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AUSTRALIA

North

1–20 September 2018
31 August–19 September 2019

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 departure from London and flight to Darwin on an overnight flight via Singapore..

Day 2 Arrival in Darwin mid-afternoon at the start of the tour, and we will go 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, Mangrove Gerygone, White-breasted Woodswallow, Black Butcherbird, Varied Triller, Grey Whistler (brown form), Green and Olive-backed Orioles, Australian Figbird, Spangled Drongo, Magpie-lark and Lemon-bellied Flycatcher (also known as 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, Collared Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Galah, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Red-winged Parrot, Rufous-banded and Blue-faced Honeyeaters, Dusky and Red-headed Myzomelas 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 and on the journey both Bush Thick-knee and Large-tailed Nightjar are possible. Overnight in Darwin.

Day 3 After an early pre-dawn breakfast, 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. Turning off east on to 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 waterbirds including Magpie Geese, Plumed and Wandering Whistling-ducks, Radjah Shelduck, Green Pygmy-geese, Australasian and Hoary-headed Grebes, Black-necked Stork, Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants, Pacific and White-faced Herons, Great, Intermediate, Little and Cattle Egrets, Rufous Night-heron, Australian and Glossy Ibises, Royal Spoonbill, Australasian Swamphen, Comb-crested Jacana, Pied Stilt, Australian Pratincoles 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, Azure and Forest Kingfishers, Blue-winged Kookaburra, Rainbow Pitta, White-throated Honeyeater, Pied Butcherbird, Black-faced and White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes, Little Shrikethrush, Rufous Whistler, Arafura and Northern Fantails, Willie-wagtail, Broad-billed, Paperbark and Shining Flycatchers and Torresian Crow. After a picnic lunch, we will continue east looking for flocks of Red-tailed Black-cockatoos and Little Correlas flying across the road, until we reach the Adelaide River Crossing where we will take a short walk along the river bank looking for the highly range-restricted Black-tailed Whistler. Continuing east towards Jabiru, the only town in the park, we will turn off the main road towards the north just short of the town and head towards Ubirr where we will visit several sites starting with checking the state of the tide at the East Alligator River crossing, where, on an incoming tide, a number of large Saltwater Crocodiles gather to prey on the Grey Mullet as they head upstream. At both Ubirr Rock and nearby Bardedjilidji Walk we will search the sandstone outcrops for several highly-localised species that inhabit this type of habitat: Chestnut-quilled Rock-pigeon, Banded Fruit-dove, White-lined Honeycreeper and Sandstone Shrike-thrush. The view from the top of Ubirr Rock is spectacular looking over the vast floodplains 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 make a head into the small town of Jabiru and drive the streets looking for Partridge Pigeon before we check into our hotel for the next two nights.

Day 4 A very early morning as we have to leave well before dawn to make the hour 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 waterbirds we will have already seen but, from the boat they will be ‘up close and personal’! Additional species we will keep an eye out for include Brolga, Black Bittern, Great-billed Heron, White-bellied Sea-eagle, White-browed Crake, Pheasant Coucal, Sacred Kingfisher, the Red-collared form of Rainbow Lorikeet, Bar-breasted Honeyeater, Buff-sided Robin, Fairy Martin and Crimson and Long-tailed Finches. After returning for 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 four speciality birds of the area; Chestnut-quilled Rock-pigeon, Banded Fruit-dove, White-lined Honeycreeper and Sandstone Shrike-thrush. Additionally we may see Wedge-tailed Eagle and Grey Goshawk, the Sandstone race of Helmeted Friarbird, Silver-crowned Friarbird, Leaden Flycatcher, Silver-backed Butcherbird and Mistletoebird (actually a species of flowerpecker). During the drive to and back from the rock we will keep our eyes peeled for Partridge Pigeon again on the roadsides as well as elusive Black-tailed Treecreepers in the woodland.

Day 5 We will make an early start again today, firstly checking the streets of Jabiru for Partridge Pigeon before visiting Nourlangie Rock again if we need any of the speciality birds. We will then head south out of Kakadu National Park with several stops to look for raptors including Red Goshawk and to take the obligatory photos at huge roadside termite mounds. Our next stop will be Pine Creek where we will have a picnic lunch and look for Hooded Parrots and Grey-crowned Babblers in the town park. We will then visit the nearby sewage pools (essential on all tours!) where waterfowl may include Pacific Black and White-eyed Ducks and waders may include Red-kneed Dotterel whilst Red-backed Kingfishers can be found in the adjacent woodland. Continuing on towards Katherine, we will divert east to the Edith Falls in Nitmiluk National Park, where, we will look for the spectacular Gouldian Finch as well as Double-barred and Masked Finches at a drinking pool and Bush Thick-knees, Northern Rosella and ridiculously tame Great Bowerbirds around the campsite at the falls. There is also a nice selection of honeyeaters including Banded and Rufous-throated Honeyeaters and we have seen roosting Tawny Frogmouths here in the past. We will also have an opportunity to take a cooling swim here. Three nights in Katherine.

Day 6 This morning, after an early breakfast, we will head out further southwest on the Victoria Highway which goes all the way to Perth in Western Australia. Our first stop will be at a site known as the Buntine Highway which heads south through the true outback of Australia. We won’t be travelling far along it however, as there is excellent roadside birding and we will be looking for a number of localised birds here including Diamond Dove, Varied Lorikeet, the leucocephala race of Varied Sittella, Red-backed Fairywren, Striated Pardalote, Black-chinned, Singing and Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters, Yellow-throated Miner, Black-faced, Masked, White-browed and the highly localised Little Woodswallows and Jacky-winter. Continuing southwest along the Victoria Highway, we will make opportunistic roadside birding stops until we reach the Victoria River Roadhouse where we will take a break and have a picnic lunch (opportunities for cold drinks and ice-creams here!). In the afternoon we will make the short drive to the boat ramp area of the river where, we will look for the stunningly beautiful but highly-elusive Purple-crowned Fairywren. Other birds we may see in the area include Australian Kestrel and possibly Yellow-rumped Mannikin. Nearby is the 3km Victoria River Escarpment trail which offers spectacular views over the landscape and the chance of White-quilled Rock-pigeon and Spinifex Pigeon but, with a long drive back to Katherine, we may have insufficient time.

Day 7 This morning we will visit the spectacular Katherine Gorge in the Nitmiluk National Park where Freshwater Crocodiles are regularly seen. This gives us another chance for the elusive Great-billed Heron as well as Hooded Parrot. In the afternoon we will bird around Katherine and Chinaman Creek looking for various species we may still need.

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 making a 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 a rarer species like Star or Zebra Finches and Weebill. Brown Goshawk regularly ‘stake out’ the waterhole looking for an easy meal, whilst Brown Quail, Chestnut-backed Buttonquail, White-winged Triller and Golden-headed Cisticola are all regularly seen. 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 by lunch time. Depending on what other Northern Territory speciality birds we still need, we will then select the relevant sites around the city. Overnight in Darwin.

Day 9 We will catch an early morning flight to Cairns where, on arrival, we will visit a number of sites around the city looking for a completely different suite of birds. In the Botanical Gardens we will look for Australian Brush-turkey, Australian Swiftlet, Laughing Kookaburra, three introduced species; Spotted Dove, Common Myna and House Sparrow, Helmeted (Hornbill) Friarbird, Welcome Swallow and Olive-backed Sunbird. Along the promenade, depending on the state of the tide, we may see Striated Heron, Osprey, and Asiatic wintering waders including Pacific Golden-plover, Lesser Sandplover, Grey-tailed Tattler, Far Eastern Curlew, Red-necked Stint and Great Knot whilst Rose-crowned Fruit-dove, Mangrove Robin and Varied Honeyeater can all be found in the nearby mangroves and adjacent palm trees. We will then make the hour-long journey to Mossman, our base for the next two nights.

Day 10 Before breakfast, we will make the thirty-minute drive to Daintree and take a wonderful two-hour boat cruise on 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, Double-eyed Fig-parrot and Papuan Frogmouth. After taking a late breakfast, we bird the surrounds of Daintree specifically looking for the localised Lovely Fairywren before heading back to Mossman for the night.

Day 11 This morning after breakfast, we will first drive south then west along a rough road that ascends Mount Lewis to look for the rare Blue-faced Parrot-finch as well as many other species including Mountain Thornbill, Fernwren, Bower’s Shrike-thrush, Chowchilla, White-throated Treecreeper and White-cheeked Honeyeater. After a picnic lunch, we will head back down the mountain to Julatten and Kingfisher Park, a rainforest reserve that caters exclusively for birdwatchers and naturalists. Abundant birdlife includes Noisy Pitta, Victoria’s Riflebird, Pacific Emerald Dove, Superb and Wompoo Fruit-doves, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Grey and Pale-yellow Robins, Grey Whistler, Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Olive-backed Oriole, Metallic Starling, Common Cicadabird, Pied and Spectacled Monarchs and Chestnut-breasted Mannikin. There is also the possibility of Red-necked Crake and Duck-billed Platypus along the stream. Overnight in Kingfisher Park.

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, 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 back east then continuing south, we pass Lake Mitchell and Mareeba Wetlands with their many waterbirds although by now we may not need many waterbirds! We will then 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 are incredibly tame and photogenic here and the views of Pale-headed Rosella, Squatter Pigeon, Pheasant Coucal, Red-winged Parrot and Great Bowerbird as well as Mareeba Rock-wallaby are outstanding. After lunch we will continue south to Hasties Swamp to look for Dusky Moorhen, Pink-eared and White-eyed Ducks before heading into the town of Yungaburra where there is a Duck-billed Platypus viewing platform. These near-mythical marsupials seem totally relaxed at 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 with both Golden and Tooth-billed Bowerbirds possible. We may even find an active Golden Bowerbirds bower. We will then head east along small country roads to the Nareda Tea Plantation where Lumholtz Tree Kangaroos can be seen sleeping in the trees. Not too far away is the Crater Lakes National Park and we will have a picnic lunch here and look for White-headed Pigeon, Brown Cuckoo-dove, Atherton Scrubwren, Macleay’s and Bridled Honeyeaters, Brolga and Sarus Crane. In the afternoon we will visit Curtain Fig Tree National Park where (Lesser) Sooty Owl can be found before returning to Yungaburra for another chance to visit the Platypus viewing Platform.

Day 14 After breakfast we have several options including revisiting Mount Hypipamee if we still need Southern Cassowary or heading towards Cairns early to visit sites around the town.

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 Noddys, 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, 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 you can board 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, Continuing, we will enter the 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. Birds here include the spectacular Regent Bowerbird as well as Satin Bowerbird, Green Catbird, Australian King-parrot, Crimson Rosella and various fruit-doves. The beautiful mists of these mountains and the friendly people will make this a memorable stay. 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 guesthouse 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: Black-breasted Buttonquail, Wonga and Topknot Pigeons, Glossy Black-cockatoo, Marbled Frogmouth, Albert’s Lyrebird, Eastern Spinebill, Eastern Whipbird, Australian Logrunner, Lewin’s Honeyeater, Bassian and Russet-tailed Thrushes, Paradise Riflebird, Spotted Pardalote, Crested Shrike-tit, Striated Thornbill and Eastern Yellow Robin are just some of the specialities that await us during these two full days. On one day we may take an extended walk through the rainforest to look for one of eastern Australia’s most endangered birds, Eastern Bristlebird.

Day 19 After breakfast and some early morning birding, sadly, we must leave O’Reilly’s to head back to Brisbane. We will however, visit Fort Lytton National Park for our last possible honeyeater, Mangrove Honeyeater, and on our way we may have time to visit either the Brisbane Koala Bushland or Daisy Hill Koala centre to look for wild Koalas. Check in is mid-afternoon for our international flight home leaving early evening with arrival back in the UK on day 20.

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 1 leader or 12 with 2 leaders.

Southern Cassowary

Southern Cassowary

Recommended books available from NHBS