Regent Bowerbird is arguably the most stunning passerine in Australia - we always see it at O’Reilly Guest House, where it also appears on their logo. Photo: David Fisher
Queensland is a vast state including more than half the length of Australia’s east coast. It is fringed by the Great Barrier Reef and bordered to the south by coastal New South Wales. The tropical rainforests around Cairns and on the Atherton Tablelands harbor a wealth of birds and mammals, and our days will be fully occupied with encounters with wonderful creatures. Flying to southern Queensland we’ll visit the renowned O’Reilly’s Rainforest Guesthouse, where megapodes and bowerbirds come to the feeders and an array of kangaroos, pigeons and parrots covers the lawns. And finally, three nights in Sydney will allow us to explore the best birding sites in the surrounding area and to take a pelagic trip rich in albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters. This tour can be taken in conjunction with either or both of our tours Central Australia: South Australia and Northern Territory and New Zealand: Island Endemics and Seabirds.
Day 1: The tour starts at 10:30 a.m. at a hotel in Cairns, where we’ll familiarize ourselves with many of the tropical species that live in town. We’ll visit parks near the Botanical Gardens in search of Bush Thick-knees, Rainbow Bee-eaters, Australian Swiftlets, and a variety of honeyeaters including Yellow and Brown-backed. Depending on the tide, we may visit the world-famous Cairns Esplanade, where extensive mudflats host hordes of migrant waders, including Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Terek Sandpiper, Gray-tailed Tattler, Eastern Curlew, and Great Knot. The mangroves at the northern end of the esplanade hold Varied Honeyeater (our only site for the species), and the nearby Centenary Lakes are always worth a visit for a selection of freshwater species including Magpie Goose and Straw-necked Ibis. After lunch in town we’ll drive north to Daintree, arriving in time to do some birding along the river in the late afternoon. Night in Daintree.
This was my first ever international birding trip. I was very impressed. Everything was very well organized. I saw all the birds I really wanted to see plus a LOT more. The leaders were awesome and I was really impressed with their ability and perseverance in finding birds and surmounting problems (the Qantas Airline shutdown!). This also goes for all the local guides who clearly went out of their way to assist us.
All the places we stayed were very neat, clean and comfortable. They were also located in absolutely beautiful place…and the food was great!
Karen Tadd, October 2011
Day 2: We’ll start early with a pre-breakfast boat trip on the Daintree River, which is likely to be one of the highlights of the trip for some of us, especially the avid photographers. Waterbirds are numerous and tame and should include Australasian Darter, Rufous Night-Heron, and Azure Kingfisher, while some of the scarcer birds we’ll be hoping to glimpse include Great-billed Heron, Black Bittern, and Little Kingfisher. After breakfast we’ll head back south to Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge, where we’ll spend the night. We’ll arrive in time to do some local birding in the afternoon, including at the lodge’s feeders, which attract Blue-faced, Yellow-spotted, and Graceful Honeyeaters as well as delightful little Red-browed Finches. After an early dinner there will be an optional spotlighting trip. With luck we might find an owl or a frogmouth, and we are sure to see some nocturnal mammals. Night at Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge.
Day 3: Before breakfast we’ll do some more birdwatching around the lodge, where Black-faced and Spectacled Monarchs should be easy to find and if we’re lucky a Noisy Pitta might show itself. After breakfast we’ll drive into the dry eucalyptus country to the northwest in search of Australian Bustards at one of their few strongholds in this area. We’ll then drive south to the Mareeba Wetlands, a superb man-made wetland reserve in the center of a large area of dry bush. The wetlands should hold a good cross-section of the area’s waterbirds, including both Green and Cotton Pygmy-Geese as well as Brolgas and Sarus Cranes. In the surrounding woodland we’ll search for Squatter Pigeons, Apostlebirds, Great Bowerbirds, Black-throated Finches, and the very distinctive local race of Brown Treecreeper, which is certainly a good candidate for a split. In the late afternoon we’ll drive south to Yungaburra on the Atherton Tablelands, where we’ll spend two nights.
Day 4: The rainforests of the Atherton Tablelands are rich in birds, many of which will be new for us. Our day will be broken into sections, providing all-day birding for those who wish or a chance to opt out occasionally to relax and perhaps explore the picturesque town of Yungaburra. Before breakfast we’ll visit one of the local patches of rainforest, itself a fully designated national park, where the fruiting trees around the parking lot attract a wealth of forest species that are likely to include our first bird-of-paradise (Victoria’s Riflebird), our first bowerbird (Tooth-billed), the elusive Double-eyed Fig Parrot, and highly localized Queensland endemics such as Gray-headed Robin and Bower’s Shrike-Thrush. After breakfast we’ll visit a higher-elevation national park to search for species that don’t occur round Yungaburra, including Fernwren, Bridled Honeyeater, and Mountain Thornbill.
In the afternoon we’ll visit yet another national park and walk a loop trail in search of the snazzy Yellow-breasted Boatbill (recently elevated into its own family), whose distinctive song gives away its presence high in the rainforest canopy. We’ll walk quietly along the trail listening for the distinctive leaf-kicking and digging noises that indicate the terrestrial Chowchilla, and we may spot the world’s smallest kangaroo as it thumps away from us through the undergrowth—the Musky Rat-Kangaroo. Two or even three Tooth-billed Bowerbirds have bowers along the trail, and we’ll have a good chance of seeing one singing as it sits just a few feet above its bower of carefully arranged leaves, all turned pale-side up! In the evening we’ll look for the shy Platypus at a quiet waterhole on the edge of town, and after dinner a local spotlighting trip should reveal several species of possum and, if we are very lucky, Lumholtz’s Tree-Kangaroo. Night in Yungaburra.
Day 5: Our pre-breakfast excursion today will be to a nearby local reservoir, and if there has been rain or heavy dew overnight, we’ll watch the shoulders of the road for Buff-banded Rail and Brown Quail en route. The jaunty song of White-throated Gerygone may reveal its presence in one of the well-wooded gardens, and large numbers of Sarus Cranes may well be trumpeting around the reservoir edges. In the rank vegetation along the water’s edge Tawny Grassbird and Golden-headed Cisticolas should be singing and with luck may perch high enough for ’scope views.
Our second morning at Yungaburra will be left flexible so we can search for whatever species are still eluding us—usually Atherton Scrubwren or Fernwren; should that be the case, we’ll visit Red Cedar Tree National Park, a good spot for both species. In the afternoon we will return to Cairns and will almost certainly schedule a second session on the esplanade to study the waders once again and search for local rarities such as Asiatic Dowitcher and Broad-billed Sandpiper. We’ll also visit a bustling colony of Metallic Starlings that build large communal nests reminiscent of weaver colonies in Africa. Their blood-red eyes have to be seen to be believed. Night in Cairns.
Day 6: We’ll leave Cairns early and drive up into the nearby hills, escaping the humidity once again and spending much of the day at Cassowary House and in the surrounding rainforest. Our main target is the much-hoped-for Southern Cassowary, one or two of which usually visit Cassowary House at some point most days—“most” being the operative word, as they don’t come in every day. We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed. Fortunately, there are many other birds to keep us entertained while we wait, including a number that we seldom see elsewhere. Red-necked Crakes occasionally appear out of the rainforest in search of cheese, while the feeders on the veranda attract heaps of honeyeaters, including Noisy Friarbird and Macleay’s Honeyeater, not to mention Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Emerald Dove, Spotted Catbird, Victoria’s Riflebird, and Black Butcherbird. If the cassowaries are kind and come in during the morning, we’ll then wander slightly farther afield in search of such delights as Fairy Gerygone, Lovely Fairy-Wren, and Superb Fruit-Dove. Night in Cairns.
Day 7: Today will be a total contrast to the previous five, dominated as they were by rainforest birding (albeit fairly easy stuff with lots of showy birds): we’ll join one of the tourist boats on a cruise out of Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef—allegedly the only living structure visible from space. After a comparatively late start we’ll spend a very relaxing day on board a luxury catamaran visiting Michaelmas Cay, a low coral island where thousands of Sooty Terns and Common Noddies nest. We’ll also look for Brown Booby, Bridled and Black-naped Terns, and both Great and Lesser Frigatebirds. If we keep a sharp eye out, we could see up to 12 species of tern on this trip! For those who wish, there will be opportunities to inspect the corals and fish from a “glass-bottomed” boat, go snorkeling from the beach, go swimming in the azure-colored waters—and for anyone already suitably qualified, even go diving. Night in Cairns.
Day 8: We’ll catch an early morning flight to Brisbane. Remarkably, despite spending two hours in the air flying south, when we land we will still be in Queensland—such is the size of this vast state. Our first stop will be in coastal mangroves, where we’ll search for Mangrove Honeyeater; we’ll also visit a small wetland reserve to look at waders, and in the surrounding scrub we should see Tawny Grassbird. We’ll then drive inland to Lamington National Park, another area of montane rainforest with a delightful climate. We’ll pass through open farmland and eucalyptus woods broken occasionally by marshes and streams, and we should see Gray Butcherbird, Little Friarbird, and perhaps Glossy Black Cockatoo or Pretty-faced (Whiptail) Wallaby. By mid-afternoon we’ll enter the subtropical rainforest of the Lamington Plateau, a change of environment marked by flocks of Crimson Rosellas. We’ll arrive at O’Reilly’s Guesthouse in time for tea and some late afternoon birding. If we’re lucky we may be able to watch a Satin Bowerbird decorating its bower. In the evening Red-necked Pademelons graze on the lawns, and during dinner Mountain Brushtail Possums come to the dining room feeders. Night at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Guesthouse.
Day 9: O’Reilly’s Guesthouse is celebrated by birdwatchers worldwide for its amazing shows of multicolored tropical species, many of which are hand-tame and present fantastic photographic opportunities. Species that frequent the guesthouse feeders include bizarre Australian Brush-Turkeys, stunning Regent Bowerbirds (the guesthouse emblem)—the male being arguably the most beautiful Australian bird—more subtle but equally beautiful Satin Bowerbirds, chunky Wonga Pigeons, cheeky Lewin’s Honeyeaters, and ragged flocks of Crimson Rosellas and Australian King Parrots. But the feeding frenzies around the guesthouse are by no means the only ornithological attractions at O’Reilly’s. Set in the heart of Lamington National Park, the guesthouse has lengthy trails that take off in various directions through superb montane rainforest containing a wealth of specialties that will be new for us. These include Paradise Riflebird (our second bird-of-paradise), curious Green Catbirds, entertaining Logrunners, both Bassian and Russet-tailed Thrushes, remarkably confiding Eastern Whipbirds, three species of scrub-wren all so tame they will feed within feet of us, and many, many more. Perhaps the ultimate prize is Albert’s Lyrebird, a species with a tiny world range but also a very shy bird, usually heard singing but not always seen—and even then often just a large dark shape bounding away through the undergrowth. And after dinner we’ll make a serious attempt to find Marbled Frogmouth, a seldom-seen denizen of the high rainforest canopy. Night at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Guesthouse.
Day 10: After an early morning at O’Reilly’s searching for any species still missing—more than likely Albert’s Lyrebird—we’ll drive to Coolangatta and catch an afternoon flight to Sydney. Night in Sydney.
Day 11: The destination for today will be left flexible so we can make use of up-to-date information provided by our local leader, but it is sure to include time spent searching for Superb Lyrebird, one of the world’s most accomplished mimics. We’ll also look for a wide cross-section of more southerly Australian species whose ranges we have only just entered, such as Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Little and Red Wattlebirds, and New Holland Honeyeater. Night in Sydney.
Day 12: Today we’ll take a pelagic trip into deep water beyond the continental shelf. We’ll cruise out through Sydney Harbor and have a view of the famous bridge with a glimpse of the opera house below. During our day-long trip we should see many Southern Hemisphere seabirds that, depending on sea temperatures, may include Little Penguin, Australasian Gannet, Wandering, Shy and Black-browed Albatrosses, Great-winged and other Pterodroma petrels, up to six species of shearwater, and several storm-petrels. We will feed the birds behind the boat and can usually draw in a selection of great seabirds to watch at arm’s length. Photographic opportunities are outstanding and binoculars are hardly needed. Tossing bits of fish to Wandering Albatrosses bobbing about behind the boat is a fabulous experience. Cetaceans may also be a feature of the trip, and though none is guaranteed, in previous years we have seen Humpback and Sperm Whales, Orcas, and Common and Bottlenose Dolphins. Night in Sydney.
Day 13: On the last morning there will be a choice of either sightseeing in Sydney (on your own) or some final birding in Sydney Royal National Park, where we might see New South Wales’s only endemic bird, the Rock Warbler, as well as heathland specialties such as Southern Emu-wren, Chestnut-rumped Heathwren, and Tawny-crowned Honeyeater. We’ll also have another chance here for Superb Lyrebird. The tour ends at our hotel in Sydney at 1:00 p.m.
Updated: 28 November 2011
- 2013 Tour Price : $6,800
- Single Occupancy Spplement : $730
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
* This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Please review the explanation of our Sunbird pricing here.
This tour is limited to eight participants with one leader.
Although the tour begins formally with the arrival of the the group and leaders from our South Australia and Northern Territory tour, participants taking just this Queensland and New South Wales tour will almost certainly need to arrive in Cairns the day before. Those choosing to arrive early should contact the WINGS office for information and assistance.