Pitt Town Area - Western Sydney Birding

January 9, 2010 — November 6, 2011

The area around Pitt Town is my favourite place for birding in Sydney. With a such a diversity of habitats, you can easily see a large number and variety of birds in a few hours. This trip is a summary of my favourite places in the area.

 Pitt Town Area - Western Sydney Birding

Over my numerous trips out here, I have had a great deal of noteable sightings (but often miss out on the specific bird I'm looking for!). Waterbirds commonly seen include the common Sydney ducks, as well as Black Swan and Hardhead. Brown Quail are seen occasionally, and I heard a Stubble Quail once in 2010. Various egrets and herons can be spotted, including White-necked Heron, Royal and Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Cattle Egret, Straw-necked and maybe Glossy Ibis, and as mentioned, occasionally bitterns. 

The most common raptor is the Swamp Harrier, which is often seen flying low over the lagoon. White-bellied Sea-eagles and Nankeen Kestrels are also around, as are a number of other raptor species, though I have seen no others here.

Black-fronted Dotteral, and at the right time, Red-kneed Dotteral, can be seen on the muddy edges of the lagoon. Other waders include Wood Sandpipe and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper - as well as rarer birds like Latham's Snipe, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper and Ruff.

While the main attractions are the waterbirds, a number of bush birds also occur around the lagoon, including (but not limited to) White-belleid Cuckoo Shrike, Fairy Martin, Red-rumped Parrot, White-plumed Honeyeater, Little and Tawny Grassbirds, Australian Reed-warbler, Golden-headed Cisticola, Red-browed Finch and Chestnut-breasted Mannikin.

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 Mitchell Park - Birding Day and Night

While I haven't visited Mitchell Park as much as Pitt Town Lagoon, it never fails to impress. On the morning of the 2010 Twitchathon, my team and I racked up an impressive list in the dawn chorus, with some realy quality birds making an appearance. Two excerts from my 2010 Twitchathon report have this to say:

Arriving at Mitchell, we walked all the way to the end of the park without seeing or hearing anything (despite my best Owlet Nightjar impersonations) Henry had more luck, as when he tried his best White-throated Nightjar impersonation, a Powerful Owl responded! We moved towards it, and despite about 30 minutes of coaxing it refused to come into a tree where we could see it, much to our disappointment. We moved away, thoroughly sick of not having seen anything and only getting 1 tick for the twitchathon list. Unfortunately, no White-throated Nightjar appeared, but we all got great views of an Owlet Nightjar, which didn’t fly off even when we were all within touching distance! 

Despite our night seeming slightly uneventful, no-where else this close to Sydney is as good for night birds in my opinion. Mitchell Park boasts and impressive night list, including Powerful Owl, Southern Boobook, Masked Owl, White-throated Nightjar, Tawny Frogmouth and Australian Owlet Nightjar (plus a few others which have apparentky been seen there in the past).

We woke up at 5:15 on Sunday morning, when it was still dark, and headed over to Mitchell Park again for the dawn chorus. Luckily, the gates were open (unlike the night before) so we could drive all the way to the end where the habitat was more interesting. After getting out of the car, we quickly ticked off (mainly be call) WTGerygone, Wonga Pigeon, Common Bronzewing, Pallid Cuckoo, Cicadabird, Brown Gerygone, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (finally!), Brown Cuckoo-dove, Scarlet HE, etc, etc. We also heard a Brush Cuckoo, which I would have loved to get my bins on, but the light was still low and we couldn’t locate it. I can’t complain though, I think Nathan heard about 5 lifers throughout the twitch. Heading back to Cattai to pack up the tents, Henry spotted us a male Satin Bowerbird. This was a surprise, as we didn’t think we would see them anywhere.

The action-packed morning described above was only one and a half hours. 90 minutes and we got all those species and more! You can clearly see how amazing Mitchell Park is for birding! 

I find it's best to go all the way to the end of the road (a turning circle) where the forest is more substantial and try birding around there. Forest birds can be easy to pick up, including Wonga Pigeon, Brush Cuckoo, White-throated Gerygone, Cicadabird, Bassian Thrush, Scarlet Honeyeater, Noisy Friarbird and, apparently, Painted Button-quail. 

If no luck there, walk back towards the gates, keeping an eye out for Common Bronzewings if it's early morning. Just before the open grassy area, another track leads off to your left. This is also an extremely good spot for forest birds - but remember to listen out wherever you go. We heard the twitchathon Pallid Cuckoo just south of the rangers office (which is also where we had the Powerful Owl and Owlet Nightjar). 

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 Scheyville National Park

I normally park on the side of Pitt Town Dural Rd, and take the track which leads into the park. There are a number of walking tracks in the park, but I don’t normally have much time to spend here!

As you enter the bushland, keep an eye out for parrots flying overhead – Little Lorikeets are often around, and best tracked down by their high pitched screeching. Cuckoos are also prevalent, mainly Shining Bronze-cuckoo and Fan-tailed Cuckoo, but other species turn up occasionally, such as Pallid Cuckoo.

One of the specialties of Scheyville in my opinion is its honeyeaters. The most common are Bell Miners – easily heard and seen everywhere, almost becoming annoying by the time you leave! Other common honeyeaters include Fuscous, Yellow-tufted, Brown-headed and Scarlet. Concentrate on flowing trees that seem to have a number of birds flying around them.

The LBJs (little brown jobs) are also prevalent in the forest. As well as Superb and Variegated Fairy-wrens, a number of thornbill and gerygone species also occur, including Yellow Thornbill, White-throated Gerygone, and the smallest Australian bird, the Weebill. Also be on the lookout for Speckled Warblers, which are beautiful birds that I always appreciate seeing. Rufous and Golden Whistlers can both be seen, as well as the classic Australian bush bird, the Grey Shrike-thrush.

Other birds around include Eastern Whipbird (very easy to hear, but maybe not to see), Painted Button-quail (very cryptic, not often seen unless flushed), Crested Shrike-tit (a specialty of Scheyville, often heard ripping bark off the sides of trees), and White-throated Treecreeper (listen for their repetitive call).

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 Richmond Lowlands - open plains of Sydney

 

While the turf farms always look like a hot, dry, and desolate wasteland, they are surprisingly good at turning up birds that mostly stay west of the Blue Mountains, particularly in Spring.

Where there is long grass, try stopping and listening for quail – both Brown and Stubble Quail are around, though to see one you will probably have to ask permission to go onto private land.

As a general rule, check all the fences you drive past, as these are the places you will most likely see birds. Willy Wagtails are common, but check each one in case there is a Restless Flycatcher among them. Often the good spots are near stands of trees, so try stopping and having a look around. Birds that may sit on the fences include Rufous Songlarks, Australasian Pipits, Zebra and Double-barred Finches, and rarely Brown Songlarks, White-winged Trillers and Horsfield’s Bushlark.

The turf farms are also very good for seeing raptors. Black-shouldered Kites and Nankeen Kestrels are commonly seen, and many others are around, including Brown Goshawk, Collared Sparrowhawk, Australian Hobby, Brown Falcon, Swamp Harrier and Spotted Harrier (for Spotted Harrier, try looking around Bakers Lagoon, which is on the right 1.5km after turning onto Cornwallis Rd).

If you’re up for a night trip, driving around the turf farms at night gives you a good chance of seeing a Barn Owl, the ghosts of the plains. If you have a strong torch, scan it over open fields or along fence lines.

Any small dams near the road may hold Black-fronted Dotterels, and Banded Lapwings are often seen on the areas of ground with very short grass or recently ploughed dirt. Note that the birding is generally better here when inland Australia is experiencing drought. 

 

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 Bushell's Lagoon

Pulling into Brewers Lane, I always keep an eye out for small birds in the trees lining the fence. Restless Flycatchers, Zebra Finches, Double-barred Finches, Silvereyes and White-plumed Honeyeaters all make regular appearances. A pipit flew up onto the fence in front of the car, and Rufous Songlarks called everywhere.

Heading down the hill to the lagoon, we got out a scanned the water. Black Swans, Hardheads and Australasian Grebes were the main birds to be seen. Reed-warblers, Cisticolas and Little Grassbirds were heard everywhere, but the Goldfinches I have seen here in the past didn’t show. Various tern species have been seen in the area, and rare birds such as Orange Chat and Little Bittern have also been seen.

The middle of the lagoon doesn’t normally have many birds, but at the end (where the banks just out into the water) is where I normally see some good birds. This trip, both Azure Kingfisher and Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo put in appearances.

At the moment, the lagoon is very full (as are all the lagoons around Sydney), but I look forward to visiting it when the water levels are lower – with muddy shores to house waders and reeds for crakes and rails, Bushell’s would be the site to visit!

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 Muddy Puddle on Pitt Town Bottoms Rd

A trip to Richmond Turf Farms looking for two Painted Snipe reported there failed miserable, but another sighting I had read about briefly the night before mentioned another pair at my favourite puddle in Sydney on Pitt Town Bottoms Rd. 

We arrived at about 8:00, and were not disappointed when I stepped out of the car and the first (yes, the first) bird I saw was a male Australian Painted Snipe standing next to his imposing wife. What great birds! They were latest addition to a list that is quickly growing for this humble site.

The puddle was brought to my attention last year, when someone reported a Wood Sandpiper from it. Luckily, the 2010 Twitchathon was the following weekend, and my team had great views of the Woodie. This year, the puddle is faring much better. My friend and I had found about 6 Red-kneed Dotterel there the week before (some of the first returned birds after the good conditions inland), as well as Latham’s Snipe, Glossy Ibis, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, White-winged Triller and not one, but two Wood Sandpipers.

Other birds around include Stubble Quail, Horsfield’s Bushlark, Skylark, Cisticola, Black-fronted Dotterel, Black-winged Stilt, and, from the previous year, Yellow-billed Spoonbill. A fantastic muddy puddle indeed. 

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Written by

Joshua Bergmark


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