Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Queensland Australia - Jan 2020 : Part 1


Australia was somewhere I visited when I was very young, back in 2001 my father and I had a birding trip around Brisbane where we saw plenty of good birds thanks to our friends there. Of course, no one can see everything in a single trip, and Australia being a huge country offers a lot for exploring, therefore I was really itching to see some more of the unique animals that are found nowhere else. Hoiling and I had been planning this trip for a while, where we plan to first visit my relatives in Brisbane before hitting up the wet tropics near Cairns.

Day 1:

Our flight landed at Brisbane airport around mid-morning. My aunt kindly picked us up from the airport and drove us back to her place. January is generally considered one of the hottest months of the year, it was a toasty 32°C outside. Australia was unfortunately hit by a massive drought this summer and the bushfires further south had taken serious tolls on the forest and wildlife. Fortunately much of Queensland remained unscathed.

After a rest from the long flight, we headed out to a mango plantation nearby. What better bird to start our trip with then the colourful and abundant Rainbow Lorikeet? These noisy parrots are certainly one of the most recognisable species in Australia and can be seen almost everywhere. I do envy them for having such a beautiful common bird. We were very soon greeted by another fairly common parrot, the Pale-headed Rosella. There were two individuals, one of which was duller and the other more brightly coloured, of which I presume to be either a male or an adult?

Rainbow Lorikeet - an iconic species of Australia


Pale-headed Rosella

Another species that frequented the orchard were the Blue-faced Honeyeaters. This large honeyeater has a bare blue skin around its eyes, making it a very striking bird to look at. While a Torresian Crow also succumb to the sweet scent of sweet Bowen Mangoes.

Blue-faced Honeyeater - race cyanotis

Torresian Crow

We took a stroll at a park nearby but saw very few birds, the most interesting bird we saw was a Brown Goshawk.

Brown Goshawk

Day 2:

As Hoiling slept in from the long flight, I woke up early for some birding in the nearby Caterson Park. The sun was up early and it was already very bright at 6am. Just outside a flock of Crested Pigeons strolled along the lawn, this very common species is by no means boring-looking and have iridescent feathers on their wings. I spotted my first two Laughing Kookaburras of this trip, this very iconic Australian species is very common throughout.

Crested Pigeon

Laughing Kookaburra

Along some overgrown shrubs I heard the song of a Red-backed Fairy-wren, the male showed very well and was fairly photogenic. A drab looking female eyed the brilliant-looking male nearby.


Red-backed Fairy-wren - male

Red-backed Fairy-wren - female

Shortly after I found another Fairy-wren species, a family of Variegated Fairy-wrens were jumping about in the bushes. A very handsome male gave brief views, there was also a male that was just coming out of its moult. A female was also present.


Variegated Fairy-wren - male

Variegated Fairy-wren - female

In the grasses a few Red-browed Firetails were feeding on the grass seeds, while a pair of Double-barred Finches also made an appearance, strangely enough this was the only time I encountered this common species on the trip.

Red-browed Firetail


Double-barred Finch

I was greeted by a large flock of Rainbow Lorikeets feeding on nectar in a tall tree within the park. While a very confiding Sacred Kingfisher brightened up my morning walk.

Rainbow Lorikeet

Sacred Kingfisher

Two duller looking birds made an appearance, the first took me a while to nail its identity, turned out it was a female Golden Whistler. The second bird was a Grey Shrike-thrush, a family of birds closely related to the whistlers. They may look dull but have a beautiful melodious song.

Golden Whistler - female

Grey Shrike-thrush

Finally, I added a Australian Brush-turkey and a Pacific Black Duck to my list before I ended my walk. It still baffles me how a turkey size bird can just stroll casually in the park.

Australian Brush-Turkey

Pacific Black Duck

Other than birds I also encountered a lovely Small Dingy Swallowtail and a large Tiger Spider.

Small Dingy Swallowtail - Papilio anactus

Tiger Spider - Trichonephila plumipes

After breakfast we went up towards Sunshine Coast to meet friends and later visited Montville, a lovely tourist town. Here we added the not so pretty Noisy Friarbird and more colourful Rainbow Lorikeets.


Montville Village Hall

Noisy Friarbird

Rainbow Lorikeet

Noisy Miners were also very common around town and often seen outside of cafes, picking up scraps from leftovers.

Noisy Miner

A more interesting observation came in form of a Grey Butcherbird, where it had skewed a lizard and tore it to pieces in a shrike-like fashion. It looked pretty happy after the meal...



Grey Butcherbird

The loudest species at Montville though was no doubt Pied Currawongs, which are named because of their call 'curra-wong'. They are also pretty big, with large powerful beak. Although Currawongs resembles crows, they are not really related, instead, they are more closely related to bushshrikes and helmetshrikes in Africa. Near the town hall we saw a group of very confiding Laughing Kookaburras.


Pied Currawong


Laughing Kookaburra

Day 3:

We started our day at JC Slaughter Falls at Mt. Coot-Tha where I wanted to try our luck on the Powerful Owl, this species is sighted regularly at this site and is known to breed in the area. The first bird we saw upon arriving was a Channel-billed Cuckoo, a very large cuckoo with an impressive looking bill to match, no wonder it is the largest cuckoo in the world. This species migrate from New Guinea to breed in Australia, where they arrive in Australia every August to September and leave again around March to April.

Walking trail at Mt. Coot-Tha

Channel-billed Cuckoo

At the car park we saw a single Galah up the tree, the constant cries of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos echoed throughout and they were most prominent along the trail.

Galah


Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

A very nice Carpet Python was seen along the trail, it did not bother to move even when we got close, remaining extremely still upon approach. This one was around 1.6m, they can apparently reach up to 4m in length.

Carpet Python

A small flock of Scaly-breasted Lorikeets made an appearance, I also spotted a pair of Australian King Parrots but they were quite far away. Spangled Drongos were seen throughout, we even found a pair nesting high up in the trees.

Scaly-breasted Lorikeet


Spangled Drongo

We walked along Powerful Owl territory but without much luck, although we stumbled upon a bird wave with some smaller birds. A Shining Bronze Cuckoo made an appearance, its barred underside was very smart looking. A pair of Varied Triller also dropped in for us to get a better look, while a cuckooshrike-looking bird also came into view, which turned out to be a female Common Cicadabird.

Shining Bronze Cuckoo


Varied Triller - male

Common Cicadabird - female

A few smaller birds were also within the bird wave. Taking me a while to get a clear shot were the Brown Thornbills. These small birds fills the ecological niche of leaf-gleaning warblers we have in Hong Kong, and were also just as quick as the warblers.

Brown Thornbill

Along the river we saw a large Eastern Water Dragon, a very common lizard species in Brisbane. While a very tiny Elegant Snake-eyed Skink was seen climbing on a tree, only to hide under the tree bark once it noticed our presence.

Eastern Water Dragon

Elegant Snake-eyed Skink

We ate our breakfast near the car park, as we sat down on the picnic table, a Pied Butcherbird showed up, likely to be looking for a free handout, although it was soon distracted by a large wasp and caught that for breakfast instead.


Pied Butcherbird

After Mt. Coot-Tha we visited the Brisbane Botanic Gardens. The beautiful park was extremely well managed and was equipped with a showcase of native plants and greenhouse. The ponds were also quite a good place to look for birds, where a pair of Masked Lapwings were seen on the lawn next to the pond area. There were also a lot of Eastern Water Dragons around.


Brisbane Botanic Garden

Masked Lapwing

Eastern Water Dragon

A few Australasian Grebes were seen floating on the pond, this species look very similar to Little Grebe, except that the reddish neck patch is narrower.



Australasian Grebe

There were also a lot of Dusky Moorhens feeding along the bank, they look superficially similar to Common Moorhens but lack the white stripe on the flank.

Dusky Moorhen

There were only three species of ducks seen in the ponds, first was the Hardhead, by far the most common diving duck in Australia. Pacific Black Ducks were of course present. Lastly there were the Maned Duck, a fairly good looking 'goose-like' ducks.

Hardhead

Pacific Black Duck

Maned Duck - male

Maned Duck - female

Magpie Larks were also in good supplies around the park, a peculiar species that is neither a Magpie nor a Lark. Their closest relative is in fact the Monarchs. Before we left the park Hoiling spotted a raptor soaring high above, which turned out to be a Pacific Baza.

Magpie Lark - female

Magpie Lark - male

Pacific Baza

We paid a visit to the Queensland Museum in downtown Brisbane. The natural history collection was quite impressive and the current exhibition about spiders was most intriguing. After lunch we headed down to the Brisbane City Botanic Garden for a stroll, here we saw a Little Pied Cormorant sitting on a rock by the pond. My main target there was however the Bush Stone-curlews, which we successfully located a single individual in the park. It was even guarding an egg.

Queensland Museum - can't count these unfortunately

Little Pied Cormorant

Bush Stone-curlew

Along the Brisbane River numerous Silver Gulls were roosting by the pier, while a single Striated Heron perched by the river as the sun was setting.

Silver Gull

Striated Heron

Day 4:

Hoiling and I booked a night at the O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat at Lamington National Park. This is one of the prime birding site near Brisbane and home to several subtropical rainforest species. It was nearly a two-hour drive to O'Reilly's, along the way we scanned for raptors perched along the wires and successfully connected with an Australian Kestrel. A pair of Wedge-tailed Eagle drifted past, unfortunately pretty far away.

Australian Kestrel

Wedge-tailed Eagle - why do I always see them so far away?

A few Black-shouldered Kites were also seen, this species is not the same with the very similar-looking Black-winged Kites found in Hong Kong. There were also a Dollarbird perched on the wire, this migrant arrive in Australia from New Guinea to breed, funny enough this was initially described as a separate species but now have been lumped back together.

Black-shouldered Kite

Dollarbird

We managed to add a few species on the long winding road up to O'Reilly's, including a pair of Painted Button Quail, they were spotted on the side of the road in drier forest.

Painted Button Quail

As we climbed higher, the forest changed from dry forest to more enclosed subtropical rainforests. A flash of blue-green flew across the road and I immediately stopped the car and exclaimed "Pitta!". We got out and started scanning the forest floor, soon enough we saw a beautiful Noisy Pitta hopping across the dense undergrowth. I was able to get a record shot, although missed a better shot when it hopped up to the side of the road! A brilliant start!

Noisy Pitta

Along the way we listened and looked out for any bird movements, we stopped when we heard a bird wave was nearby. Another great bird we saw was a Crested Shrike-tit, an incredible-looking species that is endemic to Australia, it is a bird that looks like no other and cannot be mistaken for anything else!


Crested Shrike-tit - just look at that bill!

Other birds in the mixed flock includes White-browed Scrubwren and a very confiding Eastern Yellow Robin, there were also a few Lewin's Honeyeaters with their half moon shaped ear covert.

White-browed Scrubwren

Eastern Yellow Robin

Lewin's Honeyeater

A Spectacled Monarch was a welcoming sight, these attractive-looking birds were not uncommon during our time there. Another bird that was new to me was the lovely looking Rufous Fantail, a species that I somehow missed on my previous visit to O'Reilly's many years ago.

Spectacled Monarch

Rufous Fantail

We even saw a female Satin Bowerbird before we reached the lodge, its dazzling purple eyes certainly make it an attractive bird even without the blue plumage.

Satin Bowerbird - female

The staff at the reception at O'Reilly's were most helpful and nice, after we checked in we decided to go for a stroll around the grounds. Firstly to look at the bird feeding area which is always full of birds, they were mainly Crimson Rosellas and Australian King Parrots. Here you can get close and personal with these colourful parrots.

Bird feeding area at O'Reilly's

Crimson Rosella


Australian King Parrot

We walked towards the canopy walkway and the boardwalk, along there we saw a Land Mullet, a very large species of skink found in the rainforests of north eastern Australia. It ran back into its burrow when I got too close.

Land Mullet - Bellatorias major

The boardwalk was quite birdy and we encountered quite a few Eastern Whipbirds, their explosive song is certainly one of my favourite soundtrack in Australian rainforest. A thrush belonging to genus Zoothera was spotted, both the Russet-tailed Thrush and Bassian Thrush are present at Lamington National Park and is a real challenge to identify without call, I do lean towards this being the Russet-tailed Thrush due to its more rufous-tinted tail.

Eastern Whipbird

Russet-tailed Thrush - I think

The forever-present Australian Brush-Turkeys were in no short supplies, you often see one near you foraging on the ground or just strolling past you casually. While the friendly Eastern Yellow Robin was always happy to stop and perch on the tree trunk next to you.

Australian Brush-Turkey

Eastern Yellow Robin

Three species of Scrubwrens can be seen here, including the most common White-browed Scrubwren. The smarter looking Yellow-throated Scrubwren with yellow brow and throat and a black face can often be seen hopping next to you, occasionally even hopping onto your boots! The least common of the three was the Large-billed Scrubwren, this is the dullest looking of the three but does have its own charm with that cute looking beady eyes.

White-browed Scrubweren

Yellow-throated Scrubwren

Large-billed Scrubwren

A couple of Brown Gerygones were also added (pronounced  in Australia as "Ja-rig-eny" instead of "Jerry-gone"). This is probably the commonest Gerygone species throughout our trip. There were plenty of Richmond Birdwings fluttering about, although most of the males were looking rather worn-out.

Brown Gerygone

Richmond Birdwing

We went for lunch at the cafe, there we were greeted by a few Superb Fairywrens, first by a moulting male and a female, later inside the cafe a superb-looking male popped in to feed by our table!



Superb Fairy-wren - male

After lunch we headed back to our room, where I unfortunately started feeling unwell and soon developed a fever. It was clear that I have caught a flu from somewhere and it was finally showing after all the adrenaline had worn off! Fortunately after a few hours of rest I was feeling slightly better and the fever subsided. It was nearly 5pm by that time, so Hoiling and I spent a little while outside before the dusk. Numerous Red-browed Firetails had taken up position at the bird feeding station, picking up leftover seeds by the parrots.

Red-browed Firetail

No visit to O'Reilly's will be completed without seeing the exquisite Regent Bowerbird, at a fruiting Tuckeroo Tree we were able to get great views of a few feeding, their colours really shines under the bright sunlight.


Regent Bowerbird

We decided to walk around the campgrounds, hoping to find the Albert's Lyrebird. A few adorable looking Red-necked Pademelons greeted us. The campground itself is closed off to campers for some reason but we were able to walk around without much disturbance, as was the Wonga Pigeon which strolled the campgrounds casually.

Red-necked Pademelon

Wonga Pigeon

I was able to whistle in a Brown Cuckoo-dove, their 'whoop-a-whoop' song can be heard throughout the forest and throughout the day, making it one of the constant background noise. A pair of Australian Logrunners were spotted, the female have orange throats and the male have white throats. They forage by scraping the leaf to the side, not too different to the Arborophila Hill Partridges. We spotted yet another Zoothera Thrush which I assume to be another Russet-tailed. As it got darker we heard a Paradise Riflebird calling nearby, but it was already too dark for us to search.

Brown Cuckoo-Dove

Australian Logrunner - female

Russet-tailed Thrush - I think again...

Sunset at O'Reilly's

After dinner we decided to do some spotlighting along the road. Australian Owlet-nightjars were heard throughout the evening, although we simply could not get one into view. We had more luck with finding quite a few Common Ring-tailed Possums.


Common Ring-tailed Possum

A Black-faced Monarch was also spotted sleeping, while Hoiling was extremely excited about finding a very large longhorn beetle, likely to be Paroplites australis.

Black-faced Monarch - sleeping

Paroplites australis

Our most exciting find of the evening was however a Short-beaked Echidna! This porcupine-like creature is certainly one of strangest mammal on earth. Being one of the monotremes, the echidnas are the only egg-laying mammals besides the platypus. We were able to observe it up close, although it hid under a log most of the time, only occasionally showing its long snout, but it was still exciting to see this animal unique to the region.

Short-beaked Echidna - One of the many marvellously unique creatures of Australia

Day 5:

The next morning we started early, hoping to get some early birds before all the tourists coming in. I was feeling slightly better and didn't have a fever. A male Satin Bowerbird was present at the bird-feeding area and showed extremely well. While at the beginning of the boardwalk I spotted a White-headed Pigeon. A White-throated Treecreeper also showed briefly, despite their looks they are not related to the true Treecreepers, instead more closely related to Lyrebirds.


Satin Bowerbird - male

White-headed Pigeon

White-throated Treecreeper

"Pitta!", as Hoiling exclaimed when we got to the botanic garden. Sure enough, we soon were looking at a brilliant Noisy Pitta in excellent view. It was not a shy bird and showed as well as I could ever hoped for. It even called a few times the distinctive 'Walk-to-Work' call while in view.




Noisy Pitta - a real treat to see one so well

The rest of the walk around tree top walk was not particularly eventful, we heard a Paradise Riflebird called nearby but it never showed. Other common birds seen well, including more Eastern Yellow Robins and quite a few juvenile Yellow-throated Scrubwrens following their parents around.

Tree top walk, looking for Riflebirds

Eastern Yellow Robin

Yellow-throated Scrubwren - juvenile

Back out at the picnic area there was a Satin Bowerbird bower, it was built in a rather secluded location, blocked by all the branches. We saw what was probably a young male rehearsing the dance around the bower with various blue objects in its beak. A few Regent Bowerbirds were also seen nearby.

Satin Bowerbird - likely a young male at its not-so-impressive bower

Regent Bowerbird - male

We finally saw our first Paradise Riflebird after a whole morning of search, it was first feeding on the Tuckeroo Tree, but later flew to another tree and showed extremely well. It was a juvenile male which look almost identical to a female, with exception for a few dark feathers on its median coverts.


Paradise Riflebird - immature male

A really surprising Tawny Grassbird was certainly out of place, but I suspect birds can literally turn up anywhere. I have heard this species in the Philippines, therefore it is nice to finally see it in the flesh!

Tawny Grassbird

We walked back towards the campgrounds to look for the Lyrebird again, here we saw a Grey Shrike-thrush as well as more Red-necked Pademelons.

Grey Shrike-thrush

Red-necked Pademelon

We decided to follow the Centenary Track next to the campground that runs adjacent to the access road, here we were hoping to find the Albert's Lyrebird. Two rangers came past us and asked what have we seen, we told them we were looking for the Lyrebird, one of them said 'Good luck, you might see it!'. They went ahead and only few seconds later suddenly told us to go forward, and there it was, a male Albert's Lyrebird foraging right beside the trail! Unfortunately I only had my 500mm lens with me and it was way too close to get the whole bird in view, by the time I changed to my 100-400mm it was too deep inside cover to get any photos taken, but we were still very happy we got to see this incredible bird so close.

Albert's Lyrebird - the tail out of frame...

A juvenile Fan-tailed Cuckoo was spotted following its parasitised Yellow-throated Scrubwren parents. While we also saw a Black-faced Monarch nearby, they differ from Spectacled Monarchs by having no white in tail and a different mask shape.

Fan-tailed Cuckoo - juvenile


Black-faced Monarch

We also found a Rufous Fantail nest, like all nest of the family it was a sturdy looking cup-shaped nest. Back towards the carpark we saw many Four-barred Swordtails feeding on a flowering plant.

Rufous Fantail - at nest

Four-barred Swordtail - Protographium leosthenes

We packed our stuff and checked out of O'Reilly's at 10am, although we planned to stay on a little longer and leave in the afternoon. A female Superb Fairywren was right outside our lodge's door when I loaded our luggages.

Superb Fairy-wren - female

We took a stroll along the footpath towards the border track, here we only had some common birds such as Large-billed Scrubwrens and Yellow-throated Scrubwrens. The best find was probably a Red-bellied Black Snake sitting right on the edge of the track. Seeing that there wasn't a lot of action we went back to the cafe for lunch, here we were welcomed by a few Welcome Swallows.

Large-billed Scrubwren

Yellow-throated Scrubwren - juvenile

Red-bellied Black Snake

Welcome Swallow

After lunch we decided to walk down to Moran's Falls for a look, the site map did not really indicate how long the walk was, therefore we didn't bring enough water. Nonetheless, the walk was still very pleasant. Along the way we saw a few Grey Fantails. Eastern Spinebills were seen feeding on Bottlebrush Bushes, while a Brown Cuckoo-Dove was feeding next to the road on a fruiting tree.

Grey Fantail

Eastern Spinebill

Brown Cuckoo-Dove

Along the stream Hoiling spotted a Lamington Spiny Crayfish, this beautiful species have a very narrow distribution and is now listed as vulnerable. While nearby, I spotted yet another Noisy Pitta foraging on the ground, this time a juvenile. A few Honeyeaters were found bathing in the stream, these were White-naped Honeyeaters with red eye-skin.

Lamington Spiny Crayfish - such vivid colours!

Noisy Pitta - jvenile

White-naped Honeyeater

The waterfall was quite a lovely sight, although there was only a trickle of water during the drought, staffs at O'Reilly's told us that they were only receiving half of the usual rainfall this year. Back towards the bird feeding station there was a Pacific Emerald Dove which came in to feed.

Moran's Falls

Pacific Emerald Dove

Before leaving O'Reilly's I wanted to check the Tuckeroo Tree again in case a male Paradise Riflebird decided to drop in. There I finally spotted a beautiful male Golden Whistler. A Green Catbird was also present, although giving rather obscured views. A Riflebird did drop in before we left, although in form of a female Paradise Riflebird, but this was the as good an ending for our time at O'Reilly's we could have hoped for.

Golden Whistler - male

Green Catbird


Paradise Riflebird - female

We saw very little birds on our way back to Brisbane, although we added two species of marsupials to our trip list, including a few Agile Wallabies, a mother with her joey was certainly a highlight. A few Red-necked Wallabies on the side of the road was also a nice addition.

Agile Wallaby - mother with joey in pouch!

Red-necked Wallaby

We decided to stop for a large flying fox colony along the way, hundreds of these large bats congregated. This colony contained two species, first of which was the rather cute-looking Grey-headed Flying Fox, the slightly larger Black Flying Foxes were in fewer numbers. We got back to Brisbane in time for dinner with my aunt and got ready for the flight to Cairns the next day.


Grey-headed Flying Fox

Black Flying Fox

To be continued...

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