Despite its biogeographical interest, Coolah Tops – a national park approximately 360km north-east of Sydney – is a locality that is poorly represented in the museum’s natural history collections. At an altitude of more than 1000m, Coolah Tops is a basalt plateau that rises above the surrounding farmland resulting in an island of tall, high-elevation open forest. Many eastern Australian species, such as the Golden Whistler, are near the edge of their range, and the relative isolation from other tall moist forest makes this an interesting location for biogeographical studies.

The plateau is the catchment for numerous creeks. Those on the north side feed the Namoi and Macquarie Rivers, eventually flowing west into the Murray Darling. Those on the south side feed the Goulburn River, flowing east to the Hunter coast. The montane fish fauna is therefore sourced from two distinct catchments, again providing a rich scenario for biodiversity study.

So from 30 April to 7 May, the Ichthyology and Ornithology staff opened their nets to the fishes and birds of Coolah Tops. The primary aim of the fishos was to survey all the watercourses, while that of the birdos was to collect high quality tissue samples from multiple organs of multiple species as a future RNA (Ribonucleic Acid – similar to DNA) resource.

Unfortunately, it was a very dry period and none of the waterfalls were flowing, but small pools were present in many of the watercourses. Electrofishing and seining succeeded in turning up the Mountain Galaxias, Galaxias olidus in five watercourses. Samples were obtained from the Namoi and Macquarie catchments, but there was no water in creeks of the Hunter catchment.

Although the birdos were underwhelmed by the level of bird activity, we still detected 42 species, with the highlight being the holy trinity of Boobook, Barking and Powerful Owls. We collected specimens, tissues or blood/feather samples from 12 species ranging from 6g Thornbills (Brown, Striated and Buff-rumped) to 350g Kookaburras.
Overall we collected 35 fishes and samples from 41 birds which will be useful for future biogeographical research.

Amanda Hay, Ichthyology Group Manager
Sally Reader, Ichthyology Research Assistant
Dr. Leah Tsang, Ornithology Collection Manager
Dr. Richard Major, Terrestrial Vertebrates Group Manager

We are grateful to Mary Holt for supporting this project through a donation to the Australian Museum Foundation.