Australia Photo Journey
Devils, Roos, and Parrots too. The best of Australia through your lens.
Now before you go any farther, this is a photo journey, rather than workshop, so if you want to learn tricky techniques, there are much better photographers than us to do workshops at home. The idea is that the guides are there to get you onto a mass of Australian birds and animals to photograph. They know the species, the sites and the calls, and use techniques to get you the shot, not them. There are many photographers out there better at using the camera than our guys, but very few better at getting other people onto the birds and animals. Given that this is a photography tour, where where we’ll be chasing great wildlife photos rather than a big list, those people wanting more than 400 birds should go on the other tours. For a birding tour, check out our other Australia offerings.
Day 1: Arrival to Darwin. We meet in the first evening in our hotel to go over the plan for the next day and have dinner.
Day 2: East Point to Kakadu. Our first day shooting in the Top End will see us at East Point having breakfast in the field with Rainbow Pittas and Rose-crowned Fruit-Doves for company. The lighting conditions will be low in the monsoon forest, but most of the birds also feed on the edge of the forest, so you should expect to get a few keepers. After the first rush visiting a number of easily accessible bird photography sites close to Darwin, packing in as many birds as possible before lunch. We’ll then head east and stop at some mangroves to search for Mangrove Fantail, Mangrove Gerygone, Australian Yellow White-eye, Red-headed Myzomela, Mangrove Golden Whistler. We then head to Cooinda for the night, but we’ll have time to take a long afternoon boat trip down the South Alligator River to the Yellow Waters Billabong, where our boatman will ensure we’ll get incredible photos at a horde of kingfishers, herons, cranes, dotterels, and other waterbirds. This fascinating boat trip will also see us come face to face with one of Australia’s most famed predators, the Saltwater Crocodile, from the comfort of our modern boat.
Day 3: Cooinda to southern Kakadu. We’ll spend morning on the Yellow River cruise to get the birds in different light. What often amazes us is just the difference between this trip in the evenings and the early mornings. After breakfast we will down to some paperbark swamps where we will try for Bar-breasted Honeyeaters. We spend the afternoon at the mighty sandstone outlier of Nourlangie Rock, part of the Arnhem Land Escarpment. Among Nourlangie’s many attractions are its extensive galleries of aboriginal art dating back thousands of years, and also the scenically impressive blood-red sandstone cliffs that form this mighty outcrop. There are a number of local specialties; beautiful Black-banded Fruit-Doves and Black-tailed Treecreepers inhabit the monsoon forest surrounding the base, while Sandstone Shrike-thrushes and White-lined Honeyeaters may be found on the rock itself. We’ll head to the small Mary River Roadhouse, perched on the southern edge of Kakadu National Park for a two-night stay. Along the way, Cockatiels, Red-backed Fairywrens, Leaden and Restless Flycatchers, and Banded Honeyeaters are all possible. We’ll listen at dusk for the strange, dog-like calls of Barking Owls that can sometimes be found right around our hotel.
Day 4: Plum Creek and Pine Creek (Kakadu NP). We’ll need an early morning start to get up to the spinifex escarpment before the day heats up, , we’ll head to Plum Creek and walk over rolling uranium-filled conglomerate hills in search of the striking Partridge Pigeon, among other Outback species. Later, we head southwards to Pine Creek, stopping off at this old gold mining area for the opalescent Hooded Parrot. We spend the night in Pine Creek so we can have a chance of the Parrot at dusk and dawn.
Day 5: Pine Creek to Darwin. Depending on movements of the Hooded Parrot, we will either start the morning in town, or a nearby waterhole. The goal of this morning is to get shots of finches and honeyeaters coming into the small waterholes at the end of the dry season. Later we drive to one of the Top End’s premier wetlands, Fogg Dam. Around the dam itself we’ll be thrilled with the site of thousands of wetland birds, including Magpie-Geese, Pied Herons, Green Pygmy-geese, and maybe a Buff-banded Rail or White-browed Crake scurrying out of the reeds. We finish our time in the Top End around Darwin, and depending on tides we will either be photographing shorebirds, or working some moonsoon forest for shots of Rainbow Pittas and Varied trillers.
Day 6: Darwin to Cairns.. We arrive into Cairns in the mid morning, and after checking in, we have a decision to make. We will visit the Botanical Gardens for our first rainforest species, and the Esplanade for shorebird shoots. The order which we visit these locations will depend on the tides at the Esplanade, which is a tidal flat right beside the main tourist district of Cairns. For those who have been lucky enough to bird the Texas Coast, you can imagine the Esplanade as a combination of Bolivar Flats and Venice Beach. Masses of shorebirds so close at times it seems surreal, and lines of scantly-clad joggers with their frappachinos running past our tripods and cameras and giving us strange looks. When the tides are right, we will be going like crazy shooting Great Knots, Bar-tailed Godwits, Lesser Sandplovers and Curlew Sandpipers, for real targets like Broad-billed Sandpipers and Asian Dowitchers. We’ll spend the night in Cairns. The Botanic Gardens offer probably the easiest rainforest photography in the Australian tropics.
Day 7: The Great Barrier Reef. Today is the latest start of the tour when we jump onto a boat out to the Great Barrier Reef at 7.30. The usually very calm trip out to Michaelmas Cay takes about an hour and a half, and when we get there we will be confronted with a small sandy isle jam packed with sea birds. We will photograph the thousands of Sooty Tern, Brown Noddy and Crested Tern, sometimes using a macro! The other birds out there we are looking for include Lesser-crested, Bridled and Black-naped Terns, Black Noddy, Greater and Lesser Frigatebirds. We have a few hours here, and some people enjoy the snorkeling, but after lunch the boat heads to a submerged reef called Hastings Reef, where the snorkeling, diving and glass bottom boat is just superb. The boat gets back around 5pm and we drive up to Kuranda for the night.
Day 8: Cassowary House to Mareeba. Kuranda boasts superb birding and photography in lowland tropical rainforest. We’ll spend the morning searching for the amazing Southern Cassowary and other target species, such as Double-eyed Fig-Parrot, Victoria’s Riflebird, Yellow-breasted Boatbill, and Yellow-eyed Cuckoo-Shrike. Now the breakfast at Cassowary House is something to behold, so as we are doing our pre brekky walk we may get the call that the massive Cassowary, maybe even with chicks, is back at the house and we will have to rush back. When it is there you slowly approach and all is well. These guys are normally very shy, but have become accustomed to people there, so accept a bunch of birders staring with binoculars and taking hundreds if not thousands of photos of them. Over breakfast we will be joined by Maclays Honeyeater, Helmeted Friarbirds, Green Catbirds and even Victoria´s Riflebird. It is hard to explain how truly cool it is to have a bird of paradise happily chomping away at some of your spare fruit while you are sipping coffee just a few feet away. Again, the photographic oppertunities for this two hour period are amazing, and we should all finish the lazy breakfast with keepers for over 10 species.
After lunch before we head to the drier habitat of Mareeba on the Atherton Tablelands, where we base ourselves for the next two nights. On the way we will visit a few gallery forest sites and open woodlands, but the chances for great photography does not really pick up again until about 4pm when we do some of the open woodland around Mareeba for more inland birds such as Pale-headed Rosella, Pied Butcherbird and Weebill, which as the name suggests is our smallest bird in Australia. We stay down on this road until about half an hour before dusk when we will see numerous kangaroos, wallabies and the brindled looking Squatter Pigeon. This little guy is much better looking than can be portrayed in field guides, and looks just magnificent walking slowly along the edge of the gravel roads.
Day 9: Rainforest to the Outback. We start the day in a small patch of rainforest where we will likely have cracking looks at the splendid little Noisy Pitta bouncing along the forest edge. We then turn our attention to the Yellow-breasted Boatbill, which is a small flycatcher like bird with a stunning mix of black, white and yellow. Barely a few miles from the lush rainforests, we’ll visit the edge of the outback and bird grassland savanna, as we head out to Mt Carbine. In these wooded savannas and open woodlands with grass understory, the first target is the Australian Bustard, and we may find the proud male strutting his stuff on the edge of the road. After we have had great looks and taken a load of photos of the bustard, we head a little farther west where we shall be on the lookout for species all things red such as Red-winged Parrot, Red-tailed Black Cockatoo and Red-browed Pardalote. Depending on the weather and how we are going, we may head another 50 miles or so and get into an area that is great for the northern, much darker, race of the Brown Treecreeper, Banded Honeyeater and Black-throated Finch. On the way back to Mareeba, we will stop off at Lake Mitchell for Black-necked Stork, Green Pygmy Goose and a load of other waterbirds
Day 10: Hypipamee NP to Cairns. We’ll start the day in the high rainforests of Hypipamee National Park where as well as Bridled Honeyeaters and our first of thousands of Pied Currawongs, we have a chance of tree-kangaroos, which just have to be seen to be believed. If there is an animal in Australia that looks as though it evolved along the wrong path, it is this baby. A lumbering wallaby which is anything but graceful sitting on the end of a branch with the look of “how did I get here” and “I am afraid of heights”. Around mid morning we will visit a bower of the Golden Bowerbird. This stunning little one builds a massive structure of sticks which he decorates with flowers and moss, and when not feeding, spends all of his free time sitting near the bower waiting for potential mates to come and take a look at his building. Later we go to one of the few places where the predominantly nocturnal Platypus is easy to photograph in the day. We then visit Hastings Swamp, where we can get photos of hundreds of Plumed and Wandering Whistling Duck. We then return to Cairns where we take another hit at the shorebirds along the esplanade as well as checking a few nearby spots for Crimson Finch and Chestnut-breasted Munia. The afternoon will be spent much as the first in Cairns, visiting mangroves, Botanic gardens and the Esplanade depending on tides and lighting conditions.
Day 11: Cairns to Lamington NP. In the morning we will take a flight from Cairns to Brisbane. If there has been recent rains we will stop off at Daisy Hill, an area of parkland just outside Brisbane for a photogenic reptile, that is abundant after rains, the Pink-tongued Skink. If there has been no recent rains we will head straight for O’Reilly’s, set within the lush rainforests and woodlands of Lamington National Park. On arrival at O Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat the tame birds will have us straining at the doors to burst out of the van and take in the many friendly birds hopping, bouncing, and perching all around their grounds. Two nights will be spent at O’Reilly’s.
Day 12: Lamington National Park. O’Reilly’s is world famous for the unrivalled views you can get of often shy rainforest creatures right around their cabins, restaurants and reception areas. We will awake in the morning to Crimson Rosella creeping around on our balconies looking for the first handout of the day, while shimmering male Satin Bowerbirds clamber around on the lodge roofs. A quick check of the grounds will see us run into a multitude of tame, wild O Reilly’s residents. The first sign of any grain and an Australian King-Parrot will drop in, or lurk impatiently on the bushes nearby. Gray Shrike-Thrushes use the early hours of the morning to hop around in front of reception, or even enter into reception on some of their bolder days! The constant “whooping” calls of Wonga Pigeons will reach our ears, although rather than try and stalk them on the dark rainforest floor we’ll simply walk the roads and check the feeding areas, where these strikingly marked blue-and-white doves are remarkably approachable. However, the bird that will stand out the most is O’Reilly’s flagship species, the black-and-gold Regent Bowerbird that adorns their logos, and is stamped across all of their giftware. If we did not get them five minutes after arriving yesterday, dawn should see the trees around reception loaded with expectant regents, waiting for the day’s first official feeding. If these views are still not good enough, get some grain in the palm of your hand and let them crawl all over you! Other friendly inhabitants of the grounds include the impossibly cute Superb Fairywrens, which regularly bound across the parking lots behind the cabins. Not to be outdone in the cute department, O’Reilly’s also has some adorable mammals too, that like the birds offer rare, up close views at this very special spot. In the early hours of the morning fluffy Red-necked Pademelons munch grass on the cabin lawns, and over dinner at the lavish restaurant we can eat, and drink locally produced wine, while Mountain Brush-Tail Possums wolf down fruits at the tableside feeders.
The top of the plateau at O’Reilly’s is cloaked in lush rainforest, and we will walk some of the tracks in order to track down some of the shyer rainforest inhabitants. The loud mimicry of Albert’s Lyrebirds are regularly heard along the park trails, and with luck we might find one stalking quietly through the forest. Indeed, some of the rainforest interior birds are like the birds right around the lodge: astoundingly approachable. Nowhere in Australia can it be easier to get photos of the whip-cracking Eastern Whipbird, whose distinctive calls haunt many sites on the tour, and an assortment of scrubwrens and Yellow Robins often hop on and off the tracks. The early hours of the morning are often the best time to catch sight of one of Lamington’s most comical residents, the Southern Logrunner, that readily bounds across the leaf litter and, appropriately, along the logs, close to the lodge; you will need flash to get them, but they are not shy, so this is not an issue. Strangled, cat-like calls should lead us to our first Green Catbirds, and the loud rasping calls of Paradise Riflebirds echo through the forest, a magnificent bird-of-paradise, that should turn up some time during the day. Other possibilities in the rich rainforest on the summit include Bassian and Russet-tailed Thrushes, the beautiful Rose Robin, and the dashing Rufous Fantail.
Some time will also be spent in the markedly different habitat below the plateau, where dense green rainforest gives way to dry sclerophyll woodland, dominated by pale gum trees, bringing a much more open nature to the birding. Here we’ll descend to a Bell Miner colony, where we will soon be wishing we could switch off their incessant school bell-like calls. These drier woods are also home to the scarce Koala, and the prettiest of the wallabies, the well-named Pretty-faced Wallaby, that are often seen bounding through the grassy understory. At night we’ll check some regular rainforest spots for Southern Boobook and Marbled Frogmouth.
Day 13: Lamington NP to Tasmania. After a final morning to mop any missing Lamington species, or just take more photos of the very tame birds here, we will hit some wetlands en-route to Brisbane airport. After shooting Collared Kingfisher, Mangrove Honeyeater or Chestnut Teal on the way, we will board a plane and fly to the scenically spectacular north of Tasmania, and overnight in Devonport.
Day 14: Narawntapu National Park to Marrawah. Our attentions will switch from birds to mammals in particular on Tasmania. Our first stop will be the meadows of Narawntapu National Park, where we will spend much of our time photographing the docile Common Wombats that graze the open lawns in the park. Their tameness and approachability are legendary at this site. Our early morning visit will be timed when not only these are most active but also give us a chance at seeing other marsupials in the park such as Tasmanian Pademelon or Forrester’s Kangaroo. Other photogenic species may also include an endemic bird, the flightless Tasmanian Native-Hen. After leaving the park we will make our way slowly west along Tasmania’s northern coastline, stopping at spots along the way for Platypus, which are at their greatest concentrations in this part of the country, and also at a Blue Penguin colony, where sometimes these tiny penguins can be photographed within their burrows, at a special Penguin Observation Centre in Burnie.
By the evening we will be in Marrawah in extreme northwestern Tasmania, one of the wildest, most remote, and scenic places in all of Australia. We will spend our first of two nights at a specially-designed Tasmanian Devil observation building, come blind, trying to photograph these iconic Tassie animals. This will be a long night, as the devils often do not come into until an hour or so after dark (or later), and so our chances to photograph then will not open up until after 9pm. They are attracted by carcasses of local road kill that heighten the chances of these rare animals coming in, and also might lure in a quoll too if we are lucky. Two nights will be spent in this area, to ensure our best chances at photographing these animals. (If we see them on the first night, those who wish to do so can skip the second night and retire early to our accommodations). The devils often come to within just a few feet of the comfortable observation building, and are spotlit by large lights making this night shoot less challenging than it appears. A highlight may be seeing several animals fighting over a carcass excitedly, baring their teeth, and creating wonderful photo opportunities in the process. Two nights will be spent in Arthur River, near the Tasmanian Devil site.
Day 15: Marrawah area. The day will be spent along the scenic coastline of northern Tasmania, where we will target any missing mammals and bird species we need, such as Bennett’s Wallaby, heath birds such as New Holland Honeyeaters, or coastal birds, before returning for another night in the Marrawah area for a date with the devils. A night shoot will be undertaken once more to photograph the Tasmanian Devils at the same site we visited on the night of day 14, currently one of the best sites in Tasmania to see this fast-declining mammal.
Day 16: Marrawah to Devonport. After a lie in, following our long nights focusing on Tasmanian Devils, we will return to Devonport airport for departures.
CLIMATE: Hot days and cool nights. Little rain is expected on the mainland. On Tasmania cooler days and rain can be expected.
DIFFICULTY: Physically this is an easy trip with no difficult walking involved. However, you can expect to be starting very early on most days, departing the hotel from between 4:30am and 5:30am, and having breakfast in the field. These early starts aren’t just for fun, they will get us in the field when the light is good and the birds are more active.
ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent. Please note that for two nights for the Tasmanian Devil search single rooms are not available, and bathrooms are shared.