Tropical Australia 2002

What an exceptional trip we all had. We saw 287 species during the tour and another 20 species during the extension to Lamington National Park. Although we were beset with unusually high temperatures and bush fires we only instigated minor digressions from our set schedule.

Kookaburra

Kookaburra

Darwin, Northern territory, set the pace for the tour with sightings of 18 species of shorebirds, including Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, Little Curlew and Common Greenshank. The tropical forests provided us with long looks at such beauties as Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, Rainbow Pitta and Blue-winged Kookaburra, the first of the seven kingfishers seen on the tour.

The diversity of habitats encompassed within the Kakadu region allowed for numerous notable sightings such as the White-bellied Sea-Eagle capturing a six foot water snake not more than 100 feet from our boat on “Yellow Waters”, while both Fresh- water and “Salty” Crocodiles swam close by.

Nine species of parrots, including Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Red-winged Parrot and Hooded Parrot, graced our eyes and ears with typical Psittacine antics. During our successful hunt for Black-banded Fruit-Dove we encountered several species of the peculiar looking Friarbirds, members of the Honeyeater family of which we saw a total of twenty seven species, and a mother Black Wallaroo with young. Black Wallaroos are marsupials in the Kangaroo/Wallaby family.

While in this area we took the time to view the wondrous rock art of the indigenous Aboriginals who have brightened the cave walls for many thousands of years.

Whistling Kite

Whistling Kite

Seventeen species of raptors graced the skies during our trip with notable sightings in this area of the odd-looking Pacific Baza, thousands of Black and Whistling Kites and the regal Braminy Kite.

The many pigeons and doves were well represented by Torresian Imperial-Pigeons, Emerald Doves and Partridge Pigeons. The occasional Dingo, Flying Fox, Barking Owl and Bush Thick-knee brightened our nighttime meanderings. We were also rightly entertained by a small group of Pied Butcherbirds chasing a large Green Tree-snake, which retreated down the vertical sides of an old mine shaft. The many rails, including the Chestnut Rail, Scrubwrens, finches and gerygones that graced our path made this portion of Australia truly memorable.

A short early morning flight delivered us to Cairns in Northern Queensland where the extensive mangroves and the very available Esplanade introduced us to the abundance of avifauna awaiting our binoculars and cameras. Dusky Myzomela, Mangrove Robin and Black Butcherbird taunted us among the mangroves while Australian Pelican, Royal Spoonbill and Gull-billed Tern sat sedately along the Esplanade offering long leisurely looks. Close by Peregrine Falcons fed their young in a window box of an ocean front hotel.

Michaelmas Cay, in the Great Barrier Reef, was home to thousands of nesting and feeding Brown Noddys, Sooty and Black-naped Terns with scatterings of Great and Lesser Crested-Terns plus Little Terns.

A quick change into fins, masks and snorkels and we entered an underwater fantasy realm of many varieties of corals and luminescent fish. A rest on the way back to shore prepared us for our next day’s trip up into the Atherton Tablelands, at approximately 3000 feet, a reprieve from the coastal heat.

One of the highlights of the Tablelands must be the amazing ‘bowers’ of the bowerbirds. Both, the 5-6 ft. high “maypole-type” and the 2 ft. high “avenue-type”, display bowers of the Golden and Great Bowerbirds are architectural feats well worth the effort required to find them.

Brolga Crane

Brolga Crane

Another activity that we greatly enjoyed was watching the antics of courting Victoria’s Riflebirds while the comical calls of the Wompoo Fruit-Dove resounded through the forest. Such remarkable avian behavior set the scene for an evening stroll to watch the methodically calming actions of a feeding Platypus, one of natures more interesting biological configurations.

Open fields in the Tablelands offered us great looks at Brolga, Sarus Cranes and the Australian Bustard, while Wedge-tailed Eagles, Brown and Black Falcons and Brown Goshawks shared the skies with Spotted Harriers.

For those up early, a look at one of Australia’s two Tree Kangaroos and a glimpse of a Red-legged Pademelon was reward enough. Views of the very large Channel-billed Cuckoo was the highlight of many great looks at nine of the species of the cuckoo family, while evening walks offered excellent visions of Australian Owlet-nightjar, Lesser Sooty-Owl, Eastern Grass-Owl and the beautiful Striped Possum. As we headed back toward the coast an opportunity to see a roosting pair of Tawny Frogmouths was grasped with great enthusiasm.

Southern Cassowary

Southern Cassowary

By far my favorite moment on the trip came almost at the end after a long days search for the Southern Cassowary. To come face to face with a five-foot tall bird with feathers like hair, a vibrantly colored neck and head and a reputation for laying to waste antagonizing humans, was the ultimate reward for the trip.

Our extension to the Lamington National Park, located at the southern border of Queensland offered us several new species for the trip, the most obvious being the large flocks of King Parrots and Crimson Rosellas that have decided humans are their easiest source of food. Both Regent and Satin Bowerbirds were easily seen with the latter having many of its bowers within easy viewing.

The Paradise Riflebird and the Albert’s Lyrebird were a little harder to find but well worth the effort. Logrunners and Bassian Thrushes were serenaded by the calls of the Eastern Whipbird and the munching of the many Red-necked Pademelons cropping the lawn outside our rooms each night serenaded our sleep.

Albert's Lyrebird

Albert’s Lyrebird

About Ken Wilson

Ken Wilson is the owner of Talon Tours. A native New Zealander, Ken has been leading nature and birdwatching tours worldwide since 1995. Ken has also led focused tours to many national and state parks in the western United States as well as key birding sites during migration. His passion for photography began in the early 1970’s and continues to grow. Ken is known for his easygoing manner and attention to organizational and logistical details.

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