Trip report: Eastern Australia (Oct-Nov 2014) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Nick leseberg.This was a set departure tour.

When Australia separated from the ancient supercontinent Gondwanaland about 50 million years ago and started drifting north towards the equator, this once wet and cool landmass began the slow process of drying out. The flora and fauna now cut adrift on their continental life raft began the process of evolution in isolation from much of the world’s other plants and animals. This has resulted in one of the most unique bioregions on earth. Kangaroos, echidnas, lyrebirds, fairywrens, bowerbirds and honeyeaters are just a few of the families found in Australasia and nowhere else, and they are also the reason most birders rank Australia high on their list of places to visit.

As Australia drifted northwards and into warmer latitudes, the climate slowly became drier. Australia is now best known as the “wide brown land” dominated by arid deserts and rangelands, and the unique fauna have adapted to this. Many of Australia’s birds in particular have adopted a nomadic lifestyle, moving around the continent in response to the unpredictable rainfall, searching out good conditions wherever they may be. Accordingly, what birds we see on a trip like our Eastern Australia set departure is driven by these prevailing conditions. As the good conditions in eastern Australia following rain in 2012 have slowly changed, so have the birds we see on the trip; this year species like Budgerigar, Crimson Chat, Pied and Black Honeyeaters were noticeably absent from inland New South Wales. The tradeoff is that many of the parrots and honeyeaters do rely on what little water is around, making an afternoon at a waterhole in places like Binya State Forest very profitable. The conditions have less impact on the birds in coastal Queensland, and we had another good year at O’Reilly’s near Brisbane and also in the Wet Tropics, finding all the endemics from the lush rainforests of the Atherton Tableland. Tasmania was similarly successful, with all the Tasmanian endemics plus a few extras.

So, as with all bird trips, we missed a few and picked up a few, ending up with an impressive trip list given the conditions, of 439 species of bird and 42 species of mammal. Bird-of-the- trip went to Little Penguin; watching a party of 20 birds emerge from the surf after dusk and toddle up the beach together was one of the tour highlights. Runner-up for bird-of-the-trip was the impressive Southern Cassowary, with a male and chick plus the immense female all paying a visit during our time at Cassowary House. Honorable mentions went to a displaying Musk Duck, stunning male Turquoise Parrot, multicolored Noisy Pitta, dashing Regent Bowerbird and a randy male Victoria’s Riflebird. Our mammal-of-the-trip was a very cute mother Koala piggy-backing her tiny cub high in a eucalypt, with the runner up a male Lumholtz’s Tree-Kangaroo spotted in the middle of the day. Other mammalian highlights included great views of Platypus, Short-beaked Echidna and Common Wombat.

Click this link to view the full report in PDF format (5.2 MB file)