Bell and Bunya Mountains

After an easy 3 hour drive we arrived in the little town of Bell and settled into a small and very comfortable caravan park. Straight after breakfast the next morning we drove up to the Bunya Mountains to make the most of some cooler conditions before the day heated up. Our first stop was Fishers Lookout on Mt Mowbullan which is well set out with some attractive shelters. The view was spectacular in spite of the smoke haze.

Wallaby feeding on grasses maintained by appropriate fire management.
Explanation of grasslands known as ‘balds’.
Emergent Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii)
One of a large family of Eastern Yellow Robin that we observed below the shelter.
Fan-tailed Cuckoo
I find these shelters and the infrastructure both functional as well as aesthetically pleasing.

Before all the campers finished their breakfasts and took to the Eastern Rainforest tracks we were able to stroll along the Scenic circuit observing a very satisfying number of birds. It was beautiful in the fresh, cool air but the poor forest is showing severe stress from the extended period without rain.

A carpet of Bunya pine leaves
Bassian Thrush blending beautifully with the fallen leaves
Russet-tailed Thrush which looks nearly identical to the Bassian Thrush in the field. However Allen’s photos have been carefully examined by some birders familiar with both these species so we are confident of these identifications.
Yellow-throated Scrubwren

After a morning coffee break we drove further on and walked a short distance along tracks of the western escarpment. This forest is comprised of species more used to dry conditions but even they were struggling. We only hope that heavy rains occur before long as some of the trees appeared to be dying. We did have one more excitement for the day when I spotted the movement of a large bird in the trees ahead of us. As it was a bird I hadn’t seen before (a lifer) I was doubly delighted and Allen managed to get some good photos of her.

A female Paradise Riflebird which continued ripping at bits of bark with her enormous bill as she looked for a tasty insect to eat.

Both the forest on the western escarpment and the eastern Rainforest areas have specimens of Brachychiton discolour. There are some huge specimens along the Paradise walk and the flowers will eventually make a very pretty carpet on the forest floor.

Lacebark flowers (Brachychiton discolour)

After our picnic lunch, which we didn’t share with a Pied Currawong which was trying its best to look endearing, we returned to another Eastern Rainforest track and took a short stroll along the Paradise Walk. Towering Bunya Pines stood majestically along with many other Rainforest species, some named and illustrated by local primary school students.

A very different canopy to our familiar tropical Rainforest.

After returning to Bell and relaxing for a couple of hours we went out to dinner at Geraldine’s Tummy Teasers. This little restaurant situated just inside the caravan park is run by an enterprising and extremely popular Filipino family. They have been refused permanent residency because one of their four children is autistic. One of the Bell local residents started a petition last year to gain support for them. The Custodio family are part of this community and are much loved and not just because they operate such a wonderful little restaurant. To think that they can all be deported because one of the children is autistic is unbelievable.

Geraldine’s Tummy Teasers situated at the front of the Bell Tourist Park.

Bell is a lovely little country town, no special buildings or outstanding architecture but it has good facilities plus friendly inhabitants and it’s just got a good vibe.

Samsonvale

Making new friends through the birder network has been a hugely enjoyable offshoot to our birding hobby/passion. Allen is largely responsible for initiating excursions where we have been lucky enough to have a guide to show us special birds and places only accessible to those with permission. Our recent holiday with family in S.E. Qld still allowed for a little bird time.

After a most enjoyable couple of days of family festivities we made a 5.20 am departure to meet several other keen birders in Samsonvale north of Brisbane. They were able to show us a very special, rarely seen bird along with a few others of interest and Allen was able to find a decent angle for some photos.

Australian Painted Snipe – keeping so still they blended into their surroundings.
Australian Painted Snipe
Marsh Sandpiper feeding with Sharp-tailed Sandpipers

We also watched a Wood Sandpiper bobbing its tail as it fed along the edge of the lake. It was quite a distance away and the photo is not good enough to post here.

Flat Rock

While chatting with the birders, as we shared their Christmas break-up party at the Byron Wetlands, Allen inquired as to the best place to look for waders. So armed with their helpful instructions we proceeded to Flat Rock at Ballina. There, as described, we found quite a large number of shorebirds including several species we don’t often have a chance to see.

Ruddy Turnstone – looking under and turning over rocks.
Wandering Tattler – feeding along the rocky shoreline

We have seen Wandering Tattler on rocks at Kimberley Beach north of the Daintree River – rocks seem to be its preferred habitat.

Little Tern – the white forehead in addition to its small size are useful for identification.

Sanderlings which I find very difficult to identify.

Byron Wetlands

Our planned morning excursion to Byron Wetlands was nearly aborted when we arrived at our destination to find a high security locked gate. There was one car waiting at the gate and as Allen completed his U turn he noticed another 2 cars had arrived and lined up behind it. Suddenly convinced that a group of birders was gathering he didn’t waste a moment before making an approach. His assumption was proved to be correct and we were invited to tag along with the local bird watching group. We couldn’t believe our luck!

A variety of vegetation on and in the water as well as clumps of trees along the banks between some of the ponds provides excellent habitat for a diverse range of birds.

We discovered that the Byron Wetlands are actually part of the 100 hectare Byron Integrated Water Management Reserve which has been designed not only to provide a variety of excellent habitats but also to accommodate keen bird watchers. As well as a bird hide there is a covered shelter with table and seats and there is a room where meetings or information nights can be held plus toilet facilities.

Spotted Crake

This beautiful little bird ignored our quiet presence at the edge of it’s pond and foraged happily in the open while remaining close to shelter provided by clumps of reeds and sedges. While we were enjoying the moment our pleasure was doubled by the appearance of this Baillon’s Crake which commenced foraging nearby.

Baillons Crake, the smallest Australian Crake.

Walking along a bit further we disturbed an Australasian Bittern, but there are no photos as it was only a glimpse. We continued on to the other side of this pond hoping to disturb the Bittern again and found yet another Crake. Apparently we did flush the Bittern but failed to notice it or the others in the group who were trying to alert us! We must have both been staring intently at the water’s edge!

Spotless Crake – a very secretive individual who only appeared briefly.

The fact that this facility has been designed and created to provide a natural habitat of diverse local flora to support fauna diversity was most impressive. We were informed that Jan from Byron Bird Buddies put in considerable effort to the initial design and is also involved in ongoing monitoring of bird species. Their bird list is certainly testament to a positive outcome.

We were very lucky to meet this delightful group of friendly bird watchers and have the best birding morning we’d had for quite a while.

More South West Rocks

Our second morning started with walk along a beautiful coastal track from Trial Bay Gaol ruins to Little Bay. A combination of bird and plant observation with a little history thrown into the mix made for a very interesting morning.

‘Drumsticks’ – Isopogon anemonifolius

Both these species belong to the fascinating and diverse plant family Proteaceae. The fruiting bodies are well worth a photo even though they lack the immediate appeal of flowers.

Hakea teretifolia or Dagger Hakea
Tawny Grassbird – making a brief appearance on top of a Dagger Hakea.
Red-backed Fairywren posing rather obligingly on lichen covering a rock.
The vegetation along the path is all quite low due to the exposed environment.

The ruins of Trial Bay Prison stand on a north facing granite promontory, now part of Arakoon National Park.

Looking down on the ruins from just below the German Monument.

Trial Bay was originally built as a Public Works Prison to house end of term prisoners while they constructed a breakwater at Trial Bay to create a ‘harbour of refuge’. The prison was eventually closed in 1903 after difficulties with the breakwater resulting in its abandonment.

There are always sad stories associated with old prisons but I felt that the saddest part of Trial Bay prison’s history was the internment of ‘Enemy Aliens’ for 3 years from 1915. In spite of the hardships these men endured they created a community within the walls. They cooked their own food including good dark rye bread, they made their own sausages and they supplemented their meagre rations with vegetables they grew themselves.

In 1918 a German monument was built by internees in memory of five of their compatriots who had been held at Trial Bay. Two had died in the prison, one had drowned and two died in Sydney. The monument was blown up a year later when it was believed that messages were being relayed from the monument to a German raider ship, which was reportedly on patrol just north of the bay. As authorities were concerned a rescue mission was planned the internees were moved to Holsworthy, south-west of Sydney and Trial Bay prison was closed.

The remains of the destroyed powder magazine – concrete base still visible.

In 1960, as a gesture of goodwill, Rotary Club of Kempsey restored the monument which is now recognized as a German War Grave. On our last morning we returned to this coastal path and walked from Little Bay via the Powder Magazine. It was a lovely walk although the smoke haze was much thicker.

Smoke haze through the trees
Patersonia fragilis – Purple Flag Lily

And to finish, just one more Proteaceae. I have only seen this low-growing Banksia in coastal heathlands and while I’m not sure about my identification I have made an attempt. I love the colour of the new foliage and its compact growth habit as well as the shape of the fruiting bodies.

Yet another fabulous Proteaceae member – Banksia oblongifolia.

South West Rocks

Just a few hours further north along the coast we made camp at South West Rocks. We have a lovely grassy campsite with big trees nearby and plenty of space around us. Dollarbirds chatter to each other at various times of the day, Rainbow Lorikeets noisily feed on blossom while a resident family of Laughing Kookaburras have occasional bursts of insomnia. Gentle rainfall on the day we arrived has ‘greened’ the grounds and given all the vegetation a much needed drink.

A visit to Boyters Lane artifical wetlands was first on the agenda. This area is tidally influenced and has been subjected to various natural and man-made modifications over a number of years. Kempsey Shire Council instigated a draft management plan more than 10 years ago with an aim to restore the natural conditions to prevent further die-off of Mangroves and to treat water run-off from a proposed sports ground.

Mangrove Gerygone in River Mangrove (Avicennia marina)

A bird hide adjoining the car park looks across Mangroves to a shallow pond with extensive muddy surrounds. A Mangrove Gerygone foraged about in front of the hide while White-headed Stilts hunted in the shallows.

White-headed Stilt

This restoration project has created some very pleasant walks around Teal Lagoon and on to the Saltmarsh with plenty of bird activity. While at times we did feel the bird population was dominated by Noisy Friarbirds we did find a number of other species.

Teal Lagoon – without Chestnut Teal

After a restorative coffee we returned to the bird hide where Allen managed to get a good photo of a Little Grassbird. It rather obligingly gave us a few opportunities although not long in any one place!

Little Grassbird from Boyters Lane bird hide

We returned later in the afternoon for another short stroll about and spent a while trying to find Cicadas. Allen managed to find and photograph a few individuals as well as an interesting Brush Cuckoo.

Brush Cuckoo – barred morph at Boyters Lane
A handsome Cicada making a very loud noise. EDIT: Identified by Dr Roger Farrow as Psaltoda plaga which is showing the intersegmental membranes (yellow stripes) in expanded mode when resonating.

More than just Beaches

Improving my poor knowledge of industrial developments along the East coast has been an unintentional but nevertheless interesting part of our journey. Our relatively close proximity to Shoalhaven Starches in Nowra didn’t impact greatly upon our stay apart from an occasional rather odd aroma in addition to the deep background hum. I didn’t know anything about Manildra and have been interested to read about this diverse 100% Australian owned agribusiness. The processing plant on the Shoalhaven River produces wheat gluten and proteins, starches, syrups and ethanol. The fermenting process would probably account for the faint but persistent aroma.

Moving on from Shoalhaven to our next camp, to meet up with my dear sister and her husband, we bypassed Sydney on the M7 through a thick haze of smoke from nearby bushfires. As we turned off towards Lake Macquarie and passed by Delta Colliery and Vales Point power station on our way to Mannering Park I began to wonder about my choice of caravan park. I had failed to make the connection between Mannering Park and Vales Point and rather oddly the coal fired power station was not mentioned in any advertising material as a feature of the area! Although visually looming large and well illuminated at night, from one view point in the park, it quickly became part of the background.

Cabbage Palm and Paperbark Swamp (Livistona australis and Melaleuca quinquenervia )

Allen and I took a short walk in the morning of our first day in Lake Macquarie. It was one of the worst days of smoke haze we have experienced and with the temperature rapidly rising to 38 degrees we didn’t feel like being outside for long. Black Ned’s walking trail was rather neglected and the boardwalk no longer exists but it was peaceful under the trees and the air seemed slightly less polluted.

Angophora costata along Ruttleys Road into Mannering Park

On our way back we stopped near Hales Point Power Station to have another look through the gate. There was something about this view through the smoke haze that I found entirely appropriate.

In a couple of hours the haze had become so thick that the chimneys were barely visible.

The duck population in the caravan park provided great entertainment as I am an avid admirer of ducks. Lake Macquarie is open to the sea through a narrow channel so the ducks were very appreciative of some fresh water to dabble in.

Australian Wood Ducks

Caves Beach provided a pleasant coastal walk for some morning exercise but bird life was somewhat limited, perhaps due to the current weather conditions.

Although not visible in this photo there were 3 ships on the horizon waiting for a berth in Newcastle, a short distance to the north.
Lovely coastal heath providing habitat for a healthy population of Fairywrens.