Regent Bowerbird is arguably the most stunning passerine in Australia - we always see it at O’Reilly Guest House, where it also appears on their logo. Photo: David Fisher
Queensland is a vast state that stretches more than half the length of Australia’s east coast. It is fringed by the Great Barrier Reef and bordered to the south by coastal New South Wales. The tropical rainforests around Cairns and on the Atherton Tablelands harbour a wealth of birds and mammals, many of which are restricted to remnant rainforest patches, and our days will be fully occupied with encounters with wonderful creatures. Our recently expanded our tour includes more time in southern Queensland, including a visit to the renowned O’Reilly’s Rainforest Guesthouse, where megapodes and bowerbirds come to the feeders and where kangaroos, pigeons, and parrots cover the lawn, as well as a trip to Lady Elliot Island on the southern Great Barrier Reef, where thousands of nesting seabirds join the incredibly diverse aquatic life that make this reef one of the natural wonders of the world. And finally, our three nights in Sydney will allow us to explore the best birding sites in the surrounding area and to take a pelagic trip rich in albatrosses, petrels, and shearwaters.
This tour can be taken in conjunction with Australia: Western Australia and Northern Territory 2019 or 2021.
This tour can be taken in conjunction with Australia: Victoria and Tasmania 2020 or 2022.
Day 1: The tour begins midday in Cairns with the arrival of those coming in from the preceding tour. We’ll have an introductory meeting over lunch near the Cairns Esplanade and then have a bit of time birding around Cairns to familiarize ourselves with many of the tropical species that live in town. We’ll then drive inland to Yungaburra, arriving in time to do some birding near town. A short walk along a nearby natural area might reveal the distinctive leaf-kicking and digging noises that indicate the terrestrial Chowchilla or the Musky Rat-Kangaroo, one of the world’s smallest kangaroos, as it thumps away from us through the undergrowth. A few Tooth-billed Bowerbirds typically are on territory along the trail, 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 might even encounter our first bird of paradise in the form of a displaying male Victoria’s Riflebird. In the evening we’ll wander down to the nocturnal viewing area at our lodge and have a good chance of seeing Sugar Gliders and, perhaps, the striking Striped Possum. Night near Yungaburra.
Day 2: The remnant patches of rainforests 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 picturesque 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 localized Queensland endemics such as Gray-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. We’ll look for Platypus at a shallow creek near Yungaburra and then have an early dinner which will allow us to go out on on 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 3: Our pre-breakfast excursion today will be 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 and Brown Quail. 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 Cisticola should be singing in the rank vegetation along the water’s edge. With luck they may perch high enough for telescope views. We may bird a bit in the area after breakfast as well if we are still on the lookout for some of the species, but by the afternoon we’ll be driving north 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 Rosellas, Chestnut-rumped Munia, and Double-barred Finch. With luck we might encounter the distinctive local race of Brown Treecreeper on the trunks of the trees, and we should have an opportunity to look at some of the impressively large termite mounds that liberally dot the landscape. In the late afternoon we’ll drive north to Kingfisher Park, where we’ll spend two nights. We’ll arrive in time to do some local birding in the afternoon, including at the lodge’s feeders, which attract Blue-faced, Yellow-spotted, and Graceful Honeyeaters as well as delightful little Red-browed Finches. After an early dinner there will be an optional spotlighting trip. With luck we might find an owl or a frogmouth, and we are sure to see some nocturnal mammals. Night at Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge.
Day 4: We’ll spend the morning birding the excellent grounds of the lodge and the lower slopes of nearby Mount Lewis. Several pairs of Rainbow Pittas are typically on territory around the grounds, and a small creek attracts a wide array of birds during the heat of the day. We should encounter Spectacled and Black-faced Monarchs, the odd and perky Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Gray Whistler, Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, and the improbably coiffed Topknot Pigeon as we walk around the well=forested paths. Up on Mount Lewis we’ll seek out Fernwren and Chowchilla, two skulky but very vocal species that are extremely range-restricted. We’ll also head a bit inland tothe drier eucalypt forests north of Mount Malloy, which support populations of Red-winged Parrot, Apostlebird, and the imposing Australian Bustard, and we should see several impressive bowers of Great Bowerbird, which are quite common in the area. An early evening vigil at the lodge’s water features may reveal, with a bit of luck, one of the resident Red-necked Crakes. Night at Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge.
Day 5: We’ll leave Kingfisher early and drive southeast to Cassowary House and its 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. We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed. 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 such delights as Fairy Gerygone, Lovely Fairy-Wren, and Superb Fruit-Dove before driving along the incredibly scenic coastal road up to the tiny village of Daintree. Night in Daintree.
Day 6: We’ll start early with a pre-breakfast boat trip on the Daintree River, which is likely to be one of the highlights of the trip for some, especially avid photographers. Waterbirds are numerous and tame and should include Australasian Darter, Rufous Night-Heron, Papuan Frogmouth, Shining Flycatcher, and Azure Kingfisher. We’ll also be hoping to glimpse some of the scarcer birds, such as Great-billed Heron, Black Bittern, and Little Kingfisher. After we pack up, we’ll head back to Cairns, where we’ll explore the varied birds that call this tropical city home. A visit to the botanical gardens should reveal Rajah Shelducks swimming among the water hyacinths, Bush Thick-knees tucked under the shade, Rainbow Bee-eaters flycatching from exposed perches, Australian Swiftlets coursing overhead, and a variety of honeyeaters including Yellow and Brown-backed. Depending on tide conditions, we’ll also 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), Mangrove Robin, and possibly Rufous Night-Herons on day-roosts. We’ll also visit a bustling colony of Metallic Starlings, which build large communal nests reminiscent of weaver colonies in Africa. Their blood-red eyes have to be seen to be believed. Night in Cairns.
Day 7: We’ll offer an optional some morning birding around Cairns to look for species that have eluded us, and then catch a mid-morning flight to Hervey Bay (via Brisbane). Once we have the vehicles we’ll make several stops along the coast and in freshwater marshes to look for migratory waders and some local specialities like Mangrove Honeyeater. Time permitting, we’ll stop at Inskip Point where we hope to locate the impressive Beach Thick-Knee and perhaps a covey of Brown Quail or Black-breasted Button-Quail lurking in the shade of the coastal scrub. If we don’t have time for Inskip there are a host of excellent waterbird sites around the Great Sandy Straight much closer to our hotel. We’ll arrive at our hotel in Maryborough in time for dinner. Night in Maryborough.
Day 8: Today will be a total contrast to the previous week, dominated as it was by rainforest birding (albeit fairly easy birding with lots of showy birds). We’ll depart the small airstrip near Hervey Bay for the 40-minute flight to Lady Elliot Island. This postcard-perfect coralline island sits near the southern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef and, although fully protected as part of the Great Barrier Reef Green Zone, it is serviced by a small airstrip and has excellent infrastructure for tourists. At 45 hectares in size, the island supports an amazingly rich variety of sea life, including resident Manta Rays and large numbers of nesting Loggerhead and Green Sea Turtles. The island also has the highest diversity of breeding seabirds along the reef. Thousands of Black Noddies and Sooty Terns breed in the shrubs around the island periphery, and we’ll look among them for smaller numbers of Brown Noddies and Bridled Terns. Other breeding seabirds here include the stunningly beautiful Red-tailed Tropicbird, Brown Booby, Roseate, Black-naped, and Greater Crested Terns, and Great Frigatebird. The island further supports a nice array of waders, including both Sooty and Pied Oystercatchers, Pacific Golden-Plovers, and both Gray-tailed and Wandering Tattlers. Landbirding here is also excellent, with Buff-banded Rails and Silvereye a common sight around the island. For those who wish, there will be opportunities to inspect the corals and fish from a guided glass-bottom boat cruise, go snorkeling from the beach, go swimming in the azure-coloured waters - or even, for anyone already suitably qualified, go diving. In the late afternoon we’ll fly back to Hervey Bay, where we’ll spend the night.
Day 9: Today will largely be a travel day as we make our way south to the mountains that straddle the Queensland and New South Wales border. We’ll take advantage of the fact that we’ll be driving through a wide spectrum of habitats and past a range of excellent birding sites, stopping throughout the day to look for species that we might have missed farther north. Our first stop will be in drier forest, where we hope to find our first dazzling Variegated Fairy-Wrens and perhaps some specialities like Fuscous or Brown-headed Honeyeater. Once back in Brisbane we’ll certainly stop in a thick stand of coastal mangroves a bit south of the Brisbane River to search for Mangrove Honeyeater and Mangrove Gerygone. We’ll then drive inland to Lamington National Park, another area of montane rainforest with a delightful climate. We’ll pass through open farmland and eucalyptus woods broken occasionally by marshes and streams, and we should see Gray Butcherbird, Little Friarbird, and perhaps Glossy Black Cockatoo or Pretty-faced (Whiptail) Wallaby. By late afternoon we’ll enter the subtropical rainforest of the Lamington Plateau, a change of environment marked by flocks of Crimson Rosellas. We’ll arrive at O’Reilly’s Guesthouse in time for some late afternoon birding. If we’re lucky we may be able to watch a Satin Bowerbird decorating its bower or hand-feed the many semi-tame Regent Bowerbirds, Australian King Parrots, or Crimson Rosellas that decorate the lodge grounds. In the evening Red-necked Pademelons graze on the lawns, and during dinner Short-eared Brushtail Possums often come to the dining room feeders. Night at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Guesthouse.
Day 10: O’Reilly’s Guesthouse is celebrated by birdwatchers worldwide for its amazing shows of multicoloured tropical species, many of which are hand-tame and present fantastic photographic opportunities. Species that frequent the guesthouse feeders include bizarre Australian Brush-Turkeys, stunning Regent Bowerbirds (the guesthouse emblem) - the male being arguably the most beautiful Australian bird - more subtle but equally attractive Satin Bowerbirds, chunky Wonga Pigeons, cheeky Lewin’s Honeyeaters, and ragged flocks of Crimson Rosellas and Australian King Parrots. But the feeding frenzies around the guesthouse are by no means the only ornithological attractions at O’Reilly’s. Set in the heart of Lamington National Park, the guesthouse has lengthy trails that take off in various directions through superb montane rainforest containing a wealth of specialities that will be new for us. These include Paradise Riflebird (our second Bird of Paradise), curious Green Catbirds, entertaining Australian Logrunners, both Bassian and Russet-tailed Thrushes, remarkably confiding Eastern Whipbirds, three species of scrub-wren all so tame they will feed within feet of us, and many, many more. Perhaps the ultimate prize is Albert’s Lyrebird, a species with a tiny world range but also a very shy bird, usually heard singing but not always seen- and even then often just a large dark shape bounding away through the undergrowth. And after dinner we’ll make a serious attempt to find Marbled Frogmouth, a seldom-seen denizen of the high rainforest canopy. Night at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Guesthouse.
Day 11: After an early morning at O’Reilly’s searching for any species still missing and enjoying the incredible ambience of the location and its many very approachable birds, we’ll drive back down to the coast and then south toward Coolangatta. We’ll stop to look for species more typical of the drier lower slopes such as Red-browed Treecreeper, White-naped Honeyeater, Variegated Fairy-Wren, and Spotted Pardalote, and we’ll also visit a Bell Miner colony site, a treat for the aural senses, though the birds can be frustratingly difficult to locate because they remain largely motionless in the canopy. We should also have some time to check out the beautiful cliffs along Duranbah Beach and the mouth of the Tweed River, where we might encounter colourful Eastern Water Dragons sunning themselves on the rocky headlands, Humpback Whales feeding close in to shore, nesting Ospreys and Silver Gulls, and perhaps a few surprises like a Striped Honeyeater or passing Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. A late afternoon flight to Sydney should allow us to get settled into our hotel near the airport before dinner. Night in Sydney.
Day 12: The destination for today will be left flexible so we can make use of up-to-date information provided by our local leader, but it is sure to include time spent searching for Superb Lyrebird, one of the world’s most accomplished mimics. A trip out to the stunning coastal heathlands here may well reveal New South Wales’s only endemic bird, Rock Warbler, as well as heathland specialities such as Southern Emu-wren, Chestnut-rumped Heathwren, and Tawny-crowned Honeyeater. We’ll also look for a wide cross-section of more southerly Australian species whose ranges we have only just entered, such as Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Little and Red Wattlebirds, and New Holland Honeyeater. A short seawatch on the handsome bluffs of Royal National Park should reveal numbers of Wedge-tailed and perhaps Fluttering Shearwaters, and with the right conditions may also provide our first views of Black-browed or Shy Albatrosses. In the late afternoon we should be able to track down a roosting Powerful Owl, perhaps the most impressive of the suite of Australian owls, near the park boundary. Night in Sydney.
Day 13: Today we’ll take a pelagic trip into deep water beyond the continental shelf. We’ll cruise out through Sydney harbour and have a view of the famous bridge with a glimpse of the opera house below. During our day-long trip we should see many Southern Hemisphere seabirds that, depending on sea temperatures, may include Little Penguin, Australasian Gannet, Wandering, Shy, and Black-browed Albatrosses, Great-winged and other Pterodroma petrels, up to six species of shearwater, and several storm-petrels. We’ll feed the birds behind the boat and can usually draw in a selection of great seabirds to watch at arm’s length. Photographic opportunities are outstanding and binoculars are hardly needed. We won’t forget the fabulous experience of tossing bits of fish to Wandering Albatrosses bobbing about behind the boat. Cetaceans may also be a feature of the boat but none are guaranteed. In previous years we have seen Humpback and Sperm Whales, Orcas, and Common and Bottlenose Dolphins. With the vagaries of the Southern Ocean in play, it is worth mentioning that should conditions not allow us to go out to sea, we’ll spend this day to the south of Sydney around Barren Grounds Nature Reserve where we could see heathland birds such as Southern Emu-wren, Eastern Bristlebird, Beautiful Firetail, Pilotbird and, with some extreme luck, perhaps even Eastern Ground-Parrot or Gang-gang Cockatoo. Night in Sydney.
Day 14: On the last morning there will be a choice of either sightseeing in Sydney (on your own) or some final birding in Sydney Royal National Park where we’ll dedicate our time to looking for any of the species missed on our previous visit or head to another section of the park where the brightly-coloured Eastern Rosella and well-marked Yellow-tufted Honeyeater reside. We may also elect to investigate some of the many city parks near the hotel, where we could encounter birds such as Red-rumped Parrot, Red-whiskered Bulbul, White-plumed Honeyeater, or Yellow Thornbill. The tour will end around midday with a drop-off at the hotel or the Sydney airport.
This tour is arranged by our American partner WINGS
Updated: 26 July 2019