Rhodes to SOP.

After checking out the Peewee Family at Meadowbank Bridge, we rode our bicycles to Sydney Olympic Park via Rhodes. On the edge of Homebush Bay we saw an Australasian Darter (Anhinga novaehollandiae).

We checked out the little thicket of casuarina trees where we had found Yellow Thornbills previously, but no luck.
Cycling around the Badu Wetlands we saw a White-faced Heron (Egreta novaehollandiae).

There was not much action at the bird hide on the northern edge of the wetlands: quite a few Pied Stilts (including some juveniles), and this female Superb Fairy-wren :

At the old ship-breaking ramp, another Australasian Darter, a White-faced Heron and a number of Silver Gulls were using the old barge as a perch or a place to find wood-loving insects:

At Haslam’s Pier, we got a nice “aerial” view of a family of Black Swans (Cygnus atratus):


Lake Paika: Dawn and Dusk.

In 1907, as part of wider-ranging Murrumbidgee Irrigatgation Area developments, a levee and dam were constructed that curtailed waterflow from the Murrumbidgee River into Lake Paika. For over 100 years, “Lake” Paika was a bone-dry depression.
In 2008, a group of local land-owners (including our host at Paika Station, Dianne Williams) clubbed together and commenced action to reinstate Paika Lake. Working with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, and the CSIRO, they were successful in rehabilitating the 450 hectare lake, with the first water in 105 years flowing into it in 2011.
The lake now provides important habitat for wildlife, in particular wading birds. And, of course, spectacularly beautiful views for guests at Paika Station.


Eurasian Coots (Fulica atra) and their chicks lived among the reeds behind our cottage.

The drive and generosity of the land-holders in this action group cannot be down-played. One of the bordering stations depended for power on electrical cables that ran across the dry lake bed. The owners had to live many months with generator power while the rehabilitation work was undertaken.


Our new bird friend, the Crested Grebe sailed by in the sunset:

The sunset that Bramanda experienced, sitting on the verandah of the of the old workers’ accommodation with a bottle of local wine, was one of the most memorable we have had.


Wing Mirror.

During our stay at Paika Station, a plucky male Superb Fairy-wren, nesting in the hedge in front of our cottage, took great exception to his own reflection in the wing mirror of the car.

Obviously, he was unable to distinguish his reflection – in both the mirror and the window – from potential usurping males. He would attack his reflection tirelessly for minutes at at time, and come back every 10 minutes or so to try again. As can be seen from the photos, he often left droppings behind during these frenzies.

He seemed to be expending so much energy in this behavior that we became worried he might die of exhaustion. We tried to cover the mirrors, but the reflections in the glass of the windows were also enough to arouse his aggression. He even fought his reflection in the window of our cottage at one point.

We hope that when we left, this little guy settled down.


Paika Station.

17kms north of Balranald is Paika Station. Paika (rhymes with “baker” not “biker”) is a working station producing a wheat crop, but is nowadays also a popular accommodation site, offering a large self-contained cottage, shared accommodation in the restored Workman’s Quarters, and soon a glamping option as well.

Bramanada spent four days here, using it as a base to see the environs.

If you’re a vintage tractor aficionado, Paika Station has you covered!

The Station was established in 1846, initially running cattle and selling livestock to goldfields butchers during the gold rush. By the 1860s, sheep had overtaken beef cattle as the stock.

The main house, Paika Homestead, was constructed in 1875 from locally-fired bricks. These days the house and garden is a popular venue for weddings. Our hosts Dianne and Iain were happy for us to wander in their remarkable garden.      


Major Look.

On our tour of Lake Mungo and the Walls of China, we were lucky enough to see our first Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos (Lophochroa leadbeateri) in the wild.

German, our guide, spotted them from a frankly amazing distance. As we got closer, the pale pink was unmistakable.
They are smaller and much quieter than their cousins the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo.

Major Mitchell’s (named after an explorer of inland Australia) are found in arid and semi-arid areas of the inland, in all Australian states except Tasmania. They need wooded habitats – or at least lightly-wooded – as they lay eggs at the bottom of a vertical tree hollow, usually on a bed of rotting wood. They prefer habitats where eucalypts and acacias dominate.
3 to 4 eggs are laid, with both parents incubating. Chicks are fledged in about 4 months.

They are omivorous, and will eat the seeds of grasses, shrubs and trees. They will take small roots and bulbs, as well as insect larvae and grubs. They mostly forage on the ground – sometimes in groups of other cockatoos like galahs and corellas – but will also eat in the branches of a tree. The one we saw in the tree was taking great delight in a Paddy Melon (Cucumis myriocarpus).

These birds are sadly now listed as Vulnerable in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.

Birds Walk

Mungo Au Go Go.

Arriving at Paika Station, we dropped our stuff for a quick turn-around, and were picked up for a guided tour of Mungo National Park, and the famous “Walls of China”.

First stop was the historic Homebush Hotel, 27kms north of Balranald, one of NSW’s “true” outback pubs, which has been operating since 1878.
Our tour of four people were the only patrons – but the publican told us that 500+ visitors were expected on the weekend after the funeral of a popular local identity!

After a quick beer, we were driven the 120km north to “Lake” Mungo with a few roadside stops along the way.

At Mungo, we stopped at the Visitor’s Centre, and took a look at the historic Woolshed. This shearing shed was part of the old Gol Gol Sheep Station from a time before this was a National Park. It is made from local Cypress pine using the “drop-log” technique (a technique thought to have been introduced to Australia by Chinese immigrants). Ironically, it was the intense grazing of the enormous flocks of sheep, and the felling of so much local Cypress that led to the erosion which revealed and created the formations we were about to see.

High in the sky, a Black Kite circled, but our attention was grabbed by this Singing Honeyeater (Lichenostomus virescens) who posed for us near the old water tank, looking suitably “outback”.
The Singing Honeyeater is one of the most widely occurring honeyeaters in Australia (though absent in Tasmania), but is rare in eastern NSW.

Not only is Lake Mungo part of the Willandra Lakes World Heritage area, and the site of important archaeological finds, it is also culturally significant to Indigenous Australians. It is a sacred site and burial ground, and the discovery of many middens and footprints mark the area as an important meeting place for First Nations people.
As well as the discovery of the 42,000 year old burial of Mungo Man, the burnt remains of Mungo Woman have been found, and are the oldest record of human cremation found anywhere on Earth.
Legend has it this stone memorial to Indigenous Guide Leslie Taylor (1966 – 2003) was planned to be erected elsewhere, but fell off the truck at this location. This was taken as a sign that the monument should rest here.

The “Walls of China” is a low, curving line of sandy hills – a Lunette – that arcs around the eastern shore of the dry lakebed of Mungo. A lunette is defined as a single, massive dune ridge of sand and clay blown up from a lake bed. The lunette at Mungo is approximately 20 metres high, 200 metres wide, and extends for nearly 30 kilometres. Wind and rain erosion has carved the lunette into dramatic formations and features.
The system is as fragile as it is beautiful. Today, visitors cannot walk out onto the lunette unless they are part of a guided tour by a registered tour operator.

We had booked the Sunset Tour, as this is famously the best time to view and photograph these formations. With record rainfalls bearing down on South West NSW, our booking had to be changed twice, but due to the organizational and driving skills of Amanda, we were fortunate enough to make the one window available for the Sunset Tour before the rains closed the Park for many days.

Trying to eliminate my own shadow from a pic…

A bird highlight was seeing a pair of Major Mitchell Cockatoos (see “Major Look”). Our guide also identified some furtive and fast moving Rainbow Bee-eaters (Merops ornatus) which we weren’t able to photograph, but Welcome Swallows were making their homes amongst the dunes in plentiful numbers:

As the sun dipped lower and lower still, the light was changing minute to minute, bathing the formations in an everchanging range of colour. As German our guide said – cameras love these colours!
At the risk of sounding all New Age and Herbal… it really was a magical and strange location to be in at sunset. You’d have to be pretty hard-hearted not to be affected by it.

Birds Flora

Through Canola to Coota.

Leaving Jugiong, we headed to Leeton – with a stop off at Cootmundra – along the so-called “Canola Way”. The yellow-flowering canola fields were stunningly picturesque.

At Cootamundra, we walked along the Heritage Bird Walk. We saw the Red Wattle-bird:

The Yellow Thornbill (Acanthiza nana):

A new bird to our cameras – the Noisy Friar-bird (Philemon corniculatus):

And furtively keeping to distant trees, a Sacred Kingfisher:


Jugiong Jaunt.

The first overnight stop on our trip to South West New South Wales was the tiny town of Jugiong (population 260 approx.) 338 kilometres south west of Sydney.

Since the mid 1990s, Jugiong has been totally bypassed by the Hume Freeway, and nowadays survives as a tourist spot thanks to its two attractions: the Long Track Pantry, and the Sir George Inn.

On our night and morning there we snapped some of the local birdlife.

Crimson Rosellas (two juveniles):

A new bird for us – the Blue-faced Honeyeater (Entomyzon cyanotis):

The juveniles of this species are easily spotted by the yellow-green skin around the eye, and the lighter grey on the the bib:

In the same flowering tree, Red Wattlebirds:

A Yellow-faced Honeyeater (Lichenostomus chrysops)

A female Superb Fairy-wren:

And of course the males:

The Yellow-rumped Thornbill (Acanthiza chrysorrhoa):

The male Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris):

A Red-browed Finch:

A nice place to overnight when heading west…



Why the excitement about a such a familiar and abundant introduced species, that some consider pests?

Well, when I was a small kid growing up in Sydney’s South-West, House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) were truly abundant. I would say that four out of every five birds I ever saw was a sparrow. For a time when I was very young, to me the word “bird” meant sparrow.
But for decades now, House Sparrows have been very rare in the Sydney Basin, out-competed by Noisy Miners. So much so that when we travelled further west, the House Sparrows we saw sparked a real nostalgia in me.

The House Sparrow is sexually dimorphic. The male has a highly-patterned head and bib:

His bib becomes fuller and blacker when breeding. The ones we saw at Jugiong NSW were probably not in breeding mode yet.

The female has a much less patterned head, and though her wings are patterned similarly to the male, she tends to be duller and greyer overall. But no less pretty:

The House Sparrow was deliberately introduced into Australia circa 1860. Although its occupation of Sydney has dwindled dramatically, by all reports it is extending its range rapidly west, wherever man lives. It has been sighted in the Torres Strait Islands too.
In Northern Territory and Western Australia there are active control programs to limit their numbers.


Horsing Around, Acting the Goat.

At Jugiong, this goat tried to get his paddock-mates to play…

Birds Flora Reptiles Walk

In Living Curra.

In Sydney’s Royal National Park, the Curra Moors Loop Walk is a 10km trek through heath and coastal sandstone cliffs. A rough and challenging walk normally, after the surreally heavy rains of Eastern Australia’s third consecutive La Nina, the muddiness made this walk quite a dance of fancy footwork! But we had heard that there would be a great display of wildflowers at this time. We were not disappointed.

Coral Heath (Epacris microphylla):

Drumsticks (Isopogon anethifolius):

A King Parrot and his mate posed obligingly for us:


Native Iris (Patersonia occidentalis):

Dotted Sun Orchids (Thelymitra ixioides):

There were many, many New Holland Honeyeaters around… and they seemed to like the Gymea Lilies (Doryanthes excelsa):

Plenty of lizards:

The Parrot Pea (Fabaceae):

A White-browed Scrub Wren put on a display of singing for us:

In the fading light of afternoon, a Brown Thornbill:

There really was a plethora of gorgeous flowers on display:

But of all the wonderful wildflowers, the Waratahs (Telopea
) were naturally the most spectacular: