Lewin's Rails, return of the fairy-wrens & other changes in the Gully

Subject: Lewin's Rails, return of the fairy-wrens & other changes in the Gully
From: Carol Probets <>
Date: Fri, 25 Jul 2003 10:38:50 +1000
During the past week or so the Lewin's Rails in the swamp down the hill
from my house (in Katoomba NSW) have become very vocal, but as usual, no
matter how patient you are or how hard you try, they refuse to be seen. The
swamp is in an area known as "the Gully" and the rails' habitat there
basically consists of a dense tangle of tea tree, coral fern, native sedges
and weeds, with very little open water or mud. They hardly ever venture out
of the impenetrable vegetation. I would almost say they never venture out,
except that a neighbour's visitor, who is not even a birder, was lucky
enough to see one out in the open once when he was walking down there.
Isn't it always the way!

This same swamp, when I first moved to the area 18 years ago, was home to
several parties of Superb Fairy-wrens and back then they were one of the
most frequently-seen species there. Then, they just disappeared and I
didn't see them at all for about ten years. During that time I still
occasionally saw emu-wrens in the swamp but I feared the fairy-wrens had
been lost forever from the site. Whether this was due to feral predators,
weed spraying, or some other cause I don't know, but the habitat still
appeared suitable. Anyway, at the beginning of this year I was thrilled to
see they had returned, and at least one or two small groups have been
around ever since.

More worrying has been the disappearance of the Flame Robins, which used to
breed every year in an old disused building in an open area adjacent to the
swamp. They were a familiar local sight every year, but I haven't seen them
there since the early 1990s. This reinforces my feeling that Flame Robins
have declined markedly around the Blue Mountains in recent years. I really
fear for the loss of this dazzlingly beautiful little bird, my favourite of
all the robins.

Other species which used to be regularly seen there but have now gone
include Yellow-rumped Thornbills and Richard's Pipit, both of which used to
inhabit a large cleared grassy area. This was one of only a few spots on
the Blue Mountains plateau where pipits could be found, as mostly the
habitat here is unsuitable. The area where the pipit used to inhabit is now
a "dog off-leash area". The Yellow-rumped Thornbills, although they have
disappeared from this site, have colonised another area beside the railway
line and have remained in that narrow strip, sandwiched between the highway
and a busy road, for a couple of years now. Their original site seems much
more suitable but birds often have different ideas when it comes to "real

On a brighter note, last year "The Gully" was officially declared an
Aboriginal Place - the first in the Blue Mountains - in recognition of its
significance to the local Gundungurra and Darug people. This will have the
added benefit of ensuring its environmental protection into the future. The
local Bushcare group is also continuing to work hard to this end and my
spirit is lifted whenever I walk down there and see fresh piles of uprooted
or sawn-off privet, holly, broom and other weeds, allowing the native
bushland a real chance to re-assert itself.


Carol Probets
Blue Mountains NSW

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