New South Wales Central Coast Reconnaissance Trip
10 March to 23 March 2006

Route taken:
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 - Singleton
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

Departing Deniliquin 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.

From Gloucester 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 the Territory.

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.


November 2007 Central Coast of NSW birding tour