An American family with only a few days to spend in southeast Queensland asked for a whirlwind 6 day tour of outback, rainforest, wildlife park and beaches at the end of winter (late August). A French intern working fir Wildlife Tourism Australia also joined us.
The surprisingly good little council-owned zoo at Queen’s Park in Ipswich was our first stop, to see animals we would not be seeing in the wild, such as billies, wombats and quolls. This also gave me a chance to talk with Frank Manthey (founder of Save the Bilby Fund) who will be opening the Scenic Rim Wildlife Bioblitz in October, while Darren showed our guests around the zoo.
As usual, our first night was spent in St George. We consider the western end of the bridge as the beginning of the true outback – past all sorghum, cotton and other crops, into free-range grazing or wilderness, red soils, red kangaroos, lot of emus, Major Mitchell cockatoos etc.
Next day took us through Cunnamulla to Bowra, a former cattle property well-known as a birding hotspot and now owned by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.
We were delighted to be welcomed at our arrival by not just one but two echidnas!
Here are just a few of the other species we saw over the next few hours and following morning
One night is never enough in Bowra, but our American family only had 6 days to explore southern Queensland, so we moved eastwards again to the rainforests of Lamington National Park, the glow worms of Tamborine Mountain, woodland-lined beach at Fingal and captive-breeding programs and platypus aquarium at David Fleay Wildlife Park.
Our 6- or 8- day small-group outback tours run on demand, but at a maximum of twice a year (once in autumn. once in spring – summer is too hot, and in winter the reptiles aren’t active and we’re usually busy with other tours).
We’ve had an inquiry for a tour this spring, and could do it in early September or mid-October.
Let us know if you’re interested in joining in, so we can start planning.
The Central West Queensland section of the Lake Eyre Basin is a magnificent region of the outback that can be very rewarding for birders, and for those wishing to explore the ecological variety of this semi-arid temperate zone. Summer can be over-whelming, but in August the mean mid-day temperatures are around 26 degrees Celsius, and usually only one or two days have more than a few millimeters of rain, making very pleasant conditions for touring, and perhaps a great escape from southern winters
This birding tour, led by raptor-enthusiast Keith Fisher, will visit Lochern, Welford, and Diamantina Lakes National Parks harbouring that symbol of the outback the red kangaroo, biggest macropod in the world, in its natural habitat. Dams that provided water for cattle on Welford National Park when it was a grazing property have now been removed, ensuring that kangaroos in the park are surviving on natural water levels. Sweeping grasslands, often mixed with rocky sections, ensure that kangaroos easy to see. No less impressive are slightly shorter wallaroos, with their apt scientific name of ‘robustus’ – very stocky and powerful animals that often tolerate a close approach. Grey Kangaroos are also common.
The region is home to another Australian icon, the Coolibah tree of Waltzing Matilda fame. These trees send their roots deep under the channels that funnel down into Lake Eyre. Parts of this region are in fact often referred to as the ‘Channel Country’ – a network of watercourses that curve across the country. Channels can be very deep, making it possible to sit on the banks watching birds such whistling kites, white-necked herons and other birds hunting down below.
Some of Australia’s endemic raptors, not regularly seen on the coast, are reasonably common in this region. These include the second smallest booted eagle in the world, the ‘little’ eagle (not all that little), and also the spotted harrier and the so-called black-breasted buzzard (not really a buzzard). The brown falcon, a powerful and common bird, does particularly well in this area, and you will be in a zone of intergradation, where pale, dark, and rufous forms of this species intermix. Australia’s largest falcon, the black falcon, is found in this region, and there is always a possibility, though the chances are slim, of seeing one of the rarest birds in the world: the elusive but rewarding grey falcon.
Australia’s heaviest flying bird, the Australian bustard, lives here, as does Australia’s largest (and the world’s second largest) flightless bird, the emu. Huge flocks of budgerigars are sometimes present. Other flock species which may be seen in large numbers include woodswallows, and flock bronzewings. Along the watercourses, a variety of honeyeaters make their way through the trees, and in the grasslands and in fringing vegetation are finches and quail.
The tour will start 17th August in the outback town of Longreach (which can be reached by train or flight from Brisbane), cover a lot of ground with great variety of outback habitats, clear skies, wide open spaces inhabited by Aussie icons (kangaroos and emus) and of course plenty of birds not often seen even by most Australians.
We headed out west last month (October 2012) with two Americans (one an avid life-lister of bird spies) an amateur bird photographer from Hong Kong keen to see parrots and cockatoos, and two Aussies, one of whom had never been to the outback but dreamed of seeing large flocks of budgies, plus Darren and myself as guides. .
The famous bilby fence of Currawinya National Park s still off-limits to visitors (and has tragically been damaged recently, allying feral cats and foxes in once more with devastating results), so we decided to call at the little council-run zoo in Queen’s Park, Ipswich to see bilbies and also the red-tailed back cockatoo (for our bird photographer).
While there we had the good fortune of meeting ‘Bilby Brother‘ Flank Manthey, a very effective campaigner for the protection of bilbies and for the funding and construction of the bilgy fence, and he introduced us to Lester.
He also asked if we could help put pressure on the fed era government to do more about controlling the feral animals that threaten our wildlife, whichI intend doing in my capacity as chair of Wildlife Tourism Australia. The fact that so many bilbies were killed so soon after the damage to the fence points alarmingly to the danger any wildlife outside the fence is in constantly, and on all our trips out west we see far more ferals than small native animals (although we always see lots of kangaroos)
We hadn’t traveled too far west hewn we saw our first reptile – a shingleback lizard, one of our largest skinks.
We spent our first night in Eulo, and visited a neighbouring lagoon, where we saw a coolish tree (an outback Eucalyptus species made famous by the song ‘Waltzing Matilda’. Everey Australian has sung (or at least heard many times) about the jolly swagman camping iunder its shade, but I wonder how many have actually seen one.
At the lagoon we saw yellow-billed spoonbills, pelicans, dotter ells and other waterbirds, and also saw woodswallows, rainbow bee-etares, crested bellbird, brown treecreeper, whistling kite and other land birds.
Very early next morning we headed to the waterhole about 16kn from Eulo, well-known for sighting of Bourke’s parrot and Hall’s babbler, neither of which we saw that morning. We did however see Major Mitchell cockatoos, parrots honeyeaters, finches and other birds coming to drink, and further back saw kangaroos and red-capped robins.
In Eulo itself we saw apostle-birds, grey-crowned babblers, spotted bowerbird and various other species
A surprise was a bird that looked like one of those very common noisy miners until I took a better look and found it was a yellow-throated miner, which we were then to see quite a lot of over the next few days
One of the Aussies decided to indulge in a mud bath at the Eulo Date Farm, and I bought a couple of bottles of their delicious date liqueur for Christmas. Unfortunately they won;t be making this or their wines any more, but the mud baths will continue.
We were to have moved on to Kilcowera, a vast cattle station now run as an ecotourism destination, with plenty of birds and other wildlife, as well as continuing as a working cattle station, but we received a phone call to say there were severe bush fires raging nearby and it would be safer not to come.
So we changed plans and headed into Currawinya National Park a day early, first arranging to spend three nights at Bowra instead of two.
Now I really felt as though this is the outback – travelling over red-sand roads
We weren’t far into Currawinya National Park when we saw Major Mitchell cockatoos feeding on Callitris fruits (native ‘cypress’), giving our photographer from Hong Kong a chance to take several photos …
… also plenty of sand monitors (sand goannas)
… a couple of inquisitive emus wandered over for a closer look at our vehicle, …
… and we saw many red kangaroos over the next few days
The lakes were a little disappointing – the same wind that was fanning the fires at Kilcowera was whipping up the water on the lake, so we didn’t see as many waterbirds as hoped, although we still some a few at various waterholes.
The signs informing us about bilbies and the bilgy fence are unfortunately showing signs of bleaching in the sun
And most importantly, we hope the bilby fence itself can be fully mended soon! Also that the ferals can be controlled – we saw lots of goats and quite a few pigs while there
After a night of camping by the Paroo River we headed on to Bowra, a former cattle station long known as a birding hotspot and now owned by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy
You can see a lot of bits here just by getting out of bed and sitting near the waterhole (not too near – you don’t want to make yourself too conspicuous to the shier birds). Wandering down the tracks from the accommodation or driving to one of the other waterholes in the early morning or late afternoon is also good. Here is some of what we saw …
Then goodbye to Bowra, goodbye to outback until next time (which won’t be until at least April next year – things are likely to be pretty hot out there before then, and at time of writing the bush fires are still raging at Kilcowera and surrounding district)
Our next outback trip will probably start on Thursday 19th April 2012
The night sky at Currawinya is far from any towns, April is officially within our dry season, and we will be there on moonless nights, so our view of stars and other heavenly bodies should be brilliant.
On the nights of 21st and 22nd April we may be treated to the Lyrids Meteor Showers, which are said to sometimes produce about 20 meteors per hour, with dust trails that last several seconds.
Unfortunately they are most likely to appear after midnight, but we can sleep in hammocks under the stars on those nights (or if you prefer a tent you could venture out at that hour).
Many tourism brochures are written as though the outback starts in the cattle farms just 50km inland. I don’t feel we’re in the outback until we’ve past all the farmland, all the cotton crops etc. and onto free-range country or wilderness, with red soil and semi-arid vegetation. Thus our first day took a us a few hundred kilometres west to the edge of the outback, the town of St George, stopping briefly for morning tea, lunch and birdwatching, and to show our English guest his first wild emus. The end of the day saw us strolling along the Ballonne River, watching woodswallows and white-plumed honeyeaters, a hearty pub meal and settling into our ‘luxury’ accommodation for the trip, a motel with private shower and toilet Day2.
Just after dawn Darren dropped us at the edge of town so we could walk across the bridge into the outback, but pausing for birdwatching as we did so. A royal spoonbill was swishing his bill around in the water below, two beautiful night-herons sat in company with great egrets on the trees overhanging the water, and a raptor – either a little eagle or a whistling kite flew quickly overhead and out of sight. Soon we were stopping the vehicle again for a group of Major Mitchell cockatoos feasting on native cypress cones. We were cautious at first not to disturb them but they seemed unperturbed by our presence as we tried all angles for photos.
A red-winged parrot was more wary, flying in for a brief feed and continuing quickly on his way. A spiny-cheeked honeyeater perched above us for a short time. Our English guest soon saw his first wild kangaroos. We saw both reds and greys, but the photo to the right is of two red kangaroos – a female (they are grey in colour) and a young male, probably her offspring. On our way to Bollon, we also saw several groups of emus, a wedge-tailed eagle and a brown falcon. As we reached Bollon, three emus were casually strolling across the road in the middle of the township.
It was mid-afternoon when we reached our first unsealed road, travelling south of Eulo on red sands to the start of Currawinya National Park, our main destination for the next couple of days, and we saw quite a few kangaroos and emus.
At the Royal Mail Hotel, Hungerford, our guests tried the trick of throwing money, wrapped around a couple of 20c pieces and periced by a drawing pin, to the ceiling as a donation to the Flying Doctor service
Day3 Our day started with a birdwalk, seeing the ubiquitous emus as well as white-plumed honeyeaters, woodswallows and a whistling kite, and Darren changing a flat tyre. While feasting on a big breakfast al fresco and chatting with a couple of pilots of light aircraft who’d flown in for the night, spiny-cheeked honeyeaters and grey shrike-thrushes visited the trees nearby. And instead f the usual noisy miners, the shrubs were occupied by yellow-throated miners Darren had a go at riding a “backwards bicycle” – turning the handlebars to the right made the bike turn left, and vice versa, so a fair bit of concentration is needed
The RAMSAR-declared lakes were full of water but not as many birds as we had hoped. Still, we saw plenty of pelicans, black swans, terns and a few other species, and PLENTY of emus.
The Granites rise suddenly from the surrounding plains, giving an entirely different feel to the landscape, and we always enjoy exploring these.
As we left, ur guest Andrea spotted a Central Australian bearded dragon on a tree. He sat motionless, apparently convinced his camouflage was fully effective, as we approached for a better view, and was still in the same position as we left.
We tried to find the ranger for a second time but the office was – as for the day before – unoccupied. I had tried a couple of weeks previously to ring to book our campsite, but there is no online booking for this park, and no one at head office was able to give me the number of the ranger’s office. I finally had found the number from the owner of the Hungerford pub, and left a message on their answering service, so that plus the form I filled in and left in the box outside the office had to suffice, but Ialways like to chat a bit with the rangers when we visit. After looking around the old wool-shed, we continued north towards our campsite at the Paroo River, stopping along the way to watch the full moon rise.
After a three-course meal of soup, coconut lentil curry and pavlova under the full moon, we settled into our ‘beds’. One guest had brought a swag that she set up facing the river so she could watch for waterbirds in the moonlight and see the sunrise without leaving bed. The rest of us strung comfortable hammocks between the trees and viewed the procession of stars and moon through the night any time we awoke.
The moon set as the sun was rising. Several white-headed herons flew lazily by, as did a whistling kite. A black-eared cuckoo fossicked on soil and tree-trunk, and we saw many white-plumed honeyeaters and woodswallows in the trees.
The small town of Eulo had some drama recently as the general store caught fire and burnt to the ground, and a gas cylinder torpedoed across the road, setting fire to the verandah of a house – a verandah on which a lady was standing at the time. It seemed strange to see the empty space and burnt-out petrol bowsers
The date farm was temporarily closed, so we couldn’t pick up a bottle of their delicious date liqueur or relax in a warm mud bath
At the nearby lagoon we watched yellow-billed and royal spoonbills, black-fronted dotterells and a little friarbird, in addition to the usual magpielarks and willy wagtails, then spent that night in the Eulo Queen Hotel.
We headed pre-dawn to the well-known birdwatching spot by the waterhole a few kilometres out of town, but this time it was rather disappointing, except for a red-capped robin and a rufous whistler in the nearby woodland.
Bowra is a former cattle station near Cunnamulla long known as a birding hotspot and now belonging to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. We had originally planed to spend a couple of nights here but had shortened our trip, but decided to take a quick look anyway. The highlights were a river lined with river red gums and a male emu with a beautiful brood of chicks
Our final night was spent once again in St George, where in the morning we watched a small flock of red-rumped parrots feeding on the lawn, presumably on fallen seeds or grass seeds
And finally back to Brisbane, missing the red sands, emus and major mitchells and looking forward to next year’s excursion out west
Our outback tours go to the true outback – not just some rural area that someone chose to call ‘outback,’ as we so often see in tourism literature.
In September and November we’ll be heading off way out west – leaving behind crops and intensive farms – into the red sand country, land of mulga and saltbush, with eyes open for emus, red kangaroos,Major Mitchell cockatoos, sand goannas, stumpy-tailed lizards and whatever else we might see along the way.
We’ve extended the usual 6 days to 8 days in September to give us an extra day at Bowra, a former cattle station and one of the birding ‘htspots’ now belonging to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.
The November trip will be 10 days, incorporating our usual route for the three-day wildlife overview tour as well (rainforests, coastal habitats etc.)
This is not a luxury trip – no five-star hotels (there just ain’t any out where we’re going), and you’ll be riding in a troopie, a reliable Toyota 4WD very popular with folk who live out there, so that in itself is part of the experience.
But we don’t ignore comfort. No long walks, and not much walking at all in the hot part of the day (the animals also take ‘siesta’ time in the heat, so the best times for finding them is early morning and late afternoon).
We stay in little outback hotels with cosy beds and good meals, with a couple of nights in motel, a night or two in former shearer’s quarters (another genuine Aussie experience and one night camping by the Paroo River (you can choose to be in a tent or in a hammock under the stars – and on the September trip there’ll be a full moon that night).
And for just a little luxury, you can opt to sip wine or tea and snack on nuts and dried fruits while relaxing in a mudbath in the tiny town of Eulo ($60), then rinse off with warm Artesian water, cake yourself in ancient mud, rinse again and smother yourself with locally-made moisturizer. Your skin feels great for days afterwards.
Not everything is dry out there. Two vast Ramsar-listed lakes are important breeding sites for waterbirds. Recently the roads to them have been flooded, but hopefully we’ll be able to reach them by spring.
Currawinya also harbours the offspring of captive-bred bilbies released here several years ago. We won’t be able to enter that area, but we will insect a sample of the long fence that was erected to exclude rabbits, cats and foxes, and will also visit captive bilbies before leaving the coast, and learn something of the behaviour and ecology of these strange little creatures.
Let us know if you might be interested in joining us for either of these tours.
We have a still have a couple of vacancies for the outback tour in September (and several for the tour in May).
The folk coming on this trip are keen bird photographers and general wildlife enthusiasts, and instead of the usual six days we will be spending eight, to give more of a chance to explore and to wait for shy species.
The proposed schedule (there may be some slight changes between now and September due to weather, road conditions, unexpected opportunities etc.) is:
Day 1 of outback tour. Saturday 10th September.
Leave Brisbane 8.00am and head west, over the Great Dividing Range and beyond, watching the changes in vegetation as we go and stopping along the way for refreshments and for any raptor, parrot or other species we might see near the roadside or hovering above. Birds such as apostlebirds and black kites will begin to be more common as we get further from the coast.
Eventually we reach St George, which we consider to be at the edge of the true outback. By this time we are past all the cotton and other crops, the soil is red and we have usually seen our first emus and Major Mitchell cockatoos. Here in the late afternoon we will stroll along the river, watching birds in the river red gums so typical of the outback, and settle into in a comfortable motel with private ensuites (a luxury we won’t have on most of the trip – there just isn’t any of that kind of accommodation close to the interesting places).
Day 2 of outback tour. Sunday 11th September.
We cross the Ballone River this morning, entering the real outback. Expect to see more and more kangaroos, emus, parrots and black kites from here onwards.
Today we will travel through the large town of Cunnamulla (probably stopping there for lunch), the small town of Eulo, and right through Currawinya National Park to our farthest point, the tiny town of Hungerford (on our last trip I think the population was 6 – or had it dropped to 4?) on the New South Wales border.
By that time we should have seen plenty of emus and kangaroos, including the red kangaroos the outback is famous for.
Accommodation tonight is in a genuine Aussie outback pub (it advertises plenty of parking space!) – nothing fancy here, and the dunny (toilet) is out the back, as is the shower, and don’t be surprised to find a couple of frogs there waiting for you, but the pub has a lot of character (and sometimes a lot of characters drinking and chatting there), the meals are great, the stars are bright when you walk outside, the beds are comfortable, and you can stroll from your door to the waterhole before breakfast for some good birdwatching.
Day 3 of outback tour. Monday 12th September.
Today, after birding and breakfasting, we will start to really exploreCurrawinya National Park. We will head to some little backroads and waterholes to see what we can find, and by lunchtime we should have reached the Ramsar-declared lakes.
Here we hope to see emus coming down to drink and a variety of waterbirds as we have our picnic lunch on the shore.
We will then call in at the rangers station and make our way slowly to our campsite on the banks of the Paroo River.
We will hae a full moon to dine by and camp beneath that night.
You will have your choice of sleeping in a tent or a large, comfortable hammock. Darren and I always choose the hammock – watching the stars slowly move (well, we’re actually the ones who are moving), the pelicans glide past on the river (they’ll be especially visible in the moonlight) and the changes of mood as night gradually fades into morning twilight, the sun rises and the birds start singing.
Day 4 of outback tour. Tuesday 13th September.
We strongly recommend rising early to stroll along the river looking for birds and other animals (you can always catch up on sleep in the middle of the day when the wildlife is less active). We can have a quick cuppa before such wanderings, and settle down to a proper breakfast afterward.
We will explore the Granites, visit a sample of the bilby fence, watch a video about the bilbies – a charismatic endangered marsupial, some of which have been released here from captive-bred colonies – and generally explore wherever we choose on the day.
Late in the day we’ll return to Eulo, the little town that advertises itself as having a population of 50 people and 1500 lizards. Here we can stroll down to a lagoon rich in birdlife, and before dark head to a waterhole where Hall’s babblers and Bourke’s parrots can sometimes be seen (we have seen the parrots, no luck yet with the babblers).
We’ll spend the night at the Eulo Queen Hotel (small hotel, small town, but prize-winning sausages!). Some rooms have a private bath, some don’t. You may well see kangaroos in the main street of town if you go walking at dusk or dawn, and almost certain to see them if you walk to the lagoon.
Day 5 of outback tour. Wednesday 14th September.
After birding at the lagoon or the waterhole and breakfast, you might like to visit the little shop displaying local opals, or walk just a little further to the Eulo Date Farm at the edge of town. Here you can buy delicious date liqueuer and other products, and also spend half an hour in a warm mud bath while sipping wine or tea and nibbling dried fruits and nuts.
The main part of the day – depending on what the wildlife is doing and what everyone wants – can be spent back in Currawinya or we can head straight out towards Bowra Station, well-known for its abundant birdlife (over 200 species), including several rare species. Shower and toilet are once more ‘out the back’ and we will be all sleepig under the same roof: several bedrooms open into a communal dining and lounge area, which in turn connects to the kitchen.
Bowra vegetation includes mulga, gidgee, river red gums and more, even the coolabah trees of Waltzing Matilda fame, and there are a number of wetland sites. It has recently been purchased by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.
Day 6 of outback tour. Thursday 15th September.
We will take a picnic breakfast to one of the waterholes at Bowra, and spend the morning exploring.For lunch we’ll head to the town of Cunamulla, where you might like to also explore the small museum and the birdlife in the park Then it’s back to Bowra, exploring its many habitats until dinnertime. If not collapsing into bed we’ll have a look for nocturnal species afterward.
We will spend a second night at Bowra.
Day 7 of outback tour. Friday 16th September.
More pre-breakfast birding (with an eye out for lizards, pythons and kangaroos as well) and the rest of the morning at leisure. We’ll head back to Currawinya for lunch and then back to St George, where we once more enjoy the luxury of ensuite bathrooms in our motel rooms.
Day 8 of outback tour. Friday 17th September.
After an early breakfast we’ll head coastwards, once more stopping for breaks and whenever we see anything of interest, reaching Ipswich mid-afternoon to explore the Nature Centre with its bilbies and other wildlife, before continung back to Brisbane and dropping you at your accommodation.
Cost of tour per person, including the additional two days, all traveling, meals etc. and GST: $1,551.00 (Australian)
Let us know if you’d like to join this tour, or if you’d prefer to join us for six days in May or October.