Kanangra Walls & Jenolan Caves Tour Report
I was joined by a small, cordial group of three for this year's visit to the magnificent wildness of Jenolan and Kanangra. Travelling in a comfy SUV we soon left the grey skies of Sydney behind as we headed up the mountains. Stopping for morning tea at Evans Lookout, we were welcomed by the contact call of a Scarlet Honeyeater which managed to escape our binoculars, but we had great views of Brown Thornbills, a White-throated Treecreeper and the Grose Valley stretching below.
Rockwarbler by Greg McCarry
In no time the resident Rockwarbler appeared, hopping around the feet of bemused tourists and drinking at puddles fresh from overnight rain. It entertained us for 20 minutes and kept the photographers busy.
Back on the road, an unavoidable wait at a busy intersection gave passengers the opportunity to admire a Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike pausing in a dead tree - the first of several. We took the scenic route through Kanimbla Valley with Sacred Kingfisher, Yellow-rumped Thornbills and a White-faced Heron seen along the roadside. The obligatory wetland stop gave us good views of Australian Reed-Warblers, and what were almost our only waterbirds of the trip: Purple Swamphen, Hardhead and Australasian Grebe. Little Ravens called nearby and a Jacky Lizard was spied basking on a fence post. Just past Coxs River, a dark Brown Falcon was our only raptor of the weekend.
But it was the cool mountain-loving bush birds which were to be the highlights on this trip and these would compensate for the lack of waterbirds and raptors. Soon after we climbed onto the ridgeline of the Great Dividing Range the magic began. Eating lunch sitting on the soft native grasses under a canopy of Mountain Gums was pure bliss. The first thing we noticed were masses of butterflies fluttering through the filtered light: these turned out to be Spotted Browns. Fledgeling Noisy Friarbirds and Red Wattlebirds called persistently, a family of Laughing Kookaburras hung around, Yellow-faced Honeyeater and Silvereyes turned up and a female flycatcher was seen well and deemed to be a Satin. A faint "chyep, chyep..." had us looking skyward to see a small flock of White-browed Woodswallows travelling over.
Our afternoon walk took us along Binoomea Ridge on a lovely part of the Six Foot Track through tall mixed eucalypt forest with a carpet of Snow Grass and ferns beneath. A sudden movement beside the track turned into a female Spotted Quail-thrush, moving quietly along the ground, stopping to keep a wary eye on us as we stood transfixed by this shy bird. Soon we noticed another nearby, a male with black throat.
Spotted Quail-thrush by Greg McCarry
A small skink scuttling down a tree trunk disappeared quickly but photos revealed it to be Pseudemoia spenceri, the aptly-named Trunk-climbing Cool-Skink - an interesting find.
Sometimes you see more birds by lingering in one place for a while. Greg, by opting for a rest, unwittingly chose the perfect spot as we found ourselves surrounded by Red-browed Treecreepers with at least one juvenile. A Sacred Kingfisher posed, highlighting its turquoise wings, and a Grey Fantail heralded the arrival of a mixed flock of small birds, including Brown and Striated Thornbills and a party of Sittellas.
During our return walk, the afternoon songs of Superb Lyrebirds wafted up from the gullies. A beautiful moth etched with dots and wavy lines in subdued greys and browns was later identified as Taxeotis sp. The walk ended with a group of Buff-rumped Thornbills and Crimson Rosellas back at the car.
After settling into our rooms at Jenolan Caves, we enjoyed dinner in the grand dining room with views through the bay window of a Lewin's Honeyeater, a Water Dragon and a lyrebird making use of the last daylight.
Flame Robin Female by Greg McCarry
Jill and Mary joined me for a night walk through the Grand Arch to the Blue Lake where one of the famed Brush-tailed Rock-Wallabies casually leapt up two rock walls and the steep hillside without missing a beat. The Sooty Owl evaded us tonight and we retreated to our rooms just as the rain started to fall with a storm building.
Next morning the rain had cleared for our pre-breakfast stroll. Two plaintail lyrebirds were unconcerned by our presence as we watched the female feeding her red-throated juvenile. Dozens of Welcome Swallows were still roosting on wires in the Grand Arch, looking like pegs on a washing line. A rock-wallaby bounded up the scree to disappear between the boulders. A mixed flock of thornbills, scrubwrens, fairy-wrens and fantails entertained us beside Blue Lake. Finally, our patience paid off when the Platypus made an appearance, giving us great views as it swam along the surface of the sapphire water.
After breakfast we headed up the winding road onto the Kanangra-Boyd plateau where everything was fresh and moist and soft underfoot after the brief rain. A female Flame Robin obligingly sat on a fence, a party of White-winged Choughs rummaged by the roadside and a Swamp Wallaby made haste into the forest.
We arrived at Kanangra Walls carpark where a short walk to the lookout revealed the spectacle of Kanangra Deep splitting the landscape with Thurat Spires on the left, and Kanangra Walls on the right, leading the eye toward Rip, Rack, Roar, Rumble, and on the horizon the mighty Cloudmaker, obviously having a rest under a clear blue sky.
Red-browed Treecreeper by Greg McCarry
Walking across to the tops via the Dance Floor Cave we saw another Rockwarbler and a Rock Ringlet butterfly. Welcome Swallows danced in the updraughts along the clifftop.
A group of Gang-gang Cockatoos was our highlight at the Boyd River campground with one male hanging upside-down to feed on eucalyptus seeds. Rufous Whistler, White-eared Honeyeater and what was surprisingly our first Eastern Yellow Robin of the weekend put in an appearance, as did a couple of Red-necked Wallabies.
A small puddle in the top of a large granite boulder near our lunch site was attracting White-naped Honeyeaters to drink and bathe. Nearby, more Red-browed and White-throated Treecreepers foraged on trees around the shelter shed.
Snow Gums were shedding bark to reveal fresh scribbles and richly coloured trunks. Of special interest were the rare Eucalyptus macarthurii or Paddy's River Box whose crushed leaves supposedly smell of geranium but to us smelled more like guava.
Kanangra Walls by Greg McCarry
More Flame Robins were seen on the return drive, prompting the question: why do we sometimes only see females...where are the males? Birding is full of such mysteries.
It was a straightforward drive with one ice cream stop, across the Blue Mountains back to Sydney and its grey sky. Even in the grip of drought, the highest part of the Greater Blue Mountains offers a bounty of experiences to treasure.
By Carol Probets ornithologist for FTB