Birds & birding in the Blue Mountains & Capertee Valley, Australia

NEWS (2007)

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Spring bird news | The Twitchathon is coming... | Shining example of a cuckoo | Blue-faced Honeyeaters in western Sydney | Update on park closures | Review of recent sightings in the Blue Mountains (Jan-Jun 07) | Planting trees for Regent Honeyeaters (May 07) | Capertee Valley transformed | Memories of North Queensland | Dates for your diary

SPRING BIRD NEWS

Black-faced Monarch, photo by Nevil Lazarus.
Spring is here, the summer migrants are arriving, all the birds are active and so are the birdwatchers. This is the time of year I get very busy so I'll provide brief updates of what's around whenever I get a chance.

1st–2nd Oct: In the Capertee, there are now many Masked Woodswallows mixed in with the large flocks of White-browed, there was a Channel-billed Cuckoo early on the 1st (my first record for the season), and a Western Gerygone was calling the same day. Contrary to popular opinion, this species' song is quite long and distinctive, a bit like the White-throated's 'gone wrong', with extended rambling upwards and downwards. I think it's actually more beautiful. Also on the 1st, we saw a Spotted Harrier near the Glen Davis/Glen Alice road junction.

Up in the mountains, the Black-faced Monarchs had arrived at Mt Wilson on 2nd Oct. Sacred Kingfishers are now around in many places. Lots of windy weather this week but we managed to see plenty of other great birds too!

20th–27th Sept: The birding in the Capertee Valley just keeps getting better each day. Those charming White-browed Woodswallows have now arrived, Sacred Kingfisher and Brown Quail in a few places. The gate to "The Crown" is still a hot spot with a flock of Plum-headed Finches regularly seen there, and Turquoise Parrots too. Rufous Songlarks are everywhere, calling loudly. Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoos, Pallid Cuckoos, and a few Black-eared calling. About 7 Regent Honeyeaters seen in the north of the valley. And I saw the first Leaden Flycatcher of the season near Glen Alice on the 27th.

Rainbow Bee-eaters. Drawing by Fiona Lumsden.

19th Sept: Rainbow Bee-eaters and Brown Songlark have returned to the Capertee Valley.

18th Sept: Gang-gang Cockatoos have been hard to find lately, but I saw some at Evans Lookout Road today, the first for a while. But the day's highlight was a pair of Glossy Black-Cockatoos in a spectacular mating, tails flared.

I haven't seen or heard any Koels or Channel-billed Cuckoos yet, though they've already been reported for a week or two around Sydney.

17th Sept: A good night's spotlighting in the upper mountains with a Sooty Owl and a Boobook seen, in addition to 6 Greater Gliders, a Ring-tail Possum and one Fox. A Sugar Glider was heard.

16th Sept: More Flame Robins at Evans Lookout. The recently burnt forest provides habitat favoured by this species. Rufous Whistlers at several locations.

10th Sept: Tree Martins collecting mud for their tree-hollow nests at Minnehaha Falls, Katoomba.

2nd Sept: The Capertee Valley has really come to life in the last few weeks. Painted Honeyeaters have arrived a week earlier than usual. Other migrants present were Rufous Whistler, White-throated Gerygone and White-winged Triller. It seems to be a good season for Black-eared Cuckoos with birds calling at several locations.

Up in the mountains, a Flame Robin was in the carpark at Evans Lookout.

31st Aug: Regent Honeyeaters are in the valley in small numbers but are hard to find at present. There is flowering only on isolated White Box trees and in the Needle-leaf Mistletoe. One pair at a possibly active nest. White-backed Swallows and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater were good birds seen at the river, and flocks of Noisy Friarbirds moving through everywhere.

28th Aug: Rufous Songlarks very vocal in the Capertee Valley.

On 23rd Aug, Lewin's Rail calling from The Gully in Katoomba, a regular site.

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The Twitchathon approaches, and another chance to sponsor a team for a worthy cause

The Twitchathon is coming up again in October. For those who don't know, the NSW Twitchathon is a mad race to find as many bird species as possible in 24 hours, while travelling anywhere in the state. The Whacked-Out Woodswallows are aiming to re-gain the crown this year from the Hunter Home Brewers who have temporarily taken the trophy in 2006. The Woodswallows in 2007 will be David Geering, Carol Probets and Tiffany Mason. (Clive has made a "sea-change" to Port Macquarie and opted not to join us this year.)

This year the Whacked-Out Woodswallows have decided to go "carbon-neutral" by purchasing carbon credits to offset our travelling associated with the event. We hope that other teams will follow this example.

The main purpose of the event is to raise money for a worthy bird conservation cause. Money raised from sponsorships this year will go towards educational equipment for the Birds Australia Discovery Centre which will be located within Sydney Olympic Park. The site is adjacent to a remnant piece of Cumberland Plains Woodland and to mangrove, estuarine and freshwater wetlands. The Twitchathon funds will be used to purchase static and inter-active education equipment, panels, displays, posters, etc. for the purpose of an educational resource for visiting birdwatchers, overseas visitors, school children and general visitors to Sydney Olympic Park. If you would like to sponsor the Whacked-Out Woodswallows (no amount is too little or too much, and it's tax-deductible), please email me.

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A 'shining' example of a cuckoo!

The new River Walk at Penrith is proving to be a good birding spot. On 2nd August I led a group of Interpretive Walkers from the Blue Mountains Conservation Society along this short section of track, which will eventually be part of the 570km-long "Great River Walk" following the Nepean-Hawkesbury river system from near Goulburn to Broken Bay. We recorded 47 species during our walk that morning. Some of the migrants were already starting to return, including numerous Olive-backed Orioles and a most beautiful cuckoo foraging on the bark of a tree...

 

The above two photos were taken by Graham Nelson. They show well the glorious iridescence of the Shining Bronze-Cuckoo's back and wings. In the second photo you can see a large caterpillar in the bird's bill. Cuckoos are known for taking those hairy caterpillars that aren't too popular among other birds.


Blue-faced Honeyeaters in western Sydney



In response to a recent communication about the rarity of Blue-faced Honeyeaters in the Sydney region, Sandra Boxsell has sent the following information (Sandra is a member of Blue Mountains Bird Observers who lives near Penrith, just east of the Blue Mountains):
"On 5th April 2001 my husband told me he'd seen two birds on the birdbath with bright blue patches on their faces. In May 2001, on 12 different occasions, I heard/sighted 2-4 Blue-faced Honeyeaters in my area or garden. From then on, over the past six years, I've had them visit my garden and birdbath on periodic occasions."
Sandra believes the honeyeaters are breeding in her area and has backed this up with a list of sightings of the birds carrying nesting material and a number of occasions when juveniles or immatures were seen. Her Mum lives in central-west NSW where Blue-faced Honeyeaters are fairly common, so she was already tuned-in to their unique calls. Above is one of Sandra's photos showing some of these birds in her garden. (Looks like a terrific bird-garden. I love the hand-made perching structure coming out of the grevillea!)

The closest known regular site for this species is probably Wiseman's Ferry.

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Update on park closures

A reminder that some parts of the Blue Mountains National Park are still closed after the bushfires of Nov–Dec 2006. The following information from Dept of Environment & Conservation was current on 7th August 2007.
Due to bush fire damage, in the interests of public safety and the sensitivity of regenerating areas, parts of the park on the north side of the Great Western Highway are closed. Closed areas include:
  • Butterbox, Fortress and all other Grose canyons not listed below as open
  • Rodriguez Pass
  • Blue Gum Forest and Acacia Flat
  • Pierces Pass and Mt Banks
  • At Blackheath, the clifftop tracks Pulpit Rock-Govetts Leap-Evans Lookout
The following locations are open:
  • NPWS Heritage Centre and Fairfax Heritage Track
  • Govetts Leap Lookout and Picnic Area
  • Evans Lookout
  • Grand Canyon from Evans Lookout to Neates Glen (no access to Blue Gum Forest and Acacia Flat)
  • Anvil Rock
  • Perrys Lookdown camping area (no access to Blue Gum Forest)
  • Pulpit Rock Lookout to first (top) lookout
  • Claustral Canyon
  • Braeside Fire Trail
  • Burromoko Fire Trail is open to walkers and cyclists
  • Point Pilcher Lookout
  • Mt Hay Road, walking tracks to Fortress Ridge, Flat Top, Lockley Pylon, Mt Hay and Butterbox Point only (NB tracks into the Grose Valley and Butterbox and Fortress Canyons are closed)
  • Lawson Ridge is open to walkers and cyclists
  • Waratah Picnic Area
  • Victoria Falls Road at Mt Victoria is open to vehicular traffic, the lookout is also open but the walking tracks remain closed.
For further information visit the National Parks & Wildlife Service website.

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A review of recent sightings in the Blue Mountains
(January to June 2007)

The long drought is still having an impact on our birdlife although recent widespread rain holds promise that this might soon change. At the time of writing, the Capertee River is flowing for the first time in years.


Red-capped Robins occasionally move into the mountains during drought periods. This year there have been a number of sightings in the area. Photo by David Stowe.
Here in the mountains, Superb Lyrebirds are in full display mode and their songs are echoing across the valleys, and honeyeaters are gathering at banksia blossoms. Autumn can be a time of unexpected bird sightings and this year was no exception. The past few months have produced some very interesting records in the Blue Mountains, especially the lower mountains. Read on....

Pigeons and doves

In February, two new species were added to the Blue Mountains list. The first was a juvenile Superb Fruit-Dove, picked up on a Blaxland driveway on 10th February and taken into care by Lynda Hyde of WIRES (Wildlife Information and Rescue Service). The bird was fully feathered but still using begging calls. According to NSW Bird Report Editor Alan Morris, the closest confirmed nesting of this species is in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, but there's a regular pattern of young Superb Fruit-Doves dispersing southward along the NSW coastal regions in autumn with about 40% of these records being birds found injured in house gardens where they probably flew into windows. So the Blaxland bird is consistent with this pattern and indicates that these birds are apparently flying long distances while still very young.

The Blaxland bird recovered and was later released in the same area where it was found. Thanks to Lynda for promptly getting the word out about this one and caring for the bird so expertly.

The second new species for the mountains was on 22nd February with Evan Beaver's sighting of a Topknot Pigeon at south Blaxland. Like the Superb Fruit-Dove, the Topknot is another fruit-eating pigeon of the rainforests (not to be confused with the Crested Pigeon which is sometimes called "topknot pigeon" by non-birders, and which is common in the Blue Mountains). The birdlist on this website has now been updated to include both of the new additions.

On the topic of pigeons and doves, the Bar-shouldered Dove continues its expansion into the area. Not so long ago this was a rarity in the Blue Mountains, but sightings are almost becoming run-of-the-mill. Almost.

Honeyeaters

A Blue-faced Honeyeater seen by Graham Turner at Lapstone on 22nd April was only the second Blue Mountains record of that species that I'm aware of (the first being on Narrow Neck in August 1988), despite the fact that they can be found in parts of western Sydney and the Hawkesbury.
Blue-faced Honeyeater. Photo Bill Dowling.
Much more unexpected was an immature Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater at Shaw's Ridge (Winmalee) on 10th March, reported by Neil Kirby. This is a bird more typical of inland Australia and, like the one seen last October at Warrimoo by Richard Johnstone, was possibly driven coastward by the drought. Apart from these two recent sightings, there was only one previous record of this species in the Blue Mountains (Newnes Plateau, September 1981).

There have been very few records of Regent Honeyeaters in the Blue Mountains, despite the importance of the nearby Capertee Valley for the species. So when a report appeared on Birdline NSW of a Regent Honeyeater at Glenbrook Lagoon on 2nd May, the next few days saw a procession of local birders visiting the site. As far as I know, no-one managed to find the bird again so it was probably just travelling through.

As we head into winter, a number of banksia species are coming into bloom, and of course, banksia nectar means honeyeaters! Currently Crescent Honeyeaters are very apparent around the clifftop and heath areas of the upper mountains. Shipley is again proving to be one of the best winter banksia sites in the mountains and at the time of writing, Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters had moved in again.

Lorikeets

It was a good summer for lorikeets with all four local species reported in the mountains. On 28th Feb, Scaly-breasted were seen by Clive Meadows feeding in flowering bloodwood at Faulconbridge, while throughout that same month, Musk Lorikeets were found at Lapstone (8-10 birds), Mt Riverview, and Hazelbrook, in January at Katoomba (6 birds) and in April at Springwood. Little Lorikeets were seen at Lapstone, Winmalee, Jamison Valley, Leura, Katoomba and a flock of 20 near Blackheath. This influx corresponded with the flowering of Red Bloodwood (Corymbia gummifera) and certain stringybarks (Eucalyptus sp).

Rainbow Lorikeets continue their range expansion and are now seen daily in increasing numbers at Katoomba – not necessarily a good thing. Even more unusual was a small flock at Lake Wallace at the end of December.

Migration
Flocks of Red Wattlebirds were seen travelling west through the mountains during May. Photo Nevil Lazarus.



The autumn honeyeater migration started on 21st March, about a week earlier than last year. The 5th April was a good morning with 2300 birds per hour (bph) counted going over my home, mostly Yellow-faced Honeyeaters but including a few Noisy Friarbirds, Spotted & Striated Pardalotes, Silvereyes, as well as a few Scarlet Honeyeaters. The best migration day of the season was 1st May when I counted an amazing 6000 bph, a combination of Yellow-faced and White-naped Honeyeaters, in addition to Red Wattlebirds (100 bph), pardalotes, Scarlet, Crescent and Fuscous Honeyeaters. The migration was still going strongly on 15th May and faded out towards the end of the month. [Click here to read more about migrating honeyeaters.]

One notable thing about this year's migration was the large number of both Noisy Friarbirds and Red Wattlebirds moving through. Early in the season (March-April) we were seeing flocks of up to 100 friarbirds at a time, while during May the wattlebirds became most obvious, many of which appeared to be travelling west at locations as diverse as Katoomba and Dunn's Swamp (near Rylstone). From mid-April, boisterous flocks of Pied Currawongs had also started flying west as they do each year.

April also saw very large numbers of Dusky Woodswallows on the move. At Kings Tableland on the 14th April they seemed to be everywhere, and a couple of days later at least 25 were seen hawking over the Mt Hay carpark. They were also in larger than usual concentrations in the Capertee Valley around that period.

Raptors
Sightings of the Square-tailed Kite have increased in recent years. The bird in this photo is in moult, hence the unusual shape of the wings. Photo Nevil Lazarus.


One of my very favourite birds of prey is the Square-tailed Kite, with its long wings and distinctive buoyant flight. Early in the year there were many sightings in the lower Mountains (Lapstone–Glenbrook) and at Glenmore Park–Regentville. In fact Lapstone resident Graham Turner may have only been exaggerating slightly when he wrote: "This year the Square-tailed Kites have just got ridiculous. I can barely set foot out of my house without seeing at least one" (Birding-Aus, 28/3/07). The interesting thing is, the Square-tailed Kite was not listed at all in Judy and Peter Smith's excellent book Fauna of the Blue Mountains, published in 1990. Either they've recently increased a lot, or else no-one had been in the right place at the right time to notice them back then. Maybe it's a combination of both. Anyway, this year's frequent sightings dried up in April, or perhaps people just stopped reporting them then.

At the other end of the mountains a different raptor was making an impression. Picture a misty Katoomba afternoon with the forest fading into the whiteness of the fog. I glance out my office window and a ghostly shape catches my eye: it's a beautiful Grey Goshawk perched only metres from my window, stunning in the fine detail of its soft grey markings, yellow cere and legs. This was on 7th February. It sat still for a good half hour before silently gliding through the treetops down into the gully. The next morning it was back on exactly the same branch. From memory it's about 10-15 years since the last time I saw a Grey Goshawk in Katoomba. A week later, another (or possibly the same bird) was reported above Leura Cascades on Birdline NSW.

There have been more than the usual number of Black-shouldered Kites seen along the highway lately, and Wedge-tailed Eagles at a number of locations.

Parrots and cockatoos

Glossy Black-Cockatoos: male, front, and female, behind. Photo Jen Kershaw.
There have been plenty of good sightings of Glossy Black-Cockatoos this year. At Kings Tableland on 13th March I was able to show a visitor from the Netherlands the memorable sight of Glossies and Gang-gangs together in the same small tree... and all we had to do was turn around to see Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos in the trees behind us! Later that morning, at least a dozen Glossies were seen flying up from the valley to feed in the clifftop she-oaks (Allocasuarina distyla).

A Turquoise Parrot flying over Governor's Road, Lapstone on 29th April, was reported by Evan Beaver and 3 birders from Sydney. It's anyone's guess whether this bird was an aviary escapee or a vagrant from a wild population, but "turq" sightings in the Blue Mountains (except in the Wolgan and Capertee Valleys) are very rare these days.

Swift Parrots arrived on the NSW Central Coast, in western Sydney and in the Hawkesbury along Terrace Road, North Richmond, before the recent storms destroyed the blossom along their coastal feeding areas. Always one to keep an eye out for during winter! Any sightings of Swifties should be reported to the Swift Parrot Recovery Co-ordinator.

Robins and other passerines

It's certainly been a good year for Red-capped Robins, generally more of an inland species which tends to turn up in this area during drought periods. From late last year until March this year I had sightings at Katoomba, Mt York, Newnes, Shipley, and a male and immature which settled in for a while at Kings Tableland (close to where a Beautiful Firetail was nest-building in late March). Another male and female/immature were also seen on the Lockley's Pylon walk on 21st March.

Satin Flycatchers were late arriving last spring but made up for it with two pairs staying within sight of my house during January and February. Last summer I found Cicadabirds at three different sites in the upper mountains, which is most unusual at this altitude. Rose Robins have now come out of the gullies into more open habitats as they do each autumn, while the Flame and Scarlet Robins move down into the valleys. (On my most recent visit to the Capertee Valley I had the pleasure of seeing 10 Flame Robins on my front fence one morning.)

The Rockwarblers are back at Evans Lookout after last year's bushfire and I've found another good site at Hartley Vale which requires no walking or rock scrambling, a handy thing for many of my visitors.
Male Blue-billed Duck, photographed at Lithgow Sewage Ponds. Photo by David Stowe.

Mt York has also been productive this year with all the local robin species and that very elusive Spotted Quail-thrush. The male Satin Bowerbird has returned to his bower at Leura and on 4th June he was renovating, adding more twigs to the walls and spending a lot of time just fussing about and admiring his handiwork. And the place that I call my "Secret Fail-safe Red-browed Treecreeper Site" has still not disappointed!


Waterbirds

On 7th February I counted 15 Blue-billed Ducks at the Lithgow sewage ponds. This is the largest number so far recorded at this site.


[The above is based on my own observations in addition to sightings gathered from Birding-Aus, Birdline NSW and Blue Mountains Bird Observers newsletters. -Carol, June 2007]

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Planting trees for Regent Honeyeaters

With 180 volunteers, our most recent tree planting weekend was the largest yet. The following article was supplied by Julie Neumann from Blue Mountains Bird Observers:

The May 2007 tree planting site on Huntingdale Road, Capertee Valley. Photo Chris Todd. CLICK TO ZOOM IN.

Members of Blue Mountains Bird Observers have been participating in the tree planting effort in Capertee Valley for many years. On the weekend of the 5th & 6th May, there were about 82 regular planters, plus 100 students from the Uni of NSW, swelling the numbers to 180 in all – an excellent turnout. I rounded up some of our members plus a few extra locals for a photo opportunity at a well-earned lunch break on Saturday (see below).

The Capertee Valley Regent Honeyeater Operations Group began tree planting in the valley in 1994. Since that time a total of approximately 75,000 trees have been planted. One of the first sites was on the corner of Crown Station & Glen Davis Roads, where one can still just about make out the sign that says something like "Tree planting for the Regent Honeyeater", although it's becoming a little overgrown by the planted trees!

The operation has been refined over the years and planting and watering, which formerly ran to two days had been completed by Saturday afternoon. The planting area had been ripped in strategic rows and the Friday volunteers had already placed trees at recommended intervals to provide optimum growth conditions. This allowed the Saturday volunteers to swoop and plant while others followed with the watering containers drawn on trailers towed by vehicles provided and driven by 4WD Club members. The soil was friable and moist below the surface from recent rainfall and combined with the immediate watering this year's plants are off to a very good start.

There were no Regent Honeyeaters present to appreciate the work but hopefully they will return around July ready for a good breeding season this year.

(Julie Neumann, adapted from information supplied by Tiffany Mason)




Members of Blue Mountains Bird Observers enjoying a well-earned break at the tree-planting weekend. CLICK PHOTO TO ZOOM IN.

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Capertee Valley transformed

At the end of 2006 the valley was the driest it has been for years. On New Year's Eve a very welcome 45mm of rain fell at Glen Davis. Then three weeks later, more rain came down. Overnight 40mm turned the roads muddy, and I had to cancel a day's birding due to wet weather for the first time in 5 years! Dried out dams suddenly contained water and you could almost see the trees breathing a sigh of relief. By mid-March it had received considerably more, especially around the Glen Davis end of the valley, and had burst into an amazing flourish of green growth. An incredible transformation from the previously brown and barren paddocks had taken place.

As a result, finches have been easy to find lately with flocks of Zebra and Double-barred along the roadsides, and Diamond Firetails nest-building. There have also been good sightings of Plum-headed Finches in recent weeks at many locations around the valley. This exquisite little finch is one of my most requested species and it's always a joy to see them. In mid-March, one pair in particular set up territory at a small reedy dam near Port Macquarie Road and my clients and I not only got great views of the birds, but got to see them mating!

LEFT: Plum-headed Finches. Photo Nevil Lazarus.
RIGHT: Richard's (Australian) Pipit. Photo Barry Brugman.
There were other grassland birds taking advantage of the conditions. Many of the paddocks became alive with the calls of Stubble Quail during March and April. On the river flats, Singing Bushlarks and Australian Pipits were everywhere from January to March, displaying high above the sea of grass. On the 15th March, Lorna Bloom, Celia Browne, Beverley Potts and I had wonderful close-up views of a bushlark singing its heart out on a fence post. This species can be an enthusiastic mimic, and this particular bird was pouring forth the songs of Galah, Willie Wagtail, Rufous Songlark, Superb Fairy-wren and Pied Butcherbird. Previously I've heard the bushlarks in that area mimic Stubble Quail and Brown Songlark too.

With rainfall so unreliable, it's no wonder that many birds in the drier parts of Australia are triggered to breed in response to rain rather than being governed by the time of year. This is particularly so with seed-eating species like finches. During March, a number of species were seen breeding or building nests in the valley, including Diamond Firetails, Plum-headed Finches, Red-rumped Parrots, and on the 15th March we saw two pairs of Speckled Warblers building.

There's been another report of a Gilbert's Whistler, adding to a handful of records since it was first seen in the valley in August 2000. This latest sighting was from Alistair McKeough who saw one on 7th April at Glen Davis – a new site for this bird at what is surely the easternmost limit of its range.

As is usual for late summer and autumn, Regent Honeyeaters have all but disappeared with the only records so far this year being an estimated 11 seen by Neil Kirby in January in the northern part of the valley, and one bird behind Oskas Cottage at Glen Davis in early March. Mistletoe is currently in flower so it's certainly worth keeping an eye out for more.

What is not so normal is the marked lack of honeyeaters generally in recent weeks. There's an eerie silence at birdbaths, dams and waterholes where normally we would see the constant coming-and-going of Fuscous, Yellow-tufted, White-plumed, Black-chinned and other honeyeaters. This is certainly one of the more conspicuous effects of the prolonged drought – let's hope we see a return to more normal numbers soon.

My visitors and I have, however, had some very lovely views of Turquoise Parrots coming to drink at the dams. Square-tailed Kite, Spotted Quail-thrush and Painted Button-quail are other good sightings I've had at my place recently.

Southern Whiteface, small flocks of which have been plentiful in the valley lately. Photo David Stowe.
Rainbow Bee-eaters were last seen around the 15th March and have now all departed for warmer climates. A couple of days later, large numbers of Dusky Woodswallows were on the move.

On 29–30 March I hosted the Interpretive Walkers group from the Blue Mountains Conservation Society. They set up camp beside the dam and that night we all heard some great stories told around the campfire. Our early morning walk in the front paddock with the sun brushing the sea of long grass was a delight. On one stretch of fence sat dozens of birds of about nine different species – each flitting out to catch insects or seeds and returning to their spot along the fence – including Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Southern Whitefaces, a female Red-capped Robin, Restless Flycatchers, Dusky Woodswallows, Singing Bushlarks, Richard's Pipits, Zebra Finches and Welcome Swallows. A juvenile Red-rumped Parrot, with parents perched nearby, was looking out of a round tree hollow which was just large enough for its body. All participants agreed that this was the best bird walk they had ever been on.

As autumn turns to winter, the red Petroica robins start to appear in the fields and woodlands of the valley floor. On the weekend of the tree planting (4th–6th May) I had the glorious trio of Red-capped, Flame and Scarlet Robins at my little cabin hideaway. I also had the marvellous experience of watching a territorial dispute between two female Painted Button-quails (females are the larger, more colourful sex in the button-quails).

For the past month the long grass has become brown again. Most of the dams contain water but the river is still dry, apart from a few pools. More rain is needed.

(10th May 2007)

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Memories of North Queensland

During my recent trip to North Queensland (Feb–March 2007) I was fortunate to meet up with some of my fellow guides who are based in that tremendously bird-rich region.

Particular mention must go to Alan Gillanders and his wife Maria for their warm hospitality and great company. In two wonderful days we visited many stunningly beautiful parts of the Atherton Tablelands and saw a mountain of birds, including such gems as the Blue-faced Parrot-Finch, Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Bower's Shrike-thrush, Victoria's Riflebird and Chowchilla (whose astonishing call I could happily listen to all day). Alan's knowledge of not only the birds of that area, but also the mammals, plants, butterflies, reptiles, geology and the rainforest ecology is outstanding. I felt privileged to share in it.

I also did an early morning cruise on the Mossman River with Peter Cooper of Mangrove Man Tours. What a magical experience it was to cruise between the mangrove-lined river banks with White-rumped Swiftlets diving in to bathe all around the little boat, shaking their feathers with an audible rattle as they flew up again. I was impressed by the incredible diversity of mangroves and Peter knows about this environment better than anyone. The numerous Shining Flycatchers, Large-billed Gerygones, and 4 species of kingfisher including the Little, brilliant as a jewel, all helped to make this a very special and not-to-be-missed trip. Thanks Peter!

Kingfisher Park at Julatten is famous amongst birders and during my stay there the Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfishers were nesting – what a bird! Also most memorable were the Red-necked Crake and Pied Monarch. Jan England, working there while the owners Keith and Lindsay were away, led a spotlighting walk and located a beautiful Masked Owl high in a tree for her guests.

As the main reason for my trip was to do some work with the Buff-breasted Button-quail project at Mareeba Wetlands Reserve, all the above had to be fitted into a small number of free days. Of course there's never enough time, but I did make sure I also paid a visit to Sue and Phil Gregory at Cassowary House, Kuranda, on my last day before returning home. Surrounded by rainforest with a garden full of birds including Double-eyed Fig-Parrots and Macleay's Honeyeaters, it lived up to its name: barely five minutes after I arrived, a handsome Cassowary suddenly appeared in the garden with its 3 young in tow, and casually fed on fruit while we sipped tea on the verandah.

LINKS:

Dates for your diary in 2007

The 2007 Capertee Valley tree planting weekends will be held on 5–6 May and 18–19 August. To register or find out more, contact Tiffany Mason by emailing Tiffany.Mason@cma.nsw.gov.au or phoning (02) 6350 3115.

Also worth keeping free is 15–18 November which is when this year's Australian Birdfair will be held at Leeton, NSW. The inaugural Fivebough Birding and Nature Fair held in November 2006 was a great success. See www.australianbirdfair.org.au and www.fivebough.org.au.

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© 2007 C. Probets, www.bmbirding.com.au