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Capertee Valley, Dunns Swamp & Mudgee Trip Report

Capertee Valley
The 8 birders on board were pleased to leave the traffic jams of Sydney behind and spend four days exploring a beautiful part of the NSW central tablelands. First stop was Wilson Park in the Blue Mountains, where Carol joined the bus and a Red Wattlebird sat in a tree beside the morning tea shelter. During a brief look around the start of Darwin’s Walk the bushes were alive with a mixed flock of small birds including Brown and Striated Thornbills, Eastern Spinebill and New Holland Honeyeaters feeding at the pink toothbrush flowers of Grevillea acanthifolia. Churring and whirring sounds from the teatrees revealed three Satin Bowerbirds, one a glossy blue-black male.

Driving west beyond the Blue Mountains through verdant green countryside, we arrived at our next stop in the legendary Capertee Valley. Welcoming us on the fence at the front of Carol’s block were Zebra Finches and an Australasian Pipit.

Up at the cabin, Welcome Swallows were nesting under the verandah with very small chicks in the nest. Nearby, a Red-browed Finch roost nest in the grapevine while in the Kurrajong tree was the neat little cup-shaped nest of a Jacky Winter. As we watched, the male gave food to the female who then fed one very keen tiny chick. The female then settled down to brood. (Later visits revealed the nest contained two chicks.)

Hands On Rock Paintings
We enjoyed lunch beside the dam in the company of Brown Treecreepers, Dusky Woodswallows, Noisy Friarbirds and an Olive-backed Oriole. Little Lorikeets zipped over and three Restless Flycatchers chased each other right above our heads.

After lunch some of the group walked up the fire trail to the top dam, along the way seeing the rare mint-bush Prostanthera cryptandroides with its sticky foliage and strong scent. It was worth getting down on hands and knees to smell the delicious aroma of a Chocolate Lily (Dichopogon fimbriatus). The day had become warm by the time we reached the top dam and we settled into chairs overlooking the water ready for some armchair birding. We didn’t have to wait long and were soon watching many honeyeaters – Fuscous, White-plumed, Yellow-tufted, White-naped – lining up to drink, and Diamond Firetails and Double-barred Finches bathing, the latter enjoying getting thoroughly soaked!

Down in the front paddock, a Brown Falcon was being assailed by a feisty Willie Wagtail. We left the property and continued through the valley, stopping again near Port Macquarie Road where a Crested Shrike-tit was seen and Striped Honeyeater heard further away. A group of Little Ravens flew up from the roadside near Mt Marsden.

We arrived at Rylstone at 5.15pm to search the Cudgegong River for a unique monotreme, and it was no time before the unmistakable form of a Platypus surfaced, and re-surfaced, until most of the group saw it swimming around. Also here was an Australasian Grebe, a Little Black Cormorant (not drying its wings but digesting its meal) and an Azure Kingfisher.

In the evening as we walked to dinner, we noticed a very large ring around the moon which John said was a predictor of rain. This proved prophetic.

By next morning the rain had started moving in, but held off long enough for our walk around the golf course during which we heard a Channel-billed Cuckoo and Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, and had excellent views of White-winged Chough, Yellow-rumped Thornbills and an inquisitive Grey Fantail. A pair of Musk Lorikeets flew over just as we arrived back for breakfast.

The Mugga Ironbarks (Eucalyptus sideroxylon) in the main street of Kandos were sporting pink flowers favoured by nectar feeding species but the only bird visiting this morning was a Red Wattlebird. It turned out that driving along the main street had its own unforeseen hazard as Janene nearly had to be rescued from the temptation of the hat shop!

Goulbourne River NP
Back in the Capertee Valley, the rain shadow effect allowed us an enjoyable stroll at Bogee amid a fantastic display of wildflowers. These included Twining Fringe Lily (Thysanotus patersonii), Milkmaids (Burchardia umbellata), Daphne Heath (Brachyloma daphnoides), Yellow Burr Daisy (Calotis lappulacea), an impressive flowering Lomandra (probably a broad-leafed form of L. multiflora), sundews, Dianella, Brachycome, Goodenia, masses of yellow/orange pea flowers (fam. Fabaceae) and at least 4 species of orchid including a sea of yellow Diuris. This amply compensated for the lack of birds, though we did find a Willie Wagtail nest with one egg and looked at an old Buff-rumped Thornbill nest tucked ingeniously behind a bend of thick ironbark.

Along the roadsides it seemed that every Australian Magpie family had a juvenile just out of the nest, and at this time they’re particularly prone to misadventure, especially when their feathers are soaked with rain. We rescued one after it had a narrow escape with another car. Also on the road were numerous Snake-necked Turtles moving between waterholes. After morning tea in the Kandos Rotunda we had great views of a Wedge-tailed Eagle soaring over the pagoda rock formations on the way to Dunns Swamp.

At Dunns Swamp, the bush was adorned with many blue Patersonia (Wild Iris), spectacular Calytrix, and aromatic Boronia. We watched a male Musk Duck, first revealed by his high-pitched call; female and immature were also present. A pair of Sacred Kingfishers flew back and forth, and everyone had stunning views of a White-throated Gerygone singing his heart out – this was deemed “bird of the day” for both its looks and its voice. Just before lunch, a pair of Gang-gang Cockatoos flew in, perched in front of us for a few moments, then flew off over the water.

We arrived at Ferntree Gully in the rain and a few hardy souls ventured down the track into the gully, where there were beautiful moss-covered rocks under dripping overhangs, tall tree ferns and Wonga vines. Eastern Spinebill calls echoed through the gorge, but most of the birds were at the top – Grey Fantail, White-browed Scrubwren, Brown Gerygone and Buff-rumped Thornbill.

At the motel in Mudgee we woke to a dawn chorus of Blackbirds. Only three people rose early for the pre-breakfast walk, where in the icy wind which had brought snow to many parts of the tablelands we did manage to see some birds. The best of these was a White-plumed Honeyeater looking remarkably unruffled.

Dusky Woodswallow by Nevil Lazurus
After breakfast, from the comfort of the bus we admired a Red-rumped Parrot along the roadside – what a beautiful sight. Getting out to walk in a TSR north of Mudgee seemed like a good idea until the sago snow, then sleet, moved in and we struggled to stay upright in the bitterly cold wind!

So it was back in the bus bound for a more sheltered location: Hands on Rocks. A delightful place with Leaden Flycatchers seen at the picnic area, White-throated Gerygones singing, and a Striated Pardalote seen by Diana. Up in the sheltered sandy cave is a Wiradjuri rock art site with many hand stencils, and a good place to reflect on the wisdom of the original inhabitants.

Here we also heard (and saw) Rufous Whistlers duelling vocally and briefly heard a Superb Lyrebird. Sometimes it’s the person who hangs back and sits quietly who sees the best things. While waiting patiently below the cliff, Bernice was visited by 4 Rockwarblers, one of which was later seen by the rest of the group. Dawson’s Drumsticks (Isopogon dawsonii) was a botanical highlight amongst the tall Callitris.

An attractive moth was seen on the track, so colourful it was first thought to be a butterfly. This was later identified as Eutrichopidia latinus (fam. Noctuidae). See:

We continued on to the Goulburn River National Park and on the southern fringes of the park saw two wild Emus. (We had earlier seen 3 youngish Emus in the Orica land near Ulan and after some discussion, decided these were also likely to be wild birds.)

Large mobs of Eastern Grey Kangaroos were seen along the road to Spring Gully. During lunch, Fairy Martins swooped around low, probably nesting in the riverside cliffs. Unfortunately Noisy Miners were the dominant species here and other birds were scarce.

An unscheduled stop between Wollar and Munghorn Gap proved especially productive, with three Hooded Robins – male female and streaky immature – a Rufous Songlark singing, and a Sacred Kingfisher being harassed by a Jacky Winter. White Cedar Road provided a change in habitat with a short walk through a wet-forest gully giving us great views of a male Golden Whistler and Red-browed Treecreepers.

Azure Kingfisher by Neil Fifer
After another convivial dinner at the motel restaurant, the final morning dawned bright and sunny. We drove into the hills on a road lined with White Box (Eucalyptus albens).

First stop was the tiny hamlet of Grattai where a Wedge-tailed Eagle soared over a nearby hill, being mobbed by a Pied Currawong. We scoped a pair of Eastern Rosellas, one being chased by a Sacred Kingfisher, Dusky Woodswallows, and a Rufous Songlark in its song flight. At a nearby creek crossing, a Noisy Friarbird was collecting stringybark for its nest, which was still in its earliest stage: a few strands of bark draped around a small branch in a Casuarina.

During morning tea at Windeyer (pronounced “windier”), we watched yet more nesting activity – a pair of Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes building in a large pine tree, as an orchestra of froglets called in the boggy grassland. It was a source of great mirth when Carol was outsmarted by a froglet!

South of Pyramul and a brilliant male Australian King-Parrot, we turned onto Aaron’s Pass Road where an unexpected find was 4 Banded Lapwings in a paddock full of sheep. Definitely the bird of the day!

Another interesting though sobering sight was a fox determinedly carrying a freshly killed lamb. Later, a male Scarlet Robin was seen from the bus, followed by a fly-by of two Wedge-tailed Eagles.

The final birding sessions of the trip were around Ilford. At the cemetery, the alarm calls of Noisy Miners signalled a Brown Goshawk, we saw a Pied Currawong carrying a squawking nestling, probably a Common Starling, and a male Striated Pardalote was displaying, wings outstretched, to a female at the top of a tall tree. Buff-rumped Thornbill, Tree Martin, Brown-headed Honeyeater and Pallid Cuckoo were other species seen in the area.

Spring is always a wonderful time to be out birding but on this tour we got to experience all four seasons in four days (and some great birding to boot). We recorded 116 bird species.

By Carol Probets Ornithologist for FTB

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