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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Brisbane and south-eastern Queensland 21/8-1/9/03,
Thanks to the SARS scare and recent political turmoil around the globe we had a 'golden opportunity' to purchase some very cheap tickets to Brisbane, Australia. We were due for our annual visit to Singapore but decided to extend the trip with a much desired vacation somewhere outside of Thailand, our first in 21 years.
We landed in Brisbane in the early wee hours. Feeling the nice cool air was a reward in itself as even though I have lived in hot Thailand for so long, I still prefer a temperate climate.
While waiting for our hired car (we hired a Toyota Camry -95 for only 30A$/day and the car held up without any problems) a black and white bird took to some wires. I thought it was a Magpie but was surprised how lovely the song was. Then I realized it was a Pied Butcherbird, a common bird in Queensland. My first lifebird. A Noisy Miner was next in some trees and that was it, as we settled in our vehicle.
We drove off to visit Tom Tarrant at his work in town. It was so exciting to see the birds along the way as I had only seen the major part of them in fieldguides prior to our trip. At Tom's work a Magpie Lark almost crossed my feet (I love this bird that was commonly seen at roadsides), several Australian Magpies (who by the way do have a musical repertoire as well) several Australian White Ibises (in the midst of a city! Unheard of in Thailand!) and a pair of Green Figbirds. Tom served coffee and then we started driving towards his house some 30 km Northwest of Brisbane. The drive took us through some lovely forested and hilly landscape. Not only the bird fauna is entirely different but also the vegetation is not to be recognized from anywhere I have been. For us coming from Thailand it was also amusing to see Westerners doing menial work along the way. In Thailand, Westerners are businessmen or tourists; never janitors, cashiers or garbage collectors etc!
We were told that the area was experiencing an 18 month-long drought. Also, we were too early for returning migrants. Factors adding up to a somewhat low season birding-wise. Frankly though, it didn't matter to me as there were so many new sights and sounds that enthused me daily.
Tom and his wife Marie, have a lovely house - a typical, traditional Australian style - situated on a hilltop. They often have visiting birders at their house and are happy to give needed assistance. They had prepared their caravan for us with lots of warm bedding. Our children, Jaime, 8, and Julia, 5, immediately took to their dog, Sally, who responded warmly to the children's play.
It was almost a shock for me to see the type of birds that would come to their feeders. I had read about it but still it took me by surprise. Flocks of the absolutely magnificent King Parrot, Rainbow Lorikeet, Gallah, Sulphur-crested Cuckoo and Common Bronzewing comfortably came and went, treating us to close looks.
The Noisy Friar -- or the 'vulture' -bird as our son.,Jaime, aptly calls the odd-looking specimen -- was a constant companion at the caravan. Other common birds around the house were Lewin's Honeyeater, Brown Honeyeater, White-throated Honeyeater, Yellow-throated Honeyeater, Rufous Whistler and Bar-shouldered Doves. A pair of Pale-headed Rosellas and Scaly-breasted Lorikeets were wonderful bonuses!
Each morning at 5 am we were woken up, at least I was, by the musical whistles of the Pied Butcherbird.
Tom's property (7acres) includes a nature trail where Marie who is a dedicated naturalist has cleared the vegetation from unwanted foreign plants. We went for a walk and such exciting birds as Variegated Fairy Wren, Eastern Yellow Robin, White-throated Treecreeper and Eastern Whipbird were seen. The latter really is a 'cracker' as the powerful and explosive call from these birds truly live up to their name.
Tom took us around to various sites in the area and I kept adding lifebirds right and left. Within a 30-minute radius from his house, I had 106 lifebirds! At Samsonvale cemetery there was a lake, which held lots of waterfowl. It included the endemic Black-fronted and Red-kneed Dotterels (Plovers), Black Swan, Australian Pelican, Pacific Black Duck, White-faced Herons, Hardheads, Little Pied Cormorant, and much more. Next to the lake, over extensive grassland, a pair of Spotted Harriers were feeding along with many Australian Black-shouldered Kites, while Whistling Kites were soaring over the more wooded areas.
In some nearby eucalyptus trees, a pair of Tawny Frogmouth's were sleeping while Brown Cuckoo Doves were feeding on tobacco plants. On a walk around a preserved rainforest next to the lake I had my very first Red-browed Firetails feeding in a flock along with Double-barred Finches. Red-backed and Superb Fairy Wrens were actively feeding in the brush, as was a Tawny Grassbird. We also had Brown Goshawk, Shining Bronze Cuckoo, Varied Sittella and Little Bronze Cuckoo in the area as well as a pair of Varied Trillers.
One of the more spectacular birds must be the male Golden Whistler with its bright colors. Laughing Kookaburras were everywhere.
One morning we went to a small creek with lots of birdlife. My only Azure Kingfisher kept flying up and down the stream. Some bubbles on the water surface revealed a Platypus swimming about.
We saw big flocks of Topknots Pigeons flying high. Straw-legged Ibises were flying in groups of up to 50 birds. Yellow-billed Spoonbills, Comb--crested Jacanas, Glossy Ibis were other nice sightings.
Tom and Marie treated us to some excellent food and we responded with some Thai cooking. It was so lovely to enjoy dinner & the evening together under a crisp clear and starry sky in the Southern Hemisphere.
There was so much to see in the vicinity of their house that we didn't need to go out very far. Our first 'longer trip' was a 30-minute drive to Mt.Glorious, which is part of the Dividing Range. Up here we started out with a splendid New Holland Honeyeater that came in upon request after Tom's excellent squeakings and pishings! The lawn at the park held many Currawongs. Intriguing bird with a bright yellow eye. We had our first Bowerbirds here at the forest edge but they were a bit hard to see well.
A walk along a trail inside the forest revealed Pale-Yellow Robins, a rain forest specialist.
Yellow-throated Scrub-Wrens was moving in the low brush. My eyes fell on a Rufous Fantail. Gorgeous bird! We heard the call of Noisy Pitta and I followed it down in a gully for a long time but failed to get my eyes on it. That would have been my 10th Pitta! Instead I got good looks at some Logrunners working hard to find feed in the leaf litter. This was one of my wanted birds and sort of made up for missing the Pitta.
North Stradbroke Island
After less then an hour's drive we found ourselves at the ferry terminal to North Stradbroke Island (straddies. The car trunk was full of camping gear and groceries had been packed. The 45 minutes ride to the island went well and I saw my first Pied Cormorant, Pied Oystercatcher, Australian Darter and Eastern Curlew along the way. Boy, does that Curlew have a massive beak!
We paid our camp fee at the tourist info by the ferry port upon arrival. The island is quite laid back with many tourists visiting. An easy drive to Point Lookout was our first destination. Here we took in the incredible beauty of the Pacific Ocean; giant waves crashing against the steep gorges and rolling in on the white sandy beaches. Whales come to this area to breed and we could see a couple of Humpback whales rolling in the waters with their big flippers tumbling about. Bottlenecked dolphins were riding waves in sights only seen on TV. Some Australian Gannets came close. Big numbers of Shearwaters, Crested Terns and Silver Gulls were feeding from schools of fish. Great place for the kids as well who also enjoyed climbing on the rocky outcrops.
Our campground was located right at the beach. The water was a bit cold at about 15C but we managed a short swim in the crystal clear waters. There were cooking facilities and warm showers at the grounds and our simple meals turned out well. Bread, cheese and canned food are quite affordable but eating out was out of the question, being on a low budget trip. Wine was cheap and delicious but beers outrageously expensive and unsavory.
Next morning we went to Amity Point on the northwestern part of the island. Here a good number of Australian Pelicans and Silver Gulls were at 'arm reach' length.
On the edge of the camping grounds there is a little passage through some trees. It opens up to a very scenic and tranquil area. Mangroves on the left with lots of larger waders in the mudflats. A Beach Thick-knee flew in and thrilled my senses. Great bird! I walked along the sandbar and soon spotted some incredibly cute little Double-banded Plovers in breeding plumage. I was very happy to see this bird as most of them apparently already had left for New Zealand. The birds were fairly approachable and I got some good shots.
At the end of the sand bar I used the scope to scan the many birds further out on smaller sandbars. Lots and lots of birds. A very peaceful area that the children liked as well.
We scouted around the island for the rest of the day and following morning before taking the ferry back to Brisbane. It was a bit hard to leave but after all, Australia is not only ocean and beaches!
Lamington National Park
It took us about an hour and a half to get to the little town of Canungra some 30 km before Lamington Park.
The park is Queensland's oldest and located about 150 km South of Brisbane. For me coming from Thailand, driving was a breeze with hardly any traffic. Roads were very well marked and cars kept the speed limits without fail.
After having checked our e-mail at the local library we started driving up the winding road. It was very winding but the incline was gradual. Most of the forest was dry and open (like most forests we were in, hardly any middle storey and only grasses and shrubs on the ground). It wasn't until we had come up on higher ground (peak is at about 1200 m) that it turned into denser montane rain forest.
At the end of the road is the privately owned O'Reilly's Resort. It is a highclass and pricey resort that caters to the well-heeled. We settled for the campground right before the resort. No other campers (because of the drop in temperature perhaps!) were around but plenty of Paddymelons (a marsupial relative of the Wallaby) that were not the least bit afraid of our presence.
Wild Australian Brush Turkey came close and even pinched some of our hotdogs. Satin Bowerbirds responded to our feed (corn flakes) and in the corner of the grounds a single Womba pigeon was quietly feeding.
Regent Bowerbird, male
I entered the nature trail next to the resort. In here I had my only Paradise Riflebird, which belongs to the family of Birds of Paradise. A fairly rare Rufous Shrike Thrush was a nice surprise. Eastern Yellow Robin appeared almost tame and actually came for a piece of cheese from my hand. Green Catbirds came in view (boy, these birds really know how to meow), as did Scrub-Wrens. The kids really liked the 'treetop' walk, a boardwalk suspended some 20-30 meters above ground.
Satisfied with the morning we decided to drive towards the town of Stanthorpe. To get there you have to cross the Dividing Range and leave the hinterlands behind you. Best way was to go through the Cunningham's Gap. Here we stopped at a resting place done up by the Maine Range National Park. (Just a kilometer or so after the road starts going down again). The air was filled with the lovely tinkling of bell-chimes, courtesy of flocks of Bell Miners. These birds have laid claim to the area and were actively chasing away larger Magpies, Currawongs and Rosellas. Seldom have I heard such an appealing bird call. Just like small Christmas bells. We were also blessed with our only Musk Lorikeet and our first Eastern Rosellas.
This is a lovely little town of 5000 some people. Lots of hotels, as the area is known for its berries and wineries. We stayed at the Boulevard Hotel, which is run by a sweet Christian couple who provided us with clean, warm beautiful accomodation for two nights. Behind the Hotel is a nice park by a stream where the kids loved to play around and feed the waterfowl. Many ducks were here but my first new bird was an Australian Reed Warbler. A pair of Red Wattlebirds were roaming around in the area. Quite obtrusive and distinct. We slept well that night in a heated room and woke up to frost on our windscreen. I had a lovely morning walk while the rest were cuddling up in their warm blankets.
We decided to drive a further 80 kilometers to the Southern entrance of Sundown National Park. I don't think we met a single car during our drive there. Dry and desolate countryside. We realized we were heading towards what they call the 'outback'. Finally at the park, no ranger was around, vegetation was totally dried out, creek had nothing but boulders and birds were not present. We did see plenty of Kangaroos, which the kids of course loved. We soon started driving back and stopped along the way. This is how I got some more lifebirds such as: Red-winged Parakeets, Red-rumped Parakeet, Apostlebirds, Fairy Tree Swifts and Swamp Harrier.
Returning to Stanthorpe, we continued on to Giraween National Park. The park is located 30 km South of town and is well known. Good facilities and an impressive visitor center with friendly rangers who gladly assist with needed information. Huge picnic grounds. The parks main attraction is its large granite boulders, which many come to climb. We started a fire, had our lunch and scurried around. I had my second Pardalote here: Spotted. These birds are simply gorgeous, small and colorful as they are. They nest in banks and holes in the ground and are not interested in your presence if they need to 'get back home'. Yellow-tufted Honeyeater and White-eared Honeyeater were also added to my list.
Once back in town, it was time for another visit to Woolworth's. This supermarket is all over the area and just about anything can be bought here. For an old Swede like me, rye bread and cheese soon became the staple.
Nest morning gave me a couple more lifers: White-plumed Honeyeater and Australian Hobby on a wire. A long walk with my daughter made me feel young all over again. Guess the crisp air had something to do with it.
We drove back the 240 km to Brisbane, and Tom and Marie. Along the way we stopped at several places taking in the scenery. Once back at their house we felt like coming home and ended the day with lots of tales to tell.
With only a couple of days more left it was decided that we'd spend the day in the area beyond the Dividing Range across from Mt.Glorious. Tom did his best to help me reach the 150 mark of new species and though the area was arid and bird scarce we did end up with about 10 lifers for the day. We visited a well known birder by the name Bill Jolly. Around his house all was green and lush with a stream full of water. Speckled Warbler, Little Wattlebird and Zebra Finches were new to me here.
We also saw a flock of Cockatiels feeding on a lawn, had some wonderful Pink-eared Ducks in the town of Gatton, a White-necked Heron along the road, a Long-billed Corella flying across the road
(an escape?) and some lovely Plumed Whistling Ducks. Our only Grey-crowned Babblers were found here. The area was dotted with Australian Kestrels. The most common raptor we saw besides Whistling Kite. Only saw Wedge-tailed Eagle a couple of times. Also a flock of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers was a treat as was a flying flock of Australian Shovelers.
The following day we took the kids to Woolshed where they could interact more with the local animals.
Did a little bit of shopping, added a Mistletoe to my list and ended the day with pizza before leaving for the airport.
"There is a God," all nature cries.
I see it painted in the skies;
I see it in the flowering spring,
I hear it when the birdlings sing.
I see it in the flowering main,
I see it on the fruitful plain,
I see it stamped on hail and snow,
I see it where the streamlets flow;
I see it in the clouds that soar,
I hear it when the thunders roar;
I see it when the morning shines,
I see it when the day declines;
I see it on the mountain height,
I see it in the smallest might.
I see it everywhere abroad:
I feel-I know-there is a God.
Thank you Tom and Marie for helping to make our trip so pleasant. Anyone visiting Brisbane ought to contact them.
PS. For full trip list just let me know. firstname.lastname@example.org
Car rental: www.rolo.com.au