A birding bonanza if there ever was one, with over 50 species in the first few hours as we left Adelaide. Many different waterfowl, the endemic Banded Stilt, the elusive Slender-billed Thornbill, the rare Black Falcon and the subtly beatiful Elegant Parrot were just some of the highlights of the morning. Heading north we visited the Australian Arid Lands Botanical Gardens where we were delighted by a host of honeyeaters including the nomadic White-fronted, Pied & Black Honeyeaters. At the end of the day we arrived at the tiny outback hamlet of Lyndhurst, on the edge of the Strzelecki desert.
We spent the entire day birding the stark outback landscapes around Lyndhurst. First successful target was the elusive Thick-billed Grasswren, of which we were lucky enough to observe 3 birds after searching the extensive Bluebush plains. Zebra Finches, Orange Chat, White-winged Fairy-wren, Chirruping Wedgebill and Australian Hobby were among the many other highlights. The afternoon was spent observing the comings-and-goings of a wide range of birds at a rare wetland in the desert. Blue-billed & Musk Duck, 3 species of Grebe, 3 species of Cormorant and majestic Wedge-tailed Eagles were seen at close range.
After months of drought, the skies opened overnight and the rain continued into the morning. Rain in the outback is a rare event and enjoyed by the locals, the wildlife and the vegetation. While waiting for things to clear up we visited an eccentric outback sculpturist, Talc Alf, who creates interesting sculptures and told us many weird & wonderful tales. Once the rain stopped we headed into the very scenic Flinders Ranges, where Grey-fronted Honeyeaters performed on cue, as did the rare Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby. The earlier rain had brought on good bird activity and within no time we had added Redthroat, Inland Thornbill, Grey Butcherbird, Southern Whiteface, Little Eagle & Whistling Kite to the list. After checking in at our comfortable lodgings at the Wilpena Pound resort we birded the nearby foothills. Red-capped Robin, Southern Scrubrobin, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, White-eared Honeyeater and Crested Bellbird were obligingly added to the list. After dinner we did a night spotlighting walk which yielded great views of Owlet Nightjar!
Overnight thunderstorms and rain showers had cleared in the morning. The impressive scenery of the Flinders Ranges formed a great backdrop to our morning birding sojourn during which we saw Crested Bellbird, Hooded Robin, Black-eared Cuckoo, Black-faced Woodswallow and Rufous Whistler. Another visit to the stark outback plains near Hawker resulted in views of Rufous Fieldwren and then we started heading south through South Australia’s wheatbelt. In one fortuitious spot we had Brown Songlark, Rufous Songlark & Horsfields Bronze-cuckoo lined up on a fence wire! By the time we arrived at our base in Berri on the beautiful Murray River we had added Mulga Parrot, Aus Ringneck, Yellow Rosella, Apostlebird and Pied Butcherbird to the list
We birded the ‘mallee’ wilderness north of the Murray river which contains reserves such as Gluepot and yielded many good species. Highlight was a very obliging pair of Chestnut Quail-thrush, while a pair of Gilbert’s Whistlers also showed well, and a confiding Shy Heathwren was all but shy. Other birds seen this morning included Masked, White-browed & Dusky Woodswallow,Splendid Fairy-wren, 8 species of Honeyeater including the rare, nomadic Black & White-fronted Honeyeaters, Mulga Parrot, Yellow Rosella and more. We had a scrumptious lunch at the Banrock Station Wine & Wetland Centre and explored the wetlands for the rest of the afternoon, adding Spotted Crake, Little Grassbird, Red-necked Avocet and Blue-faced Honeyeater to our list, while the day was finished with yet another highlight: a nesting pair of Tawny Frogmouths.
A beautiful, calm and sunny morning awaited us as we drove to another ‘mallee’ reserve. Along the way, Blue Bonnets and Mallee Ringnecks, both species of parrots, gave good views. Once there, a birding frenzy awaited us with Red-lored Whistler, Striated Grasswren and Mallee Emu-wren all active and seen well within half an hour! It was amazing to have had such good views of these really rare species. Further explorations of the park yielded Spotted Pardalote, Striped honeyeater, Mulga Parrot and Common Bronzewing. Back to civilisation, where we had good views of 2 White-backed Swallows. Lunch on the banks of the Murray river yielded a variety of waterbirds and not long after, a pair of White-browed Treecreepers in a nearby woodland. After driving a couple of hours we arrived in the unassuming town of Ouyen where we had early dinner, then drove the back roads in search of Malleefowl. Success: 3 birds seen!
From outside our rooms we could watch nesting Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos this morning! The nearby scenic Hattah lakes had another nice suprise in store with nesting Regent Parrots. Then it was off to Australia’s largest ibis colony with numerous Aus White & Straw-necked Ibises and also some confiding Grey-crowned Babblers. A couple of hours driving in the afternoon (feral Ostriches along the road) and we found ourselves in Deniliquin. The Island Sanctuary park here is always good to visit and didn’t disappoint: Superb Parrot, Little & Noisy Friarbird, White-troated Treecreeper and Buff-rumped Thornbill;, while the sewage ponds held a wide variety of ducks including Blue-billed & Plumed Whistling Ducks.
A big day birding around Deniliquin. From a birdhide overlooking a reedy lake, Australian Bittern could be heard calling, and Swamp Harrier was seen. The extensive Red Gum forests here yielded the unassuming Western Gerygone with its beautiful song and the rare, beautiful Crested Shrike-tit. White-winged Triller, Red-browed Finch and more Superb Parrots were seen too. After lunch and a break we went out again birding the plains and woodlands north of town, where highlights for the afternoon included Painted Honeyeater, Owlet Nightjar, Ground Cuckooshrike and Square-tailed Kite. The group then went on a night spotlighting excursion in search of the very rare Plains-Wanderer and it didn’t take too long to find an obiging pair! Also seen were Southern Boobook and Inland Dotterel, another highlight.
In the morning we observed nesting Square-tailed Kites near Deniliquin and more Superb Parrots, before driving to Chiltern NP where we arrived shortly after lunch. A great variety of new honeyeaters awaited us here including Yellow-tufted, Fuscous, Black-chinned and White-naped. A highlight was no doubt great views of the elusive Speckled Warbler. At night we were lucky enough to spotlight a Sugar Glider!
A very successful morning in Chiltern NP with multiple sightings of the rare Turquoise Parrot, as well as White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Olive-backed Oriole, Shining Bronze-cuckoo, Black-chinned Honeyeater, a Koala with a baby and the mouse-like Antechinus. Later that day we drove to Healesville, in the Yarra Ranges behind Melbourne. Birding the tall, dense hill forests here this afternoon yielded Rufous Fantail, Eastern Yellow Robin, Crescent Honeyeater, Fan-tailed Cuckoo and Eastern Whipbird.
A full morning in the Healesville forests resulted in sightings of Superb Lyrebird, Red-browed Treecreeper, Pilotbird, Gang-gang Cockatoo, Large-billed & White-browed Scrubwren, Scarlet – Rose – Flame Robins, Brush Cuckoo, Black-faced Monarch and many other good species. After lunch we observed a pair of Powerful Owls with 2 fledged young, what an amazing sighting! We then drove to the town of Werribee for the night.
The morning was spent in the amazing, extensive Western Treatment Plant, one of Australia’s premier waterbird sites. Almost all southern Australian species of ducks were present here as well as good numbers of Whiskered Terns (and 1-2 White-winged Black Terns), a Brolga, Spotted & Baillon’s Crake, Buff-banded Rail, and ‘little brown jobs’ such as Striated Fieldwren, Horsfield’s Bushlark, Eurasian Skylark & Golden-headed Cisticola. Raptors weren’t forgotten with both Spotted & Swamp Harrier, Brown Goshawk, Black-shouldered-, Whistling & Black Kite, Brown Falcon & Wedge-tailed Eagle while a nearby flowering Eucalypt held 3 species of Lorikeet: Purple-crowned, Musk & Rainbow! Birding the fields & wetlands north-west of Werribee in the afternoon yielded 2 important species: Magpie Goose & Cape Barren Goose. At the end of the day we drove to Anglesea, at the start of the Great Ocean Road, where Rufous Bristlebird showed before our scrumptious seafood dinner.
The last day was spent birding the eastern end of the scenic Great Ocean Road. Early on we had skulking Southern Emuwren and Chestnut-rumped Heathwren while Blue-winged Parrot and Gang-gang Cockatoo provided great views in the mornnig light. After a scrumptious breakfast we contined into the forest of the Greater Otway NP where Crescent Honeyeater, White-throated Treecreeper and Satin Bowerbird were observed. At lunch near a small but productive wetland (Latham Snipe!) we had a very confiding pair of Rufous Bristlebirds come in. The weather was nice but overnight wind had brought in some albatrosses that we watched from near a lighthouse, positively identifying one as Shy Albatross while Australasian Gannets were also seen and then it was time to return to Melbourne for our final dinner. Total trip tally was a new record for this tour: 269, with a further 3 species heard only. Join us next year!