TR: Southeastern Australia/Tasmania Jan '03 (1)

Subject: TR: Southeastern Australia/Tasmania Jan '03 (1)
Date: Mon, 10 Mar 2003 21:19:22 EST
Hi Folks,
    Australia!  One of the world's great destinations!  Here is a report (long, in multiple parts, and a little late) of our January birding trip there.  Four of us, me and three friends from Philadelphia--Ron French, Don McClintock, and Don Parlee--spent 3 weeks in southeastern Australia from Jan 10-30, 2003.  We started in Sydney, intending to go on the monthly Sydney pelagic (but see below).  Then we drove to Deniliquin, via a day at Royal National Park and Barren Grounds.  We spent a week with Phil Maher, then drove to Melbourne and spent a day there.  We flew to Hobart, Tasmania, spent 5 days on Tasmania with Tonia Cochrane, then flew to Brisbane and spent 3 full days at O'Reillys and vicinity, then flew home from Brisbane.
     We saw a total of 329 species in Australia, heard an additional 6 more, and finally had one more lifer in New Zealand on the way home.  I personally saw 254 life birds on this trip, all but one in Australia, bringing my world list total to just slightly over 1900 species (for what that's worth).  I had been to Australia once before, but only in Sydney, and only because I was en route to Papua New Guinea and had a one-day layover each way in Sydney.
     My intentions were to try to plan a trip with lots of birds and birding in a new part of the world, as well as a trip in a comfortable, easy to travel country, one that wasn't too physically demanding.  In this I was partly to mostly successful--the birds and birding were outstanding, but the trip was a little more challenging than the relaxed, easy-going vacation I had anticipated, mainly due to my moderately ambitious itinerary and the sheer distances involved in getting around--as well as, I confess, my somewhat rabid, see-every-bird personality.  The heat was also sometimes a problem;  we had expected brutal heat in the interior, and we weren't disappointed, but didn't really expect it to be so hot in Tasmania (probably it isn't, usually...)  The fires were also...disturbing, I guess, though they were much more frightful and terrible for some of the Australians who lost homes, or worse.  Canberra had terrible fires while we were in Victoria;  the Victorian Alps were burning also, and we had to spend at least one day in a different place than we had planned, to avoid them;  even Tasmania, north of Hobart along the Derwent River, was ablaze.  Smoke filled the air near Beechworth.  The sunsets in Deniliquin were a reddish haze, and the smoky paddocks with dim trees in the distance reminded us of the humid steam that sometimes hangs over our own Eastern fields and forests during the worst of our sultry summer days.  A terrible season of fire in a drought-sticken land.
     And yet, we all had a wonderful trip, saw tons of great birds, met a bunch of really wonderful people, and got to see a good chunk of a fabulous country.  It is difficult to remember, sometimes, when you're just looking at maps, that Australia is a very large country, similar to the USA.  It is 1600 kilometers, roughly 1,000 miles--from Brisbane to Melbourne.  Travel-wise, this trip was about the equivalent of spending three weeks visiting parts of the southeastern US from Washington D.C. to New Orleans (1,085 miles), including a 5-day trip to Cuba thrown in for good measure.
     The people who helped us and spent time with us really were great, and I can't thank them enough.  First, there was Chris Ross, of Helensburgh, south of Sydney.  Chris responded to my internet request for info on Barren Grounds birding with helpful advice, and then with help making reservations at a nearby motel in Robertson.  He even offered to spend some time with us birding.  A week before our trip was to start, the pelagic trip from Sydney which normally runs monthly on the second Saturday was abruptly changed to Sunday (we don't know why...)  Since we had planned our trip many months earlier around this Saturday pelagic, and since we were arriving on Friday, and Sunday was unavoidably a travel day, it meant that we had no pelagic trip, and also a free day Saturday with no plans and only a few days to make some.  Chris obliged by freeing up his entire day to spend with us.  This included inviting us back to his home to have a long, wonderful lunch and tour of his garden with his wife and daughter--a truly delightful day, with unexpected, warm, and very wonderful Aussie hospitality.
     We then spent a week with Phil Maher in interior New South Wales and northern Victoria--a week of some of the best birding any of us has ever had.  Phil was knowledgeable, determined, persistent, likeable and superbly organized--everything you could want in a guide--and an absolute expert on his large local "patch".  More about all those wonderful days, and birds!, later....
     Ditto for Dr. Tonia Cochran on Bruny Island and Tasmania.  Tonia spent 5 days with us--patient, persistent, and very very nice, showing us not only "her" birds, but sharing her home with us also, as well as her secret recipe for her terrific Anzac cookies (though they're not quite the same without the Tassie Blue Gum honey, Tonia).  Tonia helped me with my butterfly finding and my plant ID's as well--she has an amazing knowledge of Tasmanian botany.
     Then, there were the wonderful folks at O'Reilly's in southeastern Queensland.  I guess their meals and hospitality are legendary--six meals a day, if you want them!  just like Bilbo Baggins in the Shire, though I would say that O'Reillys is more like Rivendell... The birding here was great also, and Glen Threlfo, our guide, was amazing at finding the birds for us.  He had a remarkable ear, able to identify every single tiny note without fail.  He took us out the first day without binoculars! and easily identified every single bird, no matter what the distance.  We saw many more birds than we had ever hoped to see in this area, thanks to his efforts on our behalf.  The folks at O'Reillys did a wonderful job with us as individuals, providing for our needs and requests with unfailing cheerfulness, and it was amazing to see them handle things just as easily with the hundreds and hundreds of folks there on Australia Day as they did quickly and efficiently for us.  A great place.
     Finally, the folks at Swain Australia Tours, especially Grant St. Clair, did a wonderful job of arranging our stay at O'Reillys, our flights, and our car rental.  We actually had some problems with our car rental charges after we got back, and the folks at Swain were very helpful and promptly straightened it out for us, saving us hundreds of dollars.  Although we might have been able to make those car rental arrangements ourselves before the trip, I doubt that it would have been so easy for us to fix that particular problem ourselves from the U.S.--having Swain there, with offices in both countries and an ongoing relationship with the car rental company, I think made the difference.
     For field guides, I used the Princeton Field Guide to the Birds of Australia by Simpson and Day, the 5th edition (1996), because this is what I had.  I thought it was a great field guide and was extremely happy with it.  I also brought A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia by Peter Menkhorst and Frank Knight, which I also thought was an excellent guide.  In addition, I had Gerry Swan's Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Australia, and A Field Guide to Australian Butterflies by Robert Fisher, both of which were adequate but not complete, though I wasn't able to find anything better for the butterflies.  Tonia Cochran at Inala had a field guide to Tasmanian butterflies which was very helpful for the species there.
     The food in Australia ranged from good to excellent.  Pies were cheap and delicious.  Bakery goods were also tasty, and usually available fairly early in the AM.  Shops and restaurants were not always open very late in the evening, and we had to be careful with the late summer days that we allowed enough time to get back for dinner.  On the other hand, all of the motel rooms had a fridge with a small container of milk and a hot water kettle and fixings for tea and coffee, and the motels also were always accommodating about providing us with cereal,  toast, etc., the evening before, so we were always able to have "brekkie" as early as we liked before birding.  Australians are easy-going and very nice--the national slogan seems to be, "No Worries."


Bill Benner
Old Brookville, NY

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