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AUSTRALIA

North

2–21 September 2021
extension to 27 September

This wonderful tour will concentrate on one of the most biologically-diverse and scenically-attractive parts of Australia: the northeast. Covering such world-renowned birding sites as Kakadu National Park, Michaelmas Cay on the Great Barrier Reef and O’Reilly’s Guest House, and including trips to see wild Koalas and some aboriginal rock art, this will surely be a trip of a lifetime for any birder.

Day 1 Early morning overnight flight from London via Singapore to Darwin.

Day 2 We will arrive in Darwin mid-afternoon at the start of the tour and will head straight to East Point, a park in the west of the city with a variety of habitats including tidal beaches, mudflats, parkland and trails through tropical rainforest. Birds likely to be seen include Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Pacific Reef-heron, Straw-necked Ibis, Beach Thick-knee, Masked Lapwing, Bar-shouldered and Peaceful Doves, Torresian Imperial-pigeon, Brown and White-gaped Honeyeaters, Little Friarbird, White-bellied Cuckooshrike, Torresian Kingfisher, White-breasted Woodswallow, Black Butcherbird, Varied Triller, Grey Whistler (brown form), Green and Olive-backed Orioles, Australasian Figbird, Spangled Drongo, Magpie-lark and Lemon-bellied Flycatcher (also known as Lemon-bellied Flyrobin). We will then drive through the northern suburbs of the city (past our hotel if anyone wants to check in early) to Buffalo Creek where, depending on the tide, we may be fortunate enough to see Chestnut Rail coming out of the mangroves on the mud. Other species present here include Australasian Darter, Black and Brahminy Kites, newly arrived Palearctic waders including Greater Sand-plover and Common Sandpiper, Silver Gull, Rainbow Bee-eater, Galah, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Rufous-banded Honeyeater, Dusky and Red-headed Myzomelas, Torresian Crow, Green-backed and Large-billed Gerygones and Australian Yellow White-eye. As it gets dark, we will make the short journey back to our hotel to check in; on the journey, Large-tailed Nightjar are possible. Overnight in Darwin.

Day 3 After a pre-dawn departure and breakfast en route, we will drive ‘down the track’ from Darwin on the famous Stuart Highway, which continues all the way through the centre of this vast island continent through Alice Springs to Adelaide. After turning off east onto the Arnhem Highway towards the world-famous Kakadu National Park, our first stop will be at the superb Fogg Dam, a failed rice-growing project that is now a paradise for birds. Here we should see spectacular numbers of water birds including Magpie Goose, Plumed and Wandering Whistling-ducks, Radjah Shelduck, Green Pygmy-goose, Australasian and Hoary-headed Grebes, Black-necked Stork, Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants, Pacific, Pied and White-faced Herons, Great, Intermediate, Little and Eastern Cattle Egrets, Rufous Night-heron, Australian and Glossy Ibises, Royal Spoonbill, Australasian Swamphen, Comb-crested Jacana, Pied Stilt, Australian Pratincole and Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns, whilst Swamp Harriers hunt over the marshes. There are also nice patches of woodland here, which should add the newly split Pacific Emerald Dove, Rose-crowned Fruit-dove, roosting Barking Owls, Australian Hobby, Azure and Forest Kingfishers, Blue-winged Kookaburra, the very range-restricted Rainbow Pitta, White-throated Honeyeater, Pied Butcherbird, Black-faced Cuckooshrike, Little Shrikethrush, Rufous Whistler, Arafura and Northern Fantails, Willie-wagtail and Broad-billed, Paperbark and Shining Flycatchers. After a picnic lunch, we will continue east towards Jabiru, the only town in the park, looking for flocks of Red-tailed Black-cockatoos and Little Correlas flying across the road. Turning off the main road to Ubirr Rock and taking the Bardedjilidji Walk, we will search the sandstone outcrops for several highly localised species that are found in this habitat, especially Chestnut-quilled Rock-pigeon. Ubirr is also an excellent site to see Wilkins’ (Eastern Short-eared) Rock-wallabies. The view from the top of Ubirr Rock, looking over the vast floodplains, is spectacular, although we won’t have time to enjoy the sunset here as it is still quite a long drive to our accommodation for the night. Leaving Ubirr, we will head into the small town of Jabiru and check into our hotel for the next two nights.

Day 4 We will make a very early start this morning as we have to leave well before dawn to make the hour-long drive to Cooinda to take a cruise on the Yellow Water, one of Australia’s most important areas for waterfowl. It is possible to see up to 70 species here on a two-hour cruise. Many of the water birds we will have seen already, but, from the boat, they will be ‘up close and personal’! Additional species we will keep an eye out for include Black Bittern, Great-billed Heron, White-bellied Sea-eagle, White-browed Crake, Black-fronted Dotterel, Pheasant Coucal, Sacred Kingfisher, the red-collared form of Rainbow Lorikeet, Bar-breasted Honeyeater, Fairy Martin, Crimson and Long-tailed Finches and, if we are lucky, Buff-sided Robin. After taking a late breakfast, we will head out to visit Nourlangie Rock to view the famous Aboriginal rock art and have a second opportunity to look for the three speciality birds of the area: Black-backed Fruit-dove, White-lined Honeyeater and Sandstone Shrikethrush. Also here we have a realistic chance of seeing Channel-billed Cuckoo. Additionally, we may see Wedge-tailed Eagle, the Sandstone race of Helmeted Friarbird, Silver-crowned Friarbird, Leaden Flycatcher and Mistletoebird (actually a species of flowerpecker). On returning to Jabiru we will either make a short stop at the visitor centre or at the airport to look for Partridge Pigeon.

Day 5 We will make another early start today (although not before breakfast!), before visiting Nourlangie Rock again if we need any of the speciality birds. We will then head south out of Kakadu National Park, making several stops to look for raptors including Red Goshawk and flocks of feeding parrots including Varied Lorikeet. Our next stop will be Mary River Ranger Station where we will have a picnic lunch with Silver-backed Butcherbirds watching us in the hope of stealing our food, whilst Yellow-throated Miners are a bit more circumspect! At our next destination, the small town of Pine Creek, we will look for Hooded Parrots, which, although range-restricted, can be quite common here. Other birds in the small park may include Grey-crowned Babbler and Blue-faced (White-quilled) Honeyeater. We will then visit the nearby sewage pools (essential on all tours!) where waterfowl may include Pacific Black Duck and waders may include Red-kneed Dotterel, whilst Red-backed Kingfisher can be found in the adjacent woodland. There is also a good chance of seeing Brown Falcon and Diamond Dove, and we will also take the obligatory photos at the huge termite mound. It is a further one-and-a-half-hour drive to Katherine, where we will spend the next three nights; on arrival, we may see Crested Pigeon and Apostlebird on the lawns and in the parks.

Day 6 This morning, after an early breakfast, we will head first back north then east to the Edith Falls in Nitmiluk National Park. Before arriving, we will stop at a famous drinking spot where a good selection and number of finches visit, including the stunning Gouldian Finch as well as Double-barred and Masked Finches. Banded Honeyeaters can be quite common whilst Red-backed Fairywren can be found in the scrub. Continuing east, the campsite at Edith Falls can be alive with birds including Rufous-throated Honeyeater, Bush Thick-knee, Northern Rosella and ridiculously tame Great Bowerbirds. We will take lunch here and will have the opportunity to swim in the heat of the day or to look for roosting Tawny Frogmouths! Returning to town, we will take the short drive west to Chinaman Creek, where Chestnut-backed Buttonquail can sometimes be found on the tracks. Black-chinned, Singing and Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters are all possible in the surrounding trees and we may also visit the nearby Aboriginal settlement of Binjari where Northern Rosellas (if we still need them) and Common Bronzewings are frequently seen.

Day 7 This morning we will drive further south on the Stuart Highway, a road that completely crosses the continent to Adelaide. We will, however, head east on the Central Arnhem Highway well before we get there! In around an hour, we will be birding the dry woodlands where a number of special birds can be found, including the leucocephala race of Varied Sittella, Striated Pardalote, Jacky-winter and Black-tailed Treecreeper plus several species of honeyeater. After a picnic lunch we will head back into town where we will visit the spectacular Katherine Gorge in the Nitmiluk National Park. Freshwater Crocodiles are regularly seen here and there is an active bower of Great Bowerbird.

Day 8 We have a 320-kilometre journey back to Darwin today, so immediately after breakfast we will head back north along the Stuart Highway. We will make a short stop at the drinking pool at the start of the Edith Falls road to enjoy the spectacle of finches coming in to drink in the early morning. Whilst we may have already seen all the regular finch species, there is still a possibility of something rarer like a Star or Zebra Finch or a Weebill. Brown Goshawks regularly ‘stake out’ the waterhole looking for an easy meal, whilst Brown Quail, White-winged Triller and Golden-headed Cisticola are all seen regularly. If we still need Hooded Parrot, we can make a brief stop in Pine Creek on the way, but our objective is to arrive at the Botanical Gardens in Darwin to look for roosting Rufous Owls and possible Grey Goshawk by lunchtime. Depending on which other Northern Territory speciality birds we may still need, and depending on time, we may visit other sites around the city. Overnight in Darwin.

Day 9 We will catch an early morning flight to Cairns via Gove where, on arrival, we will make the short drive to the promenade for a picnic lunch. Depending on the state of the tide, we may see Striated Heron, Osprey and early-arriving or oversummering Asiatic waders including Pacific Golden-plover, Lesser Sand-plover, Grey-tailed Tattler, Far Eastern Curlew, Red-necked Stint and Great Knot, whilst resident Red-capped Plovers add variety. Double-eyed Fig-parrot, Mangrove Robin and Varied Honeyeater can all be found in the nearby mangroves and adjacent palm trees. If we have time, we will also visit the Botanical Gardens where we will look for Australian Brushturkey, Australian Swiftlet, Laughing Kookaburra, Helmeted (Hornbill) Friarbird, Welcome Swallow and Olive-backed Sunbird before we make the hour-long journey to Mossman for an overnight stay.

Day 10 Before breakfast, we will make the thirty-minute drive to Daintree and take a wonderful two-hour boat cruise along the Daintree River. As the sun rises we will look for Estuarine Crocodile and a good selection of birds including Great-billed Heron, Little Kingfisher and Papuan Frogmouth. After taking a late breakfast, we will bird the surrounds of Daintree village, specifically looking for the localised Lovely Fairywren as well as Scaly-breasted Lorikeet before taking a ferry across the river to the superb Daintree National Park where we will have lunch. The forest trails here give us the first chance of seeing Southern Cassowary, although they are by no means guaranteed. There are plenty of other birds here to enjoy, however, including Superb and Wompoo Fruit-doves, Fairy Gerygone, Spectacled Monarch and Noisy Pitta, which certainly lives up to its name! After spending the afternoon here we will head back through Mossman and continue south to the fabulous Kingfisher Park in Julatten, a small rainforest reserve that caters exclusively for birdwatchers and naturalists and provides our base for the next two nights. The abundant birdlife here includes Grey-headed and Pale-yellow Robins, Grey Whistler, Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Metallic Starling, Common Cicadabird, Pied Monarch, Red-browed Firetail (Finch), Graceful, Macleay’s and Yellow-spotted Honeyeaters and Chestnut-breasted Munia. There is also the possibility of Red-necked Crake and Platypus along the stream, and we will spend the late afternoon exploring the grounds.

Day 11 This morning, after breakfast, we will drive north then west along a rough road that ascends Mount Lewis to look for the rare Blue-faced Parrotfinch as well as many other species including Mountain Thornbill, Atherton Scrubwren, Bower’s Shrikethrush, White-throated Treecreeper and White-cheeked Honeyeater. Most of the birds are more easily seen around the clearing where we park but we will follow a wide trail deep into the forest where we have the best chance of finding Chowchillas as they scratch away in the leaf litter, often followed by Fernwrens looking for the insects they may have missed! After a picnic lunch, we will head back down the mountain to Kingfisher Park to further explore the grounds and the local area.

Day 12 We will spend the early morning hours birding around Kingfisher Park before continuing south again towards the Atherton Tablelands. Our first stop will be at a small marsh where, on the boardwalk, we will look for Brown-backed, Yellow and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters. Next, if we have not already seen them, we will head west on the Mulligan Highway towards the old Wolfram mining town of Mount Carbine to a more arid area of farmland and grassy fields where Australian Bustards are often easily seen and can be remarkably tame, as they are protected. Returning east and then continuing south, we will stop briefly at Big Mitchell Creek to look for White-browed Robin and Pacific Baza before continuing to Granite Gorge Nature Park for a picnic lunch. Animals here are incredibly tame and photogenic and the views of Pale-headed Rosella, Squatter Pigeon, Red-winged Parrot, Australian Magpie, Scarlet Myzomela and White-throated Gerygone as well as Mareeba Rock-wallaby are outstanding. After lunch we will continue south to Hasties Swamp where, from the two-storey hide, huge numbers of birds can be scanned. We will have seen most of the ducks by now, but we will keep a lookout for Dusky Moorhen, Pink-eared Duck, Hardhead and maybe an early Latham’s Snipe before heading into the town of Yungaburra where there is a Platypus viewing platform. These near-mythical marsupials seem totally relaxed in the presence of humans here, so there is an excellent chance of seeing one before we check into our hotel for the next two nights.

Day 13 Our first port of call today will be Mount Hypipamee. Our real target bird is Southern Cassowary and they can be unerringly tame here, often curious and sometimes aggressive! Other birds regularly feed in the fruiting trees around the car park in the early morning and can include both Golden and Tooth-billed Bowerbirds; we may even find an active Golden Bowerbird’s bower. We will then head back north to the Crater Lakes National Park and have a picnic lunch whilst looking for White-headed Pigeon, Brown Cuckoo-dove, Bridled Honeyeater, Spotted Catbird, Victoria’s Riflebird and Barred Cuckooshrike. In the afternoon we will visit Curtain Fig Tree National Park, en route checking the fields for flocks of Brolga and Sarus Crane. (Lesser) Sooty Owl breeds and roosts around the area but is notoriously difficult to find. We will then return to Yungaburra for another chance to visit the Platypus viewing platform.

Day 14 After breakfast we have two options: we may drive to Etty Beach on the coast if we have not seen Southern Cassowary yet, or we may drive straight to Cairns where we can spend the day visiting a number of sites around the city.

Day 15 We will spend most of the day at sea on a large catamaran visiting the seabird colony on Michaelmas Cay on the world-famous Great Barrier Reef. Brown Booby, Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, Brown Noddy and Lesser Crested, Black-naped and Sooty Terns can all be seen amongst 14 species of seabird. The island is unique, and we will also have a chance to see coral, Giant Clams, Green, Hawksbill and Leatherback Turtles, Whitetip Reef Sharks, Manta Rays and many other species of fish. There will be an optional guided snorkelling tour with a marine naturalist or, for those who don’t want to go in the water, a trip aboard a submarine with glass windows to enjoy the stunning reef scenery. Lunch is served on board and if there is time on our return, we will revisit one or more of the sites around Cairns.

Day 16 We will spend the early morning revisiting sites around Cairns before taking an early afternoon flight to Brisbane. We will head south out of the city for the three-hour drive to Lamington National Park where we will be staying at the famous O’Reilly’s Guest House, an internationally known birding spot set in upland rainforest. There are very few birding opportunities en route so we will make as much progress as we can, stopping only at a supermarket to buy a picnic lunch and to top up with fuel before we head up into the park. We should arrive in time for some late afternoon birding. Three nights at O’Reilly’s.

Days 17–18 O’Reilly’s is set in over 20,000 hectares of varying virgin forest, from the temperate beech on high ground down through sub-tropical rainforest around the accommodation to dry Eucalypt forest in the lower valleys. The park provides food and shelter for Australia’s largest array of sub-tropical wildlife including many reptiles and mammals. There are spectacular views over mountain ranges and cascading waterfalls in this World Heritage Site. Oh, and the birds: our first morning will be truly magical as we won’t know where to look first, with Australian King-parrot, Crimson Rosella, Regent and Satin Bowerbirds and Lewin’s Honeyeaters all coming in to be fed, with some landing on our hands and even heads! Even Eastern Whipbirds (yes, they do make a noise like a whip) are easy to see around the feeding area. As we walk away from the feeding frenzy to quieter areas, Wonga Pigeons waddle away in front of us, fearless Superb Fairywrens hop around on the grass looking for insects and Eastern Yellow Robins perch up on posts. Our real target is Albert’s Lyrebird, however, which can either be very difficult or ridiculously tame, but we have plenty of opportunities to find one. Bassian and Russet-tailed Thrushes are largely separated by altitude here and most of the ones we see around the lodge will be Bassian; we normally have to drop lower down the mountains to find Russet-tailed. We will literally have to tear ourselves away from birding for breakfast (which is likely to be a short affair) on both days, as we have the forest trails to explore as well! Both Yellow-throated and White-browed Scrubwrens are abundant on the trails and, once again, we must listen out for scratching noises in the leaf litter, but this time for Australian Logrunners! One of the ‘prize’ birds here is Paradise Riflebird and they can be found virtually everywhere, from calling males at the tops of trees early in the morning around the clearing to feeding females searching for fruit or chipping away at dead wood for insects. Green Catbirds can frequently be heard calling but take a bit of work to get good views of, as they are quite shy. Around the campsite, cute little Red-necked Pademelons feed on the grass while Topknot Pigeons search for fruiting trees and Eastern Spinebills take nectar from flowers. If we are lucky, we may find a territorial male Rose Robin singing from the treetops. There is an active Satin Bowerbird bower and if we are quiet, we may be able to watch him rearranging his collection of blue objects or even displaying, whilst nearby is a small drinking tray where (Eastern) Crested Shrike-tit can be seen. We will also make visits downhill from the park for walks to search for additional species including Glossy Black-cockatoo, Spotted Pardalote, Striated Thornbill, Golden Whistler and Bell Miner. We will also make at least one nocturnal excursion with the hope of seeing Marbled Frogmouth and Southern Boobook but, whilst you may hear them, they are extremely difficult to see. In the past we have even seen Red-backed Buttonquail and Olive Whistler. The beautiful mists of these stunning mountains in the early morning and the abundant birdlife will make this a memorable stay and there will never be a dull moment.

Day 19 After breakfast and some early morning birding, sadly we must leave O’Reilly’s to head back to Brisbane. On the way we will keep a lookout for Maned Duck and Masked Lapwing of the race novaehollandiae (Black-shouldered Lapwing). There are several Koala reserves south of the city but animal sightings here are few and far between. We may stop at one for lunch, however, as this is a good location for Variegated Fairywren and Blue-faced (Blue-faced) Honeyeater. Our next stop will be at Elanora Park where we will walk the trails and boardwalk to view the mangroves and intertidal mudflats, on which we should find Mangrove Gerygone. A short distance away is Fort Lytton National Park; in reality, most of it is offshore but an access road to the old fort gives us a chance for the highly localised Mangrove Honeyeater, probably the last new bird we will see on the main part of the tour before those not participating in the extension have to check into Brisbane airport for the late evening flight back to the UK, arriving on day 20. For those on the extension, we will spend the night in Brisbane

EXTENSION

Day 20 We will catch a morning flight from Brisbane to Alice Springs. On arrival, we will stop at a local supermarket and buy our picnic lunch, which will be taken to the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens. The gardens are located on the eastern bank of the usually dry Todd River and are an excellent spot for birdwatching, particularly for Western Bowerbird, which has several active bowers on the grounds. Other birds that can be found here include Australian Ringneck, Rainbow Bee-eater, Red-browed Pardalote, Brown, Inland and Striated Thornbills, Grey-crowned Babbler, several species of honeyeater including Singing and White-plumed, Splendid Fairywren, Red-capped Robin and Zebra Finch. Two nights in Alice Springs.

Day 21 Central Australia hosts a number of rare and nomadic species and whilst there are no guarantees for any of them, we will follow up any up-to-date local information we have. Therefore, the daily itinerary and sites we visit may change considerably, as recent rains can have a dramatic effect on the abundance or scarcity of many species. Letter-winged Kite, Flock Bronzewing, Bourke’s, Princess and Scarlet-chested Parrots, Grey Falcon and Gibber Chat are examples of species for which we will rely on up-to-date local information. Today, our intention will be to drive the Santa Teresa Road, stopping at several locations to look for dry inland species which may include White-browed Treecreeper, Crested Bellbird, Chiming Wedgebill and White-browed Babbler. A very good area of Spinifex-covered limestone-ridge habitat occurs along this road, where we may see Rufous-crowned Emuwren, White-winged Fairywren and Dusky Grasswren. We also have a good chance of encountering Budgerigar, Black-faced Woodswallow and Painted Firetail here. In the afternoon, after a picnic lunch, we will visit Simpson’s Gap, a spectacular narrow gorge with a permanent waterhole. A range of nectar-feeding species can be found here including Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, whilst parrots may include the highly sought-after Pink Cockatoo. We may also see Little Woodswallow and other bush birds such as Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Western Gerygone, Pied Butcherbird and Collared Sparrowhawk. Simpson’s Gap is also one of the more reliable sites for Black-footed Rock-wallaby. If we have time, we will also stop nearby at Stanley Chasm, another reliable site to see Dusky Grasswren if we missed it previously.

Day 22 Today we will make the long drive to Uluru (Ayers Rock), a spectacular red monolith whose dome rises out of the central Australian desert, enjoying birding en route and an evening sunset at the rock. We will stop at an area north of Erldunda looking for Banded and Southern Whitefaces, Cinnamon Quail-thrush and Black and White-fronted Honeyeaters. Along the way we might also see Yellow-throated Miner, Grey-headed and Pied Honeyeaters, White-backed Swallow, Galah, Australian Magpie, Little Crow and raptors such as Little and Wedge-tailed Eagles and Spotted Harrier. Overnight near Uluru.

Day 23 This morning we will bird around the area until it gets too hot, looking for Black-eared Cuckoo, Emu, Peregrine Falcon, Mulga Parrot, Red-backed Kingfisher, Australian Kestrel, Purple-backed Fairywren and Redthroat, whilst there is also a remote chance of finding Inland Dotterel and Sandhill Grasswren. We will then bird our way back to Alice Springs for a further two-night stay, stopping en route for a picnic lunch and an ice cream or cold drink at one of the road houses.

Day 24 Today we will visit Kunoth Bore, an area of Mulga woodlands north of Alice Springs. On the drive there, we will maintain a vigil for Black-breasted Kite, Ground Cuckooshrike and Crimson Chat along the Tanami Road, whilst in the Mulga scrub around the bore there is a chance of seeing the rare Grey Honeyeater. The uncommon Slaty-backed Thornbill also occurs here whilst other thornbills may include Yellow-rumped. The range of other small passerine species here includes Cockatiel, Red-tailed Black-cockatoo, Little Buttonquail, Diamond Dove, Masked and White-browed Woodswallows and Hooded Robin. In the afternoon we will visit the Alice Springs Waste Stabilisation Ponds, although entry is never guaranteed and we may have to view from outside the fence. With over 140 bird species recorded, the ponds support an abundance of birdlife, with a good mix of water birds and waders. Possible new birds here include Freckled Duck, Black-tailed Nativehen, Red-necked Avocet, Brown and Rufous Songlarks, Little Grassbird, Spinifexbird and Orange Chat.

Day 25 Early this morning we will target any of the species we may have missed in birding sites close to Alice Springs before taking an early afternoon flight back to Brisbane, where we will connect with our international flight back to the UK, arriving on Day 26.

General information The climate can vary from cold in the mountains to hot and humid in the rainforest. There will be a moderate amount of walking, mainly on good terrain, but on hot days this can be quite tiring. There are no special medical requirements and insects are not a major problem. E-visas are required for most nationalities. Distances are quite long, but the roads are good and driving is relaxed, with plenty of opportunities to stop. Accommodation standards are good, with all motel and lodge rooms having en-suite facilities. Expect to see around 300 species.

Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 8 with 2 leaders or 13 with 3 leaders.

Gouldian Finch

Gouldian Finch

Recommended books available from NHBS