It was a beautiful morning (and not a hint of snow or sleet this time!) as 11 birders travelled over the Blue Mountains along a highway lined with bright golden wattle, towards the second-largest canyon in the world. Morning tea at Wentworth Falls was accompanied by a Satin Bowerbird and small flocks of migrating Yellow-faced Honeyeaters. Back on the road near Ben Bullen, the cry of "raptor" went out, the bus stopped and everyone jumped out to watch a Little Eagle soaring overhead - the first of several seen over the weekend. This one was a dark morph.
Casuarina Mistletoe by Joan Rosenthal
A short break at Capertee village gave us both Fairy and Tree Martins, nice views of Superb Fairy-wrens, the male in his blue splendour, Eastern Rosellas and a Wedge-tailed Eagle seen off by a brave magpie.
Then it was down into the valley. Our first stop was at a site where I had been monitoring a Regent Honeyeater nest. This year the White Box (Eucalyptus albens) has had a good flowering season which meant that the Regents had been in this area since early winter and started nesting quite early. At this nest we were pleased to see the adults feeding newly-hatched chicks. By observing the nest through the scope from a safe distance we ensured there was no disturbance. There are only around 1000 individuals left of this endangered species. The male rewarded us by perching on a fence wire and putting on a great display of hawking insects and carrying them up to the nest, so everyone had terrific views of this very special bird.
This also proved to be a good site for seeing a number of other species and we enjoyed watching a Restless Flycatcher hovering over the grass, Dusky Woodswallow, Hooded Robin, Red-rumped Parrots and a Red-necked Wallaby (only its ears visible in the long grass). While we were watching these, a Welcome Swallow managed to find its way into the bus and was rescued by Janene.
We headed next onto my own block of paradise situated in the heart of the valley, and lunch beside the dam gave us the opportunity to watch Brown Treecreepers, a stunning Mistletoebird, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike and a pair of Hooded Robins with a freshly-built nest. Numerous "platelets", the circular depressions scratched by button-quail, were covering the ground nearby but the birds remained unseen.
After lunch most of the group headed off on a walk along the 2km track to the top dam, along the way surprising a Lace Monitor which scuttled up a tree. By this time the day was hot but the dry conditions ensured the little dam surrounded by dense bush was a magnet for birds. We all found a comfortable place to sit and the entertainment began! A non-stop parade of honeyeaters came to drink and bathe including many dozens of Fuscous Honeyeaters jostling for position with White-plumed, Yellow-tufted, Brown-headed and the beautiful Striped Honeyeater. Restless Flycatcher, Peaceful Dove and Double-barred Finch also came in for a drink. A clear distinctive call announced the arrival of a Painted Honeyeater - the first here for the season - and this enigmatic bird flew high across the dam before disappearing into the nearby woodland.
Brown Gerygone by Neil Fifer
When we returned to the bus we discovered that the folk who remained at the lunch site had seen 5 Painted Button-quail while we were away, as well as White-browed Babblers and a Diamond Firetail.
Before leaving we also saw, from the bus, a Black-shouldered Kite perched high in a dead tree and a Brown Falcon near the front gate. Even better was a black shape which flew fast across a paddock near Glen Alice, its longish tail and pointed, drooping wings seen well enough to know that this was a Black Falcon, an uncommon bird in the area.
So after a very productive afternoon we travelled on up the valley to our final destination for the day: the Cudgegong River at Rylstone in search of Platypus. It didn't take long before we had a very obliging Platypus in view.... and then another. And then one climbed onto the bank and sat preening itself giving us the best view that I personally have ever had of this unique animal. To top it all off, an Azure Kingfisher darted along the river in a flash of blue.
Sunday dawned fine again and our morning walk on the golf course produced great sightings of White-winged Choughs, Striated Thornbills, Noisy Friarbirds, Eastern Yellow Robins, Rufous Whistler and Grey Fantail, while a White-throated Gerygone repeated its haunting song, tantalisingly (no-one saw it except me). Several Blue-faced Honeyeaters flew over but the best bird of all, spotted first by Kerry Ann, was a Little Eagle perched in the top of a neaby tree, surrounded by perturbed Pied Currawongs! The view through the scope revealed the sharp eye and the detail in the feathers of this magnificent raptor and it was later voted Bird of the Trip by many in the group.
After breakfast we headed back into the northern section of the Capertee Valley, to a site which traditionally is excellent for small birds and wildflowers. Today was no exception and we found Weebills, two species of thornbill and Western Gerygone, and the highlight, a pair of extremely handsome Speckled Warblers. A Pallid Cuckoo was calling and eventually seen, as was a Shining Bronze-Cuckoo. Three species of orchid were flowering, the large blue Caladenia caerulea, a smaller pink Caladenia and a lovely yellow Diuris.
Morning tea at the river gave us the chance to look at Fairy Martin nests (and the birds themselves in the air), a Diamond Firetail, and another Mistletoebird while enjoying Janene's delicious banana bread.
Diamond Firetail by David Simpson
On to Glen Alice where a walk behind the church added great views of Rainbow Bee-eaters. Little Lorikeets could be heard in a tree right above us, but it took at least 15 minutes of searching to actually see them. When we did what a fabulous sight they made. The tranquil little picnic area by the community hall is always a perfect spot for lunch, surrounded by trees, birds and the glorious Capertee Valley scenery.
After lunch we reluctantly left the valley but this was only to allow us time for a visit to Lake Wallace. The Musk Ducks never let us down here and they are such unusual looking birds that more than one person commented on their strange similarity when diving to the Platypus we'd seen the previous day. Despite getting muddy feet in the reedy edges, we failed to find any Latham's Snipe which were there a few days earlier - and no doubt hiding from the Sunday picnickers. But we did see 3 Black Swans, Hardheads, Australasian and Great Crested Grebes, White-faced Heron, Australian Reed-Warblers and a flock of Red-browed Finches feeding on fallen Casuarina seeds.
Driving back through the mountains gave us a chance to do the birdlist and remember the many highlights of the weekend. We recorded a total of 107 bird species, 4 mammals and 2 reptiles and had heaps of fun at the same time, in one of the most beautiful places in Australia.
By Carol Probets guiding for FTB