Trip Report from Cocoparra NP, Leeton, Oolambeyan etc. [Long]

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Subject: Trip Report from Cocoparra NP, Leeton, Oolambeyan etc. [Long]
From: "Tobias Hayashi" <>
Date: Sun, 4 Oct 2009 21:10:54 +1100
Hi all,
Just came back from a five night camping trip to the Griffith area in the Riverina, southern central NSW. We were based at the camping area [Woolshed Flat] in Cocoparra NP, and did several visits to Fivebough Wetlands [Leeton], Binya SF [just south of Cocoparra NP] and one outing to Oolambeyan NP [SW of Cocoparra NP]. The weather was mostly fine, partly windy and partly rainy, although the rain was mostly restricted to a light drizzle. One day was very windy, but apart from this the conditions generally were fairly acceptable.The birding was great, and we ended up getting 148 species for the trip.
We headed out at midday on Tuesday from Canberra, pretty much heading straight out to Cocoparra NP [which took about five hours]. We picked up the usual suspects on the way out, including 9 Australian Kestrels in total. We got onto a Major Mitchell's Cockatoo flying over the road earlier than I had expected [I can't remember exactly where it was, but it was a decent way before we got to the Griffith area]. This was the only Major Mitchell's Cockatoo for the trip, although we didn't try the Griffith golf course. We also got Superb Parrot and Spotted Harrier on the drive out.
Upon arriving at the NP that evening we still had one hour of daylight, so I went birding out to a clearing a couple of hundred meters from the Woolshed camping area. It is a partial clearing in the surrounding gum forest, near a dry creek. It is a couple of hundred meters further along the road that runs past the Woolshed camping area [towards the Pines or something, I think]. This area proved to be the best place for birding and photography throughout the trip in the NP. Throughout our trip, I got onto several Crimson Chats [at least 10+], good numbers of Brown Treecreepers [I found two nests in this area alone], Black-eared Cuckoos passing through, a pair of Red-backed Kingfishers, 2 Hooded Robins [one female, one immature male], lots of Jacky Winters, 20+ Budgerigars [nice photos of these], a couple of Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters high up, a large flock of mixed White-browed and Masked Woodswallows [200+ birds], lots of Southern Whiteface [found a nest of this one too], White-browed Babblers, Speckled Warblers, good numbers of Mulga Parrots, lots of White-winged Trillers etc. This is a really good area, and I wood recommend it to anyone visiting the area. There were also a pair of Varied Sitella nesting near the campsite.
The next day [Wednesday], we headed down to Binya SF [south of the Highway] to look for Painted Honeyeater and White-browed Treecreeper. Initially, I found lots of Yellow Thornbills [including nesting], several Mistletoebirds, quite a few Singing Honeyeater [certainly more than I expected], a party of Splendid Fairy-wrens and of course lots of Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters and Red-capped Robins. After about 1 1/2 hours I lucked onto a male Painted Honeyeater calling from the top of a native pine, and was lucky to get good views of him over the next 20 minutes. He was rather hard to hear due to the racket being made by the abundant Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters. This was in an area in the central part of the SW part of the SF south of the Highway. Despite spending a lot of time in the area, this was the only Painted Honeyeater I saw. Also Double-barred Finch, Little Eagle, Cockatiels mating, Striped Honeyeater. However there was no White-browed Treecreepers to be found, in spite of all the time spent looking for them over the course of the trip.
The following day [Thursday] we headed out to Fivebough Wetlands, just north of Leeton. Here we got Swamp Harrier, lots of Glossy Ibis, Little Grassbird, lots of Black-tailed Native-Hens, heaps of Red-kneed Dotterels, one Baillon's Crake, a group of 11 Marsh Sandpiper, several Whiskered Terns, Intermediate Egret and hundreds of Australian Shelduck. We then headed out to the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area [MIA SF], where we kicked back and relaxed on the banks of the 'Bidgee [near Golgedrie Weir]. Here there were views of Yellow Rosella, Tree Martins, Sacred Kingfisher, an immature White-bellied Sea-Eagle flying over, a group of White-breasted Woodswallows and two Little Friabirds. From here we moved on to Tuckerbill Swamp near Leeton, getting a nesting Banded Lapwing on a dry paddock opposite the swamp. The woodland just before the swamp was very good, producing a large flock of Zebra Finches, two Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoos, and a Red-backed Kingfisher. The Swamp itself was very dry.
On Friday I spent pretty much the whole of the day around the camping area at Cocoparra NP [mostly at the paddocck to the east of the camping area]. Of birding note, there was a male Crested Bellbird calling on a firetrail that runs north of the camping area. That afternoon was very windy, and a stint at Binya SF produced White-eared and Brown-headed Honeyeaters (but no White-browed Treecreepers).
Saturday was probably the best day of the trip. We headed out to Oolambeyan NP [maybe a bit over 2 hours drive from the camping area at Cocoparra]. Just after hitting the first stretch of dirt road leading into Oolambeyan NP, we came across a flock of Black-faced Woodswallows, hovering and feeding amongst White-winged Trillers and Australian Pipits. I was surprised by how beautiful they were, in comparison to other woodswallows. The open grasslands around the area was chocker block full of Brown Songlarks, calling everywhere. Once we got to the homestead at Oolambeyan, we headed out on a road that stretches south. Over the next hour or two, I had the best bit of raptor birding in my whole life, I reckon. First of all, we obsered a female Australian Hobby hunting [and eventually successfully catching] a juvenile Blue Bonnet. As a flock of 3 Blue Bonnets flew out over the paddocks, the Hobby set out in persuit, flying very low and accelerating very fast. Just at the tree line, it banked up and succeeded in catching one of the Blue Bonnets. It lost control of it, but we assume it got it again, because we soon saw it heading back towards us. On closer inspection, we saw it had got a young Blue Bonnet. Soon after, we were set upon by 2 Black Falcons, soaring above the area. They got very annoyed when a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles flew in, and we had great views of one of the birds dive-bombing the Wedgies [including with wings half-closed: a very impressice sight!]. We also had nice views of a Spotted Harrier, Nankeen Kestrel, 2 Black Kites, a pale morph Brown Falcon. This all happened within 300m and half an hour; it was a truly amazing experience, with at least 7 raptors viewed. There was also Nankeen Kestrel, Brown Falcon and Australian Hobby nests in the area.
We then hit the paddocks, managing to flush a Little Button-Quail [showing very conspicuous white flanks]. On our way out [just within the NP border] we hit upon a great little feeding flock. There were 30+ Crimson Chats, 4+ White-fronted Chats, 2 Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoos, 30+ Budgerigars, Rufous Songlarks, Brown Songlarks, Australian Pipits etc. The real highlight was a male and two female White-winged Fairy-wrens; I hadn't expected these in the area. In all, a great day, although I somehow managed to miss Horsfield's Bushlark [despite lots of searching].
That evening we dropped in at the Fivebough Wetlands on the way back. This time there were lots more waders, including Red-necked Stints, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Marsh Sandpipers, possible Common Greenshanks and a Bar-tailed Godwit. The last mentioned was associating with a flock of Black-winged Stilts. I am 95% sure it was a Bar-tailed, as I saw it fly in and would have noticed it if it was a Black-tailed [although I gather the Bar-tailed is the rarer of the two out there: anyone know why??]. Also a possible Wood Sandpiper, but I didn't have a scope, so couldn't confim this.
Sunday we started to head home, dropping in at Fivebough again. The waders were not as good as yesterday, but the sharpies, stints and marshies were still there. We also added Yellow-billed Spoonbill and one Black-fronted Dotterel amongst the hundreds of Red-kneed.
In all, an excellent trip. We recorded 148 outside of the ACT border [following customary Canberra birding procedures]; 4 of these were lifers for me.
I know I have written a lot, but it was certainly a great trip, and we found lots of birds. I hope this can be of some use to people intending on heading out to the area.
If you have any questions [or would like to see the bird trip list], please feel free to contact me.
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