Raptor Country, Birds of prey in the Clarence Valley, NSW

July 28, 2011

Birds of Prey have inspired poets and songwriters for centuries, and ancient Egyptians used the image of a Falcon to represent their deity Horus. It’s hardly suprising considering the appearance and behaviour of many raptor species; they’ve got sharp bits and can be brutally carnivorous. What more could you ask for?

The Clarence River and the Northern Rivers region of NSW is situated in a part of Australia with a wealth of biodiversity, the sub-tropical east. This biodiversity is a result of the convergence of biogeographical regions, in an area known uninspiringly as the Macleay McPherson overlap.

This diversity of life is reflected in the variety of raptors seen there. With over 360 species of bird recorded, it’s easy to get distracted from the iconic raptors, there’s also plenty of other wildlife to see, but there always seems to be a dot circling in the sky or a perched sentinel, talons and hook beak… look, I’ve got all poetic now.

Peregrine Falcon, the bird that lays claim to the fastest flying thing on Earth. It reaches speeds of up to 180kph in freefall, concussing its prey on impact.

In areas with sufficient habitat, the variety of raptor species can be outstandingly obvious. A short boat or ferry ride on the Clarence River or estuary around Grafton & Yamba usually provides views of White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Whistling Kite, Brahminy Kite, and Eastern Osprey in the space of a couple of hours, often less.

The country that drains through the catchment is vast, the Clarence River system is the largest on the east coast, and appears to have a variable catchment area, described as either 22,400, 22,660, or 22,700 square kilometres, depending on where you source your information.

It begins in the multitude of gullies and valleys along the Great Dividing Range and foothills, places such as Gibraltar Range. Again, it is hard to avoid seeing birds of prey, with Wedge-tailed Eagle usually soaring along various sections of the Gwydir Highway between Grafton and Glen Innes. Little Eagle is recorded occasionally, although they are not common. It is likely that this species is getting pushed to the limits of available habitat, with pressure from changes to the vegetation.

Since I moved to the region, I have been impressed with the variety of local raptors, particularly on our patch at home, near Gibraltar Range. The surrounding ranges and farmland provide territories for all of the 20 species of raptor I’ve seen in Australia. Sometimes they turn up literally out of the blue, and disappear just as quickly, others are resident.

Locations visited

Clarence Estuary



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