Grand Australia Part II Oct 28—Nov 14, 2012

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 Australian spring tour program went very smoothly this year with excellent accommodations (including plenty of two-night, even three-night stays), outstanding food, very pleasant weather and, of course, excellent sightings of several hundred bird species and a host of fascinating marsupials, reptiles, frogs, butterflies, and fish. As always, it was a great privilege to showcase my home country.

Koala

Koala— Photo: Dion Hobcroft

We commenced our tour in Brisbane, the capital city of Queensland—Australia's most bird-rich state. Our first stop was the Daisy Hill Reserve which, right on cue, produced a splendid male koala perched obligingly low. This was an excellent result, as koalas continue to decline in many areas of their range and are definitely very missable! As well as our koala sighting, we enjoyed several red-necked wallabies, our first Laughing Kookaburras, and an excellent Tawny Frogmouth.

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 list exceeding 100 species when we did the list that evening. Major highlights included Plumed Whistling-Duck, Latham's Snipe, Red-kneed Dotterel, and Gray-crowned Babbler to mention a few.

The following day we began our rainforest birding. The birding is exceptional here, as Regent and Satin bowerbirds, Eastern Whipbird, Eastern Yellow Robin, Yellow-throated Scrubwren, and Australian Logrunner can be observed at unbelievably close quarters. It is difficult not to have Australian King-Parrots or Crimson Rosellas landing on you. Beyond these cooperative birds, 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, White-headed Pigeon, Wompoo Fruit-Dove, Rose Robin, Noisy Pitta, Paradise Riflebird, Red-browed Treecreeper, Bell Miner, and Bassian Thrush. At night we went for a walk and had sightings of the Southern Boobook Owl and some interesting marsupials including the mountain brushtail and common ringtail, plus interesting reptiles like a dwarf crowned snake and bizarre southern leaf-tail gecko.

Regent Bowerbird

Regent Bowerbird— Photo: Dion Hobcroft

Winging our way to the tropical north, we spent our first night in Cairns. It had been the driest October in many years (a definite contrast to the previous year's trip). We were soon enjoying the shorebirds on the Cairns Esplanade on our first afternoon with wonderful views of Greater and Lesser sand-plovers, Far Eastern Curlew, Great Knot, Terek Sandpiper, and a single Broad-billed Sandpiper being well-appreciated. The following morning at Centenary Lakes we enjoyed excellent encounters with Radjah Shelduck, Black Butcherbird, a pair of Double-eyed Fig-Parrots, and the peculiar looking Bush Stone-curlew. En route to Julatten we had a great pair of Cotton Pygmy-Geese, a species that we have rarely encountered in recent years.

Our three-night stay at Kingfisher Park was wonderful as we enjoyed great food, accommodation, and birds. 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 Papuan Frogmouth and Eastern Barn Owls were a big hit. A pair of platypus frolicked in the creek—unusual to observe social interaction with this typically solitary species. Also of note was a rarely seen Macleay's water snake swallowing a freshwater fish called a sooty grunter.

The next morning we arose early and commenced birding near the summit of Mount Lewis. It was a great morning, with fine views of Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Yellow-eyed Cuckoo-shrike, Mountain Thornbill, Atherton Scrubwren, Tooth-billed Bowerbird at the bower, Bridled Honeyeater, Bower's Shrike-Thrush at a nest we discovered, Fernwren, and Chowchilla. We enjoyed a fine afternoon, as in quick succession we had a wonderful encounter with the elusive Lovely Fairywren, the stunning Pied Monarch, dapper White-cheeked Honeyeaters, and obliging Fairy Gerygone.

Lovely Fairywren

Lovely Fairywren— Photo: Dion Hobcroft

A morning boat trip on the Daintree River was highlighted by Shining Flycatchers, several nesting Papuan Frogmouths, and glowing Azure Kingfishers. A flock of magnificent Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos feeding in beach almond trees were unusually tame and approachable. In the afternoon we explored the dry western side of the Great Dividing Range. Australian Bustard, Australian Pratincole, Brown Treecreeper, and Apostlebird performed well, with a fortuitous sighting of Diamond Dove—the world's smallest pigeon.

It was off to Cassowary House for breakfast. After a patient vigil, the male Southern Cassowary arrived with his brood of three small chicks. It was an absorbing experience, as we observed this living dinosaur tend to his chicks that were both curious and, on occasion, clumsy. We had further good luck with repeated views of the elusive Red-necked Crakes foraging at a small pool.  Exploring further afield we enjoyed flocks of Sarus Crane and Brolga, and some exceptionally tame Squatter Pigeons. Mareeba rock wallaby and musky rat kangaroo vied for mammal of the day status.

Southern Cassowary

Southern Cassowary— Photo: Dion Hobcroft

Our day on the Great Barrier Reef was off to a great start with a male Black-necked Stork working the shallows of the bay. Once out at the reef, the wind and swell were slight, making for pleasant conditions. At Michaelmas Cay we were amongst the throng of thousands of nesting Common Noddies and Sooty Terns, with a bonus Black Noddy providing excellent comparisons with its browner relative. We were lucky to be able to circumnavigate the island. This turned up a bunch of loafing Great Frigatebirds, plus a Bridled and several Black-naped Terns. The snorkeling was terrific, with a myriad of colorful reef fish and a green turtle.

We enjoyed a great deal of luck on our last morning in Cairns. We made an emergency stop for the Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher that had been holding out on us. We had cracking looks in the scope. Next we explored some wetlands and particularly enjoyed several beautiful Crimson Finches with equally obliging White-browed Crakes. We worked hard on some tantalizing Bush-hens, but came away with only a few glimpses.

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. Highlights of the morning session included Superb Parrot, a Gilbert's Whistler, several Diamond Firetails, and hundreds of White-browed Woodswallows. After lunch we birded to the north of town. At our first stop a Black Falcon put on a dazzling display and Emu was finally on the list. There was more to come when we had great views of Australian Spotted Crake, a bunch of Black Honeyeaters, and a lovely Yellow-billed Spoonbill.

At night we commenced our search for the Plains-wanderer, finding a superb female after a lengthy search. We also had great views of the elusive Inland Dotterel, plump Stubble Quail, and the delicate carnivorous marsupial known as the fat-tailed dunnart. This was one of the great birding days in the world!

Plains-wanderer

Plains-wanderer— Photo: Dion Hobcroft

Leaving Deniliquin, after catching up with a beautiful White-backed Swallow and studying some Long-billed Corellas at close range, we wended our way through northwestern Victoria. Different birds peppered the drive with highlights ranging from super views of the scarce Pied Honeyeater, Bluebonnet, close Pink-eared Ducks, the peculiar male Musk Duck, perched Australian Hobby, beautiful Red-capped Plovers, and a very tame Rufous Fieldwren.

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 small flock of Major Mitchell's Cockatoos came in to heckle a Little Eagle at the nest. Other great birds that performed well at Hattah this year included Shy Heathwren, White-fronted Honeyeater, the endangered Mallee Emu-wren, Chestnut-crowned Babbler, and Mulga Parrot.

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 (we watched a female laying an egg in its mound), 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 362 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.