TRIP REPORT: Canberra-Round Hill 19-22nd October.
Pat O'Malley and Stephen Mugford.
Conditions: Cool and cloudy after light to moderate rain, clearing to fine
and mild days.
This being our second assault on Round Hill - last year's being
ignominiously aborted at Lake Cargelligo after prolonged rain turned all
dirt roads into gluey mud - we were not optimistic when desperately black
clouds unloaded on us as we drove out of Canberra. However, this gradually
cleared as the day and the drive progressed via Yass to Harden, with all
the usual suspects greeting us along the way: Sulphur Crested Cockatoo,
Australian Magpie, Little Corella, Magpie Lark, Starling, White Faced
Heron, Black Shouldered Kite, Pacific Heron, European Blackbird, Noisy
Miner, House Sparrow, Rock Dove, Grey Butcherbird, Black Faced Cuckoo
Shrike, Willie Wagtail, Galah, Pacific Black Duck, Willy Wagtail, Laughing
Kookaburra, Welcome Swallow, Australian Raven, Australian Kestrel, Sacred
Kingfisher, Noisy Friar Bird, White Winged Chough and Crested Pigeon. While
we felt that such birds could have been recorded in the log before
departure - to save time en route, one contender - the Little Pied
Cormorant - evaded us throughout the trip. We both reckoned this is the
first birding trip anywhere (including several to the Centre) where this
all-purpose bird hasn't figured as part of the supporting cast. Also
unusual, no Black Kites at all, despite quite a few raptors generally.
Temora seems to be one of the natural watersheds (birdsheds?) on this trip,
and we weren't disappointed as a party of 10 Superb Parrots came
effortlessly and elegantly alongside the truck and a few kms along the road
a Brown Songlark performed a very convincing imitation of the pose in
Slater3. The first of many Straw Necked Ibis and even more Apostle Birds
(we sighted literally dozens of parties over these four days, they seem to
be thriving). West Wyalong added Pied Butcherbird, Peaceful Dove, Rainbow
Bee-Eaters, Eastern Rosella, Red Rumped Parrots, and the first of very few
Australian White Ibis seen along the way. On the road to Lake Cargelligo,
Yellow Throated Miner began appearing, Blue Faced Miners, a pair of Masked
Lapwing, and more or less on schedule about 20km out, parties of Blue
Bonnet. A bit of a surprise was a V formation of 7 Australian Pelicans
cruising over the paddocks at about 10 metres.
As the weather was still a bit threatening we decided to stop the night at
a motel in LC, and took the opportunity to bird the Sewage Farm. Not much
to report really except - we suspect in the same place and performing the
same unconvincing 'pale tree stump in the reeds' trick reported by Nick
Leseberg last year - was an Australian Bittern. Almost fooled us, except
that as we closed in for a closer look the tree stump disappeared in a way
so rarely witnessed with the real thing. Many Black Swan with fairly
advanced cygnets, probably 30+ Red Kneed Dotterel scattered around in small
parties, plenty of Eurasian Coot and Black Winged (Pied) Stilt with one
lone Red Necked Avocet (our trip list from last year similarly records a
lone Avocet here). Grey Teal (20+), Hardhead Duck (25+), one Southern
Shoveller, Australian Shelduck (15+), Pink Eared Duck (2) a handful of
Hoary Headed Grebe and Australasian Grebe, Purple Swamphen three Great
Cormorant (one Imm.), a few Pacific Black Duck and several parties of Sharp
Tailed Sandpiper (30+) made up the waterbird/wader contingent. As usual,
the national convention of Australian Reed Warblers was meeting here, with
the overspill hotel in the reeds across the way in the wetlands. White
Plumed Honeyeater, Fairy Martin, Little Grass Bird, Whiskered Tern (5)
finished off the list. A walk around the lakeshore produced a few more:
Australian Darter, Pied Cormorant, Little Friarbird, and a suspected but
unconfirmed Hooded Robin. As a lovely close to the day, an Australian Hobby
slashing through about 5 metres above the reeds. These birds really mean
business. Always exciting.
Next morning overcast and patchy light rain. But the roads and tracks were
almost bone dry everywhere, with only a few small pools readily negotiable
or avoided. Stopped in at Chat Alley lignum swamp which was agonisingly
Chat-free, although there were several small flocks of Zebra Finch and
quite a few White Winged Wren including some very smart males. (Lifer for
Pat: another embarrassing jinx bird off the list. No Mangrove Kingfishers
unfortunately, despite extensive pishing). On the return journey we dropped
in again for the same result - plus a lone White Fronted Chat. After
leaving here Richards Pipit and Common Bronzewing were the last new species
before reaching Round Hill. So we thought.
Armed with the pen and ink map of the area (countless thanks to Murray Lord
for that absolutely indispensable resource) we convinced ourselves that
some old iron gates were the 'old iron gate posts' marked thereon, and that
an old windmill and water tank were Whoey Tank. It all fitted near enough,
even to a road curving round to the right. Distances weren't correct, but
these maps are never to scale you know. Discussed setting up camp but
decided to brew some coffee and cogitate. The bird life was terrific - no
wonder everyone talks about Round Hill in awe. Over a wheat field 100
metres or so away, a magnificent pair of Spotted Harriers floated just
above the wheat (obviously not the 'old wheat field' this one looked very
new), one pouncing to put up a very startled Pipit. In the mixed woodland
edging the field we added to the list Brown Falcon, Grey Fantail, Mallee
Ringneck, Emu, Chestnut Rumped Thornbill, Rufous Whistler (the first of
hundreds) and many Yellow Rumped Thornbill plus quite a few species seen
already on the trip. One mystery bird appeared to be a Spotted Bowerbird,
based on size, tail fringe and a good look at a very spotted back. But
uncertain. As the track ahead appeared a bit under-used - the 4WD bellying
out on the centre mound, and 'Round Hill' appearing at least two kilometres
away even though in the 'right place' - we abandoned plans to set up camp
and reversed course. Doubts assailed us. Even more so when a couple of kms
up the road a railway crossed our path. Close consultation of the map
revealed that we were not on the Mt Hope to Euabalong Rd as we thought but
the Lake Cargelligo - Round Hill road. Don't ask us how we did it, we still
don't know. Just naturally gifted. (Detailed navigational instructions for
those new to RH are added as an appendix.)
Bloodied but unbowed we drove on for about 10kms and found the entrance to
the Whoey Tank Road. Don't ask us how we did this either. No iron
gateposts, and since a grader had been along since the last person entered,
there were no tracks over the roadside grader furrow to show a road. For
those not in the know, the entrance is now marked by a dead Pine or Cypress
trunk with red and blue tape wrapped around it. But for our truly
astounding bush skills we would never have recognised this tape as 'A
Sign'- so those following in our pioneering footsteps should take note.
Round Hill proved magical. Every bird we went to see we gained very clear
sightings of, most of them on the first day, and most within a few hours of
arrival. In what follows we will only record new species added to the trip
list. For those wanting our complete Round Hill bird list, we will send
this out on request.
Finding an excellent campsite 50 metres north east of the tanks, new birds
immediately made themselves seen and heard: Crested Bellbird, Western
Warbler, Weebill, Mistletoe Bird, Jacky Winter, Singing Honeyeater,
Southern Whiteface, abundant Spiny Cheeked Honeyeater, Peaceful Dove,
Splendid Wren, and Red Capped Robin - a family of three who made it clear
over the next couple of days that we were camped in their territory. Not 30
metres north of where we parked - and within 5 minutes of arrival - the
first of our 'target' birds : Black Eared Cuckoo. Very nice sighting.
After setting up camp, we took off on a general scouting trip (just to make
sure that this really was Round Hill. Once bitten...). Half way along the
tank track, at the spot marked 'Honeyeaters' on the map, we registered Grey
Shrike Thrush, Varied Sitella and then both ticked a mutual jinx bird:
Striped Honeyeater. Couldn't get over how completely unlike Slater3 it
appears - wouldn't have recognised it at all - and how close Morcambe's
illustration is. (In general we were highly impressed with the latter.
Despite the sometimes garish colours, the field mark notes on the
illustrations and the copious textual observations made it a very valuable
addition to the travelling library, even if you do need a truck to move it
around. We had Pizzey & Knight and Simpson & Day with us as well, but
hardly used the latter. It was Slater3 in the field, backed up with
referring to Morcambe and P&K 'back at camp').
Moving on to the old wheat field track. [Another note to the uninitiated -
don't look for a field. Even from the top of Round Hill, and stretching our
certified and now demonstrated early explorer skills to the max. we
couldn't make this 'wheat field' out from the rest of the bush. How long
has it since it was abandoned? ]. Stopped about 1km along the track and
ducked into the 'wheat field'. Immediately rewarded with very active
Honeyeaters: Grey Fronted, Yellow Plumed, White Eared, Brown Headed, a lone
female Black, and a very bright male Variegated Wren. Turning the LH corner
around the wheat field and heading south we stopped after 200 metres for
lunch, during which two Southern Scrub Robin popped out under a bush, long
enough for a definite if distant sighting. National holiday declared.
Bolting the sangers we trotted off to catch up with them, and ducked into
the 'wheat field' again to be rewarded almost immediately with fine views
of another target bird - Shy Heathwren. About now, and in the excitement of
pursuit, we managed to get ourselves bushed even only a relatively few
metres into the mallee. We here pass on the advice we were given to take a
compass and take your bearings before heading into the bush here. Even
experienced and intrepid bushmen like us, with unquestioned navigational
skills, were directionally challenged on many occasions. Seriously, on a
dull day its very confusing. While 'admiring the mallee' in this way, we
heard high pitched squeaking, and a family of three Chestnut Quail Thrush
(male, female and young female) wandered past affording great views.
Beautiful birds, and again Slater3's colours quite wrong: the chestnut
being 'old brick red' rather than sandy orange. Still, we wouldn't swap our
Slaters, given its 'pocketability'.
This was getting too easy. Without any effort, and only just after lunch on
the first day, we had seen all but one of the birds we hoped for. Much to
our surprise we staggered out of the 'wheat field' only 10 metres from the
truck. A quick u-turn and back to the corner. Parked the truck and then
wandered off up the overgrown track heading west from the NW corner of the
'wheat field'. Almost immediately got lost - but that evidently is the
secret of successful birding in these parts. A Southern Scrub Robin
emerged, and having made sure we had good sightings of all field marks
slowly sauntered off into the bush. We headed due south into the heart of
an area of mallee marked on the map 'Red Lored Whistlers'. True, reports
indicated they have not been seen at RH since 1996, but we were on a roll.
No dice. But Spotted Pardelote, White Winged Triller, Silvereye, and Inland
Thornbill were added to the list. A quick compass bearing, and we duly
emerged on the track a mere 500 metres away from the truck. Not bad by
early explorer standards. Vowed to get GPS.
Back at camp a pre-dusk wander over to the quarry waterhole on the other
side of the Mt Hope-Euabalong Rd yielded sundry birds, including Mulga
Parrot, White Browed Woodswallow, Pallid Cuckoo and a lone Major Mitchell
Cockatoo. Mysteriously, extensive pishing and generous application of the
Audubon squeaker failed to produced the expected Mangrove Kingfishers. This
really is one tough jinx-bird. But Willie Wagtails called all through the
Next morning produced an absolutely perfect day: mild and sunny and light
breezes. The morning started well with our first of several sightings of
White Fronted Honeyeaters, Horsfields Bronze Cuckoo and a Brown Goshawk to
add to the list. Some pishing produced a half dozen very angry Shy
Heathwren. .Despite various comments about the 'common' status of Gilbert's
Whistlers we had heard only Rufous calls, until an unfamiliar whistler call
attracted us. The bird was very shy. Probably it took 20 minutes to nail it
- even then only at a range of 20 metres and through the sticks. This added
Gilberts Whistler to the list, and another compliment for Morcambe, since
it was his very detailed description of how these birds behave (staying low
in the bush) that helped us focus and find it.
Satisfied, not to say smug, we headed back to camp for lunch and a post
prandial doze before heading out in search of the Spotted Bower Bird bower.
The bird made itself known to us well before we found the bower, calling
(if that's the word for those weird noises) from the crest of a pine. The
bower we eventually found: avenue of dry grass plus many red and violet
hued scraps of broken glass and plastic (including a rather nice old glass
bottle stopper - very tasteful).
[If you want to see the bower, go to the far SW corner of the upper dam of
the Whoey Tank. From here, head due west about 180m (this will involve
crossing a small gully lined with pine saplings). You should now see a
large, healthy pine, flanked with two inverted 'umbrellas'-each one of
which is formed by a wilga (the green 'shade') with a dead pine (the
'shaft') protruding about 3m out of the top. The bower is in the northern
umbrella (the right as you approach?.)]
Our last evening at Round Hill, we headed a little way up the Mt Hope road
to where the bitumen ends on the Mt Hope side (why did they put this little
strip of bitumen in?), and where there is another quarry waterhole. This
produced three Yellow Spoonbill (which departed SE over RH), and on the
reserve side of the road, Striated Pardelote and a Restless Flycatcher.
The next (Sunday) morning we struck camp and were on the road early.
Woodswallow Straight produced a mixed flock of about 30 White Browed and
White Breasted Woodswallow. Dropping into the loop track near the 43 km
post on the L. Cargelligo Rd produced one of our best-ever sightings of a
Little Eagle. This was a pale phase bird, trying to spook some Galahs into
injudicious flight. Some Yellow Throated Miners crossing the road as we
crossed the cattle grid completed our list of 70 species at Round Hill (not
counting an unidentified Babbler sp) in a fraction over 48 hours.
Stopping briefly in at the Lake Cargelligo Sewage Farm again, added only a
lone Musk Duck to the list, and the route back to Canberra produced Wood
Duck for the first time (we were getting worried about this), Crimson
Rosella and a flight of three Cockatiel. Having made good time we were able
to stop off at Jindalee State Forest for a change of scene. Here we found a
host of Fuscous Honeyeaters, together with Rufous Song Lark, Brown
Treecreeper, White-throated Treecreeper, Red Wattlebird, White-throated
Warbler, Pied Currawong, and White-browed Babbler. As we arrived home, the
last new species for the trip. Alas: Common Mynah.
All in all a great trip. Many thanks to all on Birding Aus who responded to
our RFIs and to the NPWS for granting access. Its literally the case that
without their generous advice we would have missed most of what we ended up
seeing and experiencing.
Pity about the Mangrove Kingfishers.
Appendix: Getting to Round Hill
>From Lake Cargelligo, head north on the road to Euabalong. After about
11kms a large dirt road heads off the to the left. Ignore this. (We
mistakenly thought it the direct road to RH and, planning to use the
Euabalong road, went straight on but labouring under a misapprehension
about the road we were on?.Duh. Of course early explorers didn't have roads
to confuse them).
After another 3kms or so, by which time you have crossed a large one lane
bridge, turn left. It is marked Mt Hope, Cobar, etc.
After another 2-3kms, you reach a T intersection. Turn L, again is marked
Mt Hope, Cobar, etc. Almost immediately (about 200 m) you reach a grid.
This marks the lignum swamp where one may (see above) see chats, but almost
certainly WW Wrens.
After the swamp, the road soon becomes dirt (good surface at the moment)
and within a km or so forks. Fork right (marked Mt Hope, Cobar) and follow
the road. You cross Booberoi Ck (one lane bridge) and after a few more kms,
the rwy, from which time on you are flanked by Mallee and some callitris
The rwy is about 10-12km from another T junction. This one you can, in
daylight, see from quite some way ahead as the signs show up starkly
against the bush background.
About 1km short of the T junction, there is a large sign on the left,
although you can only read it once you pass it as its for traffic coming
the other way. It marks RH NR and the entrance to the 'old Wheatfield'
track is immediately next to this.
If proceeding to Whoey tank, turn right at the T intersection (shown to
Euabalong). This straight stretch is good for wood swallows. After about
2-3 km, the road swings a little to the right and rises as you cross the
ridge running north from RH. The road then curves and falls and, at the
lower end of the slope on the right is entrance to the Whoey Tank track.
This is an area where there are several small white road side posts. There
is a more clearly marked entrance on the left, which leads to a dam. If in
doubt, look for that and then scrutinise opposite, looking for the taped tree.
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