AUSTRALIA AUGUST 2005 TRIP REPORT
by Robbie Fischer
Note: Links to many of the photos
including annotations by Joe Morlan have been added - 2 July 2006.
Joe Morlan and I arrived in Sydney
about 6:30 AM on Aug. 7 after a 15 hour flight from San
Francisco. We took a taxi to the Park Regis and left our luggage.
We had a couple hours to explore nearby Hyde Park
before our room would be ready. One of our first bird sightings was a pair of Laughing Kookaburras, a fitting
introduction to Australia.
Welcome Swallows hawked insects overhead and Magpie-larks
probed the ground. Pied Currawongs
called from the trees, and Noisy Miners
earned their name.
After a short rest, we visited Royal
and saw our first Crested Pigeons.
Huge bats hung in the trees wrapped in their wings. The pond contained Dusky Moorhens, White-eyed and Pacific
Black Ducks and a gorgeous Chestnut Teal. Little
Pied Cormorant and Little Black Cormorant shared the trees with nesting Australian
White Ibis feeding large chicks.
Masked Lapwings walked on
the lawn revealing their wing spurs. We walked all the way to the Sydney Opera House on a lovely, sunny day.
It s winter in Australia
but the temperature was in the fifties.
Monday morning we took a cab to Centennial
and spent the day getting acquainted with some common urban birds. Mixed flocks of Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
and Long-billed Corella walked
on the grass and we encountered our first Willie Wagtails, a bird as ubiquitous in Australia
as our Black Phoebe is in California.
Ponds in this park contained Dusky
Moorhens, Black-winged Stilts,
Black Swans with 6 cygnets,
Gray Teal, Musk
Duck, Purple Swamphens, copulating Great Cormorants, a pair of Darters
and a Royal Spoonbill. We saw a male Superb Fairy-Wren and were blown away by the intensity of the colors.
In an area near the lake, a Tawny
Frogmouth held its pose for a bit of digiscoping as did a Laughing
Kookaburra and a New Holland
After a restless, jet-lagged night, Joe took the train to Olympic Park at 6 AM while I watched
the sunrise over Sydney
from the 45th floor with a couple Pied Currawongs hoping for a hand out. Joe s trip turned out
to be quite an adventure and he added Red
Wattlebird to his growing list of photographed birds.
Our flight to Brisbane
left at 2 PM so we had to compress our birding into just a few hours. We stayed at the Hotel Explorer s Inn,
which comes highly recommended for the price but the rooms are really tiny. Fortunately, it was in walking
distance of the Roma Parklands and the Brisbane
so it was convenient for our shuttle coach to O Reilly s Rainforest Guest
House the next morning. This was our most expensive
indulgence, three nights with a great restaurant and room. O'Reilly's is in the mountains of Lamington
National Park and is well known
partly because you can hand feed Crimson Rosellas and King Parrots. O'Reilly's is also the place for bower birds;
the males make a courtship structure with sticks and some even use decorations, like the Satin
Bowerbird at its bower.
The weather here was quite cool, probably in the 50's but the few times we saw a weather report the temperatures
were in Celsius so who knew. I learned one of my favorite Australian phrases here; instead of "You're
welcome" as a response to thank you, the Aussies often say "No Worries". I think I'll adopt
Many birders who had visited O’Reilly’s over the years highly recommended it but times have
changed and the emphasis is more on “bush walking” and catering to day trippers up from the coast. The early
morning bird walk around the lodge was enjoyable but the longer morning hikes are very strenuous and no time is
allowed for seeking out birds we could hear in the forest. Most of the species we saw here we also saw elsewhere
on our trip. Overall, O’Reilly’s was an expensive disappointment.Nevertheless we enjoyed the confiding
Grey Butcherbirds, Lewin's
Honeyeaters, and elegant Regent
Bowerbirds on the grounds of the lodge.
On Saturday, the 13th, we flew back to Brisbane
for one night and checked out the local parks before our flight to tropical north Queensland
mid-afternoon. Roma Street Parkland is pleasant and we saw Buff-banded Rails here along with Pied
Butcherbird and Brown Honeyeater.
The Brisbane Botanic
Park was lovely, with a boardwalk
through the mangroves along the Brisbane
This was the only place we saw Mangrove Gerygone and had our first look at Sacred Kingfisher.
In Cairns we stayed at Bay Village Tropical Retreat two blocks from the Esplanade, the
park along the edge of the Coral Sea.
The following morning we boarded the Sea Star for a trip
to Michaelmas Cay and the Great
Barrier Reef. This was winter in Australia
so the water temp was high 60's but I snorkeled for a bit while Joe checked out the sea birds on the island.
We saw Brown Boobies and a Great Frigatebird among the many Sooty Terns and noddies. Later in the afternoon
we moved to a small glass-bottomed boat to check out the Hastings
Reef. Giant Clams were a hit. The next day we birded the Esplanade in
the morning and saw lots of great shorebirds, including Gray-tailed Tattler, Red-necked Stint, Great
Knot and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Here we saw both Little
Egret, Intermediate Egret,
and Australian Pelicans.
Welcome Swallow, Varied
Honeyeater, Peaceful Dove,
and Australian Raven posed
for pcitures. Near the hotel we saw adult
male and immature Figbirds.
We took a bus to Centenary
and had a wonderful time seeing Black and Brahminy Kites, Little and Forest Kingfishers, Yellow Oriole and a pair
of Bush Stone-Curlews.
As we were leaving, we encountered Brian Venables. He surveys Centenary
daily and he showed us a roosting Papuan Frogmouth.
That afternoon Joe picked up our rental car and we drove north to the Daintree
being careful to stay on the left side of the road. We stayed at Red
Mill House in Daintree Village. It was a great choice, walking distance to the
small town and the surrounding fields and rainforest. A wonderful breakfast on the veranda overlooking the
gardens was included and Andrew and Trish Forsyth were caring hosts. We took a walk with them our first afternoon.
Metallic Starlings had just returned from the north and we had scope views of Blue-winged
Kookaburras, Sacred Kingfisher,
Spangled Drongo, Green Figbirds and Bar-shouldered Doves. We had Barramundi, a delicious local fresh water
fish, for dinner in the village with a bottle of wine purchased next door at the general store.
Wednesday the 17th we took a river cruise with Chris
Dahlberg. It was
showering in the morning and it’s an open boat so we were happy to have our rain gear as the rain became quite
intense at times. At the dock we were greeted by a White-lipped
Tree Frog. Some of the great birds were Rufous Night-Heron, Azure Kingfisher, Gould’s Bronze-cuckoo, Leaden
and Shining Flycatchers and a Wompoo Fruit-Dove on a nest. A full list is here.
Later in the day I walked along Stewart
Creek Road and found a Double-eyed Fig-Parrot nest hole in
a snag. The birds were excavating. Luckily, Joe and I carry radios so we are able to keep in touch
if either of us sees something special. We drove out to Harlow’s Bridge
in the afternoon and enjoyed Fan-tailed
Cuckoo and White-breasted
Woodswallows along with the Varied Triller and Rufous Shrike-Thrush. In town a Helmeted
Sunbird (and another photo
), and Dusky Honeyeater showed
nicely. We ate dinner at Papaya Restaurant in the village and tried an appetizer of crocodile bites – not bad.
Thursday morning was showery, even though this is the dry season, so we did some car birding
along Stewart Creek
Road to Harlow’s Bridge.
Joe did some digiscoping of Rainbow
Bee-eaters (here's another
photo) and Forest Kingfishers
which were abundant. On our return trip we were lucky to see a Pheasant Coucal
crossing the road. We packed reluctantly for our drive south, stopping at Mossman for groceries and wine.
Many raptors were flying above the sugar cane fields, including White-bellied Sea-Eagles, Australian Kestrel, Brown
Falcon and numerous Black Kites. We pulled over on Sanitary
Depot Road to try to get better looks and the left front
tire of the rental car dropped into a culvert. We were hung up on the chassis, wondering how to explain this
to Eurocar. A young Aussie cane truck driver crossed over to us and assessed the situation. He suggested
that Joe put the car in reverse and he would lift up the front. I was skeptical but it worked and we were
soon on our way, greatly relieved.
Later that afternoon we arrived
at Kingfisher Park
in Julatten. It's a birder's dream with feeders set up to attract honeyeaters and firetails, great for photography.
Here we had a full kitchen and the now expected double bed plus a single bed. Queens
and kings are rare everywhere. In the evening we went for a spotlighting walk with Keith Fisher, the new
owner of the lodge, and saw Lesser Sooty Owl juveniles leave their nest hole in a town park. The next morning
we went down the trail at 6:30 to wait for the resident Noisy
Pitta. Many people search for these without success but we were lucky and saw this one each of our three
and Brown-backed honeyeaters all took advantage of the flowering shrubs and nectar feeders. Emerald Doves
and Orange-footed Scrubfowl
added to the scene.The feeders attracted Blue-faced
Honeyeters and Raibow Lorikeets.,
On Friday we explored surrounding
areas recommended by our host. Our first stop was for Australian
Bustards on East
Mary Road and Joe photographed two of them. We also
saw large black birds with funereal wing-beats off in the distance and Joe thought they might be cockatoos.
He got the scope on them and indeed they were Red-tailed
Black Cockatoos (and another
photo). Late morning we visited Mt.
and saw Freckled Ducks (somewhat out of range), Wandering
Whistling-Ducks, Great Crested
Grebe, Royal and Yellow-billed
Spoonbills and Staw-necked
Ibis. We stopped for lunch at the Mt. Molloy Hotel, one of the oldest in the area, and I tried oysters Kirkpatrick
with barbecue sauce and bacon, an Aussie specialty. That evening we drove to the outskirts of town and encountered
a young gray kangaroo, uncommon in the area but we were delighted. Two Squatter
Pigeons and two White-throated
Honeyeaters near the school didn’t object to being photographed. At sunset we stopped at Abattoir
and were rewarded with Little Bronze-Cuckoo in an acacia tree.
Saturday was partly cloudy
with some drizzle but we chanced a drive to Mt.
for some endemics on Keith Fisher’s advice. We saw Atherton Scrubwren, Bower’s Shrike-Thrush and Mountain
Thornbill along with a male Golden Whistler and a striking White-cheeked Honeyeater. Late that afternoon
we saw Magpie Geese in a pond along Mc Donough Road.
Sunday, the 21st
we left for the drive south to the Atherton Tablelands. Chambers
Rainforest Lodge was virtually empty of visitors and we reveled in the solitude. We had great accommodations,
with a kitchen and a king-sized bed. We filled the mesh feeders on deck with apples and bananas and had wonderful
close views of male and female Victoria’s Riflebirds and Spotted Catbirds.
That evening we dined at Nick’s Swiss/Italian restaurant in nearby Yungaburra, good food and friendly service.
On Monday we set out to Winfield Park in Malanda, purported to be a haven for platypus. We missed seeing
any but had wonderful views of Golden Whistler and Tooth-billed Bowerbird. Double-eyed Fig Parrots played
hide and seek behind the leaves across the slough. We stocked up on groceries in Malanda where Joe couldn't
resist photographing a Common
Mynah, and headed to Lake
for a walk in the rainforest after lunch at Chambers. Here we found the large Brown
Cuckoo-Dove in the fruting trees. During lunch our friendly Lewin’s Honeyeater landed on Joe’s knee after perching
briefly on my binoculars.
Later that afternoon we visited
Hastie’s Swamp. It was sunny and in the 60’s and the Pink-eared Ducks, Plumed
Whistling Ducks and Magpie Geese were out in force. Although it’s winter here, Joe photographed a recently hatched Purple Swamphen
chick right below the viewing platform. A White-bellied
Sea-Eagle stood guard over the swamp. We decided to conclude our afternoon at Bromfield
and, although our map was sketchy, we did find it and saw both Sarus and Brolga cranes along with Pacific and White-faced
herons. Back in Yungaburra we had directions to another platypus possibility, following a 2 – 3 mile trail
that began at the “Platypus Viewing Platform” near Nick’s restaurant. A few people we encountered had seen
platypus in the last hour or so and we had high hopes. After almost two hours of walking the trail and returning,
Joe went to the car to change his shoes while I waited at the viewing platform. Within two minutes a platypus
appeared and I risked ostracism by shouting once to Joe so he wouldn’t miss it. Luckily, he ran up just in
Tuesday, August 23rd
we enjoyed a morning on the grounds at Chambers while I did some laundry. Joe got frame filling photos of
Spinebill (and another
photo) and Gray-headed Robin
right on the lawn in front of our lodge and a Grey
Fantail nearby. We saw a pair of Bridled
Honeyeaters and had great looks at Varied Triller, Mistletoe Bird and Brown Gerygone, a tiny bird about the
size of a Bushtit but with a much shorter tail. Later in the day we took a ride to Lake
and I did some shopping while Joe tried to capture photos of Scarlet
Honeyeater, Spangled Drongo,
Willie Wagtail (and another
photo) After dinner back at the lodge, we joined Alan Gillanders
for a night walk from Yungaburra and saw one Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo and three species of possums, including 14
Green Ringtail Possums, a new record for this tour.
On our last morning at Atherton
Tablelands we drove to a different area at Lake
off Lloyd Road
in Yungaburra. This proved worthwhile as we added Cotton Pygmy-Goose, Red-kneed Dotterel and Latham’s Snipe
to our water bird list. We then drove to Cassowary House
in Kuranda for one night. It was showering much of the afternoon and the next morning as well.
We did not see any Cassowaries but did meet the resident Red-necked Crake, who came to the garden for a cheese
hand out. From the Gregory’s veranda we also got good looks at Wompoo Fruit-Doves on a snag as well as the
Black Butcherbird which also
occurs in a brown morph.
Later that afternoon we flew from Cairns to Sydney
for the last portion of our trip. Picking up a car at the airport, we drove south to Bulli to a wonderful
on the beach.
On Aug. 26th we
visited Barren Grounds Nature Preserve and heard both Fan-tailed Cuckoo and Gray Shrike-Thrush singing. Little Wattlebirds and Eastern
Yellow Robins posted for phtos. New Holland Honeyeaters were abundant. In the afternoon Joe scoped the
ocean from our deck and was excited to see Giant Petrels and Wandering-type Albatrosses along with Great Cormorants
and Kelp Gulls. An adult male Superb
Fairy-wren had a territory right outside our cottage with several subordinate
males which do not reach full plumage. Australian
Magpies were common..
Saturday morning we were at
the dock in Wollongong
early for our SOSSA pelagic trip. Chumming brought many species
of albatross in close to the Sandra K
once we reached offshore waters. Here we saw Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, with
Black-browed Albatross White-capped Albatross, sometimes with all
three together, Gibson's Albatross adult (another photo) and immature, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, and abundant Silver
Gulls. A full trip report by P.J. Milburn with additional photos
of some of the rarities is here.
On Sunday we visited the south
end of Royal
hiking along Lady
Carrington Drive. A highlight here was Yellow-tailed
Black Cockatoo, somewhat overshadowed by our first sighting of a Superb Lyrebird. Joe spotted a female feeding
in the under story near the creek. On our last day we explored some of the areas near Wollongong
where Joe photographed a stunning Galah,
Sooty Oystercatcher, Kelp
Gull, and Red-browed Finch.
A nature reserve in coastal forest along the dunes called Puckey’s Estate was a treat. The trail followed
a lagoon with Chestnut Teal male,
female and a brood
of chicks, Dusky Moorhen and Purple Swamphens. Great
Cormorants were side-by-side with Little
Black Cormorants. We happened upon a wonderful flock of passerines, including Eastern Yellow Robin, Brown Thornbill,
Silvereyes and Spotted Pardalotte. After lunch we drove up the escarpment to Mt.
At the summit we found a cooperative Superb
Lyrebird. Along a trail near the boy scout camp, Joe pointed out two Bassian Thrushes and a little further
along we were startled by a singing Superb Lyrebird crossing the path in pursuit of a female.
Tuesday morning we packed our
gear reluctantly for the trip to the airport. We stopped at Dharawal Nature Preserve for a few hours and
walked the trail to Madden
Along the way we added Brown-headed Honeyeater and congratulated ourselves on knowing the differentiating field
marks for Brown and Striated Thornbills, a family of birds totally new to me. White-throated Treecreeper,
Superb Fairywrens and Gray Fantails had become old friends. We had a remarkable trip and appreciated the
opportunity to learn some of the calls and behavior of the varied species of Australian birds. I’d go back
tomorrow if I had the chance. It’s a visitor friendly country with wonderful habitats.
We know we only scratched the surface.