The Hunter Big Year continues.
In stark contrast to August, it’s actually great to have something to write
about this time!
If March was the month that laid the foundation for reaching my Big Year
then September will be remembered as the month that I really broke its back.
It all started on the 11th of September when fellow HBY participant Dan
Williams, along with Al Richardson and my brother Steve took a trip to try and
find some of the more remotely placed species in the Hunter. Since the 11th of
July I had only added a single bird to my Big Year, which meant one bird in 2
months – even I hadn’t realised things had been so slow! Needless to say I was
keen to rectify this situation with some very serious birding in some very
On the sandstone escarpments and gullies within the southern parts of the
there exists a number of species that are at the northern extent of their
These include Origma, Pilotbird and Grey Currawong (and possibly, tantalisingly
so, Beautiful Firetails). The former of these was another one of my ‘bag birds’
that I simply had not tried for, and it didn’t take long for us to stumble
across some on our mission for the Pilotbird, which required us to cover about
70km of rugged ridge-top tracks in Wollemi National Park.
A few years back I had ridden my pushie across from Rylstone to 3 Ways, right
the centre of the park (I was actually supposed to keep going all the way to
Bulga but my patellofemoral knees put pay to that). I had recalled hearing
Pilotbirds calling in many of the south-facing gullies off the Hunter Main
Trail, with the farthest east being a gully just a few km’s east of 3 Ways. My
memory served me well and it was only a few minutes after jumping out of the
at this very gully that we started to hear Pilots calling. Seeing them wasn’t a
formality but eventually we were able to see a pair of birds in the undergrowth
a few metres off the track.
This was a very satisfying bird to add to my Big Year as it is extremely
localised in our region. It also exists in the most awe-inspiring country. When
you look north and south from anywhere along the Hunter Main Trail there is
nothing but wild forested mountains and valleys. In fact, looking south it is
very pleasing to think that there is nothing but wild forests between you and
the Bell’s Line of Road, another 70+ km to the south. This really must be one
the true remaining wilderness areas in Australia and it’s right on the doorstep
of our biggest city (the Wollemi Pine story is testament to this claim).
So, with the Pilotbird in the bag by mid-morning we had a decision to make. Do
we hang around to camp here on the off-chance of a Grey Clinker flying over? Or
do we take advantage of the “early flight” and head off to seek other niceties
elsewhere? We decided that because one could easily spend days in this area and
not have an inkling of a Grey Currawong, we’d move on to another mission. Its
not likely that I’ll return to Wollemi this year, so effectively this decision
was the end of any hope for Grey Currawong, which I have to admit I had no
problem with at all (on that 2 day bike ride a few years ago we only saw one
bird the whole time and it was much further west anyway).
The next bird in our sights was the Inland Thornbill, the only species confined
to the small pocket of the Liverpool Plains that exists within the Hunter
Region. In 2006 I had mused that this species could exist within the only
remnant in that area, which was on a cattle station immediately to the south of
Pine Ridge State Forest. At that time I decided to camp in the State Forest and
look for birds over-the-fence, literally on the very edge of the Hunter Region.
My hunch was correct and there they were, in all their glory – Inland
Thornbills. We did the same thing this time round, camping in the State Forest
and birding the very edge of the region where we easily picked up a few parties
of Inland TB’s. We duly celebrated the day’s birding with one of the Hunter’s
finest – a 2005 Tyrell’s Belford Semillon (or two).
Early the next morning we headed south along Cattle Lane which runs south and
into the Hunter Region at a place called “Round Island”. Again, we picked up
another awesome western bird only metres inside the confines of the region.
time it was a pair of Cockatiels that were inspecting a hollow in a tree
literally 4 metres into the former Murrurundi Shire Council area. This was a
cracking bird for my Big Year as I was never overly confident of seeing one.
We then headed back into the lowlands of the sandstone country on the northern
edge of the Wollemi escarpment. A brief and somewhat optimistic stop was made
Sandy Hollow where up to 8 Black Honeyeaters had turned up to feed in flowering
Jacarandas in late spring 2009. Alas there was no blossom and pretty much no
birds. I think I’ll be doing extremely well to bag this species in 2010 with
seemingly no reason for such a desert nomad to head coastward.
We then visited another one of the hotspots out that way – Medhurst Bridge, in
the Martindale Valley. Our key target here was Painted Honeyeater but I thought
surely it was too early for them to arrive here. My other hopeful here was
Little Friarbird. A few minutes after arriving we heard a distant see-saw and
wasn't long before a male Geordie came into view. Now this was an exciting
moment – I mean, seeing a Painted Honeyeater is exciting at any time but I
really enjoyed seeing this bird and considered it the bird-of-the-trip in which
I’d added another 5 species for the year. Seeing this bird really made me feel
like I’d broken the Big Year’s back.
The perfect follow-up for such a great trip was of course a pelagic! Despite
some pretty big swells (which came out of a front that had caused the largest
ever wave recorded off the Australian coast earlier in the week), we were able
to get out in pretty good conditions on the 19th. All I wanted was a Giant
Petrel and even though one bird was seen on the way out, it didn’t show any
interest in the boat and so couldn’t be identified. We had a reasonable array
species come in to the boat over the course of the day, but certainly nothing
out of the ordinary. But, after about an hour at the shelf a GP zoomed in and
circled the boat for a good 15 minutes, allowing us to easily confirm it as a
Northern. And with that I was completely satisfied with the year’s pelagic haul
– anything new from now on seen at sea will be a bonus in my eyes (literally).
I felt like I could “relax” for a while. This affliction didn’t last long
(must’ve been the salt air and the rocking boat) and soon I was plotting my
prey. I recalled having seen a pair of Common Sands on Kooragang Dykes at the
end of September last year (which was the last time I’d seen this species in
Hunter) and I was keen to look for flagged Red Knots that turn up at this time
of year, so I contacted Chris and Liz Herbert who were patrolling the dykes for
Golden Plovers later that week. Sure enough, midway into our scanning through
the hundreds of shorebirds for flags, we noticed a pair of Common Sands on the
inside of the dykes, in virtually the exact spot they were last year! This was
bird I had spent a lot of time trying to find during the first part of the
so this was another very pleasing bird to see (only Black Kite have I spent
326 and I was now zeroing in on my target much quicker than I’d expected, and
still with 2 or 3 easy species up-my-sleeve. Dan and I tried again for the
Eastern Grass Owls but dipped yet again – not even a Tyto to test us this time!
Goldfinch still remains the only bird I have added to my list from Ash Island.
Then a report of a Little Friar came in from none other than Medhurst Bridge
(funnily enough the observer didn’t see any Painted Honeyeaters). I couldn’t
help myself and made the trip out there only to hear plenty of Noisy Friars and
no Littles (or Geordies for that matter).
After spending yet another unsuccessful stint at the base of Maitland Tip
waiting for a Black Kite to appear, I thought I’d try for something a little
more predictable. Armed with some good oil from my brother Steve, I went to a
spot north of Cessnock where he’d had Pallid Cuckoos calling in the week prior.
A conspicuous calling bird became conspicuously visible a few minutes after I
pulled up and #327 was notched.
My target of “three threes” now looks (dare I say) well within reach thanks to
very productive start to spring. If some of those water-loving deserters return
before the end of the year it just may end up a bigger year than I’d ever
To unsubscribe from this mailing list,
send the message:
(in the body of the message, with no Subject line)