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Weekend Away March 2004

Cessnock and the Hunter Valley Region

Allen FishAllen Fish

Our annual aviary tour this year was the 10th and the last trip to be organised by Allen Fish. We are all very grateful to Allen and to his wife Nancy, for their efforts and the contribution they have both put into making each of these weekends away a very pleasurable experience for the members and visitors that have been able to participate.

Friday, 19th March 2003

Friday afternoon saw the bags and aviary boxes all lined up along the footpath in the front of Allen and Nancy's house at Milperra. A steady stream of enthusiastic aviculturists had arrived to wait for the coach to Cessnock, and enjoy yet another of Nancy's almost banquet style and delicious afternoon teas. It was a time to chat with other members, to renew friendships with old friends from past trips and make new friends with others who were joining the trip for the first time.

The coach arrived and with bags and boxes aboard, we were on our way.

It was a straight through trip without stopping (except for a few extra folk who met the coach at Pennant Hills) as Cessnock is only about a 2½-hour trip and the restaurant at the motel would still be open when we arrived there. There was some heavy traffic on the freeway as far as Gosford, but it was moving steadily and it was a good trip up. It was good to be so high up in the coach and to be able to see over the freeway safety railings that normally hide the many water views of the Hawkesbury River as it winds its way through the hills to the sea. As the sun gradually went down and darkness descended, some took the opportunity for a quiet snooze or a catnap.

We arrived at the Comfort Inn Cumberland motel in Cumberland Street, Cessnock at about 8:30pm. Our motel hostess climbed aboard the coach to welcome us. It was a lovely surprise to find that the rooms were exceptionally spacious with large ensuite facilities and a nice comfortable bed to sleep in. It was certainly a nice feeling of luxury and a good start to the weekend.

Saturday, 20th March 2003

Breakfast was 6:45am in Reggios (the motel restaurant). It was help yourself to cereals, fruit juice, and toast, then sit down with a full cooked breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and tomatoes.

It was a lovely sunny morning and by 8:00am we were all on the coach ready for the day ahead. There was heavy fog closing in from the mountains as we travelled out through Cessnock, through Neath and then along the New England Highway towards Maitland. I saw a little group of three bush turkeys scratching amongst the leaves along the side of the road just inside one of the property fences. I had thought that most of these turkeys had been eliminated by foxes but Kevin, who was sitting behind me, said that although this is true, there are still quite a few in the Gosford area. He said that when farmers find them on their property they try to protect the young chicks.

The fog had lifted with only a few heavy white clouds clinging to the hillsides as we arrived at Nick and Robyn's place in Holmesville at about 9:15am.

Gang Gang Cockatoos and Major Mitchell CockatooGang Gang Cockatoos (hen on the left and the cock on the right)
and a Major Mitchell (Leadbeater's Cockatoo)

Nick and Robyn had lots of aviaries with lots of different bird species cohabiting. There were lots of Lorikeets, Little Lorikeets and Scalies (including amongst others grey greens, grey green crosses, mustards and varied) in the first aviary and they were just as interested in us, as we were in seeing them. One little flock of Little Lorrikeets climbed inquisitively and eagerly up the wire to examine the elbow of one of the members who was leaning against the aviary and blocking out the sun with his arm to see what was in the back of the aviary. The owner of the elbow was completely unaware of the interest his elbow was attracting.

AlexandrineAlexandrine Parrot

The next aviary contained a mixed variety of birds including a pair of Mandarin ducks, Regents, Conures, King Parrots, Doves, Princess, Superbs and native Budgies, all in the same aviary together. As we walked along the neat rows of well kept and neatly arranged aviaries there were Alexandrines, then Gang Gangs, Major Mitchells, Eclectus and Plumb Heads together, Ring Necks, Long Billed Corellas, White Cockatoos, Galahs, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, White and Red-tailed Black Cockatoos.

Cockatiel MutationsCockatiel Mutations

After the larger aviaries there was a complex of smaller aviaries where Robyn keeps Cockatiels, Budgies, Grass Parrots (Red Rumps) and King Parrots…. and chickens! Bantams, old English Games and Silkies were nesting and pecking around the suspended aviaries and further down the end of the garden there were a couple of sheep and more families of cockerels with their hens and young chicks.


Walking back past the aviaries I was met by young Brendan who was very keen to let me know that I had not seen all the aviaries yet and asked me if I would like to see his favourite birds? I said yes and was led through an aviary walkway to some Quakers. I am suspecting that young Brendan is already on his way to becoming a keen aviculturist!

There was a large pergola area at the back of the house that doubled as a green house with lots of exotic plant species in pots and planters. There was plenty to see at Nick and Robyn's house but Allen was chasing us up to get back on the coach. We all enjoyed our visit and thanked Nick and Robyn for their hospitality.

It was a lovely sunny day now as we drove out through West Wallsend, a pleasant little community nestled amongst the hills, with its well-kept timber and hardiplank-clad cottages, and attractive gardens. We travelled through the heavily timbered hills and then out onto the flat open farming country arriving at Christine and Guy's house at Tarro at about 10:15am.

Stone owls keep watch over the aviaries!Stone Owls keep watch over the aviaries

We were interested to see that Christine and Guy had placed a number of stone statuettes of owls on the tops of their aviaries. First conclusions were that they were to deter hawks but we were later to learn over a nice hot cup of tea or coffee that Christine and Guy had very kindly provided for us, that they were to deter sparrows! Christine said that Guy had initially noticed an article in a magazine about the owls and then not too long after that saw a second article. They decided to try it. The owls were successful and so now they are on 24-hour watch keeping the sparrows at bay. Christine said that occasionally they have had a Goshawk but their three large dogs, that were fenced out the back during our visit, keep them away.

Varied LorikeetsVaried Lorikeets

Guy's aviaries filled the main area of their back garden with concrete pathways leading the way through. There were lots of Scalies, Rainbows and Rainbow Lorikeet mutations, including grey greens and blue fronts. There were a couple of large aviaries at the back housing Budgies, Bengalese, Javas and Java mutations. There were Bourkes and Bourke mutations, and lots of little native Lorries and mutations including Varieds and Purple Crowns.

It was time to go so we thanked Christine and Guy and were once again on our way.

After the past few years of drought, it was pleasant to see cows and horses, and other farm animals grazing peacefully in green fields. We also observed that some varieties of waterfowl had returned and were wading around looking for food in the ponds that had formed in the paddocks due to recent and continuing rains in the area.

We arrived at Paul's house with its very neat and well laid out front garden at 10:50am. Gardens and aviaries seem to go together. Almost all of the aviculturists we meet with and share information with on these annual club trips away are also keen gardeners.

The first of Paul's aviaries was well planted. However, there were no birds! The inhabitants were 10 – 12 foot long Diamond Pythons!

Diamond python aviary!Diamond Python

Paul's aviaries were well-constructed suspended aviaries following the backyard area to the right and left side of the pythons' aviary, including a nursery room for swabs and chicks on the right and a water feature on the left in the centre of a circular path lined by more aviaries.

Blue tongue lizardBlue Tongue Lizard

A few Blue Tongue Lizards inhabited the areas under the aviaries.

A lot of attention was being paid to a Lorikeet mutation that was a cross between a Black Lorikeet and a Rainbow Lorikeet – this mutation is known as a "Pope". A few have been bred before but have not been fertile. Paul is hoping he has a first! There were lots of Lorikeets and Lorikeet mutations which included "Cardinals" and "Bishops". There were also young Black Lorrie chicks in the nursery. There were Plumb Heads, three pairs of Gang Gangs and a Galah.

Leaving Paul's place we travelled up through the hills and treed country once more and out through cleared farming area towards the Golden Grape Estate situated at historical Pokolbin in the beautiful Hunter Valley, for our first wine tasting and lunch. Once there we were led into a large room with European style thick wooden benches and tables in rows on either side of the room. Large oak barrels, almost the height of the ceiling, lined the walls on either side. It was an interesting and entertaining experience with our hostess having a good sense of humour and excellent presentation skills. It was an education for me as I had never been to a wine tasting before. I will not endeavour to list all the wines we enjoyed during the day at the different wineries, but for those of you like me who are naïve about wine tasting, I will list those we enjoyed at our first wine tasting at the Golden Grape!

Golden Grape VineyardGolden Grape Vineyard.

First was a white wine …

Our hostess explained that the Golden Grape Estate does not produce enough grapes to sell in shops or for export and that sales are direct from the vineyard or by post. Minimum purchase by post is one bottle + $10.00 postage and handling.

Next was a port …

Then ….

Following the wine tasting we were served a three course lunch, which included a home-style roast dinner and another glass of wine, in the Golden Grape restaurant. It was a lovely warm day with clear blue skies. The courtyard outside the restaurant overlooked the picturesque vineyards and the blue hills in the distance.

We left the Golden Grape Estate arriving at Tamburlaine at about 2:00pm for our second wine tasting. Some members decided not to participate in another wine tasting so soon after the wine tasting and lunch at the Golden Grape Estate. It was a good opportunity to go for a walk or just sit and enjoy the day. The wine tasting at Tamburlaine was held in a small side room beside the bar. We all sat around a long oblong table as our host, a Frenchman with a strong French accent, walked around the table pouring and describing the wines. There was a selection of white wines, following by reds and an Aged Muscat Liqueur – a desert wine described by our host as being great with chocolate!

We left Tamburlaine arriving at the McGuigan Cellars and Hunter Valley Cheese Factory at about 2:45pm – just a short walk to the Hunter Valley Gardens Village. The sun was shining brightly now and it was quite hot in the full sun. Horse drawn carriages with their stately English draft horses in harness waited along the roadsides to transport tourists around the Hunter Valley Village and to the Hunter Valley Gardens spanning over 25 acres on the other side of the village at the foot of the Brokenback Ranges.

Some members decided to give the wine tasting a miss and take some time to explore the village with its many specialist and craft shops.

Hunter Valley VillageHunter Valley Village

There was so much to see….

For an autumn afternoon in March it was now quite hot in the sun. I walked down the hill passing others in our group still exploring the shops.

The ChapelThe Hunter Hunter Valley Chapel

Across the roadway, a bridal party was arriving at The Chapel and I stopped to watch for a while.

A carriage and draft horses stood in the hot sun by the side of the roadA carriage and draft horses stood by the side of the road

A carriage and draft horses stood in the hot sun by the side of the road waiting for passengers. A young boy stopped with his family to stroke a gentle nose bowed down in response to the passers by who then went on their way stopping briefly to watch the bride with her bridesmaids as they prepared to enter The Chapel.

Bridal party entering The Hunter Valley ChapelBridal party entering The Hunter Valley Chapel

Time was passing too quickly and I thought that Allen might be on the hunt for any stragglers again. I noticed others making their way back to the coach and hurried to join them. As it turned out the wine tasting was running late and the main group had only just gone in as we arrived back. We sat on the grass by the coach while we waited for them to finish. I cannot comment on the wine tasting, as I wasn't there, but it was reported by those that were that it was quite an entertaining experience with an excellent host.

It was time to return to the Country Comfort Inn for an afternoon rest before dinner. Our coach driver offered to drop anybody off at the village if they would like to stay longer and to come back for them later. Allen and Nancy headed a group making their way to Harrigan's Irish Pub with its authentic décor from the land of the leprechaun. Brian made a last minute decision to join them and hurried off the coach to catch up to them.

We finished the day with dinner in Reggio's Restaurant at the Country Comfort Inn. It was a great time to share and chat together as we enjoyed our meal and the entertainment provided by a Maori vocalist. After dessert, the entertainment took a turn and to the surprise of us all, we were now to experience Karaoke! For most of us, it was a first!

First to take the microphone was Allen … nominated as the group's leader … and then Allen volunteered his reluctant wife Nancy. Nancy's choice was "Sadie the Cleaning Lady" and was handed a broom which she used very well in time with music during the chorus! Glenn went for his camera and hid behind the bar for the right moment! He was rewarded for his actions by being dragged onto centre stage by Nancy as the next entertainer. Glenn was very clever however choosing "Waltzing Matilda" and using the microphone to conduct the rest of us as we all joined in to help him through it. Glenn's friend John was next and then our coach driver who very bravely volunteered himself to sing "Give me a Life Among the Gum Trees" with our hostess' assistance for the actions and the chorus. Norm left saying that he didn't want to ruin everyone's evening if he was chosen! Rob was next to sing followed by Kerry who nominated and coerced a very nervous and very reluctant Maureen. The rest of us sighed with relief when our hostess took the microphone and then our professional Maori singer closed the entertainment by singing in his own Maori tongue. It was a good evening that should not pass without saying that it was largely due to the good sportsmanship and fun loving initiatives of our very brave "volunteer/ed" singers!

Sunday, 21st March 2003

We were all up early for another full cooked breakfast in Reggio's Restaurant and then to say thank you and goodbye to our hosts at the Country Comfort Inn. The day began with bright sunshine but it was not long before grey clouds started gathering resulting in some intermittent rain showers.

We arrived at the Maitland Showground at 9:10am for the Maitland Bird Sale. The doors of the large pavilion were open and there were lots of bird enthusiasts already inside. There was a wide range of birds for sale ranging from Native Budgies, Finches, Little Lorikeets, Lorikeets, Ringnecks and the larger parrot species. A Major Mitchell crossed with a Galah attracted some interest although was quite shy of all the attention and preferred to stay at the back of the cage in the safety of a quieter corner. There were lots of Lorikeet and Ringneck mutations including a very beautifully coloured Violet Ringneck (a recent mutation) that was attracting quite a few buyers. I believe that offers were being taken for this bird for up to and over $25,000.00!

There were commercial stands offering a range of bird and aviary accessories, feed and supplements, books, etc. We could hear steady rain falling on the tin roof of the pavilion as we wandered around for about an hour and half taking in as much as we could of all that the sellers had to offer. It was a good opportunity to talk to the breeders and meet other enthusiasts and some of the folk we had visited the previous day.

Indian Ringneck MutationsIndian Ringneck Mutations

Light rain was falling as we left the bird sale and made our way to the coach. The rain continued as we drove to our next destination stopping shortly before our arrival at Neville's house, which we entered through an arbour of greenery at the side entrance at the back of the house. It was not only the well-planned complex of aviaries and the birds that they housed that were of interest, as our host welcomed us to his home. Neville's beautifully laid-out and well maintained gardens, and 100 year old Federation house were a credit to the obvious amount of work, planning and enthusiasm that he had put into them, despite not having enjoyed good health over the past six years. A gate at the end of the garden by the side of the house led to a lovely garden and when some members asked if they could look at the garden, Neville was very happy to oblige them.

Indian Ringneck MutationIndian Ringneck Mutation

We stayed for about 50 minutes. Neville's aviaries housed many Ringnecks and Ringneck mutations, including the magnificent Violet mutation. There were also Green Cheek, Moustache and Olive Conures. All the birds were very obviously well looked after and very well cared for. We left Neville's house thanking him for his hospitality and for allowing us the privilege of visiting his aviaries and his lovely garden.

It was time for lunch so our next stop was the Roundabout Restaurant complex – a popular stop for truckies in the Maitland area – for a quick bite to eat.

Our next stop after lunch was Anthony's house to see his very free flight aviaries and suspended aviaries constructed down both sides of his backyard down behind the house. There were also large planted aviaries with ponds and logs – the perfect habitat for the reptiles that they housed – this time lizards – the Bearded Dragons!

Blue and Gold MacawBlue and Gold Macaw

Anthony's largest aviaries housed Macaws and Black Cockatoos … and other collections such as African Greys, Eclectus and Gang Gangs.

Mixed aviaries with Gouldians, Small Lorikeets (purple crowns), Quakers, Weavers, Parsons and Stars, etc. White Cockatoos, Lorikeets, Scalies and Musk Lorikeets. Glossies, Conures, Budgies, Derbyans and Asiatics. Major Mitchells, King Parrots and Amazons (with finches flying through the macaw aviaries), more Major Mitchells and Gang Gangs, Green Wing Macaws, Blue and Gold Macaws and Scarlet Macaws.

Asiatic type chickens pecked around under some of the smaller suspended aviaries. All the birds were very inquisitive and very friendly. They appeared to be just as interested in seeing us and we were in seeing them. There was also planted reptile aviaries housing a Monitor Lizard and Diamond Pythons, and one with a large Diamond Python curled up in a plant pot filled with water on the floor of the aviary. The head of the snake was completely submerged!

We thanked Anthony and climbed aboard the bus once again arriving at Bruce's house at about 3:00pm. Bruce has constructed several large suspended aviary banks with internal concrete pathways linking the different areas within the aviaries. The aviaries took up most of Bruce's backyard with a large tropical greenhouse at the back of the garden.

There were lots of Rosellas such as the Eastern Rosellas, Crimson, Blue Crimson, Pale-headed, Cinnamons and a yellow rosella with a red head that attracted a lot of attention. I am not sure of the name given to this mutation but it certainly was a beautiful looking bird.

There were Galahs, Cockatiels, Ringnecks, Princess Parrots, Regents, Superbs and the magnificent Red-tailed Black Cockatoos.

A large aviary at the back of the house also attracted a lot of attention as it housed a nesting pair of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos. The female was down in the nest box … a very large hollow log centrally located at the back of the aviary. The cock bird was being very protective staying close to the entrance of the nesting hollow. He flew occasionally to the front of the aviary to see what was going on then straight back to the log at the back. However, he did get a little side tracked on his duty as cameras came out to try to catch a good photo of him by the hollow. His curiosity got the better of him and his protective behaviour turned more towards showing off. He strutted up and down a horizontal log at the front of the aviary displaying his crest and wing feathers and bowing intermittently. His amusing antics attracted more and more attention and we could all have spent more time watching him but it was time to thank Bruce for his hospitality and climb aboard the coach once more.

Maureen getting acquainted with a very friendly Scarlet MacawMaureen getting acquainted with a very friendly Scarlet Macaw

Our next and final stop was at Russell's house.

Russell has kept a lot of different birds over the years with his love for aviculture, the rights of aviculturists and the conservation of birds in the wild, having been nurtured by his parents' interests in aviculture when he was growing up as a young boy.

Russell had some very large aviaries housing flocks of Black Cockatoos - Yellow-tailed, Red-tailed and Glossies.

There were some very friendly Macaws as you can see in the photograph with Maureen (our very nervous Karaoke singer of the previous evening).

One of Russell's interests is
foreign lorries (Yellow-bibbed Black-capped Lorius)One of Russell's interests is
foreign lorries (Yellow-bibbed Black-capped Lorius)

Russell's main interests at the moment are his Black Cockatoos and foreign Lorries – 11 different species of foreign Lorries all housed and doing very well in suspended aviaries. Lorries being nectar eaters are very messy birds and suspended aviaries make it easy to clean and maintain the optimum health of these birds.

Russell also had African Greys, Eclectus, Ringnecks, Sun Conures, Fig Parrots, native Rainbows and Scalies. A small family of Cape Barren Geese grazed in the grass between the aviaries.

Russell had a number of guards dogs that normally have free run of his property - thankfully they were constrained during our visit as they do not take easily to strangers!

The sun was now casting afternoon shadows across the countryside and it was time to thank Russell and to say goodbye. We all climbed aboard the coach for the last time to head back towards Sydney and home after yet another successful annual weekend away.

Once we were all settled on the coach Ian Ward took the opportunity to thank Allen and Nancy once again for all the hard work they had done for the Club over the last 10 years. He thanked Allen especially for having organised the past 10 annual trips away including this year's trip, saying that it would indeed be a very hard act to follow. Ian presented Allen and Nancy with a small gift on behalf of the Club and all those who have gained so much enjoyment and pleasure from these trips, and for the opportunity they have given for making and renewing friendships and learning from others with common interests in aviculture.

(Article submitted by Janet Macpherson – all photos © Janet Macpherson)

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