Duration: 17 days
Group Size: 4 – 8
Spaces available: 6
Date Start: October 30, 2020
Date End: November 15, 2020
Tour Start: Melbourne
Tour End: Cairns
Australia, the island continent, is a remote landmass that drifted away from Antarctica tens of millions of years ago. Without significant volcanic activity and other mountain-building forces it is also the flattest continent with the world’s oldest soils. Despite its lack of topography, this incredible landmass is one of extremes. The Outback, the continent’s core, is a vast and hostile desert with unpredictable weather patterns that sometimes flush the landscape with green. Along the edges, more regular precipitation allows ancient rainforests, heathlands, and fire-resistant sclerophyll woodlands to grow. Due to its long isolation and harsh environments, Australia is now home to birds of a different feather, including eight endemic bird families and a further seven shared only with neighboring New Guinea. More than 300 bird species are endemic to Australia, making it second only to Indonesia in this regard. Throughout this country’s every extreme, its amazing avifauna has shown the adaptability and resiliency to survive in even the most challenging environments. In addition, this avifauna is just dripping with charismatic species, from bowerbirds to parrots to fairywrens to kookaburras to cassowaries to lyrebirds. Throughout the course of this tour we sample habitats ranging from the arid plains north of Deniliquin to the wet rainforests of the Atherton Tablelands in search of as many of these wonderful birds as possible, while also appreciating the many other unique plants and animals along the way.
Our journey begins at the cosmopolitan city of Melbourne, Victoria, in southeast Australia, visiting coastal heathland for several localized habitat specialists such as Gang-gang Cockatoo and Beautiful Firetail. Further north and west towards the interior, arid mallee vegetation and saline lakes provide habitat for the mound-building Malleefowl, the impossibly-blue Splendid Fairywren, and the evocatively-named Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, among a host of other species. On one evening we make a special effort to observe the monotypic Plains-wanderer in the dry plains north of Deniliquin in New South Wales before swinging southeast through the sclerophyll forests of Chiltern and the temperate forests near Melbourne for targets such as Turquoise Parrot and Superb Lyrebird.
After an internal flight from Melbourne to Brisbane, Queensland, we drive up to the famous O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, nestled within a large tract of subtropical rainforest, for a totally new set of birds such as Paradise Riflebird, Regent Bowerbird, Satin Bowerbird, Noisy Pitta, Albert’s Lyrebird, and Australian Logrunner.
On the last leg of our journey we explore the wet tropics of far-northern Queensland to explore one of the world’s most ancient rainforests for key species such as Southern Cassowary and Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher. We also take a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef, where the colors and diversity of the fish and corals rival those of the birds. Evening spotlighting sessions on many of these nights should also produce a host of endearing and unusual nocturnal birds and mammals, which may include Papuan Frogmouth and Barking Owl. Other target birds in the north include Australian Bustard, Victoria’s Riflebird, Tooth-billed, Great, and Golden Bowerbirds, and Great-billed Heron.
During our time in Australia we will look for some of the country’s incredible and unique animals, including Platypus, Short-beaked Echidna, Koala, Red Kangaroo, Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Common Ringtail Possum, Common Brushtail Possum, Musky Rat Kangaroo, and Common Wombat. The birds in Australia are incredible, but so are the mammals, reptiles, and amphibians that we will see; they combine to result in an awesome wildlife-filled experience. This continent is a naturalist’s dream!
For those wishing to continue exploring Australia, this tour can be combined with our set of tours preceding and following this one: preceding this tour is Australia: Tasmania and the Orange-bellied Parrot 2020 (24 – 29 October 2020) and following this tour we offer Australia: Top End Birding 2020 (16 – 24 November 2020) followed by Australia: Southwest Specialties 2020 (25 November – 3 December 2020), so that all four Australia tours could be combined. We can also arrange other extensions (e.g., sightseeing trips to Sydney, Uluru, etc., and pelagic trips).
Itinerary (17 days/16 nights):
Day 1. Melbourne to Aireys Inlet
After our morning arrival at Melbourne International Airport we drive to the world-famous Werribee Western Treatment Plant. Included in the Ramsar list of Wetlands of International Importance in 1983, this extremely rich site contains a network of sewage treatment lagoons, unmodified saltmarsh, creeks, and lakes, which host large numbers of both sedentary and migratory waterbirds. Among a wide assortment of other species, Freckled Duck, Pink-eared Duck, and Musk Duck will be top priorities, as well as the secretive Australian Crake and the highly localized Striated Fieldwren. We then continue southward along the coast to Aireys Inlet for the night.
Overnight: Aireys Inlet
Day 2. Aireys Inlet to central Victoria
Composed of dense, low shrubs and scattered, twisted trees, coastal heathland occurs on impoverished soils with poor drainage. Despite the nutrient-poor soils, this habitat boasts a very high diversity of plants as well as a unique community of birds that depend on them. We spend most of the morning exploring the scenic coastal heathlands of southwest Victoria, seeking out some of these unique species, such as Southern Emu-wren, Beautiful Firetail, and Rufous Bristlebird. Areas of taller vegetation may host the endearing Gang-gang Cockatoo, while a sea watch may yield Black-browed Albatross,Australasian Gannet, and other pelagic birds offshore. As the day progresses we drive inland into central Victoria for our first taste of box-ironbark forest, a habitat endemic to Australia. Because the component tree species in this habitat are such prolific flower and nectar producers, there is a correspondingly high diversity of nectar-feeding honeyeaters and lorikeets, including the normally scarce and local Purple-gaped Honeyeater, White-fronted Honeyeater, and Purple-crowned Lorikeet.
Day 3. Central Victoria to Ouyen
After some brief morning birding to target any species we may have missed, we continue onward to Wyperfeld National Park in northwestern Victoria. Along the way we will stop at Lake Tyrrell, a salt-crusted and mostly dry lake bed surrounded by saltbush and samphire. Despite its unlikely appearance this low vegetation is home to several charismatic birds, such as Orange Chat, White-winged Fairywren, and Bluebonnet, which we will target during our time here. Founded in 1921, Wyperfeld National Park protects a significant tract of semi-arid Mallee, woodland, and heathland. High on our list of priorities here is the appropriately named Malleefowl, notable for incubating its eggs in large nesting mounds. Southern Scrub-Robin, Splendid Fairywren, Southern Whiteface, and other birds of the dry Australian interior are also possible.
Day 4. Birding Hattah-Kulkyne National Park and Plains-wanderer
As one of Australia’s largest and most pristine Mallee reserves, Hattah-Kulkyne National Park boasts a wide variety of bird species which are much more difficult to see elsewhere, such as Mallee Emu-wren and Striated Grasswren. In addition to these two species we spend the morning here looking for one of the most spectacular parrots in all of Australia, Major Mitchell’s (Pink) Cockatoo. Hopefully, the cockatoo will be accompanied by a rich and colorful supporting cast of dry country specialties, such as Regent Parrot, Mulga Parrot, Crested Bellbird, and Emu. Nearby, Lake Tutchewop may hold the elegant Red-necked Avocet and the dapper Banded Stilt. As the day heats up and activity begins to wane, we drive over to Deniliquin. On this evening we go out with Philip Maher to search for the bizarre Plains-wanderer, the sole representative of an endemic Australian family most closely related to the shorebirds. Although this species is the star attraction of this site, we may also encounter other birds, such as Inland Dotterel and Banded Lapwing, on this nocturnal foray.
Day 5. Transfer to Chiltern via Gulpa Island
After a late night we allow ourselves to sleep in a little bit before continuing our journey to Chiltern via Gulpa Island and various other sites in the Riverina bioregion. Targets on this more laid-back day include the vivid Superb Parrot, the elusive Gilbert’s Whistler, and the striking White-backed Swallow.
Day 6. Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park to Healesville
Established in October 2002, Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park protects what is arguably the best flora and fauna assemblage of box-ironbark forest and woodland in Australia, as well as forming an important link between the foothills of the Australian Alps with the plains of the Murray River. The trees which define this habitat produce an abundance of nectar when flowering, attracting birds from far and wide. The sounds of birds can be almost deafening during these times! Targets attracted to these blooms include Little Lorikeet, Black-chinned Honeyeater, Painted Honeyeater, and perhaps even the critically endangered Regent Honeyeater (this site being one of its last strongholds). Elsewhere in the forest we search for the rainbow-like Turquoise Parrot, the bark-peeling Crested Shriketit, the ground-dwelling Speckled Warbler, and more. After lunch we continue our journey southward to the town of Healesville, near the city of Melbourne, for the night. Here we will have a chance for some evening spotlighting for birds (Greater Sooty Owl, White-throated Nightjar) and mammals.
Day 7. Birding near Melbourne
We spend most of the day at Bunyip State Park about 40 miles east of Melbourne, birding wet sclerophyll forest and swampy heathlands. Within these mossy forests we hope to find several of Australia’s most charismatic and emblematic birds. Superb Lyrebird, an unrivalled mimic and the world’s largest songbird, will be chief among our targets. The forest and heathland communities are also home to Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Eastern Whipbird,Flame Robin, Rose Robin, Red-browed Treecreeper, and more. Once we make the drive to our hotel near the airport in the late afternoon we also stop at a site within the city of Melbourne for Little Penguin.
Day 8. Transfer from Melbourne to Lamington National Park
After an early morning flight we arrive in Brisbane, the state capital of Queensland, to continue our tour. We first stop at a few mangrove sites near the airport itself, searching for the endemic Mangrove Honeyeater and Mangrove Gerygone. Nearby wetland sites often hold the elusive Spotless Crake,and we should obtain our first sightings of Comb-crested Jacana, Red-backed Fairywren, and more while we search for it. Afterwards we drive to the world-famous O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat. A colorful and interesting suite of birds attends the lodge feeders here, including Crimson Rosella, Australian King Parrot, Regent Bowerbird, Satin Bowerbird, Australian Brushturkey, and Wonga Pigeon. These birds are unusually tame, often feeding right out of people’s hands and providing excellent opportunities for photography.
Overnight: O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat
Day 9. Full day birding Lamington National Park
Situated in the heart of Lamington National Park, O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat is well known for its rainforest location, diverse wildlife, and interesting history. Using the lodge as our base, we spend the better part of the day exploring the verdant network of subtropical rainforest trails in search of several spectacular birds unique to the area. Albert’s Lyrebird, Australian Logrunner, and Noisy Pitta inhabit the forest understory, while birds in the midstory and canopy include Paradise Riflebird, Topknot Pigeon, and Green Catbird. We will make a concerted effort to see all of these species during our stay, as well as leaving time to enjoy the site’s good variety of mammals.
Overnight: O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat
Day 10. Transfer from Brisbane to Cairns, birding the Cairns Esplanade
We need an early start for today to bird a site or two around Brisbane before catching our flight to Cairns. Depending on recent reports this morning’s targets may include normally rather difficult and scarce species such as Square-tailed Kite, Glossy Black Cockatoo, or White-eared Monarch. Upon arrival in Cairns we pay an afternoon visit to the Cairns Botanical Gardens and Centenary Lakes to give us our first taste of the Australian wet tropics. This lush park is home to a rich assortment of birds, including Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Bush Stone-curlew, Torresian Imperial Pigeon, Black Butcherbird, and more. As the afternoon wears on a variety of woodland species, such as Rainbow Bee-eater, Brown-backed Honeyeater, and Yellow Honeyeater, becomes more active, often bathing on the edges of a freshwater lake. With careful attention to the tide table we make the short jaunt over to the Cairns Esplanade to enjoy its large variety of shorebirds, from the hulking Far Eastern Curlew to the dainty Terek Sandpiper. We also check a short stretch of mangrove forest nearby for Mangrove Robin and Varied Honeyeater, localized habitat specialists.
Day 11. Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is an ecosystem of many superlatives that no words can do justice. After breakfast we board a boat that will take us out to experience this incredible reef system. Our first stop is Michaelmas Cay, a tiny islet that hosts an impressive number of nesting seabirds. Sooty Tern, Brown Noddy, and Greater Crested Tern dominate, but Lesser Crested Tern, Black Noddy, and Black-naped Tern are also possible. Brown Boobycan be seen perched on man-made structures, while marauding Great and Lesser Frigatebirds often soar overhead. The boat then makes a stop at Hastings Reef, where there will be an option to snorkel or take a glass bottom boat tour. When we return to shore in the afternoon we head west to Cassowary House for the night.
Overnight: Cassowary House, Kuranda
Day 12. Birding near Kuranda, transfer to Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodges
Our main target for today is the hulking Southern Cassowary, the largest bird in Australia by weight. Cassowary House has hosted a family of these imposing birds for many years. While we venture off to a nearby rainforest road in the morning for our first shot at a variety of new fruit doves, monarch flycatchers, and honeyeaters, we will remain in contact with our lodge host, should a cassowary venture into the gardens. Other visitors to the Cassowary House feeders include the normally reclusive Red-necked Crake as well as Common Emerald Dove and Macleay’s Honeyeater. At some point in the afternoon we continue our journey southwest to the Atherton Tablelands, but not without stopping at a couple of wetland sites for Sarus Crane and Brolga, Wandering and Plumed Whistling Ducks, and other open-country species.
Overnight: Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodges, Eacham Close
Day 13. Birding Atherton Tablelands
We spent the course of the next two days visiting a variety of sites on the Atherton Tablelands, a fertile plateau hosting several habitats from high altitude rainforest to drier eucalypt woodland. There will be a lot of targets to fit into the next couple of days, so expect long days as we try to connect with as many of them as possible! Although we will keep our itinerary flexible based on our growing trip list, we will likely spend the first day birding the cooler wet forest of Mount Hypipamee National Park, Lake Barrine, and the Curtain Fig Tree for Tooth-billed Bowerbird, Golden Bowerbird, Wompoo Fruit Dove, Grey-headed Robin, Chowchilla, and more.
Overnight: Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodges, Eacham Close
Day 14. Birding Atherton Tablelands
On our second day in the area we make our way northward along the much drier eastern edge of the Atherton Tablelands, stopping at various sites, which may include Granite Gorge Nature Park, Mount Carbine, Lake Mitchell, and the Maryfarms Road. Much like on the previous day there will be no shortage of potential targets. Australian Bustard, Squatter Pigeon, Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Blue-winged Kookaburra, and Great Bowerbird are only a sample of the many wonderful birds we may encounter today. After a long day of birding we settle in at Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge for the next two nights.
Overnight: KingfisherPark Birdwatchers Lodge
Day 15. Birding Mount Lewis and Kingfisher Park BirdwatchersLodge
The signature species at Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge, Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher, is fully migratory in this part of its range, arriving in November to nest with the advent of the rainy season. We carefully time this itinerary to coincide with the arrival of this spectacular kingfisher to the Atherton Tablelands. Otherwise the day will be mostly about connecting with species that we may have previously missed during our travels, such as Yellow-breasted Boatbill and Noisy Pitta. The high altitude rainforest at Mount Lewis offers another chance at Golden Bowerbird, Fernwren, Mountain Thornbill, and more. Evening spotlighting on the lodge grounds may produce a Lesser Sooty Owl or a Barking Owl.
Overnight: KingfisherPark Birdwatchers Lodge
Day 16. Daintree River Cruise
We will need an early start today to arrive in time for our cruise along the scenic Daintree River. By scanning the sandy banks and lush riverside vegetation from the comfort of our boat we will keep a sharp eye out for the bulky Great-billed Heron, family groups of Shining Flycatcher, the cryptically camouflaged Papuan Frogmouth, and flocks of the diminutive Double-eyed Fig Parrot – maybe even the rare Little Kingfisher. Back on dry land we will search the surrounding forest for Lovely Fairywren and the sandy beaches for Beach Stone-curlew, before driving south towards Cattana Wetlands in the afternoon. Here we hope to obtain views of the vivid Crimson Finch and the retiring White-browed Crake.
Day 17. Transfer to Cairns International Airport
After some optional early morning birding, to connect with any birds we may still be missing we transfer to the Cairns International Airport, where the tour ends.
Please note that the detailed itinerary below cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors.
Andy is a superb guide with a wonderful knowledge of birds and where to find them. He is enthusiastic and keen, great company and a real pleasure to bird with. Our Australian trip was very successful in terms of sightings and also really enjoyable. Andy played a big part in that with his superb organisation, excellent birding skills, easy-going nature and positive attitude. I would happily join Andy on a birding trip again and hope to be able to do so later this year!
Janice, Kent – UK
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