My wife and I have recently returned from the land of Oz (Australia). Gratitude is extended to a wizard (John Crowhurst) who spent a lot of time with us showing us the birds and enlightening us about what seemed like anything that dealt with Australian Natural History. We also had lots of help courtesy of many Birdchatters and Birding-Aus members. This made our trip a superior one, and we are greatly indebted to all those who responded.
The journey was from July 17th-August 18th,1998. During our 36 day journey we were able to see: 307 species of birds, platypus, a White Lemmuroid Possum, Tree Kangaroos, Black Walleroos, numerous species of lizards, tropical fish and butterflies (I still haven't counted them all up).
The main areas we visited were the Cairns/Atherton Tablelands area, Mt Isa, Katherine Gorge and the Darwin/Kakadu area. Australia is, like the U.S., an extremely large country, and it would be easy to fool oneself into trying to do too much. Therefore we decided to tackle the north-central and north-eastern parts on this jaunt. Next time we will hopefully have the time and funds (petrol is quite expensive) to visit some of the areas we missed.
We found the Thomas book to be invaluable for locations. Both Neilson's and Weineke's books were very helpful for Queensland. Neilson's book was extremely helpful in dealing with the characteristics that separate species and we would recommend it strongly for first time visitors. We also took both Simpson and Day and the new Pizzey and Knight field guides. We liked both somewhat. The Pizzey book contained superior information, but was more unwieldy, in that it's a bigger book and therefore tough to take out into the field. We were at times flummoxed by the variation in the plates between the two books. It appeared as though we were looking at different species. We found ourselves needing to use both books.
The challenging birds that we missed on the Tablelands and in the Cairns area were Scrubwren, Red-necked Crake, Spotless Crake, Lesser Sooty Owl, Blue-faced Parrot-Finch and Chowchilla. In the Mt. Isa area we were hoping to see Dusky and Carpentarian Grasswrens. We heard one Carpentarian, but that was about it for both species. We also missed seeing Spinifexbirds. In the Katherine area we were fortunate to see Hooded Parrots, but couldn't locate Gouldian Finches. It appeared that there were too many water holes to cover. In the Darwin/Kakadu area we tried for Red Goshawk, Banded Fruit-Dove, Letter-winged Kite and Mangrove Fantail, but to no avail.
So much for the bad news. Mostly the news was good, and we found ourselves having a fabulous time. Australia is a great country to travel and bird in. Some of our best sightings were:
Rufous Owl- on a spotlighting tour with Jonathan Munro on the Atherton Tablelands (Jonathan is an incredible resource whom I cannot recommend highly enough). We saw 5 different species of possums, 3 species of kangaroos, including tree, and an amazingly camouflaged gecko species, whose scientific name I can't recall, that was hugging a tree.
White-throated Grasswren - seen near the Waterfall Creek location outlined in Thomas. We had to circle farther down into the valley before we had crippling looks at this beautiful bird. I felt fortunate to find this bird and show it to a novice birdo from South Australia, whom I had meet in the campground at Waterfall Creek. His excitement about seeing the bird was almost as good as seeing it myself. Also, thank you to the birdo who put the orange ribbon on the spot where Thomas mentions this bird has been seen. It was helpful in that it's easy to overshoot this spot if you follow Thomas' directions. We met 5 other birdos who had done just that and had missed the bird. To clarify how to find this spot, follow the trail up over the top of the first waterfall. Continue with the creek on your left hand side for about 100 metres until the rock face on your right hand side ends and you see a brushy area on your right. That area is hell to try to walk through, especially in shorts. Instead go back to the rock face and scramble up it. When you reach the top you will see a flattened out area (to your left) that you can hop from rock to rock. Look for the lightly coloured sandstone face that Thomas mentions and the ribbon to let you know you're in the right area. We then passed to the left of the sandstone face and went down the other side, constantly following the base of the rock formation. We eventually found the birds in the valley about 100 metres from the Sandstone rock face and 15 metres out from the base of the formation. Hope this information will be helpful to someone who is heading to Kakadu.
Little Kingfisher - seen well from Chris Dahlberg's Daintree River trip and also the Yellow Waters trip out of Kakadu. Both trips are musts I'd say. Chris' enthusiasm is contagious and he knows that area extremely well. We also had an amethystine python on the trip. The Yellow Waters trip takes you to one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Fabulous views of Black-necked Stork, Great-billed Heron and Azure Kingfishers didn't hurt either.
Golden Bowerbird - the bird was at its bower at a location near the Crater on the Tablelands. We were lucky in that as soon as we arrived the bird was right there.
Cassowary - Henry was wandering the upper parking lot of Lake Barrine and we were able to see him in all his splendor. It was a little daunting having him walk right at us. So much so that my photographs have a distinctive jittery feel to them.
Papuan Frogmouth - we had excellent views of these birds on two occasions. They were seen on the Daintree River cruise and also near Kingfisher Lodge in Julatten, Queensland.
Hooded Parrots - thanks to a tip from Glenn Holmes (he is guiding trips out of Kingfisher Lodge) we were able to see 5 parrots at a waterhole on Dead Woman Creek. This is located off of the road to Edith Falls. After 5.6 kilometres you cross a bridge, and the waterhole is on the left side. Unfortunately there were 4 or 5 good waterholes and we couldn't cover them all. Luckily we saw the parrots fly into the largest hole, and so we were able to get nice views of these beautiful birds.
Chestnut Rail - seen in the mangroves south of Darwin. Denise Goodfellow graciously took me to this location. She is engaged in a struggle to maintain this area. The local government is actively trying to use this habitat for housing, and Denise encouraged me to post this, in the hopes that people would come to her aid in this fight. I also tried for the rail at the Middle Arm location mentioned in Thomas, but didn't see it there. However, there were 3 Great-billed Heron at that site. The Middle Arm is located south of Darwin.
Square-tailed Kite - a juvenile bird was seen in the trees just west of the South Alligator in Kakadu floodplain.
Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeon - seen at three different locations near Nourlangie Rock in Kakadu.
Mangrove Robin - seen easily on the mangrove walk by the airport in Cairns
Noisy Pitta - seen in Cairns in a garden. We were fortunate enough to meet a woman on a spotlighting tour, who had this bird coming into her garden. She was generous in letting us come to her house and see the bird. We were then able to show the bird to John Crowhurst as a nice payback for all that he had showed us.
Rainbow Pitta - seen on the trail that takes off from the side of the road opposite the parking lot at Fogg Dam, off of the Arnhem Highway east of Darwin.
Buff-Banded Rail and White-browed Crake - both observed at the Crocodile Farm in Edmonton on the road to Innisfail (outside of Cairns).
White-browed Robin race superciliosa - seen in the dry bed of Big Mitchell Creek near Mt. Malloy. Aside from the thrill of seeing this bird, John Crowhurst also took us to arguably the best pie place in Australia (his account and also ours from our short time in the country). As one enters Mt. Malloy from Mareeba the pie shop will be on your right. You'll immediately know your in the right spot when either greeted by the wonderfully friendly Mexican woman chef or her droll husband from Switzerland. How they ended up in Australia seemed as curious to us as the incredible wildlife.
Black Falcon - nicely perched at the crossing of the South Alligator River on the Arnhem Highway in Kakadu.
I'm not going to list all birds seen, but instead will ** all groups where we saw all the expected species. For the other groups I'll list species seen. Please note these divisions are taken from Pizzey (not the newest edition)
The other birds seen would be expected in the locations we visited. We never tired of seeing Fairy Wrens, Honeyeaters, Rosellas, Lorikeets, Cockatoos, Pardalotes, Kingfishers and Finches. Some of you might argue this, but the birds just seemed to be more beautiful to us than their counterparts in the U.S.
Finally thanks to the following to responding to us: Ron Stannard @ Kingfisher, Julian Bielewicz, Peter Lansley, Doug Durno, Dave Quady, Syd Curtis, Brenda Ulenhut @ Kirrama Tours, Phillip Veerman, Randall McFarlane, Tom Tarrant and others. Trip reports by Murray Lord, John Leonard, Tony Clarke (with Phoebe Snetsinger) and the hilarious ramblings by Keith Martin were of immense value.
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