This was certainly the most challenging trip report I have put together to date! I will apologize in advance for the length of this report however it is condensed as much as I thought possible given the amount of time and area covered during our recent trip “down-under”.
I started off with 13,500+ pictures and 18 days of field notes, it took over a month just to crop, sort and identify the pictures and I hope you will find the following narrative interesting!
The trip report is broken down into smaller segments which can be viewed separately or just click on the bottom of each page on the link to the next page and it will take you in chronological order through the trip.
This is just the start to what will be getting posted on the web site over the coming days and probably months by the time I am done. These are highlights, individual species will be posted next and they will appear in the What's New section on the site as well. So, keep looking and thanks for the interest!!!
The trip itinerary included flying over 20,000 miles (and driving another 1,000 along the way)! We visited both the Northern Territory as well as Queensland and technically New South Wales although that was just as a stop over on our flight. We left from Los Angeles International Airport on November 16th, 2007 and returned there on December 5th. Major stops along the way included the likes of: Darwin, Fogg Dam, Kakadu National Park, Yellow Waters (inside Kakadu), Pine Creek, Litchfield State Park, Alice Springs, Ayers Rock (Uluru), Brisbane, Glasshouse Mountains National Park, Hervey Bay, Great Sandy National Park, Rainbow Beach, Mt. Coot-tha, and a variety of other locations as I will outline in the report in more detail.
Areas circled above are the main areas we visited during our trip to Australia in November and December, 2007.
DARWIN AREA, Nov. 18th & 19th...
We departed LAX on Friday evening, November 16th on a 10:30 PM flight to Sydney Australia, arriving on schedule at 7:00 AM on Sunday, November 18th. Australia does not have the same customs/immigration rules as the U.S. and since Darwin was our final destination we did not have to clear customs in Sydney (which is great since our bags were checked all the way) and we were directed to the “transfer lounge” to wait for our scheduled flight to Darwin at 9:00 A.M. Unfortunately, the flight was delayed for nearly 4 hours making it an extra long day! We finally took off for Darwin around 1:00 P.M. and arrived around 5:00 P.M. Sunday evening. After clearing customs and getting our Toyota Rav4 rental vehicle we found our way to our hotel for the first couple of days, checked in and took a breather.
After getting settled we decided to take a quick walk down the beach as the sun was starting to set. This lizard was initially perched on a large log overlooking a small watercourse but took flight under a log only to emerge to check us out. Most notable was an incredibly long tail…
Northern Water Dragon - Amphibolurus temporalis
The sun was setting quickly over the Timor Sea as we walked down the beach, the remnants of a large thunderstorm cell that had moved through the area made the evening sunset a colorful one.
Looking north from our hotel in Darwin
Several geckos were hanging out around the perimeter walls of the hotel, they actually are quite vocal calling out on a regular basis throughout the night, these particular Geckos are introduced species from Asia, probably hitching rides on the myriad of ships and containers that arrive at ports around the country.
Asian House Gecko - Hemidactylus frenatus
The next day we got up early and took a much longer walk around the hotel grounds heading down the beach and then back along and through several small parks that bordered the area. Masked Lapwings like the one below were a common sight, at least a pair or more in any open area, usually hunting for insects, these are relatives of the Plovers that you may be familiar with. We were "attacked" several times by these brave birds as they also had recently fledged their young and were still very protective of them if you got too near. The behavior was a bit startling at first as you were buzzed, at very close proximity by one or both of the parents. They would get a pretty good start, usually taking off when you were more than 50 feet away from them and head straight at you, typically at chest level, veering off at the last possible second to avoid impact!
During the trip we saw a variety of Doves and Pigeons, mostly native species such as the beautiful Torresian, or Pied, Imperial-Pigeon which were quite common (and quite large) in the Northern Territory.
We saw and photographed a great variety of Honeyeaters on this trip, we photographed and/or saw 18 different species from the Honeyeater family, by far the most well-represented bird family on our trip. One of the first we encountered was this Rufous-banded Honeyeater, getting breakfast early in the morning right along the Darwin waterfront.
One of the most commonly encountered Honeyeaters were the always active and approachable Brown Honeyeaters, usually found among the branches of flowering plants.
Here is another commonly encountered dove, the Bar-shouldered Dove.
Magpie Larks were another common sight in urban areas, found just about anywhere and not to be confused with the much larger Australian Magpie, I have seen these in every area of Australia that I have visited.
Just past the high-water mark along the beach was a sandy area covered with tall grasses that were just loaded with seed. Not surprisingly several species of seed eaters were foraging for food. In one area we found four different species flocked together including Double-barred Finch, Long-tailed Finch, Crimson Finch and, as pictured below, Chestnut-breasted Munia.
Here is a small flock of the beautiful Long-tailed Finches, stopping from their foraging activities for some preening.
One of my favorite birds that I have regularly encountered is the beautiful Rainbow Bee-eater. These birds are very focused on the job at hand which is to efficiently chase down and capture any flying insect that encroaches on their territory. They tend to be very approachable as well as they intently gaze in every direction looking for their next meal. Unlike their name implies, they are not specifically bee-eaters but will eat any insect they can catch, or at least this species does so as we repeatedly saw them capture dragonflies, moths and other flying insects.
This lizard, from the Dragon or Agamid family was quite common in the Darwin area. I believe this is a Gilbert's Dragon although I was constantly confused between this species and another, the Northern Water Dragon.
Gilbert's Dragon - Amphibolurus gilberti
One of the aforementioned finch species, the Double-barred Finch, took a brief respite for a few photographs.
After our quick early morning walk, we went back to the hotel for a hardy Australian breakfast at the hotel and then headed out for the day to explore the area generally around Darwin. The plan was to spend one day on the first part of the trip in Darwin to get over any possible travel-related issues such as jet-lag and take it easy before heading out to more remote locations. As it turned out, we were both quite unaffected by the previous day of long travel and quite eager to go so we took several small trips and hikes during the day. First stop was the beautiful Darwin Botanical Gardens, just a stones throw from our hotel. We arrived there around 10:00 AM and while they day was already getting a bit on the steamy side, there was plenty to grab our attention. As a side note, the weather in the Northern Territory was consistently in the low 90's during the day (with HIGH humidity) and in the high 70's at night (still with humidity) with sporadic late-afternoon to evening thunderstorms mixed in, usually with spectacular lightning!
I saw a brief glimpse of blue moving quickly through some trees and followed the general direction of the flash I had seen to find this Forest Kingfisher perched on a branch, occasionally swooping off to grab an insect. Unlike the Kingfishers back home that specialized in aquatic habitats, the Kingfishers in Australia are quite well adapted to non-aquatic habitat and insect eating (as well as vertebrates such as snakes and lizards in the case of the Kookaburra).
The botanical gardens had a wide-variety of plant life from around the world. Lynn was busily checking out the various species and collecting seeds of some of the specimens while I was chasing down birds and lizards however I too found some of the plants very interesting, none more-so than this Cannonball Tree from South America. The seed pods and flowers of this tree were incredible with the seed pods being the sized of a cannonball and the flowers quite spectacular.
Cannonball Tree Flower
Small skinks like this one were rather common around the botanical gardens but were also quite wary, often scurrying for cover or around the other side of a tree giving you only a brief glimpse of movement.
Callose-palmed Shinning-skink - Cryptoblepharus plagiocephalus
Spiders are not my favorite animal yet they can be spectacular photographic subjects. This particular spider was the size of my closed fist and had a web that spanned at least 8 feet across the side of the trail.
Another skink. In Australia I have found that many animals are micro-habitat specialists in that in a given area you may find several different species sharing the same geographic area but very different specific habitats. Skinks are no exception, often you will find one species, like this one, that prefers the leaf litter around plants, another that lives only on the sides of trees and perhaps another that shows preference to rocky areas or riparian environments.
Red-sided Rainbow Skink - Carlia rufilatus
Another constant companion in the Northern Territory was the White-gaped Honeyeater like the one shown here, in fact, this was the first bird I saw after landing in Darwin, with a couple of them foraging in the low shrubs in the airport parking lot.
Lynn spotted this Helmeted Friarbird (another member of the Honeyeater family) scarfing down a cicada...