Grand Australia Part II Oct 15—Nov 01, 2008
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. Beyond the birds, we enjoyed great mammals, reptiles, amphibians, wildflowers, and camaraderie.
We commenced our tour in sunny Queensland. At our first stop, just south of Brisbane, we were lucky enough to enjoy fantastic views of the rare Square-tailed Kite at the nest, a dozing koala, and a Tawny Frogmouth on the nest. We spent the next two days exploring Lamington National Park while based at the wonderful O'Reilly's Guesthouse. Exploring the Kerry Valley with our good friend Tim O'Reilly turned up the elusive White-eared Monarch, Speckled Warbler, Wompoo Fruit-Dove, and some surprise Black Falcons. In the tussock grassland adjoining the mountain rainforest, we had the most astonishing views of a Spotted Quail-thrush, while deeper in the forest interior we found a pair of Paradise Riflebirds and a sensational Marbled Frogmouth.
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 a pair of Masked Owls—one of Australia's toughest nocturnal birds—at dusk, sitting in a tree hollow. Our good luck with nocturnal birds continued with a superb view of a Lesser Sooty-Owl a couple of nights later. We especially enjoyed great views of Chowchilla, Fernwren, Pied Monarch, Lovely Fairywren, Black Bittern, Tooth-billed Bowerbird at the display ground, Yellow-breasted Boatbill, male Victoria's Riflebird , Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo, Squatter Pigeon, Black-throated Finch, flocks of Sarus Crane, and Papuan Frogmouth on the nest, to mention a few. A super view of a platypus was a great bonus.
Our day on the Barrier Reef produced terns a plenty, while the snorkelers enjoyed fish-watching with sightings ranging from black anemone fish to the superb harlequin tuskfish and giant humphead Maori wrasse, with a small black-tipped reef shark thrown into the mix.
Arriving in Melbourne, we made our way to Deniliquin. Now it was time for a really huge day as we kicked off proceedings with our good friend Phil Maher. Megabirds came fast and furious all day, including Superb Parrot, Australian Spotted Crake, Musk Duck, Red-backed Kingfisher, White-backed Swallow, Gilbert's Whistler, and Diamond Firetail in the morning session. After lunch we scoped delicate Australian Pratincoles, cobalt-blue White-winged Fairywren, and more than 50 Inland Dotterels.
During the evening we turned up a stunning pair of Plains-wanderers. The female displayed and called to the male; quite unconcerned by the bright lights on her, she even ate a large cricket right in front of us. This was an extraordinary encounter with this fascinating bird. Other good sightings included the delicate carnivorous marsupial known as the fat-tailed dunnart, plus a mob of red kangaroos. One of the great birding days in the world!
At Hattah Lakes we found Emus, delicate Mallee Emuwrens, secretive Striated Grasswrens, unbelievable Splendid Fairywrens, and colorful Mulga and Regent parrots. We also had a superb encounter with the wonderful Major Mitchell's Cockatoo.
Our final birding stop was the Little Desert National Park where we saw lots of great birds, with pride of place going to the Malleefowl—the enigmatic desert megapode. Other great sightings followed in rapid succession, including point-blank views of Rufous Fieldwren, the rare Slender-billed Thornbill, stunning views of the scarce nomadic Black Honeyeater, not so cooperative Purple-gaped Honeyeaters, and a fence line covered in dapper White-fronted Chats. Watching a large female Black Falcon being knocked off its fence post perch by an antagonistic Spotted Harrier made everyone ooh and aah!
We finished our trip with 348 species of birds—an excellent result—virtually half of the birds of Australia in two weeks.
Sadly, our tour was over. It was a very special group and I would like to thank all of the participants for the good laughs and special moments we enjoyed in the field.