We camped at Dunn's Swamp in Wollemi National Park in central NSW, for three nights in February 2016, as part of a week-long trip south.
Please find the photos from this trip in the gallery below the text.
Dunn's Swamp was a very popular camp-ground and we were very lucky to secure the prime position close to the water's edge, perhaps because we arrived in the middle of the day on a Monday, just as the weekend campers were leaving. However, although there were always other campers we didn't have the problem with overnight noise (drinking parties, late arrivals, loud radios) that we had experienced in a couple of national parks in QLD. There were signs up in the toilets and elsewhere asking people to report noisy campers to the National Parks and Wildlife office in Mudgee. The camp-ground was well set up, and spacious with separate group and caravan camping areas.
In our travels we have found a few spots that seem to be particularly rich in wildlife, including the Townsville Common, the Alligator Creek Campsite south of Townsville, and Girraween National Park (before the bushfire), and this was another one. The woodland surroundings with a dense shrubby understorey, rich in species, were bubbling with bird-song and small insectivores were very common, foraging in noisy loose associations.
Unexpectedly there weren't many waterbirds, mainly coots which hung around the inner borders of the tall reeds that completely surrounded the shallow edges of the dam except in areas where shear rock faces descended into the water. Swamp hens had cleared a continuous channel around the outer shallower parts of the reed-beds, where the water met the land surface, through their habit of pulling up reeds with their feet to chew away at the sweet, juicy stem bases. These channels were filled with tiny fish, taking advantage of the shallow water warmed by the sun, to help them grow more quickly.
A male darter, and at another time a pied cormorant (or a little pied cormorant), flew over the water, and on one occasion a black duck swam by. The highlight of the trip, as far as water birds were concerned, was our sighting of the male musk duck, and I was very lucky in having Pete offer to row me out in his kayak for a better view. We had the good fortune to find it in the middle of its bathing routine which was a very thorough process lasting for half an hour or so, even involving a couple of complete roll-overs in the water. Other campers said that they had seen the female at the other end of the dam and, indeed, I witnessed the male swimming back in that direction past our camp-site at dusk, and returning to his feeding ground near Platypus Point at dawn.
Welcome swallows flew over the water, and within an hour or two of our arrival I was lucky enough to see a reed-warbler, by following the harsh noises it was making in the reeds near our camp-site. These birds mostly remain hidden in dense reeds and are generally much easier to hear than to see.
A short while later I found a bird bouncing over the rock masses that were central to the camp-site, inspecting the surface in minute detail. At the time I thought it was a little shrike-thrush and didn't pay much attention but it turned out to be a rock warbler, which was a new species for us. The next day we spotted a pair of them briefly leaving the safety of the rocks to go down to the water's edge at dusk, to drink. We needed a better view of them for Laura, who had missed the one on the first day, but in spite of searching for them at every opportunity we didn't see them again until our last morning there, giving her the opportunity to take a few photos.
Although a couple of young lyrebirds were living in the campground they were quite elusive and fearful and disappeared into the undergrowth when they became aware that they were being watched. Each morning we woke up to the sound of male lyrebirds displaying on the other side of the water.
A family of superb fairy-wrens posed nicely for Laura and I at dusk on the first day. There were four coloured males in that group, one adult and three juveniles that were still turning blue.
We found a pair of striated pardalotes that were feeding chicks in a nest-hole about ten metres above the ground in the branch of a gum tree and at times a group of six or more other pardalotes congregated in that tree. And, for the first time, we saw and identified white-throated gerygones. These tiny birds travel in small noisy groups through the tree-tops and I am sure that they must have been present in other places that we have been but we have missed them through a reluctance to train our cameras upwards.
There were buff-rumped, striated and brown thornbills and a young white-browed scrub-wren that looked very much like a thornbill apart from the white spots on its wings. And there were brown treecreepers, which we hadn't seen before, as well as the more familiar white-throated treecreepers, the not so common Horsfield's bronze cuckoo, and the common birds that we see everywhere, rufous whistlers, yellow robins, willie wagtails, grey fantails, grey shrike-thrushes, white-eared honeyeaters (not so common), eastern spinebills, yellow-faced honeyeaters, white-naped honeyeaters, New Holland honeyeaters, noisy friarbirds and red wattlebirds, laughing kookaburras and pied currawongs. We saw a golden whistler (no photo) up near the Pagoda Lookout, and on the way back found a couple of newly-fledged eastern spinebill chicks.
On our last morning a family of gang-gang cockatoos flew in creating a suitable finale to our bird photography.
On our first morning while taking photos of honeyeaters feeding in a flowering eucalypt I was startled to find a black snake only a metre or so from my feet. It slipped quietly away into the undergrowth. There were lace monitors in the camp-ground, and we saw a water-dragon perched on a rocky outcrop while out in the kayak.
In spite of taking the short walk along the edge of the dam to Platypus Point at dusk, we did not succeed in seeing a platypus, but other campers did see one while we were there, just near where the children were swimming, near the group camp-site. We saw occasional eastern grey kangaroos and red-necked wallabies near the camp-ground. Brush-tailed possums were the most common mammals caught by our spotlights, although we did see a greater glider or two. We caught only a glimpse of the back of a quoll, and completely missed seeing wombats, although their burrows provided evidence that they were present.
We were somewhat surprised by the lack of frogs and didn't see or hear any during our stay, in spite of the dam-side location.
(Many thanks to Pete for rowing me out in his kayak to see the musk duck, and to Laura for giving me the opportunity and to Joe for lending me his camera! And many thanks also, to Laura for the photographic evidence that we did see a quoll and for the photo taken from the top of the Pagoda Lookout.)
View from the Pagoda LookoutJoe and I didn't quite complete the top part of the rock scramble up to the Pagoda Lookout. This photo has been provided by Laura.
Woodland setting.jpgThe early morning sun filtering through the trees in the woodland setting within the camp-ground. This is where we first saw the lyrebirds.
View across dam at dawn.jpgThis was the view across the water, from our camp-site, at dawn. The bird is the male musk duck which swam out to its feeding ground near Platypus Point, in the morning, and swam back to its mate (which, according to other campers, lived at the other end of the dam) in the evening. Remote love!
Coot.jpgCoots were the most common water-birds and hung around the deeper edges of the reed-beds.
This one was startled as we passed by in Pete's kayak.
Swamp hens.jpgSwamp hens had cleared a channel about a metre wide right around the shallower edge of the reed-bed. This was a favoured habitat of little fish.
Surprisingly we didn't see or hear any frogs at Dunn's Swamp, not even in or near the water.
Male darter.jpgThis male darter flew over the water. We didn't see any darters in the water, even when we went out in the kayak.
Pied cormorant.jpgThis was either a pied cormorant or a little pied cormorant - I can't tell which. The photo was taken with a wide-angle lens, from the kayak. I didn't like to take my big lens out on the water!
Black duck and coot.jpgThis was the only black duck that I saw at Dunn's Swamp. For once this very common species wasn't common!
Male musk duck.jpgThe male musk duck, with its bill covered with feathers as a result of its bathing routine. The duck was completely unperturbed by the approach of the kayak, and simply continued preening.
Unfortunately we didn't see its mate, which reportedly lived at the other end of the dam.
Clamorous reed-warbler.jpgSaw this bird within an hour or two of our arrival at Dunn's Swamp by following the harsh calls in the reeds at the edge of the dam. I didn't see it again afterwards so I didn't have a chance to take better photos.
Rock warbler.jpgThis bird also appeared shortly after our arrival, dancing all over the surface of the large rock mass near the campsite. It also was difficult to find again, although Laura and I found a pair of them on the last morning, giving her a chance to take a few photos.
Young superb lyrebird.jpgThere were a pair of these young birds (by the rufous colour on the throat and forehead), which foraged in the woodland within the camp-ground. It was exciting for us to see them, but other campers who lived in the Blue Mountains where lyrebirds are common, thought they were pretty ordinary!
Superb fairy-wrens.jpgThis little family of wrens congregated on this stick in front of us, flying away and returning for about half an hour. In this photo there is an adult male (top right), female, and two young males that have not yet fully acquired their adult blue plumage. Two other young males that also belonged to the same family are not shown here.
With blue wrens the young males stay in the territory to help out with the next brood and the young females leave to find new homes.
Striated pardalotes.jpgOne on the way in, with a beak full of food, as another flies out, two striated pardalotes outside their nest hole in a gum-tree branch.
White-throated gerygone.jpgI have long wanted to see gerygones, which, somehow, don't seem to have crossed our path in the past. They live mostly in the treetops, travelling in small noisy groups, and I have learnt now that I need to aim my camera upwards to capture species other than those that are common in the undergrowth.
White-throated gerygone.jpgThis is an immature bird that lacks the white throat. Note the broad black band across the tail.
Buff-rumped thornbill.jpgThis photo shows the pale-coloured eye and scalloped pattern on the forehead, distinctive of this species of tiny bird. This was another new species of thornbill, for us, at Dunn's Swamp.
Brown thornbill.jpgNote the scalloped pattern on the top of this bird's head which distinguishes it from striated thornbills.
White-browed scrub-wren.jpgThis young bird lacks the characteristic white brow and could be confused with a thornbill if it weren't for the white spots on its wings.
Brown treecreeper.jpgThis species has a pale streak above the eye that distinguishes it from the red-browed and white-throated treecreepers.
This was a new species for us. Since our trip to Basket Swamp in northern NSW when we unexpectedly came home with photos of two species of treecreepers in the same location, I have learnt to be a bit more cautious around these birds - ie. not to just regard them as too common to bother much with!