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

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