The first Follow That Bird trip to the New England Region of New South Wales turned out to be a great success. 175 species were seen and or heard (only a few heard only) and we all had the opportunity to visit the Region during top seasonal pastoral conditions. Everywhere was green except for the ripening wheat, while the oat and Lucerne crops were looking great, and the grass was tall and lush. The Yellow Box, Stringybark, Mugga Ironbark and Blakely's Redgum were all flowering so that the Musk Lorikeets and Little Lorikeets, Noisy Friarbirds and the smaller honeyeaters were all very noisy and very busy. Our trip was in four segments, with the first day being spent in the Gloucester District, and the remainder of the time spent checking out the New England wetlands; the forests to the east and the Box Woodlands to the west of Armidale!
Picturesque New England
As usual our first stop was to the Hunter Botanical Gardens for morning tea where we were entertained by the lovely calls of the White-throated Gerygones and a pair of nesting Olive-backed Orioles. Then onto Gloucester with stops at Booral and Stroud, at the former the Torresian Crows were found to be nesting, and a freshly killed Pheasant Coucal was seen on the road 12 km east of Booral, and a Latham's Snipe spotted in a road side wetland. At the latter, a female Regent Bowerbird was seen at our lunch stop beside the bridge over the river. Other interesting birds here were Yellow-throated Scrub-wrens, Sacred Kingfishers and Leaden Flycatchers. In the afternoon we visited the Copeland SRC and managed to find Rufous Fantails, Black-faced Monarchs, a family party of Logrunners and Cicardabird. Our last stop for the day was at the Gloucester Cemetery to see the resident Grey-crowned Babblers, who entertained us well, and drew out attention to a nesting pair of Noisy Friarbirds.
After an early morning walk around the Golf Course where we found more Babblers, Bar-shouldered Doves, and another calling Coucal, Cattle Egrets and a flock of Topknot Pigeons, we headed off towards Nowendoc, stopping at Gloryhole Reserve, Rookhurst just missing a pair of Brown Quail, giving the front passengers excellent views! At nearby Bretti Reserve, we watched a Brush Turkey feeding along the Creek, The rain set in from here and did not lift until we reached Dangars Lagoon, Uralla. Initially the Bird Hide here was useful in keeping us dry but there were limited birds to see here because of the low level of this Lagoon although a small flock of White-browed Woodswallows past close to the hide. Whiskered Terns were feeding over the Lagoon and a pair of Swallows had 5 dependent young, presumably just hatched from the nest in the hide. However around the western side of the Lagoon, there were many waterfowl to be seen including c 30 Shoveler, and at least 2 Blue-billed Ducks, small numbers of Hardheads and about 600 Grey Teal. Three Glossy Ibis, 2 Intermediate Egrets and a Marsh Sandpiper were the more interesting finds amongst the other waterbirds.
Scarlet Robin by David Simpson
Our first day in the Armidale area was spent traversing the back roads to the east and north of the town checking out the box woodlands and the various lagoons. The commonest bird was the Rufous Songlark which was heard and seen everywhere while Rufous Whistlers called from every bit if woodland! Scarlet Honeyeaters although hard to see where also very common as were Dusky Woodswallows and Noisy Friarbirds. At Eastwood SF we found Hooded Robins, Double-barred Finches and White-winged Trillers. On the Gara River near Herbert Park were nesting Restless Flycatcher, Willie Wagtails, Dusky Woodswallows and Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes. Out along Bagot Road, we could see Pelicans, Musk Ducks, Stilts, and more Blue-billed Duck, Whiskered Terns & Hardheads in the various wetlands and lagoons. Kestrels and Brown Falcons were seen feeding over the long grass. Whistling Kites were circling over Mother of Ducks Lagoon while at Merrifield TSR near Black Mountain, White-naped & Yellow-faced Honeyeaters and nesting White-thoated Gergones were the highlights.
Our second day in the Armidale area was spent in the forests on the western lip of the Great Divide. At Styx River Bridge we were welcomed by Brush, Fantailed & Channel-billed Cuckoos and Buff-rumped, Brown & Striated Thornbills. In the Styx River SF a pair of Red-browed Treecreepers were found feeding dependent young, while Forest Ravens, Golden Whistlers and Sittellas were seen nearby. At Cathedral Rocks NP, the best birds were the Scarlet and Flame Robins, the latter included a breeding record! However here we saw our first Wedge-tailed Eagles and more Cicadabirds. More Flame Robins were found in New England NP along with Superb Lyrebirds and Fantailed Cuckoos.
Little Grassbird by Nevil Lazarus
Our last day in the Armidale area was spent checking out the Travelling Stock Reserves west to Yarrowyk, Torryburn and Gwydir Park TSRs. Again conditions were great, at Marrapinta TSR the flowering box trees were providing much nectar for the Lorikeets, Eastern Rosellas were so common, and Noisy Friarbirds were found nesting along with Restless Flycatchers and Striped Honeyeaters! At Booralong Ck there were plenty of Fuscous Honeyeaters, a Little Eagle flew over and Shining Bronze-cuckoos were calling loudly. At Yarrowyk on the TSR Wedge-tailed Eagles and our first Collared Sparrowhawk were seen as well as Weebills & Mistletoebirds. We were on the lookout for Regent Honeyeaters at Gwydir Park TSR but alas they were not found, but Jacky Winters, Crested Shrike-tit, nesting Friarbirds, Brown Treecreepers and the many Lorikeets made up for their absence! We had great views of a Pallid Cuckoo near Torryburn, where the only Bee-eaters and Peaceful Doves were recorded for the trip. From here we travelled the back roads to Nundle via Dungowan, where we picked up Little Corellas and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters.
What a delightful place was Nundle. All green and lush, and there were many birds around the town. In the garden of the Motel, there were Yellow-faced Honeyeaters feeding in the Bottle Brushes, along with Yellow-rumped Thornbills & a Koel Cuckoo. On the back road from Nundle to Wallabadah, the commonest birds were Eastern and Crimson Rosellas along with Rufous Songlarks, Pipits and the occasional Brown Falcon and Pied Butcherbird! At Lake Liddell we checked out the Great Crested & Hoary-headed Grebe, Little Grassbirds & Reedwarblers; at Doughboy Swamp near Singleton 30 Plumed Whistling Duck were found, and at Kearsley near Cessnock, our last birding spot, Scarlet Honeyeaters finally gave everyone some good views!
Musk Lorikeet guarding the Nest
This was great trip, the participants saw many woodland and forest birds and some great waterbirds and it was pleasure to be travelling in the countryside on such lovely warm sunny days and during great seasonal conditions. Many thanks to Belinda, Rita, Wendy, Kathleen and Bruce, whose companionship and enthusiasm made for a good tour and to Janene for her great culinary and driving skills.
Alan Morris guiding for Follow That Bird.