NSW Coast and Hunter Valley Trip, Easter 2023

It was supposed to be a trip that was pretty light on birding, and more filled with good food and wine, and of course copious amounts of Easter treats. But somehow we saw a ton of birds along the way (“the way” being Brisbane down the coast to Newcastle and then inland to the Hunter Valley, then all in reverse four days later). And we were super lucky to be in the Hunter Valley when a Regent Honeyeater was being reliably seen by other birders, so one can barely hold back in that situation!

Flat Rock: can confirm it is a rock and it is flat

I had only been once to Flat Rock (on the coast just east of Ballina in northern New South Wales), but retained fond memories of the place: think hundreds of Crested Terns and a scattering of other interesting seabirds and shorebirds mixed in, all basically at your feet. So I was keen to return, and pleased to see that not much about this awesome location had changed!

Family portrait: Red-Necked Stints, Sharp-Tailed Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpipers and a Sanderling
And here’s a Curlew Sandpiper by itself, sporting some terrific breeding plumage!
Common Terns playing “hey, that’s my fish!” (a very popular game at Flat Rock)
The Little Tern is actually quite small (honest), but this picture makes it look kinda big
There were a few Pied Cormorants around at Flat Rock, hangin’ with the smaller birds and sometimes by themselves
Why catch just one fish when you can catch two?
Crested Terns with some sort of drama. Love how they flare their wings like this, very en pointe.
Ruddy Turnstones have some striking markings, and are somewhat rotund.
A Gannet (actually, two) flew in to feast on the bait fish close to shore, quite a sight as they occasionally dived between waves (and surfers!)

South-West Rocks. Or does it? Discuss.

We picked South-West Rocks as our accommodation spot on the NSW coast because (a) it’s a good mid-way point to break up the long journey, but mostly because (b) it houses the #1 eBird NSW hotspot by species, Boyters Lane.

Chestnut Teals. Never seen so many in my life, I swear, as on this trip. At Boyters Lane.
Boyters Lane is a reliable spot for the wonderful Striped Honeyeater. Love this bird (not quite as much as the Spiny-Cheeked, if we’re splitting hairs, but pretty close!)
A White-Faced Heron flew in and imperiously landed on this post at Boyters Lane, regarded the bird photographers for about 4 seconds, then huffily flew off again.
A Willie Wagtail looking its shiniest at Trial Bay Gaol, at South-West Rocks.
Galah at Trial Bay Gaol, right on the coast. Coastal Galah subspecies (joke! don’t burn me!)

Honeyeater Heaven

Honeyeaters. They are the largest species group in Australia with around 75 types – about half the worlds total! And if you look at eBird checklists for the Hunter Valley (and the sort-of-nearby bird paradise of Capertee Valley), you will find many, many types of honeyeaters on these lists. We had 13 in one of our lists at Werakata State Conservation Area (Stanford Methyr section), where the below images were taken.

Classic honeyeater: the Yellow-Tufted, one of the more aggressive and dominant (and abundant in this region)
The White-Naped Honeyeater is also a honeyeater… and for a while it seemed like the only bird we were seeing on the flowering banksias
We had to wait a while… and hope… but the fabled Regent Honeyeater turned up and put on a show. This bird is critically endangered and to see one in the wild is very special.
The Red Wattlebird is really quite a large honeyeater
Oh my lord! Yet another honeyeater… this one is a White-Eared.
Stop it already! Another Honeyeater, the adorable Fuscous Honeyeater.
At last! A different type of bird… a diminutive Rose Robin.
Definitely not honeyeaters – Straw-Necked Ibis (oh, and a White Ibis)

The Hunter Valley is where the Wine is Good and the Birds are also Quite Good. Also, more Honeyeaters.

The Hunter Valley Gardens is one of the top attractions in this region, and oh boy the tourist and promotional material won’t let you forget it. Their added bonus for the Easter period were “Mega Creatures” – huge dinosaurs, dragons, spiders, butterflies and even woolly mammoths scattered throughout the gardens. This brought the holidaying families to the place in droves.

And it was pretty cool.

But we also did some birding.

One of the impressive Mega Creatures. Some of them move!
It’s my favourite honeyeater and I will brook no argument: the amazing Spiny-Cheeked Honeyeater, an absolute pleasure to meet again
The Hunter Valley Gardens has a big lake and hosts an intriguing activity called “Aqua Golf”… but we were more interested in seeing how many Hardheads we could count (answer: 25!)
I’ve found Pink-Eared Duck pretty tough to photograph for some reason… the colours and contrasts seem to cause me problems, so I was happy with my image of this bird. Perhaps the bird was also thrilled at the attention, who knows?!
This Little Pied Cormorant was chilling on a rock in the Hunter Valley Garden’s Japanese pond, which was full of quite large koi, so many jokes were made about the bird’s probable diet
I dunno what these flowering bushes are (at our accommodation in the Hunter), but the birds seemed to like them… this is a Noisy Friarbird. Full disclosure: this bird is also a honeyeater.

The Hunter Valley also sports a huge, sprawling area called the Hunter Valley Wetlands, which we took a quick look around (Eastern Yellow Wagtails were reported there at the time), and had a particularly good time at the wetlands’ main Information Centre and lakes area.

White Ibis. Not a honeyeater. Though probably eats pretty much anything.
Silvereye, one of Australia’s most ubiquitous smaller birds
Back to the you-know-whats! Lewin’s Honeyeater with a few feathers out of place post-bath
We saw White-Cheeked Honeyeaters at several different sites in the Hunter and along the coast. Didn’t really get it till now how widespread this species actually is.
Golden Whistler being super yellow at the Hunter Valley Wetlands Centre
Right, yeah, so here’s another honeyeater… the Yellow-Faced.

We were Delighted to Discover two Delightful New Sites in One Delightful Day

The first delightful site was Cattai Wetlands, two hours north of Newcastle. The uninspiring pothole-ridden entry road and dismal car park area belie just how pleasant and bird-rich this location actually is. A circuit of the main lake (2.2km) yielded over 50 species and we had a superb time. Don’t judge a book by its cover, I suppose!

Mistletoebird: you never know when you’ll see one, but it’s great when you do
There were plenty of Eastern Yellow Robins at Cattai Wetlands; this one came down and fleetingly landed on the boardwalk
A baby Brown Quail peeks out from the thick grass at Cattai Wetlands
What else to do while waiting for your car to charge? Go birding of course! On the edge of the mighty Clarence River at Harwood.

The second delightful place was the North Coast Regional Botanic Gardens. Coffs Harbour is apparently the only place in New South Wales where the Great Dividing Range meets the Pacific Ocean, which might explain how you can find rainforest species like Satin Bowerbird, Green Catbird and even Noisy Pitta in a botanic gardens right in the middle of the town!

Satin Bowerbird, you so shiny shiny
A Pied Currawong – one of many, believe me – with a late afternoon snack of… something.
A Rainbow Lorikeet foraging on the grass like a Red-Rumped Parrot or Galah would… that’s a first for me (queue floods of comments of people who’ve seen that… right…?!)
A Pied Butcherbird looking super serious at the botanic gardens. Though with a bit of a fluffy head.


It wasn’t supposed to be a birding trip, per se. But you know how these things go. You do a bit of exploring and just happen to take your camera… anyway, we uncovered a couple of really neat hotspots along the NSW coast, and had a more than reasonable time in the Hunter Valley, especially with the honeyeaters, so there wasn’t much not to like.

(Incomplete as we didn’t checklist everywhere we went)
Number of species observed: 97
Biggest checklist: Cattai Wetlands (50 species)
Most numerous birds: Crested Tern (240), Wood Duck (56), Silver Gull (45), Magpie-Lark (37)
Birds appearing on the most checklists: Pacific Black Duck, Straw-Necked Ibis, Superb Fairywren, Yellow-Faced Honeyeater, Noisy Friarbird, Willie Wagtail, Grey Fantail, Magpie-Lark
Bird we find randomly on almost every major trip and true to form, exactly once on this one: Mistletoebird


2 thoughts on “NSW Coast and Hunter Valley Trip, Easter 2023

  1. I love your ‘Bird Spots’ emails. Please keep them coming. Can’t wait to get out and about to visit some of them . So exciting to see the Regent too. I have been lucky enough to see one a few years ago and live in hope that I may see it again one day.


  2. What a gorgeous smorgasboard of delightfully wild life birds. Not only did you see so many, but your photography was also brilliant. I enjoyed this very much, having watched & read t
    Your accompanying dialog many times. Being an avid bird watcher & former breader, Finches in particular, also a wildlife photographer etc., I appreciated the time & effort you have put in & taken. However, having said that, when one loves & enjoys such activity, the effort becomes seemingly less difficult. I am also an artist, painting many birds as well. Thank you so much for sharing. Dr Leonard Smith


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