A visit to the Shanes Park Woodland is a remarkable experience. Once you have walked past the edge of the woodland, there is a curious feeling as if something has been left behind, something so familiar that you have never given it a second thought. For some people the change is immediately apparent. For others it is a growing feeling on each successive visit. It is as if something about this place differs from everything we know of western Sydneys bushland.
What is it it that makes this site so unique? Shanes Park is the last of Sydney's woodlands still free from agressive urban wildlife. Instead of Noisy Miners and Currawongs, the original woodland birds dominate. Species which are extinct or nearly so elsewhere are secure here. Some such as the charismatic Speckled Warbler show a remarkable curiosity to the human visitor in their domain. A night visit with a spotlight quickly demonstrates that this uniqueness is not restricted to the birds. The agressive urban Brushtail and Ringtail possums are uncommon here. Instead, you are much more likely to spot a family of the beautiful little Sugar Glider, a species now uncommon across Western Sydney.
Most of the species found in Western Sydney do not occur in the large National Parks of the city's affluent northern and southern suburbs. The latter consist of dense shrubby forests on sandstone soils, while Western Sydney's fertile soils support open, grassy woodland. As our last intact woodlands, the protection of Shanes Park is vital to ensure that future generations can enjoy the full diversity of our amazing wildlife.
The land surrounding the Air Services Australia tower off Captain Cook Drive at Willmot covers extensive patches of Cumberland Woodland, Castlereagh Ironbark Forest and Castlereagh Scribbly Gum Woodland interspersed with undisturbed open grassland. The undisturbed open grasslands, large size and diversity of vegetation make this patch a refuge for many species of declining open forest and woodland birds, the most notable of these being the Speckled Warbler.
A remarkable variety of birds can be found, particularly in the south-eastern section of the reserve and within a few hundred metres of the creek line. In summer the place is often alive with cuckoos including Pallid and Shining Bronze-cuckoos, Rufous Whistlers and Sacred Kingfishers. In winter, mixed species flocks of birds are common and finding these flocks is the best way to see a good diversity of species. Mixed flocks may include Golden Whistlers, various honeyeaters, Robins, Yellow and Buff-rumped Thornbills, Silvereyes, Spotted & Striated Pardalotes, Grey Fantails and Varied Sitellas. The dense wetlands often yield large numbers of the otherwise uncommon Spotless Crake - a particular treat. The best chance to see Speckled Warblers is to look out for flocks of Buff-rumped Thornbills as these two species often associate and feed together on the ground close to dense vegetation.
THREATENED SPECIES present include the Speckled Warbler. This species is listed as vulnerable to extinction across its range, and is in immediate danger of extinction across Cumberland Plain (western sydney). The site is one of very few places they still breed in the region. This species is highly susceptable to human disturbance and to fox predation of nestlings. The site is also significant for the migratory Scarlet Robin, which is also vulnerable to extinction nationally, and at dire risk of extinction across the Cumberland Plain. Other threatened birds include Little Eagle, Square-tailed Kite and Swift Parrot. In 1997 a Jacky Winter made a brief visit - this species is rapidly approaching extinction in Western Sydney.
RICHMOND WOODLAND IMPORTANT BIRD AREA (IBA) is located to the northwest. This region is of international significance for the conservation of woodland birds. A review of the IBA and its relation to Shanes Park is available here.
REGULAR SPECIALTIES include: Painted Button-quail, Pacific Baza, Little Eagle, Spotless Crake, Common Bronzewing, Pallid Cuckoo (spring and summer), Azure Kingfisher, Rose and Scarlet Robins (both winter), Speckled Warbler, Buff-rumped Thornbill, White-throated Gerygone (spring-autumn) and Varied Sitellas.
NOTABLE RARITIES include: Square-tailed Kite, Swift Parrot (winter), Noisy Pitta, Western Gerygone, Tawny Grassbird and White-browed Woodswallow (spring to summer during periods of inland drought).
A complete bird list (over 100 species) has been supplied by Edwin Vella here
Australia has the worlds highest mammal extinction rate. Land clearing and predation by the introduced European Fox has hit open woodlands particularly hard. In the the Cumberland Plain the situation is particularly poor, with some of the worlds highest land clearing rates, as no local government funded fox control for bushland (in contrast to other regions).
If you visit during the day, you are almost certain to see the large Eastern Grey Kangaroo - a 'keystone' species which maintains the open grassy nature of the woodland. If you are lucky, you might also see the darker Swamp Wallaby along the creeklines, or the occasional Echidna. Shanes Park is unique in Western Sydney by having very few of the urban-tolerant Brushtail and Ringtail Possum so common everywhere else. Instead a night visit is much more likely to disturb a family of Sugar Gliders, a communal gliding possum rarely seen elsewhere in western sydney. If you are lucky, you may see one stretch the thin membrane between it's feet and 'fly' from tree to tree. The abundance of Sugar Gliders here is quite remarkable.
No thorough survey for mammals has been undertaken for Shanes Park. There is some evidence that smaller ground mammals including Bush Rats and Bandicoot are also present. If so, this is one of just two locations in the Cumberland Plain where native small ground mammals still survive. Scat evidence is currently being analysed to confirm these anecdotal records.
A list of mammals is provided in the species list here
Reptiles & Frogs
No thorough survey for reptiles or frogs has been undertaken. Commonly encountered species are the Striped Marsh Frog, Wood Gecko, Bearded Dragon, the giant Lace Monitor, the Brown and Red-bellied Black snakes and a range of skink species.
The Bearded Dragon and Wood Gecko are particularly special for being woodland specialists. As Sydney's National Parks are largely restricted to the sandstone forests of Sydney's affluent north and south, these woodland species are rarely seen by the public.
It is likely that at least 20 species of reptile and 7 frogs are present. A list of known reptile & frog species is provided in the complete species list here
The site has a remarkable range of invertebrates, including a number restricted to the cumberland woodlands, including the endangered Cumberland Plain Land Snail.
A very diverse range of butterflies and dragonflies are present, and a full survey of these taxa should be undertaken. A preliminary list is provided here. Of particular significance is the Large Sydney Crayfish, which can be found in some of the smaller wetlands and streams. Shanes park is the last remaining site in the Cumberland Plain where this magnificant animal survives.
The future of the amazing wildlife of this patch is under serious threat by the proposed Regional Park (or potentially National Park) status. Preliminary planning for the western portion of the adjoining Regional Park has seen this single remnant carved into six small reserves cut by roads and trails, with proposals for paved cycleways, carparks, amphitheatres, playgrounds, cyclone fencing and wildlife culling. Extending this type of development to Shanes Park would decimate the wildlife and passive recreation values. Please visit how you can help to support the protection of this wildlife as a Nature Reserve.