Trip Report: Australia, March 13 - April 7, 1998

Mike Houle, La Crosse, WI, USA;

I was able to arrange several birders through the AusBirdnet, simply requesting a quality birding experience, with no specific species on my want list. Numbers were not the objective, I just wanted to enjoy some of the unusual birds of Australia, especially the endemics. Each guide complied with this request, and I was treated to 14 days of varied habitat at a very slow, quiet pace which allowed me to enjoy most of these birds over and over again. Despite my request, I was treated to over 300 species, over 200 lifers, as well as a quality, relaxing tour of some of the world's most unusual habitat. I was puzzled, however, by the trees. There are over 700 variety of Eucalyptus trees in Australia. The bark falls off some, and they all look like wonderful, dried, but very dead trees. The sparse, but leafy canopy makes you realize they are not dead. I also puzzled over the many ancient forests which have no soil? Many of the trees however looked like real trees. They all have a mechanism to withstand fires. There were palm trees, ferns 20' high, and grass trees centuries old. Despite this strange look to the trees, I always felt right at home, as though I was not on a trip at all.

Friday, 13 March 1998: Sidney - Cumberland St.F. - Newcastle, NSW

On waking in Australia, I was greeted by the Welcome Swallow! What a good start. Andy Burton, a professional birder guide, picked me up on Friday the 13th. We drove through Sidney and Northwest to the Cumberland State Forest in search of the Tawny Frogmouth, but with no luck. We did see three Lorikeet there, the Rainbow, Musk and Scaly-breasted. I was fascinated with the colony of Bell Miner, such a sound of tinkling bells. Andy found a Southern Boobook Owl standing near the base of some large palm trees, always a good find. We had a Rufous Fantail do its amazing dance in the full sunlight.

We went on to Mitchell Park (Katai) and had a pair of Laughing Kookaburra land on a wire near our picnic lunch and carry on their wild laughing. We also had big lizards in the park. We were entertained by a Grey Fantail which danced within a few feet of us in a cool forested spot in the park.

We traveled further north and saw a pair of Blue-faced Honeyeaters going into and out of a large stick nest shaped like and ovenbird nest. Also saw the Eastern Yellow Robin and the Eastern Whipbird on the day (what a sound!). We traveled North to Putty Road and I had one of the thrills of the trip when I spotted a pair of Double-barred Finch, formerly known as the Owl-faced Finch. They are stunning. Also saw the Speckled Warbler, like our Waterthrush. We ended up at the Hungerford Hill Dam just west of Newcastle NSW. In all I saw 82 species (Andy saw nine that I missed), 52 were lifers and 21 were endemics. What a wonderful very hot day.

Saturday, 14 March 1998: Newcastle NSW

We picked up a friend of Andy and started at Ash/Kooragang Island of Newcastle. Saw lots of raptors and wading birds. At the Shortland Wetland Center we saw a Sacred Kingfisher, and a Spotless Crake walking the shore in full sunlight. As I was watching the crake with a spotting scope at 30' I picked up a Clamorous Reed-Warbler which was resting, closing its eyes now and then.

We then went to Nobby's Head Beach where, in addition to topless bathers, we saw six terns in one little rock shallow (Gull-billed, Caspian, Great Crested, Common, Little and White-winged). We moved around the corner to the large, flat rock extending out into the ocean and saw Sooty Oystercatchers and the first Shearwater of my life, the Wedge-tailed.

We went into the Heaton State Forest and saw the Leaden Flycatcher, the Spotted Quail-Thrush and the Crested Shrike-tit. At the Cedar Hill Drive Swamp we saw four Wood Sandpiper and an old turtle making its way through the mud. Another wonder-filled day. Saw 88 birds today plus nine more for Andy, including 21 lifers.

Sunday, 15 March 1998: Newcastle - Sidney

We started at Colliery Dam with a Comb-crested Jacana. At the Sandy Creek Bridge we saw the Scarlet Honeyeater. Up into the Watagan State Forest, including a walk in an ancient forest which is not open to harvesting. Heard the Wampoo Pigeon and saw a flock of Topknot Pigeon. We enjoyed the Spotted Pardalote (Red-rumped form) and the Striated Pardalote (South-East Form). My prize of the day was a small flock of Red-browed Firetail.

At The Entrance we saw lots of water birds, including 500+ Black Swan in a line out in the bay. Saw Satin Bowerbirds at a stop along the old Sidney Highway on the way back to Sidney. We ended this day with 75 species including 12 more lifers.

The varied habitat was almost as fascinating as the birds. What a perfect three-day trip. Most notable was the skill of Andy Burton. As we drove through the forests, he would stop, announce the species of bird by sound, step outside, and find said bird, all day long for three days. Andy is an Australian Atlaser, who carries a tape recorder, has a GPS on his dash, and records every bird seen against the GPS location. This is also used to make notes and comments to help ID birds later. I think this is a great idea. The numbers were about 145 species and 85 lifers in three days. We also saw lots of Kangaroo, Wallabies, spiny lizards, feral fox and a large, but very dead Wombat.

Wednesday, 18 March 1998: Melbourne - Geelong, Victoria

Roger Hicks, a birder, took me through Melbourne and down the west shore of Port Phillip Bay, Princes Highway, to Point Addis, overlooking the Bass Strait. We looked for the scarce Rufus Bristlebird. It is a shy bird, living in very thick heath, in a very limited coastal habitat. We finally had this elusive bird hop right out into an abandoned, dirt parking lot. A real treat! We also saw the Rufous-sided (Tasmanian) form of the Silvereye and the Superb Fairy-Wren.

The rest of the day we worked our way back towards Geelong. At Belmont Common (Geelong) they have a great "hide" where we saw Hornsfeld's Bronze Cuckoo and Little Grassbird. We stopped in a forest at the Stoney Creek picnic site where I spotted a wild Koala high in a tree. The Brown Treecreepers were very tame, and we saw Yellow-tufted, White-naped and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, a wonderfully diverse group of birds. Roger keeps a raptor watch, and we saw nine species for his log. My favorite birds were the Yellow Robin, Golden-headed Cisticola, White-browed Scrub-wren, Thornbill, Spinebill, Pardalote, Firetail and Goldfinch.

As the day drew to a close, Roger entered the Werribee Sewage farms (twenty by nine mile area) and said we could get fifty birds as the day came to an end. We kept track as we slowly moved through the ponds, and we tallied 53 birds in the last 1.5 hours, including the Pink-eared Duck and Red-kneed Dotterels. A permit is needed to go into the ponds, which can be obtained easily by visitors. We were checked. We did see dead and one live Feral Red Fox in the sewage ponds.

On the day we posted 100 birds, 53 lifers. Roger was on the road from 5:30am until 9:30pm for this volunteer assignment. An excellent birder and a quality, relaxed day.

Saturday, 21 March 1998: Brisbane - Dayboro, Victoria

Tom and Marie Tarrant, Birder Guides from Dayboro, picked me up in Brisbane and we started at the Wynnum Esplanade and then to the Wynnum Boardwalk. The waders were prolific, the Pale-headed Rosellas were stunning, and several groups of Collared Kingfisher put on quite a display. I was intrigued by the Mistletoebird and the Mangrove Gerygone (formerly warblers).

Marie left us to work, and we worked our way up to Mt. Nebo and I was fascinated by a pair of Tawny Frogmouth quietly sitting on a branch. At Mt. Glorious the King Parrot and Crimson Rosella were stunning but my favorites remain the Firetail, Robins, Honeyeaters, Gerygone, and Scrubwren. We visited the Samford Lagoon, Postman's Track, Samsonvale Cemetery, and Woodward Road. Of the many raptors, the Pacific Baza was outstanding, and my favorite little Fairywren and Whistler.

At the Tarrant home just outside Dayboro we saw the Bush Thick-knee (or Stone-Curlew), Cisticola, Monarch and Grassbirds. We found the White-throated Gerygone, the former Warbler family which has reverted to its scientific name. We stopped at the Tarrant's new property to find Marie elbow deep planting native Australian plants. I stayed at the Tarrant home Saturday evening as Marie nursed a Tufted Pigeon back to health. We had an excellent meal at the Old Dayboro Hotel.

Sunday, 22 March 1998: Dayboro - Brisbane, Victoria

We re-visited the sites around Dayboro. I always wanted to see a Mannikin and a Munia, and I saw them both (same bird, different names), the striking Chestnut-breasted in the fields next to the Tarrant home along with many of those tiny wonders and the Pheasant-Coucal, Yellow-eyed Cuckooshrike and the dazzling Rainbow Bee-eater. On the way back to Brisbane, we stopped at Tinchi Tamba Wetland Reserve and saw Woodswallow but no Brogla. At Manly Marina and Port of Brisbane-Lytton we saw 20 waders, White-bellied Sea-Eagle and Osprey.

158 birds, 40 lifers in two wonder filled days. The Tarrants are an excellent professional birding couple who found a lot of birds. They worked with a relaxed, casual rapport, at my request, which allowed ample opportunity to enjoy the birds over and over.

Wednesday, 25 March 1998: Darwin, Northern Territories

Nivin McRee, an avid birder volunteered to take me around the Darwin Area. I arrived mid-afternoon, and Nivin picked me up to see some of the local birds. We went to the Darwin Botanical Gardens and saw wonderful Rainbow Bee-Eaters with those long pointed tails, Varied Triller and and the Orange-footed Scrubfowl. We went to Emery Point and saw 16 waders, and then to a boat landing at Buffalo Creek where we saw the striking Red-headed Honeyeater.

We went out on a long sandy beach and found the prize of this day, a Black-headed Gull. It had been seen only once in Australia, in Broome, with many sightings in 1991. Our Black-headed Gull was only the second one seen in Australia. This second gull had been seen once in Jan, once in Feb. and today was the third sighting. We got within 50' with spotting scopes. What a prize! Nivin said that others had come out to see it in the next few days.

We saw 45 species on this hot, humid afternoon.

Saturday, 28 March 1998: Fogg Dam, Northern Territory

Nivin McRee took me to the Fogg Dam area where it was easy to see most Herons, Egrets and Ducks with the Black-neck Stork as a trophy. We saw dozens of Black and Whistling Kite with the Crimson and Long-tailed Finch and Australian Yellow White-eye being my favorites. We were treated to wonderful views of the elusive Rose-crowned Fruit-dove on the boardwalk through one of the marshes. One very special bird was the Rainbow Pitta, an unusual bird I had hoped to view. We saw three at about 30 meters, then another and another on the way back. What a treat. We stopped by the sewage ponds and saw the rare Yellow Wagtail. We were able to observe what may be both the Asian (no breast band) and the Alaskan (with striped breast band) forms of this elusive little bird.

We saw 82 species on this very hot, humid day, and I was told I was lucky that the very hot and humid weather had broke just this week.

Sunday, 29 March 1998: Howard Springs, Northern Territory

Nivin McRee took me to Howard Springs where we heard, then saw the Rainbow Pitta again on several occasions. We saw the Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, the male and female Shining Flycatcher, the Red-headed Honeyeater, and on the way back to Darwin saw the Red-winged Parrot and Northern Rosella in the bush next to the dump and a Bush Thick-Knee (Stone-curlew), what an unusual bird.

On this quick morning we saw 39 more species. Nivin McRee was a very special surprise treat for these three days. We saw over 110 birds with 37 lifers.

March 30/31, 1998: Adelaide, South Australia

In and out of Adelaide without a chance to bird. On the way to and from the training site I was able to see Galah, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Mute Swan, Rainbow Lorikeet, three all-green Parrots?? Red Wattlebird, Common Myna, Noisy Miner, Magpie-Lark, Australian Magpie, and European Starlings.

Wednesday, 01 April 1998: Wungong Gorge, Western Australia

Bill and Karen McRoberts took me to Wungong Gorge where we spent the most quiet, relaxing morning of the trip. We saw the Scarlet and White-breasted Robins, Golden and Rufous Whistlers, Red-eared Firetail and Yellow-rumped Thornbill. We did not see a single person in this park. In the afternoon we went to Herdsman Lake to see the waders, ibis and ducks, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike and my favorite, Striated Pardalote. Bill is a keen birder, and Karen has an excellent ear for birds. 58 species on the day.

Saturday, 04 April 1998: Dryanda State Forest, Western Australia

Bill and Karen McRoberts took me to Dryanda State Forest where we saw the striking Western Spinebill, White-browed Babbler, Rufous Treecreeper, and at an ancient water hole where the old steam engines used to stop for water, we had a Collared Sparrowhawk dive out of the blue with the sound of a jet engine into the scrub on side the water hole and catch one of the Honeyeaters for lunch. The Purple-crowned Lorikeet was a treat, with my favorite being the Blue-breasted Fairy-wren. This was the second park in which we did not see a single person.

We did see 34 species on the day. We stayed in Narrogin overnight.

Sunday,05 April 1998: Stirling Ranges, Western Australia

Bill and Karen took me to the Stirling Ranges National Forest where we saw the Regent Parrot, Western Rosella, Southern Scrub-robin, Western Yellow-robin, with my favorite being the Crested Bellbird and the non-mating slow whistle of the Tawny-crowned Honeyeater. We stopped at a small pool of water and watched all my little favorites come in to drink and bathe. We came in on the Red Gum Pass Road and traversed the center of the park on a dirt road. We had one car pass us on the entire day.

We did see 46 species on the day. We stayed at the Sterling Ranges Caravan Park.

Monday, 06 April 1998: Waychinicup National Park, Western Australia

Bill and Karen took me to Waychinicup National Park, a 4WD-only park. We stopped at a picnic spot, and the Western Bristlebird was ten feet away singing up a storm, but we did not see the elusive bird. We did see the Red-winged Fairy-wren, two monster King Skink and a Bandicoot, all within 5 feet. We heard several Western Whipbirds but did not see them, but were rewarded with a flock of Varied Sittella and Red-eared Firetail.

On the whole day we saw one family hiking and one car pass for the day. We saw 44 species on the day and then journeyed to Albany, the old whaling town. It is remarkable that there were virtually no people in these four major parks. Wonderfully quiet, especially after my trips into China.

Tuesday, 07 April 1998: Lake Seppings, Western Australia

Bill and Karen took me to Lake Seppings in the wonderfully welcomed driving rain where we saw all the water-birds, and to the Gap where we saw the Short-tailed Shearwater and Sea Lions in the driving cold rain and flushed a flock of five Rock Parrots out in these rocks. 46 species on the day. We also tallied more than ten birds endemic to Western Australia. Bill and Karen conducted wonderful, relaxing tours.

It is difficult to thank each of these guides for all their courtesies and to all the AusBirders who responded with helpful tips and to those guides who offered wonderful advice, but whom I could not schedule.

It is great to be home, but did get to see a wonderful world down under, a fascinating world of diversity beyond imagination. I was treated by wonderful guides and volunteer birders to over two hundred lifers which brings my Australian total to more than 340 species. The biggest treat was being there, the second treat were the trips into the never ending variety of habitats, and the third treat was seeing those elusive "little birds" in a casual way where they could be enjoyed over and over again. The bird which gave me the best feeling on this trip was the Double-barred Finch while Willie Wagtail remains my all time favorite Australia Bird.

Thirty-four waders, 20 Honeyeaters, 17 Raptors, 8 Kingfisher, 6 Fairywren, 6 Gerygone (former warblers), but not a single Mallard, and only a few House Sparrows and Starlings. I will return next year, and my request will be to see most of these birds again to get to know them a little better. And I will look for another relaxing, quality birding experience. I will also try to better understand the habitat.

Birds seen on this trip included:

Emu                                Glossy Ibis
Australian Bush Turkey             Australian Ibis
Orange-footed Scrubfowl            Straw-necked Ibis
Magpie Goose                       Royal Spoonbill
Wandering Whistling Duck           Yellow-billed Spoonbill
Blue-billed Duck                   Australian Pelican
Musk Duck                          Black-necked Stork
Black Swan                         Wedge-tailed Shearwater
Australian Shelduck                Short-tailed Shearwater
Radjah Shelduck                    Rainbow Pitta
Green Pygmy-Goose                  White-throated Treecreeper
Maned Duck                         Brown Treecreeper
Pacific Black Duck                 Rufous Treecreeper
Australian Shoveler                Green Catbird
Grey Teal                          Satin Bowerbird
Chestnut Teal                      Red-backed Fairywren
Hardhead                           Superb Fairywren
Dollarbird                         Splendid Fairywren
Azure Kingfisher                   Variegated Fairywren
Little Kingfisher                  Red-winged Fairywren
Laughing Kookaburra                Blue-breasted Fairywren
Blue-winged Kookaburra             Dusky Myzomela
Forest Kingfisher                  Red-headed Myzomela
Red-backed Kingfisher              Brown Honeyeater
Collared Kingfisher                Lewin's Honeyeater
Sacred Kingfisher                  Yellow-faced Honeyeater
Rainbow Bee-eater                  Mangrove Honeyeater
Asian Koel                         Singing Honeyeater
Pheasant Coucal                    White-gaped Honeyeater
Short-billed Black-Cockatoo        Yellow-tufted Honeyeater
Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo       Yellow-plumed Honeyeater
Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo          White-naped Honeyeater
Gang-gang Cockatoo                 White-throated Honeyeater
Galah                              Little Friarbird
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo           Noisy Friarbird
Little Cockatoo                    New Holland Honeyeater
Rainbow Lorikeet                   White-cheeked Honeyeater
Scaly-breasted Lorikeet            Tawny-crowned Honeyeater
Varied Lorikeet                    Bar-breasted Honeyeater
Musk Lorikeet                      Rufous-banded Honeyeater
Purple-crowned Lorikeet            Eastern Spinebill
Australian King Parrot             Western Spinebill
Red-winged Parrot                  Blue-faced Honeyeater
Regent Parrot                      Bell Miner
Red-capped Parrot                  Noisy Miner
Australian Ringneck                Yellow-throated Miner
Crimson Rosella                    Little Wattlebird
Pale-headed Rosella                Red Wattlebird
Eastern Rosella                    White-fronted Chat
Western Rosella                    Spotted Pardalote
Red-rumped Parrot                  Striated Pardalote
Rock Parrot                        Western Bristlebird (Heard only)
White-throated Needletail          Yellow-throated Scrubwren
Southern Boobook                   White-browed Scrubwren
Tawny Frogmouth                    Large-billed Scrubwren
Rock Dove                          Speckled Warbler
Laughing Dove                      Brown Thornbill
Spotted Dove                       Buff-rumped Thornbill
Brown Cuckoo-Dove                  Western Thornbill
Common Bronzewing                  Yellow-rumped Thornbill
Crested Pigeon                     Yellow Thornbill
Peaceful Dove                      Weebill
Bar-shouldered Dove                Green-backed Gerygone (Heard only)
Wonga Pigeon                       White-throated Gerygone
Wompoo Fruit-Dove (Heard only)     Large-billed Gerygone    
Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove            Mangrove Gerygone
Torresian Imperial-Pigeon          Western Gerygone
Topknot Pigeon                     Brown Gerygone
Spotless Crake                     Jacky-winter
Purple Swamphen                    Lemon-bellied Flyrobin
Dusky Moorhen                      Scarlet Robin
Common Coot                        Pale-yellow Robin
Black-tailed Godwit                Yellow Robin
Bar-tailed Godwit                  White-breasted Robin
Hudsonian Curlew                   Southern Scrub-Robin
Far Eastern Curlew                 White-browed Babbler
Marsh Sandpiper                    Eastern Whipbird
Common Greenshank                  Western Whipbird (heard only)
Wood Sandpiper                     Spotted Quail-thrush
Terek Sandpiper                    White-winged Chough
Common Sandpiper                   Varied Sittella
Grey-tailed Tattler                Crested Shrike-tit
Ruddy Turnstone                    Crested Bellbird
Great Knot                         Grey-headed Whistler
Red Knot                           Golden Whistler
Sanderling                         Rufous Whistler
Red-necked Stint                   Grey Shrike-Thrush
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper             Torresian Crow
Curlew Sandpiper                   Australian Raven
Red-necked Phalarope               Grey Butcherbird
Comb-crested Jacana                Pied Butcherbird
Bush Thick-Knee                    Australian Magpie
Pied Oystercatcher                 Pied Currawong
Sooty Oystercatcher                Grey Currawong
Black-winged Stilt                 White-breasted Woodswallow
Pacific Golden-Plover              Black-faced Woodswallow
American Golden-Plover             Dusky Woodswallow
Grey Plover                        Olive-backed Oriole
Red-capped Plover                  Green Oriole (former Yellow Oriole)
Double-banded Plover               Timor Figbird
Mongolian Plover                   Green Figbird
Greater Sand Plover                Black-faced Cuckooshrike
Red-kneed Dotterel                 Barred Cuckooshrike
Black-fronted Dotterel             White-bellied Cuckooshrike
Masked Lapwing                     Slender-billed Cicadabird
Silver Gull                        Varied Triller
Black-headed Gull                  Willie-wagtail
Gull-billed Tern                   Northern Fantail
Caspian Tern                       Grey Fantail
Great Crested-Tern                 Rufous Fantail
Common Tern                        Spangled Drongo
Little Tern                        Black-faced Monarch
Whiskered Tern                     Leaden Flycatcher
White-winged Tern                  Broad-billed Flycatcher
Osprey                             Restless Flycatcher
Pacific Baza                       Shining Flycatcher
Black-winged Kite                  Magpie-lark
Black-shouldered Kite              Russet-tailed Thrush
Black Kite                         Eurasian Blackbird
Whistling Kite                     Common Starling
Brahminy Kite                      Common Myna
White-bellied Sea-eagle            Barn Swallow
Swamp Harrier                      Welcome Swallow
Brown Goshawk                      Tree Martin
Collared Sparrowhawk               Golden-headed Cisticola
Wedge-tailed Eagle                 Australian Yellow White-eye
Brown Falcon                       Silvereye
Australian Kestrel                 Great Reed-Warbler
Australian Hobby                   Clamorous Reed-Warbler
Grey Falcon                        Tawny Grassbird
Peregrine Falcon                   Little Grassbird
Australasian Grebe                 Rufous Songlark
Hoary-headed Grebe                 Mistletoebird
Australasian Darter                House Sparrow
Little Pied Cormorant              Yellow Wagtail
Pied Cormorant                     Grey Wagtail
Little Black Cormorant             Richard's Pipit
Great Cormorant                    Australasian Pipit
Rufous Night-Heron                 Red-eared Firetail
White-faced Heron                  Red-browed Firetail
Little Egret                       Crimson Finch
Pacific Reef-Egret                 Double-barred Finch
Pied Heron                         Long-tailed Finch
Great Egret                        Chestnut-breasted Munia
Intermediate Egret
Cattle Egret
Striated Heron

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; April 20, 1998