Urunga is a sleepy coastal village, on the northern NSW coast, renowned for its diverse wildlife and spectacular marine environment. Take a leisurely walk along the Kalang River and enjoy an amazing array of habitats and local bird life.
Urunga sits at the meeting place (confluence) of the Kalang and Bellinger Rivers, just before they flow into the Pacific Ocean. It is home to one of the best walks on the east coast, the Urunga Boardwalk. However, this is just part of a larger walking experience, taking in the Kalang river foreshore, the Boardwalk and a stretch of beautiful coastline up to Hungry Head.
Starting at Anchors Wharf restaurant, just under the Railway Bridge, you can walk along the bank of the Kalang River via Atherton Drive, bringing you to the parkland in front of the Ocean View Hotel. Following the river, you are likely to see a number of birds such as the Australian Pelican, White-faced Heron and Eastern Osprey (a pair of Osprey have successfully nested on the top of the Railway Bridge for a few years now). On the adjoining golf course, you will see plenty of Galah, Masked Lapwing and Crested Pigeon. Along this stretch of river, there are numerous places to relax and have a picnic, during which time you will likely see more of the abundant birdlife of this area.
Reaching the parkland in front of the Ocean View Hotel, you have a great view across the river to the sand spit at the southern end of Yellow Rock Island. This is the point where the Kalang and Bellinger Rivers meet and is a very important high tide roosting area for many birds. Regulars include the Pied & Sooty Oystercatcher, Crested Tern, Common Tern, Bar-tailed Godwit, Pied Cormorant and Little Black Cormorant.
Further along is the sea lido, a popular swimming spot and the start of the Boardwalk. Take time to scan the low rock wall that separates the river from the lagoon. Birds that regularly perch along the rocks include the Australian Darter, Crested Tern, and occasionally, a Striated Heron who patiently watches for signs of fish in the lagoon shallows.
The boardwalk itself is 800m long, with stunning views inland past Urunga town. The vista and up river takes in the valleys to the Great Dividing Range, north across the rivers to Mylestom Spit and south along the beach to Picket Hill and beyond to Nambucca Heads. The entire length of the boardwalk is wheelchair accessible. There are numerous rest areas with seating, as well as many interpretive signs along the boardwalk pointing out items of interest and telling the history of the area.
With so many fascinating birds at eye level, don’t forget to glance skyward to spot high flyers such as Brahminy Kites, and White-bellied Sea-Eagles. Other visually stunning birds to look out for are the Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos which often pass overhead in large buoyant flocks, flashing their yellow tail feathers and screeching prehistoric sounding calls. In the summer months, cavorting Rainbow Bee-eaters are commonly seen.
Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo
Large black cockatoo, with distinct yellow panel in the middle of the tail feathers, and small yellow cheek patch. Often seen passing overhead in large flocks, flashing yellow tail feathers and screeching their prehistoric sounding calls as they make their way to or from their roosting sites. Their flight appears very buoyant, as if flying is so easy and it may actually be too come to earth. Food is wide range of seeds and nuts as well as grubs which they will tear from the sapwood of trees such as acacias and eucalypts, using their strong bills.
Easily recognised from other cockatoos, by its distinctive grey and pink plumage and short pale pink crest. Also known as the Rose-breasted Cockatoo, the Galah is one or the most common and widespread of Australia’s parrots. Since European colonisation, when they were found mainly inland, they have become more widespread, taking advantage of the changes in land use because of agriculture, which has increased availability of food and water. They are highly sociable and often join together in large noisy flocks when feeding and roosting. Also accomplished acrobats, often seen hanging upside down on telegraph wires.
The Australian Pelican is mainly white with black tail and upper-wings and is a common site around the coast of Australia, although it is also regularly occurs inland. It is able to travel great distances, soaring on thermals and then gliding for great distances with minimal effort. It is one of the world’s heaviest flying birds, with some males weighing up to 10kg. It also has the longest bill of any bird, up to 47cm, with the bill pouch able to hold 13 litres of water, when fully loaded. They often congregate in feeding flocks, sometimes numbering 2,000 birds. They nest in large colonies, particularly on the rare occasions that flooding rains fill the salt lakes of the Australian outback, when the pelicans flock inland in huge numbers with some colonies recorded at over 50,000 birds.
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…”
Mostly light blue-grey in colour with an obvious white face and yellow legs. In breeding season, long feathers (nuptial plumes) grow from the head, neck and back. They are the most commonly seen heron in Australia and also the most versatile. They live in a variety of habitats, as long as there is water nearby, including on reefs, tidal rock pools, estuaries, rivers, swamps and damp paddocks. They happily eat a wide range of aquatic food such as frogs, fish and yabbies, which they hunt with a variety of techniques from patient stalking to brisk chases.
The Osprey is a graceful hawk, with a white head and body and brown wings. When perched you may notice a short bristly crest on the back of the head. Also known as the Fish Hawk, it hunts almost exclusively for live fish, which it catches by plunging feet first into the water, occasionally becoming fully submerged. The Osprey has oily feathers which do not get very wet when they hunt, enabling it to take off again. Fish are taken back to the nest or a perch and ripped to pieces to be eaten. It does not need to spread its wings to dry, unlike cormorants.
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.
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.
The Common Tern is actually more common in the northern hemisphere, where it breeds, than Australia. However, it is a regular visitor in the summer time and can be seen in large numbers at suitable coastal sites. It has a deeply forked tail, like a swallow. It feeds by flying above water, with its bill pointed down. On seeing a target fish, it will party close its wings and drop into the water with little splash. It can also nimbly pick items off the surface of the water or mud, without landing.
The Bar-tailed Godwit is mainly mottled brown above and paler below, with conspicuous blue-grey legs and a long, dark, slightly upturned bill with a pink base. It is a migratory wading bird, which arrives in Australia in the spring and leaves at the start of autumn. They are record holders for their migration flights, with some birds recorded as flying non-stop across 10,500 km, from their breeding grounds in Alaska and Siberia. These journeys take an amazing 8 day hours, at an average flying speed over 50 km/h. To make this possible the birds will pile on huge reserves of body fat beforehand, and then lose nearly 50% of their bodyweight during the journey. Bar-tailed Godwits feed on molluscs, worms and aquatic insects, and are likely to be seen wading through the shallows or over exposed mud, probing their long bills rapidly into the bottom to find food.
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 Pied Cormorant is entirely back above and white below, with a yellow bill. It is very adaptable and may be found on both fresh and salt water. It hunts by diving underwater and using both feet in unison to propel itself to the seabed, where its favoured food of crayfish and other crustaceans are found. Like other cormorant species, the Little Pied Cormorants feathers are not water repellent and therefore it must spread its wings out to dry.
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.
The Darter is a large slim waterbird, with a long snake-like neck and very pointy bill. The males are glossy black with white streak on the face and white wing markings, whereas females are grey and white. When in the water, they swim with most of their body submerged, leaving just the long snake-like neck above the surface. Unusually for a waterbird, the Darter does not have water repellent feathers, making it easier to dive underwater to hunt fish. When underwater, they may spread their wings and tail to lure the fish into the shad underneath, before spearing them with their sharp bill. Depending on the size of fish, they may swallow them below the surface, on the surface or take them back to a perch to manoeuvre into position for swallowing head-first. After feeding, they will find a suitable place to rest and spread out their wings to dry.
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 Brahminy Kite is a stunning chestnut brown bird with a stark white head and chest. It is often seen cruising along the coast in search of food, which includes fish, insects and carrion (dead animals). Despite long sharp claws, they have weak feet, which stop them taking large prey. However they are highly skilled at snatching prey in flight from other birds such as Silver Gulls and Osprey. They create large nests of twigs, driftwood and seaweed, lined with a variety of material including lichen, moss, bones and paper.
The Rainbow Bee-eater is a spectacularly colourful mix of green, blue, copper and yellow, with a prominent curved back bill. They migrate here to breed, from Asia and Indonesia, arriving in October and leaving again by April. The birds nest are at the end of a metre long tunnel which they dig into sandy soil with their bill and then shift the sand with their feet. Bee-eaters make impressive twisting and turning flights as they track down their prey. Mainly bees and wasps are taken, which they will bash and squeeze to extract the sting before eating. Over 400 bugs may be eaten every day!
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.