26 October 2017

Yikes!!!  As we departed Perth today for Sydney, we were given a farewell of strong winds during take off and we sure felt it.  I don’t think I’ve ever had such a rough take-off in all my years of flying.  And I hate taking off more than any other part of the flight.

The four-hour flight was pretty uneventful after the take-off to shortly just before the landing.  Luckily the strong storm system due in Sydney around the time we were scheduled to land did not arrive till 6 hours later – where we had heavy rains, thunder, lightning, and strong winds.  Even so, it was a little rough (landing).  I’m not a fan of flying.

We are staying with another friend of Lisa’s – Leah.  Leah used to work with Lisa at the Alaska Department of Natural Resources in the 1980s.  Now she lives in Sydney with her husband.  Leah was kind enough to pick us up at the airport –  she lives about an hour away, and just around the corner from the Royal National Park (a birding hotspot).

27 October 2017

We woke to strong winds and heavy rain – remnants of last night’s storm.  The forecast was for skies to clear mid-morning, so we took the train into downtown Sydney, visiting the Royal Botanical Garden and the famous Sydney Opera House.  Walking through a park downtown, we saw a Laughing Kookaburra sitting on a construction fence while a guy on a dozer was working nearby.  The kookaburra was unfazed by the turmoil – a city bird.

At the botanical gardens they had a great “pollination” display, with a wall of live vegetation.  Pollinators (e.g., bees, bats, butterflies, and birds) are important for crop production.  One in three food items requires pollination.  Just think of the foods we wouldn’t have without pollination – apples, almonds to name a few.  Yay for pollinators.

Leah took us for a drive through Royal National Park, stopping at Wattamolla to check out the rugged coastline.  We did see several Humpback whales, along with lots of shearwaters (seabirds) and several Albatross (too far out for me to identify).  We also got a nice look at two familiar birds: New Holland Honeyeater (a pollinator) and White-browed Scrubwrens.  Little did we know that two sought after birds: Southern Emu-wren and Chestnut-rumped Heathwren were lurking within the heath shrubs.

Heard the Powerful Owl and the Southern Boobook Owl hooting away tonight.

Nothing much disturbs the Laughing Kookaburra on the fence

Closer view

Noisy Miner

Rainbow Lorikeet

Masked Lapwing

Pollination Garden Wall

Beautiful Orchids in the garden

Plants on the wall spell “pollination”

This was the best part of the Royal Botanical Gardens

Sydney Opera House

Water taxi

Trains are very popular in Sydney

Coastline within Royal National Park – at Wattamolla

Coastal Heathlands

28 October 2017

Today we drove 2.5 hours to in hike the Blue Mountains National Park.  The park is the destination for a popular trail – Wentworth Falls, which we took.  If you are afraid of heights this is not the trail for you.  I am, but I went down, then up the steep slopes along the mountainside anyway. My legs felt like rubber when reaching the bottom and the top of the precipitous trail.  The setting, however, was beautiful.

Since it was a Saturday the trail was busy, busy, busy.  It is amazing what people will wear on their feet to walk dangerous, mountain trails.  The rock steps were wet in places and it would be very easy to slip and fall.  Luckily we didn’t see anyone who had fallen.

When one is clinging to a wire handrail, holding on for dear life you don’t spend a lot of time looking for birds, although we did see a few species along the trail.

Blue Mountains National Park

Upper part of the falls

There is a rock bridge to cross over the stream before the stream makes its second descent

Leah and Lisa

Yes it was a very steep decent and climb back up

You would (or maybe not) be surprised at what people wore on their feet to do this hike – dress shoes (think shoes with heels) and flip flops to name a few.

Stream before the falls

Fan-tailed Cuckoo

Male Eastern Spinebill

29 October 2017

We hired a local guide Steve Aston-Smith with Royal Birding to take us birding in Royal National Park.  This park is located a short distance from where we are staying with friends.  And a sunny, beautiful, warm, Sunday brought out hoards of Sydney residents and visitors.  Luckily they didn’t start arriving until after noon so our morning birding wasn’t too disturbed.

One of our target birds was the Superb Lyrebird.  This is the bird made famous by David Attenborough in a video.  The bird is also known as the chainsaw bird since it is a mimic and can mimic man-made sounds like camera shutters and – you guessed it – chainsaws.  See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGxcw1tbjkE  We did hear the bird mimic other bird’s calls, but not to the extent in the video – maybe because the bird breeds (and thus signs and calls) in the Australian winter and we saw the bird in the spring.  Great bird.

Another target bird was the Southern Emu-wren.  This bird likes short heath vegetation so we left the forested areas in the park and went to Wattamolla to search for the bird.  Walking to the area favored by the Emu-wren and the Chestnut-rumped Heathwren, we spotted the Rock Warbler (another bird we were hoping to see) hopping along the cliff face.  Guess that is how the bird got its name – Rock Warbler.  I think we may have seen this bird two days ago, but didn’t get a good look at it, or know what it was.

We moved on to the heathland habitat to search for the Emu-wren and Heathwren.  Steve heard the heathwren and we tried calling out the bird, but no luck.  We walked further along (me with sore thighs from yesterday’s hike) and flushed a Southern Emu-wren, but I didn’t get a good enough look at the bird to feel comfortable “ticking” the bird on my list of birds seen.  This is one species I really wanted to see and see well – with the beautiful rufous body, with its blue throat and chest.  With the name “wren” in its name, its tail sticks up in the air at 45 to75-degree angle, just like our American wrens.  We continued walking through the heathlands and final saw, not one but four, Chestnut-rumped Heathwrens.  And we got good looks at the birds  – meaning we saw the entire bird, not just parts of it.  Sweet!

Afterwards we went back in to the forest and continued to search for additional birds and have lunch.  We got additional views of the Superb Lyrebird.  As it was a very warm day, we concluded our tour with a stop in a neighborhood bordering the park to search for the Powerful Owl.  Steve said there was a family of owls here – male, female, and chick – but we only saw one.  Since the neighborhood kids were in the area playing, he suspects the mother and youngster went deeper into the park.  But oh what a beautiful view we got of this ‘powerful’ owl.  We were more than happy to see just one.

National Park symbol – Lyrebird – for New South Wales

Pond near Audley Village within Royal National Park

Lady Carrington Drive (now a trail). This road is a hotspot for birds in the park.

For the first part of the trail starting at Audley Village, the vegetation on the right hand side of the trail is quite dense.

Beautiful Firetail

Satin Bowerbird – Male

The Satin Bowerbird’s “Bower”. They like to decorate it with “blue” objects.

Hatch year Rock Warbler – clinging to the side of a cliff face

Coppertail Skink

Large-billed Thornbill

Superb Lyrebird

The National Parks in Australia are actually managed by the different states, and very rarely do they get the money they need to manage them properly. Here an old, dilapidated picnic table

King Parrot

The highly sought after “Powerful Owl”

Eastern Water Dragon

30 October 2017

We leave for home tomorrow so today is a lazy day of catching up on emails, blogs (me), packing, updating our species lists, and just relaxing in the heat (89 at noon and 96 around 3:00 pm – too, too hot).  And to think we will be going back to temperatures ranging in the 20-30s.  What a difference that will be.  Luckily, most of the trip has been with cool weather (late winter, early spring).

In all it was a great trip.  Australia is a beautiful country with  great birds, many of them endemic to Australia.  I need to review my field notes and verify my bird sightings, but I do know I observed over 400 bird species while in Australia, of which at least 90 percent were new species.  I would highly recommend a trip here to experience the beauty and fascination of Australia, whether you are interested in birds or not.  I hope to come back and visit the Northern Territory, Tasmania, and the northern half of Western Australia.