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Autumn Birding in Canberra Tour Report
Australian King Parrot by Anne Brophy
“Autumn can be a challenging time for birding. Nesting is over, singing somewhat redundant and birds just busy quietly searching out food” someone said. At least that was the gist of the conversation in the bus as we headed to the hills. Five of us, Janene, Anne, Mary, Bernice and I, mulled these thoughts over as we travelled and discussed other autumn and winter trips we had known.

Janene reminisced about a winter trip to Yunan on the north side of the Himalayan ranges and told us it was all worthwhile just to see the Parmesans! Struggling to picture a bird that looked like a cheese we eventually discovered that what Janene meant was the Ptarmigans! And that set the tone for a wonderful four days – lots of fun, excellent company and surprisingly good birding.

Our first stop was in the small community of Bungonia. The trees were packed with Silvereyes, all the buff-sided Tasmania race, joined by regular groups of Yellow-faced Honeyeaters. The autumn migration was in full flight. Crimson and Eastern Rosellas, White-plumed Honeyeaters, Grey Shrike-thrushes, Grey Fantails (lots of!), Spotted Pardalotes and Superb Fairy Wrens quickly filled out the list. On our way in to the National Park we passed a flock of White-winged Choughs and a small dam hosting an Australasian Grebe, Grey Teal, Black Duck, White-faced Heron and a small flock of Welcome Swallows. So far birding was going well.

Eastern Rosella by Anne Brophy
Lunch was taken at the Lookdown, which provided dramatic views of the gorges and the twisting Shoalhaven River. A Fan-tailed Cuckoo and several Lyrebirds were calling, an inquisitive White-eared Honeyeater popped by and the ever present Grey Fantails followed us everywhere.

A casual stroll after lunch produced stunning views of both Spotted and Striated Pardalote, Brown, Striated, Yellow-rumped and Buff-rumped Thornbills, Lyrebird, Rufous and Golden Whistler, a group of acrobatic Sittellas, Scarlet Robin and splendid views of a Shining Bronze Cuckoo. We didn’t want to leave.

On the road between Bungonia and Canberra we clocked up Wedge-tailed Eagle, Grey Butcherbird, Australian and Little Ravens, Brown Falcon, Wood Duck, Swamphen, Coot, Willie Wagtail, Little Corellas, Galahs and Red-rumped Parrot. It was a spectacularly clear blue sky and as we drove in to Canberra the Brindabellas gleamed with snow.

The next morning three of us took a short walk on the lower slopes of Mount Ainslie accompanied by a mob of Eastern Grey Kangaroos. Toward the horizon Canberra’s famous hot-air balloons were rising into a perfect sky while King and Red-rumped Parrots, Galahs, Crimson and Eastern Rosellas, Red Wattlebirds, Noisy Miners, Crested Pigeons and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos filled the foreground; a beautiful start to the day. Except perhaps for Bernice who decided to potter around on her own and got lost. She did, however, find “a nice young man” who took her back to the motel, prompting her to remark “the tour was going very well so far”. The rest of us tucked in to a huge breakfast.

Our first stop of the day was Campbell Park, further round Mt Ainslie. At first the dry open woodland did not look at all promising with just a few Noisy Miners and Pied Currawongs feigning disinterest in us. A short flurry of excitement as a Common Bronzewing took off then quiet again. Suddenly the Miners, Currawongs and Red Wattlebirds created a cacophony of noise and looking round we saw a male Peregrine Falcon skimming the tree tops. Then quiet again. Maybe autumn is a quiet time.
Meadow Argus by Anne Brophy
Not too far away hints of activity were heard. The tinkling call of Scarlet Robin enticed us further and we found ourselves surrounded by an ever moving flock of busy birds. A pair of Scarlet Robins flitted from branch to ground and back and several Speckled Warblers, burnished by the sun’s rays, hopped among the grass and bark providing some truly wonderful views. Yellow-rumped and Buff-rumped Thornbills bounced around the branches. Pardalotes, Sitellas, White-throated Treecreepers, Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, Weebills and many more Scarlet Robins filled the upper branches. Tinkles and trills filled the air. We were in the middle of a major “wave” of birds moving through the woodland, a very exciting experience.

As we returned to the car park a mob of Eastern Grey Kangaroos rested casually unconcerned by our presence. Four Australian Magpies were hassling a pair of White-winged Choughs rolling one over and over until his mate came to the rescue and they fled.

The next stop was a complete change, Jerrabomberra Wetlands, where the highlights were a half dozen Australian Shoveller and a Pink-eared Duck. A Blackbird called, Goldfinches tinkled, Silver Gulls gave a fly-past and a Black-shouldered Kite hovered and we were off for a lakeside lunch at Bowen Park.

Starlings, Black Swans and Little Corellas were keen to help out should we not be able to eat all the excellent food Janene had prepared but they had little luck with us hungry birders. They took no offence and wandered off to offer their services to other picnickers.

Post lunch we approached the Wetlands from the west and enjoyed watching a circling Darter only to discover above it was a circling Brown Goshawk. In the water Grey Teal, Little Pied and Black Cormorants, Moorhen and Coot, and a White-faced Heron languished. It was hot now and the pace was slow. In the reeds Red-browed Finches and Silvereyes flitted and several groups of Fairy Wrens in non-breeding plumage kept us on our toes as we tried to identify them. Eventually the call was Superb. As we joined the bus a Whistling Kite flew by, the sun highlighting the golds, bronzes, tans and creams in its plumage – a very striking bird.

Red Wattle Bird by Anne Brophy
Our last stop was at the new Arboretum. This huge project is slowly covering the hills that were devastated in fires that caused so much damage in 2001 and 2003. Beautiful as it is now it will be stunning in the years to come and Canberra is to be congratulated on its vision for the future. The best bird there? – a magnificent iron sculpture of a Wedge-tailed Eagle at its nest on Dairy Farmers Hill.

We woke to a cracker of a day and the early morning walkers even notched up a House Sparrow. We were wondering where they were! Bernice did not get lost and found a Spotted Dove. Then we hit the road heading to the hills.

As we climbed through the foothills around Stromlo we saw Black-faced Cuckoo Shrikes, Eastern and Common Rosellas, many Galahs and stopped for a particularly co-operative Common Bronzewing. At Uriarra Station lake we spied a lone Cattle Egret, an unusual visitor at this time of the year. On the water were Hardhead, Shoveller, Australian Grebe and a very busy group of 30+ Hoary-headed Grebe. Several Masked Lapwings cautioned us about intruding too close but the Yellow-rumped Thornbills were much more accommodating.

We climbed higher through Namadgi National Park to the Bulls Head Picnic spot. It was a lot cooler up there and the hot coffee was much appreciated. Though it is true that with a coffee in one hand and a slice of Janene’s lemon and yoghurt cake in the other it is hard to watch birds! That changed very quickly when Mary called “Flame Robin” – and there it was, a very sharp looking male. Mary, a quiet achiever, described this as her “come-back” bird, her first “I spotted it first” bird of the trip and her smile didn’t fade all day. We also picked up Eastern Spinebill, Yellow Robin and a beautiful Red-necked Wallaby.

We then took the winding track downhill to Bendora Dam where we were to have lunch, but not before a rather delightful walk. From the picnic spot we strolled to the Dam. On the way we spotted a group of busy Superb Fairy Wrens – and something else. Peeking out from the strips of bark on the ground was a pointy nose, black eyes and a pair of pink ears! – a Yellow-footed Antechinus. This small carnivorous marsupial is a common mouse-like beastie and only a few more steps on another popped up its head to check us out. Both seemed unconcerned about us and continued on searching for bugs and beetles providing us with some splendid views and entertainment.

Eastern Yellow Robins by Anne Brophy
At the dam we saw our first and only Great Cormorant and heard many invisible White-eared Honeyeaters. Yellow-faced HE’s were coming through in abundance, more signs of the autumn migration underway. In the lower bushes White-browed Scrubwrens, Striated Thornbills, Spotted Pardalotes and Golden Whistlers provided some crippling views. At lunch several Yellow Robins squabbled over a particularly good bathing spot under a dripping tap and on the way out a beautiful male Spotted Quail-thrush obliged to give us all some of the best views of this species ever.

We rounded off the day at the Newline Quarry near Queanbeyan. We arrived at the perfect time just as the sun was low over our shoulders picking out the trees in a golden glow. A Brown Goshawk was chased off by several Magpies. Several Southern Whitefaces flitted among the taller grasses. Dusky Woodswallows swooped and glided through clouds of insects joined by Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes and three Olive-backed Orioles. White-plumed and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters fussed among the branches and leaves. An unusual honeyeater was spotted, difficult to identify as it busied itself among the leaves. Then Anne called “Fuscous” and even managed to get a good photo. Indeed it was, a juvenile. Not a bad ending to a very fruitful day of birding.

Our final day and Janene spotted three Gang-gang Cockatoos in the motel car park! We headed off early to Goorooyarroo and Mulligans Flat north of Canberra where we encountered several waves of small birds passing through. Mostly Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, both Striated and Spotted Pardalotes, Buff-rumped and Brown Thornbills with a smattering of Weebills, but the highlight was a sizeable flock (20+) of chattering Brown-headed Honeyeaters, several of which paused long enough to allow some excellent views. All vanished very quickly as a Little Eagle drifted by.

On the back road out to the freeway we spotted another Brown Falcon and a pair of very regal-looking White-necked Herons and at lunch in Gundaroo 60+ Galahs entertained us, Red-rumped Parrots tinkled to us and Anne spotted our only YellowThornbill. Once we hit the freeway Janene shrieked out “raptor – just like a swift” – almost certainly an Australian Hobby. It was a good job I came along to help really. 93 species, fabulous weather, and great company -thank you Janene, Bernice, Mary and Anne for making it so enjoyable and keeping me on my toes.

Bob Ashford birding for FTB

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Photos of Variegated Fairy-wren and Little Tern courtesy of Neil Fifer