From the Kimberley plateau of northern Australia, the Fitzroy River flows through a set of narrow switchback gorges, flowing out into still, dark pools. Flanked by bare rock shelves, these deep waterholes provide a focus for birdlife in the otherwise dry savannah country.
In the hour after dawn, we sit overlooking the water, listening to the morning activity. The bare rock shelves around us are not much frequented, so most of the birdlife is heard from the far riverbank. The songs and calls of rock pigeons, bee-eaters, friarbirds, black cockatoos, honeyeaters and butcherbirds drift on the air, echoing from the rocks.
Overhead, fairy martins sweep and dive on the wing, hawking insects and twittering animatedly. From hardy shrubs nearby, their roots lodged in rock crevices, come the songs of paperbark flycatchers and the distinctive rasping of a great bowerbird. Groups of double-barred finches pass by with plaintive calls and quick wingbeats.
Eventually we transition to the late afternoon, listening to the sounds of the landscape as the day fades. Fairy martins still call pleasantly, while a pair of darters who've been drying their wings in the remaining light, take to the air, flapping noisily across the water. A willie wagtail and the bowerbird signal the approaching evening.
"This recording was made to highlight the conservation work of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy on their Mornington property. The extensive reserve is restored cattle country, and the Fitzroy River runs right through the heart of it.
"When we first arrived at the outflow of the upper gorge, my initial thought was that the extensive rock shelves would not provide enough habitat for an engaging recording. But as I set up microphones overlooking the water that first afternoon, the cheery voices of those fairy martins gave me encouragement. If they were all I recorded, I'd be happy.
"As it turned out, the landscape held great richness. I realised this with excitement at my first sighting of a White-quilled Rock Pigeon. Of course - the rocky escarpments were its perfect habitat! You can hear them fly across the water with clattering wingbeats on several occasions, and their soft calls carry quietly from the far bank. And then, another first; the full-bodied song of a Sandstone Shrike-thrush from further up the gorge.
"Listening to the landscape, I became aware of the acoustics of the location; the soft roar of cataracts upstream, birdsong echoing off the hard rocks, the contrast between martins calling immediately overhead and more distant birdsong from afar. This presence of the landscape gives everything you hear a context. It tells a story of place and what lives there. Its one of the things I love capturing in a recording.
"Another is time. Even though similar species are heard in the morning and afternoon, there is a very different feel at the beginning and end of the day; the afternoon stiller, relaxed, somehow expectant. These qualities make this a recording I'm especially pleased with."
This recording was made at Sir John Gorge on the Fitzroy River, which flows through the 320,000 hectare Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, owned and administered by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.
Mornington is a retired cattle property, now run for the conservation of natural ecosystems and wildlife. By removing cattle and other invasive species, the AWC are doing a marvellous job of restoring the landscape to its former glory. Cat eradication, controlled fire regimes and wildlife research are just some of the programs currently being enacted.
Mornington really is a special place. I say this partly because you can see the landscape restoration, but also because the soundscape is rich, diverse and vibrant. This gorge was a location with own unique species, such as the rare white-quilled Rock Pigeon and Sandstone Shrike-thrush.
Our thanks to the AWC for supporting our visit.