It's taken me a week to get around to putting pen to paper or at least
fingertips to keyboard. On current form that is not too bad. I still have
to write up our Mt Isa trip back in June! The following few thoughts on our
recent trip to Barren Grounds and the Hunter Valley may be of some interest
and/or amusement to some.
It was of course all the fault of that evassive Beautiful Firetail. Our
trip to Barren Grounds in October 1995, our last and only other trip to this
Birds Australia observatory, failed to conjure up the firetail. We'd looked
everywhere, pished until our lips began developing permanent purses- which
can be a little embarrassing walking along the streets of Jamberoo and
Wolloongong. Its failure to grace our optics forced us to consider and
eventually plan a return visit.
Back in '95 the main purpose of the flight to Sydney and drive to
Wolloongong had been the pelagic with Barren Grounds as a time filler during
the Saturday. We did add Gang-gang Cockatoo and Eastern Bristlebird to our
Australian List while at the observatory; the latter particularly satisfying
considering the number of weekends we'd squandered up at Spicer's Gap
(Queensland) in search of this species. I remain cynical as to the
existance of the Spicer's Gap bristlebird. It has to be a delusory figment
of someone's deranged fantasy.
The '95 trip remains memorable! I seem to recall that even the old pelagic
hands (those who walk along with an almost permanent whiff of "chum"
emitting from their gills) were impressed by the day's tally. Certainly Fay
and I were. 33 lifers! Three terrestials and 30 pelagics! All in one
weekend of birding - a feat probably never to be repeated by us on
Australian soil. The fact that I'd just been diagnosed as a diabetic palled
The '98 trip had an altered focus... the flight to Sydney remained as did
the hire vehicle for the drive to Wolloongong and on to Barren Grounds...
but on this occasion Barren Grounds was to be the centre rather than the
motel overlooking the harbour. And we allowed ourselves four days to tick
That the Lodge was being renovated and therefore we had to sleep in the
"mobile" was inconsequential. All the more so as Raoul assured us that
Pilotbird was to be had in and around the office area. Besides, Raoul cooks
a mean dinner!
Saturday (26 September)afternoon produced little in worthwhile birding
terms, but then it was the day we arrived, unpacked and began to gather
local knowledge about the target species. We also met a group of British
birders, one of whom I'd seen on television some time ago! The pelagic on
Sunday was diappointing to say the least. Not just that there were no new
lifers in the offing but simply that bird numbers in general seemed low. By
Monday I was beginning to suspect that Raoul's Pilotbird assurances would
fizzle out into another disappointment. Another "they are always here
EXCEPT this week" tale to shatter one's aspirations.
Oh ye of little faith! On returning from another fruitless Beautiful
Firetail search I stepped out of the car to be accosted by a pair of
Pilotbirds. As Fay and I stood spellbound one of the pair decided to hop
across my feet. Crippling views! There was a little extra spice in Raoul's
dinner that evening.
Raoul again came to the rescue in our search for Rock Warbler. We'd missed
it by mere minutes at Cooks Nose. We failed to find it at the Illawarra
Lookout but then I understand that it hasn't been seen here for years
anyway. We sought it here, we sought it there. The rest you should know.
No doubt seeing our growing frustration he suggested Bomaderry Creek and
sure enough after coming close to breaking our necks scrambling over and
across rocks and boulders we found the bird. Two down, one to go.
Hopeless! We searched diligently along several tracks and known firetail
haunts. We sat among the heath plants desperately trying to blend in with
the flora. It's not easy pretending to be a bush that occasional pishes.
One gets quite pished off with the whole affair!
Sadly we had to leave Barren Grounds on the Wednesday (1 October)to meet our
commitments in the Hunter Valley. Bed and Breakfast in an old house nestled
between an orange orchard and the Wollemi National Park (where we did most
of our Hunter Valley birding). The "breakfast" in the bed and breakfast had
to be taken with a pinch of salt and a smile. Not only did we have to cook
our own but supplies amounted to one rasher of bacon each; four or five
assorted jams and marmalade in the "sample jar" size and six teabags! We
found one litre of milk and one third of a packet of margarine in the
fridge. The eggs were free range from their own chickens and no doubt had
there be a way to serve us with half an egg each they would have arranged
it. On returning from our first venture out into the forest we found a bowl
of oranges on the kitchen table. Windfalls of course.
Regardless, we soldiered on. Up at the crack of dawn. Well, when the
Channel-billed Cuckoos raided the nearby mulberry tree or the Noisy
Friarbird announced the rising of the day. We birded along one of two
tracks (3 and 6km) until around 0800-0830 hours, showered and headed for the
wineries, often arriving before they opened their cellar doors at 0900
hours. Being a Pom I tend to have very quick showers and only when Fay
forces me in under the water. Our wine notes were if anything even more
extensive than our bird notes.
The outcome was a reasonable birdlist (94) and five cases of boutique wine
(from five different wineries) freighted up to Queensland for us. Well, for
Queensland Ornithological Society
12 Florence Street
Kippa-Ring, Q. 4021
Tel: +61 7 3283 4921
Fax: +61 7 3889 4272