never heard that phrase (must be a Brit thing :) )


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Beautiful photos, looking forward to this.:)

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@inyathi@janzinan example of MMBA.




Somewhere along the track.



@michael-ibkI think that outback landscapes and zebras have something in common - its hard to get a bad photo of either one.



A Brief history from the brochures



Explorer John Macdouall Stuart made the first return south-north continental crossing from Adelaide to Chambers Bay (84 km east of  Darwin) in 1861-62. This trailblazing expedition preceded the building of the overland telegraph a decade later that linked Adelaide to Darwin and on to Great Britain and opened the Red Centre to settlers. The town of Stuart, established in 1872 was the site of an Overland Telegraph repeater station and was re-named Alice Springs in 1933, named for the wife of Sir Charles Todd the South Australian Postmaster General and Superintendent of Telegraphs. 


European settlement first occurred when gold was discovered at Arltunga, 100 kms east of Alice Springs in 1887.  The population increased markedly in 1929 when the Adelaide-Alice Springs railway was completed and again when Afghan cameleers moved from Marree in outback South Australia to transport goods from the rail head to settlements further north. The cameleers were originally from the North West Frontier of British India now present day Pakistan. Gold was discovered at Tennant Creek 3 years after the railway was completed, boosting the Alice Springs economy until the outbreak of war in 1939. 


Alice Springs became the Northern Territory capital during World war 2 when the sea routes to Darwin were cut off by Japanese forces, disrupting transport and supply lines to the north. Evacuees, government officials, defence personnel with military equipment moved south after the first Darwin Bombardment on 19 February 1942. The military population decreased after 1945 and it wasn’t until the 1960s and the development of Pine Gap, a joint US/Australian satellite tracking facility that Alice Springs took on a military role once more. Tourism is an important mainstay of Alice Springs with almost half a million visitors in 2018. The north-south railway was finally completed in 2004 when the 1,420km section from Alice Springs to Darwin was opened.


Starting out


I spent the first afternoon relaxing on the balcony that was a pleasant place to read and while away the time watching for birds along a dry creek bed. Next day I went to the Desert Park that showcases Red Centre wildlife. I visited the Territory Wildlife Park near Darwin in 2016 and saw so many wild birds attracted by the aviaries that I hoped for the same at the Desert Park and I wasn’t disappointed. Western Bowerbirds patrolled the entrance walkway, one showing off a brilliant purple head patch.






Zebra Finches and Willie Wagtails formed a self-appointed welcoming committee.






The following photos were all taken around the Park, the first set being wild bird visitors and the second set were taken in the aviaries.





Spinifex Pigeon




Zebra Finches




Diamond Doves




Crested Bellbird (Male)



The next photos were taken in the aviaries at the Desert Park. Inside the first aviary Inland Dotterel, chestnut Quail-Thrush and Orange Chats and Red-capped Robins wandered amongst visitors whilst outside Australian Ringnecks and White-plumed Honeyeaters gathered.



Inland Dotterel




Cinnamon Quail-thrush



I continued the circuit and found more Spinifex Pigeons and a melodious Chiming Wedgebill that sports a jaunty crest.





Further along I saw some dry country specials - Orange Chat, Red-Capped Robin, the critically endangered Princess Parrot and the gaudy Painted Finch. 




Orange Chat




Red-capped Robin





Princess Parrot




Painted Finch


The nocturnal house held a wealth of endangered and endemic species. The Thorny Dragon has been high on my wishlist for some years and given that it’s so tiny I may never see one in the wild.






Other interesting species included bilbies, stick-nest rats and a range of snakes.




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Back at the Mercure I birded from the balcony where Crested Pigeons, Yellow-throated Mynas and Australian Ringnecks frequented the creek bed. I met the Bellbird group for dinner this evening, there are 8 of us searching the Red Centre for dry land birds. Next morning we departed for the Santa Theresa Road at 7 am, hoping to arrive before the local quarry got started for the day.






The birds came thick and fast along here - Dusky Grasswren, a distant Grey-headed Honeyeater, equally distant Southern Banded Whiteface, colourful Mulga Parrots, Black-faced Woodswallows, Red-backed Kingfisher, a beautiful pastel coloured Bourke’s Parrot and a shy Hooded Robin.




Dusky Grasswren




Grey-fronted Honeyeater



Southern Banded Whiteface




Black-faced woodswallow



Bourke's Parrot


We stopped at the Olive Pink Flora Reserve for lunch and wandered down to see the bower of the Western Bowerbird, however there was no-one at home. This afternoon we drove out to Trephina Gorge in the Eastern Macdonnell Ranges. This tree is thought to be the largest living ghost gum.





A walk along the dry gorge didn’t produce any birds so we took the time to appreciate the scenery. The energetic ones completed a circuit along the top of the gorge.






Back at the car park we saw a pair of Hooded Robins, a Torresian Crow, more Zebra Finches and a Grey Shrike-Thrush.




Torresian Crow



Hooded Robin (female)



Next morning we travelled to the Western Macdonnell Ranges where the first stop was to search for Rufous-crowned Emu-wrens amongst the spinifex.






Instead we saw a Mistletoe Bird and a male Hooded Robin. The Western Macs are renowned for their gorges and swimming holes, which is the perfect way to cool down from the desert heat. It’s gorges galore this morning – we zipped along the main park road to visit Ormiston Gorge, Ellery Creek Big Hole and Simpson’s Gap. 

Ormiston Gorge is a peaceful place within the ranges where White-plumed Honeyeaters flash through the trees oblivious to a pair of Australian Ringnecks. The Ghost Gums look spectacular against the blue sky.






A Pink Cockatoo was hanging out in the car park. Ellery Creek Big Hole was our morning tea stop where a Little Black and Little Pied Cormorant floated in the deep pool.







Little Black Cormorant



A White-necked Heron squawked from a high perch - displaying a beautifully barred neck.




A White-faced Heron stalked the shallows whilst mudlarks pretended to be jacanas, wandering over the water weed.





The final stop of the morning was Simpson’s Gap where endemic Black-footed Rock Wallabies hide amongst the rocky slopes. The species has a handsome, bushy tail and delicate facial features.







Simpson's Gap


We left the Rock Wallabies in peace and travelled to the Old Telegraph Station back in Alice Springs for lunch where galahs, a Pied Butcherbird, Yellow-throated miners were easily seen. A Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo was seen in the car park but didn’t wait for photos.


This afternoon we have a long drive to the Erldunda Roadhouse with a couple of fruitless stops for Orange and Crimson Chats.



Chat country


The journey south passes through saltbush country, a typical stunted outback vegetation type.





We’re staying overnight at the Desert Oaks Motel behind the Roadhouse ready for a 6 am departure for Kings Canyon and then on to Yulara, our accommodation at Uluru. It’s best to avoid night driving when the Stuart Highway becomes a thoroughfare for kangaroos, camels and cattle. Erldunda Roadhouse is an oasis and home to both emus and espressos. Like other roadhouses along the Stuart Highway, aka “the Track,” Erldunda provides essential services to outback travelers – food, fuel, accommodation, mechanical help, phone reception and a small shop.





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I'm really enjoying this @Treepol, looking back on our trip to Australia I think the Red Centre was probably my favorite area that we visited. I was going to ask if the rock wallabies were still around while reading your last post, but then got to the end and saw they are! 

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@Zubbie15glad you are able to wander down memory lane with my TR. The Black-footed Rock wallabies were very cute.




The early start allowed for a sunrise search for chats, however we were unlucky again, but did see a Crested Bellbird, Zebra Finches and a Red-capped Robin.





Further along the road we were delighted with close-up views of Pink Cockatoos breakfasting on paddy or Afghan melons.








We arrived at Kings Canyon about 0930 and immediately checked out the waterhole behind the car park where this Spinifex Pigeon posed for photos.





Kings Canyon is an awe-inspiring site of rock walls, plateaus and canyons that you can climb and then do the 6km rim walk. 






Wispy and I opted to amble along the creek bed while the others did the climb. The outback scenery was outstanding although the birds were hard to spot. A Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater was the first seen






followed by squillions of White-plumed Honeyeaters chasing through the trees. The canyon walls soared 100 metres above us and glowed red in the morning sun.






Ghost gums lined the creek bed and a Grey Shrike-Thrush strode determinedly amongst the rocks.











Back at the waterhole the action was slow with a Grey Shrike-Thrush, Willie Wagtail and a Spinifex Pigeon flying in to drink while White-plumed Honeyeaters zipped over the water. A male Hooded Robin patrolled the shelter in the car park and a brightly coloured Mistletoebird waited for photos.








Fuel at Kings Canyon was $2.70 per litre.


The three hour drive to Yulara began with a break at a water treatment plant where Grey Teal and Pacific Black Duck were seen. Purple-backed Fairy-wrens jumped around near the road, careful to stay out of camera range. Desert she-oaks were doing well in this area. These unusual trees start out tall and thin and only branch out when the roots find water.






A small flock of Varied Sitellas flitted and flirted at the roadside, while further along a herd of wild camels eyed us warily.






We made a quick stop for photos of Mt Connor aka Fuluru as many visitors mistake it for Uluru.






We arrived at our accommodation in time to rinse away a dusty day before dinner and look forward to a sleep-in tomorrow as we don’t leave until 0730.


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Visited Alice and area around 20 years ago. Must be time for a revisit. Love the outback - dry, dusty and fabulous, and with no shortage of bird species it would seem. Thanks for posting - really enjoying your trip report. Look forward to the remainder in due course. 🙂

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Lovely photos and report. I keep on wondering about Australia having never been but it's such a long way away! Keep it up and I might be tempted!!

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@zimreef@TonyQthanks for reading along. @Dave WilliamsAustralia has a good choice of pools and birds, just right for you and Claire!



Uluru is one of the most famous landmarks in the world.





This rock put the Northern Territory on the tourist map – it’s a majestic bright red monolith and a drive around the base will take 20 minutes. The walking track to the top of the rock was permanently closed in October 2019, however the old route can still be clearly seen, although the chain has been removed. 





I took this photo in 1986.





The first stop today was at the sand dunes along the Lassiter Highway for a fruitless search for Sandhill Grasswren.  Trish’s watch recorded over 17,000 steps and about 11 km for this activity. The dunes provided some early morning views of the Olga’s aka Katajuta and Uluru.







The Yulara Water Treatment Plant was home to the ubiquitous White-plumed Honeyeaters, Grey Teal, Fairy Martins and White-backed Swallows.





White-plumed Honeyeater



Grey Teal



Again Purple-backed Fairy-wrens chased through nearby shrubs where it was impossible to get a photo. This tidy Mulga Ant nest “thatched” with mulga needles caught my eye.






The raised walls prevent flooding and maybe the thatch acts as a defensive measure. The surrounding landscape showcased the red dust and blue sky of the outback.



We had morning tea and lunch at Yulara shopping centre where there are at least 2 cafes, souvenir shops and an IGA supermarket. This afternoon we did 2 short walks around the base of Uluru. Where are all the birds?

















The final stop of the day was the Uluru sunset viewing area, a great place for spectacular views of the rock as it changes colour in the late afternoon light. The sunset golden hour was worth the wait as the colours intensified into an Instagrammer’s dream.










After sunset, the light dissolves to a soft pink and mauve, well worth the wait.







We shared the viewing area with at least a dozen other coaches, there would have been around 700 people spread around the sunset spot. Back at our accommodation at the Outback Hotel and Lodge we shared the restaurant with a group of Fijians who were celebrating their first year of employment at the Lodge. 



Photo: T. O'Neill




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Today we returned to look for the elusive Sandhill Grasswren and were unsuccessful again. This was followed by a quick trip to Katajuta aka the Olgas, a curious rock formation 45 kilometres from Uluru. The distinctive domes partly shelter us from the biting wind on the walk up Walpu Gorge where the sheer red cliffs soar above us.







It was very cold and we were pleased to observe this sign.






Back at Yulara we ordered hot drinks and a light lunch before taking Russell to the airport and beginning the 500 km drive back to Alice Springs. We farewelled Michael back at the Mercure before re-packing bags for the flight home tomorrow.


This morning we have time for a second visit to the Olive Pink Botanical Garden to grab a few last bird photos amongst the arid zone flora. There was some activity at the bower of the Western Bowerbird where the key from a sardine tin had pride of place.









and a few Euros or Western Wallaroos gazed down from above.





Once again, it was a cold morning and the birds weren’t around as early as we were except for this posing Australian Ringneck and an emu sculpture.







We saw galahs, Crested Pigeons and Yellow-throated miners on the walk back to the Mercure before the drive to the airport.







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Really beautiful scenery, enjoying this a lot. Birdwise the Spinifex is the standout for me!

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