Grand Australia Part I Oct 14—30, 2009

Posted by Dion Hobcroft

Hobcroftdion

Dion Hobcroft

Dion Hobcroft has been working for VENT since 2001. He has led many tours (more than 160) to Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand, Bhutan, Indonesia, India, China, Southwest ...

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Our series of Grand Australia tours this year accumulated an astonishing 491 species of birds. It was my pleasure to lead the whole program with a great bunch of folks. We enjoyed plenty of two- and three-night stays in a range of very comfortable hotels. A coaster bus accommodated our group of 10, and we sought out the best cuisine to be found in my home country. We also made time for shopping, cultural visits, and even visited such icons as Uluru in the Red Centre of this ancient continent.

Covering several thousand kilometers in a variety of amazing habitats with some equally amazing scenery, we were able to record 327 species of birds during Part I. This included many difficult and highly sought after species.

In Sydney we bounced off to a great start with excellent views of Superb Lyrebird and Australian Owlet-Nightjar in the Royal National Park, and a big flock of Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos in Centennial Park. Our Sydney pelagic trip was pretty lumpy with the large seas turning up a diverse range of Tasman Sea oceanic birds. Pride of place went to the marvelous Wandering Albatross, the first Long-tailed Jaeger of the southern spring, and multiple Providence Petrels, while a breaching pair of humpback whales and bow-riding bottle-nosed dolphins started our mammal list in style.

We journeyed west to Glen Davis, with a stop in Bicentennial Park turning up a bunch of stylish Red-necked Avocets and smart-looking Chestnut Teal. At Glen Davis we added numerous new birds to our list with some of the better sightings including the stunning Diamond Firetail, smart Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters, and well-camouflaged Little Lorikeets.

Arriving in Darwin is a bit like arriving in a different country. The Botanic Gardens came through for us with a pair of Rufous Owls and a very tightly-concealed Barking Owl. Buffalo Creek kept our good fortune rolling along when a leaking air-conditioning unit provided drinking water for thirsty birds, including such gems as Red-headed Honeyeater, Long-tailed Finch, and Chestnut-breasted Munia. Palmerston added Mangrove Robin and Mangrove Gerygone, while Howard Springs saw the Rainbow Pitta as the glamour bird of the afternoon.

We headed southeast to the World Heritage Kakadu National Park, but not before getting great views of Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove and White-browed Crake. This 4,000-square-mile park protects a vast array of important habitats and aboriginal cultural sites. We took the time to explore the best of it.

Our boat trip on Yellow Water was a photographic dream: Little Kingfisher perched down to one meter; four-meter-long saltwater crocodiles basking and looking stuffed to the gunnels; more than a thousand Magpie Geese in flight; and a stately pair of Brolgas. We explored the rock art galleries before turning our attention to the rare endemics. In quick succession at key locations we picked up Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeon, Partridge Pigeon, Banded Fruit-Dove, and Sandstone Shrike-Thrush.

With the chance to see a nesting Red Goshawk in Katherine, we made a pilgrimage further south than usual and were rewarded with a fortuitous fine view of a perched female, while the nest seemed strangely quiet. This is definitely one of the rarest birds in Australia on the list.

Our day at Victoria River and Timber Creek is always a great birding day. After a great start with several Purple-crowned Fairywrens, we made a pilgrimage up a hill for a small flock of Budgerigars, the only ones we were to encounter on the entire series of tours, and enjoyed toothy freshwater crocodiles and tens of thousands of squabbling little red and black flying-foxes. On our return drive we were very lucky to encounter flocks of several hundred Star Finches and the first ever Pictorella Munias on a VENT tour.

On our return drive to Darwin our great luck continued when I picked up a dozen Gouldian Finches sunning near a drinking hole, followed shortly after by a bunch of stunning Hooded Parrots in downtown Pine Creek.

It was time to head south to the Red Centre. In Alice Springs dry conditions prevailed, which sort of put a cold bath on my prospects of clouds of desert nomad birds. Still we put in a comfortable effort and focused on such gems as Dusky Grasswren, Western Bowerbird, Major Mitchell's Cockatoo, Red-capped Robin, Crested Bellbird, the electrifying Splendid Fairywren, three vagrant Little Curlews, an Australian Spotted Crake, and the dapper White-backed Swallow.

Our tour concluded at Uluru with a bottle of champagne as we watched the sunset at the Rock. Does life get much better than this?

I would like to thank the participants for such a great tour. I hope that we can all travel again in the future.