Friday, 22 January 2010

Australia - Instalment 3 - Cairns and The Wet Tropics

Cairns is fantastic, no doubt about it. Within a half hour or arriving we were stood on a viewing platform at the world-famous Esplanade, gazing out across the mudflats at hundreds of Asiatic waders: Great knot, Terek sandpiper, Lesser and Greater sandplovers, Red-capped plovers, FE curlews, Red-necked stints, ST sandpipers, Bar-tailed godwits and Greenshanks as well as Royal spoonbills, Eastern great egrets, Striated herons, Australian pelicans and ibis. The mud was crawling with crabs and mudskippers.

The trees and bushes along the Esplanade held Rainbow lorikeet, Varied honeyeater, Pied pigeons, Figbirds and Little and Black-faced cuckoo-shrikes, the grass lawns had a pair of feisty Masked lapwings, and the mangrove edge to the north gave us Mangrove robin, Yellow oriole and a pair of Collared kingfishers. Several White-throated needletails powered by.

Cairns is an ideal base for trips out to the Barrier Reef as well as the rainforest areas further north. One of the highlights of the entire trip was our morning with Chris Dahlberg on the Daintree River. In a 2-hour boat trip we racked up loads of lifers, many at extremely close-range. Bird of the trip was easily the monster Great-billed heron that flew over the boat at about 10 feet, but we also had great views of Black bittern, Double-eyed fig-parrot, Shining flycatcher, Brown-backed honeyeater and a Papuan frogmouth and chick on the nest.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Australia - Instalment 2...

After leaving the Brisbane area we started our mammoth drive north to Cairns. Between Ipswich and Noosaville we called in at the wonderful Mary Cairncross Rainforest Park, a tiny remnant forest reserve preserved thanks to the wisdom of Ms Cairncross. Along the short boardwalk trail we saw Green catbird, Spectacled monarch and Logrunners as well as a beautiful Wompoo fruit-dove sat on its nest overhead.

After Noosaville and Inskipp Point, pitstops along the way included Yeppoon, near Rockhampton, where we could relax on deckhairs overlooking the ocean and watch Glossy black cockatoos, Far Eastern curlews, Whimbrels, Red-capped plovers, Black kites and a Beach stone curlew out on the sand.
After Yeppoon we spent a night at Airlie Beach, where the hostel grounds gave us our first Bush stone curlews, hunting under the streetlights and the seaside trees held Noisy friarbird, White-breasted woodswallow and Peaceful doves.

The next major stop was at the charming village of Paluma, where we stayed two nights at the Forestmist B&B, run by the very friendly and welcoming Annie and Andy, who made our stay all the more enjoyable. From our verandah we could take in the deafening dawn chorus of rainforest birds including Chowchilla, Spotted catbird. Victoria's riflebird, Bower's shrike-thrush, Grey-headed robin and Satin bowerbird - an unforgettable experience.

Within the village, a couple of short trails bring close encounters with Rainbow pitta, Eastern spinebill and White-cheeked and Macleay's honeyeater - the spinebills and honeyeaters gorging themselves on pollen and nectar from the flowering bottlebrush trees.

An early morning stroll through the village gave us magnificent close views of Rainbow Pitta, but we were unlucky in our search for both Golden bowerbird and Red-necked crake. At Birthday Falls however we were treated to a fine Tooth-billed bowerbird in full song. We watched in awe as he performed beautifully over his arena of upturned fresh leaves. What a bird.

Leaving Paluma, we headed north to Cairns. I loved Cairns - a cracking little city with some of the best birding you'll ever get.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Australia - Bottom to Top - November 2009

Installment 1...

In the absence of a full trip report (to come on, thought I'd post a few of my favourite bird images captured during an amazing  month-long trip around Australia with my Dad. Starting off in Melbourne, we travelled up to Brisbane and then drove all the way to Cairns before spending some time in and around Darwin and Kakadu.

Overall highlights were watching Logrunners and an Albert's lyrebird in the pouring rain at Lamington NP; vast flocks of waders and wildflowl at Werribee Treatment Plant; bowerbirds, chowchillas, pittas and honeyeaters in the Paluma Ranges; top birding in and around Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands; Daintree River Cruise with Chris Dahlberg; and a pair of Chestnut rails in the murky dawn near Darwin.

To say the birding in Australia is good is a huge understatement - we managed a trip total of 296 species, the vast majority of which were lifers. Photographic opportunities abound, with many speies proving extremely confiding. The Aussies themselves were very friendly and welcoming and the various landscapes were stunning.

Amongst all the common and widespread (but still new for me) species, we also managed to encounter some rare or very localised birds. Inskipp Point, a short trip from our digs in Noosaville, turned up a pair of gorgeous Black-breasted buttonquail scuffling around in the coastal scrub: they must make a tasty snack for the huge goannas we saw here. The same spot also yielded an adult White-bellied sea-eagle powering over our heads at about ten feet.

A real problem was keeping up to speed with all the small brown/grey birds that seemed to flit about anywhere wooded. Perhaps the most ubiquitous was the White-browed scrubwren, closely followed by Brown thornbill. I'm certain we missed several species through poor views and our general unfamiliarity with the birdlife.

The available field guides for Oz are not the best - we used Simpon & Day mostly, but tended to dip into Pizzey a bit too. The 'new' Moorcombe guide is poor, with pictures like cartoons.

The Melbourne area highlight was Werribee Treatment Plant -  a vast complex of lakes, ditches, scrapes, coastal heath, grassland and intertidal habitats. The views of Asiatic waders is superb and the sheer number of pelicans, cormorants, terns, and ducks is mind-boggling. Raptors such as Swamp harrier, Black kite and Brown falcon are very common. The coastal heath held many pairs of White-fronted chat, a beautiful species.

One of the commonest species, especially in Queensland and the NT, was Masked lapwing, with any patch of open grassland, road verge or shore supporting several birds.

At the end of our first week, we stayed with friends in Ipswich just south-west of Brisbane. From here we were able to drive easily to the famous Lamington NP. After the monster, winding 25km drive up to O'Reilly's, we had no sooner stepped out of the car when we had Crimson rosellas land on our heads and an Australian brush-turkey walk up to us - what a start!

In the absolutely pouring rain we walked the various boardwalks and soon came across a party of delightful Southern logrunners - these were perhaps my star bird of the whole trip, calling softly to one another as they sifted through the leaf litter with almost double-jointed legs. Male and female are easily told apart by their respective white and orange gourgets. All the logrunners we encountered seemed to be shadowed by Yellow-throated scrubwrens. Also present and quite common at Lamington were both Satin and Regent bowerbirds, although we only saw one male of the latter - I think I actually preferred the female anyway - beautiful mossy-greens and subdued browns seemed to fit with the surroundings. We also encountered Wonga pigeons, Topknot pigeon, Rufous fantail and we were so fortunate to come across an Albert's lyrebird: we watched mesmerised as it scratched about then wandered along the track in front of us.