Trip report: Eastern Australia Custom Tour (Nov 2016)

Guided by Sam Woods.This was a custom tour.

This custom tour was an abridged version of the Eastern Australia Top to Bottom tour, covering most of the sites, except those in Inland New South Wales, in order to keep the trip shorter.

As with our “normal” set departure tour of the region, the tour started out in The Wet Tropics of Northeast Queensland around the city of Cairns, where we visited a range of habitats, including tidal mudflats, lowland rainforest, mangroves, a sandy cay on the Great Barrier Reef, montane forest, tropical wetlands, sandy beaches, rocky coastlines, and even tropical savannas right on the edge of the Outback. The diversity in habitats led to a varied set of birds too, with highlights including a sandy paradise island on the Great Barrier Reef packed with noddies, terns, and boobies; excellent views of two enormous Southern Cassowary at both Etty Bay and Cassowary House; the hills north of Cairns also yielded a wonderful Noisy Pitta that allowed us to ‘scope it while calling from the forest canopy, and also provided us with our first Yellow-breasted Boatbill, and only White-eared Monarch of the tour; the feeders at Cassowary House also hosted an iridescent male Victoria’s Riflebird and several Spotted Catbirds, both seen to within a meter of us; a beautiful Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove watched calling in the telescope from the mangroves in Cairns; a minimum of four Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfishers were seen in Daintree; a nesting Papuan Frogmouth from a river trip in that area, which shared the headlines on the cruise with a Pied Monarch; several male Australian Bustards strutting in the savannas of the Outback; the dry country also produced some immaculate male Banded Honeyeaters, over twenty Squatter Pigeons, a nesting Tawny Frogmouth, and the often difficult White-browed Robin; we also managed to observe Great Bowerbirds and their intricately decorated bowers while there; two wonderful Australian Owlet-Nightjars near our hotel in Mareeba one night; a superb daytime “Lesser” Sooty Owl (found by an earlier Tropical Birding group – thanks Laurie for the info!) on the Atherton Tablelands, which also produced a glowing male Golden Bowerbird, and a morning with seven different Chowchillas on Mount Lewis.

Seeing the magnificent Curtain Fig tree, near Yungaburra, was also an undoubted highlight, as was watching a family of Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroos in daylight – a normally scarce, nocturnal creature. Other avian highlights of this first section in northeast Queensland included watching a flock of over 200 Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos heading to roost near Atherton, observing four different Platypus during the day, and getting up close with a gang of giant Eastern Gray Kangaroos close to our hotel. The second leg of the trip saw us heading to Brisbane in Southeast Queensland, and then to Lamington National Park, where we were based at the famous birder’s hangout of O Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, set within verdant, temperate rainforest. The feeding areas yielded their usual throng of colorful species, like gaudy Australian King-Parrots and Crimson Rosellas at point blank range, and also Satin and Regent Bowerbirds. We also visited a blue-themed bower of the former as the bird sat alongside. The standout bird at O Reilly’s was Albert’s Lyrebird, two of which were seen with ease, and a male Paradise Riflebird was also seen displaying there briefly too. Other avian features of our time there were Rose Robin, Green Catbird, Red-browed Treecreeper, and excellent looks at three different nightbirds: “Greater” Sooty Owl by day, and Marbled Frogmouth and Southern Boobook by night.

The penultimate leg saw us flying south to Hobart in the south-east corner of Tasmania. The island holds12 species found nowhere else so was an obvious shoe in on the itinerary. A full day was spent on the idyllic Bruny Island, where scenery drew our breath away alongside the birds. However, a siege of new species came there, including Dusky, Scarlet and Pink Robins, Swift Parrots, Forty-spotted Pardalotes, and Hooded Plovers, along with endemic birds like Strong-billed Honeyeater and a tame family of flightless Tasmanian Native-Hens. Our time on Tasmania came to a close watching a huddle of 14 Little Penguins coming ashore at dusk after a day at sea.

Lastly, we traveled to New South Wales, in and around Sydney. A day in the Capertee Valley, the widest valley in the world, and a favorite hangout for Sydney-based birders, saw us indulge in a stream of new birds, including the rare Regent Honeyeater, Hooded Robin, Yellow-tufted and Black-chinned Honeyeaters, Zebra Finch, and Crested Shrike-Tit. Local lakes and ponds produced some additional waterbirds, like Blue-billed Duck, displaying Musk Duck, and Australasian Shoveler. We finished off by visiting the Royal National Park and Royal Botanic Gardens to view the famous Opera House and Harbour Bridge, while snagging our last few birds, like Beautiful Firetail, and the largest songbird on Earth – Superb Lyrebird.

We should not fail to mention some of the fantastic scenery that is not always anticipated in eastern Australia; we especially enjoyed the rainforest waterfall of Barron Gorge in Kuranda; the magnificent Curtain Fig Tree in Yungaburra; the scenic headland of Cape Bruny on Bruny Island in Tasmania; the view down on Hobart from the pinnacle of Mount Wellington in Tasmania; the rocky coastline at Wattamolla in Royal National Park, Cahill’s Lookout over the Blue Mountains near Sydney; and the expansive Capertee Valley near Lithgow, which claims to be the widest valley in the world.

As you can see from the long intro, there was much to wax lyrical on, as Australia is so jam-packed with colorful and bizarre bird species, odd mammals, and unexpected scenic locales. In the end, the following were picked as the top birds of the tour (in no particular order):

Southern Cassowary (Etty Bay and Cassowary House, NE Queensland)
Noisy Pitta (Kuranda National Park, NE Queensland)
Powerful Owl (J C Slaughter Falls, Southeast Queensland)
Regent Bowerbird (Lamington National Park, Southeast Queensland)
Pink Robin (Bruny Island, Tasmania)
Flame Robin (Mount Wellington, Tasmania)
Little Penguin (Eaglehawk Neck, Tasmania)
Regent Honeyeater (Capertee National Park, New South Wales)

FULL REPORT (8MB; pdf format):
Eastern Australia birding tour report Nov 2017