Welcome to Birdquest
Tuesday 14th October - Saturday 15th November 2014
Andy Jensen & Pete Morris
Eastern Australia has a reputation as having a huge variety of habitats and a great biodiversity, and this tour did not disappoint in that regard. To do this region full justice, one could easily spend a few months working from south to north along the coast, or vice versa, and venturing inland towards the centre of the continent and some of the more arid regions covered by the tour extension. However, with the reality of time constraints, we squeezed in virtually everything this region has to offer in the space of three weeks on the main tour, followed by an additional 12 days on the Queensland outback extension.
This vast region can turn on virtually any climatic condition also, although October is a relatively benign time of year when cyclones and searing heat are not likely. That said, on arrival in Sydney we were greeted by what the local media dubbed a “super-storm” which bought flash flooding to the city of Sydney and unseasonal snow to the Blue Mountains, and we ended the trip in the sun-baked grazing country inland from Cairns. During the intervening period, we were blessed with pleasant weather, which enabled easy birding at most times, aside from the occasional period during the middle of the day when the heat ensured that a siesta could be taken. The weather god’s even blessed us with the wind dropping sufficiently to allow the arranged pelagic to get out of Swansea, where we obtained point blank views of many different species of seabird, including both Antipodean and Wandering Albatross, which together were voted as bird of the trip.
It was clear from the trip that parts of Eastern Australia are in the grip of the early stages of a drought, as a result of the impending El Nino cycle, with many farmers doing it tough, and particularly graziers starting to feel the pinch. Although this was reflected in some areas, such as the late arrival of some summer migrants in North Queensland, and the unusually parched Capertee Valley west of Sydney, virtually all the eastern Australian endemics were seen.
Australia is home to an extraordinary avifauna, with an eclectic mix of gaudy, unique and often bizarre families and species, many of which are exceedingly tame. Highlights included the bizarre Superb Lyrebird showing incredibly well in the wet forest around Sydney, New South Wales’ only endemic species, the Rock Warbler entertaining us in the Capertee Valley singing from its rocky home, the gaudy and very obliging Regent Bowerbird in southeast Queensland, a vagrant Asian Dowitcher near Brisbane, the restricted range Eungella Honeyeater in central Queensland, and an extraordinary host of restricted range endemic species in the wet tropics of north Queensland, including Victoria’s Riflebird, Lesser Sooty Owl and Southern Cassowary.
Iconic species such as Laughing Kookaburra, Black Swan, Satin Bowerbird, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and Olive-backed Sunbird as usual generated plenty of interest for the first few sightings and showed incredibly well for the photographers, but by the end of the trip were relegated to mere supporting cast as the flow of new, exciting and showy species just kept on coming.
That said, Eastern Australia is home to its fair share of skulkers, and this tour did not disappoint when it came to connecting with these species. In New South Wales, we obtained fantastic views of the elusive Ground Parrot and Eastern Bristlebird in the heathland around Sydney as well as the skulking Pilotbird in the wetter forest areas, and were lucky to get views of probably Australia’s most elusive species, the Rufous Scrub-bird in the Barrington National Park. Moving into Queensland, we obtained stunning views of Albert’s Lyrebird at the famous O’Reilly’s in Lamington National Park, beat the crowds near Rainbow Beach to connect with the increasingly rare Black-breasted Button-quail, and in the Wet Tropics of North Queensland obtained memories that will last a lifetime with views of Rufous Owl, Golden Bowerbird and the elusive Fernwren.
Despite the change of leader, the extension continued in the same fashion, as target after target fell. It did get hot, indeed seriously hot around Mount Isa and Cunnamulla where daytime highs peaked at around 43OC, but once again we dodged the heat when we needed to and enjoyed many fabulous experiences. Particular mention should go to the fantastic flock of Golden-shouldered Parrots and amazing encounters with Red Goshawks in the far north; an unexpected flock of Spotted Whistling Ducks, White-streaked Honeyeaters and a gorgeous Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher in the Cooktown area; stunning Carpentarian and Kalkadoon Grasswrens, Spinifex Pigeons, gorgeous Painted Finches, Pictorella Mannikins and flocks of Oriental Plovers in the Mount Isa area; delightful Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrushes, Hall’s Babblers, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos, Bourke’s Parrots and beautiful Crimson Chats delighted, and as a last finale, we bagged Black Falcon, Banded Lapwings and superb Ground Cuckooshrikes in the Lockyer Valley on the final morning! To add to the fun, nomads such as Cockatiels, Budgerigars, Masked and White-browed Woodswallows and Pied Honeyeaters were also much in evidence. We were also looked after and fed superbly well by our many hosts!
In total, during the (nearly) five weeks, we amassed very close to 450 species (nearly 370 of which were recorded on the main tour), a very impressive total as it represents nearly three quarters of the regularly occurring mainland Australian species!! As well as this, a number of mammals and reptiles were seen, including point-blank views of the iconic Platypus.