This was the second full-blown ‘Great Southern Tour’ which concentrates on the many specialties of the southern coastal region of Australia and the South Australian outback. With 7 participants, the tour started in Adelaide (SA) and finished in Hobart (Tas). The weather was quite variable with warm and cooler days alternating, but little rain. Birds were abundant throughout and the total tally was just short of 300 species. Highlights included Painted Snipe, Inland Dotterel, Plains-wanderer, Scarlet-chested Parrot, Swift Parrot, Gibberbird, Mallee Emu-wren and all 12 Tasmanian endemics.
Day 1: 20 November
We commenced the trip at the Greenfields wetlands, north of Adelaide. Plenty of waterbirds and waders were present here. Good sightings included Australian Spotted and Spotless Crakes. At Pt Gawler we observed Slender-billed Thornbills in the low mangroves. It became quite warm but a walk in the Arid Lands Botanical Gardens in Pt Augusta yielded a good variety of Honeyeaters including White-fronted. Towards the end of the day we spent a pleasant hour at a lake observing Orange Chats, Musk Duck and all 3 species of Grebe.
Day 2: 21 November
After an early start we spend the entire day exploring the Strzelecki desert around Lyndhurst and Marree. Stony gibber plains, dry creeks lined with ancient Eucalyptus trees, low sand dunes covered in shrubby bushes, and dry floodplains yielded a wide variety of birds. These included Rufous Fieldwren, Little Button-quail, Cinnamon Quailthrush, White-winged Fairy-wren, Chirruping Wedgebill, Orange Chat and even one Gibberbird. After trying a number of sites we eventually also found a pair of very obliging Thick-billed Grasswrens. At a lake in the middle of the desert we saw Australian Pratincole and many waterbirds including at least 30 Freckled Ducks. At the end of the day we returned to Lyndhurst where at sunset we had excellent views of a family of 6 Inland Dotterels. What a great day to finish the day!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: 22 November
We spent the entire day in the Flinders Ranges, exploring the rugged yet beautiful gorges, rock formations and mountains by 4WD and on foot. The beautiful Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies were showing well at their usual haunt. Good birds we saw this morning included Greyfronted Honeyeater, Red-capped Robin and Peregrine Falcon. After a sumptuos lunch in the Wild Lime Cafe in Blinman, we started the search for Short-tailed Grasswren. Within half an hour we found a very obliging pair showing well and even allowing photographs! High fives all around. We checked in at our accommodation at the Wilpena Pound resort, where some people chose the swimming pool, while others continued birding, resulting in Inland Thornbill and Rufous Whistler. An evening spotlighting session was unsuccesful although we heard Tawny Frogmouth and Southern Boobook.
Day 4: 23 November
We set off on a pre-breakfast walk around Wilpena Pound, following which we departed south. Southern Scrubrobin, Inland Thornbill, Red-capped Robin and Australian Ringneck Parrot, amongst others, were seen. The majestic Wedge-tailed Eagle was seen at close range a number of times. At Orroroo we had lunch and checked out the Aboriginal rock carvings, and had close views of Variegated Fairy-wrens. At Burra we saw an immature Nankeen Night-heron roosting in a pine tree. At Morgan we had glimpses of Redthroat, which wasn’t very cooperative. We met the Murray River, and started seeing waterbirds, including White-necked Heron and Black-tailed Native-hen. We then headed to Waikerie for the night.
Day 5: 24 November
A big day at Birdlife Australia’s Gluepot Reserve. We commenced early for a big day of birding. At the first stop we saw masses of woodswallows, both Masked and White-browed. Chestnut Quail-thrush and Southern Scrubrobin were cooperative here as was Gilbert’s Whistler. We then commenced the search for Scarlet-chested Parrot, which had been breeding at Gluepot for the 2nd year in a row. It didn’t take long to find a pair with an immature, evidence of successful breeding again. We then started trawling through acres of spinifex in the hope of turning up a Striated Grasswren. After about an hour we were not disappointed with a pair showing well. Time for a well-deserved cup of coffee, after which we quickly moved on to the next target, Red-lored Whistler. By the time we got to the site, it was already quite warm but fortunately the birds were present and we had good views of an adult and an immature. Nearby, we observed a flock of mostly Black-eared Miners, containing one or two hybrids. Time for lunch and we headed to the visitors centre. In the shady gazebo we enjoyed our sandwiches while a pair of Major Mitchell Cockatoos were quietly feeding in nearby trees! A Splendid Fairy-wren gave a brilliant show. The next hour was spent in a bird hide, observing the frantic comings-and-goings of hundreds of birds, including many honeyeater species and Regent Parrots at a water trough.
Day 6: 25 November
Another very early start as we set off on our journey east. Once we arrived at Hattah-Kulkyne National Park it didn’t take us long to track down a small family group of the beautiful, tiny Mallee Emu-wrens. After observing them, and a Striated Grasswren, on and off for almost half an hour we checked out the nearby lakes where we saw Regent Parrots and a nesting Australian Hobby. The afternoon was spent driving to our accommodation in Deniliquin.
Day 7: 26 November
We birded the riverine floodplain forests where we had good sightings of numerous pairs of Superb Parrots. Here we also saw Crested Shrike-tit, Western Gerygone and Diamond Firetail. After lunch we checked some ponds and found Baillon’s Crake, Australian Crake and Spotless Crake. In the ricefields a pair of Australian Painted Snipes was a highlight, allowing lengthy scope views, while Black Falcon was seen nearby. As the sun started setting we observed numerous waterfowl on a large swamp, including at least 10 Freckled Ducks, and hundreds of Whiskered Terns. We then headed 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 8: 27 November
After a not-so-early start we headed south, checking out various red-gum and box-ironbark woodland sites along the way, picking up birds like Grey-crowned Babbler, Fuscous & Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Eastern Spinebill, Flame, Scarlet & Eastern Yellow Robins, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike and many others. Some of us made a detour to see 5 Feral Ostriches. Late in the afternoon we reached the spectacular coastal scenery of the Great Ocean Road, and made our base for the night at Port Campbell.
Day 9: 28 November
Early the morning we birded the coastal heath along the Great Ocean Road. Rufous Bristlebirds were heard singing in the undergrowth here and we after considerable effort one decided to show itself. 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 Honeyeater, Southern Emuwren, Striated Fieldwren and Olive Whistler, while in the forests we had Forest Raven, Gang-gang Cockatoo, King Parrot and Little Lorikeet.
Day 10: 29 November
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 waterbirds and waders and we weren’t disappointed. It was a bit warm today but most of the birding was done from the air-conditioned vehicle. The network of sewage treatment lagoons, lakes, creeks and marshes delivered us Cape Barren Goose, Musk Duck, Freckled Duck, Pink-eared Duck, Australasian Shoveler, Australian Spotted, Spotless and Baillon’s Crake, Buff-banded Rail, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Red-necked Avocet, Banded Stilt, Little Grassbird, Golden-headed 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 11: 30 November
We birded the tall, dense hill forests around Healesville where we gradually picked up species such as Superb Lyrebird, Red-browed Treecreeper, Large-billed Scrubwren, Eastern Whipbird and Rufous Fantail. We headed to Melbourne airport for our flight to Hobart, Tasmania, where we checked out forests on the slopes of Mt Wellington, picking up Tasmanian Scrubwren, Tasmanian Thornbill and Black Currawong. We then took the ferry to Bruny Island, along the way seeing Black-faced Cormorant and Tasmanian Native-hen. We stayed at Inala, a privately owned and very scenically located wild-life sanctuary with its own Forty-spotted Pardalote colony. An evening spot-lighting session yielded Short-tailed Shearwaters and Little Penguins returning to their burrows, and a variety of mammals including the unique albino wallabies, Eastern Quoll, Long-nosed Potoroo and Bennett’s Wallaby.
Day 12: 1 December
We spent the entire day exploring the ancient forests and spectacular coastlines of Bruny Island. By the end of the day we’d racked up all 12 Tasmanian endemics and more! A small number of Swift Parrots gave impressive views. We birded our way across the island, picking up Forty-spotted Pardalote, Yellow Wattlebird, Dusky Robin, Strong-billed, Black-headed and Yellow-throated Honeyeaters, Green Rosella, Olive Whistler and more. Scrubtit proved elusive but eventually gave up skulking, while Tasmanian Scrubwren was a bit easier. A scrumptious meal and more Forty-spotted Pardalotes awaited us back at our accommodation at Inala.
The last day: 2 December
After breakfast clients were returned to Hobart to their hotels or to connect with their flights home. Everyone agreed it had been a highly successful second Great Southern Tour! The weather had turned inclement and windy, so those that had hoped to go Orange-bellied Parrot spotting at Melaleuca were disappointed as there was no hope their flight would go today.