Sassafras Gully Loop
Whilst we were planning our trip to Sydney we were hoping to fit some hiking and birding into our schedule and found a great website that would help us decide on some walks. We searched for walks that started and ended near public transport, as we were going to get a ticket-MyMulti 3-that would let us travel wide and far unrestricted each week. I would recommend this if you are going to be out and about and most stations have regular trains all day including Sundays. If you are going to a small place you do need to check that you are not getting on a train with “limited stops” or you will end up back-tracking! Often there are several train services using the same line as they leave Sydney and you can go a long way quite fast. We decided we would like to do the Sassafras Gully Loop from the information that we had seen. As it was about 10kms long we knew it would take more than the 4 hours mentioned if we were birding, so would be a day out. The information on the walk is good and even gives you information on how to get there by train, with a link to train timetables. We were soon checking our field guides for birds that liked wet gullies! We took the train to Springwood, which is on the Blue Mountains Line, and it took about 1 1/2 hours to reach the very small town. We were pleased to see even more information when we arrived about the walk.
The route map near the Springwood train Station
As we walked through the houses to start the walk we had a wonderful surprise-our first ever Australian King Parrots! The males has a brilliant red belly and kept well hidden most of the time in a bush, but the females are a brownish green. Of course they were more visible, but I gave up on trying to focus green on green with my camera! These parrots are 43cm, so rather large! We had hardly gone 10 metres and we saw our first ever Satin Bowerbird. We were struck by the eye colour, which appeared a blue/violet and it mentions it in the field guides. We are used to Great Bowerbirds and Western Bowerbirds and this immediately makes you think “bowerbird” by it’s features. We hadn’t even got to the start of the trail and we were already excited!
Despite Sydney having had one of it’s wettest days on record before this walk we were expecting it to be damp, which it was, but at no point did we have problems with accessibility. There was a few minutes of drizzle, but after the first two “lifers” we were not going back! The trees are incredibly tall-especially compared to what we are used to-and the track is narrow. We had to walk in single file, which can be a disadvantage to the person behind when birding. Also the spiders had put webs across the trail, so the person at the front needed to clear the way. Rather than collect them on your face, which was what happened initially to Grant, we collected a stick from the forest floor and cleared our way.
Sassafras Gully trail
None of the walk is particularly steep and there were dripping caves as we descended. We were constantly stopping to try and find the birds that we could hear and it was not always easy, but we were having fun! Then we heard a variety of birds all calling from the same area-odd!! We don’t talk when we bird, but this was enough to convince Grant to say “must be a Lyrebird around here, as all the calls are coming from the same spot-mimicry!”. We proceeded slowly and quietly, which is easy when everything is damp! Suddenly I saw it-it ran down from in between us and crossed the stream-Superb Lyrebird!! Imagine a grey peacock…well it’s sort of like that! Grant saw one once in the Hunter Valley in 1999 and I was behind on the trail and only heard the mimicry, so I considered this my “lifer”. We hoped we would get another chance, but there’s no guarantees in the birding world. We continued on along the trail. New South Wales National Parks have a sign/emblem to remind you what you might see….
New South Wales National Parks sign
We continued to be teased by Grey Fantails and Rufous Fantails, which are definitely the more vocal birds in the forest. No doubt they were warning the Supberb Lyrebird that there were birders about! Striated Thornbills were often heard and then finally seen in the canopy. Until you learn the birds calls you can spend a lot of time looking for something small high up! We also had a White-browed Scrubwren that hopped onto the track and thankfully was busy with food and we both got good views. The gully was really quite steep in places.
In the gully!
If you interested in plants you will love this walk! Ferns were prominent and it was very easy to walk quietly due to all of the damp leaf litter. One of the risks with birding in forests (stopping still for too long!) are leeches and I do seem to attract them more than Grant! Happily I did not have the pleasure on this walk, despite it looking like leech habitat…maybe they were on higher ground after the torrential rain a few days earlier. It’s not much fun discovering a leech filling up on your leg. You never feel them attach and when you remove them you have blood pouring out as they prevent clotting-not nice!
We continued on for a few hours and were on the final leg of the loop deep in the gully and I was leading. Suddenly a Superb lyrebird glided down from the escarpment-what a sight! As I told Grant a second glided down and we were both standing there with ours eyes open wide! As if that was not enough we then had 3 more pairs-SIX glide down! The escarpment was steep and they were obviously returning to the gully late in the afternoon…what a day! Well, I had no hope of getting a photo of these birds as they disappeared into the gully, so you will just have to believe me. This is the best that I could do….
Superb Lyrebird Poo
I have a lot of respect for anyone that can photograph birds in dense forest! You would have to spend hours in forests to get photos of Superb Lyrebirds and no doubt there are people out there that do! We walked on for another hour and our last new bird for 2012 that day was a Fan-tailed Cuckoo as we left the trail and headed back to Springwood train station.
If you ever get a chance to do this trail we strongly recommend it!