It was the heart of Winter and a new six-week contract brought me to South Turramurra in the geographical heartland of Sydney. South Turramurra is a stone’s throw away from the Lane Cove National Park, a gorgeous National Park that meanders along with the Lane Cove River in the centre of Sydney. It is a beautiful National Park as its tall canopy is abutted by industrial zones, major freeways and arterial roads, a university; modern day civilisation. But in the depths of the park, you could mistake yourself for being in the wilderness, as far from this modernity as possible.
We were repairing the STEP Track, rightfully named as we were building new steps. The STEP track itself is a 2.7km circuit and is a part of the greater Great North Walk, a walk established in 1988 to celebrate Australia’s Bicentenary which traipses through stunning bushland from the Lane Cove National Park to the Berowra Valley National Park, essentially from Sydney to Newcastle. It is said to take around 16 day or so for the loop, something I most probably won’t be taking on anytime soon as it’s a long, bloody way!
But enough of the chat about hiking, the birds residing down in the valley were unreal. The habitat of the area surrounding the track could be described as a Wet Sclerophyll Forest. The plant species lie between that of a dry sclerophyll forest and a rainforest, ie. tall trees, limited light, high moisture and highly fertile soils. I encountered several species of birds, including and not limited to Eastern Yellow Robin, White-Browed Scrubwren, White-Headed Pigeon, Brown-Cuckoo Dove, Eastern Whipbird, Lewin’s Honeyeater, Brown Honeyeater, Striated Thornbill, White-Throated Tree-Creeper, Superb Fairy Wren, Variegated Fairy Wren… the list goes on and on. Of course, a good photographer doesn’t leave his or her camera behind and I was to build these steps, camera in tow, like a chippy’s dog roving on site. (Fortunately my boss was none the wiser!)
The works included some small-scale excavation works and this sung out to the Eastern Yellow Robins. As an Ibis to a rubbish bin, they lingered, awaiting their next snack. And snack they did, all day, everyday for 6 weeks! No bug, worm or cockroach proved too much of a meal for these hasty, yet sneaky, little birds. One even snatched the world’s most venomous spider, the Sydney Funnel Web, right from under our noses! Unfortunate Mr Funnel Web.
The sumptuous river’s edge proved to be a great vantage point for viewing a varied number of species. Striated Thornbills were constantly cherping high in the canopy, the Whipbirds emphatically “whipping” always in search of a mate. The hooting of the White-Head Pigeon excited me, and as I was to find out, only me, as I saw my high-vis wearing co-workers give me baffled, bewildering looks as I hastily hustled to photograph this beautiful bird with excitement. I think the quote was “Come on mate, it’s just a pigeon.” One of the shyer and more wary pigeons, the White-Headed Pigeon usually lies inconspicuous, until it conspicuously flaps its wing gaudily, running into every little bit of foliage it can find, before flying back to hide in the canopy. I was stoked to get such a good view and photograph them, my co-workers just shook their heads in ridicule.
I was also predisposed to the Brown-Cuckoo Doves appearance around the site as we were in their ideal habitat; wet sclerophyll forest and near forest edges and tracks. Semi-common it too has much trouble flying inconspicuously, rather flying more like a wingless plane, hitting all matter of debris in its vicinity. We were rather lucky as there were as many as 7 birds at one stage during the day, each jostling for the attention of the female doves, all having a crack at a second date.
Once the six weeks were completed, I was a little saddened to leave. The STEP track now has steps and I was in possession of some more awesome birds photographs. I think the best part of working in such a fabulous part of Sydney was observing the behaviour of the birds I saw. The longer I was there, the more observations I gained and a greater understanding was had. I was fascinated watching and it made me realise that each sighting and photograph taken over the 6 weeks, and all that I will take in the future, will consist of a combination of skill, research and a dashing of luck. I was there to work, but was fortuitous in my photography. Just don’t tell my boss!