Grand Australia Part II Oct 15—Nov 01, 2011

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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We commenced our tour in Brisbane, joining forces with seven new participants, with three carrying over from Part I of our Grand Australia tour. Our first stop was the Daisy Hill Reserve, which failed to produce the hoped for koala (the locals commenting on their decline at this location), yet it came through with great views of red-necked wallabies, Pale-headed Rosella, Laughing Kookaburra, and Sacred Kingfisher. For those participants experiencing their first day of birding in Australia, it must have felt as if their heads were spinning with overload—and conditions were set to worsen as the day progressed!

Catching up with my mate Duncan from O'Reilly's Guesthouse, we enjoyed a full day of birding in the Kerry Valley. New birds came thick and fast all day with the day's list exceeding 100 species. Major highlights included Plumed Whistling-Duck, Latham's Snipe, Tawny Frogmouth, Southern Boobook, Speckled Warbler, Gray-crowned Babbler, and Black-chinned Honeyeater to mention a few, while the superb views of pretty-faced wallabies in the late afternoon topped our list of mammals.

Koala

Koala— Photo: Bill Clark

The following day we began our rainforest birding. The birding was exceptional here, 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 land on us. 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 Australian Owlet-Nightjar, Rose Robin, Noisy Pitta, Paradise Riflebird, Red-browed Treecreeper, Bell Miner, and Bassian and Russet-tailed thrushes. A major highlight was a superb koala, and an outstanding view of a dingo pup rated highly.

Winging our way to the tropical north, we spent our first night at Cairns. It had been a very wet week in Cairns (close to 11 inches of rain were recorded the day before we arrived) and conditions appeared gloomy. Not to be put off, we were soon enjoying the shorebirds on the Cairns Esplanade with wonderful views of Red-capped Plover, Greater and Lesser sand-plovers, Far Eastern Curlew, Great Knot, and Terek Sandpiper. Moving to Centenary Lakes we had excellent encounters with Radjah Shelduck, Black Butcherbird, and at the nearby cemetery, angelic-looking Bush Stone-Curlews.

We enjoyed great food, accommodations, and birds during our wonderful three-night stay at Kingfisher Park. Our first afternoon was spent exploring the orchard as we familiarized ourselves with a diverse array of more common birds ranging from Pale-yellow Robin, Spectacled Monarch, and Emerald Dove, while a pair of Papuan Frogmouths and Eastern Barn Owls were well appreciated. A platypus and a great view of a Lesser Sooty Owl were truly superb.

Australian Bustard

Australian Bustard— Photo: Bill Clark

A morning boat trip on the Daintree River was highlighted by two Black Bitterns, loads of Shining Flycatchers, and a small flock of Topknot Pigeons. Exploration of sites nearby produced a great pair of Lovely Fairywrens closely followed by walkaway scope views of Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, nesting Collared Kingfishers, and the bizarre-looking Beach Stone-Curlew. We spent the afternoon exploring the dry western side of the Great Dividing Range. Australian Bustard, Brown Treecreeper, and Apostlebird performed well, and after a lengthy search we had good views of the elusive Black-throated Finch.

We enjoyed a great morning of birding near the summit of Mount Lewis, with fine views of Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Mountain Thornbill, Atherton Scrubwren, Tooth-billed Bowerbird at the bower, Bridled Honeyeater, Fernwren, and Chowchilla. A male and two female Golden Bowerbirds put in appearances, while the leader was lucky to see a rusty antechinus—a small insectivorous marsupial. That afternoon, in quick succession, we had repeat scope views of the glamorous Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher, Wompoo Fruit-Dove, Fairy Gerygone, and Pied Monarch.

Then we were off to Cassowary House for breakfast, making a final and successful attempt to see Squatter Pigeon, which had been holding out on us. We need not have rushed, as the Cassowary was taking industrial action this morning and afternoon, and we were staring down the barrel of a big dip despite our lengthy and very patient vigil. Exploring further afield, we had a responsive Red-necked Crake, flocks of Sarus Cranes, scope views of Channel-billed Cuckoo, cracking Dollarbird, and a display flying Pacific Baza amongst a host of interesting birds. Mareeba rock wallaby and musky rat kangaroo vied for mammal of the day status.

Our day on the Great Barrier Reef was a very fortuitous event as the swell had dropped right off and a beautiful day ensued. 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 first winter Roseate Tern, a bunch of loafing Great Frigatebirds, three Red-footed Boobies, and several Bridled and Black-naped terns. The snorkeling was terrific with a myriad of colorful reef fish and a green turtle.

Southern Cassowary

Southern Cassowary— Photo: Bill Clark

We enjoyed a great deal of luck on our last morning in Cairns. We arranged to be back up on the Black Mountain Road so that Sue could phone through if the Cassowary was making an appearance. The call never came from Sue, but was replaced by Julie with an, "Oh my God there is a Cassowary on the road!" She was right! This was followed by walkaway views of White-eared Monarch, Yellow-eyed Cuckoo-shrike, and briefer encounters with Noisy Pitta and Gray Goshawk.

Arriving in Melbourne, we made our way to Deniliquin. Our visit coincided with beautiful spring days, mild temperatures, and abundant sunshine. 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 Superb Parrot, Budgerigar, Gilbert's Whistler, and Diamond Firetail. After lunch we birded to the north of town. Ephemeral wetlands that had been dry for more than two decades were bursting with birds. We observed scores of Baillon's and Australian Spotted crakes, while a skulky Spotless Crake completed the trifecta. We enjoyed a great view of the rarely seen water rat, while an eastern brown snake (the world's second most venomous snake) was appreciated from a healthy distance. Black Falcons put on a dazzling display and Emu was finally on the list. There was more to come when we had great views of one of Australia's rarest birds, the recently split Australian Painted Snipe, followed by a dozen Freckled Ducks.

At night we commenced our search for the Plains-wanderer, finding two males. We also had great views of Inland Dotterel, Stubble Quail, Little Buttonquail, 20 Barn Owls, Tawny Frogmouth, and for some folks, the delicate carnivorous marsupial known as the fat-tailed dunnart. One of the great birding days in the world!

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 were the electrifying Splendid Fairywrens, while a pair of Major Mitchell's Cockatoos were watched feeding on the ground from a distance of a few meters. Other great birds that performed well at Hattah this year included Australian Hobby, Mallee Emuwren, Chestnut Quail-thrush, Chestnut-crowned Babbler, and Black Honeyeater.

Malleefowl

Malleefowl— Photo: Bill Clark

Our final birding stop was the Little Desert National Park. There were lots of great birds here, with pride of place going to the Malleefowl, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Purple-gaped Honeyeater, Southern Scrub-Robin, and the rare (and this year remarkably easy) Slender-billed Thornbill. We finished our trip with 361 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.