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> Subject: Big Bird Trip Report - Outback NSW/Qld -FNQ -East Coast
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> The "Big Bird Trip" report. Outback NSW/QLD - FNQ - East Coast
> The Big Bird Trip is over. The local post office was pleased to see us
> back as they handed over
> two big bags of mail that were cluttering up their lunch room. My local
> ISP was pleased to see us
> back as we downloaded and cleared several thousand emails off their
> servers. The farmers of NSW
> and QLD were not pleased to see us go, as we continued a long tradition
> of bringing rain wherever
> we ventured.
> Named the Big Bird Trip not only because it was a big trip, but because
> we were also targeting a
> bunch of Big Birds that were missing from our life lists. Over 8,500
> covered in just 5 weeks.
> The car performed faultlessly, no punctures, slight fridge problems and
> one emergency trip to
> hospital. Despite losing a few days with this adventure and my
> planned schedule being
> blown out of the water, we notched up a creditable 286 species not
> counting the ferals and the
> "heard onlys". A fair whack of these were new for us, I'm sure you
> remember the excitement of
> your first trip to FNQ.
> I haven't mentioned all the birds we saw. Just some of the special ones
> and a few interesting places
> we found. Feel free to contact us if you would like more details on
> something specific.
> Our trip was originally planned as a big visit to Newhaven Station
> travelling out over the Plenty Hwy.
> Our travelling companions ( Jill & Mick Dark) unfortunately due to
> family circumstances had to pull
> out at the last minute. Yikes. We rapidly changed plans and started
> preparing a FNQ trip, but travelling
> up via outback NSW/QLD. This would allow us to revisit some of the
> outback birds we had seen on
> the Outback Twitchathon, do some touristy things in inland Qld, get a
> taste of the Gulf Savannah and
> then hit the Atherton Tablelands just after school holidays. As well as
> the Big Birds, we were targeting
> some of the FNQ Endemics and some of the Pigeons and Fruit Doves that
> would be new tous.
> Big thanks to some of you who chipped in with some ideas and advice
> before we got going. For those
> interested we travelled in a Land Rover Defender, with a roof-top tent,
> dual battery system, Waeco
> fridge, UHF radio. We camped out over half the nights, Nat Parks, State
> Forests, a few whacky
> caravan parks, a few motels and a B&B or two.
> Luckily Jill and Mick decided they could spare a few days and headed up
> the road with us towards
> Cunnamulla. Did I mention it rained? There's a moment on every trip out
> west from the Mountains
> when you know you've left familiar territory. It comes at different
> spots on different trips, but it happens
> for me when your trip list suddenly reads, Emu, Cockatiel, Blue Bonnet,
> Apostle Bird. Suddenly the
> sky is a different shade of blue and you relax into an inland frame of
> mind. Our trip list had nearly hit 60
> by the time we drove into Nyngan on our first night. The Riverside
> Caravan Park is not one of the
> whacky caravan parks, it's actually quite nice, and for those of us
> camping, we get to choose our
> own spot on the banks of the river. We haven't explored Nyngan fully
> yet, but there's plenty to see.
> A Barking Owl seems to be in the tree by our tent that night, but we
> fail to find him the next morning.
> Our destination next day is Bowra Station, but we stop off just an hour
> up the road at Byrock. Next
> time we visit we are going to camp there as well. There is an extensive
> camping ground out the back
> of the pub. Alan Morris has compiled a Bird List for the area which can
> be found in the archive. The
> publican seems to be "bird friendly". (We made it a point every where
> spent money, to mention
> that we were there to see their birds.)
> I've written up our visit to Bowra before on this list and Jill also.
> Did I mention it rained? A fantastic spot
> for a range of birds and a taste of outback life on a working property.
> Every day was different and
> highlights included, Black Breasted Buzzard , Budgerigars, Brolgas,
> Bourkes Parrots, Crimson Chats,
> Halls Babblers and a big but finally successful hunt for the Chestnut
> Breasted Quail Thrush. We're looking
> forward to getting back there.
> Leaving Bowra after three days we part company with Jill & Mick and
> North. Bustard was at the top
> of the days target list and we spotted several on our way to Tambo.
> Driving into the tiny caravan park there we ticked Pale Headed Rosella
> and were also pleasantly surprised
> to see a stack of bird books at the reception desk and a home made bird
> list for the area. A very cold
> night but an incredible sunset against the bottle trees.
> Touristy stuff seems to take up the next part of the trip. Blackall to
> see the impressive Wool Scour,
> Barcaldine for the Tree of Knowledge and it's great collection of
> outback pub architecture. Not to
> mention a fantastic Masonic Lodge. Then Longreach and the Hall of Fame.
> I was ready to be disappointed
> as I had read differing reports, but found it to be excellent. We timed
> our run to hit Winton early afternoon,
> pick up some local knowledge and supplies and then get down into
> Bladensburg NP.
> The most amazing flock of Budgies swarmed out of the Mitchell Grass as
> we drove in and it looked like we
> were in for an exciting time. Unfortunately it was here that the wheels
> started to fall off the trip, and as we
> were setting up at the beautiful camp ground Lynda started suffering. I
> won't go into the gory details but while
> I was enjoying an idyllic, friendly waterhole campsite with frisky
> budgies in every tree and a glorious outback
> light, Lynda wasn't. Next morning we decided to leave most of our camp
> gear and proceed down to Lark Quarry
> and the Dinosaur footprints. It was a bit further and a bit rougher
> we expected and by the time we started on
> the return trip, I made the decision to head straight back to Winton
> visit the Doctor. (Lark Quarry by the way
> is well worth the trip and I'm sure there were some great birds to be
> found in the Spinifex covered hillsides
> surrounding the impressive structure they have built to preserve the
> Reaching Winton, I made the decision to bypass the Doctor and head
> straight to the hospital. They gave us
> two choices. Surgery at Mt Isa or Townsville. We choose the later and
> after staying in a motel in town that night,
> drove there the next day. I did however get up very early the next
> morning to shoot back down to Bladensburg
> to recover the camping gear, thank our camping neighbours who were
> to report us missing to the ranger,
> (I had rung him the previous night) and of course have a quick search
> for the Rufous Crowned Emu Wren.
> Well, what's a guy to do! Following detailed instructions (check the
> archive) and clutching a GPS I ventured into
> the scrub and quickly found the correct spot. I'd love to tell you I
> them, but if I had Lynda would never forgiven
> me (or possibly believed me) but I could certainly hear a bird that I
> never heard before in my life and that seemed to
> fit the description. I didn't linger, as no one knew I was there and I
> returned past the Skull Rock waterhole and great
> bunch of Spinifex pigeons, back to town to pick up the patient and to
> get cracking on the 600 kms to the coast.
> All better now. Just a glitch in the system. These things are sent to
> test travellers. Nothing too strenuous today.
> Townsville Common. What a great spot. Blue Winged Kookaburras,
> Ospreys and Jacunas cheered
> the patient up no end. I had a very close encounter with a Barking Owl
> having a scrap with a Drongo at the
> bird hide the previous day. Very little water in the system, but the
> potential for great birding there and at the
> adjacent quarantine station.
> Just up the road Paluma calls. Of course we visit the famed Ivy Cottage
> Tea Rooms for morning tea. It's not
> open when we arrive and in the 30 minutes we have to fill in, quickly
> spot in a rush of excitement - Bowers
> Shrike Thrush, Bridled and Macleays Honeyeater, Spotted Cat Bird and of
> course the Victorias Riflebird.
> We needed the cuppa after that and got to see most of those birds again
> close up. Back down the hill we
> proceeded to Jourama Falls camping area, part of Paluma Range NP. A
> small but well set out ground with
> toilets and free gas BBQ. White Rumped Swiftlets, Emerald Doves, Little
> Shrike Thrush, White Browed Robins,
> Pacific Bazza and great views of the impressive Boatbills made this an
> excellent stop. That night a full moon
> created a bit of a frenzy in birdland with Large Tailed Nightjars,
> Barking Owls & Bush Curlews going off all
> night and excitingly the call of a Lesser Sooty Owl.
> Next stop was Murray Falls State Forest, a much larger campsite, but
> very pleasant. With flushing toilets and
> firewood supplied the site attracted campervan backpackers and grey
> nomads in waves, but it seemed to
> swallow every one up and we had a great night.. Big Bird alert. The
> morning we spent hours tramping
> around the steep walking track looking for the Orange Footed Scrub
> to no avail. But the hunt was fun,
> turning up Noisy Pitta, Superb and Woompoo Fruit Doves instead.
> We try our luck for Cassowaries at Mission Beach but all we found was a
> huge plop. Lynda didn't believe it
> was real, feeling the rangers must leave one out each morning to
> encourage the Big Bird seekers. We leave
> after trying both Licuala and Lacey Creek, but know we have another
> chance coming back. Yikes, I realise
> suddenly we are heading into week three. I ring Ron at Kingfisher Park
> and we are on our way up to Julatten.
> Driving into Kingfisher Park we narrowly avoid running over a Big
> prehistoric looking orange footed bird that
> we had spent hours trying to find a few days before and quickly made
> ourselves at home. I even went big time
> and paid an extra dollar to get power run into the tent. Hit the laptop
> and backed up and burnt off copies of all
> our digital photos so far and planned our days to come. Andrew the
> resident guide was running a mammal,
> spotlight walk that night so we decided to join in and meet some of the
> other guests and see what was around.
> There wasn't a lot. He was getting very interested in some very small
> things, but we did have good but fleeting
> views of the resident Platypus, Barn owl and Bush Curlew.
> A lazy morning around the park catching up on paperwork and discovering
> the nooks and crannies of the property
> and it's great wildlife. Highlights included - Grey Headed Robin,
> Northern Fantail, Paid Monarch, Buff Banded
> Rail, Grey Goshawk, Grey Whistler & Papuan Fromouth.
> The Marrebra Wetlands doesn't turn up the expected Black Necked Stork,
> but great views of the two Pygmy
> Geese, Green & Cotton side by side makes up for it. What a marvellous
> sight and something we've lusted after.
> Lynda gets a Squatter Pigeon on the drive out, I just get a flash.
> Mount Lewis beckons. We get a mud-map from Ron, and make the drive up
> the mountain one morning. Did I
> mention it rained? The further up the mountain we went the windier,
> cloudier and eventually wetter it got. Hmm.
> A slight pause in the wet and we head off up the track. Wow, Atherton
> Scrubwren, Fern Wren, Mountain
> Thornbill & Chowchilla in the first 20 minutes!! By the time we've made
> it to the Golden Bower Bird's bower
> the wind has really picked up again. Branches are dropping around us
> several trees look like they could
> join us for a close encounter. The bower is amazing, but we are not
> hanging round to meet the locals.
> On our last morning we decide to join Andrew on his morning walk and
> return exhausted several hours later after
> notching up around 70 birds for the morning. Everything they say about
> Kingfisher Park is true and we look forward
> to returning in the wet season.
> Our plan was always to visit the Daintree River after Julatten, do the
> morning river cruise with Chris Dahlberg and
> then start heading back down the coast. We had heard at this point that
> our chances of seeing the Great Billed Heron
> were not very good with Chris at the moment, and that we would have a
> much better chance on the Mossman river
> with the Mangrove Man. Well, even though the Heron was obviously one of
> the Big Bird targets we decide to stick
> to the Daintree. We had done the river cruise many years previously
> we had been performing on a cruise
> ship that called into Cairns. We hired a car on the port day, shot up
> the river and had done a midday cruise.
> Unfortunately it had been flooding the previous few days and the river
> was a mess. No crocs to be seen and we
> didn't really know much about the birds at the time.
> This time there were no crocs either, but we had great views of the
> Little Kingfisher (a Big Bird in my book) and
> absolutely stunning observation of several Shining Flycatchers pairs.
> What a stunner. Both of them. Did I mention
> it rained? Taking a night off from camping we stayed at Red Mill House
> B&B, very smart and well worth the $$
> with it's hearty breakfast, great library/lounge & charming new hosts..
> Boyd's Forest Dragon, Azure Kingfisher,
> Big orange footed birds and plenty of mozzies made their small garden
> exciting place to explore.
> It's time to start heading south again. We need to have another look
> the Cassowaries and explore the southern
> end of the Atherton Tablelands. Just south of Daintree, Lynda just
> happens to glance left as we pass a clump of
> trees and there is our one and only Black Necked Stork. Jabiru. My god
> what a bird! We linger as long as we
> can on the busy road, before heading back up to the Tablelands. We camp
> out at Lake Tinaroo,
> which would have been nice but it started to rain. On and off and then
> really set in. So a few quick calls while
> stocking up at the awesome IGA supermarket in Atherton and we arrange
> stay at Chambers Rainforest Lodge
> at Lake Eacham. Still very wet, but from there we are able to immerse
> ourselves completely in the rainforest
> environment and explore some of the surrounding area.
> Hasties Swamp, has a great new two level bird hide. Stunning views of
> thousands of Plumed Whistling Ducks
> and hundreds of Magpie Geese. The locals of course said "you should
> been here yesterday" but it was a
> thrilling sight and site.
> Broomfield Swamp looked very quiet and bleak from the windswept viewing
> platform when we arrived in the
> late afternoon. The view down into the old crater is spectacular with
> promise, so we reposition the truck so
> we can keep warm and keep an eye on proceedings. Attempts to set up the
> spotting scope inside the front
> compartment fail, so we raid the fridge instead and wait. The sound of
> incoming Brolgas is unmistakable.
> We leap out and scope the first wave of what would be hundreds of
> Brolgas as they came in with their extraordinary
> landing procedure. Eventually we start to pick out the Sarus Cranes
> seemed to be mixed in randomly and
> another Big Bird joins the list. It was a great birding moment. Add to
> this the flocks of Top Knot pigeons that arrived,
> seemingly ready to roost up on the crater edge. We plan to return the
> next evening to see it all again, if it wasn't raining.
> It was.
> Eventually we leave the Tablelands with a quick visit to The Crater on
> the drive out. There is some debate about
> heading inland again to chase the sun but decide that another visit to
> Mission beach is more important. Lacey
> creek again turns up no Cassowaries, the number one target Big Bird on
> our list. Again plenty of signs and we do
> the loop track twice. It doesn't look promising, with quite a few
> wandering the track and the time getting later.
> We decide to move on to Licuala have a cup of tea and then head south
> Pulling into the long narrow track into the picnic spot I scan ahead
> other cars as it's essentially a one way track.
> There seems to be one person and what looks like a dog coming towards
> us. Hmmm, I'll have a word to him about
> that as we pass. As we get closer it is actually a man pushing a
> being followed by a Cassowary. It moves off
> the road as we near it, giving great views before vanishing. Just as we
> are getting over that another larger bird crosses
> the road in front of us. Be still my beating heart! We don't bother
> doing the walk after that, but sit happily in the caged
> picnic area, drinking a brew up and feeling rather smug. Perhaps we
> should run back up the coast and book on with
> the Mangrove Man? Get our last target on the list? The GBH. But then we
> wouldn't have a reason to come back.
> The last week and a half is spent toddling down the coast. Revisiting a
> few sites, discovering some new ones. (We
> purposely avoided Cairns despite it's tempting birdspots.) Our return
> Murray Falls produces little but driving into
> Jourama the next day we find a hotspot of Crimson Finch and Lovely
> Wren. No sign of them the next day and
> they were the only ones we saw.
> Cape Hillsborough NP is spectacular. We try to get one of the 10 spots
> at the Smalley's Beach area, rather than
> the somewhat crowded main area, with no luck. Mind you for $12 a night
> camping practically on the most impressive
> beach it is a delight anyway. A Bush Curlew wanders around our camp
> night. An interesting Mangrove Board Walk.
> We've avoided shore birds up to this point, an Achilles heel with us,
> but after we have notched up some that we were
> familiar with, progressed to a few that were new for us.
> As time is running now in our favour we head back into the rainforest
> and put a few days in at Lamington. Lynda is
> related to Dick Church who lives right next to O'Rielly'$ so we thought
> we would visit them, do the Border Track
> up to the Antarctic Beech forest and stay at the Guesthouse. Wow,
> have certainly changed up there since
> the last time we visited. You can't move for pools, spas and Mercedes.
> Our $200 broom cupboard lost it appeal
> after a few hours, so we relocated the next day to some self contained
> Chalets half way down the mountain, at a
> third of the price, for the next few nights. Luckily for us poor
> the birds are still unchanged, though some
> would disagree. Just 15 minutes up the Border track and you've left the
> crowds behind. We had great and
> extended views of Alberts Lyrebirds at several points, Logrunners,
> Regent Bower Birds and Rifle Birds. The top
> of the hill with the extraordinary views and trees was well worth the
> climb. We sat and joked about Dooley doing
> it 4 days in a row. Later, fleeting glimpses of small darkish bird
> scuttling through the leaf litter lead to some thought
> of Rufous Scrub Bird, but it's a sighting we'll have to confirm on
> another visit.
> Brooms Head nestled in the Yuraygir NP is also a chance find. The Park
> offers a range of spots to camp, but we
> settle for the Caravan Park. It was like stepping back into the 1950's.
> A brilliant spot right on the rocky shore,
> dolphin filled waves crashing in all night, Oystercatchers, Ospreys,
> Brahminy Kites and Sea Eagles to watch endlessly. Bliss.
> By now our trip list is looking very impressive. We don't expect to see
> any new lifers from here on, but there are some
> obvious things missing. Nice to add Regent Honeyeater, Plum Headed &
> Diamond FireTails and who can believe we
> haven't seen a Grey Teal by now. So we decide to turn right at Maitland
> and head back via the Capertee Valley.
> (Well actually this had always been the plan if we had the time. Also
> drop off the camping gear and pick up the
> chickens who were staying with friends.) No luck on the Regents, but a
> long walk over our property confirms the
> Iron Bark is budding up well and should be a massive flowering when it
> eventually kicks. Lynda finds the finches, and
> Black Chinned, Fuscous and White Napped Honey Eaters.
> So 5 weeks after leaving home we are heading back home to the Blue
> Mountains. But not before a stop as we pass
> near Vicki Powys place at the southern end of the valley. We can hear
> crunching in the Casuarinas but fail to find the
> Glossy Blacks that we know must be just over the fence. We aren't in a
> rush, so then turn off the road at Portland to
> check out Lake Wallace. Carol Proberts seems to be about the only other
> birder who regularly visits this lake, just
> off the highway. We find the Grey Teal, Shovelers, Hoary Headed & Great
> Crested Grebes and about 8 magnificent
> Pink Eared Ducks. There's always a chance for Crakes and Rails there
> too. The wind comes up and we realise better
> get home before dark and the post office closes.
> Hmmm, but we haven't seen a Musk Duck and still hoping for Gang Gangs.
> This is getting silly. We turn in at Wentworth
> Falls Lake. No luck. That's it. No more birds. 286 for the trip. I'm
> Pulling into Hazelbrook we debate calling in at Jill Dark's place.
> There's usually a Lyrebird around digging up the garden.
> That would be a nice last bird.
> We go to the post office instead and take possession of the large bags
> of mail.
> Welcome back to the real world.
> Bills, Brochures & the BAS.
> I think I preferred the Brolgas, Bustards and Babblers.
> Timothy Hyde / Lynda Holmes
> Blue Mountains / Capertee Valley NSW
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