South Wales Central Coast Reconnaissance Trip
10 March to 23 March 2006
1. Deniliquin - Cowra
2. Cowra - Sydney (Rose Bay)
3. Sydney pelagic trip
4. Sydney - Gloucester Tops via Koorangang Island/Stockton Bridge
5. Gloucester Tops NP
6. Gloucester Tops NP - Barrington Tops NP
7. Barrington Tops - Gloucester
8. Gloucester - Copeland Tops - Dingo Tops (Tapin Tops)
9. Dingo Tops - Port Macquarie
10. Port Macquarie - Limeburners Creek NR - Crescent Heads - Hat Head
NP - Kempsey
11. Kempsey - Crowdy Bay NP - Harrington - Forester - Myall Lakes NP
12. Singleton - Muswellbrook - Wollemi NP - Munghorn Gap NR
13. Munghorn Gap NR - Mudgee - Rylstone - Wollomi NP (Dunn's Swamp)
14. Dunn's Swamp - Glen Alice - Capertee - Deniliquin
Trisha and I headed off on a reconnaissance trip
to the central coast area of New South Wales on 10 March. Other than
the 12 March Sydney pelagic we had a loose plan of where we would go,
and no resolute date of return. Other than two nights at a Rose Bay
homestay, we mostly camped out, resorting to cabins on a few occasions
about 10.30 am, we spent this first day travelling. Raptor numbers were
low and there were no notable sightings of any species. We made a late
camp at Wyangala Dam Recreation Reserve. In terms of amenities, this is
not a bad spot but probably to be avoided in daylight hours should the
'recreation' be of the water sports variety. The birding was ordinary
with noisy miners dominating. We made tracks early.
A group of 20 adult and juvenile superb parrots, 8 km south of
Woodstock in hilly box country, was our first good sighting. A very brief
stop in the Capertee Valley en route to Sydney produced little. Our unfamiliarity
with Sydney was evident in our attempt to find it. Eventually we pulled
up at Sylia's Homestay in Rose Bay, having inadvertently taken in the
CBD and assorted tunnels several times. Sylia's is an eight minute stroll
to the Rose Bay Public Wharf, the departure point for the Sydney pelagics.
The pelagic was a fun trip, mostly because nearly everyone on board was
an old friend or client. The conditions were calm with not a lot about
and with a disappointing paucity of providence petrels. Fleshy-footed
and wedge-tailed shearwaters were the most numerous seabirds and
it was good to see them again.
Our first noteworthy
sighting was several long-tailed jaeger of which we had excellent
views; pomarine jaeger was also in good numbers. A small
pod of false killer whales, close to the boat but in a hurry
to be somewhere else, created the next bit of excitement. Then we had
single shy and wandering albatrosses; the wandering
was in beautiful plumage a lovely chocolate with a white face
and thought to be about six months on the wing.
A couple of Hutton's shearwater appeared, followed by six Risso's
dolphins an impressive grey beast with a huge fin and blunt
head and too long absent from my mammal list. With not much else about
we started back, lulled to lethargy by the stillness of air and sea.
A cry of "south polar skua!" from the crow's nest brought
us to our feet. The bird sitting on the water allowed a close approach.
It was a dark phase with a lovely pale caramel head and neck contrasting
with a darker body. Compared to a great skua (mainly a winter bird)
it had a small head and bill. When it took off, it flew directly away
from us so the underwing wasn't determined. The cognoscenti on board
declared it a south polar skua and who am I to argue.
Now well back inside the shelf we assumed our best sightings were behind
us when out of the ether a large, pale shearwater flew past the front
of the boat where some of us were still ruminating about the skua excitement.
All hell broke loose as we tried to stop the boat and alert the others
to this bird, which just kept going. Buller's shearwater was the only
thing that came to mind that looked anything like this bird. A lively
debate ensued but was soon quelled by several decent photographs taken
by a quick-thinking birder. Dion Hobcroft and others identified it as
a pale phase wedge-tailed shearwater. If not for the photos,
the identity of this bird would have gone through to the keeper.
At the Opera House that evening we ran into Alan Ford, a Canberra birder
and a good client.
Leaving Sydney before daylight the next morning, and with Trisha navigating
and driving, we made it out of Sydney without incident and headed straight
to Newcastle. Ash Island produced a pair of yellow wagtail in
full breeding plumage. Other good birds included azure kingfisher,
white-breasted sea-eagle, pied cormorant and tawny
grassbird. On to Shortlands Wetland Centre where there wasn't much
except a few magpie geese. The egret colony appears much
reduced compared to the numbers that bred there before 'The Drought'.
The centre has a freckled duck breeding program. What a primitive
looking bird they are.
Stockton Bridge was our next port of call. The tide was out but there
were still a few waders about, the best being Terek sandpiper,
grey-tailed tattler and double-banded dotterel. Tom, a
local birder, who was clearing weeds from around the sandbars, said
that there were still 3000 or so waders around and about three hours
after high tide was the best time to see them. The Newcastle bird group
keep the roost site open so the waders feel safe.
Our first camp was beside the Gloucester River, a babbling brook at
Gloucester Tops (within Barrington Tops NP). This park has an excellent,
grassed campsite with clean facilities. Red-necked pademelons
and superb lyrebirds scratched quietly around us in the mornings.
Scavenging brush-tailed possums got well-aimed missiles, namely
my Blundstones, launched from the swag.
Despite the next two mornings spent looking in all the right places
for rufous scrubbird, alas none was heard or seen. The area appeared
unusually dry and perhaps the scrubbirds had retreated to the wetter
gullies. We'll have another go later this year. A lot of other good
birds were seen: green catbird, rose robin, crescent
honeyeater (at its northern limits here), yellow-tailed black-cockatoo
and Bassian thrush. Spotlighting produced many greater gliders
and couple of mountain brush-tails were heard. A large
tiger snake and dwarf-crowned snake were spotlighted not
so very far from our (tentless) camp.
Butterflies fixed our attention on many occasions. At Gloucester Tops
we identified wonder brown and silver xenica, the latter
being numerous high up. In lower areas we saw orchard swallowtails
and wanderers. The eerie call of wild dingoes was heard
in the early dawn at the top of Gloucester Tops.
Looking like sentries, a cute pair of eastern water dragons was
seen at the entrance to Gloucester Tops, in the same position, when
we were arriving and leaving.
Tops we went over to the Barrington Tops section at the northern end
of the park. Not a lot there, probably flame robin and red-browed
treecreeper were the most interesting birds.
Our next night was spent in the little town of Gloucester where it is
possible to buy good, organic sourdough bread and excellent handmade
goats cheese not bad for a town with less than 3000 people (take
note Deniliquin). Here we had a pair of sea-eagles flying over
the town and calling loudly. Torresian crows were common in the
town area, whereas we saw only Australian ravens in the mountains.
Also common in the town was white-headed pigeon feeding in camphor
laurel trees. A pair building a nest low down in a tree outside our
cabin provided entertainment as it wrestled with a stick that was too
large for it to manoeuvre into position. The fast moving blue triangle
was one of the butterflies here.
Nearby Copelands Tops NP proved productive. Good sightings included
logrunner, noisy pitta, russet-tailed thrush, pale
yellow robin, green catbird and topknot pigeon; and
wompoo fruit-pigeon was heard. From here we ventured over to
Dingo Tops NP (now Tapin Tops NP), northeast of Wingham. I was keen
to see this area again, having been part of a fauna survey team here
in October 1991 for State Forests. Even with the disparity in seasons,
the effect of drought was evident with greatly reduced bird numbers.
After some searching we managed to track down a few glossy black-cockatoo,
which was reasonably common here in 1991. Spotted quail-thrush
was seen in the same area as the glossies. We also saw variegated
fairy-wren, which was quite common, green catbird, crested
shrike-tit, Bassian thrush, rufous fantail and
white-throated needletail, and rose robin was heard calling.
Night spotting gave us greater glider and common ringtail
and a couple of small snakes of the same species that we couldn't identify.
While the 1991 surveys produced many sooty owl records, we elicited
no response on this visit. Butterflies here included Macleay's swallowtail
and imperial jezabel.
Leaving the mountains, we headed to Port Macquarie. There were many
crested terns, lower numbers of common terns and a few
little terns in full breeding plumage on the north side of the
Hastings River, near its mouth. Offshore, there were hundreds of wedge-tailed
shearwaters, and a few Arctic jaeger, which were pestering
terns to disgorge their food and skilfully catching it mid-air.
Driving along the coast through Limeburners NR we came across a covey
of brown quail. Common birds in the heath included little
wattlebird and scores of white-cheeked honeyeater. In a large
swampy area, amass with banksias and other heath flora, and very wet
underfoot, we saw tawny grassbird and striped honeyeaters.
Bar-shouldered dove, spangled drongo and reef egret
were also seen along the coast. Two beautiful, young dingos,
undisturbed by the hordes of campers, were seen in the camp ground at
Limeburners Creek NR. Butterflies in this area included black jezabel,
and varied sword-grass brown.
More disturbed by the aforementioned hordes in Limeburners NR than the
dingoes, we headed to Crescent Head. Scaly-breasted lorikeets
were common in the town area; and incredibly, crested pigeons
and galahs were feeding in grassy areas along the Pacific Ocean.
North of Crescent Head, in Hat Head NP, we had our only sighting of
osprey and figbird. We spent the night in Kempsey (lots
of cattle egrets in paddocks in this area) and then headed south,
cutting through to the coast at Johns River. The Johns River State Forest
produced a group of six glossy black cockatoos feeding quietly
in casuarinas, and scarlet honeyeaters were common. The heath
at Crowdy Bay was awash with white-cheeked honeyeaters. South
of Forster we had the swamp tiger, and in Myall Lakes NP, the
dusky knight butterflies.
Heading away from the coast, we overnighted in Singleton and spent part
of the next morning in the northern end of Wollemi NP. At Honeysuckle
Creek picnic area we recorded a male and female cicadabird and
yellow-tufted honeyeater before venturing on to Munghorn Gap
NR. A late afternoon walk along the Castle Rock Trail gave us our first
chestnut-rumped heathwrens. We set up in the Honeyeater Flat
camping area. The signage suggests that this camping area's set aside
for researchers and banders. Figuring that we were researching and historically
had done a significant amount of banding, we were entitled to camp there.
Not only was this the perfect camp site, close to a magnificent area
of diverse vegetation, it gave us rock warbler, superb lyrebird
and a couple of immature cicadabirds. The area has great
potential in a good spring.
We headed for Mudgee the next morning, stopping for diamond firetails
just outside the nature reserve. Mudgee is great little town, famous
for its honey. I bought the town out of billy-button honey (fantastic
stuff) and Trisha fluked a hairdresser she was happy with for
a South Yarra girl that is like finding a night parrot.
We arrived at Dunn's Swamp camp ground on the western side of Wollemi
NP as light rain was starting to fall. (Apparently there is a climatic
correlation between rain and hair salon visits). Just about the first
bird we saw was rock warbler. Too easy as they say in
A disturbance over near the food (never in short supply) had me sticking
my head up from under the tarp that was fending off the steady rain
and reaching for the torch to illuminate another brush-tail possum
that knew its way around an esky. It was attempting to lift the lid
when, again, a Blundestone was deployed.
We travelled back to the Capertee Valley via Rylestone and Glen Alice.
Between Glen Alice and Glen Davis we had a nice patch of finches with
zebies, double-bars, diamond firetail and eventually
a family of plum-heads. The grand finale was 12 regent honeyeaters
feeding quietly on lerp in a redgum-like tree along Crown Station Road.
Scores of noisy friarbird were feeding in flowering mistletoe
and a group of grey-crowned babbler cavorted in the understorey.
A collared sparrowhawk snatched a white-plumed honeyeater
in front of our eyes, which served to remind us that life is unfair
and this little working holiday was over.
2007 Central Coast of NSW birding tour