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Sunbird – Itinerary

Price Pending

Australia: the Southwest and Northern Queensland

with Cape York Peninsula extension

January 2019*
with Gavin Bieber as leader

*In-country dates

Maximum group size: 12 with 2 leaders

The stunning Yellow-billed Kingfisher is likely on this tour. Photo: Sylvain Maury

The states of Western Australia and Queensland feature vast tracts of uninhabited desert wilderness and forest along with thousands of miles of unspoiled and stunning coastlines, all filled with birds. We’ll begin in the picturesque city of Perth for a week of exploring the remote southwestern corner of the country in search of regional specialities such as Baudin’s and Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoos, the stunning Red-capped Parrot, and the heathland trio of Western Whipbird, Noisy Scrubbird, and Western Bristlebird. A trip out to Penguin Island should reveal Little Penguins and wheeling Bridled Terns, as well as some brazen Buff-banded Rails.

We’ll move on to the heart of the outback in Alice Springs, where it will be high summer with temperatures similar to those found in the American Southwest. Amid the scenic and ancient MacDonnell Ranges and against a backdrop of outback billabongs and Ghost Gums, we’ll focus on birds such as Painted Finch, Spinifex Pigeon, Spinifexbird, Dusky Grasswren, and Bourke’s Parrot. At the Alice Springs wastewater facility there are usually throngs of waterbirds, and sometimes we find a surprise like Oriental Plover or Black Falcon. 

We’ll conclude the tour in the vastly different humid tropical forest and coast in north Queensland, a vast state that stretches more than half the length of Australia’s east coast. The rainforest around Cairns and on the Atherton Tablelands harbours a wealth of birds and mammals, many of which are restricted to remnant forest patches. We’ll spend a week birding the region, in the company of such signature birds as Southern Cassowary, Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher, Golden Bowerbird, and Victoria’s Riflebird.

Our short extension will cover the northern reaches of Queensland, where the avifauna is heavily influenced by nearby New Guinea. We’ll have several days to explore the lowland forests on the Cape York Peninsula, home to such fantastic birds as Palm Cockatoo, Eclectus Parrot, Papuan and Noisy Pittas, and the dazzling Yellow-billed Kingfisher. 

Day 1: The tour starts this evening with an introductory meeting at our hotel in Perth. Night in Perth.

Day 2: We’ll begin this morning visiting one of Perth’s many city parks for an introduction to some of the more common wetland birds of Australia. Stately Black Swans, lumbering Australian Pelicans, Pacific Black Ducks, Grey Teal, Blue-billed Ducks, and perhaps the bizarre Musk Duck will be paddling around in the lake. Reed beds should host Australian Reed Warblers and Little Grassbirds and, with luck, perhaps Buff-banded Rail or Spotless Crake. In the open parklands around the lake we should encounter our first (of many) species of honeyeaters, such as Red Wattlebird and New Holland, Singing, and Brown Honeyeaters.

Leaving Perth behind, we’ll make our way to Narrogin, birding en route through the Darling Ranges, where we might encounter our first southwest endemics, such as Red-winged Fairy-wren or Baudin’s Black-Cockatoo. In the brushlands around Narrogin we should see our first Australian Ringnecks and perhaps Dusky and Black-faced Woodswallows. Night in Narrogin.

Day 3: We’ll begin in the dry and open eucalypt forest in Dryandra. This excellent reserve is known for its high bird diversity, and we should encounter Blue-breasted Fairy-Wren, Rufous Treecreeper, Western Rosella, Regent and Elegant Parrots, Western Thornbill, Western Yellow-Robin, and perhaps the white-bellied form of Crested Shrike-tit (an excellent candidate for specific status). The park is also good for mammals, and we might luck into a sighting of the charismatic but increasingly rare Numbat foraging in rotten logs on the open forest floor, or a Western Brush Wallaby bounding along the roadside. In the afternoon we’ll drive to the vast Stirling Ranges National Park, stopping at the Wagin sewage ponds, where we should locate the oddly proportioned Pink-eared Duck, the striking Australian Shelduck, and waders such as Black-fronted Dotterel.

Arriving in the late afternoon, we might find Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo, Purple-crowned Lorikeet, or perhaps our first Purple-gaped Honeyeaters along the roadside verges leading to our lodge, nestled on the north side of the Stirling Ranges and within easy reach of the national park. Night at Stirling Range Retreat.

Day 4: We’ll spend our morning exploring some of the many dirt roads that bisect the national park. Keeping an eye on the skies as we drive, we might spy a soaring Square-tailed Kite (more common in the southwest portion of Australia than in the east) or perhaps a Little Eagle. Western Rosellas and Red-capped Parrots should be foraging along the roadsides, and short walks into the bush might reveal skulking species like Western Fieldwren. The heathland south of the Stirling Ranges hosts over a thousand plant species, many of which should be in full flower during our visit.

Our goal for the afternoon is to reach the coast at Cheynes Beach. Here our comfortable lodge offers excellent access to the coastal heathlands, where the brilliant blues of the Southern Ocean, offset by high bluffs and gleaming white sands, make for a most attractive backdrop to our birding. In the late afternoon we’ll explore the roads around Cheynes Beach, looking for Brush Bronzewing, Southern Emu-wren, Red-eared Firetail, and Western Wattlebird. We might even encounter the first of the three notoriously secretive local endemics in the form of a Noisy Scrubbird, which is relatively common (if frustratingly hard to see) in the heathland around the lodge. Night at Cheynes Beach Caravan Park.

Day 5: We’ll concentrate on finding the three skulking heathland birds endemic to the area. Western Whipbirds should be vocal, and with some patience we should be able to locate one perched low in the heath. Western Bristlebirds can sometimes be quite tame around the heathland behind the lodge, often coming out along the edges of the artificial firebreaks in the morning. Noisy Scrubbird, thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in 1961 at Two Peoples Bay and one of only two species in the endemic Australian family Atrichornithidae, can be heard singing all over the reserve, but we’ll likely need a significant amount of time and patience to see it as it scurries across a firebreak or forages on the ground in dense cover.

We’ll have time in the afternoon to bird some of the headlands around Albany, where given favourable winds we might spot Indian Yellow-nosed and Black-browed Albatrosses, Great-winged Petrel, or Flesh-footed Shearwater. Mammals abound here as well, and we’ll be alert for a diminutive Honey Possum foraging in flowering heath or a charismatic Quokka hopping about near the ranger station. The estuaries around Albany will offer our first groups of waders, with migrants from Asia joining local specialities like Pied Oystercatcher, Red-capped Plover, and Fairy Tern. Night at Cheynes Beach Caravan Park.

Day 6: We’ll leave early for the drive inland to the northeast of Cheyne’s Beach and an area of mallee (thin, multi-stemmed species of Eucalyptus that form open but dense forests along a latitudinal band in southern Australia). Although at a glance the mallee often appears lifeless, an amazing diversity of wildlife use these scrubby forests, including birds such as Shy Heathwren, Southern Scrub-Robin, and the odd Crested Bellbird (recently elevated to a monotypic family). With luck we’ll visit an active mound of the impressive Malleefowl, the world’s southernmost megapode. In the afternoon we’ll either return to Cheyne’s or explore some new estuaries and headlands for waders and seabirds. Night at Cheynes Beach Caravan Park.

Day 7: We’ll depart Cheynes Beach and travel west, stopping en route to look for Western Corellas near the Ramsar-listed Lake Muir Wetlands. Depending on the species we’ve missed, we may spend the afternoon in the impressive Karri forests around Pemberton in the company of Baudin’s Black Cockatoos, Western Spinebills, and flocks of Purple-crowned Lorikeets. Night in Pemberton.

Day 8: A morning visit to the coast near the scenic Windy Harbour will allow us to seek out Sooty and Pied Oystercatchers, beautiful Hooded Plovers, Pied Cormorant, and, with a little luck, Rock Parrot. We’ll spend the rest of the day traveling north toward Perth, hopefully arriving in time to catch the ferry out to Penguin Island, where we have an excellent chance of spotting Fairy Penguins and perhaps Buff-banded Rails and Bridled Terns. Night in Perth.

Day 9: We’ll fly this morning to Alice Springs, in the center of Australia. This is outback desert country, contrasting strongly with the more temperate southwest. It will be summer in Alice, with high temperatures likely, but the birds should be in plentiful supply. Known as the Red Centre for good reason, the local landscape is dominated by the rich red colour of the rocks, and its sparse vegetation provides a home for a surprisingly rich avifauna. After lunch in town we’ll visit Simpson’s Gap National Park, open scrub country with a wealth of central Australian birds, including Pied Butcherbird, Western Gerygone, Gray-headed Honeyeater, Zebra Finch, Black-faced and Little Woodswallows, and Dusky Grasswren. Local rainfall in these deserts determines the presence or absence of many nomadic species, and in some years we see Budgerigar, Diamond Dove, Rufous Songlark, and Painted Firetail. Among the marsupials, Black-flanked Rock Wallaby is a local specialty. Night in Alice Springs.

Days 10–11: During these two days we’ll visit several spots farther away from town. Our choice will be determined by the local conditions, but whichever we choose we’ll be searching for many of the same species, including Spinifex Pigeon, Dusky Grasswren, Rufous-crowned Emu-wren, Spinifexbird, Western Bowerbird, and Red-browed Pardalote. On one afternoon we’ll likely visit the Old Telegraph Station next to the spring after which the town was named, a good spot to see Common Walleroo, and the small but well-laid-out Olive Pink Botanical Garden, which often contains some very confiding Western Bowerbirds tending their grass bowers. On one evening we’ll visit a remote water hole where Bourke’s Parrots and Spotted Nightjars sometimes come at dusk to drink. Nights in Alice Springs.

Day 12: We’ll start early to visit ponds of the local sewage works to look for Hoary-headed Grebe, Hardhead, Red-necked Avocet, Black-fronted Plover, and White-backed Swallow. Being the only extensive wetland in the middle of a vast desert, the ponds attract any species passing through. In past trips we’ve seen Pied Cormorant, Freckled Duck, Gray-tailed Tattler, Long-toed Stint, Silver Gull, Orange Chat, Oriental Plover, and Little Curlew. Who knows what we may find this time! We’ll then catch a late afternoon flight to Cairns. Night in Cairns.

Day 13: We’ll awake to find ourselves in the true tropics, encountering for the first time many new and colourful species. Australian Figbirds perch on roadside wires, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes undulate overhead, and Torresian Imperial-Pigeons sit in the treetops. We’ll visit parks near the botanical gardens in search of Bush Thick-knees, Rainbow Bee-eaters, Australian Swiftlets, and a variety of honeyeaters including Yellow and Brown-backed. The ponds here should allow us close-up views of hulking Magpie Geese and the oddly plumaged Radjah Shelduck. Depending on the tide, we may visit the world-famous Cairns Esplanade, where extensive mudflats host hordes of migrant waders, including Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Terek Sandpiper, Gray-tailed Tattler, Eastern Curlew, and Great Knot. The mangroves at the northern end of the esplanade hold Varied Honeyeater (our only site for the species) and Mangrove Robin. Farther afield we’ll visit some coastal wetlands to the north of Cairns in search of birds such as Brahminy Kite, Forest and Collared Kingfishers, Spangled Drongo, and Crimson Finch. It will be a day filled with a host of new birds, in some ways almost a new country compared to the arid Alice Springs. Night in Cairns.

Day 14: We’ll leave Cairns early and drive northwest, spending much of the day around Cassowary House and the surrounding rainforest. Our main target is the much-hoped-for Southern Cassowary, one or two of which usually visit Cassowary House at some point most days — ‘most’ being the operative word, as they don’t come in every day. Fortunately, there are many other birds to keep us entertained while we wait, including a number that we seldom see elsewhere, such as Hornbill Friarbird and Macleay’s Honeyeater, not to mention Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Emerald Dove, Spotted Catbird, Victoria’s Riflebird, and Black Butcherbird. Our actual plan for the day will revolve around the behavior of the Cassowaries, but we should have time to wander slightly farther afield in search of Fairy Gerygone, Lovely Fairy-Wren, and Superb Fruit-Dove.

With the Cassowary hopefully in hand, we’ll drive north to our base for the next few days along the coast in Port Douglas. A late afternoon birding trip to Kingfisher Park will allow us to view the lodge’s feeders, which attract Blue-faced, Yellow-spotted, and Graceful Honeyeaters as well as delightful little Red-browed Finches. The excellent grounds of the lodge support several pairs of Rainbow Pittas, and a small creek attracts a wide array of birds during the heat of the day. Because our visit is nicely timed for the wet season, we’ll also have an opportunity to observe one or two pairs of the incredible Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher, the talisman of the lodge, and one that is present in Australia for only a few months during the summer. We should also encounter Spectacled and Black-faced Monarchs, the odd and perky Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Grey Whistler, Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, and the improbably coiffed Topknot Pigeon as we walk around the well-forested paths. We’ll have dinner at a nearby restaurant and then descend back to the coast for the night. Night in Port Douglas.

Day 15: We’ll spend the morning birding on Mount Lewis, where we’ll search for the range-restricted Fernwren and Chowchilla, two furtive but very vocal species that seem to be most commonly encountered here. Since we are visiting in the wet season, we could also encounter the scarce Blue-faced Parrot-Finch, arguably the most striking of the many attractive Australian finch species. A visit to the nearby Abattoir Swamp might reveal our first White-browed Crake, Comb-crested Jacana, Northern Fantail, or Leaden Flycatcher tucked into the verdant grassy swale. Depending on our success the previous afternoon, we may revisit the lodge grounds at Kingfisher or investigate the many small wetlands and open fields around Port Douglas. Night in Port Douglas.

Day 16: We’ll begin with an early morning drive to the drier eucalypt forests north of Mount Malloy, which support populations of Red-winged Parrot, colourful Blue-winged Kookaburras, Apostlebird, and the imposing Australian Bustard. We should also see several impressive bowers of Great Bowerbird, which are quite common in the area, liberally decorated with heaps of shining white snail shells and bits of blue or pink plastic. After lunch in Mount Molloy we’ll drive south across the tablelands to reach the wetlands around Lake Mitchell, which should hold a good cross-section of the area’s waterbirds, including Green Pygmy-Geese, Australian Pelicans, some migrant waders, and possibly both Brolgas and Sarus Cranes. Around the lake we often spot Pale-headed Rosella, Chestnut-rumped Munia, and Double-barred Finch. With luck we might encounter the distinctive local race of Brown Treecreeper creeping around on the trunks of the trees, or even the quite scarce Black-throated Finch, which frequents the grassy understory of the forest among the very large and common terrestrial termite towers. We should arrive in the tiny and very picturesque village of Yungaburra in the late afternoon, in time for a meal at the local Italian restaurant. After dinner we’ll offer a local spotlighting trip to look for an array of possum species and, if we are very lucky, Lumholtz’s Tree-Kangaroo. Night in Yungaburra.

Day 17: The remnant patches of rainforest that dot the Atherton Tablelands are rich in birds, many of which are virtually wholly restricted to this tiny corner of the world. Our day will be broken into sections, providing all-day birding for those who wish or a chance to opt out occasionally to relax and perhaps explore the charming town of Yungaburra. Before breakfast we’ll visit one of the local patches of rainforest, itself a fully designated national park, where the fruiting trees around the parking lot attract a wealth of forest species that are likely to include bulky Spotted Catbirds, the elusive Double-eyed Fig Parrot, and highly localised Queensland endemics such as Grey-headed Robin and Bower’s Shrike-thrush. After breakfast back in town we’ll visit a higher-elevation national park to search for species that don’t occur around Yungaburra, including Fernwren, Atherton Scrubwren, Bridled Honeyeater, and Mountain Thornbill. We’ll have a nice lunch in the idyllic town of Atherton and then spend the afternoon exploring the agricultural fields around the region, where numerous raptors and both Brolgas and Sarus Cranes are likely. An early dinner will allow us to take an extended nocturnal outing into the higher reaches of the tablelands, where we may encounter Lesser Sooty Owl or several beautiful species of Possum, including Lemuroid, Green, and Herbert River. Night in Yungaburra.

Day 18: Our pre-breakfast excursion will be a visit to a nearby local reservoir, and if there has been rain or heavy dew overnight, we’ll watch the shoulders of the road for Buff-banded Rail, Pale-vented Bush-Hen, or Brown Quail en route. The jaunty song of White-throated Gerygone may reveal its presence in one of the well-wooded gardens, and Tawny Grassbird, Red-backed Fairy-Wren, and Golden-headed Cisticolas should be singing in the rank vegetation along the water’s edge. After breakfast we’ll make a stop at Lake Barrine or Lake Eachem, where a short walk might reveal a Chowchilla digging around in the leaf litter on the forest floor or one of the world’s smallest kangaroos, the Musky Rat-Kangaroo, as it thumps away from us through the undergrowth. A few Tooth-billed Bowerbirds typically are on territory along the trail as well, and we’ll try to see one singing as it sits just a few feet above its bower of carefully arranged leaves, all turned pale side up! We’ll take our time heading back down to the coast at Cairns, with stops determined by the available birds, arriving in mid-afternoon. Night in Cairns.

Day 19: The main section of the tour concludes this morning in Cairns.

Cape York Peninsula extension

Day 19: Those continuing on the extension to the Cape York Peninsula will board a morning flight bound for the tiny town of Lockhart River, about 500 miles north of Cairns. The huge, wedge-shaped Cape York Peninsula juts confidently north toward New Guinea, separating the Arafura and Coral Seas. For much of recent history a narrow land bridge existed across the Torres Strait, physically connecting the large island of New Guinea to the Australian mainland. Although this land bridge is now underwater, its biological effects are still much in evidence, with hundreds of species of animals and plants that occur in New Guinea persisting in the tropical Cape York. The peninsula is largely unspoiled, with high monsoonal activity, poor soils for agriculture, few roads, and a very low population density. We’ll be visiting the region around Iron Range National Park, a simply superb patch of intact lowland tropical forest that supports nearly 20 bird species that are not found to the south of Cape York. Among them are many spectacular birds, such as the giant Palm Cockatoo, gaudy and extremely sexually dimorphic Eclectus Parrots, stunning (though shy) Yellow-billed Kingfisher, and two species of birds of paradise, the odd Trumpet Manucode and the impressive Magnificent Riflebird. Flying in during the wet season will allow us to seek out the dazzling Papuan Pitta (a recent split from Red-bellied Pitta) and Black-winged Monarch, two species that are wet-season migrants here from their wintering area in New Guinea. Once we land, we’ll pick up our vehicles and make our way to the even smaller town of Portland Roads, situated on the coast along an incredible stretch of beach. Night in Portland Roads.

Days 2021: During these two days we’ll cover the mangroves and coast at Portland Roads and Chili Beach, as well as the tropical forests around the Iron Range itself. Birding here is New Guinea-esque, and we’ll concentrate on species such as Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Black-eared Catbird, Yellow-legged Flycatcher, the striking Frill-necked Monarch, Noisy Pitta, White-faced Robin, and a host of honeyeaters that are restricted to the region, including White-streaked, Green-backed, and Tawny-breasted. Night birding here can be productive as well, with the local subspecies of Marbled Frogmouth, Large-tailed and White-throated Nightjars, and several owls all possible. Any trip out at night may also reveal some of the area’s very special mammals, such as Grey and Spotted Cuscus, Striped Possum, and Bare-backed Fruit-Bat. We’ll likely have a bit of rain while here, and a few mosquitoes and leeches, but a visit to this isolated corner of Australia in the wet season is an experience that all Australian birders dream about. Nights in Portland Roads.

Day 22: After a final morning birding around Lockhart River, where we may encounter a few Spotted Whistling-Ducks near the airfield, we’ll return to Cairns. We should arrive in time for lunch followed by a transfer back to our hotel along the esplanade. For those hardy souls who desire just a bit more birding, we can revisit the tidal flats to admire the masses of wintering waders or seek out views of Mangrove Robins or Torresian Kingfishers in the fringing mangroves. Night in Cairns.

Day 23: The tour concludes this morning in Cairns.

 

This tour is organised by our American partner WINGS 

Created: 27 April 2017