The ul­ti­mate guide to Oz bird­ing

Reli­able places to spot our high-fly­ing wildlife

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - FRONT PAGE - PETER MENKHORST RO­HAN CLARKE


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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; pub­ for on­line ver­sion.

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