Photos are on flickr atm here
Usually I go away for my birthday, even if it’s only for an overnighter someplace. This year, due to exams, I wasn’t able to, so we planned a more significant trip after exams and when we could both get leave. Keryn hasn’t been to the Warrumbungles before, and I hadn’t for a few years, so we aimed for that, and to hit up the southern part of the Pilliga, having previously explored a lot of the northern part a few years earlier with my dad. So without further adue, here we go. As Keryn was along, it wasn’t exclusively birding, but there was a fair bit of it to be had.
Day 1 – Sydney -> Mudgee via Katoomba
Didn’t realise that the winter magic festival was on, but certainly did once we hit the mountains. Bah. Would’ve taken Bell’s Line of Roads and probably gone to Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens if we’d realised before, but anyway. First birding stop was Lithgow STW, which is a must visit. They’re doing work there – a lot of the trees that obscured views are now pulled down. Nothing too exciting to be seen however, certainly nothing unusual. Next stop Mudgee STW, where the highlight was some great big dogs in the cement (?) works. The settlement ponds could have potential, but they didn’t show any to me.
Bird of the day – Blue-billed Duck at Lithgow.
Day 2 – Mudgee -> Coonabarabran, with detours to Munghorn Gap and The Drip
Headed out early to have a dawn bird at Munghorn Gap. About 20 km from Munghorn Gap, I hit the fog. About 10 km from Munghorn Gap, I could just see past the bonnet. I was driving at about 5 km/h, and realised that while I might be able to hear something call, and the 2 meter visibility could work in my favour by allowing me to sneak up on birds, it was pretty pointless to persist. So I turned around. Driving back to Mudgee, I found Barn Owl roadkill and it had ice crystals all over it. it was pretty, but somewhat macarbre. Further down the road, I saw a bit of activity by the roadside, and then watched a Peregrine bust through and take a Galah – this is about the 4th time I’ve seen this happen, and it never ceases to blow me away. Anyway – spot of hot, proper breakfast down in the park, with Macro photography of a Willie Wagtail happening, then it was back out to Munghorn Gap. The place looks to have some potential, I was just there at the wrong time of day, and wrong part of the year. Same deal with The Drip, although there were White-naped and Brown-headed Honeyeaters to get me going there. We were at the Drip even later in the day, making it even worse for birding. And the wind had picked up at this point as well. Nothing for it, but to head off to Coonabarabran and find a place to stay. Just our luck that there’s some conference on at the time, so we had to get a motel out on the outskirts of town. Ended up being quite a nice place, but it was more of a hike into town for food etc, and it didn’t have any interwebs.
Bird of the day – Peregrine catching a Galah.
Day 3 – Warrumbungle NP
I haven’t been to the Warrumbungles for quite a few years, and I had a few targets. First was Red-winged Parrot. I have records of them from 1994 when I was there, but I haven’t managed to get photos of them. Next up was Turquoise Parrots. I just love these birds and love seeing them. and thirdly – Spotted Quail-thrush. I’ve also managed to see these elsewhere, but haven’t been able to photograph them.
I also left my map at the motel, assuming that we would just pick up a more detailed one at the visitor centre – afterall it opens at 9, and we left Coona at about 8, so we’d be there shortly before it opened – all good. Turns out they had a staff meeting that morning, so they weren’t opening until 12 or 1 or something… grrr. What’s worse is that they don’t actually have any decent topo maps for sale in the visitor center, so I should’ve just brought the little foldout one anyway. There’s also been some flood damage and that closed a walk as well.
At the Warrumbungles, we did about 7-8 km of walks, took some photos, I pissed off an emu, all good. Best for birds was the Woolshed – mostly because there was 7-8 Turqs as we got out of the car, and down by the river there were all sorts of birds about. Best walk was the Burbie Gorge walk – it was fairly quiet, and then we came across one of the mixed feeding flocks you get in that type of dry sclerophyll, and it was on for young and old. Come the early afternoon, it was time to go back to Coona for a beer and a feed, but I was planning on going to Siding Springs Observatory to have a look for Spotted Quail-thrush. On the drive out of the park, and just near the White-gum lookout, I see 2 birds fly across the road and one run off the side of the road – “did those look like quail-thrush to you?” I ask the beloved. “I’ve got no idea what quail-thrush look like” is the response. Pull the car off into a road siding a couple of hundred meters up the hill, grab the camera and bins and walk down to the spot, whhhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr – follow the noise – there it is – female SQT. Walk a little bit further down, and I spot the male in the bushes. Dodgy record shot (see below) and a happy Troy.
Bird of the day – tie between Turquoise Parrots, Speckled Warbler and Spotted Quail-thrush.
Day 4 – Pilliga birding
There’s a pamphlet you can get from the visitor centers in the area called Bird Routes of Barradine (or similar – I’ll check that and amend it) – alas it isn’t available online. Get it, and get on it. We did routes 2, 3 6, 7 and started doing 8, but recent rains meant we couldn’t actually cross the creek – far, far too much sand about. The birding on some of the routes can be a bit slow, but similar to any bush birding from a car anywhere – drive along slowlyish, pull over when you see some activity, and investigate. We had lunch at The Aloes – an old sheep shearing place seriously in the middle of the bush, where there is a largeish planting of crazy growing Aloe Vera. It is also allegedly a good spot to see Koala in the wild, but we could only find tracks in the sand. It was possibly the best place to go birding though as well.
After that, we checked out the poorly signposted Sandstone Caves to look at the engravings and rock art – very nice indeed. Unfortunately there’s total dickheads out there who have vandalised the site, so the sites are fenced off. Anyway – worth a look, not much birdwise, but it’s always good to have a look at what the original owners of the country have been up to.
Bird of the day – Spotted Bowerbird on bird route #4.
Day 5 – Coonabarabran -> Hunter Valley
Before beginning the journey home, staying in the Hunter “somewhere”, I headed out early to try and find these bloody Red-winged Parrots. The ranger at the Pilliga Forest Information Center said she had them in her yard in Coonabarabran and while they were lovely to have, she wanted more variety – I hadn’t seen any over the previous few days. So I drove around Coonabarabran for about an hour in the early morning, seeing more parrots than I had over the previous 5 days, including 3 Red-winged Parrots. Yeeeehaw. I could now leave, mission accomplished.
Didn’t do much birding on the way into the Hunter, but did have the suprise of coming across a sign in Quirindi while stopping for fuel “Quirindi Bird Route #3 – Settlement Ponds”! Everyone loves a suprise STW, especially me. They weren’t much chop, but I didn’t expect anything, so it was all a bonus. Had a very nice Straw-necked Ibis way high up a tree that I could get to eye-level with from the car-park which was a bonus. The ponds themselves are like an oasis, with palm trees growing and all. There’s probably not quite enough rank vegetation along the edges to make them truly great, but they’re worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Anyway – on from Quirindi to the Hunter, eventually settling on Cessnock as the place to stay. Across the road was an Oportos with a Grey Box in full flower! It had all the lorikeets (Little, Musk, Rainbow and Scaly-breasted), but I couldn’t see any Swift Parrots in there… I did see some Swifties down the road in Pelton the year before. Always interesting standing in a drive thru driveway with bins looking at birds though.
Bird of the Day – Red-winged Parrot
Day 6 – and rest…
A quick morning trip to wine and cheese country to get gifts for those who were minding our cats, followed by a visit to the Hunter Wetland Center. Fairly standard winter birding, but I was most suprised to flush 3 Southern Emu-wren from the low grasses near the windmill. Then, on homewards, with a stop at the road-stop with the name I can’t remember at the moment – heaps of people have seen/photographed Regent Bowerbird there, but all I manage to find is Bell Miners. After that, it was back on the freeway, with the next stop being my house. woo.
Bird of the day – Southern Emu-wren
All up I saw 125 species over 6 days/~1800 km. A very enjoyable trip indeed – no lifers (none expected), but about 20 year ticks. I’ll post a full bird list later.