BellBird Tours Birding Blog

 

The 2016 ‘Nine Grasswren tour’ started in Adelaide (SA) and finished in Alice Springs (NT). After visiting Birdlife Australia’s Gluepot Reserve (Black-eared Miner) we explored the bluebush plains around Whyalla (Western Grasswren, Splendid (turquoise) Fairy-wren) and travelled through the scenic Flinders Ranges (Short-tailed Grasswren) up to the Birdsville track where we had both Chestnut-breasted and Banded Whiteface as well as the elusive Grey Falcon and Eyrean Grasswren. Unfortunately the Grey Grasswren site was inaccessible due to flooding but we had great views of Gibberbird and Inland Dotterel.

 

This was a ten day birding trip to Central Thailand by Bruce Wedderburn and Peter Waanders. The trip followed a standard itinerary from Bangkok to Pak Thale for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, followed by visits to the national parks of Kaeng Krachan, Mae Wong and Khao Yai. We also birded at Petchaburi Paddyfields, Bueng Boraphet Wetlands and Wat Phra Phutthabat Noi Temple along the way. The ten days birding in Thailand was successful with 302 birds seen and another 7 birds heard only.

 

In August 2014 I had scheduled a 3-day stopover in Dubai on the way back to Australia from the UK. At first I was worried that birding there in August, the hottest time of the year, would be difficult, but I was encouraged by Ian Reid’s trip report who had done a similar trip a year earlier. Using Ian’s trip report as a starting point, the excellent information available on UAEbirding.com and further information from expats I had designed a 3-day trip around my target species. I had decided to stay in a central location in the small country, to avoid having to worry about hunting around for accommodation, and to have a base where I could retreat to any time if the heat got too much or if I’d get too tired. After some research, I settled on the Hattah Fort hotel.

 

The 2013 ‘Great Southern Tour’ started in Adelaide (SA) and finished in Hobart (Tas). The weather was pretty close to perfect with calm, sunny days, temperatures in the 20-25 Degrees Celsius range, and no rain. A grand total of 301 bird species were seen. Highlights included Oriental Plover, Black-breasted Buzzard, Inland Dotterel, Pilotbird, Plainswanderer, Superb Parrot, Swift Parrot, Freckled Duck, Mallee Emu-wren and all 12 Tasmanian endemics. Mammal sightings of interest included 3 species of Kangaroo, 3 species of Wallaby, Platypus, Eastern Quoll, Echidna, Koala and Australian Fur Seal.

 

The 2013 Six Grasswren tour covered over 3,000 km mostly on outback roads. From Adelaide (SA) we travelled through Gluepot, Broken Hill and Tibooburra to the ‘Corner Country’. From there, the Strezelecki track was followed south, and after a detour via Whyalla we travelled through the Flinders Ranges and back to Adelaide. The weather was quite reasonable with only one hot day. In total 168 bird species were seen. Apart from the Grasswrens, highlights included Flock Bronzewing, Letter-winged Kite, Australian Bustard, Inland Dotterel, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, Budgerigar, Banded Whiteface, Black Honeyeater and Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby.

 

The Eyre Peninsula and Gawler Ranges are underexplored areas of South Australia (SA) where birds of the SA outback join their Western Australian counterparts. Taking participants to the beautiful coastal scenery at Pt Lincoln (where we feasted on oysters and tuna) and Fowlers Bay (with views of dolphins), the endless mallee around Ceduna, and the scenic Gawler Ranges NP we ended up with a bird list of no less than 166 species. Apart from one windy morning, we were fortunate with the weather, as cool mornings and mild days allowed for comfortable birding. There were plenty of outstanding sightings, the clear winner no doubt being multiple views of the secretive Western Whipbird. Other highlights included Fairy Tern, Western Grasswren, Rock Parrot, Blue-breasted Fairy-wren, Rufous Treecreeper, Western Yellow Robin, Black-eared Cuckoo, and many more.

 

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. 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.

 

This year’s Highlights of South Australia tour was run from 20-25 November, through a variety of habitats within South Australia. Covering the Flinders Ranges, outback, Gluepot, Murray River and coast near Adelaide, the trip was guided by Peter Waanders, assisted by Helga Kieskamp. In 6 days the trip totalled 180 bird species including goodies such as 3 species of Grasswren, Scarlet-chested Parrot, Inland Dotterel, Freckled Duck as well as some interesting mammals. Plenty of waterbirds and waders were present here. Good sightings included Australian Spotted and Spotless Crakes. 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 Quail-thrush, 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.

 

The October 2012 Southern Birding Services Grasswren tour took the popular Strzelecki track route. Taking 8 participants in two 4WD vehicles, the tour was guided by Peter Waanders, assisted by Helga Kieskamp. A total of 169 species were seen (very few waterbirds), including 5 Grasswrens and other highlights such as Scarlet-chested Parrot, Ground Cuckoo-shrike and nesting Black-breasted Buzzards and Letter-winged Kites. Following a succesful pre-tour extension in the Adelaide area (with daytime temperatures of 4C and sleet!) where we saw Freckled Ducks, Purple-gaped Honeyeaters, an Australian Spotted Crake and an Owlet-nightjar, we picked up the remaining participants from Adelaide and drove to Waikerie for the night. We set off early to Birdlife Australia’s Gluepot Reserve. We spent the entire morning in the reserve and soon found ourselves observing Chestnut Quail-thrush, Southern Scrubrobin, Gilbert’s Whistler and Shy Heathwren. Not long thereafter we commenced the search for Scarlet-chested Parrot and luck was with us: within minutes we had a male flying right overhead! Of course longer and better views were desired while we started searching the spinifex for Striated Grasswren. After considerable effort we turned up a pair of them, our first Grasswren for the trip. Returning to the car we found a pair of Scarlet-chested Parrots foraging, then perched, allowing great views for everyone.

 

This was a birding and camping trip which included four days in Broome before travelling up the Gibb River and Kalumburu Roads to the Mitchell Plateau and then returning to Broome. The trip had originally been set up by Rob Morris late last year, Peter Waanders and Michael Kearns also joined up for the trip. The main targets were the two WA endemics, Black Grasswren and Kimberley Honeyeater, which are found on the Mitchell Plateau. I had previously done the trip up the Gibb River Road, from Broome to Kununurra in May/June 2004 with Coates Wildlife Tours. However as there were late rains that year, the water levels on the King Edward River were too high for us to cross safely, so we were unable to get up to the Mitchell Plateau. This trip thus focussed on getting up to the Mitchell Plateau as quickly as possible and once we had seen our target birds, then to make our way back to Broome at a more leisurely pace. The return trip from Broome to the Mitchell Plateau involved a lot of driving over corrugated roads and we managed to travel just over 2,100 km.