Grand Australia Part II Oct 13—30, 2010
Posted by Dion Hobcroft
Our Grand Australia Part II tour began in southeast Queensland. After meeting up with Duncan from O'Reilly's Guest House, we commenced our birding in earnest. Despite the difficult conditions (cold, windy, and rainy), we had a great day with excellent views of more than 80 species. Speckled Warbler, Tawny Frogmouth, Pale-headed Rosella, and Red-backed Fairywren were among the highlights. The following day we began our rainforest birding, which was exceptional, as Regent Bowerbird, Eastern Whipbird, and Australian Logrunner could be observed at unbelievably close quarters. It was difficult not to have Australian King Parrots or Crimson Rosellas landing on you. Beyond these more cooperative species, we still had our work cut out for us as we tried to locate some of the more elusive species. We enjoyed views of Rose Robin, Noisy Pitta (for some), Paradise Riflebird, Red-browed Treecreeper, Glossy Black-Cockatoo and, as a fitting finale, a pair of Albert's Lyrebirds. We had done well here under difficult weather conditions.
Winging our way to the tropical north we spent our first night at Cairns. On our first afternoon we became acquainted with Double-eyed Fig-Parrots and Australian Swiftlets amongst a host of tropical birds. The next morning, the tide was good on the Cairns Esplanade and the highlight was a pair of Broad-billed Sandpipers that gave excellent scope views. Moving to Centenary Lakes we whistled in a Brush Cuckoo and had a wonderful encounter with Collared Kingfisher and a Bush Stone-Curlew with chicks.
During our wonderful stay at Kingfisher Park we enjoyed great food, accommodation, and birds. Our first afternoon was spent exploring the orchard, familiarizing ourselves with a diverse array of more common birds such as Pale-yellow Robin, Spectacled Monarch, and Emerald Dove, while a pair of Papuan Frogmouths and Eastern Barn Owls were well-appreciated. The next morning we were birding near the summit of Mount Lewis where we enjoyed fine views of Mountain Thornbill, Atherton Scrubwren, Bower's Shrike-Thrush, Tooth-billed Bowerbird at the bower, Bridled Honeyeater, Fernwren, and finally some Chowchillas. In the afternoon we enjoyed a fine session in one spot; in quick succession we had repeat scope views of the glamorous Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher, Wompoo Fruit-Dove, Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Pied Monarch, Cicadabird, and Lovely Fairywren, followed by the call "Platypus, Platypus, Platypus," as the unique duck-billed monotreme swam past us at a great rate of knots.
A morning boat trip on the Daintree River was possibly the wettest affair in my tour-leading life, the leader appearing worse than a drowned rat by the end of it. By some minor miracle we located a Little Kingfisher with most people getting a decent view. The morning was also somewhat saved by a splendid Beach Stone-Curlew—often a very difficult bird. After drying out we went to the dry western side of the Great Dividing Range. Australian Bustards performed well, and after a lengthy search we had magical views of Squatter Pigeon and Black-throated Finch.
It was off to Cassowary House for breakfast when the mobile call came through that they were already present. A tense, white-knuckle drive ensued, and on arrival it looked as if we were too late. A quieter breakfast than the last supper was salvaged by a visiting Canadian lady who located said cassowary behind her room. Suddenly there he was—a male with three striped chicks. It was great to watch the mischievous chicks sparring with each other, rolling around like puppies. Exploring further afield we had flocks of Sarus Crane and Brolga, White-throated Needletail, loads of Pheasant Coucal, and some surprise Squatter Pigeons.
Our day on the Great Barrier Reef was a very fortuitous event. After exploring the accessible area on Michaelmas Cay with its thousands of Sooty Terns and Common Noddies, we were lucky to be able to circumnavigate the island. This turned up a major bonus with a perched Masked Booby, several Roseate Terns in breeding condition, and a bunch of loafing Great Frigatebirds. More searching turned up a Red-footed Booby and several Bridled and Black-naped terns, plus some unusual Short-tailed Shearwaters. The snorkeling was terrific, with a myriad of colorful reef fish.
We enjoyed a great deal of luck on our last morning in Cairns. A last-minute check found an Asian Dowitcher on the Esplanade. This was followed by walkaway views of a stunning male Superb Fruit-Dove while Fairy Gerygone and a migrant female Satin Flycatcher dutifully filled gaps in the list.
Arriving in Melbourne we made our way to Deniliquin. Our visit coincided with beautiful spring days, mild temperatures, and abundant sunshine. Hooray for this, after running a gauntlet of wet weather. Now it was time for a really huge day as we kicked off proceedings with good friend Phil Maher.
Megabirds came fast and furious all day with highlights of the morning session including Emu, Superb Parrot, Gilbert's Whistler, and Diamond Firetail. After lunch we scoped a superb pair of Black Falcons and turned up a late Blue-winged Parrot. Wetlands that had been dry for more than 20 years were full of ducks including Pink-eared Duck, Australasian Shoveler, hordes of Black-tailed Native-hens, and after a bit of searching, our only Red-kneed Dotterel. At night we commenced our search for the Plains-wanderer, finding three males including a recently fledged juvenile and a superb adult female. We also had great views of Stubble Quail and the delicate carnivorous marsupial known as the fat-tailed dunnart. One of the great birding days in the world!
The next morning a Musk Duck was our first highlight while a Square-tailed Kite on the Victorian border near Tooleybuc was fantastic. We had an amazing run in Hattah Lakes with our good weather continuing and our karma beginning to shine. Spectacular Regent Parrots were in good form, as was the electrifying Splendid Fairywren, while a pair of Major Mitchell's Cockatoos flew in right next to us as we watched a Little Eagle on a nest! The next morning everyone had a good view of both Mallee Emuwren and Striated Grasswren (no mean feat), followed by a stunning male Chestnut Quail-thrush and a not so shy Shy Heathwren. In the afternoon we had a great view of Rufous Fieldwren followed by a superb encounter with two Malleefowl. I should have purchased a lottery ticket this day!
A final morning in Hattah produced a bonus flock of Chestnut-crowned Babblers at the extreme south edge of their range, with fine views of Australian Hobby, loads of Regent Parrots, and Emus with chicks being memorable.
Our final birding stop was the Little Desert National Park. Lots of great birds were here with pride of place going to the Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Purple-gaped Honeyeater, Southern Scrub-Robin, and the rare (and this year remarkably difficult) Slender-billed Thornbill.
We finished our trip with 356 species of birds, an excellent result and 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.