Grand Australia Part II Oct 28—Nov 14, 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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Beyond the fabulous, colorful, and rare birds, we enjoyed great mammals, reptiles, amphibians, wildflowers, and camaraderie during Part II of our Grand Australia tour.

Our tour began 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, as it was seeing off a couple of Torresian Crows that were intent on raiding its nest. Actually, the Square-tailed Kite is a specialized nest predator itself. We also spotted a Tawny Frogmouth on its nest. We spent the next two days exploring in Lamington National Park, based at the wonderful O'Reilly's Guesthouse. Exploring the Kerry Valley turned up the elusive White-eared Monarch, Speckled Warbler, a large flock of Glossy Black-Cockatoos, a vagrant Freckled Duck, and a pair of Plum-headed Finches. Deeper in the forest interior we found a pair of Paradise Riflebirds, a cracking male Albert's Lyrebird, and a sensational Marbled Frogmouth.

Winging our way to the tropical north, we spent our first night at Cairns where our good luck continued with excellent views of both Asian Dowitcher and two Broad-billed Sandpipers amongst a host of East Asian shorebirds. Our stay at Kingfisher Park was wonderful—good food (not forgetting the Melbourne Cup luncheon at the Mount Molloy Pub), accommodation, and birds. One of our best sightings was a pair of Eastern Barn Owls at dusk, sitting in a tree hollow, followed the next day by an Australian Owlet-Nightjar. Participants especially enjoyed the great views of the monumental Southern Cassowary, Pale-vented Bush-hen, Spotless Crake, Red-necked Crake, Chowchilla, Fernwren, Pied Monarch, Lovely Fairywren, Black Bittern, Tooth-billed Bowerbird at the display ground, Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Squatter Pigeon, Black-throated Finch, flocks of Sarus Crane, and Papuan Frogmouth on the nest to mention a few, while the view of a platypus was a great bonus.

Our day on the Barrier Reef produced terns aplenty including Black-naped, while the snorkelers enjoyed fish-watching with sightings ranging from black anemone fish to the superb harlequin tuskfish and giant Queensland grouper, with a small black-tipped reef shark thrown into the mix.

Arriving in Melbourne, we made our way to Deniliquin. Our visit coincided with a heat wave, and every day for the next five days the temperatures peaked at over 40 degrees C. We kicked off proceedings with our good friend Phil Maher. Megabirds came fast and furious all day including Emu, Superb Parrot, Australian Spotted Crake, Musk Duck, Black-eared Cuckoo, Black Honeyeater, White-backed Swallow, Gilbert's Whistler, and Diamond Firetail in the morning session. After lunch we scoped delicate Australian Pratincoles, luminous Orange Chats, Ground Cuckoo-shrike at the nest, a superb pair of Black Falcons, an Inland Dotterel, and a bunch of Stubble Quail. 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 an amazing Malleefowl feeding by the roadside when we stopped for a Brown-headed Honeyeater. This was quite a stroke of luck. Delicate Mallee Emuwrens gave amazing views, but secretive Striated Grasswrens stayed hidden for most. Unbelievable Splendid Fairywrens, colorful Mulga and Regent parrots, plus a superb encounter with the wonderful Major Mitchell's Cockatoo enlivened our stay here. A visit to Lake Tyrell for a tip on some Crimson Chats failed to turn up the quest bird, but was rewarded with the scarce Rufous Fieldwren and a bunch of Orange Chats, plus some extraordinary saline scenery.

Our final birding stop was the Little Desert National Park. There were lots of great birds here, with pride of place going to the Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Southern Scrub-Robin, Scarlet Robin, Shy Heathwren, and the rare Slender-billed Thornbill. On our return drive to Melbourne we watched one of the most astonishing events of the entire tour when a female Peregrine Falcon killed a Straw-necked Ibis in front of us!

We finished our trip with 356 species of birds—an excellent result—virtually half of the birds of Australia in two weeks.

Sadly our tour was over, but 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. I look forward to traveling with you again in the future.