The ultimate guide to Oz birding
Reliable places to spot our high-flying wildlife
1 WETW TROPICS, QUEENSLAND:
Cairns is the centre of a region that supports an incredible diversity of birds. These include brilliant rainforest species, many of which are found nowhere else. There’s also a strong connection to New Guinea’s bird fauna. Shorebirds at Cairns Esplanade, and inland species, including Australian Bustard and Squatter Pigeon, in drier country inland of the rainforests, are also highlights. Many accommodation venues on the Atherton Tablelands (upland rainforest) and in the Daintree area (lowland rainforest) are set in beautiful tropical gardens in which many rainforest birds can be seen at close range. A boat trip on the Daintree River is a great way to observe such gems as Little Kingfisher, Shining Flycatcher and the imposing Great-billed Heron. Offshore, a trip to Michaelmas Cay will reveal dense breeding colonies of noddies and terns, with a chance of feeding Brown and Red-footed Boobies.
2 GOLD COAST HINTERLAND, QUEENSLAND:
The mountains behind the Gold Coast provide a rich birdingb experience in remnant rainforest. Lamington National Park supports important stands of subtropical and temperate rainforest that abuts the Queensland-NSW border. Two famous guesthouses, Binna Burra Lodge and O’Reilly’s, provide excellent birding experiences. The stars of the show at O’Reilly’s are the tame Satin and Regent Bowerbirds that congregate in the picnic area and will happily feed from your hand, along with Crimson Rosellas and King Parrots. More elusive species, including Albert’s Lyrebird and the incredibly difficult-to-see Rufous Scrub-bird, require a more determined search along the walking tracks that penetrate the sublime subtropical forest.
3 LORD HOWE ISLAND, NSW:
A speck in the Pacific Ocean about 700km northeast of Sydney, Lord Howe Island is unrivalled as a nature-based tourism destination, combining breathtaking scenery with crystal-clear seas over coral reefs, with breeding seabirds and several endemic land birds. Uncommercialised and tranquil, Lord Howe is best explored by bicycle and on foot. The exquisite and remarkably tame White Tern lays its single egg directly on a branch of Norfolk Island Pines along the foreshore. The endemic Lord Howe Woodhen has benefited from one of Australia’s few successful threatened species recovery programs and can now be readily found foraging around forest edges and even in gardens. In season, large numbers of seabirds congregate to breed on various cliffs and headlands.
4 GREAT OCEAN ROAD, VICTORIA:
A drive along the scenic Great Ocean Road provides many birdingb highlights, beginning at the northeast end where heath and woodland behind the town of Anglesea provide opportunities to encounter such beauties as the Blue-winged Parrot, Southern Emu-wren and Beautiful Firetail. The lighthouse at Aireys Inlet is probably the best place to see Rufous Bristlebirds and further southwest in the cool temperate rainforest of Cape Otway look for wet forest birds such as the Pink Robin, Crescent Honeyeater and Forest Raven, for example at Maits Rest picnic area. Most beaches along this coast support pairs of the threatened Hooded Plover and, offshore, Southern Ocean seabirds can be seen including albatrosses, Australasian Gannets and Pacific Gulls.
5 BRUNY ISLAND, TASMANIA:
For the quintessential birding experience, take the vehicle ferry to picturesque Bruny Island, south of Hobart. All 12 bird species that are only found in Tasmania can be seen here, including the critically endangered Swift Parrot and the endangered Forty-spotted Pardalote, which breeds in the tall white gum forests. The glorious beaches provide excellent habitat for oystercatchers and other shorebirds, and you never know when a vagrant penguin from the sub-Antarctic will come ashore to moult.
6 KAKADU NATIONAL PARK, NORTHERN TERRITORY:
Renowned for its rocky escarpments with ancient Aboriginal art, pockets of vine forest, big rivers with extensive floodplain wetlands and dry, grassy woodland, Kakadu National Park is a birder’s delight. A boat trip at Yellow Waterhole is a revelation of the diversity and abundance of waterbirds in this system – majestic Brolgas and Black-necked Storks, huge flocks of Magpie Geese, whistling-ducks, dapper Pied Herons, tiny Azure Kingfishers and the Comb-crested Jacana using its ridiculously long toes to walk across floating waterlily leaves. However, there are many other avian attractions including four species found virtually nowhere else — Banded Fruit-Doves, Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeons, White-throated Grasswrens and White-lined Honeyeaters. The eucalypt woodlands are home to numerous species of honeyeater, parrot, pigeon, and small bush birds, and areas of flowering eucalypts along small streams are particularly productive.
About 1650 km southeast of Hobart in the windswept Southern Ocean lies magnificent Macquarie Island, a World Heritage area inhabited by some 3.5 million breeding seabirds and more than 100,000 seals. Its only human inhabitants are visiting scientists and the support team, but specialist ship-based cruises allow visitors to stand on a beach surrounded by many thousands of Royal Penguins and dozens of massive Southern Elephant Seals, with King, Gentoo and Southern Rockhopper Penguins playing cameo roles. A boardwalk takes visitors part way up to the plateau where albatrosses breed among the tussock grasses and mega herbs.
7 MACQUARIEM ISLAND, SOUTHERN OCEAN: 8 MACDONNELLM RANGES, NORTHERN TERRITORY:
The orange and mauve folds of the iconic MacDonnell Ranges extend west and east from Alice Springs in the arid red centre. The stately, whitetrunked Ghost Gums provide nesting hollows for numerous parrots, cockatoos and the Australian Owlet Nightjar. In the gorges, brilliant Painted Finches, Port Lincoln Parrots and Budgerigars are attracted to waterholes to drink while the comical Spinifex Pigeons scurry like wind-up toys over the rocks. The rocky slopes clad in prickly hummocks of spinifex grass harbour cryptic specialists such as Spinifexbirds, Dusky Grasswrens and Rufous-crowned Emu-wrens. To wake to the glorious fluting calls of the Pied Butcherbird echoing from the cliffs in Ormiston Gorge or other campsites is one of life’s greatest delights.
9 SOUTHWESTS REGION, WESTERN AUSTRALIA:
The flora here is among the most diverse in the world, particularly in the Kwongan heathlands where prolifically flowering and nectar-rich shrubs provide year-round energy for a diverse fauna that includes many bird species found nowhere else, from the huge Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo to the tiny Western Spinebill, Red-winged Fairy-wren and Red-eared Firetail. As well as some of Australia’s most delightful beaches, Two Peoples Bay and nearby areas are home to three of the most furtive of Australia’s birds, the Western Whipbird, Western Bristlebird and Noisy Scrub-bird, drawing keen birders from around the globe. In close proximity to the incredibly diverse heathlands grow some of the world’s tallest trees in the Jarrah-Karri forest zone, home to the brilliantly coloured Red-capped Parrot, Western Rosella and Western Yellow Robin, among numerous others.
10 THET KIMBERLEY, NORTHWEST AUSTRALIA:
The vast, remote and magnificent rocky ranges of this region provide superb birding. In the east, the town of Kununurra and surrounding irrigation area is a great place to begin, being particularly rich in finches, including the elusive Yellow-rumped Mannikin. The innumerable gorges and waterholes of the ranges provide great venues for birding (and swimming). There are several high-end lodges that provide wonderful wildlife experiences in magnificent surroundings, and Mornington Station is the site of ground-breaking research into management of fire and ferals to promote wildlife. Here exquisite Gouldian Finches congregate at dry season pools to quench their thirst. In the northwest Kimberley the remote Mitchell Plateau provides a true wilderness experience and is the only site where the iconic Black Grasswren can reliably be seen. To the west the town of Broome, Roebuck Bay and the Broome Bird Observatory are not to be missed for their huge populations of migratory shorebirds, as well as mangrove and tropical savanna species.
Lord Howe Island, top; Ormiston Gorge, above; a male Dusky Grasswren with chick, top right; Pink Robin, centre right; Millaa Millaa Falls, Atherton Tablelands, above right; an Azure Kingfisher in Kakadu National Park, below
Ecologists Peter Menkhorst and Rohan Clarke are co-authors of The Australian Bird Guide (CSIRO Publishing, $49.95), available May 1. It includes more than 4500 images of over 900 species of Australian birds; publish.csiro.au/book/6520 for online version.