Sunday, 20 October 2013


Setting off with my guide, Duncan.

I wrote here last July that I was hoping to cross the Rufous Scrub-bird off my list of bogey birds in October, when I had arranged a professional guide to show me one in Lamington National Park.

Rog and I are now back from our trip to Queensland.  We drove around 4,000 kilometres and saw 171 bird species.  Sadly, this did not include that reprobate, the Rufous Scrub-bird.  We saw an echidna, many kangaroos, wallabies and pademelons, a huge colony of fruit bats at Casino, just one Long-nosed Bandicoot at Beechworth on the way home and lots of lizards and lace monitors.  The wildflowers were wonderful - white and yellow and pink and purple.  There were orchids and grevilleas, candles and sundews, fringe lillies and junceas.

We took a week to drive from Melbourne to O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat in Lamington National Park situated in Queensland just north of the New South Wales border. We spent three days at O'Reilly's, then took another week to drive home. Along the way we visited many of my favourite birding spots - and found some new ones.

Of course we called into Chiltern on the way. At Bartley's Block I saw Brown-headed Honeyeaters, Dusky, Masked and White-browed Woodswallows and a very vocal Sacred Kingfisher - the first of many for the trip. I also met a keen young birder visiting Bartley's for the first time.  He wanted to see a Turquoise Parrot, a Painted Button-quail and a Painted Honeyeater.  Knowledgeably, I said he had a good chance of the parrot, and that the button-quail was more likely along All Nations Road or Bull Ant Track near the cemetery, although it had been some time since I'd seen one. Then, trying not to disappoint him too cruelly, I suggested that he'd have a better chance of seeing the honeyeater at Melville's Caves near Inglewood. He smiled politely and pointed out an oriole I'd been trying to see.  I thanked him and moved on.  Within seconds he called me back to share wonderfully close views of a Painted Honeyeater sitting obligingly in a leafless fruit tree.  You could call it beginner's luck, but perhaps it was just superior birding. Whatever it was, I do hope he was equally successful with his parrot and his button-quail. 

The next day we visited three of my top 100 birding sites:  Wonga Wetlands, The Rock and Cootamundra. Regrettably, my outstanding memory of that visit to Wonga Wetlands was being dive bombed by two (yes, two at once) very determined magpies. All that was noteworthy at The Rock was a pair of Shing Bronze-Cuckoos. (We called at The Rock again on the way home and I had four Speckled Warblers foraging at my feet, quite unperturbed at my presence.) On our way to O'Reilly's, birds were quiet, too, at Migurra Walk, althought the pink kunzea was flowering profusely. (Again, the story was better on our way home when Superb Parrots took over.  One sat in front of me on a dead branch quite aware of how handsome he was. With the blue sky behind him and the sun shining happily, it would have made a beautiful photo - if only I'd had a camera.  There were also Western Gerygones and Weebills and several Rufous Whistlers.)

We stayed at Coonabarabran because we wanted to visit the Warrumbungles, which I thought were recovering well from last January's bushfires. I was sorry to see goats wandering at liberty.  I would have thought that the fire was a great opportunity to rid the national park of these feral pests.  The tourist literature informed me that 'Coonabarabran' means 'inquisitive person' in the local Gamilraay language. It failed to explain why the town deserved this epithet.

Eight kilometres north of Gilgandra we discovered a beautifully maintained flora reserve, in its prime, with everything flowering. We were greeted by a single male Red-capped Robin and a party of gregarious Apostlebirds. Here we saw Buff-rumped and Inland Thornbills, while Rainbow Bee-eaters cavorted overhead.

Driving from Tamworth to Tenterfield we stopped at Guyra for coffee, attracted by the sign to Mother Ducks Lagoon. Here the signs (if not the birds) were exceptionally good and we decided to visit the nearby Ramsar site, Little Llangothlin Wildlife Reserve.  Here we saw Freckled Duck and Brown Quail and vowed to return on another occasion when we had time to undertake the five kilometre circuit of the lake.  Apparently walkers must be prepared to get wet feet.

Then it was on to O'Reilly's and the great Rufous Scrub-bird hunt.   My guide was Duncan, O'Reilly's resident scrub-bird expert.  We left at 8 in the morning and walked all day, returning (in the pitch dark) after 6.  I was exhausted.  Duncan is like the Everready pink bunny - he goes forever. Duncan, who has hearing like Radar O'Reilly, heard three scrub-birds but we had no luck in enticing them into view. The scrub-birds Duncan heard were mimicking other birds, not doing the call I'd heard on previous occasions. The reason I'd chosen October to visit O'Reilly's was that I believed the scrub-birds would be at their most vocal at this time.  They were not.  Given that they were not giving their territorial call, in retrospect I think my chances of seeing one were pretty slim.

I did see Noisy Pitta, Black-faced Monarch, Green Catbird, Logrunner and Brown Cuckoo-Dove, but they did not compensate for the missing tick I'd driven to Queensland to see.  I've looked for this devilish scrub-bird on six previous occasions - twice previously at all three sites - O'Reilly's, Binna Burra and Gloucester Tops, most recently spending three days exploring known territories at Gloucester Tops in April this year. It was then I decided I'd never see this bird without professional help.  Now I have failed impressively, notwithstanding professional help!

Not even the gorgeous male Regent Bowerbirds could raise my spirits the next day. My mood did not improve when I failed to see both Russet-tailed Thrush and Paradise Riflebird on the track to the villas (at the bottom of the zigzags) where Duncan said they resided. Not even the Albert's Lyrebird could cheer me up.

I confess a Southern Boobook after tea did make me smile, but by then I'd been mellowed by a glass or two of local wine.

We drove home, following almost the same route, but staying at Dubbo so we could visit the Macquarie Marshes, Much of the marshes was dry, which was disappointing and at the northern section, we were greeted by a locked gate!  As I had collected a welcoming brochure at the Information Centre, I had not expected to be stymied by a padlock.

Our trip to Queensland had just one aim.  In that I failed.  How can I be anything but disappointed?  We did have a pleasant trip.  The wildflowers were universally impressive.  The birds were often very good.  The scenery was sometimes spectacular.  The best panglossian spin I can come up with is, now I have an excuse to do it all again.  (But I wish I didn't.)