Our group of seventeen gathered at Killara and headed north for a four-day birding adventure at the World Heritage listed Barrington Tops area. First stop was the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens where a flock of more than 50 White-throated Needletails zoomed high overhead. These birds often feed on insects swept high by air-columns preceding thunderstorms – an ominous warning. We also saw a Whipbird making an unusual plonking call, a Grey Fantail (the first of many) plus lots of Red-browed Finches and a tree with six of their nests. At morning tea we licked chocolate birthday cake off our fingers while two F16 fighter planes roared overhead as part of Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Just outside Gloucester, our base for all three nights, we pulled over to watch two Wedge-tailed Eagles harass a flock of Straw-necked Ibis. The ibis flew around in panicky circles with the eagles lazily soaring above. Eventually they parted company but in the meantime we saw and heard a Dollarbird and two adult Pied Butcherbirds flew across the road.
Lunch in the park proved profitable with nests found for Red Wattlebird, Figbird and Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike. The afternoon was spent in rainforest at Copeland where a female Rose Robin was seen by some and a Black-faced Monarch gave brief views to others. We were surprised by a beautifully camouflaged Southern Angle-headed Dragon beside the track and everyone had great views of a Lewin’s Honeyeater eating native raspberries. On the way back for dinner, we dropped by the Gloucester cemetery for excellent views of Grey-crowned Babblers.
The storm hit during the night leaving us with a fine and sunny morning. A walk before breakfast produced a pair of White-winged Trillers, a male Rufous Whistler singing for all his worth and an Eastern Yellow Robin calling out close to the motel. The journey today took us to three sections of the Gloucester Tops National Park, the first one being Sharpe’s Creek. Driving through rolling grazing country to reach this spot was interesting with many Crimson Rosellas, a Jacky Winter, beautiful King-Parrots, a flock of Yellow-rumped Thornbills and quite a few large water dragons. A stroll along the track at Sharpe’s Creek gave us tantalising bird calls and a baby python but it was all happening in the picnic/camping area with excellent views of Black-faced Monarch, a male Rose Robin, a male Leaden Flycatcher and a Brown Goshawk cruising in circles above us.
Fallen Timber in the Alpine Sun
A long, winding and narrow dirt road took us to the second area at the end of Keripit Road. Here we walked up to the Antarctic Beech forest looking for Olive Whistlers. The bird was there and calling constantly but it was well hidden. We waited and waited but it didn’t show any sign of moving in our direction so a bit of “pishing” was used to try to get a response. The White-browed Scrubwrens were very interested and came close to us but the Olive Whistler kept its distance with only a few of us getting views. Back at the bus we were amazed to see a male Scarlet Robin having a tussle with a vocal male Flame Robin. The birds had been “wrestling” on the ground and then pursued each other from tree to tree. They stayed in the area for a long time giving everyone the chance to compare their markings.
Thirdly we visited Gloucester Falls and saw male and female Golden Whistlers singing strongly, Striated Thornbills picking off little insects and a Pied Currawong glaring down at our food. On the way back we saw a pair of Wonga Pigeons waddling about on the road and flushed a pair of Brown Cuckoo-Doves.
Day three also dawned bright and sunny and the morning walk produced a male Scarlet Honeyeater, a young Brown Goshawk in the trees beside the river and Striated Pardalotes apparently with a nest in the timbers of the road bridge. Today we climbed to 1500 metres above sea level at Barrington Tops with our first stop being the Antarctic Beech forest at Honeysuckle picnic area. We discovered a dead Lyrebird which must have died only within the last day and then heard and saw his living relative not far away. We crept closer and glimpsed him practising his dancing with his quivering tail feathers arched over his head. A Crescent Honeyeater called loudly a few times while we arched our necks up at a pair of Large-billed Scrubwrens looking like miniature treecreepers climbing up tree trunks in pursuit of insects.
As we walked along Thunderbolts Way the wind was blowing very strongly making it difficult to see and hear birds so we turned our attention to small orchids beside the track. Dark clouds moved in threatening to ruin our day but fortunately they blew away and we returned to blue sky. Lunch at Devil’s Hole picnic area was challenging with items being blown off the table. Our final stop was Polblue Swamp where we came across Crested Shrike-tits and were lucky to see Tree Martins enter and leave their nesting holes.
Charlotte in Fine Form
Just before dinner we visited wetlands to the east of Gloucester hoping to see crakes. We dipped on the crakes but did see the very personable Willie Wagtail, some Pelicans swimming about, a Purple Swamphen struggling in flight with his legs dangling and a Kookaburra repeatedly visiting a nesting hollow in a large eucalypt. As we parked the bus at the motel we had very close views of a White-headed Pigeon (a new bird for some) which moments later fatally crashed into the motel’s restaurant window. Was it the strong wind or did the window’s reflection confuse the bird? We’ll never know.
Our final day also dawned clear and bright and thankfully the strong winds had gone. We set off early to Woko National Park to visit the dry rainforest beside the Manning River and here, at last, we saw the Yellow-throated Scrubwren, a bird we should have seen a number of times over the previous few days. The walk also produced a real surprise in the shape of a Spectacled Monarch, similar in colouration to the Black-faced Monarch which was also present. An Azure Kingfisher beside the river was another gem of a bird. On our way back to Sydney we lunched at Mountain Park at Bulladelah were we saw a Sacred Kingfisher, Rufous Whistler and a male Satin Bowerbird.
In all we saw about 120 species, mostly bush birds including some habitat-specialists.