I spent two weeks in Australia after a PNG trip visiting west and southeast Queensland and the top end of the Northern Territories. The Queensland week was a little disappointing for me as we were unable to find ten or so of the birds I had hoped to see, although there were some goodies such as Chestnut-breasted Quail-Thrush, Spotted Bowerbird and Ground Cuckoo-shrike. It was much wetter than normal in the outback which meant birds were not concentrated at the water-holes as usual. The top end was good, with 28 ticks for me, including Black-breasted Buzzard, Grey Falcon, Banded Fruit-Dove, Hooded Parrot, Rufous Owl, Rainbow Pitta, Purple-crowned Fairy-Wren, White-throated Grasswren and 3 species of finch. The only disappointment was our failure to find Gouldian Finch.
A hire-car from Budget was used throughout and a large mileage covered. The deal was unlimited mileage in Queensland and I booked there for Darwin on the same basis but in Darwin they would not allow unlimited mileage. There was a hefty extra mileage charge but they agreed to some discount when I explained their booking error. The weather was beautiful throughout, though surprisingly cold at night and early morning in Queensland – as low as -8 C.
Site information is generally well-documented in visit reports and guide books, especially those by Richard and Sarah Thomas and, for the top end, by Niven McCrie. Many thanks to Tom Tarrant for latest information, to Janos, Mikey and Tamas for their sharp eyes and excellent companionship, and especially to Paul Walbridge for his considerable help, hospitality and friendship during the Queensland leg.
Queensland with Tamas Zalai and Paul Walbridge
June 27 Brisbane at 10.00 with Tamas, to Paul’s house. Drove 560km west to St George, with stops, eg at Cunninghams Gap; overnight Balonne Motel.
28 Continued west to Eulo, Lake Bindegolly and Thargomindah; overnight Bulloo River Motel.
29 West to Wilson River, Noccundra, via the Gray Range, then back to Thargomindah; overnight Bulloo River Motel.
30 East to Eulo Bore, then back to St George with stops, eg at Cunnamulla; overnight St George Hotel Motel.
July 1 Goondiwindi, Tenterfield, Sundown NP and Warwick: overnight Buckaroo Motor Inn.
2 Apex Lake, Gatton; Back Flagstone Creek Road ; Lockyer Creek Road, Grantham; 7 Mile lagoon; and back to Brisbane – night at Paul’s.
3 Mount Glorious via Boombana, then Samford Valley, Postman’s Track and western suburbs of Brisbane – night at Paul’s.
4 Dayboro, Samford Cemetery and Paul’s. 11.00 to Brisbane airport. Night flight to Darwin.
Northern Territories with Janos Olah and Mikey Watson
July 5 Chilli’s Backpackers; bus and walk to East Point Reserve; Darwin Botanical Gardens; night at Chilli’s Backpackers.
6 Drove to East Point Reserve, mangrove boardwalk, Botanical Gardens, Stuart Park mangroves, Buffalo Creek, Charles Darwin NP, Botanical Gardens and airport to collect Janos and Mikey; night at Chilli’s Backpackers.
7 East Point, Botanical Gardens, then south to Fogg Dam and Kakadu NP, where stopped at Mamukala and Norlangie before driving to Waterfall Creek; overnight camping.
8 Walked to waterfall overlook and plateau; drove to Pine Creek, Umbrawarra Gorge, Fergusson River, Chinaman Creek and Katherine; night Victoria Backpackers Lodge.
9 Edith Falls, walked to Upper Pool and along road, drove to Katherine and west to Timber Creek, back to Victoria River where walked up escarpment; overnight Victoria River Roadhouse.
10 Escarpment trailhead, Victoria River, Katherine, Mary River Roadhouse, Old Darwin Road (Kakadu) and Nourlangie where walked to top of Nawurlandja lookout; overnight Gagudju Lodge, Cooinder.
11 Old Darwin Road, Yellow Water, Adelaide River and Fogg Dam, where did Monsoon Forest walk. Back to East Point, Darwin and mangrove boardwalk; airport.
12 Night flight to Brisbane (JH) or Sydney (JO and MW). Morning around Brisbane airport, afternoon flight to Singapore.
DAILY LOG ($ = Australian dollars)
June 27: Arrived Brisbane at 10.00 from very wet Port Moresby, with Tamas. Met by Paul, collected car and drove to his house. Set off on the long drive west to the outback. First stop was Cunninghams Gap, 13.30: Musk Lorikeet, Bell Miner, Pied Currawong, Satin Bowerbird, Dusky Woodswallow, Wedge-tailed Eagle. A later stop 47km east of Inglewood gave Brown Falcon, Little and Scaly-breasted Lorikeets, Fuscous Honeyeater and Diamond Firetail. Further west stopped for Spotted Harrier, then Red-rumped Parrot, Grey-crowned Babbler and Variegated Fairy-Wren. Long drive to St George, with last hour in the dark, 560km in all, reached at 18.45; overnight Balonne Motel after roast of the day at local pub with highlights of England vs Portugal in European Championship on TV.
June 28: Continued west at 05.30 for 100km: Major Mitchell's Cockatoo, Red-winged Parrot, Striped, Singing, White-plumed and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters, Brown Treecreeper, Weebill and Grey Butcherbird. Breakfast at 08.30 in Bollan: Noisy Friarbird, Striated Pardalote, then 210km west, stopped at flooded area: Red-capped and Hooded Robins, Australian Hobby and a flock of Diamond Doves. Continued on to Eulo, where birded the borehole area for some time: Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush, Spotted Bowerbird, Chestnut-crowned Babbler and Grey-headed Honeyeater. Reached Lake Bindegolly at 15.00, stopping for Mulga Parrot, but sadly the lake was too low for Freckled Duck. Drove at dusk to Thargomindah; overnight Bulloo River Motel – fish and chips, chatted to an itinerant dentist, and bought a pair of woolly socks as feet were frozen this morning!
June 29: Another cloudless day, started with a fruitless attempt to see calling Crested Bellbird; did see Blue Bonnet, Crimson Chat, Grey Shrike-thrush and White-browed and Black-faced Woodswallows. Stops at water-holes further west gave Bourke’s Parrot, Chirruping Wedgebill, Pied and Black Honeyeaters, Red-kneed and Black-fronted Dotterels, but Brolga was only heard calling. Explored a ridge in the Gray Range but only saw thornbills, not the hoped for Redthroat. At the Noccundra hotel at 13.00 I indulged in a large bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and a ginger beer – just like home! Searched for roosting Letter-winged Kites and Banded Whiteface at the nearby Wilson River, without success – flock of Orange Chat was some consolation. Then back to Thargomindah at 18.00; overnight Bulloo River Motel.
June 30: 05.30-07.00 drove east to Eulo Bore. Little activity at first but then saw 3 Crested Bellbirds feeding on open ground. Long search for Hall’s Babbler was unsuccessful but did have good view of Chestnut-breasted Quail-Thrush, Spotted Bowerbird and Red-capped Robin. Continued east, with stops to look for Hall’s Babbler – none – did see a White-fronted Honeyeater. At 13.30 had sausage and chips at Cunnamulla and decided to complete the long drive back to St George, with a long stop at Tom Tarrant’s site for Red-browed Pardalote at Blaire; only pardalote was Striated but flushed 4 Red-chested Buttonquails. Tamas burnt up the miles to St George, so we arrived at 18.15, only to find all the hotels were full due to a football competition; finally got beds at St George Hotel Motel (not a typing error!).
July 1: Departed for Goondiwindi at 06.00, then Tenterfield, with a stop at a lake: Hoary-headed Grebe, Chestnut Teal, White-winged Chough. On to Sundown NP where we stayed till 16.30: Speckled Warbler, Yellow-tufted and White-eared Honeyeaters, Dusky Woodswallow, Double-barred, Red-browed and Plum-headed Finches but no Turquoise Parrots. Continued to Warwick where we stayed at the plush Buckaroo Motor Inn – $79 for a triple room.
July 2: 07.00 to Apex Lake, Gatton: both Spoonbills nesting and Cotton Pygmy-Goose. Back Flagstone Creek Road: Rose Robin and Eastern Whipbird; then Lockyer Creek Road, Grantham: Red-capped Robin, White-throated Gerygone and Chestnut-breasted Mannikin. Lots of waterbirds at Lockyer Waters - 7 Mile lagoon: Australian Shoveler, Pink-eared Duck, Bar-tailed Godwit, Marsh Sandpiper and best of all, a large flock of Red-necked Avocet. In horse-grazed pastures near Atkinson Dam we finally located a pair of Ground Cuckoo-shrike, before returning to Paul’s house in Brisbane, 16.30-18.00, for the night.
July 3: 06.30 to Mount Glorious via Boombana for Paradise Riflebird: Green Catbird, Logrunner, Yellow-throated Scrubwren, Regent Bowerbird, Pale Yellow Robin, Brown Gerygone, Russet-tailed Thrush. Breakfast at the café: Brush Turkey, Wonga Pigeon, Grey Goshawk, Eastern Spinebill, New Holland Honeyeater, Satin Bowerbird and 7 Pelicans flew over. 11.30 down to Samford Valley to look for White-eared Monarch, had to settle for White-headed Pigeon and Scarlet Honeyeater. Then to Ian Flinder’s property - stake-out for Glossy Black Cockatoo but not seen for a week, after a long stay. At nearby Postman’s Track looked for Spotted Quail-Thrush and Crested Shrike-Tit without success, saw Spotted Harrier with prey. 15.30-16.30 drove to western suburbs of Brisbane to look for regularly roosting flock of Swift Parrot, no joy. Night at Paul’s with excellent fish and asparagus dinner; otherwise disappointing day - failing to find 4 ticks.
July 4: 05.00-05.50 back to Dayboro to try again for White-eared Monarch, then Samford Cemetery and adjacent large wetland: Australian Reed Warbler, male Red-backed Fairy-wren and Little Grassbird but no Monarch or Bittern. 09.00-09.45 back to Paul’s: quick look for Mangrove Gerygone, then at 11.00 to Brisbane airport. Returned the car – Gp B, $422 for the week – farewell to Tamas, flying home to Budapest. I had to wait for the 21.15 Virgin Blue flight to Darwin, killed some time walking the tree-lined road between the two terminals.
July 5: Arrived at Darwin 00.30, took long time to retrieve rucksack and get shuttle-bus. Booked dorm bed at Chilli’s Backpackers ($25) through airport tourist office but had difficulty getting Chilli’s to open up at this ungodly hour. Bed at 02.00 but awoken at 06.30 by fireworks and loud celebrations – Greece had won the European Championship!! Up at 08.00, email then no. 4 bus to Fannie Bay and walk along coast to East Point Reserve. Looked for Rainbow Pitta in the “dry rain forest” but only saw Scrubfowl, Green-backed Gerygone and Grey Whistler, then walked along coastal mangroves for some distance, spotting a Pitta, Mangrove Gerygone, Red-headed Honeyeater, Broad-billed Flycatcher, and Australian Yellow White-eye near the incomplete mangrove boardwalk. Walked to Darwin Botanical Gardens where a ranger told me the roosting site for Rufous Owl, but I could not see the bird of course. Collected hire-car from Budget. Good supper of cheese, muesli, yoghurt, biscuits and beer. Shops shut at 17.00! Overnight at Chilli’s Backpackers.
July 6: 07.15 drove to East Point Reserve, found stunning Rainbow Pitta on roadside – observed and photo’d for some time. Other birds, including Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, were on the sunny edge of the dry forest. Drove to mangrove boardwalk: Yellow White-eye again, Crimson Finch. Back to town, with short stop in Botanical Gardens to look for the owl; email, shopping and nice lunch at open-air food centre. Drove to Stuart Park mangroves to look for Chestnut Rail; the boat-launch gave good view of mangrove edge but very hot, so continued to Buffalo Creek, stopping to photo big flock of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos and Long-tailed Finch. Birded with Ruth from Tasmania: White-bellied Fish-Eagle, Green Pygmy-Goose, and a pair of Black Butcherbirds attacked a rufous phase Boobook. Followed Ruth’s suggestion and drove to Charles Darwin NP, for Northern Rosella and Silver-crowned Friarbird. Returned to Botanical Gardens at 18.15 where eventually flushed a Rufous Owl but could not locate it perched. Left when it shut at 19.00, good Hot Flush pizza, then to airport to collect Janos and Mikey. Drove to Chilli’s Backpackers and downed a few beers.
July 7: 07.00 to East Point where soon found the photogenic Pitta, then Mangrove Boardwalk: Little Bronze-Cuckoo but no White-eye. At the Botanical Gardens, Janos soon found two adult and a juvenile Rufous Owl roosting on a branch of a big tree behind the toilet block. Checked out of Chilli’s, then drove south to Fogg Dam where there were many waterbirds, especially Magpie Geese and egrets, and single Brolga and Black-necked Stork. Did not bother to look for passerines at it was windy and hot. Entered Kakadu NP ($16.25 for a week) and stopped at Mamukala: Broad-billed Flycatcher and waterbirds. Reached Norlangie at 17.00 – quiet but Mikey spotted a lovely Banded Fruit-Dove feeding in a distant tree, and 2 others were seen. After visiting a nearby billabong – Masked Finch – 18.00-20.30 drove to Waterfall Creek, the last section on badly ridged road through burning trees and grass. Crowded campsite, $5 per person, good facilities; heard Barking Owl.
July 8: 06.45 drove to trailhead – stopped for 2 roosting Tawny Frogmouth – clambered up to waterfall overlook and onto rocky plateau: Sandstone Shrike-Thrush, Little Woodswallow, White-lined Honeyeater and superb White-throated Grasswren (mostly on or in rocks). Drove to Pine Creek, quick look for Hooded Parrot, then along dirt road to Umbrawarra Gorge, stopping at second ford: Rufous-throated and Banded Honeyeaters. Turned round after 20km as no sign of gorge, and drove to Fergusson River, where all creeks were full, and Chinaman Creek – also full but pair of Hooded Parrots were feeding on grass seeds. Overnight at Victoria Backpackers Lodge, Katherine ($18 pp), with big supper at Digger’s Den, $9 pizza and pasta, eat all you can.
July 9: 06.10-07.00 to Edith Falls where pool was too full for finches, walked to Upper Pool – spectacular but no birds - and along road, eventually seeing Diamond Dove, variable Lorikeet and Red-backed Kingfisher. Back to Katherine for food, then fast drive west to Timber Creek: Bar-breasted, Yellow-tinted and Rufous-throated Honeyeaters. Back to Victoria River, where rangers said flock of Gouldian Finch had been seen in cane grass: good views of Purple-crowned Fairy-wren and Star Finch. Walked up escarpment – beautiful in red susnset: 2 White-quilled Rock-Pigeon, after a long search. Overnight at Victoria River Roadhouse $80 a room), steak and beer – last orders at 20.00.
July 10: 07.00 back to escarpment trailhead: 3 parties of Purple-crowned Fairy-wren, Chestnut-breasted and Yellow-rumped Mannikins but no finches. Returned to Victoria River, spent time looking for raptors, then drove straight to Katherine, stopping for Black-breasted Buzzard (at last!), and on to Kakadu. Stopped at Mary River Roadhouse, an oasis: Northern Rosella, Red-winged Parrot and Great Bowerbird. Walked the burnt grassland at Old Darwin Road, Kakadu from 15.30: Spotted Nightjar and Tawny frogmouth but no Black-tailed Treecreeper or Chestnut-backed Buttonquail. Reached Nourlangie at 17.15, and took second track on right to a rocky area where walked to top of Nawurlandja lookout: 2 Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeon, and a rare Grey Falcon for me. Split-up on way back down, I missed the path and got lost in the big rocks as it turned dark; rescued by J and M’s shouts. Overnight Gagudju Lodge, Cooinder - $90 for cramped 3 bed budget room – good buffet at busy restaurant.
July 11: 07.00 left for Old Darwin Road, almost immediately heard unfamiliar piping and found Black-tailed Treecreeper at last, then heard another. Drove south down Kakadu Highway looking for Partridge Pigeon, spotted by Janos (3), with another beside the road as we drove back to Yellow Water, a scenic area with Rajah Shelduck, White-bellied Sea-Eagle at the nest, tame Intermediate Egrets, Shining and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers. Left at 08.15, stopped at Adelaide River to photo big crocs, and Fogg Dam at 11.00. Did Monsoon Forest walk: Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, Pallid Cuckoo for J, but no pittas. Back to East Point, Darwin at 13.00: 2 Bush Thick-knee in shade of tree, no pitta. At mangrove boardwalk, J walked out to sea and found c100 waders including Great Knot, but no white-eyes. Pizza in town, then to airport with stop at the boat-ramp but tide too high. Returned car at 18.00 then waited for Virgin Blue flight, left late at 02.00. Farewell to Janos and Mikey who flew to Sydney.
July 12: Arrived Brisbane 06.00, transferred to the International terminal and slept on comfortable seat. Not able to check in baggage with Singapore Airlines until 12.30, then walked beyond airport to flooded forest and plantations: Red-backed and Superb Fairy-Wrens, and Australasian Pipit were the only notable birds. Afternoon flight to Singapore 15.00-20.30 on time.
Species List – see Xcel list