Alice springs has many great sites for birding, with a large variety of arid zone species to be found here (if you know where to look), and the local birders are more than willing to point you in the right direction. There are also a few guided tour operators that can definitely save you much research time and wasted effort trying to locate the more difficult to find species yourself, if you are able to afford the tour costs and have a set agenda for your trip itinerary. I (Peter Rowland) spent four days there in early August to check out some of the hotspots for myself.
Ilparpa Ponds (the Alice Springs Wastewater Treatment Works), or “poo ponds” as the local birders call them, has the highest bird species list and provides year round opportunities for seeing resident species, regular migrants and rarer vagrants, it is difficult to get access. Firstly, I had to complete an online induction (around 2 weeks before our trip) on the Power and Water website, which was the easy part, and then I needed to find a registered key holder (escort) to take me in. Luckily for me Pam Walker (a resident birder) offered her time (thanks heaps Pam) and thanks to Mark Carter for putting my name forward to Pam. Although I brought my own hi-vis vest, these are supplied at the sign in station inside the gate, where I signed another waiver form to indemnify Power and Water in case I fell in the ponds or got gassed by chlorine.
It was worth the effort though as I managed a respectable 35 species in about 2 hours (this included a second visit on the afternoon of day 3), including Black-tailed Native-hen, Hardhead, Spotless Crake, Marsh Sandpiper, Tree and Fairy Martins, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Whistling and Black Kites, Orange Chat and Red-necked Avocet.
The next morning I went to Olive Pink Botanic Gardens, which is off Tuncks Road within town, and a 90 minute stroll before breakfast netted several more species, including Western Bowerbird (and bower), Grey-crowned Babbler, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Singing Honeyeater, White-plumed Honeyeater, Crested Pigeon, Australian Ringneck, Splendid Fairy-wren and Yellow-rumped Thornbill, followed by a very nice coffee, green juice and excellent breakfast at the cafe. Black-footed Rock-wallabies and Euros were nice to see on the day as well.
Following breakfast I drove west to Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm (off Larapinta Drive) and Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen Gorge (off of Namatjira Drive) and back to Alice springs, a round trip of just over 300km. While it was a bit rushed, and a 2-3 days would have given me more time to spend at my target sites, and maybe complete the loop to Finke Gorge, Palm Valley and Owen Springs Reserve (next trip!), there were many nice sightings, Hooded Robin, Spinifex Pigeon, Mistletoebird, Zebra Finch, Black-breasted Buzzard and Grey Shrike-thrush.
Day 3, and a relatively short drive from Alice Springs along Santa Helena Road (80 km round trip), south of the Airport. I started at the pole with the tyre wedged in it (opposite a small quarry access road GPS -24.0146493,134.0787417), and looked for Dusky Grasswren (found!) and Rufous-crowned Emu-wren (didn’t find!) within the spinifex, and slowly drove back to town (round trip of about 80 kms). The road is dirt and corrugated after the first 20 kilometres and I was glad I upgraded my car hire to a 4WD. Other species for the day included Red-capped Robin, Varied Sittella, Weebill, Crested Bellbird, Budgerigar, Crimson Chat, Brown Honeyeater and Inland Thornbill.
The last full day, and I headed north, kindly escorted by Pam again, to Kunoth Bore (25km along Tanami Road) and another site on Hamilton Downs Station. Cockatiel, Southern Whiteface, Brown Falcon, Australian Hobby, Nankeen Kestrel, Variegated Fairy-wren, Mulga Parrot and Pink-eared Duck were the highlights of an otherwise quiet day, but water levels were low and I was a little early in the season.
Flying out at 1.30pm on the last day gave me a brief window to try one last time for Rufous-crowned Emu-wren along Santa Helena Road. Unfortunately, these were just as elusive as on Day 3, but a Little Eagle circling low over the road was some compensation.
Seventy-six species in a whirlwind trip to Alice Springs gave a great taste of what the area could offer the birder with some time to spare. My 3 full days and 2 half days gave me no spare time to sit and wait, and I even missed out on a few spots that I wanted to check out. A great trip though, and a great excuse to go back again!