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Western Queensland's Outback: A World of Wild Habitats

Tour Overview:

Western Queensland is considered off the beaten track for many bird tours, but this is not your normal tour. This "habitat" tour will not only get you into areas not normally seen, but you will leave with an undertsanding of how and why the inland Australia ecosystems are like non other from other parts of the world. We target all the different savannas, spinifex environments, tussock grasslands and desert mulga woodlands. We will chase Opalton, Kalkadoon and Carpentarian Grasswrens are all possible by combining visits to the mining town of Mount Isa with the “dinosaur capital” of Winton. Along with these prized birds, we will also seek out the local Hall’s Babbler, spectacular Painted Finch (Firetail), Spinifex Pigeon, Spinifexbird, the handsome Rufous-crowned Emuwren, endangered Black-throated Finch and some more widespread, iconic Aussie species, like Emu and Budgerigar, in addition to Australian Bustard. This trip is designed to link with the eastern Australia trips, so we don't spend much time in the rainforests, but will drop into a "Dry Rainforest" on the way out west.

Upcoming Departures:


26 September - 4 October ($5910; single supplement: $650)


26 September - 4 October (TBA)

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Detailed Itinerary

Other Tour Details:

Length: 9 Days

Starting City: Cairns

Ending City: Cairns

Pace: Moderate/Intense

Physical Difficulty: Moderate

Focus: Birding

Group size: 7 + 1 leader

 Australia Western Queensland's Outback- Mining for Grasswrens-01.jpg

This itinerary is sometimes run in reverse order.

Day 1: Arrival in Cairns

We start the trip at Dinner on the first night. The night will be spent in Cairns.

Day 2: Cairns to Hughendon

On this morning we will head south of Cairns, making a special stop on in some Dry Sclerophyll Forest and Wet Sclerophyll Forest. This area south of Cairns offers some fascinating birding to break the journey south, in stark contrast to the Outback tropical savanna that we enjoy later. We then stop of a a Dry Rainforest where you see rainforest-like trees eeking out an existance in a sea of savanna landscapes In drier country of Open Eucalypt Savanna, towards the end of the journey, we may start seeing some birds more typical of the Queensland Outback, like Great Bowerbird, Black-faced Woodswallow, Red-winged Parrot, Pale-headed Rosella, and Apostlebird. We spend the night in Hughendon

Day 3: Hughendon to Winton

We will drive west out of Charters Towers to Winton for a two-night stay. On the way we pass through a hugh area of Tropical Tussock Grassland, which is the analogous to a desert grassland from Africa or steppe from Asia. On teh way we look for Australain Bustard, Brolga, possible thousands of Australian Pratincoles and  even a Flock Bronzewing if we are lucky. We will pass the first of the mesas of silcrete and laterite.

Day 4: Winton

This area in the Channel Country is most famous for cattle and sheep farms and its considerable dinosaur fossil finds than birds, but it holds some highly-desirable ones within easy reach. One of the most localized species in play is Opalton Grasswren, an extremely local endemic found within the clumps of spinifex grass in the Spinifex Eucalypt Savanna.. There are plenty of other birds to search for in this area though, including the local Hall’s Babbler in the Spinifex Mulga, reclusive Rufous-crowned Emuwren in the Rocky Spinifex, and the striking Chestnut-breasted Quail-Thrush, a terrestrial bird from the Grassy Mulga. Australian Bustards roam the Outback, as do Emus, while Spinifex Pigeon scurry among the rocky outcrops, and Hooded Robins occur in this sparsely wooded country. Other birds that we might see include a good mix of woodswallows, with Masked, White-browed and Little all occurring. We will be on the lookout for any blooming shrubs and trees that attract nectar-thirsty honeyeaters, like Grey-headed, and sometimes the nomadic  Black and Painted honeyeaters too. In this season we might find active groups of Crimson Chats working the low shrubs, and Orange Chats can be around in some years too. A distinctive sound of this landscape are the numerous Crested Bellbirds. Other possible finds could be Bourke’s Parrot, or flocks of Budgerigars or Cockatiels, Spotted Bowerbird, delightful Purple-backed and White-winged fairywrens, and the dry-country-loving Red-browed Pardalote and Red-backed Kingfisher. Raptors overhead could include Little Eagles, while Zebra Finches are frequent in the grasslands. “Waterbirds” can also be found, including Australian Pratincole, Black-fronted Dotterel and Brolga.  A second night will be spent in Winton.

Day 5: Winton to Mount Isa

After another morning in Bladensburg national Park where we search t mulgas and , we move north to Mount Isa for a two-night stay.

Day 6: Mount Isa

With a full day (and a morning) here, we will have plenty of time to search for our main targets and their supporting cast. Top on the agenda will be tracking down Mount Isa’s two most famous avian residents, the Kalkadoon and Carpentarian grasswrens. Among the other birds in this area though are some other highly-desired species, like Black-tailed Treecreeper in the Tetradonta Woodland, and rocky areas with stands of spinifex grass that hold the stunning Painted Finch, the comical Spinifex Pigeon and Spinifexbird. The Cloncurry form of Australian Ringneck also occurs, as does Purple-necked Rock-Wallaby. Another night will be spent in Mount Isa.


Day 7: Mount Isa to Karumba

After another morning among the wattle scrub, red rocks, and spinifex of Mount Isa, we move north to Karumba for the night, right on the edge of the Gulf of Carpentaria. A single night will be spent in Karumba. There should be some time in the late afternoon to begin exploring this area of tropical savanna, for species like, Yellow-tinted, Rufous-throated and White-gaped honeyeaters, Diamond Dove, Red-browed Pardalote, and Star Finch, which are characteristic of this area and the Northern territory to the west.

Day 8: Karumba to Georgetown

In the morning, we will focus on the coastal mangroves around Karumba, before driving east towards Cairns via Georgetown. A boat trip will be taken to search for mangrove specialists, like Red-headed Myzomela, White-breasted Whistler, Australian Yellow White-eye, and Mangrove Fantail. There will also be a chance for other interesting wetland birds like Rajah Shelduck, Sarus Crane, Brolga, Pink-eared Duck, and Far Eastern Curlew. During the journey eastwards, we make a short stop around Georgetown in the heart of Black-throated Finch country. The area also holds Masked and Zebra finches, and yet more waterbirds. 

Day 9:  Georgetown to Cairns

We spend a final morning birding around Georgetown with some great light for photo ops and then return to Cairns for an arrival around Noon. Tour finishes with an hour or two break before the Birding with a Camera Tour.

Trip Considerations

PACE: Moderate. This tour does target some special birds that require some early starts, at around 5:30am, and some field breakfasts too. There are a number of long drives on this tour, with some short sections of these on good, unpaved roads. A 4 x 4 vehicle however is not required.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: The walks on this trip are mostly easy, not involving any steep gradients or elevations, but will be on rocky and uneven ground at times. The toughest aspect of this trip is the climate, being very hot and dry much of the time.

CLIMATE: The climate on this trip will be mostly a hot dry heat in the Outback, which forms the main part of the tour. In this season, the daytime temperatures range from around 15-32 C (60-90 F), with little rain likely. Around Cairns, and on the second morning the humidity will be high compared with the rest of the tour.

ACCOMMODATION: For the sections outside of Cairns we will use the best accommodations available - medium level motels - in Cairns and Hughenden we will use good hotels. All lodgings have full time electricity and hot water and en-suite bathrooms. Internet will only be available in Cairns and Hughenden.

Other Information

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required for entry into Australia, which must be valid for at least six months beyond your departure. All visitors must obtain a visa or travel authorization in advance, however, this can usually be done online fairly painlessly; check the Australian immigration website, or ask our office staff for help if you are unsure.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from night of day 1 through to night of day 8; meals from dinner on day 1 to dinner on day 8; safe drinking water between meals; most hotels in Australia provide a kettle and tea and coffee; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the afternoon of day 1 to the evening of day 8; transfer by taxi to the airports at the start and end of the tour; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary in a suitable vehicle driven by the tour leader; entrance fees to all birding sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the Tropical Birding tour leader; international flights; excess baggage fees; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, internet, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.

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