Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New South Wales Chapter 2

After returning from our brief but sweet visit to Tasmania, Pertti put in a request for some touristy activities--namely visiting the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. So we did that... then got the hell outta there, heading straight to the Capartee Valley via the gorgeous Blue Mountains.
Here we are in the Royal Botanical Gardens looking across to some familiar landmarks. While Pertti soaked in the beautiful Sydney civic vibe, Jukka and I ran around madly checking every fig tree for roosting Powerful Owls (apparently this is a known spot). We found some big trees near the government house that had some suspicious white-wash, but unfortunately no owls were in evidence. After getting our fill of Sydney's famous harbour, we crossed the bridge then headed west into the mountains.
It feels kinda weird using this photo to represent our entire birding adventure in the Capertee Valley.  We spent the better part of two days birding the dry forests on the western side of the Great Dividing Range, near a village called Glen Davis. This spot is famous for Regent Honeyeater (but not at this time of year), but is also great for a number of other mid-west specialties including those guys pictures above--PLUM-HEADED FINCHES. This record-shot was taken at dusk somewhere along the roadside near Glen Davis. We also lucked into a single TURQUOISE PARROT (a close relative of the Scarlet-chested), but struck out on a few other targets including Southern Whiteface (wtf?), and
Speckled Warbler.
This photo sums up our futile quest for Rock Warbler.  A combination of  frustration over hearing but never seeing the bird, but being super-stoked/psyched/blow-away by the mind-melting vistas of the Blue Mountains--in this case Pierce's Pass. Although we didn't see Rock Warbler, we had great looks at PILOTBIRD and CHESTNUT-RUMPED HEATHWREN, and about every other drab thing that hops on rocks.
I believe this is Dharug National Park, where we stopped on our way NE out of the Blue Mountains. Our targets were Spotted Quail-thrush and Glossy Black-Cockatoo. Unfortunately we only heard the QTs, and while we heard several black-cockatoo-like things in the distance, we were never able to ascertain beyond all doubt that they were Glossies. The main story that came out of Dharug was that it's the first time I've ever seen Jukka get lost. We had split up to work some grassy ridges for QTs, and I began to realize that he was no longer nearby. I called and searched all over but couldn't find him. Jukka's always impressed me with his amazing sense of direction, even in places he's never been to before, so I didn't even consider that he might be hiking the wrong way. Therefore I figured he had either fallen and been knocked unconscious, or maybe had a heart attack. So for about 20 minutes I ran back and forth all over the area we had been birding, then finally he returned my call way off in the distance. Well turns out he did get lost, and had walked for over a kilometer to the north instead of west. All's well that ends well.
Oh, the photo is of a rather cooperative FAN-TAILED CUCKOO [Jukka Jantunen]
After Dharug, the Gloucester Tops section of Barrington Tops National Park didn't seem to far away. Well it turned into a full day drive, and we finally rolled into our illegal roadside campsite around 9pm. In the morning we heard but did not see our main bird target: RUFOUS SCRUB-BIRD--several were heard singing in the high Antarctic Beach forests of Gloucester Tops. At night, our other bird highlight was a pair of TAWNY FROGMOUTHS feeding their downy fledglings who were all lined up on a branch begging away. Classic nature moment!
Another great pic by Jukka--this was our first AZURE KINGFISHER of the trip.
From Gloucester Tops, we battled Christmas traffic for the rest of the day, all the way to the Queensland border. Along the way we stopped into a few places near Coff's Harbour (home of the "Big Banana") and finally bagged a few "RELIC RAVENS" (Possible split from Forest Raven). We tried for shorebirds near a place called Red Rock, but the beaches were packed with humans so not a lot in the bird department. And yes, it was December 23rd at this stage--so nearly Christmas... and yet it was 35deg Celsius out there. Well at least these people (pictured above) are embracing a more Aussie-style x-mas--so weird seeing shop windows covered in fake-snow etc. To be honest it didn't feel like Christmas in summer; it felt like summer... with a bunch of crazy people playing Christmas music. Australia I love you but I vow never to be away from the Northern Hemisphere at this time again! We left NSW with just under 200 species for the state, and somewhere under 400 for the trip---500 is in sight!

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