Pilliga Scrub & Warrumbungles Trip Report
It started with red cars. Five enthusiastic ladies and myself honing our spotting skills in anticipation of a great trip, and we were not disappointed. As we left the highway and turned to travel north through the Hunter Valley then the birding got serious and the red cars were forgotten!
King Parrot by Christina Port
As we approached Broke for morning tea a pair of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos got the adrenaline moving. Within a few minutes we had Striated Pardalotes chasing a Scared Kingfisher away from potential nesting sites. White-throated Gerygones and Scarlet Honeyeaters tinkled in the canopy along with Yellow-faced Honeyeaters and a dazzling Dollarbird. White-winged Choughs patrolled the grassier edges and led us inadvertently to a small group of Double-barred Finches, two of which were busily building their nest. Not a bad start at all!
As we proceeded north past though awful open-cut mines blighting the landscape, we picked up Straw-necked Ibis, Great Egret and, unusually, a lone Cattle Egret plus a Yellow-billed Spoonbill. Various dams held Black Duck, Hardhead, Coots and Moorhen. As we approached Merriwa we saw a Black-shouldered Kite and the first of many Kestrels. Our third raptor species was a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles happily sitting close to the road allowing great views.
By now it was getting hot, though little groups of Red-rumped Parrots and Yellow-rumped Thornbills were still entertaining us. We came to a sharp stop to avoid a huge Red-bellied Black Snake on the road, certainly the biggest I've seen. The drama was watched closely by a lone Crimson Rosella and a curious Grey Butcherbird.
The heat, by now in the low to mid 30C's, was certainly shutting down the action - we thought. But a stop at Binnia Creek near Binnaway turned up some great birds. Musk Lorikeet, Noisy Friarbirds and Blue-faced Honeyeaters in the flowering canopy busy feeding. Fairy Martins were busy building under the bridge. Apostlebirds churred at us from the track and a Little Friarbird eyed us warily. More excitement developed when a small pipit-like bird shot from the grass into a nearby bush. Six of us surrounded the bush and before long called "Horsfield's Bushlark". A nice bird for all of us.
Horsfields Bushlark by Anne Brophy
We arrived in Coonabarrabran, hot but happy, serenaded by a Blackbird and a small flypast of Little Corellas and Red-winged Parrots.
The next morning, while Janene fuelled the bus, Judy, Brenda, Anne, Bernice and I took a short stroll across the road to some Pilliga Scrub to find Peaceful Dove, White-throated Treecreeper and Blue-Faced Honeyeaters given a couple of Australian Ravens a hard time. Yellow Robins chased intruding Kookaburras, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes, Galahs, Little Corellas and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and various elusive thornbills kept us busy. The highlight was undoubtedly the close-up views of a beautiful Shining Bronze-cuckoo.
After breakfast we headed to the Warrumbugles, almost immediately distracted by a King Parrot and then stopped by perfect views of a Common Bronzewing glinting in the morning sun as it fussed about its nest. At Timor Rock, the first of many spectacular outcrops comprising the ancient volcanic ring of the Warrumbungles, we were surrounded by the sounds of Rufous Songlarks and Rufous Whistlers, among the most regular of birds we saw throughout the trip.
As we climbed higher we could see thousands of acres of tree skeletons poking skywards, a reminder of the great fires of 2013. Equally amazing was the vigorous fresh green growth as life fought back. Isn't nature just wonderful? At Whitegum Lookout Weebills, Brown-headed and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, Chestnut-rumped and Inland Thornbills kept us busy and Horsefield's Bronze-cuckoo and Fan-tailed Cuckoo called continuously competing with Grey Shrike-thrush and Olive-backed Oriole. Above us circled a Wedge-tailed Eagle. It was all very uplifting.
As we dropped in to the "bowl" of the ancient volcano suddenly we hit a hot-spot and out of the bus we tumbled.
Hundreds of Woodswallows, White-browed, Masked and the occasional Dusky were wheeling and calling joined by Tree Martins and Welcome Swallows (we tried but couldn't spot any White-backed Swallows). Crimson Chats seemed to be everywhere, obviously nesting in several spots. These startlingly bright coloured birds were having an excellent spring. White-winged Trillers seemed everywhere too only outnumbered by strident Rufous Songlarks. The grass, the bushes, the trees - all looked in fabulous condition. No wonder there was such a profusion of birds.
On the ground Red-browed Finches, Diamond Firetails, Superb Fairy-wrens and Willie Wagtails added to the splendour and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters flaunted themselves to all who would watch. A pair of Restless Flycatchers made us work for good views, but it was worth it and another (or was it the same one) regal Wedge-tailed Eagle soared serenely above us. Before we realised was lunch time and brimming with excitement over the whole experience we headed to the Visitors Centre for a very necessary cup of tea!
The usual troop of very bold Apostlebirds weaved their way in and out of legs dashing in to try and sneak some morsels but most of the other birds had wisely decided to take it easy in shade of the canopy. After lunch we headed to Split Rock. The only signs of life were a few feral goats and lazing Eastern Grey Kangaroos, not at all interested in moving in the heat, apart from a pair of White-browed Scrubwrens, curious to see what mad creature was venturing forth in the midday sun. So we retired to Wambelong Camping area for a rest. But birders never rest, do they? Janene went off in search of Speckled Warbler and found one. Others of us chased a Mistletoebird and joined up with Janene to find a pair of Leaden Flycatchers. A beautiful Red-winged Parrot gave us all the chance of some great photographs before we reluctantly turned homeward.
We did stop at our "hot-spot" again (how could we resist?!) and Bernice and Brenda added six Budgerigars to the day's list. On the way we had several views of Emus including one with three large chicks. White-necked and White-faced Herons, Little Pied and Great Cormorants peppered various dams.
Calling the list that night in the restaurant was chaotic! All the excitement was relived, everyone talking at once to themselves, to each other and occasionally to me! At one stage all the other patrons stopped talking and eating and turned to us wondering what just what was going on! You can't keep good birders down I say! Order was returned and we trooped off to bed very happy after a magnificent day.
The Pilliga was always going to be a more challenging day. Drier and scrubbier than the Warrumbungles it nevertheless has its moments. Our pre-breakfast stroll set us up for the day. High in a very tall eucalypt we spotted a White-faced Heron's nest. Three large, but still very downy chicks stared at us. Musk Lorikeets streamed by and two young Blue-faced Honeyeater chicks called for breakfast from a garden bush and then we were off.
As we turned in to the Wittenbra State Forest a lone Ringneck Parrot appeared briefly. Along the dusty roads Weebills, Yellow-faced, Brown-headed and the odd White-eared Honeyeater kept us company. Rufous Whistlers ruled the forest. At Oddles Crossing we explored the dry creek to discover Western Gerygone, Bar-shouldered Dove, Brown Treecreeper, Jacky Winter among the now usual suspects. At Wittenbri Dam a large Emu and chick finished drinking before retreating back in to the scrub. We in turn retreated to Barradine for lunch under the shade of a playground tree. Here we spotted Red Wattlebird and our first Yellow-throated Miner, a nice change from the regular Noisy Miners we had been seeing.
Salt Caves Tower, centre of the Pilliga
Suitably fuelled we returned to the Scrub. It was very hot, now moving to the high 30C's. We did enjoy some great views of species we had already seen but nothing new. What was notable was the number of Common Bronzewings along the dusty roads. All of us remarked that we had never seen so many before. We also got a wonderful view of a smart looking Sand Monitor. And on the road back to Coonabarrabran more Emus and more chicks!
Our last day dawned, cloudy and dull, with a serious chance of rain. Not to be deterred Janene had chosen a "back route" and a good choice it was too. At Binnaway we picked up our first Australian Pipit (where had they been?) and a stunning, prolonged view of another Horsfield's Bushlark (more great photos!). We watched with great amusement as three young kids on bikes did their best to outmanoeuvre an attacking Magpie. Big cheers all round as we passed them, big grins in return!
"STOP!" and a screeching halt gave us excellent views of a Pallid Cuckoo, as curious about us as we were about it. A shower storm freshened the heavy atmosphere and at Neilrex we tumbled out for a stretch. Two Ringnecks, and a couple of King Parrots brightened a dark sky. A stroll down the road uncovered a busy mob of Grey-crowned Babblers and wonderful views of a Channel-billed Cuckoo. Then it poured! Once it stopped raining it seemed every bird in the neighbourhood was having a bath in the roadside puddles.
At Dunnedoo we enjoyed the metals sculptures of local birds and the well-kept toilets which played music while you - no more details please. From Dunnedoo we found the last of the Yellow-throated Miners and our first Brown Falcon. It flew off its nest and immediately attracted the attention of the local Magpies. We saw several others along with a steady stream of Kestrels.
At Putta Bucca Wetlands in Mudgee we picked up Australian Reed Warbler, Goldfinch, Purple Swamphen, Pink-eared Duck, Australian Shoveller, Black-fronted Dotterel with two long-legged fluffy chicks, Black-winged Stilt, Rainbow Bee-eater and another bunch of White-plumed Honeyeaters. At Lake Windemere we spotted our only Silver Gull (loud cheer all round!) and at the Lithgow Poo Ponds a sleepy Freckled Duck. As we crossed the Blue Mountains we listened to the tinkling of Bell Miners and our final bird was a beautiful male Satin Bowerbird.
What a great four days. 142 species seen and heard plus a lot of fun, bad puns and truly memorable birding. Thank you to Janene for looking after us and to Bernice, Anne, Brenda and Judy for being such great company.
By Bob Ashford birding for FTB