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A Report from

Australia, 8th Sept– 24th Oct 2006,

Rod and Jeanie Atkins

Cairns/Daintree/Julatten/Cassowary House/Georgetown/Brisbane/Lamington/Blue Mountains/Capertee Valley/Sydney.

Having carried out most of our birding in India, see ‘Birding in Kerala 2005’, we wanted to try somewhere further afield and Australia/New Zealand seemed a good choice. Our first thoughts had been to split the time that we had available between both these countries but we soon realised that it would be better to devote 5 weeks to Australia and split the rest on stopovers. Japan on the way there and Hong Kong on the way back. We could make plans to visit NZ on another occasion.

In August 2005 we had met Roy Sonnenburg at the Australia stand at the Birdfair in the U.K. He gave us some valuable advice which included buying the Lloyd Nielson book Birding Australia. Whilst waiting for the book  I googled Birding in Australia and was led to Sue Gregory. She runs Sicklebill Safaris and offers tailor made birding holidays,

Over the next few months with Sue’s advice and help from Lloyds book we planned our trip. Sue arranged our accommodation in Northern Queensland and booked our guides. We arranged our trip to Brisbane and Sydney though Sue booked Alan McBride our Sydney guide.

We arrived in Cairns at 5.30 am on the 14th Sept. We stayed at the Acacia Court Hotel and had paid for the room the night before so that we could use it immediately. We also paid more so that the room looked over the front towards the esplanade. We spent 5 days in Cairns and during that time visited Kuranda via the scenic railway returning by Skyrail. We also spent a day visiting Michaelmas Cay on the Great Barrier Reef.

It is hard to describe the pleasure those first days gave us. The walk along the esplanade was full of birds both on the trees, grass and on the mud flats. We had bought the Simpson and Day field guide with which we were relatively pleased and had fun trying to work out which birds the Magpie Lark and Willie Wagtail were. On the esplanade we came across a group of 3 local birders who were very helpful and showed us the Sharp-tailed, Curlew and Tereck Sandpipers amongst the usual Godwits, Greenshanks, Knots etc. The Tattler and Red Necked Stint were also a first for us as were the Variegated and Yellow honey eaters.

We visited the Botanic Gardens several times both by ourselves, and later with our guide Glen Holmes. Across the road from the gardens are the Centenary Lakes. On our first visit we saw Spangled Drongo, Yellow and Olive Backed Orioles, Rainbow Bee-eater, Helmeted Friar Bird and our first Brush-turkey.

The day at Michalmas Cay, since the sea was very rough and cold, was rather disappointing. We saw Brown Noddy, Greater and Lesser Crested Tern and Sooty Tern and a Ruddy Turnstone. I was severely sick on the way there and would only recommend it on a calm day, though Rod had a great time.

On 18th we collected our hire car and travelled to Daintree Village where we stayed at Red Mill House. This was a great bed and breakfast place with the best breakfasts of the trip. Andrew and Trish Forsyth were generous hosts and made us feel very welcome.

We had arranged for Peter Cooper to be our guide for the whole day. We started with an early morning boat trip on the Mossman River followed by breakfast in Mossman. Afterwards we drove to Lake Mitchell, birding on the way. We lunched at Mount Molloy and then visited Mount Carbine. We saw over sixty birds, the Collared Kingfisher, Mistletoe Bird and Red-backed Fairy-wren amongst them. We found Peter to be a very good guide. His fees included the boat trip, breakfast and lunch.

On 21st we drove to Kingfisher Park in Julatten. This is a self catering birding lodge and whilst we had heard good reports of the Highland Restaurant nearby, we were happy to have snack food in our room as we had eaten out for every meal so far. Keith and Lindsay Fisher who run the Lodge were very helpful. They do evening spotlighting and morning bird walks. On the spotlighting tour we saw the masked owl. On feeders at the lodge were Macleay’s Honeyeaters, Red-browed Firetail Finches and a Spotted Catbird.

We had arranged to have a day with Del Richards and he picked us up the next day along with another couple. We visited Mount Carbine and beyond and birded the area around Julatten on the way back. We saw 64 birds with Del, the highlights included the White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, White-winged Triller and the Weebill. Del was an outstanding guide who worked hard all day to find new birds for us. His trip included lunch and coffee breaks.

On 23rd we drove to the Radisson Tree Tops Hotel in Port Douglas for three nights R&R. On the way to Port Douglas we backtracked and visited the Mareeba Wetland centre and did one of the walks and a boat ride. At Port Douglas we visited the Rainforest Habitat which a large aviary, one of the best we have ever seen.

On 26th we drove to Cassowary House outside Kuranda.

Cassowary House was the most expensive accommodation, except for O’Reillys, of the trip and the room was the most basic. Sue provided tasty, vegetarian evening meals served in the main property on the verandah. Having breakfast with the birds joining in, including the Cassowary and the rat kangaroos, was an unmissable experience.

We had booked two nights at Cassowary, followed by two nights in Georgetown staying at the Latara Resort Motel, and then a further three nights back at Cassowary. Sue had booked Glen Holmes as our guide for these six days. We also paid for Glen to use his car and for Glen’s food and accommodation in Georgetown. Glen was another excellent guide who worked hard over these six days.

There were many memorable moments but the evening in Georgetown when we sat by Sandy Creek dam, the trees dripping in Galahs, a windmill creaking overhead and the most beautiful sunset in an astonishing landscape will be amongst the top favourite memories of the entire trip.

During our time in North East Queensland we saw 240 birds.

We saw many memorable birds with Glen which included the Lovely Fairy-wren, Yellow-bellied Boatbill and Crimson, Zebra, Plum-headed and Double Barred Finches. Our last day was spent trying to mop up those we had missed and we saw a Beach Stone Curlew, Gould’s Bronze-Cuckoo, Little Kingfisher, White-browed Robin and the Fairy Gerygone. We covered many areas including around Cassowary House, Kuranda State Forest, Cairns, Yorkeys Knob, Machans Beach, Mareeba, Lake Mitchell, Lake Eacham, Mt. Surprise and Atherton.

In retrospect we should have had one less night at Cassowary house.

On the 3rd October we flew to Brisbane and were collected from the airport by Roy Sonnenburg. We had arranged to stay at his B&B/home stay for 4 nights so that we could explore Brisbane for 2 days and bird on one.

We were then to collect a hire car and to drive to O’Reillys at Lamington for a 2 night stay followed by one more night at Roy’s before flying down to Sydney.

Roy and his wife Helen also offer breakfast and evening meals. Helen is a superb cook who went out of her way to accommodate my carnivore husband and my vegetarian self.

The moment we arrived at their lovely house they made us feel at home. Drinks and nibbles on the deck before dinner were most welcome. The room that we stayed in was large and well furnished with very comfortable beds.

We had booked Roy for one day’s full birding on the 5th. He also offers an early morning bird walk in a nearby park. On the first day he drove us to a ferry point so that we could get the catamaran into Brisbane.

On the day of our bird trip we left at 7am and drove for about an hour west of Brisbane. We covered different sorts of habitat, lakes, scrubland, the university which had a huge amount of waders on its ponds and ended the day in a Mangrove area close to their home. Helen had packed a superb picnic and we ate like kings.

Altogether we saw 101 birds 13 of them new which included the Mangrove Gergyone, Red-kneed Dotterel and Pink-eared Ducks.

On the 7th October we hired a car and drove up to O’Reillys at Lammington N.P. where we stayed for 2 nights. Unfortunately we went at the weekend and it was very busy. However it was well worth the trip and the expense.

Within an hour we had seen 12 new birds including the Eastern Whipbird, Eastern Spinebill and various Bowerbirds.

On the 9th we drove back to Brisbane and the following day flew to Sydney. In retrospect we should have driven to the airport on the 9th and had one night less in Brisbane and one more in the Blue Mountains. On arrival in Sydney we picked up a hire car and drove straight to the Blue Mountains for a night in the Echo Point Motel, Katoomba, which was basic but clean. The next morning we did the giant steps walk (I ached for 2 days afterwards) stocked up the car with food and drove to Glen Davis in the Capertee Valley. The last 35 kilometres were on unmetalled road which was rough in parts but quite manageable at slow speeds.

We stayed at Oskas, which was a roomy cabin, with a very comfortable bed, for 3 nights.

We had arranged for Carol Probets to guide us for one day and she arrived at 5.30 the next morning. We had a very enjoyable day with Carol who worked very hard. We saw 79 birds, 25 of them new to us. These included the amazing Bell Miners, Jacky Winter and the Regent Honeyeater.

The area around Oskas was very scenic and great for birding and I highly recommend staying there. Oska was a very kind host and did not complain when I caused his washing machine to flood!! Carol’s fees included morning coffee but you took your own lunch and she provided hers.

On the 14th we travelled back to Sydney where we stayed at the Holiday Inn at the Rocks.

We met up with family for a day and a half and then on the 15th were guided by Alan McBride http:/ He collected us from the hotel at 6am and took us on the long drive to Barren Ground, Minnmurra N.P. and Royal N.P.  We thoroughly enjoyed our day with Alan who has a great sense of humour. Amongst the twelve new birds that we saw were the Superb Lyrebird, Pilotbird and Eastern Bristlebird. The Barren Ground was heath land and unlike anything we had so far seen in Australia. Quite fascinating. We had an excellent lunch at Minnmurra and very pleasant walks in the Royal. A long day but extremely worthwhile. Alan’s fees included his travel costs but we paid for lunch.

We saw a total of 314 birds in Australia.

Altogether we spent 5 nights in Sydney and then flew to Hong Kong for 4 nights. Alan McBride had suggested areas to bird in HK and recommended a bird guide, The Birds of Hong Kong.

In Kowloon Park we saw our first Chinese Bulbulls, Masked Laughing Thrush and Black Collared Starling. At Tai O, which we arrived far too late in the day, we saw the Crested Mynah and the Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush.

All the parks in HK had something to offer and were well worth the visit.

Thoughts re the trip.

On the whole we were very satisfied with the way we had arranged the trip.

We booked the tickets via Trailfinders a BA/ Quantas deal. Trailfinders arranged the trips in Tokyo. We enjoyed Japan very much and next time will do some birding.

We could have done with a day less in Brisbane and Cassowary House and we wish we had spent a couple of nights at Lake Eacham staying at Chambers Rainforest Lodge.

We also wish we had stayed for an extra night at Kingfisher Park.

The fees for the guides were slightly complicated, some providing all meals and others needing their meals to be paid for. Make sure you realise what you have contracted for to avoid embarrassment.

All the guides that we had were excellent, helping to bring alive our birding trip to Australia.

Try to avoid weekends in popular areas and school holidays if possible.

We felt that this was a good time of year to travel in spite of experiencing some rain and cold nights. In Sydney there was a heat wave for a few days and the flies appeared and it made us realise that we would not have enjoyed it as much later in the season.

If anyone wishes to contact us re this trip then please do so via the e-mail address at the top of report.

Apostle Bird at George Town

Black Swans at Sewage Works

Full Bird List (.pdf)

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