The Blue Green and Gold of
Coffs Harbour Trip Report
Eleven eager birders, mostly from Canberra ACT, travelled to the mid-north Coast to escape the winter cold of Canberra and to experience the blue, green, gold and warmth of the Coffs Harbour Coast. Alas, that was the plan however our visit co-incided with a rain depression that moved down the SE Queensland Coast into northern NSW bringing with it flooding rains to the North and Mid-north Coast and to the NSW Northern Tablelands and North-west Slopes.Our blue, green and gold turned to grey for the first part of the trip although the last half was sunny and the colour and warmth did return. The heavy rain prevented us from reaching a number of target locations, particularly some of the rainforest sites so that our plans had to be changed and different birding sites found. Quite a number of morning tea and lunch spots found us huddling in shelters to escape the rain but we had good birding never the less. We were heartened by the fact that the rain which just about went over all NSW will bring better conditions to inland NSW and so enhance our birding trips there later in the year!
Fine Weather at Coffs
Our first stop was the infamous Belango SF where we had great views of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, Crimson Rosellas & nesting Swans; lunch at Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury River brought us in touch with the coastal bird communities of Rainbow Lorikeets and Eastern Rosellas; while there were plenty of Straw-necked Ibis and , Kestrels and Brown Falcons to see from the coach windows. Our first early morning walk was at Fern Bay near Stockton and then onto Stockton sandspit where we were found busily identifying Caspian versus Crested Terns, Little versus Great Egrets, Sea Eagles & Whistling Kites, and Brown versus Yellow Thornbills. Visits to Old Bar and Kew were marred with rain, but at Old Bar there were plenty of Australasian Gannets at sea to see and White-cheeked & Brown Honeyeaters and Scaly-breasted Lorikeets in the flowering Coast Banksias while at Kew, Scarlet & Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, Noisy Friarbirds & Striated Thornbills were in the flowering Swamp Mahoganies.There was much excitement when a stop at Hacks Ferry near Telegraph Point produced a pair of Black-necked Storks, which were close to us and then eventually took off, flying over us! Our last stop for the day was at Boyters Lane, Jerseyville near South West Rocks, where on some freshwater wetlands we had great views of 2 Brahminy Kites, Intermediate Egrets, Royal Spoonbill & Black-winged Stilts, plenty of ducks & Black-shouldered Kites, all seen with a background noise of calling Torresian Crows. Afternoon tea on the beach at South West Rocks when watching the wild seas, gave us a view of 2+ Great Skuas.
Bongil Bongil Picnic
The heaviest falls of rain was that evening and all of the next day (Thursday) in and around Coffs Harbour but we pressed on and used the coach as our bird hide. From it we had great views of Brown Quail, Buff-banded Rail & Gannets and Darters, plus a Jacana on Lake Smith! The rain commenced to clear on Thursday afternoon, and so we left the coach and walked out to the South Breakwater to find Double-barred Finches, Red-whiskered Bul Buls, Pipit and other bush and waterbirds. Around the newly flooded Coffs Airport, racecourse and swamp, there were 1000’s of Silver Gulls, White & Straw-necked Ibis, and many Black Ducks, Wood Ducks, White-faced Herons etc feeding in the shallow water!There was much noise in the nearby heathlands where Whipbirds, White-cheeked & Brown Honeyeaters and Golden Whistlers had something to call about. Our finally stop for the day was at the Botanic Gardens where we again we had close encounters with Buff-banded Rails, while Satin Bowerbirds & Figbirds were added to our list.
Friday dawned sunny, so our early morning walk was taken along Park Beach and back though the coastal dune vegetation. Our highlights here were Eastern Reef Egret, Sacred Kingfisher & Grey Fantail. In the littoral rainforest at Boambee Point we had great views of a pair of Varied Triller and Little Shrike-thrush, Drongo and another Sacred Kingfisher and a few Fairy Martins. At nearby Dolmans Point, Sawtell, the forest Redgum was in flower and in addition to the usual Lorikeets and Honeyeaters we managed to find Yellow Robin, Fantailed Cuckoo, Striated Pardalote, and more Drongos and Scarlet Honeyeaters. The highlights at Bongil Bongil NR were the Azure Kingfishers, Brown Gerygones & Shining Bronze-cuckoo along the Creek and another Little Shrike-thrush, and at Bellingen rainforest sites we managed to catch up with Bar-shouldered Dove, White-headed Pigeon and Brown Cuckoo-Dove and again great and close views of Brown Quail. Our final stops for the day were the Ospreys nesting on the rail bridge at Urunga, followed by a walk out along the board walk, across the estuary, from Urunga Caravan Park to Hungry Head. From here we saw Pied Oystercatchers, Red-capped & Double-banded Plovers and Pacific Golden Plovers, one of which was in breeding plumage. 6 Glossy Black Cockatoos flew over us as we walked out over the estuary!
On our early morning walk in bushland near Park Beach the following morning we managed to locate a Satin Bowerbird at his bower! Soon we were returning south again, our first stop this time at Scots Head, and found Sooty Oystercatchers on the rocks, and a calling White-throated Gerygone in the Park where we had morning tea and more Varied Trillers, Scarlet Honeyeaters and Scaly-breasted Lorikeets in the coastal banksia scrubs. Travelling along on the Pacific Highway on the Macleay River flood plain enabled us to see plenty of waterbirds in the newly filled wetlands, Great, Cattle & Intermediate Egrets and White-necked Herons were some of the highlights but another pair of Black-necked Storks close to the road at Clybucca was something to really stop the coach for!!
Our last early morning walk was across the Swansea Channel bridge from our Motel at Blacksmiths to our breakfast at Cozzi’s Cafe in Swansea Shopping Centre. What a pleasant walk! No new birds but plenty of Darters and all four Cormorant species to check out, with White-cheeked Honeyeaters and Silvereyes calling and feeding in the mangroves and banksias. What a great breakfast to charge us for the walk back! We spent the following few hours at Galgabra Reserve, South Swansea. This is a know site for Regent Honeyeaters and Swift Parrots when the Swamp Mahogany is flowering. Alas the flowering was almost over but those two target species this year have preferred to follow the flowering of the Spotted Gum around Cessnock this year, but there were plenty of other birds to find here. Additional birds were Mistletoebird, Bellminer, White-naped Honeyeater and Variegated Fairy-wren but the place was jumping and a pair of Sea Eagles kept calling regularly throughout our visit. The final morning tea was at Terilbah Park, North Entrance where a pair of Common Greenshanks was an addition to our list of 139 species.
Corrorants by Neil Fifer
Every person on the trip had some great birding experiences, some seeing new species others catching up with some birds that they had not seen for many years. We visited some lovely coastal locations and despite the rain at the beginning of the trip were able to enjoy visiting some lovely coastal spots. Chris Willis did a great job driving in often very trying wet conditions and Janene displayed great organising skills to keep ahead of the challenges that the flooding rains brought to us!
North of Sawtell
Alan Morris, Guide for FTB