Beacon Birding Sites
By Robert Davis
Beacon is about 350 kms from Perth via the Great Eastern Highway to Northam and Kellerberrin and then north via Bencubbin. There are a number of excellent birding sites including the many granite outcrops and remnant bushland areas in the shire. Beacon has the great feature of being the farthest north-easterly town in the wheatbelt. As such, it is not a typical wheatbelt location, and it has a large number of uncommon endemic and goldfields birds which come from across the nearby Emu-proof fence. The Emu-proof fence should certainly be a highlight of any birding trip to the area, and besides the obvious Emus, it can produce highlights such as Malleefowl and Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos. Beacon can be seen in two days (an overnight stay in town), but it is best seen with at least three days so that more time can be devoted to the birds beyond the Emu-proof fence. The roads can be hazardous to navigate in winter and after the cyclonic summer rains, and a four-wheel drive is definitely recommended. Spring or Summer are probably the best times to visit (September-March), but care should still be taken when going beyond the Emu-proof fence, due to its extreme isolation.
Australian Bustard (chance),
Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo,
Grey Honeyeater (good chance),
Black Honeyeater (sporadic),
Ground Cuckoo-shrike (chance),
Masked Woodswallow (sporadic),
1. Beacon Town
The small town of Beacon is a good place to start looking for wheatbelt birds. During winter and spring, large flocks of Little Corellas migrate to the town and can be seen in flocks of up to 1,000 individuals in the grassed areas of the town.
An abundance of Galahs and Australian Ringnecks can also be seen in the tall Salmon gums and grassed lawns. Honeyeaters (including the occasional Black Honeyeater) and thornbills can often also be seen around town.
2. Bush Fragments
Most of the real birding around Beacon will take place in the many large areas of remnant vegetation. The best way to access these remnants is to take the Bonnie Rock-Burrakin Road heading west out of town. Turn north onto Bimbijy Road. There are many paddocks alongside the road and Nankeen Kestrels, Black-shouldered Kites, Wedge-tailed Eagles & parrots are often seen in the fields. Also watch the roadside trees carefully as Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos have been seen in these, especially in the roadside creeklines.
A good fragment for birding is on the corner of Bimbijy Road and Scotsmans Road. Turn right onto Scotsmans and continue for about 1 km. A small track on the right provides access to a granite outcrop area. Wandering around the woodland fringing the outcrops, can provide good views of Mulga Parrot (quite common here), Yellow rumped & Chestnut rumped Thornbill, Grey Shrike-thrush, many Rufous Whistlers, Common Bronzewing, Nankeen Kestrel, Brown Falcon, Red-capped Robin and more. The creek line on Bimbijy Road just before Scotsmans Road, can be traversed into a large bushland area. Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos can often be seen here, as well as robins and wrens. Also look for Emus & the occasional Australian Bustard Wedge-tailed Eagles, Budgerigars, Black Cockatoos (widely spread around town and in creek lines), Purple-crowned Lorikeets (for the very lucky!), Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos possibly Malleefowl.
There are many areas of bush around Beacon, and it is best to explore for yourself, but be careful, as it is very easy to get lost in the head-height Mallee! Local farmers would also be happy to let you look in their dams and fields for plovers bustards and ducks, if you ask their permission. There is no permanent water anywhere in the shire, and dam watching can be very productive (especially in wader season) producing several plover species Australian Shelducks, Australian Wood Ducks and Yellow-billed Spoonbills.
3. Beyond The Emu-proof Fence
Beyond the Emu-proof fence lies Karroun Hill Nature Reserve and Bimbijy Station. This area can be treacherous, so take plenty of water, let someone know you’re going there and take care.
There are few tracks off the main road beyond the fence, and the best plan of attack would be opportunistic car-spotting with frequent stops to wander through creek lines. There is a track to Mt Churchman which can be driven up to get a good view of the surrounding area. The fence is by far the best place for rarities. A decent amount of twitching here will produce Regent Parrots, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos, Malleefowl (often seen around midday, running across the road), Emus, most of the local passerines, a number of raptors including Wedge-tailed Eagles and Collared Sparrow hawks, and possibly, just possibly, Grey Falcons. I think I may have seen one out here, but it was a very quick and quite uncertain sighting (probably wishful thinking!). This area is also excellent for seeing goannas, snakes, red kangaroos and, unfortunately, feral goats, camels and horses. This area of bush certainly has great potential for rarities, and night spotlighting has produced Southern Boo-book, Tawny Frogmouth, Australian Owlet-Nightjar and Spotted Nightjar. White-browed Babbler, Red-backed Kingfisher, White-backed Swallow, Ground Cuckoo-shrike, Hooded Robin, Varied Sittella and Rufous Treecreeper have all been recorded in the initial survey of Karroun Hill Reserve by the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife (Youngson, W.K. and McKenzie, N.L., 1977). CALM may be able to assist you with getting a copy of this.
4. Grey Honeyeater Site (Thanks to David Stewart – NSW)
This site is 32km south of Payne’s Find. The road is signposted to Maranalgo Station and continues through Mouroubra Station to 20km west of Beacon. The site is approximately 110km north of the Beacon / Burakin Road. There is a grid with a sign facing north warning ‘Caution Horses Next 10km’. You can park on a side track just north of the grid. David Stewart found a Grey Honeyeater here in September 1997. A week later Frank O’Connor found them three times. They were about 150 to 200 metres north of the grid. The first was about 30 metres east of the road. The second was about 80 metres west of the track. A few days later the third sighting was about 50 metres west of the road. All sightings were in a distinctive species of mulga with a peeling iron coloured bark which is quite common. The bird looked like the illustration in the new edition of Pizzey rather than the illustration in Simpson & Day. Red-capped and Hooded Robins were quite common. In November 1999 a Chestnut Quail-thrush was probably heard, but Grey Honeyeater was not found in fairly windy conditions.
Accommodation or camping is available at Bimbijy Station (08 9667 1022), Ninghan Station (08 9963 6517), White Wells Station and possibly Pindabunna Station. Good birding sites near these stations are in the web page on Payne’s Find.
Payne’s Find Birding Sites
Key Species : Emu, Australian Bustard, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo (chance), Mulga Parrot, Bourke’s Parrot (chance), White-browed Treecreeper (chance), Redthroat, Slaty-backed Thornbill (chance), Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Southern Whiteface,White-fronted Honeyeater, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Grey Honeyeater (good chance), Crimson Chat (very good chance), Orange Chat (good chance), White-browed Babbler, Chiming Wedgebill, Ground Cuckoo-shrike (chance), Gilbert’s Whistler(good chance), Crested Bellbird, Masked Woodswallow (chance).
Payne’s Find (S29° 15´ 48″ E117° 41´ 06″) is a roadhouse located about 430km from Perth on the Great Northern Highway. From Perth, head north east to New Norcia, Dalwalinnu and Wubin to Payne’s Find. Payne’s Find is situated at the cross roads with Wubin to the west, Mount Magnet to the north, Sandstone to the east and Beacon to the south. This area is very well known for the carpets of wildflowers from August to September.
The easiest place to stay is at the Payne’s Find Roadhouse (08 9963 6111) but there are also station stays in the general area. There are a few birds around the roadhouse including Pied Butcherbird, and Banded Lapwings breed on the nearby airstrip.
1. Sandstone Road (East)
The Sandstone Road leads off the Great Northern Highway about 1km north of Payne’s Find. This is an unsealed road which is suitable for 2WD if it is not wet (in which case the road is often closed anyway).
Cattle Grid (S29° 14´ 36″ E117° 46´ 24″) – This is 7.6km from the Great Northern Highway. It is the border of the Shire of Sandstone (226km to Sandstone). Bird in the general area. I have seen Mulga Parrot, Bourke’s Parrot, Budgerigar, Hooded Robin, Red-capped Robin and Crested Bellbird.
Warne River (S29° 11´ 04″ E118° 11´ 03″) – This is 50km east of the Great Northern Highway. There is nearly always water in some of the holes along the riverbed. This is one of the best sites to look for Gilbert’s Whistler. Also look for Chiming Wedgebill, Black-tailed Native-hen and Red-capped Robin. If the calistemons and eremophilas are flowering then there is a chance to find White-fronted Honeyeater, Pied Honeyeater and Black Honeyeater in addition to Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater. A female Scarlet-chested Parrot was reported at the crossing in August 2005.
2. Beacon Road (South)
This is an unsealed road which is suitable for 2WD if it is not wet (in which case the road is often closed anyway). Apart from the species mantioned below look for possible Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, Masked Woodswallow, Australian Bustard and Ground Cuckoo-shrike.
Salt Lakes – You pass close to a number of salt lakes between 12.5km and 16km south of Payne’s Find. These are usually dry but in good years they are a haven for waterbirds including Hoary-headed Grebe, Hardhead, Musk Duck, Black-tailed Native-hen, Banded Stilt and Red-necked Avocet.
Chats Site (S29° 20´ 01″ E117° 47´ 15″) – This site is 13km south of Payne’s Find. It is an area of saltbush on the right as you pass the first salt lake on the right, with another across the road on the left. Look for possible Crimson Chat, Orange Chat and White-fronted Chat. Other birds include Banded Lapwing, White-winged Triller and Australasian Pipit.
Grey Honeyeater Site (S29° 28´ 57″ E117° 47´ 00″) – This site is 32km south of Payne’s Find. I was first told about this site by David Stewart from NSW. The road is signposted to Maranalgo Station and continues through Mouroubra Station to 20km west of Beacon. The site is approximately 110km north of the Beacon / Burakin Road. There is a grid with a sign facing north warning ‘Caution Horses Next 10km’. You can park on a side track just north of the grid. David Stewart found a Grey Honeyeater here in September 1997. A week later I found them three times. They were about 150 to 200 metres north of the grid. The first was about 30 metres east of the road. The second was about 80 metres west of the track. A few days later the third sighting was about 50 metres west of the road. All sightings were in a distinctive species of acacia (Acacia minirichi) with a peeling iron coloured bark which is quite common. The bird looked like the illustration in the new edition of Pizzey rather than the illustration in Simpson & Day. Red-capped and Hooded Robins were quite common. In November 1999 a Chestnut Quail-thrush was probably heard, but Grey Honeyeater was not found in fairly windy conditions.
3. Charles Darwin Nature Reserve (formerly White Wells Station)
This is located between Wubin and Payne’s Find north of the Great Northern Highway. This was formerly White Wells Station until it was purchased by Australian Bush Heritage in 200x. I encourage you to support this organisation. They have one or two open days for members each year, plus they are always looking for relief managers and people to assist with some of their rehabilitation projects. The station is excellent for birds including Malleefowl, Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, Regent Parrot, Banded Lapwing, Black-breasted Buzzard, Mulga Parrot, Australian Owlet-nightjar, Spotted Nightjar, Southern Scrub-robin, Chestnut Quail-thrush, etc.
Payne’s Find Roadhouse, Payne’s Find 6612 (08 9963 6111)