The ‘Great Southern Tour’ has been specifically designed to concentrate on the many specialties of the southern coastal region of Australia and the South Australian outback. This was the first year this 12-day tour was run in its entirety, from Adelaide to Tasmania. Following two good seasons, birds were abundant throughout and the weather was reasonable too, resulting in an amazing total of 301 species. Highlights included Inland Dotterel, Plainswanderer, Scarlet-chested Parrot, Swift Parrot, Chestnut-breasted Whiteface, Gibberbird, Mallee Emu-wren and all 12 Tasmanian endemics.
Day 1: 24 Oct
The tour commenced in Adelaide (SA) and we birded our way through the scenic Adelaide Hills. While it was cool and foggy at the Mt Lofty peak we managed good views of White-browed Treecreeper, Scarlet Robin, Adelaide Rosella, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo and many species of Honeyeater. Here we were also fortunate to see a Koala with baby and an obliging Fan-tailed Cuckoo. Nearby, a Chestnut-rumped Heathwren was heard but only allowed glimpses. We turned north and along the samphire coast a pair of Slender-billed Thornbills put in an appearance and we observed small numbers of Blue-winged Parrots in the low dunes. A spectacular sight was an estimated 3,000 Banded Stilts congregating on coastal mudflats near Pt Augusta. Towards the end of the day we visited the Arid Lands Botanical Gardens where we were treated to our first Whitewinged Fairy-wrens, Chirruping Wedgebills and White-fronted Honeyeaters.
Day 2: 25 Oct
We made an early start the next morning for our trip to the outback. While following the straight, seemingly endless road along the western flanks of the Flinders Ranges, we saw many Emus and a huge Wedge-tailed Eagle flew off from a roadside carcass. A pair of Little Eagle was observed soaring in the blue sky. Around lunchtime we arrived at Mt Lyndhurst, on the edge of the Strzelecki desert, where after some searching we found a pair of Chestnut-breasted Whitefaces. We then checked a different site where we had good views of 2 pairs of Thick-billed Grasswrens and a very obliging pair of Rufous Fieldwrens. After some effort we eventually found a single Cinnamon Quail-thrush, sheltering under a dead bush, in the top of which sat another Chestnut-breasted Whiteface!
As we had done so well we had time to explore the Strzelecki track a bit further, the main target being Gibberbird. Along the way we came across more Chirruping Wedgebills, some Orange Chats, Zebra Finches and Diamond Doves. In a large area of gibber plains we quickly located a single Gibberbird which, much to the delight of to the observers, was quite approachable.
Day 3: 26 Oct
As we had done so well yesterday there was no need to go back to Mt Lyndhurst and we headed straight into the Flinders Ranges. Here we found a small group of Grey-fronted Honeyeaters and soon afterwards we observed a few of the endangered Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies. At the same site, Inland Thornbill and Redthroat showed well. As we drove over creek beds and through the canyon-like rock formations we flushed a pair of Elegant Parrots. After lunch we arrived at an area of rolling hills covered in spinifex-grass where we set off to search for the elusive Short-tailed Grasswren. However within a minute from commencing the search we were staring at a Short-tailed Grasswren at about 5 m distance – unbelievable! We then went on to explore an area of rocky outcrops. Here we heard, and had short views of, a Painted Buttonquail, a very rare bird in this normally arid environment. After this nice surprise we continued on to the Wilpena Pound Resort, our destination for the night and scenically located within the National Park, where a spotlighting session after dinner resulted in nice views of a Southern Boobook.
Day 4: 27 Oct
After a leisurely breakfast the morning, we explored other parts of the Flinders Ranges, where we found a very obliging Southern Scrubrobin and a nice White-eared Honeyeater. Also active here were Yellow-rumped and Inland Thornbills, a beautiful male Red-capped Robin and Australian Ringnecks (intergrades between the Mallee and Pt Lincoln races). There were countless Kangaroos (Red, Western Grey and Euros) as well as Emus. On the way south we drove through open agricultural land where we had Rufous and Brown Songlark. Three Stubble Quail were heard calling from a wheatfield and views could only be obtained by flushing them through running fast towards them. After an uneventful drive south (Apostlebirds at Burra), we crossed Australia’s largest river, the Murray, by ferry at Morgan later in the afternoon. No sooner had we reached the other side of the river or we saw some brilliant Regent Parrots flying. They landed in a tree and allowed great views. There were also plenty of other interesting birds here, including Yellow Rosellas, White-breasted Woodswallows and Spinycheeked Honeyeaters. We checked some more wetlands on the way to Waikerie, adding waterfowl such as Australian Shelduck, Australian Shoveler, Pink-eared Duck and Hardhead.
Day 5: 28 Oct
The next morning, we set off early for a day at Birds Australia’s Gluepot Reserve. As we arrived at the reserve around sunrise, it didn’t look promising at all with grey skies and some light drizzle. However if anything this probably increased bird activity, as we set off on a decent walk in search of three of our most difficult targets: Scarlet-chested Parrot, Red-lored Whistler and Striated Grasswren. After almost 2 km walking we heard a Redlored Whistler singing and tracked it down through dense spinifex grass and shrubbery. We returned to the walking trail, where the next target was quickly found: Striated Grasswren. A pair of these normally skulking birds was running around between the spinifex clumps and much to everyone’s delight the male then jumped up onto a branch and started singing. Satisfied we started the hike back to the car, when a brilliantly coloured male Scarletchested Parrot came flying straight towards us, flew low over our heads and disappeared into the mallee scrub. Amazing! Walking back to the car the birds kept coming thick and fast: small flocks of Budgerigars, a nice Crested Bellbird male, a pair of Grey-fronted Honeyeaters, another Painted Buttonquail and a family of Chestnut Quail-thrushes…
By the time we had reached the car people were losing count of their lifers! It was time for a coffee break but not until a calling Owlet-nightjar was tracked down and seen well peeping out of its hollow. We then finally had time to explore the rest of the reserve, which yielded other good species such as White-browed Treecreeper, Shy Heathwren, Gilbert’s Whistler and Striped Honeyeater. Upon entering a bird hide, a Barn Owl came flying out! It took a drive all the way to the far end of the reserve to find a small flock of Black-eared Miners, while large flocks of White-browed and Masked Woodswallows were active in the low, shrubby mallee vegetation.
Day 6: 29 Oct
Another very early start the morning, as we set off on our journey east. Again the weather didn’t look too promising as it was cool, windy and showery. However once we arrived at Hattah-Kulkyne National Park the sun started coming out and it didn’t take us long to track down a small family group of the beautiful, tiny Mallee Emu-wrens. After observing them on and off for almost half an hour we checked out the nearby lakes where we saw Blue Bonnets and a Nankeen Night-heron. After lunch we headed further east, birding along the way and we came across a party of Grey-crowned Babbler, Cockatiels and two feral Ostriches. We checked into our accommodation in Deniliquin late in the afternoon for a break and dinner, before heading out on a night spotlighting session on nearby plains. This turned out to be highly successful, with two Plains-wanderers seen well and also an Inland Dotterel, good numbers of Little Buttonquail and a few Horsfield’s Bushlarks. Tired but satisfied we went to bed well after midnight…
Day 7: 30 Oct
After a not-so-early start the next morning, we birded the riverine floodplain forests where we had no trouble tracking down a pair of Superb Parrots, allowing good views. Here we also saw Western Gerygone and Diamond Firetail. We then headed south, checking out various red-gum and box-ironbark woodland sites along the way, picking up birds like Speckled Warbler, Painted, Black-chinned, Fuscous & Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Eastern Spinebill, Flame, Scarlet & Eastern Yellow Robins, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike and many others. Late in the afternoon we reached the spectacular coastal scenery of the Great Ocean Road.
Day 8: 31 Oct
Early the morning, we birded the coastal heath along the Great Ocean Road. Rufous Bristlebirds were heard singing in the undergrowth here and we were fortunate when one decided to hop onto a bush to sing, allowing photographic views. We birded along the stunning scenery of the Great Ocean Road (beaches, floral heathlands, and spectacular rock formations such as the famous Twelve Apostles) for most of the day, pulling in at various places picking up other good species including Tawny-crowned and White-eared Honeyeater, Southern Emu-wren, Little Wattlebird, Striated Fieldwren and Olive Whistler.
Day 9: 1 Nov
We started the morning with a tour of the extensive Werribee sewage farm, between Geelong and Melbourne. This is one of Australia’s best-known sites for sedentary and migratory waterbirds and waders and we weren’t disappointed. The network of sewage treatment lagoons, lakes, creeks and salt marshes delivered us species such as Cape Barren Goose, Musk Duck, Freckled Duck, Pink-eared Duck, Australasian Shoveler, Australian Spotted, Spotless and Baillon’s Crake, Buff-banded Rail, Sharptailed Sandpiper, Red-necked Avocet, Banded Stilt, Little Grassbird, Goldenheaded Cisticola and others. We then proceeded to pretty Healesville, in the hills to the east of Melbourne, where we picked up Satin Bowerbird and Pink Robin.
Day 10: 2 Nov
The next morning, the tall, dense hill forests around Healesville were quite a contrast to yesterday’s vast sewage farm. A Superb Lyrebird was heard singing and after some effort first a female, foraging in the leaflitter, followed by a nice male showing its amazing tailfeathers were seen. We gradually picked up more species including Red-browed Treecreeper, Largebilled Scrubwren, Eastern Whipbird and Rufous Fantail. As we headed to Melbourne airport it started raining and we flew to Hobart, Tasmania, where it was much colder but dry. We checked out the forests on the slopes of Mt Wellington, picking up Tasmanian Scrubwren, Tasmanian Thornbill and after some effort, Black Currawong. We drove up to the top of Mt Wellington where it was a mere 3oC but the wind made it feel even colder, and returned to our warm accommodation in Hobart.
Day 11: 3 Nov
Due to the weather, Melaleuca flights had been cancelled. However, clients that had done a private tour with us a week earlier had returned from Melaleuca having seen and photographed at least 4 Orange-bellied Parrots. We drove a little way south and took the ferry to Bruny Island. Close to the ferry terminal a pair of Tasmanian Native-hen with young were foraging in the grass. From the ferry we saw Black-faced Cormorant, Kelp Gull and Forest Raven. The first bird we saw once we got across was a Swift Parrot! We birded our way across the island, picking up Dusky Robin, Strong-billed, Black-headed and Yellow-throated Honeyeaters, Green Rosella and Beautiful Firetail.
Some time in the afternoon we arrived at Inala, our accommodation for the night, on a privately owned wildlife sanctuary which has many of the above-mentioned species as well as a colony of Forty spotted Pardalote. It didn’t take us long to find the pardalotes, although they were foraging high up in tall trees, but after some patience they were observed lower down. Here we also saw Olive Whistler, Shining Bronzecuckoo and more Tasmanian Scrubwrens. That evening we observed the unique albino wallabies here as well as Little Penguins and Short-tailed Shearwaters returning to their burrows after dark.
Day 12: 4 Nov
The last day, the weather was still inclement, so we birded the remainder of Bruny Island, picking up most of yesterday’s species again. Walking around in the tall, dense forests people commented on the vast diversity of habitats we’d covered in a relatively short period – from the vast open stony outback plains of Lyndhurst, the endless mallee of Gluepot to the spectacular Great Ocean Road and now forests containing some of the world’s tallest trees. One of Tasmania’s most difficult to find species, Scrubtit, didn’t live up to its reputation as we came across a pair within 10 minutes of commencing the search!
They even allowed photographic opportunities (although due to the weather and dense forest it was very dark). A great conclusion to the trip, having picked up all of Tasmania’s 12 endemics. The Swift Parrot was still present in the trees near the ferry and we returned to Hobart where everyone said goodbye to go their own way after a highly successful inaugural Great Southern Tour!