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The Birding Triangle of Nyngan
Cobar Bourke Tour Report
Gundabooka NP Group Photo
It was an exciting start – at McGraw’s Hill STW there were plenty of things to see: Black-winged Stilt, Royal Spoonbill, Pelican, Purple Swamphen, Little Grassbird, Black-fronted Dotterel and a Baillon’s Crake – the latter eliciting squeals from Chris…her 600th bird! Onwards through the mountains, Kay providing weather updates: Mudgee was cold, Lithgow colder. Approaching Bell, the rain turned to sleet and our morning tea stop at the Lithgow information centre had everyone scrabbling for their thermals. There were plenty of ducks to see at the sewage treatment works (STW) including a pair of Freckled Ducks and a male Blue-billed Duck, whose beak glowed through the rain.

Onwards to Mudgee, picking up a small flock of Silver Gulls over Windemere Dam, and our lunch stop by the Cudgegong, where the temperature had increased by at least 5 degrees since morning tea. White-plumed Honeyeaters were nesting on the river banks, songlarks (Rufous and Brown) were calling from the paddocks and Rita found us a pair of Sacred Kingfishers in a nearby backyard. Between Mudgee and Dubbo we stopped for a Spotted Harrier, flying low across the road. Once we had descended from the bus, however, the bird had vanished. Finally it was picked up half a kilometre away, behind a line of trees, giving us tempting glimpses, but no more. We began to pick up a few western species: Apostlebird and Yellow-throated Miner at Trangie, then White-winged Triller, Emu and Cockatiels, spooked by a passing Black Falcon, just before Nyngan.

The following day began with a pre-breakfast walk to the Bogan River, Brown Honeyeaters calling from the flowering Bottle Brush, Blue-faced Honeyeaters flying ahead of us, and Spotted Bowerbird, White-browed and White-breasted Woodswallows (“That’s a pretty bird…what is it?” asked a local in the main street) the highlights. After breakfast, first stop was the STW for the usual ducks plus Pink-eared, Musk and (fleetingly) Australian Shoveler. A Brown Falcon was sunning itself behind the ponds and the turtles were basking on the pebbles. Out across thefloodplains, through Coolibah woodland, we heard Striated Pardalote, saw Emu and Woodswallows, Black Kites and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters. Blue Bonnets flew low over the saltbush and Chestnut-rumped Thornbills called from the Leopardwoods. A Central Bearded Dragon on the road drew non-rapturous comments from some members of the group…not as pretty as the Eastern version was the conclusion. At Box Cowal, the air was thick with birds and birdcalls: White-winged Trillers, nesting White-browed Woodswallows, Zebra Finches, Fairy Martins, Rainbow Bee-eater, Restless Flycatcher and Striped Honeyeaters. A Red-winged Parrot posed and we chased Grey-crowned Babblers to the bridge, where they hung about a Callitris, obliging us with a good look before we boarded the bus for Cobar.

Our lunch stop, at Newey Reservoir, was also very productive, with Whiskered Tern, Darter, Little Pied & Little Black Cormorants and Musk Duck some of the highlights. A Painted Honeyeater teased us relentlessly with its “see-saw” call, but nobody could catch a glimpse of it through the dense foliage. After lunch, we wandered around the reservoir to the STW, picking up Striped Honeyeater, Yellow Thornbill and Reed Warbler en route and at the ponds the usual assortment of ducks plus a bonus: a solitary Freckled Duck. Diamond Dove, Spotted Bowerbird and Cockatiel accompanied us on the walk back to the bus.

Waiting for the Footy Final by T Mason
The final afternoon stop was at South Cobar Common, in search of Hooded Robin. There were White-browed and Masked Woodswallows galore here, plus a family of Chestnut-crowned Babblers to chase, the call of the elusive Crested Bellbird and the stunning jewel-like glint of Crimson Chats. A cry of “Hooded Robin!” went up and we circled round a tree, following our prey. At last, the group got a sight of the male, as he stopped on a perch for just long enough for us to enjoy his striking plumage.

The morning walk took us north on the Kidman Way. Woodswallows were again abundant, as were Singing and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters. Bar-shouldered Dove and Rufous Songlark called (the latter finally made an appearance, perched on the caller’s chair by the racecourse), and an Australian Ringneck posed for us at the top of a pole where some water had collected. It was soon joined by a mate – a perfect photo opportunity! We saw Zebra Finches and a Spotted Bowerbird, which we followed across the road and lead us to some Babblers (Chestnut-crowned), hopping through the scrub. A Brown Treecreeper called briefly – it was to be the only treecreeper detected all trip. As we returned to the motel, Fairy Martins whizzed overhead, Little Ravens called and Apostlebirds chuckled.

After breakfast, we headed out on the Louth Road for a short walk through the Bimble Box and flowering Eremophila. This proved very productive as we almost immediately picked up a pair of White-fronted Honeyeaters dashing through and around the wattles. Chestnut-rumped Thornbills and Southern Whiteface were hopping around, Weebill and Brown Honeyeater called, and Janene and Chris were lucky enough to see a Black Honeyeater. A Rufous Whistler led us across the road and there we found an Eastern Yellow Robin and Grey Shrike-thrush. On our return to the bus, a Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo called, with its slightly plaintive and tremulous descending whistle.

Further along, we stopped at a crossroads, but the day was heating up and the birds appeared to be hunkering down…there were Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters and an Apostlebird on the nest, but nothing new, so we got back into the bus and headed to the Cobar Information Centre for lunch, where a Red-winged Parrot overlooked proceedings and Red-rumped Parrots, Sparrows and Starlings waited for the crumbs.

Meadow Argus
Meadow Argus by T Mason
As the afternoon continued to warm and we headed north to Gundabooka National Park, seeing Emu along the way. At Gundabooka, we were greeted by Red-capped Robin at the Dry Tank campground. Once everyone had a water bottle on board, we set out to Little Mountain, following the track as it meandered through the Mulga. Twitterings in the bush alerted us to Splendid Fairy-wren and we got eye-dazzling views of a male in his brilliant blue livery. The climb to the lookout was strikingly paved with great slabs of rock (metamorphic?) and the view of the Gundabooka Range spectacular.

Back on the road to Bourke, we halted briefly for a female Hooded Robin with her streaky-headed juvenile, Emus, Common Bronzewing and Magpie Larks at a water hole and plenty of opportunities to see Rainbow Bee-eaters, lining the road on our way out. There were a few mammals to see, as well, with Western Grey Kangaroos (browner than their Eastern counterparts), Red Kangaroos and Euros (or Walleroos) making appearances, plus numerous feral goats. At Bourke, Little Friarbirds were very active and we saw Black Kites, with their characteristic forked tails, and plenty more Woodswallows.

The morning walk (a very early start as the clocks went back one hour) followed the levee bank above the Darling River. White-plumed Honeyeaters were active, as were Little Friarbirds and White-breasted Woodswallows, who had been roosting in the palm behind the motel. There was a Pelican and a Little Pied Cormorant on the river, a Whistling Kite on a nest and plenty of Wood Ducks grazing on the grass. A Black-tailed Native Hen made a brief appeance before darting shyly away into the riverside scrub. A lone Pied Cormorant flew swiftly upstream, we finally got a look at (instead of just hearing) a Peaceful Dove and its pale blue eye-ring, while above us in the Red Gums Sacred Kingfishers called.

We headed out onto the floodplains after breakfast, picking up White and Straw-necked Ibis in town, then Blue Bonnets and Black-fronted Dotterels by the Darling at North Bourke. A little further on, near the base of a cotton paddock dyke where the reeds were clumping, we heard White-winged Fairy-wren and were rewarded for our patience as a small family group hopped about a blue bush, the male settling for the best perch right on the top. Reed Warblers called, Masked Lapwings pranced and Australian Pipits flew up from the roadside as we drove on. There was an excited shout from the front of the bus: “Major Mitchell’s!” called the ornithologist. Two birds were seen flying away across the floodplain, with apparently no intention of stopping for us to get a better view. Before turning onto the road to Engonnia, we spied two Wedge-tailed Eagles resting in a roadside tree.

A slight change in vegetation and we began to see large she-oaks, Belahs, lining the roadside. We stopped for a mid-morning walk and began stalking Babblers…a single bird was seen in a low bush, giving us good views of a broad eye-stripe and well-defined white bib: it was a Hall’s Babbler! Chris had finally got all four Australian babbler species ticked off. Wandering into a loose copse of Belah, we stood and listened to the beautiful eerie whisperings of the wind through the branchlets before alighting the bus once more. Soon afterwards, a Sand Goanna was seen on the road (unfortunately making a swift getaway before the majority of the bus could appreciate its spots) then a cry of “Raptor!” and everybody got a good look at the underside of a Little Eagle, with its rusty-coloured body and white bars across the wings.

Once off the dirt, we were heading south to Bourke when a blowout caused a slight delay. There was no mobile reception but fortunately two vehicles pulled up to help. There were Chestnut-rumped Thornbills calling from the bush, but the allure of a wheel-changing spectacle was the stronger attraction! The driver of the road train had the muscle but the older chap towing the campervan had the know-how, plus wood blocks, and it wasn’t too long before we had the spare in place and were heading back into town, picking up Yellow-rumped Thornbill on the way.

Gundabooka steps
Gundabooka Steps by T Mason
While Janene went in search of the local tyre shop, the rest of us had lunch followed by a lazy half hour of bird-watching by the wharf: the River Red Gums on the opposite bank were laden with Little Corellas. A lone Red-tailed Black-cockatoo gave Kay her bird of the trip, sitting high up overhead, but affording us very good views. The bus arrived, with a new front wheel, and we were back on the road, heading south-east out of Bourke past a large lump of dirt (inspiring a limerick from the ornithologist: We drove down a road Bimble Boxey, And Jane called out “Look! Three dead foxies”, A front tyre blew, Just before 2, Then we headed away – past Mount Oxley) for an afternoon icecream, a nesting Apostlebird, Restless Flycatcher and Spotted Bowerbird, all at the Byrock Hotel!

Our next stop was Tiger Bay, a wetland at Warren, where the birding was excellent: Reed Warblers competed for the loudest singer award, Baillon’s and Spotted Crakes for the most photogenic award and Mistletoebird for the why-haven’t-we-seen-you-before-now? award. Brown Honeyeaters were vociferous and soon we saw why as a fledgling plummeted from a tree and landed precariously on the top of a reed. The parents flew in to feed it and its sibling soon joined it. A Spotless Crake made a very brief appearance amongst the reeds (by far the most retiring of the three crake species!) and Variegated Fairy-wrens called from the grasses. Dusk was approaching and we had to get a move on if we were to get dinner at Gilgandra.

Our pursuit of an evening meal was briefly interrupted along the Warren-Gilgandra Road with a cry of “Superb Parrots!” from the ornithologist. A pair were flying full tilt in the opposite direction of the bus, so once we got out, of course they were nowhere to be seen. Where we stopped, however, proved to be parrot heaven: Ringnecks, Red-rumps, Cockatiels, Blue Bonnets aplenty, plus Grey-crowned Babblers and White-browed Woodswallows, all enjoying the late afternoon sun. Back on the road, we got a brief glimpse of a Cattle Egret as dusk fell.

The Castlereagh River provided the site for our morning walk the next day, with plenty of colourful species to look at. Rainbow Lorikeets squawked overhead (outside this species’ range, so the Gilgandra population is most likely a deliberate release), Eastern Rosellas and Red-rumped Parrots fed on the grass, Reed Warblers called from the river and a Sacred Kingfisher gave a brief wing-raising display in the bright morning sun. We heard the beautiful descending warble of a White-throated Gerygone and watched the majestic Eastern Great Egret fly by. Blue-faced Honeyeaters were feeding in the bottle brush as we arrived back at the motel for breakfast.

In the clear morning light, the surreal silhouette of the Warrumbungles was impressive. We took the back road to Mendooran and saw Blue Bonnets, Common Bronzewing and a Kookaburra, as well as an Eastern Bearded Dragon (the pretty one!). There were many murals to admire in the little town of Mendooran, sparking discussion as the identification of one in particular depicting a species of Black-cockatoo (Red-tailed or Glossy?). Onwards through Dunedoo (a flock of Straw-necked Ibis flying over; White-necked Heron and White Ibis in a roadside dam), then Cassilis for morning tea (seeing our last Emu of the trip, a lone bird by the paddock fence, spotted by Margaret) and Noisy Friarbirds.

Mulga Walk
Mulga Walk
The country was looking much drier than we were used to, and the birds seemed fewer on the ground. At Denman, we walked along the river to give ourselves an appetite for lunch. A Dollar Bird perched in the top of a dead tree was the highlight, and it followed us downstream as we picked up Wood and Pacific Black Ducks, a Noisy Friarbird sitting in her hanging nest and Sacred Kingfisher – beautiful views of its blue back in the sun. Olive-backed Oriole called and it was time to eat.

The day was very warm and the final leg of the trip, through the top of the Hunter Valley to Wollumbi, was proving rather quiet on the bird front. A wetland near Broke helped to relieve the birding drought: Royal and Yellow Spoonbills, Black-winged Stilt, Australasian Grebe and our first Black Swan of the trip. Through Wollumbi to Peat’s Ridge, where we heard the call of a Rufous Whistler, then we were on the freeway, recounting our favourite bird of the trip (Crimson Chat, Red-tailed Black-cockatoo, Hall’s Babbler and Baillon’s Crake all got a look in) before a final call of the checklist and home.

By Tiffany Mason Ornithologist for FTB

Follow That Bird   Phone: 61 2 9973 1865
Fax: 61 2 9973 1875
3/59 Central Road
Avalon NSW 2107
Sydney Australia
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Photos of Variegated Fairy-wren and Little Tern courtesy of Neil Fifer