Kanangra Walls Jenolan Caves
& the Sooty Owl Trip Report
The good birding had already begun before I joined the bus, with a large flock of low-flying White-throated Needletails noted across western Sydney. I joined 6 eager birders on the bus at Wentworth Falls and we headed straight to Evans Lookout for our first stop.
Flame Robin by Carol Probets
Before we reached the lookout, Janene screeched to a halt saying she’d heard Gang-gang Cockatoos. Sure enough, in the treetops we found at least 6, mostly young males in various stages of red-headedness. As it turned out, this was the first of several sightings of the charismatic cockatoos over the next two days.
Dancing Swordgrass Brown butterflies greeted us at the lookout carpark but our main target here was the cheeky Rockwarbler. In no time one appeared, happily foraging between and under the parked cars. In true Rockwarbler style it almost hopped onto Bernice’s shoe and sauntered between Hilary’s feet while cameras clicked.
A flock of Noisy Friarbirds flew over, heralding the coming autumn migration. Brown Thornbills and Eastern Spinebills gave us good views and we examined the flowers and seed capsules of the abundant Mountain Devils, Lambertia formosa, the Grose Valley providing a magnificent backdrop.
Meanwhile, Janene had been watching a Rockwarbler venture inside the bus, calmly and methodically working its way to the front before leaving through the driver’s door.
Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby by Anne Brophy
A scenic detour through the Kanimbla Valley on the way to Jenolan provided the opportunity for different habitats and some woodland birds. Notable was a Diamond Firetail carrying a long piece of grass, apparently building a nest. Five Australasian Pipits and five Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos were seen well near the Coxs River. Further along, on a quiet bend of the river, the birding action increased with Sacred Kingfisher, Peaceful Dove, White-plumed Honeyeater, Dollarbird, Leaden Flycatcher, numerous Dusky Woodswallows, another Diamond Firetail, a Rufous Songlark heard and a Brown Falcon posing beautifully. Eastern Rosella and Nankeen Kestrel completed the Kanimbla list as dark clouds gathered on the horizon, adding drama to the scenery. Fortunately for us they didn’t bring rain.
Lunch was enjoyed amongst a mob of over-friendly Eastern Grey Kangaroos and less confiding Red-necked Wallabies. Nearby, more Gang-gangs, Crimson Rosellas, a party of Brown-headed Honeyeaters, Grey Fantail, White-browed Scrubwren, Striated Thornbills and a female Flame Robin foraged together while a distant Superb Lyrebird could be heard calling.
Binoomea Ridge is one of the loveliest and most interesting sections of the Six Foot Track and was our afternoon walk. We soon saw a family of Red-browed Treecreepers searching for insects under the peeling bark with White-throated nearby on the rough-barked eucalypts. Even more exciting was a pair of Spotted Quail-thrush which gave us excellent, extended views as they wandered amongst the fallen branches and leaf litter. This was a first for many in the group and a good contender for bird of the trip.
Along the track we started noticing striking reddish greenhood orchids in large numbers – these were the Scarlet Greenhood, Pterostylis coccina. A pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles soared just above the trees, calling. White flowering Blackthorn, Bursaria spinosa, created a picture as it framed the view on the final descent to Caves House; a few Soldier Beetles were enjoying the flowers too. Four Cunningham’s Skinks posed nicely for photos among the rocks near Carlotta Arch.
Spotted Quail-thrush by Anne Brophy
The mysterious ambience of Jenolan Caves was ours to savour until the morning. Leaden Flycatchers, Superb Fairy-wrens and a calling Wonga Pigeon were just outside our windows. After a sumptuous dinner, we ventured out in search of the Sooty Owls which have been resident for over 30,000 years. A Brushtail Possum and a Sugar Glider were seen in the spotlight but, notwithstanding some enigmatic flying shapes, the Sooty Owl eluded us on this occasion. But arguably an even better sighting was the group of Brush-tailed Rock-Wallabies seen at close quarters. Their agility while moving about the steep rocks was breathtaking. As we returned to our rooms a distant Powerful Owl was heard calling.
Next morning our walk began before dawn, a perfect time to see the Platypus in Blue Lake. And we saw not only one, but two – floating on the surface for lengthy spells. A male Golden Whistler was a visual treat, and the rock-wallabies were seen again.
After breakfast, the bus wound its way up the hill onto the Kanangra-Boyd plateau. Along the road White-winged Choughs were seen briefly and a male Flame Robin caused an impromptu birding stop. This sadly declining species has now disappeared from most parts of the Blue Mountains so it was heartening to watch this male feed a juvenile.
Kanangra Walls were shrouded in fog when we arrived, but it soon cleared to reveal the magnificent precipitous landscape, looking across Kanangra Deep to Thurat Spires, with Mount Cloudmaker more distant. Four species of banksia were in bud, and birds here included Golden Whistler, Brown Thornbill and Lewin’s Honeyeater. Those of us who walked out along the plateau track watched a Wedge-tailed Eagle and Welcome Swallows at the morning tea spot. Returning via the Dance Floor Cave, we found a Rockwarbler and heard a pair of Pilotbirds, though the latter would not allow themselves to be seen.
Kanangra Valley By Anne Brophy
The Boyd River camping area gave us more birding action either side of lunch, with Striated Pardalote, Crested Shrike-tits feeding a juvenile, Red-browed Treecreepers chasing the shrike-tits, a party of Varied Sittellas, male and female Flame Robins, White-naped, Yellow-faced and White-eared Honeyeaters, and a flycatcher which was almost certainly a Satin. Bernice found Parsons Bands orchids (Eriochilus sp.) and we all admired an impressive variety of fungi.
Driving back through Jenolan, an Echidna completed the list of Australian monotremes (with the Platypus seen earlier).
Our final birding stop was the Blackheath Rhododendron Garden where we added Rufous Fantail, Satin Bowerbird (and its nest – as opposed to the bower – used last year) and a surprise Azure Kingfisher.
Our two days in the southern Blue Mountains had taken us into the highest parts of the region and given us some truly special and elusive bird and mammal sightings. Experiences which will be happily etched in the memory for a long time.
By Carol Probets ornithologist for FTB