Grand Australia Part II Oct 04—20, 2006
Posted by Dion Hobcroft
“Tick, tick, tickaroo,” became the chorus of our group as the fabulous, colorful, and rare birds of Australia focused sharply in our binoculars. After arriving in Melbourne and enjoying an audience with a large mob of eastern gray kangaroos, including some big bucks, we made our way to the Little Desert National Park. There were lots of great birds here with pride of place going to the Malleefowl?the enigmatic desert megapode. Other great sightings followed in rapid succession including point-blank views of Gilbert’s Whistler, Shy Heathwren, Rufous Fieldwren, Diamond Firetail, and the rare Slender-billed Thornbill. At Hattah Lakes we found Emus with striped chicks, delicate Mallee Emuwrens, unbelievable Splendid Fairywrens, the lightning-fast Striated Grasswren, fabulous parrots including both Mulga and Regent parrots, and, on our last morning, some surprise Black Honeyeaters?always a special desert nomad.
We kicked off proceedings in Deniliquin with our good friend Phil Maher. Megabirds came fast and furious all day including Superb Parrot, Painted Buttonquail, Australian Spotted and Baillon’s crakes, Musk Duck, and White-backed Swallow in the morning session. After lunch we scoped Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, Orange Chat, Diamond Dove, had a stunning Australian Owlet-Nightjar, and played cat-and-mouse with a Spotless Crake. During the evening we enjoyed four Plains-wanderers (a personal record for me) and a bonus small flock of Inland Dotterels, plus Stubble Quail. This was a great birding day!
Thanks to the wonder of the jet engine, the next day we were in sunny Queensland and, like the previous week, our roll of good luck continued. Exploring the Kerry Valley with good friend Tim O’Reilly turned up the elusive White-eared Monarch, Speckled Warbler, and a Southern Boobook owl. At O?Reilly’s Guesthouse we had the most astonishing views ever of a male Albert’s Lyrebird, a pair of Paradise Riflebirds with the male in display mode hanging off the side of a tree a couple of meters up and flashing his yellow gape, Spotted Quail-thrush at arm’s-length, and a Marbled Frogmouth that responded like a rocket. It was perhaps the koala with a joey that was the biggest highlight?one lady was reduced to tears of happiness?a special moment for all.
Winging our way to the tropical north, our stay at Kingfisher Park was wonderful, with good food, accommodations, and birds. One of our best sightings was of a Masked Owl (one of Australia’s toughest birds to see) sitting in a tree hollow at dusk, while a White-throated Nightjar flew around us. There were lots of great birds, and we especially enjoyed excellent views of Chowchilla, Fernwren, Pied Monarch, Lovely Fairywren, Blue-faced Parrotfinch, Tooth-billed Bowerbird at the display ground, Yellow-breasted Boatbill at the nest, male Victoria’s Riflebird, Squatter Pigeon, Black-throated Finch, Cotton Pygmy-goose, flocks of Sarus Crane and Brolga, Papuan Frogmouth, Black Bittern, and Wompoo Fruit-Dove to mention a few.
Our tour concluded on the Great Barrier Reef with a visit to Michaelmas Cay. Thousands of tropical terns at arm’s-length are always a special treat with sightings of Great Frigatebird, and Bridled, Black-naped, and Lesser Crested terns amongst the better birds. It was the snorkeling on Hastings Reef that perhaps made a lasting impression with dazzling fish and colorful corals. On my snorkel I spotted titan triggerfish, three species of anemone fish, a potato cod about two meters long, Moorish idol, beaked chetadon, humphead wrasse, numerous parrotfish, giant clams, and so much more! We finished our trip with 356 species of birds?a very good result.
This was a very special group of participants, and I would like to thank everyone for the good laughs and camaraderie we enjoyed in the field. I look forward to traveling with you again in the future.