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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones

Birding On My Own
Australia &
New Zealand 2002
Emmalee Tarry
Revised 2015

Trip Reports

Table of Contents

Chapter 4
Royal National Park

Royal National Park
Port Macquarie
Drive to Lamington NP

Comments to webmaster

Laughing Kokabura Royal National Park

Laughing Kookaburra in Royal National Park.

Sydney, Australia July 1, 2002
I flew from Christ Church, New Zealand to Sydney, Australia and checked into the Hilton Hotel another gift from my son. It was a very nice hotel with a view of the city and a Cricket Field. I would have found a cheaper place to stay had I been paying for it. The next morning I was up early and ready to get going. I took a taxi to the place where I had arranged for the rental of the campervan. I realize now I would have done better to wait until I got to Australia to rent a campervan.

The rental place directed me to a nearby campground called The Grand Pines on Botany Bay. Since the campervan does not have automatic shift and I am now driving on the left hand side of the road this is a very new experience. Be sure to call ahead and make sure the campground can accomodate you for a few days before you start driving there. I needed a place close by to get organized and do some shopping.
The Grand Pines turned out to be perfect. At AU$36 this was the most expensive campground I stayed in on the whole trip. It was a very small campground with small sites. They had a nice amenities block with showers, a laundry and were located across the street from a nice beach front park. There was no camp kitchen or recreational facilities. The neighborhood was primarily residential. The owners are probably hanging on waiting for some hotel to buy them out. There was a grocery store within walking distance so that I was able to avoid driving. I stayed here two nights, doing laundry, stocking up with canned good from the grocery, and arranging the storage in the campervan.

The first thing I did was to read all the material that came with the van. I read the directions for using the stove, refrigerator, water storage, lights, and how to make the table into the bed and back to the table. There were also instructions on what to do in the case of an accident and how to get the van serviced. Since I was using the van for 4 months, it would require servicing 3 times. I also read the Toyota owners manual. There was a helpful pamphlet on driving in Australia and another on how to avoid getting an expensive ticket on the tricky toll roads in Melbourne. I had a guide book listing campgrounds.

The campervan has no closet so I ended up using the shelf over the drivers area to store my clothing. Bedding took up the shelf that was supposed to pull out and make a bed for a child. There were 3 thick pads for this upper bunk which would not be used. I decided to go back to the rental agency and leave these pads to get them out of my way. I also left one of the three lawn chairs that came with the camper. I got an extra car key made and wore it on a chain around my neck for the duration of the trip. Birders have a reputation for jumping out of the car to see a bird and locking themselves out. Not a good idea in the outback. I also bought a cell phone that would work in Australia which I donated to the Wollogong Pelagic organizers when I left Australia.

I used boxes from the grocery to arrange canned goods in the storage compartment under the bench seats on either side of the table. Another box went on the front seat to hold maps and books while driving.I decided that I was very glad I was not sharing this campervan with another adult much less an additional child. It seemed just right for one person. We Americans are a bit spoiled.

Even this urban setting has some good birds. Rainbow Lorikeet, Sulfur-crested Cockatoo, Magpie, Australian White Ibis, Crested Pigeon, Willy Wagtail, Silver Gull.

All the campgrounds in Australia seem to have people who either live there all the time or at least for long periods of time. One of the regulars in this campground was feeding the Sulfur-crested Cockatoos. (right)

I met a couple from Melbourne who were here for their son's wedding. She had the wedding cake in their caravan and brought it out to show me. The next day they would pick up another son who was flying in from the US for the wedding.

The guy in the spot next to me is working on his car all the time. Today he is changing the oil.

Sulfur-crested Cockatoo

I gave up trying to leave the first day and satisfied myself with a long walk on the beach on Botany Bay. Tomorrow I would head for Royal National Park. I had expected to stay in the Sydney area until the second Saturday when I would take the Sydney Pelagic. On the internet terminal in the office I read my E-mail and discovered the pelagic was cancelled. I had nothing to do until the fourth Saturday when I take the Wollongong Pelagic. So I was off to Royal National Park.

There are things to be done each morning before you start off. Secure the cabinet doors otherwise the first time you go around a corner all the stuff falls out on the floor. Place a pillow in the cabinet with the dishes to keep them from rattling while driving. Close all the windows, disconnect the electric cord and place in the cabinet under the table. Make the bed into a table. Be sure you have stored the bucket, chairs, and hose. Look around the camp site to make sure you don't leave anything.

I finally got up my courage and left the safety of the Grand Pines. Shifting gears with my left hand is proving to be a big challenge. New Toyota vans have a very stiff gear shift and I seem to miss first gear most of the time. The traffic lanes in Sydney are very narrow or at least it seemed so to me and everyone is driving very fast. I later decided that Sydney is the worst place to drive in Australia, but this morning I am beginning to think this whole trip may be a bad idea. I am driving very cautiously and irritating every Australian driver on the road. So far nobody has flipped me the Boston salute, but I know I am not popular.

Royal National Park
The park is just south of Sydney and while it is called a national park it is owned by the state of New South Wales. Australia has 6 states and one territory: New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. All the parks are called "National Parks", but as far as I could determine they are all equivalent to our state parks.

Recently some of the national parks have been turned over to Aboriginal Tribes and then the tourist parts of these parks leased back to the state to operate. At the visitors center you can buy a pass to all the New South Wales (NSW) parks except Kosciusko for AU$60 or for all for AU$73. I bought a pass. I also signed up for two nights in the BonnieVale campground which cost AU$7 per night. The female Ranger was so excited that I was traveling alone that she gave me two nights of camping free. The only way to pay for a campsite is at the visitors center which turns out to be a little inconvenient since it is a long drive to the campground. The gift shop has a good selection of natural history books and souvenirs. I purchased a small guide to Birdwatching in Royal and Heathcote National Parks. This served as an excellent guide to the tracks in the park.
The Bungoona Track leaves from the picnic area near the center and is a paved trail to an overview of the river. I saw several small birds along this track. I even had some very long looks at some of them. Fumbling around with my Australian bird book, I was unable to make any positive identification. It is like being a beginning birder all over again and I am very discouraged.

Later I realized that these birds were female and juvenile Superb Fairywrens. The bird book only showed adult males which are brillantly colored blue and black birds and very common. The experience was unnerving. I got so discouraged I even thought the whole trip was a mistake. Maybe I need a leader to drive the car on the wrong side of the road and identify the birds. Too late now. I am committed.
I have not carried a field guide to the North American birds into the field in years. Now I am "back to the book". It really helps to have a quick index to the field guide you are using. I have included a quick index to the Simpson and Day field guide to the Birds of Australia in this book. Print a copy or make your own and paste it to the back of your book.

The main road in the park winds down to cross the river just before the old town of Audley. This road is sometimes underwater in which case you will have to go back out to the Prince Highway and enter by the second gate to reach the campground. Australia is in the midst of the worst drought in one hundred years and there is no problem now. Just over the causeway you pass the southern end of the Lady Carrington Walking Track. I drove on to the turn off for Bundeena and the Bonnie Vale campground.

Bonnie Vale Campground
The Bonnie Vale campground is the first left after you enter the town of Bundeena. It is winter and the campground is mostly empty. I was supposed to be assigned to campsite 16, but the sites are not all numbered. I selected a nice spot of grass and moved in. Most national park campgrounds do not offer powered sites and are designed for tents only.

Bonnie Vale is due for refurbishing and it badly needs it. The only facilities consisted of a concrete block building with flush toilets and one sink. Later when I was wandering around birding I stopped in another toilet building in the public picnic area and discovered hot showers. There were trash cans and plenty of water faucets. Once a day a maintenance man came by and hosed down the toilets and took some of the trash away. Otherwise the campground was unsupervised. Late in my trip I tried to stay here again and was told by the visitors center that it was closed for refurbishing. I stayed at the private campground in Bundeena and came over here to look for birds. I was surprised to find plenty of campers and a ranger to collect fees. It seems the central booking telephone number had not been informed the campground was closed. The Ranger would not rent you a space, but if you made a reservation with central booking she would honor the reservation. Confused? Australians seem to be used to this kind of inefficiency.

The campground is surrounded by private cabins which predate the park. The town of Bundeena is connected by a ferry to Sydney and people commute there to work. Residents of Bundeena walk their dogs and jog in the campground. I talked to one young man who said that people still resent the park surrounding the town. Imagine resenting a national park as beautiful as Royal NP.

If the Bonnie Vale campground was primitive, it was also quiet and full of birds. I stayed here five nights because the birds were good and Royal National Park was a good place for me to learn to drive the campervan with ease. In the morning a chorus of Kookaburra woke me at dawn. I parked the van so that in the evening the sun set on one side and in the morning there was a beautiful pink dawn over the bay out the other window. It is a bit cold in the Australian winter and I wasn't popping out from under the warm covers so early. I am retired after all.

In the evenings I was entertained by a dancing Willy Wagtail. I was so fond of this bird I named my campervan "Willy" in its honor. It spent most of its time on or near the ground.

I recorded his movements:

Hop right, hop right, hop right, pop up and make a complete circle, hop left. Fly to the top of a short post and wag tail right and left. Repeat all this several times.  Finally it sits there and looks at me.

I saw the Willy Wagtail everywhere throughout the trip and always enjoyed its antics

Willy Wag Tail Royal National Park

Royal NP Campground Birding
The campground offers a variety of habitat :beach, salt water lagoons, fresh water, and a large area of mangrove swamp. The birding is excellent right outside your camper.

The lagoon at right had Nankeen Night Herons fishing in late evening. Great, Little and Intermediate Egrets, Royal Spoonbills, White Ibis, White-faced Heron, Pacific Black Duck, Australian Wood Duck, Gray Teal, Little Pied Cormorant.

Shorebirds came and went with the tides. Back in the woods I had a small group of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos. Crested Pigeon, Red-wattlebird, Galah, Sulfur-crested Cockatoo, Rainbow Lorikeets, Superb Fairywren.

The trip is looking up and my spirits are rising.  It is not always going to be easy but It is going to be fun.

Mangroves at Royal National Park

Great Egret Royal NP lagoon
Great Egret

Royal Spoonbill

Masked Lapwing

Chestnut Teal
Chestnut Teal


Wood Duck

Wood Duck

Sulfur-crested Cackatoo Sulfur-crested Cockatoo drinks from faucet.

An amusing scene in the campground was a Sulfur-crested Cockatoo drinking from a dripping shower.

Groups of Cockatoos make a great screeching when they fly overhead. In the woods. Later  I learned to use the noise as a cover to creep closer to the Lyrebirds.

People are fond of feeding them. Watch out for their big bills which could inflict a significant injury. Farmers don’t like them much as they have an appetite for sprouted seeds. One farmer told me how they went down a row of newly planted grape vines and cut off every plant.

Lady Carrington Track

The Lady Carrington Track is 9.6 KM of unsealed fire road. It is mostly easy walking and fairly level except for the uphill section at the south end. It was first built as a carriage road. It is a little too far for me to walk the length and back so I walked it in two trips starting at either end.
My first hiking day I started in Audley at the north end of the Lady Carrington track. In the river was Australasian Grebe, Pacific Black Duck, Dusky Moorhen, Little Pied Shag. I walked some distance on the track without seeing much. This area was caught in a large fire several years ago and the underbrush has not fully recovered. Since the winds were quite high, I went to the surfing beach at Garie to watch the surfers and to scan the coast for seabirds. This was not profitable. There were Masked Lapwings (see photo above) on the beach.

The following day I went to the south end of the Lady Carrington Track. Park to one side of the stone gate. They warn you to be careful about leaving your car here, but what can you do but take a chance. This site is fairly close to the train station and I guess thieves have broken into cars in the past. I parked here on three occasions without problems.

The first section is downhill through very tall forests. I saw many small birds in the upper canopy which I had no chance of identifying this early in my trip. I did see a Green Catbird.

Two early hikers on their way out told me they had seen a Lyrebird behind the Audley 9km sign at the bottom of the hill. I forgot the little jobs in the high canopy and made my way to the sign. And there was the Superb Lyrebird as promised. I actually heard it scratching in the leaves before I saw it ten feet off the path. It paid no attention to me and went on scratching in the dirt. A little group of small birds were actively searching for food right behind the Lyrebird: Yellow-throated Scrubwren, Eastern Yellow Robin, and Eastern Whipbird. Winter is the time to look for the Lyrebird. In fact as I was beginning to realize winter is a very good time to bird in Australia since their winter is very mild.

Whip Bird named for its sound.

One of the birds that follow the Lyrebird is the Eastern Whipbird. The bird appears black with a white throat. This pictures shows the wings and back to be very dark green. Easily heard, it is not so often seen and obviously pretty hard to photograph.

The easily recognized song immitates the loud cracking of a whip. I knew immediately what it was the first time I heard the sound just from the name.

My second Lyrebird was just past the sign for the limestone cave. Again I found it by listening for the scratching in the leaves. It too was accompanied by a band of smaller birds rooting around in the dirt it turned up with its scratching.

I continued on the track for some distance until I again seemed to be in the burned over area. There was a plaque in honor of a firefighter who died fighting the fire in 1988 erected by "his mates from the Illawong Brigade."

A biker stopped to chat. There were several bikers on the track most of them riding very fast. Best to stay out of their way. The friendly guy was a fisheries Biologist whose hobby is fishing. He likes birds too and stopped to tell me about Eastern Whipbird he was hearing. He said they were hard to see, but I had just seen one following the Lyrebird.

Walking back I had a third Lyrebird walking parallel to the track and a fourth crossed the track in front of me. Either this was a really good day or this is really the place to see the Superb Lyrebird. I returned here later in the spring and didn't see any Lyrebirds and yet I saw two Lyrebirds going up the road to the Barron Ground Bird Observatory about the same time.

The Yellow Robin is easy to see. It has yellow underparts and a bright yellow rump. One of the things I noticed was its propensity to cling to the side of a large tree. I was soon to find out that the some of the other robins are not nearly so friendly and easy to see.

The Yellow-throated Scrubwren looks very much like our Common Yellowthroat except it is not a warbler. I also had Large-billed Scrubwren, Gray Fantail, and White-browed Scrubwren.

And yes there were some birds, even birds I had a good look at that I did not identify. I was finding it so hard to fumble around with the bird book all the time that I started writing down descriptions in my notebook to look up later. I even made little drawings.

That night I was the only camper at BonnieVale. The next day I went to Lady Carrington again and this time met a bird group from Sydney. They were very friendly and asked me how many North American birds I had. They invited me to the next meeting of the Sydney bird club. With them I saw my first Crimson Rosella perched in the canopy.

I showed them a Lyrebird with a Whipbird following. May have been the same one as yesterday since it was near the Audley sign. I had White-throated Treecreeper and Pied Currawong. They were disappointed with the number of birds they were seeing. Also I finally identified the Superb Fairywren which I had seen a few days ago near the visitors center.

Yellow Robin Lamington NP

A Day in Sydney
The Sydney pelagic has been cancelled for lack of participation. I am very disappointed, but since I now have no reason to hang around Sydney, I decide to head north to Lamington National Park for a week or so and to come back at the end of the month for the Wollongong Pelagic. Wollongong is just south of Sydney. I studied the map and plotted what looked like a good route through the city to the north. There is no good route and I spent a good part of the day starting and stopping at traffic lights and fighting traffic.

In late afternoon I was finally north of the city and stopped in the La Mancha Campground. This was a great place with hot showers, internet, and swimming pool.

The campground was across the street from the train into Sydney and the next day I went into the city for the day. What Sydney lacks in highways it makes up for with wonderful trains: Electric, quiet, clean, two-decker cars, clean stations. On the way into town the train crossed the famous Sydney Harbor Bridge and I had my first look at the famous sails of the Opera House.

I got off at the Wyngard Station and walked down George Street to the Circular Quay where I took a trip on the Captain Cook ferry around the harbor for AU$20. It is a beautiful and historic harbor. For a price you can climb the Sydney Harbor bridge and I watched the tiny figures of the climbers. My son climbed the bridge twice on two trips to Australia. Its an activity for the young.

I had lunch at Doyle's on the Circular Quay. They have a winter special: soup, fried fish, chips, rolls and a glass of wine AU$19. The restaurant was full of older people all having the winter special. My table faced the harbor and the Opera House. A unique aspect of downtown Sydney is that feeding with the flocks of pigeons you find Australian White Ibis.

Port Macquarie
The next day I continued north on the Pacific Highway, a road that varies from two lane with overtaking lanes every 5 km or so to four lanes divided highway. A campervan is really nice when traveling long distances because you can stop and fix a nice lunch and do a little birding without wasting much time.

I find that by 3 PM I am tired of driving and look for a campground. On this day I ended up at the River Lodge Camp on the north side of the Macquarie River. This campground is mostly filled with permanent residents and people who maintain caravans here for their vacations. You can tell the permanent people because they have gardens, bird feeders, and elaborate extensions on their caravans.

Living in a caravan seemed to be an accepted way of life in Australia. With the mild climate people adjust to walking to the common toilet and shower block. The campgrounds have laundry and recreational facilities and it must save money. A powered site cost me AU$15.

I took a good walk around the campground and along the river. Rainbow Lorikeet, Galah, Crested Pigeon (right), White Ibis, Magpie, Scale-breasted Lorikeet, Noisy Miner, Noisy Friarbird, Eastern Rosella, Straw-necked Ibis.

Crested Pigeon

Rose-breasted Robin
In Coffs Harbor the next morning the odometer hit 1000km so Willy was due for the free service which my rental contract required me to handle. I found the Toyota place and they agreed to do it at 4 PM so I went and found a campground on the beach and spent a restful afternoon. It was warm enough to change into shorts.

I wasn't expecting to spend time here. Thomas and Thomas have a paragraph on Coffs Harbor. Most of the ravens here are the northern subspecies of the Forest Raven which has been split into Relic Raven. I saw plenty of ravens in the campground so they must be the Relic Raven. I have to admit I find the split hard to determine in the field. You should also be able to see the Pacific Baza breeding here in spring. Unfortunately it is winter and I never did see this bird.

Pulling in the parking lot at Toyota, I hit a bump, the dish cabinet flew open and with a great crash everything fell out onto the floor. Taking your house on the road has its drawbacks. Nothing broke, but everyone certainly knew I was there. The service did not take long and soon I was back at the beach campground.

The next day I made tracks for Lamington National Park stopping for lunch just after Ballina at a rest park across the creek from Stotts Island Nature Reserve. A Rose-breasted Robin moved along the brush at the edge of the creek. This beautiful little bird is my second Australian robin after the friendly Yellow Robin in Royal National Park. I like this bird so much I decide I want to see all the Australian Robins. I wish it had stayed around instead it just moved right on hopping from branch to branch. I stalked around with my camera ready, but couldn't dig it up again. I am sure it is across the creek in nature reserve which is not open to the public. At least it is safe there.

The next morning I drove to Canungra and then made the drive up the steep, windy road to Lamington National Park. This very dangerous 35 km climb takes about an hour. A sign at the bottom warns "Not suitable for caravans". I was terrified especially when I was driving about 2 feet from a steep drop off. Willy took this climb with no trouble in low gear. I would not attempt this road at dusk or after dark and no birding on the way up. If you arrive late in the afternoon there is a campground in Canungra. This was a long day, but a day on which you see your life Rose-breasted Robin is not a bad day. Besides Lamington National Park was everything one could expect.

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