The weather had turned a little nasty as I hurried to the meeting point to join the ASIT bus in Katoomba on Saturday morning. The eleven other birders on board had all come up from Sydney and it was with smiles and a sense of humour that we braved icy winds and sago snow to reach our slightly sheltered morning tea site at Evans Lookout. We feasted our eyes on the Grose Valley views and a stand of delicate Caladenia orchids beside the track, in all shades from white to a beautiful rich pink, as we feasted our soul on warming coffee and cake. Wherever it is that birds go in such conditions, it was obviously not here, but the scratched-up earth revealed much recent lyrebird activity. At least we knew it would be a little warmer and drier in the Capertee Valley and we all looked forward to the weekend ahead.
During the drive we talked about the fabled Capertee Valley and why it is such an outstanding birding area, the problems faced by woodland birds and the very encouraging work being done in the valley to help declining and threatened birds.
Our first stop in the valley itself was at Coco Creek, where the very first bird we saw as we got out of the bus was a Black-chinned Honeyeater. A good omen, especially as minutes earlier one of the group had mentioned that he would really like to see this species! The Needle-leaf Mistletoe in the River Oaks was flowering well and we counted nine species of honeyeater at this spot, including New Holland, Yellow-faced, White-naped, and great views of Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters. We watched two of the latter in a fight over a patch of mistletoe, one bird grabbing the other's wingtip in its bill and hanging on viciously as the other flapped and flailed. Coveted stuff this mistletoe! A pale morph Little Eagle was seen circling high and moments later, the alarm calls of the honeyeaters alerted us to an Australian Hobby rushing by and disappearing over the ridgetop.
A strange two-note call had us puzzled for a while until we found the culprit, a heavily streaked fledgling Rufous Whistler, still with much rufous on the face. This was not a call I've heard the adults make. Finches
were also common here - Double-barred, Zebra, Red-browed, and Diamond Firetails. We also saw the first of many White-winged Trillers.
Along the roadside we stopped to look for Plum-headed Finches but instead found a handsome Brown Falcon perched in a dead tree right beside the road, giving us excellent close views as it braced itself against the wind. We stopped briefly to watch Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Jacky Winters and a pair of Hooded Robins demonstrating their typical "perch-and-pounce" feeding technique.
For lunch I had arranged access to a cottage where we were able to dine while watching Yellow-tufted, Fuscous and White-naped Honeyeaters at the birdbath, Zebra Finches nesting in the eaves, Restless Flycatchers, Diamond Firetails, Dusky Woodswallows, Red-rumped Parrots and Eastern Rosellas, and
a Jacky Winter perched on the clothesline singing an elaborate song reminiscent of a canary. On a walk around the property a Jacky Winter was found sitting on its tiny nest and fed by its mate. Some of the group
watched a Wedge-tailed Eagle chased by ravens while others were lucky to see a pair of Kestrels in a spectacular aerial display. Everyone was appreciative of the hospitality of April Mills in allowing us access onto her fabulous place.
After lunch we headed down to Glen Davis where we went for a walk along a wooded fire trail. This was a great spot with sheltered gullies offering refuge from the wind for us and the birds. Splendid views of Bee-eaters in the sunlight, a Brown Treecreeper posing on a stump, many White-winged Trillers feeding on the ground and White-winged Choughs collecting mud for their nest were some of the highlights here. We were buzzed by a small flock of Little Lorikeets, and Zebra Finches bathed in an actual bathtub.
The "find of the day" was awarded to Alan, one of the group, who found a White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike sitting tightly on its nest at a very windy spot in the northern section of the valley. At Rylstone a late afternoon
search for platypus in the river yielded plenty of Clamorous Reed-warblers, Purple Swamphens and King-Parrots and too many ripples to make out any sign of platypus, so we headed for the comfort of the motel and a hearty dinner at the pub.
Sunday morning dawned calm and clear as a pair of Gang-gang Cockatoos visited the motel garden. On our early morning walk we chased Brown-headed Honeyeaters around the golf course, eventually getting fleeting views as they fed actively. We also watched Weebills hovering around the outer foliage of the trees, yet more White-winged Trillers, both male and female Spotted Pardalote, and glimpsed two Musk Lorikeets as they whizzed past. We noticed a male Rufous Whistler which was very pale on the breast like the
inland form which is illustrated in Pizzey & Knight. There was much interest created by a Striated Pardalote seen entering a tiny knothole in a weatherboard building across the road.
Driving through the Cudgegong Valley near Rylstone we stopped for Hardheads on a dam and also had great scope views of a Kestrel and Olive-backed Oriole. It was a perfect sunny day, certainly making up for the windy conditions yesterday.
Back into the Capertee Valley and as we drove across the Bogee River someone called "White-necked Heron!". As we stopped to look at this magnificent bird, my attention was drawn to a small movement in the reeds which turned out to be the characteristic flicking tail of a rail. It was a Buff-banded Rail, seen by those at the front of the bus before it disappeared, not to be found again!
At our morning tea spot on the Capertee River we watched a Rufous Songlark repeatedly performing its song-flight, and a group of Little Lorikeets flew in and started feeding in the mistletoe allowing us to see their beautiful colours up close. The Fairy Martins had seemingly not yet returned but we looked at their nests from last year under the bridge.
Glen Alice is always an idyllic place and here we found three fluffy fledgling Superb Fairy-wrens with short tails and pale gapes. They were accompanied by a male who literally gleamed in the sunlight, his blue
seemingly brighter than any other Superb I have seen. On our walk behind the church we all saw the
Crested Shrike-tits and Rainbow Bee-eaters which were everywhere, but only I caught a glimpse of a White-backed Swallow before it disappeared behind a tree and down the creek. As we ate lunch we were "invaded" by a party of 7 White-winged Choughs, including two fluffy juveniles. Who would want to be anywhere else!
The very best however, our two main target species, were saved till last. We headed up Crown Station Road in search of Turquoise Parrots, and it wasn't long before I heard the characteristic metallic note as two small parrots flew overhead . I shouted "Those are Turqs!" as they disappeared from my field of vision. Viv who was a little further along the road managed to keep them in sight and pointed out which trees they landed in, and it was sharp-eyed Jan who eventually spotted them amongst the foliage. Talk about teamwork! Everyone got brilliant scope views of a stunning male with quite an orange belly, as some of them have.
We had time for one last stop and it was suggested we try Crown Creek for Plum-headed Finches. As we reached the bridge, I fixed my binoculars onto a small movement and lo and behold, a pair of Plum-headed Finches materialised! Again, everyone got to see these intricately marked birds - and what a high point to finish on.
Despite tricky weather conditions at the start, the Capertee Valley had lived up to its reputation and we ended up with over 100 species for the weekend. Cheers, Carol Probets