Birding on the New England Highway

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Birding on the New England Highway
From: Laurie Knight <>
Date: Sun, 4 Jan 2015 15:11:52 +1000
And now for something completely different.

If you are driving between Brisbane and Sydney, you have the fundamental choice 
between going along the Pacific Highway or the New England Highway.  While you 
can of course bypass particular sections (e.g. passing through Gloucester, 
Casino or Boonah), you are likely to spend time on one of the majors.

The Pacific Highway is progressively becoming more and more of a motorway as 
100-200 metre wide corridors of forest are razed.  It is heavily policed (with 
numerous speed and speed averaging cameras - including some in revenue raising 
situations) and quite congested in parts.

The New England Highway is a bit longer, has far fewer overtaking lane 
kilometres and no ocean views.  It is however a much more enjoyable drive and 
quite scenic - particularly along the northern half where you pass through 
Cunninghams Gap, the Granite Belt and the New England Tableland.  At the 
southern end, you have the option of taking the Putty Road - a brilliant 
driving road with great scenery and little traffic during the week (the bikers 
are out on weekends) - from Singleton to Windsor (where you have traffic 
bypassing options to get to the southern and western suburbs).

I did a family trip down to Sydney over the year end.  We spent a few hours 
doing the wine/foodie thing around the Granite Belt.  It is like the Hunter 
Valley without the coal mines and traffic.  There is a nice balance between 
horticulture and bushland and lots of land for wildlife properties.  

I noticed lots of birdlife at each place we visited.   We had nice views of a 
female koel in a fruit tree by the carpark at Suttons Farm - a compulsory stop 
for people who like apple pie with spiced apple cider ice cream.  We were 
serenaded by whistlers, drongos and cuckoos at the Brass Monkey Brewhouse while 
sampling Euro style craft beers - the brewer was familiar with both Red rumped 
and Turquoise Parrots.  There were plenty of thornbills hopping around the 
garden beds at the Bramble Patch (where you can try a large range of unusual 
jams, relishes, sauces etc).  Finally, there was a multitude of birds at 
Kelsie’s Cottage - a colonial self-contained house in a bushland block (you 
won’t find it in the accommodation guides - Kelsie is a word of mouth 
operator), including a WT Treecreeper investigating a wheel barrow close to the 
back verandah.

We spent a few hours at Girraween National Park the next morning - there is 
always time for a stroll up the Pyramid.  The birds were a bit thin on the 
ground in the recently burnt sections (the fire was started by someone mowing 
grass on a distant property).  

We then motored on to the campground at Wollomombi Falls east of Armidale on 
the Waterfall Way.  It’s a good place to see choughs and lyrebirds - these are 
tame and often walk through the camping area.  This time I got nice photographs 
of a male lyrebird with a short lens.  The views of the falls and associated 
gorges from the nearby were also excellent.

I didn’t notice any swifts along the highway this time, but I regularly noticed 
dollarbirds perched on the power lines most of the way between Brisbane and 
Sydney.  I also think I heard some black cockatoos calling at the Grey Gums 
cafe (near the halfway mark on the Putty Rd).

All up, the drive down to Sydney via the New England was far more pleasant that 
the return blast home via the Pacific.

Regards, Laurie.
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