Sunday, 2 December 2007


After several months of pressure I finally succumbed to the families wishes to take a trip to Australia- the thought of the 24 hour trip there and back filled me with dread, due to the fact that I have never yet been able to successfully sleep on a plane! As usual we bought the constantly excellent Lonely Planet guides in conjunction with some internet research and decided on Queensland, and after a few days had laid down plans for a fly drive tour. We decided to go in May-June 2006 to take advantage of our son's schooling allowance of two weeks during term time for holidays, and tag these either side of the May half term (the notion that he would miss out on valuable education by taking a trip to the other side planet for three weeks is nearly laughable).
We decided to stay in south Queensland around Brisbane for a few days before flying north to Cairns and touring around Far North Queensland (FNQ) then flying out of Cairns for home.
Extreme weather previous to our visit had an effect on the birding during our trip in FNQ. In March Cyclone Larry decimated a broad area around the town of Inissfail not far from Mission Beach where we were to stay. Later on another Cyclone brought one of the wettest summers on record which meant that areas which were usually dry at this time of year were still wet, so consequently birds did not have to move too far for water.
The weather in Brisbane was surprisingly cool (we had our stereo typical expectations of Australia soon shattered!) around 18-22°C, but it remained dry and more important for me, mosquito free! In FNQ it was, not surprisingly, warmer and more humid with rain for the first couple of days but then generally dry and warmer 22-28°C.
The itinerary was as follows:
May 15th- Fly Heathrow-Brisbane via Singapore
May 17th – Arrive Brisbane
May 22nd-27th – Mission Beach
May 28th -30th - Daintree
May 30th- June 2nd – Malanda
June 2nd -5th – Cairns
Prior to the trip I obtained Simpson and Day Field Guide to the Birds of Australia and trawled through as many trip reports as I could for site information. Many of the accommodation we researched online had references to birding or had bird lists, especially in FNQ. We flew with the truly excellent Qantas on all flights. Being a single-birder family some compromises inevitably had to be made… but not too many (Thanks guys!)

Wednesday, 28 November 2007


May 15th-17th - Fly to Brisbane via Singapore. The dreaded flight really wasn’t half as bad as I had expected with 12 hrs to Singapore then 6hrs onto Brisbane. We had a four hour break in Singapore, arriving at dusk I could only manage Cattle Egret and Common Mynah from the terminal. We did take the opportunity to shower at the airport with tea and biscuits afterwards for about £4 all in.

May 17th - Finally arrive and are through customs by approx 0830. Pick up car and drive on the correct side of the road too our first accommodation in Samford, a little village on the west side of Brisbane suburbs with the forests of Mount Glorious as a backdrop. Concentration broke only twice from directions for first new birds Australian White Ibis and Australian Magpie Lark. On arrival at our excellent B&B, The Valley, there are birds everywhere with calls that I’d only heard on TV before! Immediately around the garden we pick up Rainbow Lorikeet, Spotted Turtle-dove, Straw-necked Ibis, Australian Wood Duck, Australian Magpie, Crested Pigeon, Bar-shouldered Dove, Welcome Swallow, Masked Plover, Willie Wagtail, Lewin’s Honey-eater and Long billed Corella , the later invading and near destroying the bird table! After dispatching cases and bags,, and sorting out who was having which bedroom, I managed a more controlled assessment of the local bird life from the front garden, looking on too a meadow, and added Grey Butcherbird, Noisy Miner and fly over Yellow-billed Spoonbill and Sulphar -crested Cockatoo.
Suffering from itchy feet we decided to take a short drive up to Mount Glorious as we didn't feel too bad after our marathon flight, but as soon as we got out of the car at the other end the jet lag suddenly hit and we were all feeling a bit light headed and a tad tetchy! On the up side we had a pale morph Grey Goshwk fly over Mount Glorious Road and on the way back found a couple of very confiding Bush Thick-knee just yards from our accommodation. As the family were in chillin mode I took the opportunity to visit Samford Golf Course which was virtually over the road and a short 500yd walk. Here on the course ponds were single Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants, 8 Purple Swamphen, a dozen Pacific Black Duck, 4 Hardhead, an Australasian Grebe and several Dusky Moorhen. We decided to dine in this evening with a Chinese from Samford Village. 1st Aus tip- The variety isn't great but the portions are huge!

Australian Magpie-Lark

Rainbow Lorikeets

Bar-shouldered Dove

Lewin's Honeyeater

May 18th - Up at about 3am awaiting dawn! First hint of daylight and its over to the golf course again. Just as I walk across the B&B drive a pair of sombre- flying Glossy Black Cockatoos fly over the house!( only ones of the trip). Back on the golf course the ponds held pretty much the same as yesterday but the rough ground around the course proved more interesting with 2 Rainbow Bee-eater,2 Eastern Rosella (pale headed) 2 Striated Paradalote, several Pied Butcherbird , a Blue-faced Honey-eater and a huge Laughing Kookaburra. After breakfast we take our first touristy trip to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. A great family trip, you get to feed all types of roos and wallaby's, and there are Koalas and other Aussie endemics all over the place. Birds here too with lots of 'wild' Australian Brush Turkey, several Scaley-breasted Lorikeets in trees in Roo enclosure, a single Masked Wood-swallow overhead and a pair of Australian Pelican on the river. After an enjoyable few hours here we head back to Samford for abit more RnR to recover from the flight were I took the opportunity to do abit more 'local' birding by taking a drive up Mount O'Reilly Rd that leads to House Mountain, directly opposite our B&B (not to be confused with O'Reilly's Lamington!). At the the top of a steep climb the road opens out to look over the next valley along whilst you are surrounded by tall gum trees with thick scrub undergrowth. Birds noted here included stunning views of Kookaburra, Yellow-faced Honey-eater, Silvereye, Red-capped Robin, Grey Fantail, Grey Shrike-Thrush and a pair of Pied Currawong. Also noted here whilst scanning the hills for Roo's were a Brown Hare, some camels and a couple of Ostriches! In the evening we ate at the Ferny Grove Tavern (kids eat free mid week) where we endured a long wait for our food, but it was good when it came (courtesy of a scouse chef!)


Long-billed Corellas

Straw-necked Ibis


May 19th - Back up O'reilley's Road at dawn this morning with additional species of Spotted Paradalote (5) & White-throated Honey-eater (8). Today was my son's trip highlight, a visit to Australia Zoo. Enroute we saw our first Black Kites and Great Egrets. We had a great family day at the zoo, I managed to NOT take my binoculars but still saw a Restless Flycatcher and several wild Water Dragons. We even managed to see the late Steve Irwin in residence, with everyone of course oblivious of the bizarre twist of fate that was to occur later in the year that would take his life. On our way back we visited the Glass House Mountains which provided some superb views. In the evening we visited Samford Village for an Eagle Boys Pizza, a strange serving system but the food was tasty enough.

May 20th - Back up Mt O'Reilly Rd first thing this morning with views of new birds in the form of Golden Whistler and Olive-backed Oriole. Today we decided to visit the real O'reilly's, the one at Lamington NP. We really set off too late; it took nearly 3 hours to get here so it was around 1130 when we finally arrived. Enroute we saw Pheasant Coucal and on arrival the plentiful tourists were hand feeding the Crimson Rosella's and Australian King Parrots. We duly joined in but became a little more alert after a Red-bellied Snake crossed the path obviously on the lookout for a parrot lunch!
The amount of people here was getting a little too much but true to form, a 200yd walk along one of the non boarded trails ensured peace and quiet and more birds. As we walked through the rainforest we managed to pick up Yellow-throated and White-browed Scrub Wren, Brown Thornbill, Eastern Yellow Robin, Eastern Spinebill, Brown Cuckoo Dove and , best of all my target bird Logrunner (which was found and identified by my family, after I had described what I was looking for! Be rest assured I wasn't allowed to forget that fact whenever Log Runner was mentioned again!) In this same area the family also spotted a group of four Red-necked Padimelon in the undergrowth. I didn't see the hoped for Regent's Bowerbird or Magnificent Riflebird and my gen for Albert's Lyrebird were scratchy to say the least, a good excuse to come back another day! On the long drive home we did see our first wild Eastern Grey Kangaroos (2) in roadside fields. In the evening we visited the Thai Takeaway in Samford and had a huge and tasty Thai Green curry.

Olive-backed Oriole

Crimson Rosella and King Parrots

Red-necked Padimelon

May21st - Took a drive to Lake Samsonvale this morning, approx 1/2 hour NE of Samford Village and it was absolutely heaving with birds! Access was through a small cemetery, then there's a wide open space of grassland and scrub in front of you with a creek running through it. It was great for birds of prey here with the first birds seen being a pair of Australian Black-shouldered Kites. Just scanning across the grassland I managed to pick up Glossy Ibis 10, Royal Spoonbill 6, Pheasant Coucal, Golden-headed Cisticola 6, Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike 5, Swamp Harrier 2 and a Collared Sparrowhawk. Scanning along the horizon in a broad sweep I added Whistling Kite 10, White-bellied Sea-Eagle and my first Wedge-tailed Eagle. As I walked towards the rather distant lake a small group of as yet still unidentified Quail flew up from beneath my feet, while at least 6 Fairy Martin were picked out from a flock of c30 Welcome Swallow. 'Scoping the lake from distance more new birds became apparent with first sightings of wild Black Swan 6, Grey Teal 15, Silver Gull, Red-capped Plover 2, Black-fronted Dotterel 3 and White -faced Heron. Also on the lake were Hardhead c100, Pacific Black Duck 30, Great-crested Grebe 60, Black-winged Stilt 15, Australian Pelican 6 and a Little Egret. With time getting on a brisk walk back bagged further goodies in the shape of a Brown Falcon perched on a post in the grassland and then, a couple of posts down, an excellent Spotted Harrier sat in the open. Arriving back in Samford just in time for a cooked breakfast, we decided to have a drive up to Mount Glorious and take things easy. A walk around one of the rainforest tracks produced Yellow-throated Scrub-Wren and Eastern Yellow Robin but little else besides. Whilst here we decided that we had to have a cream tea from the famous Maliala Tea Rooms. This tea room is popular with Brisbane’s biking community, especially those known as 'Baby boomers', and especially at the weekend, as the road at the front is chocked full of bikes. We did smile as these burley, tattooed bikers in full leathers waited patiently and politely for their cream teas-top marks! Birds seen in the garden here included my only Wonga Pigeon of the trip and a White-throated Treecreeper. On our way back down into the valley we saw a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles and heard several Bell Miners on stretches of the winding road that didn't allow for stops-typical!.

Lake Samsonvale...distant, far right

Australian Black-shouldered Kite

Golden-headed Cisticola

Brown Falcon

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Mission Beach and Great Barrier Reef

May 22nd - Mostly travelling today, with a flight north from Brisbane to Cairns and then a drive down the coast to Mission Beach. The drive down was fairly uneventful although we did pick up Nankeen Kestrel, Cattle Egret and first House Sparrows in Inssfail. It was here that the devastation of Cyclone Larry was most evident, both to buildings and the surrounding countryside. As we approach the Mission Beach area we start seeing Cassowary warning signs all over the place and slow down, certain that we're gonna run one over any minute now (yeah right!), although we did have a pair of Orange-footed Scrubfowl fly over the road. We arrive at our accommodation, the excellent Licuala Lodge, and are almost immediately greeted by not one or two, but three Cassowaries! These have been pretty much resident here since the cyclone went through because of the damage done to the regions fruiting trees. With big bird well and truly under the belt I could relax a little more, being another of my target species.

Licuala Lodge

Cassowary, female 'Cassie'

Cassowary, male 'Charlie'

and juvenile, 'Colin'

Whilst relaxing in the tropical grounds, along with many butterflies (including Cairn's Birdwing and the stunning Ulleccess) and lizards, we also manage great views of Wompoo Fruit Dove, Emerald Dove, Olive-backed Sunbird and several White-rumped Swiftlet overhead. In the evening we headed to the Mission Beach Resort for their eat all you want buffet, excellent value and quality, we ate here for a number of nights!

Albin's Hampstead Eye

Orchard Swallowtail

Preying Mantis

May 23rd - Spent the day around the lodge and brief jaunt down to the beach due to the wet weather that showed little sign of breaking. Around the Lodge in the morning we see our first Yellow-cheeked Honeyeater (4), Spectacled Monarch (4), Fairy Gerygon(4), Maclay's Honeyeater, Spotted Catbird, imm Black Butcherbird and a hoped for Victoria's Riflebird. Along the beach we see a couple of Sacred Kingfisher and a White-headed Heron, then on the outskirts of town a rolling cattle enclosure gives us prolonged views of Agile Wallaby and White-breasted Wood-Swallows on the power lines. Back at Licuala Lodge in the afternoon we watch the Cassowaries, with 'Cassie' the female dominating the territory over 'Charlie', her mate and 'Colin', her offspring. We also see a pair of Varied Triller and a Rufous Fantail.

Black Butcherbird

Spotted Catbird

Agile Wallaby with Joey

Sacred Kingfisher

May 24th - Spent an hour from dawn birding off the veranda this morning and added Spangled Drongo and Graceful Honeyeater with 3 Forest Kingfishers on overhead cables a short walk away.
Today we had planned on visiting the Great Barrier Reef, and it was touch and go as to if the weather would break for us, as luck would have it did! We went out with the Calypso Dive team, and after seeing Brown Booby, Crested Tern and our first Brahiminy Kite the birds came second to the best experience of the holiday, snorkelling and my first Scuba dive amongst some amazing creatures including Parrot Fish, Giant Clam, White-tipped Reef Shark,Wobbygong, Butterfly Fish, Christmas Tree Worms, Mother-in-law Fish, Turtle, Clownfish, Cleaner Wrasse, Spiney Cucumber and TriggerFish to name but a few!

Clown Fish

Christmas Tree Worm

Lurking, menacing White-tipped Reef Shark

May 25th - Visits both before and after breakfast to the Licuala Walking Track drew a blank on my target bird, Noisy Pitta but new sightings included Mistletoe Bird(3) Little Shrike-Thrush(6) Large-billed Scrub Wren and brief views of Eastern Whipbird, even though their distinctive calls were frequently close by. Many of the endemic Licuala Fan Palm have taken a battering by Larry, along with many other trees. A walk along Wongaling Beach produced a single male Satin Flycatcher but little else. On some cleared land close to the lodge I see another Pheasant Coucal and my only Australian Pipit. In the evening, after visiting the coolest butcher ever in the village (surfs up dude!) we enjoyed that quintessential Aussie cooking equipment- the Barbie!!

Pheasant Coucal

May 26th & 27th - With the sun now putting in regular appearances the family managed to enjoy some R&R around the pool area, where for the most part they had it to themselves! Not being able to sit still for much longer than 10 minutes, I got to do some more birding in the immediate area and, on top of seeing plenty of birds that I had already seen I managed to add Double-eyed Fig Parrot at Clump Point Beach, a Musky Rat-Kangaroo at the walking track (drawing another blank on the Pitta), a very obliging Pacific Baza near the Lodge and Figbird with Yellow Oriole at the Lodge itself.

Rainbow Bee-eater

Pacific Baza

Leucogonia ekeikei

Speckled Crimson?

Unidentified Bug

Friday, 2 November 2007

Daintree, Far North Queensland

May 28th - Moving on today and heading north back up the coast. After saying goodbyes to Charlie, Cassie, Colin and co we set off for Cairns, which, like the trip down was fairly uneventful (lots of sugar cane fields!) As we reach the outskirts of Cairns a grocery run at the first Coles supermarket produces the first Peaceful Doves. Continuing north we start to see a few more Black Kites, a single Black-shouldered Kite and, as we reach The Daintree, a Black-necked Stork is spotted coming up from some fields. We arrive in Daintree village mid afternoon and soon find our accommodation, The Red Mill House. Andrew and Trish own the Red Mill House and they happen to be birders-what a coincidence! From the main veranda we see birds at close quarters- Spotted Catbirds, Orange-footed Scrub-fowl, Sulphar-crested Cockatoo, Spangled Drongo, Yellow Oriole, Helmeted Friarbird and plenty of Honeyeaters with Yellow-spotted, Graceful, Maclay's and a new one, Dusky Honey-eater. A fruiting tree just a long the street had attracted tens of Rainbow Lorikeets feeding making a hell of a racket, with Spectacled Fruit-Bats waiting nearby to take over for the night shift!
Spotted Catbird

Yellow-spotted Honeyeater

Sulphar-crested Cockatoo

Yellow Oriole
Spangled Drongo
Helmeted Friarbird
Just before dusk we drive a couple of miles south to Spa and Eco lodge where we met our guide, Dan Irby for our pre-booked twilight river trip. This was another great experience (plus we were the only ones on the boat!) and was enjoyed by the whole family. At dusk 100's of Egrets were seen moving up the river to roost, and looking back on one occasion I jammed in on a huge Great-billed Heron heading off down river and around the corner. With the darkness came the powerful search light and Dan expertly picked out eye reflections on the banks of the widening river, giving us great views of Salt-water Crocodiles, White-lipped Green Tree frog, a roosting Azure Kingfisher down to 3 yards and a spectacular red eyed Papuan Frogmouth looking down on us totally disinterested! The excitement of the trip soon dissipated to reality, as we then realised that being 2000hrs on a Sunday evening, every food joint in Daintree was shut! We ended up going down to Daintree Palms Hotel near Wonga where they rustled up a rather...erm...interesting pizza covered in BBQ sauce! Not high on my recommendations! Back at RedMill we spent an hour stalking Tree Frogs before finally hitting the sack.

Daintree River

Baby Salt-water Crocodile

Not so baby Salt-water Crocodile
Papuan Frogmouth
White-lipped Tree Frog

Frog sp
May 29th - Up early doors this morning and a walk down to Stuart Creek before breakfast was order of the day.
Stuart Creek Road, Daintree
Along with the now more familiar rainforest species a smart male Shining Flycatcher was added to the list and on return to RedMill House Andrew put me on to a female Leaden Flycatcher in the garden before enjoying breakfast and their delicious home made yogurt! After breakfast we decided that having come this far we had to take a trip up to Cape Tribulation and set off (with a couple of sites for Noisy Pitta and Beach Stone Curlew for good measure!) towards the ferry. The small car ferry crossing the Daintree River was a reasonable $16 return and we were up and running on the other side in no time.

Daintree River Crossing

A couple of stops enroute (at Jindalba Boardwalk for Pitta and Oliver Creek for Thick-knee) both drew a blank although the former did produce Pale-yellow Robin. We visited the Daintree Exploration Centre, which was informative but too noisy/populated for birding, and also stopped off at the Daintree Ice-cream Company, which is well worth calling in for some unique tastes! We finally reached Cape Tribulation and walked the beach to the point where the 'rainforest meets the sea' and finding a fruiting tree, which held Dusky Honeyeater, Helmeted Friarbird and 3 Bridled Honeyeater. The parking lot here held an impressive Lace Monitor Lizard which was well over a metre long.

Daintree River leading into The Pacific

Prime Rainforest

Yellow-eyed Aeroplane
Cape Tribulation, 'where forest meets the ocean'

Lace Monitor

Returning back to Daintree Andrew and Trish gave us another Thick-knee beach to check out at Wonga, though they admitted it was fairly hit and miss. We duly drove down the coast and on arrival found the tide line fairly low with a mass of exposed sand, as I scanned the horizon I locked on to the huge billed wader out in the distance and grabbed for my scope, with this, my wife piped up 'isn't that one just there' and there, right in front of us was another stonking Beach Thick-knee! The bird performed superbly and I can honestly say that I left on cloud nine! Once again returning to RedMill this time with a successful glow, and on our arrival Trish hurried us up on to the veranda to see a female Satin Bowerbird that had just visited the garden and showed really well. We ate at Eleanor’s in Daintree Village which was a marked improvement on last nights offering! Again be aware that BBQ sauce can be potentially put on anything so ask them to hold on it if you don’t fancy it!

Beach Thick-knee

On the move
Bird of the Trip?

May 30th – Down on the quay this morning at six o’clock for another boat trip, this time with local birder Chris Dahlberg. We had an enjoyable couple of hours along the river and although some prime targets did not give themselves up (Great-billed Heron, Nankeen Night heron, Black Bittern, Papuan Frogmouth) we did see several Azure kingfisher, a tiny Little Kingfisher, Tree Martin, Large-billed Gerygone and a fairly hefty looking Amethystine Python coiled around some branches over the water. Returning to Red Mill, and after a delicious local fruit and yogurt breakfast (followed by a fry up!) we packed up and headed south and into the Tablelands.
Azure Kingfisher
Little Kingfisher (video grab)