Welcome to Birdquest
Thursday 20th October - Wednesday 9th November 2016
Eastern Australia is a highly diverse region with a range of habitats hosting a rich and varied avifauna. This tour covered a wide range of these habitats as is possible in three weeks, including eucalypt woodland, wet forests and sandstone country around Sydney, pelagic waters and coastal estuary around Newcastle, upland beech forest in northern New South Wales, rainforest in southeast Queensland, mangrove and dry sclerophyll around Brisbane and the tremendous diversity of habitats the Wet Tropics of north Queensland has to offer.
As is often the way with these trips, the weather plays a huge part in influencing the birds seen. Even conditions leading up to the trip exert an influence, inland rains earlier in the year resulting in waterfowl and many other species deserting the coastal strip, - however we did very well for these species, albeit in much reduced numbers. Despite conditions every leader dreads at Barren Grounds in New South Wales (wind and rain) we cleaned up at that site, and we successfully located the very restricted range Eungella Honeyeater through the dense cloud in central Queensland. Conditions ranged from around 1c around the higher parts of New South Wales, to sweltering in 37c heat waiting for finches to come in to drink in north Queensland, and by and large we were blessed with pleasant weather, enabling us to bird at most times, aside from the odd break in the middle of the day.
Three weeks offered a whistlestop tour of these habitats and the special birds they have to offer, and we recorded a tremendous total of 364 species (five heard only) in the three weeks. The trip started with a bang in Sydney with eye to eye views of a roosting Powerful Owl in Sydney, views of Rock Warbler (New South Wales’ only endemic species) often too close to focus the camera on, cracking views of Bassian Thrush, Square-tailed Kite and Superb Lyrebird on the outskirts of Sydney all on the first day. The pace did not let up, with subsequent days bringing the specialities of the sandstone escarpment country, including great views of Pilotbird, Eastern Ground Parrot, Eastern Bristlebird and Southern Emu-wren – all traditionally skulkers - despite the conditions, and the birds came thick and fast in the iconic Capertee Valley including Plum-headed Finch, Crested Shrike Tit and Turquoise Parrot.
On to the central coast of New South Wales and as always the pelagic was a highlight of the trip, with three species of albatross and a number of other tubenoses seen. On land we had breathtaking views of Lewin’s Rail, one of the hardest species to see well in Australia. North of Newcastle, the beech forests of Gloucester Tops provided a few local specialities including Red-browed Treecreeper, the delightful Flame Robin, Olive Whistler, and for a lucky few brief views of probably Australia’s most elusive species, the Rufous Scrub-bird.
Having exhausted what New South Wales had to offer, it was on to Queensland, Australia’s most bird rich state. The world-famous O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat proved to be a jam-packed couple of days, with all its specialities seen well, including Paradise Riflebird, the gaudy Regent Bowerbird and Noisy Pitta, fantastic views of two squabbling Albert’s Lyrebird, often a hard bird to track down here, and Marbled Frogmouth, surely a candidate to be split from the Marbled Frogmouth of far north Queensland and Papua New Guinea.
Around Brisbane and southeast Queensland, key species such as Beach Stone Curlew, Mangrove Honeyeater, Grass Owl and Large-tailed Nightjar were all recorded. A short-stop off in central Queensland provided the restricted range endemic Eungella Honeyeater.
Finally it was on to the wet tropics of north Queensland – Australia’s most bird rich region, where all the wet tropics endemics and more were seen including Victoria’s Riflebird, Golden Bowerbird, Blue-faced Parrot-finch, Red-necked Crake, Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher, Black-throated Finch, Lesser Sooty Owl and Southern Cassowary.
Throughout the trip, iconic Aussie species such as Laughing Kookaburra, Black Swan, Emu, Galah, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and Tawny Frogmouth all did not disappoint and showed incredibly well for the photographers. As well as the obviously very special birds, many special Australian mammal species were seen, including both its monotremes (egg laying mammals) – the Platypus and Echidna – and around Cairns, the fabulous Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo, a reminder of the close links of this region to Papua New Guinea.