The quaint town of Sawtell, famous for its magnificent fig trees and great beaches, is bordered to the north by Boambee Creek and to the south by Bonville Creek. This whole area is known for its biodiversity, and in particular, bird life.
Boambee Reserve is a popular sheltered area with safe swimming and a picnic area next to the estuary. Take a short walk along the creek where you are likely to see many common birds such as the Crested Pigeon, Pied Butcherbird, Masked Lapwing and Laughing Kookaburra. On the opposite, forest-lined bank, sharp-eyed observers may spot a timid Eastern Reef Egret, which usually prefer to keep a safe distance from people.
Boambee Headland is another fantastic place to see birdlife, and perhaps whales during their migration season. The lookout affords expansive vistas towards Coffs Harbour and Mutton Bird Island, as well as the beach and Bonville Headland to the south. Enjoy some lunch as you watch majestic White-bellied Sea-Eagles and Brahminy Kites soar overhead, while cheeky Silver Gulls compete for your food. At the eastern end of the car park there is a well mown, but relatively steep track which heads down to the beach.
Bonville Headland, which has ample parking and a picnic area, shares equally breathtaking aspects with its northern cousin. Looking west there are amazing hinterland and estuary views, while the blazing sunsets are not to be missed. There is a rock pool for the kids, rolling sand dunes, and Sailor’s Bay, a sheltered area of beach between a small island and the headland.
The island, which is often accessible at low tide, is a great spot for a swim and hanging out with the family. From the rocky bay, which is home to a variety of marine birds, you might see Little Black Cormorants duck diving or drying their wings, while Australasian Gannets search for lunch. Other birds you are likely to spot include Crested Terns and Australian Gannets, and perhaps an Eastern Osprey or Black Shouldered Kite.
Explore the estuaries and look out for the many different waterbirds that inhabit the area. Sooty Oystercatchers and Eastern Curlews are often seen by the water’s edge. In recent years, a small breeding colony of the endangered Little Tern has established on the sand spit to the south of Bonville Creek, and these are often accompanied by numerous Pacific Golden Plovers.
The scrubby vegetation on the headlands (particularly Boambee), and the sand dunes behind the beach also shelter some interesting winged creatures. Exploring these areas you could discover a multitude of species, ranging from robust Brush Turkeys, to dainty Red-backed Fairy-wrens. Other likely sightings include White-cheeked Honeyeaters, Lewin’s Honeyeaters, and possibly even a few Glossy Black-Cockatoos feeding on the Casuarina seeds.
The world’s largest kingfisher, measuring up to 46 cm from the tip of its beak to the tip of its tail. Its plumage is shades of whites and browns, with splashes of blue in the wings, which help it to blend easily into its environment, making it more difficult for prey or predators to see the bird. To catch its food, the kookaburra uses a wait-and-pounce technique. When prey appears, the kookaburra drops straight down from its perch, its wings back, with beak ready to seize its prey. Large catches like lizards and snakes are bashed against a tree or a rock, to kill them and soften them up before they are eaten. Kookaburras form small family groups, which maintain a territory and help to raise the young, produced by the dominant pair. Their distinctive laugh-like call is mainly heard in the mornings and at dusk
A dark olive greenish grey in colour, with yellow corners to the mouth and obvious pale yellow crescent ear patches. They have a strong appetite for fruit and have become a nuisance in certain areas where they attack crops, particularly bananas. Their song is a simple but loud (and often long) machine gun like rattle which carries over long distances.
Australian Brush Turkey
These are not easily confused with any other Australian bird. They are a large black fowl, with a prominent tail flattened vertically, with the breeding male sporting a bright red head and yellow neck wattles. They are often seen raking the ground with their feet, looking for food including insects, seeds and fruit. Males also use their feet to rake leaves and twigs into huge nest mounds, upto 4m across and 1m high. Females then lay their eggs into this mound and that is the extent of their involvement in the breeding process. The male maintains a constant temperature of 33 – 38°C by digging holes in the mound and inserting his bill to check the heat, then adding and removing vegetable matter as required. After hatching, the chicks may take 2 days too burrow out of the mound, at which point they are left to fend for themselves. These chicks are fully feathered and are able to walk and fend for themselves immediately. Remarkably, they are able to fly just a few hours after hatching. Although often silent, the male has a deep three-noted booming call.
Glossy Black Cockatoo
The smallest of Australia’s black cockatoos, mainly blackish brown with a red panel in the tail feathers. They feed almost exclusively on casuarina seeds, often taking time to search for a tree with seeds that are just right. Once they are happy, they will spend a long time in the one tree, eating contentedly, and it may be that the steady fall of casuarina seed remnants gives their presence away. It is estimated they spend nearly 90% of their day foraging for food. In flight they occasionally utter their drawn out ‘caw-caw’ call.
Closely related to waders, they are white below with brown back and wings, black crown and bright yellow facial wattle. They are often seen in pairs in a wide variety of places, ranging from swamp margins and wet paddocks to road side verges and playing fields. They browse on the ground for their food and can often be approached quite closely, although will soon shriek an alarm call if too close. They often nest in the open, sometimes in highly unsuitable places such as car-parks or school fields. They will vigorously defend a nest, either by swooping or shrieking and raising their wings exposing the thorny yellow spurs in the middle of the leading wing edge. They can often be heard at night, flying overhead calling their loud “kekekekekekeke…”
Little Black Cormorant
The Little Black Cormorant is all black, although the feathers can appear to have a glossy green colour in sunlight. Most commonly found on freshwater wetlands, but they will also congregate at sheltered coastal waters. They are often found in flocks, flying low over the water in ‘V’ formation. They feed by diving underwater in pursuit of their prey and when hunting as a group (sometimes over 1000 birds) they slowly move across the water, with birds constantly leap-frogging from the back to the front of the feeding flock. They are colonial breeders, often nesting on the edge of ibis or heron colonies.
White-bellied Sea Eagle
The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is Australia’s second largest bird of prey, behind the Wedge-tailed Eagle. It is easily recognised with its contrasting bright white and dark grey plumage and.is a spectacular sight soaring effortless along the coast. As well as fish, they also eat turtles and see snakes, plus carrion that may be found near the waterline. Despite its name, it can also be seen far inland, at any of the larger inland rivers, swamps and lakes. They are known to mate for life and will usually return to the same nest site each year to breed. During breeding they become more vocal, uttering their loud goose-like honk.
The Crested Pigeon at first sight appears mainly grey. However, the wings have black bars and a small but bright metallic purple and green patch. It has a tall thin black crest. It is now a common sight in most towns on the coast, although it used to be mainly a bird of the Australian outback. When startled, the pigeon bursts into flight, with the wings making a characteristic whistling sound. When landing, it swings its tail high in the air. At breeding time, the male performs a ‘bowing & bobbing’ dance, while spreading his tail and wings to show off the metallic patches and uttering his whooping call.
Red-backed Fairy Wren
The Red-backed fairy-wren is the smallest of all Australian Fairy-wrens, weighing only about 8 grams. The breeding male is a striking black with red back and the female is light brown above and off-white below. When trying to lure a female, the male is known to offer red flower petals. The Coffs Coast is the southern extent of their range, where they live in dense thickets where tall grasses dominate. At times, there may be up-to 30 birds in communal family groups. Their diet is mainly tiny insects.
The Eastern Curlew is the largest wader to visit Australia. It is mainly streaked brown, with a pale lower belly. Its most notable feature is the long curved bill, which can be up-to 20cm long. It is highly sensitive and capable of finding small crabs, and worms up to 20cm deep in the mud. It is found all around the coast of Australia, particularly estuaries and tidal mudflats. A migrant from the northern hemisphere, where it breeds in Russia and China, it arrives in Australia in spring and leaves again in the autumn. Their numbers have declined drastically in recent years, mainly due to habitat loss in Asia, which reduces the areas it can stop at during migration. It is now listed as Critically Endangered in Australia. It’s call is a haunting ‘ker-loo, ker-loo’ often heard in flight, at night or when alarmed.
Black Shouldered Kite
The Black-shouldered Kite lives only in Australia. It is a small raptor with striking white plumage, black wing patch (shoulders) and piercing red eyes. It is often seen hovering as it searches the ground for its favourite prey – small rodents, including the introduced house mouse, as well as large insects like grasshoppers. If the hunt is successful, it may eat the catch while flying or take it back to a safe perch. During the breeding season, pairs may perform aerial displays including one bird diving towards the other and then they grasp each other’s claws and spin cartwheels in mid air.
The Pied Oystercatcher has black and white plumage, along with a bright red bill, eye and legs. It is quite shy, but often announces its presence through a loud piping call, often given as a warning to others. It probes in sand and mud for worms and shellfish, which it will hammer and prise open with its strong bill. It nests on beaches just above the high tide mark and is highly vulnerable to disturbance by beach users and dogs.
the Sooty Oystercatcher is recognised by its all black body, set off with pink legs, red eyes and long red bill, which is used to pick shellfish such as mussels off coastal rocks. It may be seen wedging is catch in a small hole or crack in the rocks and then drilling into the shell with its bill to smash it open and reveal the tasty morsel inside. There are only an estimated 400 of these birds in NSW.
The Little Tern is mainly white with a dark crown, pale grey back and upperwings. When breeding, the bill is yellow, otherwise it’s black. It is small (20-25cm), slender and streamlined, with a deeply forked tail. They eat small fish and crustaceans, preferring to feed over shallower coastal waters and can hover briefly before plunging into the water to catch prey.
Pacific Golden Plover
It is the male that has the beautiful red-chestnut cap. They are the most common and widespread of Australia’s beach nesting birds, often found in large numbers inlland near salt lakes, as well as on the coast. They are often seen feeding on exposed sand and mudflats, using their busy run-stop-peck method to pick small insects and bugs from the surface. When nesting, if a predator approaches, the parents may walk away from the nest, faking an injured wing, in an attempt to lure the predator away from eggs or chicks.
Eastern Yellow Robin
The bright yellow of these robins contrasts with the dark green vegetation of the forests and woodlands where it is most commonly found. They are often seen perched very still on a branch or clinging to a tree trunk, from where they will quickly fly down to the ground, pouncing on their prey. There clear call is often one of the first to be heard at dawn.
Widespread across Australia the Pied Butcherbird is closely related to the Australian Magpie and looks quite similar with its black and white plumage although it is somewhat smaller. It is considered to have one of the sweetest of all Australian birdsongs, with its beautiful piping call leading to one of its older names of Organbird. It is an agressive feeder, swooping down on a wide range of prey, such as insects, worms, small reptiles, frogs and birds.
Eastern Reef Egret
The Eastern Reef Egret comes in two colours! They can either be all white, with a yellow bill, or all grey with a grey bill. They are often found on rocky shorelines, probing in nooks and crannies for crabs and molluscs. They may also be seen darting around in the shallows, chasing small fish.
The White-cheeked Honeyeater is a busy bird, often found in noisy groups calling out a squeeky ‘chippy-chew, chip-chew’. A resplendent black and white with a dash of yellow though the wings and tail
The Crested Tern is a sleek white bird, with a bright yellow bill and forked tail. In the breeding season they have a splendid black cap and crest. Their diet is mainly fish between 10 and 15cm long as well as small squid, crabs and baby turtles. They often hunt in groups, flying several metres above the ocean and then plunging into the water or dipping its bill just under the surface to catch unsuspecting prey.