Birding from Mt Clunie Cabins

Brian Etheridge

Reprinted with permission from Cumberland Bird Observers Club Newsletter January - February 1999 Page 8-9

Pam and I had decided to leave the saturating Sydney of August and go north. As we'd seen the Mount Clunie cabins ad in the Newsletter we thought they sounded like good birding country and made the booking.

Our original intention was to take two days to get there, doing some birding in Washpool NP on the way. The weather decided otherwise, and we arrived in Armidale for our first night after a day of windscreen wipers constantly flying across the windscreen before us.

Our bonus was that we found The Moore Park Motel about 3 km out of Armidale. The accommodation was good and the restaurant was very good. The dining room was in what had been a chapel on the original Moore Park property.

Although we had rain for the first few hours of travel the next day, the sun finally broke through for the first time in many days. With water running inches deep across the paddocks it was hard to discern where the normal course of creeks ran. After the thorough soaking there were already signs of fresh greenery along the way.

We now enjoyed the more scenic drive taking us up through ranges until we reached the village of Woodenbong. A few kilometres further on we found the turn to Mount Clunie Cabins.

The homestead is located on a crest with glorious views over the surrounding ranges. Running from the main gate up to, and around the back of the house is a garden planted with a diverse and beautiful range of bird attracting plants and shrubs. It was alive with activity and could be viewed wherever you looked from the living area and verandah.

Fran Standing met us at the house and invited us in for a warming coffee whilst she waited for her husband, Jim, to return from some farming task. He soon joined us and we learned how his father had farmed and logged the property for many years.

Whilst we sipped our coffee and chatted, there was a constant stream of birds visiting the shrubbery outside the dining room window. There were Eastern Spinebills. Lewin's, Yellow-faced and Blue-faced Honeyeaters, Noisy Miners and Superb Fairy-wrens.

'Mount Clunie' property is about 850 acres, with Jim using about half for cattle, and the rest he is trying to return to its original forested state. He has even fenced off a couple of dams from the stock because they contain a variety of frogs, including some rare species.

Coffee finished we followed Jim, on beyond the house, to the cabins. Mount Clunie rose before us, then over a crest and out of sight of the homestead, beautifully sited to take advantage of both views and setting, were the two cabins.

Log cabins, designed by Fran and Jim for ease of living and ease of care, and built specifically for their letting purpose they are attractive outside and in. The interior walls and ceilings are finished in local native timbers giving a light, spacious feel to each cabin. Each is equipped with stove, refrigerator, HWS and lighting (very effective and silent) all operating on gas. Jim had already lit the small but very effective wood heater before our arrival.

Internally there is a double bedroom with plenty of cupboard space, a bathroom with shower, hand-basin and toilet, a main living area with lounge (which converts to a bed) good size dining table, chairs and plenty of bench and cupboard space for the fully equipped kitchen. At the other end of the living area is a bedroom with two sets of double bunks. All in all, perfectly capable of sleeping 6 comfortably (8 at a pinch).

Outside there is a full-length broad verandah, with table and chairs, covered for all of its depth by the extended roof. The rest of the deck, running forward to the railing, is open to the sky for evening star watching.

The views from each cabin are wonderful. One hundred metres away, the rainforest rose from the slopes of Mount Clunie, mingling with the stand of huge old hoop pine which earns the mountain its World Heritage listing. There are excellent views of Mt Lindsay, The Castle and the Border Ranges running to the horizon.

Fran and Jim are happy to guide you, advise you, or leave you to your own devices, as you wish. Fran is very knowledgeable about birding in the district and came with us on a number of outings ('to get away from the housework').

About 100 metres across the paddock behind the cabin is a forestry road which runs around the side of Mount Clunie and provides an access road to Queensland and the Condamine River Gorge. This road for its first few kilometres acts as a divide between the rainforest wet sclerophyll and woodland and provides good numbers and diversity of species as well as a beautiful and bird rich morning walking territory. Incidentally. it will not take you much trouble to coerce Jim to take you spotlighting along it at night looking for Greater Gliders and much more.

The village of Woodenbong has a supermarket, butcher, hotel and service station where you can pick up provisions.

Other options are to drive from the property to Killarney, Queensland where there is a greater selection of shopping and the fuel is much cheaper at the Killarney Co-op. There are many lovely drives with spectacular views of gorges and waterfalls, and of course a good range of birding, with most areas being accessible to 2WD in dry weather.

I always find it hard to select a particular event from any birding trip as being 'the event'. However when Fran directed us to her 'Golden Pond' near Woodenbong, little did we expect to see so many Jacanas, so close, and to have the privilege to watch and photograph (telephoto), over several hours, a Swamp Harrier preparing her nesting site oblivious to our presence.

Then there was the Peregrine Falcon driving off the Wedge-tailed Eagle in the Condamine Gorge, or the Southern Emu-wrens and Paradise Riflebirds on the property itself, not to mention the Topknot and Wompoo pigeons and Albert's Lyrebird.

Next time you see the Mount Clunie Cabins ad, I hope you'll conjure up the beauty our Newsletter advertisers are offering to share with you, even if for only too short a time.

Reprinted with permission from Cumberland Bird Observers Club Newsletter January - February 1999 Page 8-9