Sunday, April 21, 2013


Spent a very enjoyable three nights / two days camped beside the Warrego River sandhills in Cunnamulla. Cunnamulla has three areas of developed walking tracks, the Sandhills, the River Walk, and the Heritage Trail. In addition the campground caretaker took Dusty and I with her on her early morning walks with Dexter the Border Collie, rambling along the tracks through the bush. It seems that anytime a Cunnamullan wants to go anywhere they cut a new road through the scrub.

My birding lens is playing up, so I'm seeing more birds than I am photographing. I'm telling myself that lots of people have very enjoyable holidays without taking any photos of birds, but it is frustrating. Luckily the landscape provides many photo opportunities.

Variegated Fairywren

Yellow-throated Miner

Black Kite

Warrego sunset

Emus with Brolgas in the background

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Toukley to Coonamble

Day one of the trip I was mainly concerned with covering some miles. With a choice of playlists on Spotify and cruise control keeping me close to legal we arrived at our campsite on the Castlereagh River mid-afternoon. We did stop along the way for leg stretches - often triggered by a bird on a overhead wire or roadside post. The Apostlebirds that have often been our camping companions were there to welcome us. A Spiny Cheeked Honeyeater investigated the acacia we camped under and Black Kites soared above.

The Riverside Walk added Galahs, Red-winged Parrots, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Fairywrens to our tally.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Hunter Valley TSRs

One of the good things about the Follow That Bird day trips is the number of people who return for another outing, so on any excursion there are lots of familiar faces, and the added interest on catching up on where others have been and what they have seen. It was a beautiful autumn day on Saturday, perfect for wandering the stock reserves among the vines of the Hunter Valley. We saw some good birds, including a Rose Robin, but many at a distance that didn't make for great photos.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Trilby Station

Sunrise, Nyngan
I was lucky enough to score second place in the Birding NSW 2012 photography competition, winning a place on the Outback Track Easter with the Birds tour to Trilby Station. Outback Track arrange custom tours for groups - an example of which is the birding focused Easter trip in conjunction with Birding NSW - as well as a choice of itineraries. Trilby Station is near the village of Louth, 125 km south of Bourke on the Darling River Run. Literally 'the back o' Bourke'. 

We started assembling at coach bay five at Central Station soon after 7:00 am on 27th March, easily recognizing other tour members. We were all outfitted by Kathmandu or BCF, and clutched bulging bags that demonstrated not-entirely-successful attempts to travel light. We met Charlie, our bird guide, Mike, our driver and tour leader, and Heather, chef and support vehicle operator, and piled on the bus. We rumbled up to the Blue Mountains to collect the last passengers, and ticked off city birds through the windows. We stopped at the Orange Botanic Gardens for a short bird-watching walk and lunch. By the time we arrived in Nyngan our thoughts were only of showers and dinner at the RSL, but the first day bird list ticked good numbers of parrots including Long-billed Corella and Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, and a range of thornbills and honeyeaters.

Early breakfast in Nyngan was followed by a walk to the Bogan River. Spotted Bowerbirds perched on tv aerials, Grey-crowned Babblers babbled, and Blue-faced Honeyeaters and Yellow-throated Miners shared a powerline. 
Grey-crowned Babbler
Back in the bus, there was a system of everyone moving one seat anti-clockwise, ostensibly as a social mixer and to share around the good and bad seats  - but so many people didn't get the system that it added a challenge to boarding the bus. We arrived at Trilby Station in time for a late lunch and a wander around the homestead area. Most of the group were accommodated in the Shearers Quarters, I was to be one of the campers on the lawn, but when Jenny and I discovered that the Overseer's Cottage was available after a late cancellation, we quickly upgraded to the luxury of our own bathroom and kitchen, and a porch looking out over the river. From the porch we could watch the Brown Treecreepers, Ring-necked Parrot, and Apostlebirds in the trees around the chicken coop. The Shearers Quarters also had close encounters with a Spotted Bowerbird flying into the showerblock, and having to be caught and released outdoors.


Brown Treecreeper

Ring-neck Parrot
Next day we went to Toorale Nationale Park, created in 2010 despite significant protest against taking the historic Toorale Station out of agricultural production. The primary motivation for the takeover was to end the impact of the station's irrigation entitlement on the parched Murray-Darling basin.  The state and federal governments bought Toorale for nearly $24 million to return about 20 gigalitres of water a year to the environment. National Parks photographers captured Toorale when the floodplains were inundated last year, but it was a different story when we visited with the Warrego River drying up into muddy pools. The pools that remained provided gathering points for birds, with good numbers of woodswallows, finches, and parrots. A highlight for those who managed a glimpse was a Shy Heathwren. Emus and Wedge-tailed Eagles were common, and welcome sightings for city birders. We were the first visitors to the park, with the first public tour offered on 30th March. Lunch was on the banks of the Darling River which was running strongly - we ate under spreading Coolibah Trees. We stopped in Louth on the way home where a large group of Red-winged Parrots were feeding on a local shrub.

Our group

Dentella minutissima - endangered matting plant.

Big skies

Tortoise leaving a drying pool

Welcome Swallows

Goats were bogged in the muddy margins - this one able to be rescued
Next day we had a little sleep-in and did our birding on Trilby Station, a walk around the billabong and along the Darling River in the morning, and a drive around some of the station bores and earth tanks in the afternoon. There were good birds to be seen, though not ideal conditions for photography as the route we chose meant we were walking into the sun. Near the billabong we came across a Brown Goshawk that had taken a Crested Pigeon, and was being harassed by other birds. It flew off but was unable to fly high or far, and stopped to rest frequently. It eventually abandoned its prey under a concerted attack by Pied Butcherbirds.  The bore at the number 5 gate was a rare oasis of green, and a little bird haven, with Hoary Headed and Australasian Grebes, Pink Eared Ducks, Mulga Parrots and Singing and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters added to our list.

Brown Goshawk with a Crested Pigeon

Tree Martin


Restless Flycatcher

Mulga Parrot

Singing Honeyeater

Wedge-tailed Eagle nest

Pink-eared Duck

Day five was another bus trip - this time to Gundabooka National Park. But I woke up with a cold so self-medicated myself into a semi-comatose state and stayed behind to do a couple of short walks followed by long naps. I watched a Crested Shrike Tit searching for insects, which was a new bird for the Trilby list so I was pleased with that.

Day five we stopped in Bourke, Mike pointing out some of the historic buildings and giving a potted history of the architecture and culture, and then driving up to the top of Mount Oxley - a mesa rising 150 metres above the Western Plains - for lunch. From the top we had good views of a Peregrine Falcon and several Wedge-tails hunting the cliffs. 

 Then on to Warren, arriving just one hour before the only open food source was due to close. Mike agreed to a detour that would take us along the edge of the Macquarie Marshes so we had birds all along the route, including large flocks of Cockatiels. 

Water was very low at the Warren ponds, but we saw good numbers of ducks and grebes, Black-fronted and Red-kneed Dotterel, and a number of raptors, alongside Silvereyes, White-plumed Honeyeaters, and Red-rumped Parrots. 

The trip home was quiet, it had been a very full week.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Pillaga Scrub

The Pilliga Scrub is the common name of The State Forests of The Pilliga,an area of 3000 km² of semi-arid woodland in temperate north-central New South Wales, The forest contains at least 900 plant species,although the dominate species appears to be the cypress-pine (Callitris spp.), with areas of casuarina and eucalypts.

Baradine is the administrative centre of the Pilliga Scrub and its major access point. The road from Coonabarabran through Baradine to Pilliga features large in Australian mythology, with truckers and other travelers reporting bizarre and terrifying encounters along the road. Reports include min-min lights, a ghost (the Pilliga Princess), electrical anomalies and disturbances, unidentifiable noises, Yowie sightings, and even physical attacks by seen and unseen creatures. The best examined account was the story told by a caller to the late-night talk-radio program Overnights, which had dedicated a discussion to experiences in the Pilliga. The caller, who identified himself only as Bongo, recounted an experience in the scrub in 1978 which ended with a lengthy stay in a sanitarium, the Happy Days Retreat. 

While Bongo's story has its share of detractors and skeptics, I myself had an alarming experience on the road which left me with shattered nerves and a new found caution in travelling the backroads. A cattle truck came around a corner towards me well over the speed limit, and well and truly on my side of the strip of tar. Taking to the shoulder I hit a pot hole and destroyed two rims and tyres, 30k from Coonabarabran with no signal. Luckily the gentleman who lives at the Duke of Wellington, Bugaldie (an old Cobb & Co Inn), was headed back home for lunch in a break from ploughing - he took me and my wheels into town, where we located a set of Impreza wheels that had been traded on a set of mags, saving me a three day wait and the expense of new rims. I then set off with the confidence boost of three spare tyres.

I stayed at Camp Cypress at the Baradine showground, and armed myself with the wealth of information from the Pilliga Forest Discovery Centre to do a series of morning drives out into the scrub - Yarrie Lake, The Aloes, the Salt Caves, Dandry Gorge, Odells Crossing, Western Way.

The female Red-capped Robin did not seem impressed by the males' displays.
At Wittinbra Dam on the Odells Well Road I came across a group of Red-capped Robins. They are territorial during the breeding season, but would be expected to be dispersing at this time of year to pair up and defend their home range in August. Three males were singing from exposed perches, then flying to a perch close to one of the others to be met with scolding and wing waving.  The sole female stayed within the scrub, and seemed completely disinterested in the boys' games. It is possible that it was a family group, the young males soon to leave the home territory.

The Red-capped Robin is one of many declining woodland species in Australia, the victim of habitat reduction. While once common on the Cumberland Plain in Western Sydney, it is now  rare east of the Great Dividing Range. Interestingly, it is one of the first birds to return to an area after a bushfire. It eats beetles, ants and spiders; pouncing on its prey on the ground and returning to a low branch.

The family tree of the  Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii and its Australian relatives is under debate; the Petroicidae are not closely related to either the European or American robins but appear to be an early offshoot of the songbird infraorder Passerida. It was originally classified in the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae, but was later moved to the genus Petroica. Within the genus, it is one of five red- or pink-breasted species of robin colloquially known as "Red Robins".

Bird List:

  • Emu
  • Brown Quail
  • Magpie Goose
  • Black Swan
  • Australian Wood Duck
  • Pacific Black Duck 
  • Darter
  • Little Pied Cormorant
  • Little Black Cormorant
  • White-necked Heron
  • White-faced Heron
  • Straw-necked Ibis
  • Royal Spoonbill
  • Black-shouldered Kite
  • Wedge-tailed Eagle
  • Nankeen Kestrel
  • Common Bronzewing
  • Crested Pigeon
  • Peaceful Dove
  • Bar-shouldered Dove
  • Glossy Black Cockatoo
  • Galah
  • Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
  • Australian King Parrot
  • Red-winged Parrot
  • Eastern Rosella
  • Blue Bonnet
  • Red-rumped Parrot
  • White-throated Treecreeper
  • Brown Treecreeper
  • Spotted Pardalote
  • Inland Thornbill
  • Buff-rumped Thornbill
  • Yellow thornbill
  • Noisy Miner
  • White-plumed Honeyeater
  • Jacky Winter
  • Red-capped Robin
  • Eastern Yellow Robin
  • Grey-crowned Babbler
  • Rufous Whistler
  • Grey-shrike Thrush
  • Magpie Lark
  • Grey Fantail
  • Willie Wagtail
  • Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike
  • White-breated Woodswallow
  • Dusky Woodswallow
  • Grey Butcherbird
  • Pied Butcherbird
  • Australian Magpie
  • Pied Currawong
  • Australian Raven
  • White-winged Chough
  • Apostlebird
  • Australian Pipit
  • House Sparrow
  • Welcome Swallow
  • Rufous Songlark
  • Common Starling