EASTERN AUSTRALIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Eastern Australia: Day 1 Our Eastern Australia tour begins this evening at our Sydney area hotel, where we will stay for two nights.
Eastern Australia: Day 2 This morning we will explore some extensive tracts of ‘bush’ to the south of the city.
Here we will be concentrating on finding the strange Rockwarbler (or Origma), a species restricted to sandstone outcrops in the forest. Other species of interest in the eucalypt forest and the heathland include the smart Wonga Pigeon and Beautiful Firetail. We also have a first chance of coming across the remarkable Superb Lyrebird, which is not uncommon in the area.
Later we will pay a brief visit to the waterfront in Sydney to admire the world-famous view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House en route to a regular daytime roost of the impressive Powerful Owl.
More widespread birds we should see today include Little Pied Cormorant, Australian White Ibis, Pacific Black and Maned (or Australian Wood) Ducks, Dusky Moorhen, Australian Swamphen, Silver Gull, the introduced Spotted Dove, Crested Pigeon, Little Corella, the raucous Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Rainbow Lorikeet, Australian King Parrot, Crimson and Eastern Rosellas, the huge Laughing Kookaburra, Azure Kingfisher and Oriental Dollarbird.
Passerines include White-throated Treecreeper, the bulky Satin Bowerbird, Superb Fairywren, White-browed Scrubwren, Brown Gerygone, Striated and Brown Thornbills, Spotted Pardalote, Lewin’s, Yellow-faced, Tawny-crowned and New Holland Honeyeaters, Eastern Spinebill, Red Wattlebird, the appropriately-named Noisy Miner, Black-faced Cuckooshrike, Common Golden and Rufous Whistlers, Grey Shrike-thrush, Australian Magpie, Pied Currawong, Grey Fantail, Willie Wagtail, Leaden Flycatcher, Australian Raven, the strange Magpie-lark, Eastern Yellow Robin, Welcome Swallow and the introduced Common Myna.
Eastern Australia: Day 3 Early this morning we will head south to the Kiama area for an overnight stay. The wild coastal heathlands of this area are famous as one of the last strongholds of the critically endangered Eastern Bristlebird, which we will concentrate on locating. With persistence, we have a good chance of seeing this generally shy species. We will also be hoping for Fan-tailed Cuckoo, the delightful little Southern Emu-wren, Brush Wattlebird and, with luck, Pilotbird and Gang-gang Cockatoo. In another area of heathland, we will search for the uncommon and retiring Ground Parrot (which we will need some luck to see).
Eastern Australia: Day 4 After some final birding in the Kiama area we will head inland to Lithgow for a two nights stay.
Late this afternoon we will visit a small wetland area where we may well find the nomadic Pink-eared Duck and the localized Blue-billed Duck, as well as Hoary-headed Grebe, Australasian Shoveler, Grey and Chestnut Teals, Hardhead, Common (or Eurasian) Coot, Masked Lapwing and Australian Reed Warbler.
Eastern Australia: Day 5 The landscape of the Capertee Valley consists of rather dry, rugged sandstone hills and open eucalyptus woodland. The area is most notable for Turquoise Parrot, Regent Honeyeater and Plum-headed Finch, all three rather localized species of erratic occurrence. While looking for these sought-after birds, which may or may not be present at the time of our visit (they can be gone for long periods), we should also come across Eastern Shrike-tit and, with a great deal of luck, the rare Painted Honeyeater or Speckled Warbler.
Common and widespread species typical of the bird-rich Capertee Valley area include Australasian Grebe, White-faced Heron, Straw-necked Ibis, Australian (or Black-shouldered) Kite, Brown Goshawk, the impressive Wedge-tailed Eagle, Little Eagle, Brown Falcon, Nankeen (or Australian) Kestrel, Painted Buttonquail, Black-fronted Dotterel, Common Bronzewing, Peaceful Dove, Galah (a widespread yet beautiful cockatoo), Little Lorikeet, Red-rumped Parrot, Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo and Sacred Kingfisher.
Passerines include Brown Treecreeper, Yellow-rumped and Yellow Thornbills, Southern Whiteface, Striated Pardalote, Striped, Spiny-cheeked, Yellow-tufted, Fuscous, White-plumed, Black-chinned and White-naped Honeyeaters, the rather grotesque Noisy Friarbird, White-browed and Grey-crowned Babblers, Varied Sittella, White-winged Triller, Olive-backed Oriole, Masked, White-browed and Dusky Woodswallows, Pied and Grey Butcherbirds, Restless Flycatcher, the strange White-winged Chough, Jacky Winter, Hooded Robin, Tree and Fairy Martins, Rufous Songlark, Mistletoebird, Zebra, Double-barred and Red-browed Finches, the smart Diamond Firetail and Australasian Pipit. We also have a good chance of seeing the strange Australian Owlet-nightjar at a daytime roost. Mammals seem thin on the ground but should include Eastern Grey Kangaroo.
Eastern Australia: Day 6 After some final birding in the Capertee Valley area we will head northeast to Swansea, a small town situated just to the south of Newcastle, for a two nights stay. We will stop in the Blue Mountains en route to look for the shy Chestnut-rumped Heathwren. We should arrive in the Swansea area in time for some initial exploration.
Eastern Australia: Day 7 Today we will travel by boat out to the edge of the continental shelf in search of pelagic seabirds. Australia has a marvellous variety of seabirds in its coastal waters and we are likely to enjoy a spectacular and unforgettable performance during our hours at sea. Huge albatrosses are regularly in view, borne aloft on the wind before banking away across the waves, Pterodroma petrels bound high into the air and groups of shearwaters sweep from side to side as they follow the troughs between the waves. Frequently the birds come very close, providing amazing views.
The most interesting species on pelagics out of the Newcastle region of New South Wales are Gould’s Petrel (which is a restricted-range species with a local breeding population on Cabbage Tree Island north of Newcastle) and Providence Petrel (which formerly nested on Norfolk Island in vast numbers before it was exterminated by starving convicts, hence its vernacular name, and other introduced predators, and which now breeds only on Lord Howe Island and Phillip Island off Norfolk Island).
Amongst the other species we should see today are Gibson’s, Black-browed and Campbell Island Albatrosses, Great-winged Petrel, Wedge-tailed, Short-tailed, Hutton’s and Fluttering Shearwaters, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Great, Pied and Little Black Cormorants, Australian Pelican, Australasian Gannet and Greater Crested Tern. In addition, we should encounter at least three or four of the scarcer visitors to the area at this season, which include Wandering, Antipodean, Shy and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Cape and Kermadec Petrels, Flesh-footed and Sooty Shearwaters, Black-bellied and White-faced Storm Petrels, Brown Skua, and Pomarine, Arctic and Long-tailed Skuas (or Pomarine, Parasitic and Long-tailed Jaegers). Common Bottle-nosed Dolphin is regularly seen on these trips and we have a fair chance of Common or Risso’s Dolphins, or perhaps even a whale.
While on land in the Newcastle area, we will have some exciting landbirds to look for, including Greater Sooty Owl, Mangrove Gerygone and Spotted Quail-thrush. We will also be hoping to see Lewin’s Rail. While we should hear this secretive species, we will have to be lucky to actually see one creeping about in the rank vegetation.
Other species we should find in this part of Australia include Great Crested Grebe (this southern form, which remains in breeding dress all year, is a candidate for a split as Southern Crested Grebe), Australasian Darter, Eastern Cattle, Great, Intermediate and Little Egrets, White-necked (or Pacific) Heron, Royal Spoonbill, Black Swan, the strange Musk Duck, Whistling Kite, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Swamp Harrier, Australian Pied Oystercatcher, White-headed Stilt, the handsome Red-necked Avocet, Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, Pheasant Coucal, the splendid Tawny Frogmouth, Variegated Fairywren, White-throated Gerygone, Scarlet, Black-chinned, Fuscous and Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters, Australasian Figbird, Rufous Fantail, White-fronted Chat, Golden-headed Cisticola, Silvereye and Tawny Grassbird.
Eastern Australia: Day 8 After spending the morning birding in the Newcastle region we will head north to Gloucester for a two nights stay.
Eastern Australia: Day 9 Today we will explore the rich moss-clad forests high in the coastal ranges of New South Wales. Our main objective will be to track down Rufous Scrub-bird, the ‘mystery bird’ of the east coast forests. One of the most elusive of Australian birds, it is disinclined to show itself – preferring to run among and beneath the dense entanglements of vines, logs and fallen debris. Its call is so powerful that it seems almost deafening at close range, and yet it is such an accomplished mimic and ventriloquist that the owner of the voice is very hard to locate. The two species of scrub-bird (the only other being the equally elusive Noisy Scrub-bird of southwestern Australia) are classified as constituting a unique bird family. Since both species can be devilishly hard to see, this presents a real challenge to those wishing to see all the bird families of the world! In any event, this is definitely one of the very best places to try for this difficult bird.
Other birds we should encounter today include Australian Brushturkey, White-headed Pigeon, Shining Bronze Cuckoo, Superb Lyrebird, Large-billed Scrubwren, Buff-rumped Thornbill, the aptly-named Bell Miner, the noisy but secretive Eastern Whipbird, Red-browed Treecreeper, the isolated northern New South Wales form of the Forest Raven (sometimes split as Relict Raven), the exquisite Rose Robin and Bassian (or Australian Ground) Thrush. We may also find one or two of the scarcer or more elusive inhabitants of the forest, such as the impressive Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, the noisy Crescent Honeyeater, the secretive Satin Flycatcher, Olive Whistler or the lovely Flame Robin.
Eastern Australia: Day 10 Today we have a long drive northwards to the New South Wales-Queensland border where we will spend two nights at famous O’Reilly’s, a private enclave on the famous Lamington Plateau.
Eastern Australia: Day 11 High above the border between Queensland and New South Wales rise the 1000m high escarpments of the Lamington Plateau, a vast area of mountain peaks, cliffs, gorges and dense subtropical rainforest. One of the most interesting botanical features of Lamington is the forest of ancient Antarctic Beech that flourishes in the higher parts of the area. These gnarled, moss-covered giants are of tremendous age and many carry upon their limbs great clumps of staghorn, elkhorn and crowsnest ferns, and aerial orchids. Amidst this lush forest, several of the coastal rivers have their source and the many tributary creeks form innumerable waterfalls as they tumble from the high plateau in ribbons of white down the fern-covered cliffs before disappearing far below in inaccessible ravines.
The birdlife here is exciting and we should find such species as Topknot Pigeon, Brown Cuckoo-Dove, the marvellous Noisy Pitta, Yellow-throated Scrubwren, the characterful Australian Logrunner (watching a small party scurrying about the forest floor, turning over leaves in search of food is a delightful experience), Black-faced Monarch, Russet-tailed Thrush, Paradise Riflebird (one of Australia’s birds of paradise), Green Catbird and, with a bit of luck, the splendid Albert’s Lyrebird. Amongst the highlights of the area are the deep blue Satin Bowerbirds and stunning black and gold Regent Bowerbirds that come to feed out in the open, quite unafraid of nearby human beings. We should be able to observe the remarkable male Satin Bowerbird at its bower, which it decorates with whatever blue trinkets it can find – feathers, berries, bottle tops, plastic straws or anything else that is portable.
The local Crimson Rosellas and Australian King Parrots, and even the bowerbirds and Australian Brushturkeys, are inclined to mob anyone unwary enough to try to feed them! At night we will go out in search of the uncommon Australian Frogmouth (often lumped in Marbled, but surely deserving specific status) and Southern Boobook. Red-necked Pademelons can easily be seen around O’Reilly’s, whilst at nightfall, Mountain Possums come out to feed on food put out by the lodge staff.
In the farmlands lower down we should come across Pale-headed Rosella, Blue-faced Honeyeater, Spangled Drongo and Torresian Crow, while if we are really in luck we will find the uncommon and partly nomadic Glossy Black Cockatoo feeding on Casuarina seeds in the foothill forests.
Eastern Australia: Day 12 After spending most of the day at O’Reilly’s we will drive to nearby Brisbane for an overnight stay. At dusk, we have a good chance of observing White-throated Nightjar and Eastern Grass Owl.
Eastern Australia: Day 13 Early this morning we will have a chance to look for anything we have missed in the Brisbane region. Afterwards, we head northwards to Rainbow Beach for an overnight stay.
This afternoon we will visit a good area for the rare and threatened Black-breasted Buttonquail. We may have to be persistent, but we have a good chance of seeing this sought-after species. The restricted-range Mangrove Honeyeater is common in the coastal vegetation in the Rainbow Beach area, and we should also find our first Bar-shouldered Doves, Rainbow Bee-eaters, Red-backed Fairywrens and Little Friarbirds. This is also a good area for Australian Hobby.
Eastern Australia: Day 14 We can return to search for the buttonquail today if need be before we head northwards to Rockhampton for an overnight stay.
Around Rockhampton, we will be looking for the localized Yellow Chat, here of the endangered form macgregori, Bar-breasted Honeyeater and the widespread Zitting Cisticola.
Eastern Australia: Day 15 After some early morning birding around Rockhampton we will continue northwards to Eungella, perched atop a steep escarpment, for an overnight stay.
Here we will visit a favoured haunt of the shy Platypus, hoping to see this strange creature swimming about in a quiet pool. From a birding perspective, the star-attraction here is the Eungella Honeyeater, a species that was only described to science in 1983 and is restricted to the rainforests of the Eungella area. Luckily it is a common bird here, so we should have no problem finding several. This is also a good area for both Superb and Rose-crowned Fruit Doves.
Eastern Australia: Day 16 After some early morning birding or platypus-watching at Eungella if need be, we will head northwards to Tully for an overnight stay.
Late this afternoon we will visit nearby Mission Beach, where we have a first opportunity to pick up a number of rainforest species characteristic of northern Queensland and even the possibility of coming across a Southern Cassowary.
Eastern Australia: Day 17 The coastal belt from the Cairns region southwards is probably the best place in Australia in which to see Southern Cassowary, and that means the best place for seeing any kind of cassowary anywhere in the world, as birds in New Guinea and its islands are hunted and very shy! In spite of their huge size (the species is known to attain a height of up to 1.6m), cassowaries are often secretive and numbers in Australia are in decline due to habitat clearance and traffic fatalities. Early this morning we will visit a good area for the species and we have an excellent chance of one or more encounters with this wonderful creature.
Afterwards, we will continue on to Cairns for an overnight stay, arriving in time for a full afternoon of exploration.
Cairns is the gateway to one of Australia’s most outstanding birding areas. During our time here we shall visit sandy beaches, coastal mudflats, mangrove-lined creeks and a small area of lowland tropical rainforest. Birds we will be concentrating on while at Cairns include Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Double-eyed Fig Parrot, the splendid Rufous Owl, Lovely Fairywren and the restricted-range Varied Honeyeater.
Other birds we should encounter in the Cairns area include Black and Brahminy Kites, Grey Goshawk, Bush and Beach Thick-knees, Torresian Imperial Pigeon, Eastern (or Australian Koel), Australian Swiftlet, Forest and Collared Kingfishers, Yellow-spotted, Yellow, Brown, Brown-backed and Dusky Honeyeaters, Helmeted Friarbird, White-bellied Cuckooshrike, Yellow Oriole, Cicadabird, White-breasted Woodswallow, Black Butcherbird, Shining Flycatcher, Mangrove Robin, Yellow-bellied Sunbird, Scaly-breasted Munia (or Nutmeg Mannikin), Chestnut-breasted Mannikin, Crimson Finch and Metallic Starling.
The Cairns foreshore has long been famous for its large shorebird roost and many other waterbirds. Mercifully the area was saved from ‘development’ after a long campaign and now tourists and Cairns citizens wander along the boardwalk at the edge of the mudflats largely oblivious of the flocks of birds that are sometimes only a few metres from them! Amongst the many species that we should see here are Striated Heron, Eastern Osprey, Buff-banded Rail, Pacific Golden and Red-capped Plovers, Greater and Mongolian Sand Plovers, Eastern Curlew, Eurasian Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Greenshank, Grey-tailed Tattler, Terek, Curlew and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Great Knot, Red-necked Stint, and Little, Caspian and Gull-billed Terns. With a bit of luck, we will find Broad-billed Sandpiper as well.
Eastern Australia: Day 18 Today we will explore the Atherton Tablelands in order to check out arable fields and wetlands for Glossy Ibis, the impressive Black-necked Stork, Magpie Goose, Wandering and Plumed Whistling-Ducks, Green Pygmy-Goose (and perhaps Cotton Pygmy-Goose), Brolga and Sarus Crane. We will also have a first opportunity to look for some of the species listed for the Jullaten region.
Late in the day, we will drive north to Julatten for a four nights stay at famous Kingfisher Park.
Eastern Australia: Days 19-21 During our stay in this superb area, which is likely to be an unforgettable experience, we shall visit a number of different habitats. The rainforests of this area are the richest and most fascinating in Australia. A trickle of light filters down through the leafy canopy to reveal a prolific growth of ferns of every description. Huge epiphytic staghorns and elkhorns, together with innumerable smaller ferns, cling to the moss-covered trunks and branches of the giant trees of this luxuriant and perpetually damp environment. Living in the green twilight are such creatures as the enormous Cape York Birdwing Butterfly and a host of rainforest birds.
Amongst the birds we may well see in the northeast Queensland rainforests, or in the surrounding countryside with its pastures, open savanna and scattered wetlands, include Pacific Baza, Collared Sparrowhawk, Brown Quail, Emerald Dove, Wompoo Fruit Dove, Little Bronze Cuckoo, the gorgeous Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher (definitely one of the mega-birds of the tour, and newly-arrived from its winter quarters in New Guinea), Atherton Scrubwren, the secretive Fernwren, Mountain Thornbill, Graceful, Macleay’s and Bridled Honeyeaters, the noisy Chowchilla, Yellow-eyed (or Barred) Cuckooshrike, Varied Triller, Grey-headed and Pale-yellow Robins, Bower’s and Little Shrike-thrushes, Grey Whistler, Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Spectacled, White-eared and Pied Monarchs, Victoria’s Riflebird (a stunning bird of paradise!), Spotted Catbird and Tooth-billed Bowerbird. With luck, we will come across one or two of the more difficult species, such as a Red-necked Crake, Golden Bowerbird and Blue-faced Parrot-Finch.
Nightbirding may turn up Common Masked, Lesser Sooty and Eastern Barn Owls, as well as the incredible Papuan Frogmouth. We also have another chance here for Australian Owlet-nightjar.
As well as the moist habitats around Julatten itself, we will also penetrate drier habitats inland where we will be looking for such species as the huge Australian Bustard, Squatter Pigeon, the huge Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, the extraordinary Channel-billed Cuckoo, the impressive Blue-winged Kookaburra, Large-billed Gerygone, Weebill, White-gaped, Bar-breasted, Banded and White-throated Honeyeaters, the huge Great Bowerbird, the striking White-browed Robin and the uncommon and much sought-after Black-throated Finch. With luck, we will also see the rare Square-tailed Kite and both Yellow-tinted and Rufous-throated Honeyeaters.
Mammals we may well see during our visit include Platypus, Northern Brown Bandicoot, Common Brushtail Possum, Green Ringtail Possum, Musky Rat-Kangaroo, Agile Wallaby, Bush Rat and Black and Spectacled Flying-Foxes.
Eastern Australia: Day 22 After some final birding we will return to Cairns airport, where our Eastern Australia tour ends around midday.
LORD HOWE ISLAND PRE-TOUR EXTENSION
Lord Howe Island: Day 1 The tour begins this morning at Sydney airport, followed by a flight to Lord Howe Island. After settling into our accommodation, where we will spend four nights, we will begin our exploration of this marvellous island.
Lord Howe Island: Days 2-4 There are few places that take your breath away when you see images of them, but Lord Howe Island is certainly that kind of evocative place! Situated some 600 kilometres (370 miles) east of northern New South Wales in Australia and some 900 kilometres (560 miles) from Norfolk Island, this small but incredibly scenic and beautiful island, around 14.5 kilometres (9 miles) long, is a seabird paradise.
The southern end of the island is crowned by two gargantuan seamount summits, Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird, and their precipitous cliffs are home to thousands of nesting seabirds.
Most famous ornithologically for the endemic Lord Howe Woodhen, now common again after the controlling of introduced predators, Lord Howe has a wonderful collection of nesting seabirds including Black-winged Petrel, Flesh-footed and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Red-tailed Tropicbird, Masked Booby, Sooty Tern, the ethereal White Tern with its huge, kohl-rimmed eyes, Brown (or Common) and Black Noddies, and the lovely little Grey Ternlet. Providence Petrel is a winter breeder here, but we may be lucky enough to see a few lingering individuals.
During our stay, we plan to take a pelagic boat trip offshore, and if the wind and sea conditions are unusually clement we may be able to approach the stunningly impressive Ball’s Pyramid, a spire of rock that soars 562m (1844ft) out of the ocean and which is the world’s tallest sea stack. During our pelagic, we can expect to see both Kermadec Petrels (possibly all three morphs) and White-bellied Storm-Petrels (which here, uniquely, occur as pale, intermediate and dark morphs!), which nest on the Admiralty Islets north-east of Lord Howe. There will also be plenty of opportunities to see and photograph seabirds that we have otherwise only seen from the land up to now.
Only around 350 people live on Lord Howe and the numbers of visitors are very restricted so the island feels verdant, undeveloped and unspoiled. The waters around Lord Howe teem with fish life and offer fantastic snorkelling or diving. On the eastern side of Lord Howe, one of the most popular snorkelling spots is Ned’s Beach. People feed the Kingfish and Mullet there and the fish swim over to greet swimmers or paddlers near the shore, hoping for a tidbit. The shallow coral reefs of Ned’s are a fertile breeding ground for Surge Wrasse. On the western side of the island, a half-moon-shaped lagoon features several freshwater upwellings that are home to sea turtles, schools of catfish, Galapagos Whaler Sharks and a stunning diversity of fish life.
Onshore the lush, tropical landscape is punctuated by stands of wild rainforest that feature tall Banyan Trees and endemic Kentia Palms that are now one of the most widely distributed house-plant palms in the world. Aside from the woodhen, we will see the endemic sub-species of the Pied Currawong which is classified as threatened and the endemic sub-species of Golden Whistler. Other typical species here include Little Black and Great Cormorants, Pacific Black Duck, Nankeen (or Australian) Kestrel, Australian Swamphen, Pacific Golden Plover, Masked Lapwing, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Whimbrel, Wandering Tattler, Ruddy Turnstone, Pacific Emerald Dove, Sacred Kingfisher, Magpie-lark, Welcome Swallow, Silvereye and introduced Common Starling, Song Thrush and Common Blackbird.
During the time we will be on Lord Howe Island, it should be possible to witness the courtship display flights of Black-winged Petrels above their nesting grounds, which is quite a spectacle, and we will also see some of the island’s nesting Flesh-footed Shearwaters returning to their burrows at night, complete with an unearthly caterwauling!
Lord Howe Island: Day 5 The tour ends with a flight from Lord Howe Island to Sydney.