28 OCTOBER – 12 NOVEMBER 2018
By Andy Walker
This 16-day scheduled-departure Australia group tour commenced in Melbourne, Victoria, on the 28th of October 2018 with a circuit of the state and a brief visit into New South Wales. We then flew up to Brisbane, southern Queensland, for a trip to the world-famous O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat and then moved into the northern tropics of Cairns, Queensland, for a circuit of the surrounding area (including a trip to the Great Barrier Reef and a river cruise along the Daintree River). The tour concluded in Cairns on the 12th of November 2018.
We connected with many exciting birds, and the tour yielded a long list of eastern Australian birding specialties, such as magical, prolonged observation of two adult and two young Southern Cassowaries, Victoria’s and Paradise Riflebirds feeding and practicing for display, the stunning Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo – a delightful pink parrot with an amazing red and yellow headdress, some of the best views of Double-eyed Fig Parrots imaginable as a flock fed at eye-level for ages, both Superb and Albert’s Lyrebirds (the largest passerines in the world, with incredible vocalizations), a recently-returned migrant Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher that finally gave views after a good chase through the forest, the rare Inland Dotterel, several uncommon (within this tour route) shorebirds including Oriental Plover, Australian Pratincole, and Little Curlew, an incredible male Australian Bustard giving full display, large numbers of Shy Albatrosses in the rough southern seas off Victoria, close-up nesting seabirds galore on the Great Barrier Reef, nesting Square-tailed Kite in New South Wales, the impressive and huge Black-necked Stork, Brolga, Sarus Crane, and Cape Barren Goose, the rare Freckled Duck, the very locally-distributed Rufous Bristlebird, amazing Regent, Satin, Great, and Tooth-billed Bowerbirds for their looks and displays, the gorgeous Diamond Firetail, and numerous shorebirds, honeyeaters, parrots, fairywrens, and robins. The list of highlights could go on and on, but also some of the very common birds are incredibly impressive for the first-time visitor to Australia, and these were excitingly appreciated, such as Laughing Kookaburra, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Rainbow Lorikeet, Galah, Australian Magpie, Magpie-lark, Willie Wagtail, and Welcome Swallow.
A total of 383 bird species were seen (plus eight species heard only), along with an impressive list of other animals, including Platypus, Short-beaked Echidna, Dingo, and Red Kangaroo. Full species lists are provided at the end of this report.
Day 0, 27th October 2018. Pre-tour arrival in Melbourne
Tim, Kay, Sandra, and Andy arrived in Melbourne in the early evening after completing their Tasmania tour ahead of the east coast tour starting the following morning. See trip report for the exciting Tasmania tour here.
Day 1, 28th October 2018. Melbourne to Healesville
After breakfast we headed to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, where we met with Simon, our local guide. The trip got off to a flying start with the first birds looked at in the Swarovski ATX-95 telescope being a family of two adult and two young Tawny Frogmouths. Wow, what a start! We enjoyed watching these birds for a while before concentrating on a small marsh, where we found another of our site targets in a pair of Buff-banded Rails. We saw several species of waterfowl here, the most exciting being a few Pink-eared Ducks. We had plenty of parrots too, such as Long-billed Corella, Little Corella, Australian King Parrot, Red-rumped Parrot, Galah, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Eastern Rosella, Musk Lorikeet, and Rainbow Lorikeet – lots of color to digest! Further exploration gave us Red Wattlebird, another Tawny Frogmouth, Pied Currawong, Olive-backed Oriole, Mistletoebird, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Grey Butcherbird, and Eastern Spinebill. Here we also found our first Eastern Grey Kangaroo of the trip.
After our time near Melbourne we drove into the mountains at Healesville, where, after lunch, we entered a forested track. We were now in a very different habitat (and at different elevation), and so the birds were correspondingly different. During an enjoyable walk we found Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Crimson Rosella, Crested Shriketit, Flame, Rose, and Eastern Yellow Robins, Australian Golden Whistler, Rufous Fantail, Crescent Honeyeater, White-throated Treecreeper, and White-browed Scrubwren, but best of all Pilotbird and Superb Lyrebird. Happy with our haul we headed to our accommodation for an early dinner.
After dinner we spent a couple of hours walking a quiet road near town, right away finding our main target, a nesting pair of Southern Boobooks. Scanning the trees after dusk also gave us good looks at Greater Glider, Common Ringtail Possum, Common Brushtail Possum, and brief views of Red Fox, Sugar Glider, and likely Common Wombat too. Nice surprises were our sixth Tawny Frogmouth of the day that flew in and landed next to us and, as we were leaving the site, a group of five Laughing Kookaburras roosting together on a branch.
Day 2, 29th October 2018. Healesville to Chiltern
An optional early-morning walk near our accommodation gave great views of Common Bronzewing, New Holland Honeyeater, and Spotted Pardalote in and around the garden. After breakfast we headed into the mountains again, where the temperature plummeted, but we found some very nice birds, the top pick being Superb Lyrebird for most of the group. We had excellent, close views of a couple of Flame Robins, Australian Golden Whistler, and Pied Currawong. Frustratingly a couple of birds remained ‘heard only’, namely Olive Whistler and Red-browed Treecreeper, just that little bit too far away to tempt them closer.
Dropping down over the mountains we found a colony of Bell Miners, very vocal and eventually giving good views. Here we also had excellent looks at the beautiful Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Sacred Kingfisher, White-throated Treecreeper, Yellow, Brown, and Striated Thornbills, Crested Shriketit, White-throated Gerygone, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Red-browed Finch, and Australia’s smallest bird, the tiny Weebill. Here the increase in temperature was very much welcomed too after the recent cold weather,
After lunch we continued our journey north. A quick rest stop in a town center yielded plenty of new birds, such as Willie Wagtail, Australian Reed Warbler, White-plumed Honeyeater, Little and Noisy Friarbirds (chasing and fighting with each other), and Collared Sparrowhawk. We also improved our views of Sacred Kingfisher and Eastern Rosella here.
Our final stops of the day occurred in the Warby-Ovens National Park. We spent a couple of hours driving dirt tracks and exploring the many options here and came away with a number of new birds. Highlights included Rainbow Bee-eater, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Western Gerygone, White-browed Babbler, White-winged Triller, Rufous Whistler, Olive-backed Oriole, White-winged Chough, and Leaden Flycatcher.
After checking into our hotel in Chiltern we met up with regular Birding Ecotours clients David and Sue from Adelaide, who joined us for a meal ahead of joining the tour for the following day.
Day 3, 30th October 2018. Chiltern to Deniliquin
A pre-breakfast walk in the Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park was very cold, but as the sun hit the tree tops things started to get going with a great deal of honeyeater activity. Birds were quickly moving through, but we managed to see Blue-faced, Yellow-tufted, Fuscous, Brown-headed, Black-chinned, and White-naped Honeyeaters. Other exciting birds included Speckled Warbler, White-winged Chough, and our best views to date of Brown Treecreeper. A huge flock of White-browed and Masked Woodswallows left their roost site and showed well as they foraged near a stubble field; these are both great-looking, slick species, so it was nice to see them well.
After breakfast we made a brief visit to several lakes in the area, where we found Brolga (a pair with two babies), Little Eagle, Rufous Songlark, Little Lorikeet, Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Australian Pelican, and Black-fronted Dotterel. One of the favorite finds of the morning, though, was a pair of Restless Flycatchers tending to their very young babies in their nest. It was great to be able to watch their behavior (from a distance) as they returned time and again with food and also to watch them chase off potential nest predators such as Sacred Kingfisher.
A final drive through the forest gave us a couple of new birds in the form of Buff-rumped Thornbill and a male of the rather spectacular Red-capped Robin, but then it was time to hit the road.
As we headed from Victoria into New South Wales a brief toilet stop gave us the opportunity to see our first White-breasted Woodswallow, Whiskered Tern, and Australasian Darter, along with several other waterbird species.
The evening plan was to go out at night with local guide Phil, so prior to that we did some late-afternoon birding with him and got a huge boost in honeyeaters for our ever-expanding trip list. This included some really nice ones too, such as Painted, Black, White-fronted, Striped, Spiny-cheeked, and Singing Honeyeaters. Here we also found Purple-backed Fairywren, Pied Butcherbird, and Eastern Bluebonnet.
After the sun had set and we had eaten our picnic dinners we commenced our night drive through the very dry farmland. Unfortunately there was no sign of any Plains-wanderer during the evening, undoubtedly due to the drought that the area was suffering. We did, however, still see several other interesting species, such as Inland Dotterel, Banded Lapwing (a pair with two young), Emu, and Eastern Barn Owl. Other enjoyment was provided by Red Kangaroo, Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Fat-tailed Dunnart, Common Brushtail Possum, Tessellated Gecko, and Gibber Gecko.
It was very late when we returned to our hotel, but we had seen some fantastic wildlife during the day.
Day 4, 31st October 2018. Deniliquin to Ouyen
After the late night yesterday we had a relaxed start to the day and said goodbye to David and Sue. When starting birding for the morning we found three very exciting species in no time at all. First we saw a couple of the very local Superb Parrots (well named), then followed this up with some of the best views imaginable of a perched Square-tailed Kite, and finally topped things off nicely with an elegant Black Falcon! I love these easy mornings. But what was noticeable was the sudden increase in temperature over the previous days with the thermostat skyrocketing.
As we continued our journey back from New South Wales into Victoria we found White-winged Fairywren, Little Grassbird, Brown Goshawk, Zebra Finch, Lace Monitor, and Eastern Bearded Dragon.
By the afternoon we were in the Mallee, and temperatures were near 40oC. Here almost all the birds were different, and we found Gilbert’s Whistler, Splendid Fairywren, Crested Bellbird, Southern Whiteface, Regent Parrot, Pallid Cuckoo, Chestnut-crowned Babbler, and one of the most popular, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo. Yet more wonderful birds!
Day 5, 1st November 2018. Ouyen to Central Victoria
We knew the day was going to be hot, so we headed out early into the Mallee and were rewarded with some seriously good views of a huge number of Regent Parrots and smaller numbers of Australian Ringnecks and Mulga Parrots. The sight and sound of these parrots was very impressive, as was a flock of 35 Emus. A water tank was bustling with birdlife, more of the above parrots (and Red-rumped Parrots) along with White-eared, Striped, Spiny-cheeked, Yellow-plumed, and Singing Honeyeaters, all drinking and bathing as the temperatures increased.
After breakfast we started our journey southward, stopping briefly for beautiful White-backed Swallows, a rather bizarre Common Ostrich (farmed ostriches have established feral populations in Australia, but this was not in an expected area), and our first Shingleback Lizard. We grabbed some lunch and then headed for the amazing Cullens Lake Wildlife Reserve. This waterbody was absolutely stacked with wildfowl, and it was a sight to behold. One really special bird stood out from the crowd, the rare Little Curlew, a rather unexpected bonus bird for the trip. Plenty of other great birds were also found here, such as Banded Stilt, Red-necked Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Greenshank, Pied Stilt, and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. The number of ducks was staggering, there were thousands of birds: big flocks of Australian Shelducks, Pink-eared Duck, Chestnut Teal, Black Swans, Black-tailed Nativehens, and assorted cormorants, herons, and egrets. Both Royal and Yellow-billed Spoonbills were present, as was Glossy Ibis. At times the air was filled with Whiskered Terns and one White-winged Tern (an uncommon species in Victoria) and a few Caspian Terns too, and all of the above were very flighty due to the presence of Peregrine Falcon, Swamp Harrier, Brown Falcon, and Whistling Kite. Reluctantly we had to leave the lake; it was getting rather hot at about 38oC, and the increasing wind made it feel a good deal hotter.
As we made our way to our final stop near Inglewood we found a very obliging roadside White-necked Heron; this bird was in particularly fine plumage. Our final birding location for the day was at a waterhole, where we sat patiently for an hour and enjoyed close views of drinking White-fronted, Black, Yellow-plumed, White-eared, Yellow-tufted, and Brown-headed Honeyeaters. Both Common and Brush Bronzewings were present, and a Shy Heathwren was calling nearby. A great way to end another bird-packed day in Victoria!
Day 6, 2nd November 2018. Central Victoria to Aireys Inlet
The temperature had dropped a bit overnight, and we were greeted by gray skies and light rain showers during the morning. But this seemed to get the birds moving quite a bit, and we had an excellent couple of hours birding in some nearby hills. Some of our main target birds fell quite quickly, and in no time at all we had found and enjoyed great views of a pair of Red-backed Kingfishers (a rare bird in the state), a pair of Hooded Robins, multiple singing and displaying Painted Honeyeaters, a male Gilbert’s Whistler, and several Diamond Firetails – a simply exquisite little finch. Throw in a few White-winged Trillers, Mistletoebird showing down to several feet, Black Honeyeater, nesting Rainbow Bee-eaters, and White-backed Swallow, and we were all a little excited by what we had just seen! There were also plenty of other, more familiar (but not less exciting) species about, such as Eastern Rosella, Red-rumped Parrot, Long-billed Corella, Black-faced Cuckooshrike, and Superb Fairywren.
After some refreshment we continued our journey southward, passing some really pretty old villages along the way. We picked up several interesting birds along the way too, such as Wedge-tailed Eagle, Musk Lorikeet, Grey Currawong, Scarlet Robin, Cape Barren Goose, Black-fronted Dotterel, Red-kneed Dotterel, White-browed and Masked Woodswallows (by the hundreds), Grey Butcherbird, White-necked Heron, Latham’s Snipe, Little Wattlebird, and several gorgeous adult Nankeen Night Herons.
When we arrived at the coast the wind was absolutely howling, so we spent half an hour or so doing a sea watch. Here we had some very close fly-by Shy Albatrosses, with several also sitting on the water, where an Afro-Australian Fur Seal was foraging, along with many Fluttering and a few Short-tailed Shearwaters, Australasian Gannet, Greater Crested Tern, and Black-faced Cormorant. On land near our viewpoint we saw Blue-winged Parrot and heard a Rufous Bristlebird singing, but the wind was so strong at this point that we didn’t even try to see the bird – one to be left for the following day (hopefully)!
Day 7, 3rd November 2018. Aireys Inlet to Melbourne
A pre-breakfast walk at Aireys Inlet on our final morning in Victoria gave us some fantastic views of several of the very locally-distributed Rufous Bristlebird; it was also great to hear their beautiful song. As we walked around the local area we picked up several interesting birds such as Latham’s Snipe, Blue-winged Parrot, and Australian Shelduck. A brief sea watch of an incredibly flat ocean (very different from the previous evening’s sea state) gave us Shy Albatross and the same birds as the previous evening, but in reduced numbers, with the addition of a couple of Parasitic Jaegers (Arctic Skuas).
After a lovely breakfast we started our circuit back toward Melbourne. En route we found Forest Raven, Musk Duck, and Wedge-tailed Eagle. A small clearing in some woodland was incredibly busy with birds, and here we enjoyed Varied Sittella, White-naped Honeyeater, Rufous and Australian Golden Whistlers, Red-browed Finch, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Dusky Woodswallow, Eastern Yellow Robin, and the best views imaginable of two male Satin Flycatchers.
Our final stop of the Victoria leg of the tour was one of the best birding destinations in the state (and probably the whole country), the Western Treatment Plant in Werribee. Here a huge number of waterbirds was waiting for us, and we encountered a multitude of species. New trip birds included Pectoral Sandpiper (another Australian rarity), Australian Crake, Baillon’s Crake, Blue-billed Duck, Pied Oystercatcher, Red-capped Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Curlew Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Marsh Sandpiper, Fairy Tern, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Eurasian Skylark, and Golden-headed Cisticola. The spectacle of so many birds giving such excellent views is one that will not be forgotten anytime soon. The numbers of Black Swan, Australian Shelduck, Pink-eared Duck, Chestnut Teal, Pied Stilt, Red-necked Avocet, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and Whiskered Tern were really impressive. We ended the day with 130 species, not a bad haul for a fairly relaxed few hours’ birding!
After our time was up here we headed back to Melbourne, where we reluctantly said our goodbyes and thank you to Simon for all of his excellent work during this leg of the tour. We grabbed dinner and an early night ahead of the early start the following morning for our flight to Brisbane, ready for something totally different from the previous week’s birding.
Day 8, 4th November 2018. Melbourne to Brisbane to Lamington National Park
An early start was in order for today so that we could catch our flight from Melbourne to Brisbane, where we arrived around 8 a.m. to a hot and muggy morning. After picking up our new vehicle we headed to a wetland near the city, where we met with local birder Rob. We spent a couple of hours in some habitats very different from previous locations on the tour and as a result found plenty of new birds among many we were by now more familiar with. Highlights here included Comb-crested Jacana, Magpie Goose, Wandering Whistling Duck, Australasian Darter, Eastern Osprey, Brahminy Kite, Tawny Grassbird, Red-backed and Variegated Fairywrens, Oriental Dollarbird, Intermediate Egret, Australasian Figbird, Olive-backed Oriole, Leaden Flycatcher, White-throated Gerygone, and Torresian Crow. We also saw several Eastern Water Dragons, some gave views, others just plopped into the water.
We had a final mangrove spot to check prior to lunch, so we headed over to it in the late morning. In no time at all we were watching Torresian Kingfisher and Mangrove Gerygone in the mangroves, with Bar-sided Forest-skinks hanging out on the trees too. The tide levels were pretty perfect and allowed us to scan the mud here, and we found Pacific Reef Heron, Striated Heron, Far Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel, Gull-billed Tern, and Little Tern.
After lunch we said goodbye to Rob and started our journey south to the legendary O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat. Along the way we stopped at a small dam, where in the heat of the mid-afternoon we managed to find some really spectacular birds, such as Black-necked Stork, Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, Pale-headed Rosella, White-necked Heron, Pied Butcherbird, and Topknot Pigeon. We also bettered our views of Oriental Dollarbird from a few hours previously. It would have been easy to stay here for the whole day, but we had to get to our accommodation, so we continued on our way, winding our way up into the mountains.
Just before reaching our accommodation we stopped at a scenic viewpoint, where, along with some spectacular views of the surrounding landscape, we also found a whole new suite of birds, such as Satin Bowerbird, Crimson Rosella, Australian King Parrot, Wonga Pigeon, Lewin’s Honeyeater, Eastern Yellow Robin, and more. As we checked into our rooms a stunning Regent Bowerbird provided a bit of a distraction, as too did Australian Brushturkey. After a wonderful evening meal we grabbed an early night’s sleep.
Day 9, 5th November 2018. Lamington National Park
We awoke to a warm dawn in the mountains and immediately started birding. We spent the whole day around our wonderful accommodation – O’Reilly’s is a must-visit location in eastern Australia. This area has a large mix of species, some crazily colorful, in-your-face-showy birds like Regent Bowerbird, Satin Bowerbird, Australian King Parrot, Crimson Rosella, and Australian Brushturkey, and then there are the more skulking, cryptic species like Australian Logrunner, Bassian Thrush, and more. There are even brightly-colored, large birds that can be extremely shy too, such as Green Catbird, Noisy Pitta, and Paradise Riflebird. Over the course of the day we found all of these and many more, such as Eastern Whipbird (a bird that can be incredibly shy at most other locations), Eastern Yellow Robin, Shining Bronze Cuckoo, Pied Currawong, Wonga Pigeon, Topknot Pigeon, Lewin’s Honeyeater, Eastern Spinebill, Yellow-throated Scrubwren, Australian Golden Whistler, and Black-faced Monarch. We also found both Grey Fantail and Rufous Fantail on nests, which was really exciting to see.
During the late afternoon we had a flock of White-throated Needletails fly overhead, recently arrived migrants on the move. Across the day we found several rather cool mammals and reptiles too, such as Red-necked Wallaby, Red-necked Pademelon, Red-legged Pademelon, the humongous Land Mullet (one of the largest skinks in the world), Major Skink, and the gorgeous Southern (Angle-headed) Forest Dragon.
After dinner we headed for a brief walk near the lodge, where we enjoyed watching Short-eared Brushtail Possum, a couple of Common Brushtail Possums, and numerous Common Ringtail Possums. We also heard both Noisy Pitta singing and several Southern Boobooks calling.
Day 10, 6th November 2018. Lamington National Park to Brisbane to Cairns
We had an early-morning, pre-breakfast birding walk near the lodge and were rewarded with a pair of Albert’s Lyrebirds. Over the course of a couple of hours we saw many of the birds we had recorded the previous day but also added a few more, or improved views of others, such as Bassian Thrush, Paradise Riflebird, Green Catbird, and Topknot Pigeon. Some of the different birds and our first of the trip included Grey Goshawk, Pacific Emerald Dove, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Brush Cuckoo, and White-headed Pigeon.
After breakfast we traveled back to Brisbane in order to catch our afternoon flight to Cairns. Along the way we picked up our first Pacific Koel and Forest Kingfisher, but better views of these was likely on the cards over the next few days. We also found Whiptail Wallaby, Black Flying Fox, and Grey-headed Flying Fox.
We arrived in Cairns late in the afternoon and checked into our hotel for the night. We took a brief walk along the Esplanade before having an early dinner. The beach was fairly quiet, but we found Terek Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Whimbrel, Masked Lapwing, Black-fronted Dotterel, Australian Pelican, and a number of Gull-billed Terns. The trees along the beach held numerous Torresian Imperial Pigeons, Australian Figbirds, and Rainbow Lorikeets, with Australian Swiftlets overhead too. We also had brief views of Double-eyed Fig Parrot and Varied Honeyeater, and as we ate dinner several huge Spectacled Flying Foxes flew overhead.
Day 11, 7th November 2018. Great Barrier Reef Trip and travel to Kuranda
Today was about more than ‘just the birds’, since we headed out to the Great Barrier Reef, one of those ‘must-visit’ places in Australia, if not the whole world. We were the first boat to arrive at Michaelmas Cay and so made full use of our time, watching the nesting seabirds before anyone else got there. The island was covered in birds, and the tide was high, condensing a number of birds together. As we scanned the throng we found numerous Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies, the two most abundant species. Amongst these we also found plenty of Bridled Terns, Brown Boobies, and a few Great Frigatebirds. We also saw a large number of both Greater Crested Terns and Lesser Crested Terns, even finding some birds sitting next to each other to allow careful study of their differences. Silver Gulls loitered, waiting to snatch that unguarded egg or chick, and Ruddy Turnstones patrolled the cay too and were even noted eating the remaining contents of a noddy egg after the Silver Gulls had finished with it. As we were watching the above we also noted a gorgeous Green Turtle swimming through in crystal-clear water.
As the tide was high, we were able to take a short boat ride around the cay and in doing so found multiple Black-naped Terns and Common Terns, along with the many other species outlined above.
After we had finished with the birding we spent the rest of the day snorkeling at a couple of spots. It was, as usual, a simply breathtaking experience with a huge assortment of fish discovered along the reef.
As the afternoon progressed it was time to return to Cairns, and there we picked up our new vehicle before heading into the mountains for our next night’s accommodation. On entering the local pub for dinner we were somewhat shocked to find a Bush Stone-curlew standing on the doorstep of the establishment. A fitting end to another great day in Australia!
Day 12, 8th November 2018. Kuranda to Lake Eacham
Wow, what an awesome day! We started off at Cassowary House in Kuranda, where a pre-breakfast walk gave us incredible views of some seriously great birds, such as Victoria’s Riflebird, Spotted Catbird, Rose-crowned Fruit Dove, Wompoo Fruit Dove, Double-eyed Fig Parrot, Spangled Drongo, Varied Triller, Noisy Pitta, Forest Kingfisher, and more! As we walked into the dining area we were greeted with the sight of four giant, prehistoric-looking Southern Cassowaries, an adult pair with their two chicks. Over the course of breakfast and well beyond we were openmouthed at the views we were getting of one of the most impressive birds in the world. It was incredible to see the birds, but to be able to spend the time at close quarters with them and watch their interactions was something that will not be forgotten anytime soon. It was hard to concentrate on the other wildlife around, but this was of good quality too, such as Macleay’s Honeyeater, Yellow-spotted Honeyeater, Little Bronze Cuckoo, Spectacled Monarch, White-throated Needletail, and Musky Rat Kangaroo.
Once we managed to drag ourselves away from the amazing cassowaries we started our journey into the Atherton Tablelands. We found a couple of good birds along the way in Sarus Crane, Australian Bustard, and Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, and also Little Red Flying Fox. A small marsh held Plumed and Wandering Whistling Ducks, Freckled Duck, Royal Spoonbill, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Common Cicadabird, White-cheeked Honeyeater, Scarlet Myzomela, and Chestnut-breasted Mannikin.
Our final stop during daylight was for one very special animal, the rather unique and highly sought-after Platypus. We not only saw one but had some excellent views as one fed at close range to us – yet another exciting encounter.
After a really wonderful dinner cooked by Sandra and Kay (and a surprise birthday apple pie for Andy – thank you!) we headed out for some nocturnal exploration. During this time we found Short-beaked Echidna, Common (Copper) Brushtail Possum, Green Ringtail Possum, Striped Possum, Sugar Glider, White-tailed Giant Rat, Red-legged Pademelon, and Northern Leaf-tail Gecko. A Lesser Sooty Owl was calling but too far away to generate any interest.
A thoroughly enjoyable day for all!
Day 13, 9th November 2018. Atherton Tablelands
We spent the morning birding around the crater lakes in the Atherton Tablelands. It was really busy with birds around our accommodation early in the morning, and we enjoyed further prolonged views of Victoria’s Riflebird and Spotted Catbird, along with several other species such as Grey-headed Robin, Pale-yellow Robin, Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Tooth-billed Bowerbird, Pacific Emerald Dove, Black Butcherbird, and Spangled Drongo. Finding a fruiting tree gave us point-blank, eye-level views of Double-eyed Fig Parrot, Barred Cuckooshrike, and Metallic Starling, which was a true privilege. We also really enjoyed watching a foraging Pied Monarch, which moved creeper-like around tree trunks, after seeing Spectacled and Black-faced Monarchs earlier in the day. Here we also found the stunning Boyd’s Forest Dragon (one of the best-looking reptiles in the country) and Musky Rat Kangaroo.
As we drove through some agricultural land we found another Sarus Crane and a flock of over fifty Red-tailed Black Cockatoos.
Our afternoon birding took us into the much driver areas of the north, where we found Blue-winged Kookaburra, Great Bowerbird, White-browed Robin, Red-winged Parrot, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Brush Cuckoo, Pacific Koel, Scarlet Myzomela, Graceful Honeyeater, White-bellied Cuckooshrike, and Leaden Flycatcher.
We arrived at our accommodation, the excellent Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge, late in the afternoon, and while on the way to the pub for dinner we noted Nankeen Night Heron, Metallic Starling, and Lemon-bellied Flyrobin, which ended another great day’s birding.
Day 14, 10th November 2018. Kingfisher Park, Mount Lewis National Park and local area
Our pre-breakfast walk around Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge with the resident local guide Andrew, who birded with us for the day, produced one of the birds of the trip, the recently-arrived Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher. It took some work, but our persistence paid off as we got some close, but brief looks at this migratory bird. Plenty of other birds were around too as we were searching for our quarry, including our first Bridled Honeyeaters of the trip. We also encountered Eastern Water Dragon and a surprise Dingo!
After breakfast, where we enjoyed the company of a Boyd’s Forest Dragon sitting nearby, we drove to Mount Lewis National Park. Blue-faced Parrotfinch was seen briefly, as were two Noisy Pittas. A Pheasant Coucal was much more obliging, as too were displaying Topknot Pigeons. As we walked around the trails here we found many new and locally-distributed species, such as Chowchilla, Fernwren, Mountain Thornbill, Atherton Scrubwren, and Tooth-billed Bowerbird, along with more familiar Barred Cuckooshrike, Victoria’s Riflebird, Spotted Catbird, Grey-headed Robin, and Pale-yellow Robin. A Pacific Baza here was a nice treat, especially as it gave some perched views.
Our afternoon birding took us into some dry areas. A brief stop in a rainforest gully gave us our best perched views of White-headed Pigeon and Brown Cuckoo-Dove as well as brief glimpses of Yellow-breasted Boatbill and Lovely Fairywren. Once in the dry country we were quickly enjoying great views of Banded Honeyeater, Blue-faced Honeyeater, Red-winged Parrot, Brush Cuckoo, Lemon-bellied Flyrobin, and White-bellied Cuckooshrike. However, we were really here to look for Australian Bustard, and as the temperature dropped the bustards appeared in decent numbers, some giving very close views. We really enjoyed watching a male standing in the road, puffing himself up and displaying, an amazing sight and sound thoroughly enjoyed by all.
There was one final bonus species for the day, a couple of scarce Oriental Plovers, an early birthday present for Andy!
Day 15, 11th November 2018. Daintree River Cruise and transfer to Cairns
The final day of the tour saw us make an early start from Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge to allow us to get to the Daintree River for an early-morning boat trip. We met the local boatman Murray and headed out on the river. Birds came thick and fast, and over the course of our two hours we recorded over 70 species! An early highlight was a Black Bittern that flew out of some dense vegetation right over our heads. We then had good views of White-browed Crake and Buff-banded Rail, but the best was yet to come when we found two Pale-vented Bush-hens walking about in the open right on the water’s edge, allowing excellent views of this mega-skulking species. Another major highlight was a nesting Papuan Frogmouth with young at the nest with other species such as Black Butcherbird, Shining Flycatcher, Large-billed Gerygone, and Magpie Goose nearby.
As we headed down a small creek we found a couple of rather close Azure Kingfishers, a really pretty bird, and then also enjoyed the beautiful Pacific Baza perching. Other new birds (or better looks at least) included Green Oriole, Hornbill Friarbird, and Olive-backed Sunbird. We also saw a pretty Common (Green) Tree Snake hanging in the mangroves. The highlights of this boat trip could go on and on!
After breakfast we headed back to Cairns. Along the way we found a field containing several Pacific Golden Plovers, a new trip bird that was pleasing but soon overshadowed dramatically when we found two Australian Pratincoles and another Oriental Plover. Incredible scenes! The beach was covered in terns of several species, and Far Eastern Curlew was quite noticeable, standing head and shoulders above most on the beach.
We made a brief stop in the Cattana area, where we had good views of several Green Pygmy Geese along with a flock of Wandering Whistling Ducks. Nearby a few Crimson Finches were also found, but the sight of about one hundred Chestnut-breasted Mannikins would take some beating.
Our planned final stop of the trip was the Centenary Lakes area. In no time at all we had excellent views of several Raja Shelducks, a really stunning bird. Most of the other birds we were now very familiar with, but it was still nice to see the likes of Bush Stone-curlew, Black Butcherbird, and Grey Goshawk.
After this we checked into our hotel, cleaned up, and headed for our final dinner. However, the birds had other plans… The Cairns Esplanade, deadly quiet earlier in the week, was absolutely heaving with birds, thousands of them. A quick decision to postpone dinner slightly was a good move, since we added many new shorebirds to our list, such as Great Knot, Greater Sand Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, and Grey-tailed Tattler. Lots of other birds were numerous too, such as Whimbrel, Far Eastern Curlew, Red-necked Stint, and Terek Sandpiper. This turned out to be an excellent and fitting way to end the tour, which we did after a lovely meal and a nice bottle to celebrate all that we’d seen and done on the tour over the previous few weeks.
Day 16, 12th November 2018. Tour Concludes in Cairns
Those of us with a slightly later departure enjoyed a bit of extra birding along the Esplanade and found Broad-billed Sandpiper, Pied Oystercatcher, and many other shorebirds, all giving excellent, close views. Scaly-breasted Munia was added at the airport too!
We all had had a wonderful few weeks exploring the eastside of this amazing continent-country (and Tasmania before this also). So many beautiful, rare, interesting, and odd birds and a range of incredible other creatures too! Southern Cassowary was voted Tim and Kay’s “Bird of the Trip”, and Sandra chose the nesting pair of Restless Flycatchers as her “Bird of the Trip”.
 Note that because all clients had taken our Tasmania pre-tour immediately before this tour we did not try for several species that we usually would seek out on this tour in Victoria (e.g. Hooded Dotterel, Little Penguin, etc.), as we had already seen them well in Tasmania, and so we spent time instead looking for other species in order to maximize potential sightings of new birds and other opportunities.
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included.