Venture to Eastern Australia & Tasmania
November 9 - 25, 2006
Australia- It’s always hard to come up with highlights from an Australian tour, as every breath of every day is exciting with new sights, experiences and adventures around every corner.
We started our tour in the tropical north of Queensland, where the local conservationists and government organizations have been working extremely hard to establish the “Wet Tropics Biosphere Preserve”. What a jewel this is with vast stretches of upland rainforest all now protected and many ideas to reforest damaged and logged areas to connect many of the smaller tracks back together again.
The Cairns area is a riot of bird species, most being unfamiliar to the birding visitor. We had Australian Brush Turkeys and Orange-footed Scrubfowl in the Botanical Gardens, Pied Imperial Pigeons in every waterfront treetop and Rainbow Lorikeets everywhere. Shorebirds are the highlights of the Esplanade with the chance of seeing a major rarity possible at any time. We had both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits in mixed flocks at our feet, exquisite Red-capped Plovers, bizarre Terek Sandpipers and a whole host of unfamiliar Eurasian species such as Far Eastern Curlew, Lesser and Greater Sand-Plovers, Great Knot and many, many more. Our visit to Michaelmas Cay on the Great Barrier Reef was also fascinating with a host of tropical fish and reef life seen from both the semi-submersible submarine and from our respective snorkeling and scuba experiences. As well as life below the waters surface, we had plenty of birds on Michaelmas including Brown and Black Noddies, Crested and Lesser Crested Terns and a single Great Frigatebird, and also who could forget the smell and sound of thousands of Sooty Terns?
Birding in the Atherton Tablelands is a wonderful experience and Ellen took us to a great selection of birding spots. From watching Pied Monarchs and Tooth-billed Bowerbirds at the Curtain Fig to hundreds of Great Crested Grebes and Emerald Dove at Lake Barrine, we were enjoying new birds at an almost dizzying pace. An early morning to listen to the dawn chorus at the Cathedral Fig was also a wonderful experience with a chorus of Chowchillas all around us. Aah, Australian birding at its finest.
It’s always difficult to drag ourselves away from the tropics, but I knew that Lamington National Park is an almost guaranteed hit and before we knew it we had Crimson Rosellas and Australian King-Parrots on our hands and heads. What an experience that was. Add Wonga Pigeons feeding almost at our at our feet, Rufous Fantails, Lewin’s Honeyeaters and a blizzard of Regent Bowerbirds and the end result was another great birding experience. The food was excellent at O’Reilly’s and we certainly needed the daily treks to work off everything we ate while there. Our trek down the Kerry Valley was difficult due to the very high winds, but despite that fact, we saw a great selection of local specialties, including our first little group of the very uncommon Banded Lapwing. We only managed to hear an Albert’s Lyrebird in the mountain forests, but maybe next time we shall see one, after all we cannot complain at how both Colin and Tim did finding the birds for us.
It was then off to the big city of Melbourne and a drastic change in scenery, habitat and birds. After a slight detour to find a Superb Lyrebird at Badger Weir (phew-that was lucky!) we spent the night right in the center of Melbourne – thankfully missing the riots of the “G20” summit. On the way out of town the next morning Neil gave us a wonderful and informative tour of the city on our way to Werribee, our birding locale for the day. With over 100 species seen, Werribee WWTP has to be one of the finest birding spots in the state. Maybe it’s the quantity of water in an otherwise very dry region that brings in the birds, but we certainly hit the goldmine that day. Ducks were everywhere with the delightful Pink-eared being the most abundant, along with Grey and Chestnut Teal, Black Swan and Australian Shelduck. We also managed to find a few Freckled Duck – another quite uncommon species. We never did find the elusive Long-toed Stint that day, but no complaints at all. Australian Avocet, White-headed Stilt and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper were abundant, with a few Marsh and Wood Sandpiper for some variety. Other highlights were the family group of Zebra Finch, White-fronted Chat, Baillon’s and Australian Crakes and a small flock of Cape Barren Geese and who could forget our very amiable Dutchman, Martin, who knew every inch of the place? Ballarat was also very dry with Lake Wendouree being almost empty. We tried for Brolga with no success, but the botanical gardens produced a beautiful Banded Rail. Ballarat made its money during the Australian gold rush and many of the beautiful buildings stand monument to that time in history. The result is a beautiful town with attractive buildings and rose-filled gardens along every street. Little Desert was in direct contrast to this relative lushness, as it had not rained for ages with most of the area being in a serious state of drought. Hot dry air, parrot-filled trees and flies gave us almost the true outback experience. We spent a lot of our time at Whimpey’s 2 waterholes enjoying the honeyeater show. New Hollands were ubiquitous and crowds of these clown-faced birds were a constant sight. Mixed in with this lot were White-plumed, Spiny-cheeked and Brown-headed Honeyeaters. A few Diamond Firetail also came in to drink – a beautiful little bird. The highlight of our Little Desert time had to be the time spent with Whimpey in his Malleefowl enclosure. With so much of Australia’s wildlife just hanging in the balance, it is so good to see people doing so much to protect endemic and endangered species. We were treated to an upfront and personal demonstration of Malleefowl mound maintenance and all the specific requirements that go with it. Of course the other “highlight” was the dry thunderstorm we watched with its attendant bolt of lightning. And so the Little Desert fire started and Victoria’s worst fire season was on the way.
Then it was off again to Melbourne via smoky conditions in the Grampians, but good birds on the way included a pair of Gang-Gang Cockatoos (ok- I admit, thanks to a shopping stop!) and a small group of Southern Whiteface. Our last stop on the tour was South Bruny Island; a wonderfully out of the way place that was the perfect place to end the trip. It helps that all of Tasmania’s endemics can be found there without too much effort! We certainly did well and saw every bird that we tried for (well, except the firetail!) and even managed several of the white phase Grey Goshawks – always a nice bird to see. Ruth did a wonderful job and impressed us with her knowledge of botany as well as knowing where all of the local birds would be. Two evenings out spotlighting were purely magical with Blue Penguins walking up the beach to their nests and a whole host of mammals including 5 Eastern Quolls – how nice to be able to see such rare mammals so easily. Plus we had clear views of the Southern Cross. That’s probably as good as it gets!
With excellent guiding at all locations our Australia trip managed about 360 species of birds and an excellent mammal selection. Thanks everybody for making the trip so enjoyable.