Saturday, November 11, 2006

Barren Grounds Nature Reserve, Sunday 22nd October

After our look at Port Botany, Tun Pin took me on a quest to see one of his favourite birds - Eastern Bristlebird. This is definitely a birder's bird, as it is not only brown and rather featureless but also an inhabitant of thick undergrowth and a skulker by nature. There are thought to be only about 2,000 birds left in existence, in two isolated areas in New South Wales and Queensland. They live on heathlands and in nearby woodlands, and depend upon heath fires occurring at just the right time and frequency. If there are too few heath fires, the habitat becomes too overgrown for the bristlebirds; if there are too many, the heath plants do not become mature enough for them to build their nests. Tun Pin told me that they require about 5-year old growth for their nests. If fires occur at the wrong time - when the birds are nesting - the eggs and young will be destroyed - although the adults can retreat into nearby woodlands. Add to this the fact that the birds are poor fliers, and that they are extremely sensitive to disturbance, and it's little wonder that they are rare!

Tun Pin's experience with the birds was an invaluable asset, as he correctly predicted that our best chance of seeing them would be just before dusk, provided there was no rain and not too much wind. In the meantime we wandered around the nearby woodlands, and discovered just why Barren Grounds is so named! There were very few birds indeed!

A walk to a look-out over the Illawarra escarpment produced spectacular views

Another shot of the spectacular view, with me in the way!

a Wedge-tailed Eagle soaring overhead

The heath areas gave us a fleeting glimpse of a Collared Sparrowhawk and some distant Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos. Then we settled in for a long wait - standing quietly by the path over the heath. Apparently, as the sun moves off the heath the bristlebirds will sometimes come out onto the path to feed, and to bathe if there are any puddles (no such luck!).

Our wait was enlivened by a several close Grey Fantails and once, a male Southern Emu Wren, which was a lifer for me and one that I had really wanted to see. Unfortunately, it gave frustratingly brief views.

A Grey Fantail singing.

A Southern Emu Wren appears briefly in the light of the setting sun.

The bristlebirds would call sporadically from either side of the path, and we caught a few brief glimpses of them as they appeared to react to each other.

Once a bird emerged onto the path having seized what looked like a caterpillar or grub, but in general, they were pretty quiet.

Even though there was no wind, it got surprisingly cold as the sun set, and I realised that I was hopelessly underdressed for the occasion. Fortunately, Tun Pin had brought along a spare jacket in anticipation of my lack of foresight!

Dusk over the Barren Grounds.

The light was fading and the temperature dropping to the point where I think if either of us had suggested calling it a day, the other would have happily agreed! But neither of us did, and so, way past the time when I would normally have given it up as a lost cause, suddenly a Bristlebird came out of the undergrowth right in front of us. It was another fleeting view, but just enough time to get the camera onto the bird and take one acceptable snap. It was a good feeling!

An Eastern Bristlebird showing off its bristles!

Back at the car we found some White-browed Scrubwrens hopping around in the open in near darkness, and they seemed much more approachable than birds seen earlier in the day. Two of the three birds were ringed (one of which was being fed by another so was presumably a juvenile).

A White-browed Scrubwren - inmate number 025 judging by his leg-iron!

A last visit to the loo also produced brief views of a Potoroo, which is a cat-sized marsupial that looks like a gigantic ball-shaped rat and hops like a kangaroo (the other name for it is 'rat kangaroo'). It bounded down the path in front of me and disappeared into a hole. I waited a little while for it to emerge again, but the cold beat me and we were soon on our drive back to Sydney after a memorable day's birding.

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