Australia 2007 Trip Report - Part 1


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


 Another view


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!


Masked Lapwing


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.


 Torresian Imperial-Pigeon


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.


Rufous-banded Honeyeater 


One of the most commonly encountered Honeyeaters were the always active and approachable Brown Honeyeaters, usually found among the branches of flowering plants.


Brown Honeyeater


Here is another commonly encountered dove, the Bar-shouldered Dove.


 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.


  Magpie Lark


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.


  Chestnut-breasted Munia


Here is a small flock of the beautiful Long-tailed Finches, stopping from their foraging activities for some preening.


  Long-tailed Finch


Long-tailed Finch


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.


Rainbow Bee-eater


Rainbow Bee-eater



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.


Double-barred Finch


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).


Forest Kingfisher


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


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.


White-gaped Honeyeater


Lynn spotted this Helmeted Friarbird (another member of the Honeyeater family) scarfing down a cicada...


 Helmeted Friarbird


Helmeted Friarbird


I believe that this is a Northern Water Dragon by the length of the tail, regardless, it was quite spectacular.  Right after taking this shot, it bolted off the rock and much to my surprised went bipedal (running on it's hind legs with the front legs off the ground) as it dashed across a small stream and into the brush for cover.


Northern Water Dragon - Amphibolurus temporalis


Australian White Ibis were common anywhere there was an inkling of water and were also often spotted in urban areas on lawns as well as downtown Darwin.


Australian White Ibis


Here's another dragon, I believe this is a Gilbert's dragon based on the black bars running through the white stripes running down it's back.


 Gilbert's Dragon - Amphibolurus gilberti


This was the first of many Blue-winged Kookaburra's that we saw in the Northern Territory.  They seemed to outnumber the Laughing Kookaburra here while in Queensland we saw nothing but the Laughing variety. 


 Blue-winged Kookaburra


After our visit to the botanical gardens we drove around the city a bit, stopping for lunch down town, which I should point out is not all that big of a place.  Darwin is the largest city in the Northern Territory and boasts a population of just over 100,000 people, not small but certainly not like a "big" city one would see in the U.S.  In fact, the entire population of the Northern Territory, as of June 2007, was 215,000 people, that's for the entire state!


We then took off on a road that ran east along the beach and out of town to a place called East Point Reserve in Fannie Bay.  I missed a chance to photograph a large Goanna (monitor lizard) that was crossing the road when some yahoo heading the other direction did his best to try to run it over.  Luckily for the lizard, it was faster than the a-hole that swerved to hit it.  Near the end of the road I got to see my first Frilled Lizard of the trip and a beauty at that!


 Frilled Lizard - Chlamydosaurus kingii


It didn't want too much to do with me and as soon as I got out of the car to try to approach it made a mad dash for the nearest tree (see below) and up the trunk in a hurry!


Frilled Lizard - Chlamydosaurus kingii


Frilled Lizards and relatively common but you only tend to see them during the "wet" season (the season where it rains a lot) which was just starting while we were down there.  We saw a total of 5 of these spectacular lizards over the course of the next few days and while this was not my first Frilled Lizard, it was certainly still quite exciting!  You will see why they are called frilled lizards later in this report if you do not already know, so keep reading on!


Frilled Lizard - Chlamydosaurus kingii


Also found in the area were these very unusual birds called Bush Thick-knees.  They are large, ground birds, also called Bush-Curlews.  This one is sitting on a couple of eggs...


Bush Thick-knee


Also from the East Point Reserve parking lot came this Northern Fantail.


Northern Fantail


It was about 5:00 P.M. when we got back to the hotel.  We were a bit hot and sweaty and had thought it a good idea to at least cool off and take a quick shower so I parked the car and we got back to our room.  We had a balcony on the second floor that overlooked the hotel grounds and the beach and my wife and I for some reason walked out onto the balcony.  About a second before I saw it Lynn gasped "Oh my God" and then I saw it, a medium sized Goanna standing straight up on the lawn at the hotel!  Ya gotta love Australia!  I took a couple of hurried shots with the camera and then grabbed my gear and headed down stairs, through the lobby, passed the pool and to the rear lawn where the Yellow-spotted Monitor was lazily probing the ground with it's extra-long tongue.  It was fine with me as long as I stayed about six feet away from it and I followed it around for about ten minutes taking a ridiculous amount of pictures...


Yellow-spotted Monitor - Varanus panoptes


This particular specimen measured about six feet long from head to tip of tail and was quite striking in the hot, late afternoon sun.  It was quite methodical, obviously looking for food and probably used to people gawking at it.  In some areas monitor lizards become pests because they will forage through garbage and even steal picnickers food if you let them.


Yellow-spotted Monitor - Varanus panoptes


Monitor lizards (Family Varanidae FYI) have very long, snake-like tongues that are used in a similar manner to a snake to sense or taste smells.  They have an organ called the Jacobson's organ in the roof of their mouth that allows them to sense chemicals through airborne particles that collect on their tongue as they flick it just as a snake does.  In essence they are tasting a smell...


Yellow-spotted Monitor - Varanus panoptes


While I was busily photographing this subject, Lynn had taken a short cut down stairs by taking the stairwell that was right next to our room (and I never saw) and as she was going around the building to find me encountered a second, smaller monitor walking right down the side walk!  I ran into her as I had taken just about every angle of picture I knew how to take and we watched as the smaller monitor wandered into an open field that kind of looked like a polo field, very flat and mowed.  About 50 yards away were a pair of Masked Lapwings and a chick.  We watched as the monitor lizard was repeatedly attacked by one Lapwing then the other and as we got a little closer, the Lapwings turned their attention on us!  The monitor took off back to the hotel grounds at high speed while I just about got my head knocked off by a frantic parent that was obviously trying to save his/her child from us!  I tried to get a photograph but got nothing but a blur of yellow and we thought it best not to stress out these protective parents too much and went the same route as the monitor back to the hotel.


Yellow-spotted Monitor - Varanus panoptes


As the sun was starting to set and we were now getting pretty tired and hungry we decided to call it a day as tomorrow was going to be our first outback excursion.  As I was walking back to the hotel entrance this Bar-shouldered Dove begged the last picture of the day.


Bar-shouldered Dove










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