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OUTBACK QUEENSLAND

Friday 5th October - Tuesday 23rd October 2018

Josh Bergmark

Carpentarian Grasswren (Josh Bergmark)

Carpentarian Grasswren (Josh Bergmark)

With a plethora of newly split species available, and some high quantity rainfall earlier in the year preceding the tour, this year’s new-look itinerary was always going to be an exciting excursion into areas of Queensland much more remote than those usually covered on traditional birding routes. While traversing some of the most stunning landscapes in Australia, we once again connected with almost all of our usual targets, along with a couple of more unusual species, three of which were still Birdquest lifers until recently! After leaving Cairns and successfully navigating the first stretch of the Peninsula Development Road with a sneaky Squatter Pigeon spotted along the way, we had a memorable afternoon exploring the birdy billabong behind Lotusbird Lodge complete hundreds of strange Magpie Geese honking away, imposing Black-necked Storks and dainty Brolgas, localised Black-backed Butcherbirds, plus resident Southern Boobooks only a few trees over from the roosting Papuan Frogmouths! Endangered Golden-shouldered Parrots drinking only metres away from us the next morning with a covey of Masked Finches certainly took some beating for bird of the trip, and we enjoyed a plethora of diamond birds during the day as we explored the woodlands and nearby tropical grasslands. Hundreds of mesmerising Star Finches fed in the seeding vegetation with Black-throated Finches, and a rare Red-chested Buttonquail was put up in front of us giving good flight views. Spotlighting in the same area allowed us stunning encounters with a magnificent Eastern Grass Owl, some Red-backed Buttonquail, and another Red-chested Buttonquail, plus the crowd-pleasing Australian Owlet Nightjar.

Moving north, we dove straight into the pristine lowland rainforest of Iron Range, where the whole group had fabulous views of the newly split and highly localised Cape York endemics, Frill-necked Monarch and Northern Scrub Robin. Both played hard to get initially, but showed better than we could have hoped in the end! The region also hosts other desirables such as the stunning Palm Cockatoo, eclectic Eclectus Parrot, nesting Double-eyed Fig Parrots and Red-cheeked Parrots, bubbling Marbled Frogmouth, masterful Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, localised Tropical Scrubwren, White-browed Robin, colourful White-faced Robin, challenging Yellow-legged Flyrobin, superb Magnificent Riflebird, the reclusive Black-eared Catbird, and of course our final Cape York endemic target, the subtle White-streaked Honeyeater. The coastline here also produced lovely Beach Stone-curlews, Lesser Crested Terns, Eastern Reef Egrets, Metallic Starlings and Torresian Imperial Pigeons in huge flocks, and nesting Bridled Terns on some small rocks offshore.

Visiting such remote areas of Australia obviously requires a substantial amount of driving across this huge continent, and indeed this tour we covered just a tad over 8000kms. A lot of time on the road, but our days in the car were truly far from tedious! Short stops on our way inland after Cape York allowed us to view not only monstrous Southern Cassowaries from only metres away, but also charismatic Spotted Bowerbirds and Apostlebirds, pretty Pale-headed Rosellas, Australian Bustards, mighty Wedge-tailed Eagles, Brown Songlarks and Brown Falcons. After arriving in the outback town of Winton, we set our sights on a whole new suite of inland species, and over the following days notched up walkaway views of all three target grasswrens – Carpentarian, Kalkadoon, and Rusty. Birds of Australia’s arid zone were easy to come by - flocks of Budgerigars hundreds strong in tightly-knit groups, Emus beside the road which dutifully appear perpetually disinterested, Inland Dotterels hiding amongst the saltbush, Spinifex Pigeons with comically tufted heads displaying to each other, and Australian Pratincoles standing all over the place proved to be favourites, all seen regularly, and often at point blank!

Specialty birds of the area were a key component of the trip too of course, with Flock Bronzewings seen well this year (appearing somewhat flockless) and Rufous-crowned Emu-wrens darting furtively between spinifex bushes before popping up on open branches right before our eyes, Hall’s Babblers eventually appearing after an arduous search, and Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush literally running circles around the very happy group. Finding no less than nine Grey Falcons, with one particularly stunning encounter with a male in the setting sun, was of course a big big highlight for everybody, but lucking across a group of extremely rare post-breeding Letter-winged Kites which burst out of a tree by the side of the road and hovered above us was unanimously accepted as the absolute trip highlight! We tried to improve on this by having fair crack at seeing Night Parrot, but no luck this time. Many of Australia’s most exciting desert birds were observed regularly during our circuit of the remote Channel Country, having all bred up early in the year and not quite ready to disperse yet. Gaudy Crimson Chats were regular, but we also found Orange Chats, superb Yellow Chats, and possibly the best of the bunch, Gibberbird. Noisy Cockatiels and Budgerigars were a regular feature, while Black Falcon, Banded Lapwing and Yellow-billed Spoonbill remained somewhat elusive until the last minute! Plum-headed Finches, strange Pink-eared Ducks, Freckled Ducks, and speedy Black-tailed Nativehens obliged at the sewage works, and in some good woodland Masked Woodswallows mixed with Little Woodswallows, Black Honeyeaters, stunning Painted Finches, and two special Red-browed Pardalotes. Thousands of Galahs circled above us coming to roost in the remote settlement of Boulia where the Cloncurry form of Australian Ringneck was also present. To the south Red-necked Avocets were located on a drying pond, and White-backed Swallows circled above us as Little Crows and Australian Ravens watched on. We had to wait until Mount Isa to notch up Long-tailed Finch and Pictorella Mannikin at some drinking pools, with Black-tailed Treecreeper and Varied Lorikeet nearby.

Short periods in Cairns as we passed through allowed us to get to grips with Mangrove Robin, Crimson Finch, Chestnut-breasted Mannikin, Bush Stone-curlew, and a variety of lovely waders on the esplanade, but we also had time to indulge in some mammal watching during our time down under, and notched up an impressive list of Macropods (kangaroos, wallabies and allies) which included hulking Red Kangaroos, beautiful Purple-necked Rock-wallabies, adorable Rufous Bettongs and Spectacled Hare-wallabies, plus a bonus Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo! Short-beaked Echidna, Stripe-faced Dunnart, Northern Brown Bandicoot and Common Spotted Cuscus were also highlights. Some even found the time to form a fairly impressive butterfly list, while we also paid attention to some lovely reptiles and amphibians like the exquisite Black-headed Python and huge White-lipped Tree Frog. The tour ended with 318 birds having been recorded (only one of which was heard only, and one not leader sighting), along with 18 mammals, some excellent reptiles, and a couple of frogs to round off an eventful expedition into the outback, and beyond.

Inland Dotterel (Josh Bergmark)

Inland Dotterel (Josh Bergmark)