Day 1 Newcastle Botanic Gardens proved a boon for Robin Murray. Although the very hot weather, still smokey from the recent bush fires and back-burning was difficult for the humans it had the dragonflies breeding, dipping to lay eggs and generally whizzing around the perfect pond. Noted were Common Bluetail, Eastern Billabongfly, Black-faced Percher, Fiery Skimmers and Blue Skimmers. This was not going to be your average birding tour, but just the way Robin liked it, diverse. I loved it too, but couldn't help seeing a Willy Wagtail on the nest, 2 Sacred Kingfishers and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, not bad considering we hadn't moved an inch in the 32 degree heat.
Along the way water provided a Yellow-billed Spoonbill, a couple of regal White-necked Herons and the first of the Red-browed Finch "plague" that was to be a our daily pattern. Crimson and Eastern Rosellas flew beside us often, as did the Australian King Parrots, my my, life was good. There was discusion on a Little Eagle but consensus was reached and a Whistling Kite added to the raptors.
By the time we reached Gloucester lunch was taken in a magnificent air-conditioned cafe while the 40 degree day shimmered on. We headed back out to Copeland Tops after an hour's rest where the birding was stupendous - cool, and filled with birds such as female Lyrebirds, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Black-faced Monarch and Robin pointed out Spectacled Monarch, 2 Rose Robins, female Scarlet Honeyeater, many Rufous Fantails, Bassian Thrush, Yellow-throated Scrubwrens which eluded Robin's bins, Large-billed, Striated and Brown Thornbills, Brown Gerygone, female Leaden Flycatcher and 2 Logrunners all seen repeatedly and often with long views. It was really quite an afternoon despite/because of the heat.
There was a Noisy Pitta, perhaps two that called for a long time but we were not able to find it and it never came close enough to us.
As we left, Eastern Water Dragons and Red Browed Finches littered the road back to Gloucester. The smoke descended once again and the comparatively cool 32 degree heat seemed a blessing. Great dinner ended a phenomenal birding day.
Day 2 started with an early morning walk across the golf course where we saw Galahs, Purple Swamphens, Black-fronted Dotterel, many Australasian Pipits and Australian Wood Ducks, rosellas and King Parrots and a Tawny Grassbird. A White-throated Gerygone called each morning and we spotted him in the large trees outside our rooms. We scoped a tree full of nesting Cattle Egrets, glorious in their breeding plumage.
Southern Forest Dragon (Hypsilurus spinipes)
as researched by R Murray
The day was bright and beautiful and comfortably warm so we started out to Gloucester Tops but had the usual difficulty getting there as the roadside birding was bountiful: first was a dam across the road where a Royal Spoonbill stood with Intermediate Egrets and a White-necked Heron; there was also an Australsian Grebe and a Buff-banded Rail that escaped Robin, but not forever... As we tried to depart again a couple of Common Bronzewings appeared, then a Red-backed Fairy-wren delighted, 2 Pheasant Coucals with the light behind us really looking exceptionally ravishing, Brown Falcon, Sacred Kingfishers and Dollarbirds stopped us.
A Bearded Dragon was lovingly picked up from the road by Handler Robin Murray and helped to a better location. After the crossing of some lovely fords, where many Water Dragons scurried away, we arrived at Sharpes Creek to find the Yellow Robins and Grey Fantails caught in flight. There were fantastic views of a confiding male Lyrebird in the rainforest while looking for another Noisy Pitta who was calling but no luck, just the best views of a Russet-tailed Thrush and maybe an Olive Whistler that flew from the creek edge.
Up, up we went photographing beautiful Native Hibiscus in full bloom and a marvellous Southern Forest Dragon (Hypsilurus spinipes) that I think was the creature of the tour for Robin. We reached the Tops and enjoyed lunch watching a couple of happy skinks. Kerripit Track was quiet but the flowers were very special; remarkable white native daisy (Olearium oppositifolia) dazzled us and the Australian Painted Ladies, Common Browns, Small Grass Yellows and Blues (butterflies) were admired and photographed.
Dicksonia Antarctica tree ferns beneath the Antarctic Beech forest was a treasure of a walk to a small moss-covered creek before we headed down.
Day 3 was cooler with a storm building and we found Grey-crowned Babblers across the road from the motel together with Noisy Friarbirds, a nest full of jiggling Olive-backed Orioles, Robin got the Buff-banded Rail and Australian Reed Warblers zipped around. Breakfast called as what was becoming the usual bevy of bird sightings hailed down on us.
On the drive from town a flock of 30 White-headed Pigeons fed by the edge of the Gloucester walking track, so we had lingering views, then Dollarbirds flashed us. But it was Barrington Tops here we come for the terrestrial orchids: first stop Cobark where there weren't any but the Hibbertia Scandens was flowering and the Snow Gums and Tussock Grass brilliant. There was the now usual Black-faced Monarch, a new bird - 2 Red-browed Treecreepers, a scolding White-browed Scrubwren, Striated Thornbills, Grey Fantails and a Grey Shrike-thrush.
At Honeysuckle we found our first orchid leaves but no flowers. There was also a striking Flame Robin that lit up the now cold and damp forest edge. Onward to Pol Blue where we hit the motherlode of orchids and even a flower that was treated to the very best photographic equipment. That was the highlight of the day and now the rain was pelting so home/motel we headed, elated.
Day 4 and the weather had been wet overnight, a relief after fires and heat and a blessing for the Barrington Tops moss and lichen. As we left the motel Grey-crowned Babblers were by the gate and the nesting Cattle Egrets were oblivious to our final departure, a White-headed Pigeon sat on the fence on the other side of town, Dollarbirds were on the wires and a Brown Falcon was fought by a Nankeen Kestrel over territory it appeared. Little Corellas were loving the fresh wet landscape, as were a party of Little Ravens feeding in the paddock.
Bar-shouldered Dove by Nevil Lazarus
Woko National Park proved difficult to get to as usual due to the number of roadside birding stops, the most memorable a flock of 15 Wompoo Fruit-Doves winging their way back and forth across the Woko River between majestic fruiting fig trees, what a sight! We pressed on past a Pheasant Coucal, White-winged Triller and gorgeous Red-necked Wallabies to find the Park no less impressive; Superb Fairy-wrens battled with fully flared feathers for the females, Large-billed Scrub Robins gave great views, a Green Catbird sang out in the open till we tired and moved on to a cocky Satin Bowerbird with a really well laid out bower with blue flowers as well as perfectly placed blue plastic treasures. Robin exclaimed upon the find of a small dark rainforest dragon, Eastern Bearded Dragon (Pagoda barbata) and the camera was called for. Our time had vanished but not before a Black-faced Monarch was seen and a Monarch/Wanderer butterfly was also delighted in.
We had to linger over a covey of 2 adult Brown Quail with 4 blue and orange streaked juveniles by the side of the road, seen on the way in but still peaceably fossicking by the road on the way back: such a treat to have such close long views.,BR>
Travelling the back roads to Buladelah through State Forest we sheltered an Echidna from traffic briefly but with little time to lose headed to Minmi's Pambalong Swamp. We spotted our first Swamp Harrier just after "handler" Robin had rescued a Long-necked Tortoise from the road. On the mud flats a bevy of White-faced Herons and a striding Spotless Crake, hurrah! Black-winged Stilts rose over the wetland and landed close to Grey and Chestnut Teal, 8 Yellow-billed Spoonbills, and 2 Wedged-tailed Eagles spiralled as we headed for the big smoke satisfied that we had covered many different fields from terrestrial orchids, rainforest dragons, butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles, mammals, flowering plants and 122 bird species.
Thank you Robin for your patience, "snoopy" smile and fountain of enthusiasm.
by Janene Luff guiding for FTB.