Trip report: Eastern Australia Top to Bottom (Oct-Nov 2015)

Guided by Sam Woods and Wes Homoya.This was a set departure tour.

The Eastern Australia tour provided a mass of new birds and bird families for the majority of the group, with this representing for most, their first foray into either the biogeographic region of Australasia, or the country, come continent, of Australia. It is a truly varied tour; we started out in Northeast Queensland, one of the most varied legs of the tour, where we scoured tropical lowland rainforests, highland rainforests, tropical wetlands, coastal mudflats, and even touched the edge of the Outback; from there we traveled south to Southeast Queensland, where temperate rainforests and wet sclerophyll forests were the backdrop to our birding; the third leg of the tour was one of the longest, as we birded a variety of habitats in New South Wales, which included coastal heathland, temperate rainforest, rocky shorelines, mallee, brigalow, dramatic limestone outcrops, and even managed to get in some seawatching too. Finally, we finished off on the island of Tasmania, with a rush of new birds with all of the 13 endemic species seen, while birding temperate rainforests and sandy beaches. The tour opened with a Southern Cassowary south of Cairns on our first afternoon, and ended with a huddle of Little Penguins coming ashore in Tasmania on our final night. The highlights were many, and difficult to pin down to just a few, with so much seen, both avian and mammalian, along the way. Some kind of indication of this was revealed by the varied list of birds that came into contention for the Top Five Birds of the Tour vote at the end of the tour; 22 bird species were nominated.

In the end, these were the ones that made the grade:

1 Southern Cassowary (Etty Beach, NE QUEENSLAND)
2= Powerful Owl (Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens NEW SOUTH WALES)
2= Plains-wanderer (Hay Plains, NEW SOUTH WALES)
4 Turquoise Parrot (Binya State Forest, NEW SOUTH WALES)
5 Golden Bowerbird (Hypipamee National Park, NE QUEENSLAND)

Among the others nominated for birds of the trip were Cotton Pygmy-Goose (Lake Mitchell, Northeast Queensland); Freckled Duck (Gum Swamp, New South Wales); Little Penguin (Pirate’s Bay, Tasmania); White-capped (Shy) Albatross (Bass Point, New South Wales); Inland Dotterel (Hay Plains, New South Wales); Bush Thick-knee (Centenary Lakes, Cairns Northeast Queensland); Australian Bustard (Maryfarms, Northeast Queensland); Australian King-Parrot (Lamington National Park, Southeast Queensland); Superb Parrot (near Yarada, New South Wales); Pink (Major Mitchell’s) Cockatoo (Griffith, New South Wales); Papuan Frogmouth (Daintree, Northeast Queensland); Noisy Pitta (Julatten, Northeast Queensland); Variegated Fairywren (Canungra, near Lamington National Park, Southeast Queensland); Red-backed Fairywren (Lake Mitchell Northeast Queensland & Lamington National Park, Southeast Queensland); displaying Superb Lyrebird (Minnamurra Falls Rainforest Centre, New South Wales); Satin Bowerbird (Lamington National Park, Southeast Queensland); Pink Robin (Bruny Island, Tasmania); and Diamond Firetail (Back Yamma State Forest, New South Wales).

It would be a travesty not to mention the mammals, for they were a major highlight for many too. Some 35 mammal species were seen, which included some of Australia’s most famous animals: a Platypus was seen in broad daylight (they are more ordinarily nocturnal) at the base of Mount Lewis (Northeast Queensland); a Koala was seen feeding low down near O Reilly’s in Lamington National Park (Southeast Queensland); the odd Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo was seen clumsily moving around near the dramatic Curtain Fig Tree in Northeast Queensland; and several Short-beaked Echidnas were encountered in New South Wales, with the one trundling down the track towards us at Barren Grounds being a particularly popular sighting. Aside from this, we scored eight different Common Wombats on a night drive near Barren Grounds (New South Wales), and saw a variety of wallabies and kangaroos, with the Whiptail (Pretty-faced) Wallabies of Lamington (Southeast Queensland), and the giant male Red Kangaroos on the Hay Plains (New South Wales) being particularly notable. A pair of Sugar Gliders was also popular among the few that made it out that night at Royal National Park too (New South Wales).

The Top Five Mammals of the Tour were voted as:

1 Short-beaked Echidna (Barren Grounds, NEW SOUTH WALES)
2= Platypus (Mount Lewis, NE QUEENSLAND)
2= Koala (Lamington National Park, SE QUEENSLAND)
4 Lumholtz’s Tree-Kangaroo (Curtain Fig Tree, NE QUEENSLAND)
5 Common Wombat (Barren Grounds, NEW SOUTH WALES)

Aside from the birds and the animals, the landscapes seen were also extraordinary, with the various tranquil beaches and outcrops on Bruny Island in Tasmania providing some great final moments of the tour, although were perhaps overshadowed by the spectacular Wattamolla sandstone cliffs in Royal National Park in New South Wales. At the end of it all, we had encountered more than half of Australia’s birds, with 430 bird species recorded (426 species seen by one or more of the group), and added 35 mammal species to the list too. This tour is very popular, and it is easy to see why; most on this trip, like most of these tours left with hundreds of new birds, many new bird families, for which this tour is especially good; some of Australia’s most famous mammals and felt like they had been given more than a mere introduction to this giant, country-come-continent, which is almost equal in size to the United States…

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