Aernout Nieuwkerk, UK
5 August 2020
I’m a Dutchman living in the UK and I had never been to Australia before, so walking the Bibbulmun Track was going to be the centrepiece of my first Australian adventure!
Walking the Bibbulmun Track end-to-end had long featured high on my wish list. When I started in Kalamunda, I instantly found the Track beautiful and exciting, with flora and fauna I had never seen before. For me, the grass trees gave the trail an exotic vibe and I loved the scent of the flowers and eucalyptus trees. The birds too were fantastic; on the first day I saw some West Australian endemics, such as the western whistler, western thornbill and western spinebill. Fortunately I had studied some field guides before I came to Australia, otherwise the amount of new bird species would have totally overwhelmed me.
As I continued my walk I became acquainted with the bobtail lizards that I spotted frequently on the Track itself and ornate crevice lizards basking in the sun on the beautiful granite hilltops. Twice I came across goulds goannas, which didn’t want to let me pass. One of them even chased me briefly, after I made a great effort to bush-bash in a wide circle around him!
Spring was in full force—so many wildflowers as well as birds. As I took a lunch break, a striated pardalote collected nesting material right in front of my feet. The forest was filled with birdsong, and I often struggled to make progress walking because there was so much to see.
Fortunately, the shelters are not too far apart, so I had ample time to enjoy the beauty around me. Also the campsites themselves are wonderful places. At Monadnocks Campsite, a rufous treecreeper foraged around the shelter and in many places I enjoyed observing family groups of red-winged fairy-wrens. Often at night I heard southern boobooks, and sometimes barking owls—and in the morning I was woken by wattlebirds and kookaburras. Most conspicuous perhaps were the three black cockatoo species, (red-tailed, Carnaby’s and Baudin’s). I struggled to tell the last two apart, but I kept trying…
Flora and fauna kept changing during the walk. A few hundred kilometres in, sightings of emus became quite common and I even saw a wild pig. When I was relaxing near the stream at Beedelup shelter, the alarm call of a white-breasted robin drew my attention. It turned out the robin had spotted a tiger snake on the riverbank, and he kept following the snake and making his alarm call. It happened quite frequently on the Track that a bird gave me an early warning of the presence of a snake.
Beyond the Gardner Campsite I found myself walking through partly flooded areas for a few days. In places the water was knee-deep, but I didn't care. I came across some new birds such as a as a pair of sacred kingfishers, swamp harriers, brown falcons and a pair of collared sparrowhawks doing display flights. Nice flowers too!
Finally reaching the sea was a great milestone. I really enjoyed walking in the dunes and the lonely beach walks were like a dream. The bright sunlight made all the colours so vibrant— the white sand, blue sea, pink and yellow flowers. In the afternoon I pitched my tent at Long Point Shelter and enjoyed the sunset.
New habitat meant new birds. At beautiful spots, I just dropped my backpack and spent time taking it all in. The absolute highlight for me was spotting southern emu-wrens in the dune scrub, both the male and the female!
As the trail moved back inland, I entered the magnificent tingle forest. Much of the time there I was walking in pouring rain, which made it more difficult to spot things. But hey, the tingles only survive there because it rains so much in that area, so I should not complain!
Returning to the dunes and beaches yielded many new bird species such as terns, cormorants and oystercatchers. Nankeen kestrels, swamp harriers and square-tailed kites are frequently spotted above the dunes. Ospreys and white-bellied sea eagles patrol the shoreline. One of the highlights for me was the beach walks on the white sand, where often the only footsteps I saw were my own. Several times I came across hooded plovers that must have been breeding somewhere on the beach. Lovely!
In the dunes, kangaroos foraged amongst the flowers, and tiger snakes were abundant! I saw about three snakes per day on average. I enjoyed the wildflowers here, including some stunning orchids and I was very excited to see a rock parrot at William Bay!
Near Denmark, the Nullaki peninsula was another highlight. It’s a fantastic place to see shorebirds such as hooded, red-capped and greater sand plovers, red-necked stints and sanderlings.
While camping my last night on the Track at Mutton Bird, I felt slightly melancholic. One more walking day to Albany and then it would all be over. I had a wonderful time and hope to walk the Track again someday!
In total, I spotted 117 species of birds on the Bibbulmun Track itself and 139 if I include the Perth and Albany area.
View more of Aernout’s beautiful photos on his blog: www.hikingbirdman.com