WESTERN AUSTRALIA. 1 Birdquest Detailed Tour Itinerary: Western Australia including Christmas Island. Including Christmas Island

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WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Including Christmas Island

Main Tour Duration: 16 days

Christmas Island Pre-Tour Extension: 5 days Group Size Limit: 12

Tour Category: Easy for the most part, occasionally Moderate

Western Australia is one of a series of classic Birdquests that between them cover every corner of Australia and achieve a level of coverage of its specialities that is unequalled.

Our journey begins in Perth in the state of Western Australia and from there we will go on to explore the verdant southwestern corner of the continent, an area with a splendid variety of endemics, including huge Carnaby’s and Baudin’s Black-Cockatoos, Elegant Parrot, the dazzling Blue-breasted Fairy-wren, Western Bristlebird, Western Whipbird and the famous Noisy Scrub-bird, and some of the finest displays of wildflowers anywhere in the world.

Next, in total contrast, we will visit Broome in northwestern Australia, where the largest concentrations of trans-equatorial migratory waders in the whole of Australia are to be found, with star attractions including Great Knot and Asian Dowitcher. Other likely highlights include the localized Dusky Gerygone and both White-breasted and Mangrove Golden Whistlers.

Moving on from Broome, we will explore the Kununurra region, one of the foremost birding locations in the western half of the continent. As we search for the area’s varied birdlife we shall take a boat trip on Lake Argyle and explore irrigated farmland and dry woodland. Here we shall be seeking such specialities as Oriental Plover, Spinifex Pigeon, Northern Rosella, Sandstone Shrike-thrush, the rare Yellow Chat and Yellow-rumped and Pictorella Mannikins, as well as a host of other fine birds ranging from the stately Brolga to Australian Pratincole.

We will also penetrate deep into the spectacular Kimberley massif, to the remote Mitchell Plateau, in order to look for four special birds that are endemic to northwestern Australia; the sought-after Black Grasswren, White-quilled Rock-Pigeon, the exquisite Purple-crowned Fairy-wren and Kimberley Honeyeater.

During the optional pre-tour extension there will be an exciting opportunity to enjoy a few days on remote Christmas Island, a truly oceanic Australian island with a totally different feel to it. Its rich and well-protected rainforests are home to the entire world

breeding populations of the enigmatic Abbott’s Booby, Christmas Island Frigatebird and the extraordinary Golden Tropicbird, and also hold such endemics as Christmas Island Goshawk, Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon, Christmas Island Hawk-Owl and Christmas Island White-eye, as well as some of the most remarkable crabs on earth. Birdquest has operated tours to Australia since 1985. Itinerary

Day 1 The tour begins in the afternoon at Perth, the capital of Western Australia. From the airport we will head south through tall eucalypt forests and farmland to Narrogin for an overnight stay.

Day 2 We will spend much of the day exploring Dryandra State Forest. Dryandra is an attractive area of white-trunked wandoo gums, sheoaks and dryandra bushes where we can expect to see such specialities as Red-capped Parrot, the lovely little Elegant Parrot, Western Rosella, Rufous Treecreeper, the jewel-like Blue-breasted Fairy-wren and Western Yellow Robin. With persistence we should also flush one or two Painted Button-quails. This is Australia, the smallest

continent or the largest island on earth, depending on how you like to look at it, has been cut off from the rest of the world for more than sixty million years and as a result has evolved a remarkable and unique flora and fauna. The birdlife has followed its own evolutionary path and Australia has more endemic bird species (over 300) than any other country and many bird families which are entirely restricted to it or which do not extend beyond Australasia.

Australia’s immense geographical area means that it is simply impossible to see the great majority of its endemic birds during a single visit of just a few weeks, so it is far more sensible to regard the island continent as a place where one should make two or more visits. Superb, mostly easy, birding combined with good travelling conditions make for an unforgettable experience.

This exciting tour has been specifically designed to concentrate on the many endemic specialties of the western region of Australia.

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also a good area for observing the localized Square-tailed Kite, although we will need a modicum of luck to see this uncommon species either here or elsewhere in the southwest. Other species we are likely to see at Dryandra include the impressive Wedge-tailed Eagle, Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Varied Sittella, Striated Pardalote, Weebill, Inland Thornbill, Red Wattlebird, Yellow-plumed, Brown-headed and Brown Honeyeaters, Western Spinebill, Scarlet and Red-capped Robins, Jacky Winter, Grey Shrike-thrush, the beautiful Common Golden Whistler, Rufous Whistler, Grey Fantail, Restless Flycatcher, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Dusky Woodswallow, Grey Currawong and Australian Raven. Western Grey Kangaroos are common here and if we are fortunate we will come across the rare and endangered Numbat, a most appealing, ground-squirrel-like marsupial. Afterwards we will continue southwards to Stirling Range National Park for a two nights stay. On the way we will be looking out for the lovely Regent Parrot, which favours roadside trees in this area. We will also stop

at a lake where, unusually for this species, the smart Hooded Plover nests far from the sea, while other species likely at this lake or elsewhere on the journey include Hoary-headed Grebe, White-faced Heron, Black Swan, Australian Shelduck, Pacific Black and Maned (or Australian Wood) Ducks, Grey and Chestnut Teals, the strange Musk Duck, Brown Falcon, Nankeen (or Australian) Kestrel, Red-kneed Dotterel, White-headed Stilt, Red-necked Avocet, Silver Gull, Common Bronzewing, Crested Pigeon, Galah and Pallid Cuckoo, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Willie Wagtail, Magpie-lark, Australian Magpie, Grey Butcherbird and Black-faced Woodswallow. Day 3 Stirling Range National Park protects extensive areas of eucalypt woodland and heathland amongst the rugged hills and is a very scenic place. At this time of year winter is ending and a magnificent array of spring flowers turn the entire southern coastal region into a vast wild garden. During our visit we will explore the park itself and also areas of heathland and farmland outside the park. One of the most difficult of Australian birds to see, as opposed to

hear, is the Western Whipbird, but we will be doing our best to set eyes on this mega-skulker. Much easier are the huge Carnaby’s (or Short-billed) and Baudin’s (or Long-billed) Black-Cockatoos (which differ largely on bill shape, reflecting their different diets) and Western Thornbill. Here also we have great stake-outs for the extraordinary Australian Owlet-nightjar and also the fantastic little Honey Possum. With a bit of luck we will also come across the uncommon and nomadic Purple-gaped Honeyeater and the rare Western Shrike-tit. Widespread species we should also encounter in this area include Little Eagle, Banded Lapwing, Brush Bronzewing, Horsfield’s

Bronze-Cuckoo, the huge Laughing Kookaburra, Splendid Fairywren (which lives up to its name), the diminutive Southern Emu-wren, White-browed Scrubwren, Western Gerygone, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, White-naped, New Holland and Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters, Welcome Swallow, Tree Martin, Australasian Pipit and Silvereye.

Day 4 After spending most of the day birding in the interior we will travel to Albany on the south coast of western Australia for a two nights stay. We will stop along the way at a good area for another southwestern speciality, the lovely little Red-winged Fairywren.

Day 5 Founded in 1826, some two and a half years before the Swan River Colony (Perth) was established, Albany is Western Australia’s oldest settlement and the largest town on the south coast. It enjoys a rather Mediterranean-type climate with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Cheyne Beach and Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve lie to the east of Albany and these extensive areas of low, dense coastal heathland and grey granite outcrops, which will

most likely be covered in wildflowers at the time of our visit, are home to two unique but elusive birds: Noisy Scrub-bird and Western BristleScrub-bird. The Noisy Scrub-bird, which belongs to a family of just two species (the even-harder-to-see Rufous Scrub-bird occurring in eastern Australia), is known only from the Albany area and was thought to be extinct until rediscovered here during the latter half of the 20th century. With persistence, we should be rewarded with views of both of these skulking species. Other specialities of the southwest include Little Wattlebird (now a southwestern endemic following the splitting off of the southeastern Australian population as Brush

Wattlebird) and the handsome Red-eared Firetail. Additional species that we should find in the Albany region include Australian Pelican, Little Pied Cormorant, Pacific (or White-necked) Heron, Great Egret, Australian White and

Straw-Carnaby’s or Short-billed Black-Cockatoos (Nik Borrow)

Australian Owlet-Nightjar (Nik Borrow)

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necked Ibises, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Swamp Harrier, Pied and Sooty Oystercatchers, the huge-billed Pacific Gull, Caspian Tern and White-cheeked Honeyeater.

Day 6 After some final birding in the Albany area (one of those secretive specialities may still be teasing us!), we will head west to Pemberton for an overnight stay. En route we will pass through forests of towering Karri trees with white, grey and salmon-tinted trunks and meadows carpeted in spring wildflowers for which southwestern Australia is famous. We will spend some time in the Lake Muir area, where we should easily find Bare-eyed (or Western) Corella, another uncommon southwestern Australian endemic. This evening we will go out in search of Southern Boobook.

Day 7 This morning we will visit a reliable site for our final southwestern endemic, White-breasted Robin, and then we will head westwards to Cape Leeuwin at the

southwestern tip of Australia. The cape is a great spot for seeing the uncommon Rock Parrot. Sea-watching can also be productive, especially if the wind is onshore, and we may well be able to watch Shy, Black-browed and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, Sooty Shearwater, Australasian Gannet and Greater Crested Tern. From Cape Leeuwin we return to Perth for an overnight stay, pausing en route at a coastal saltmarsh where we should find the striking White-fronted Chat.

Day 8 This morning we will visit Lake Monger where we should find the uncommon Blue-billed Duck as well as Australasian Grebe, Great and Little Black Cormorants, Hardhead, Dusky Moorhen, Australasian Swamphen (split from Purple), Eurasian Coot, introduced Spotted and Laughing Doves, Rainbow Lorikeet (also introduced here), Singing Honeyeater, Australian Reed Warbler and Little Grassbird. Later we will take a flight to Broome in northern Western Australia for a two nights stay. This afternoon we will begin our exploration of the Broome area.

Day 9 Broome is a thriving tropical centre and was once the home of the largest pearling-lugger fleet in the world. Broome is ornithologically most famous for its extraordinary concentrations of Palearctic-breeding shorebirds that spend the austral summer here, but an undistinguished little bird has also lured us to this part of the northwestern Australian coast, and that is the endemic Dusky Gerygone. To find our quarry we shall visit the extensive mangrove stands of the Broome area, where additional mangrove specialities include the gorgeous Red-headed Honeyeater, the striking Mangrove Golden and White-breasted Whistlers, Mangrove Fantail and Broad-billed Flycatcher. We shall also spend some time

around the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union’s Bird Observatory on Roebuck Bay, which is an outstanding area for birds. This is a wonderful time of year for migratory waders on the extensive tidal mudflats at Roebuck Bay and huge numbers will be busily feeding on the mudflats. As well as thousands of Great Knot, we should find numerous other shorebirds including Grey (or Black-bellied), Pacific Golden, Mongolian, Greater Sand, Red-capped Plovers, Ruddy Turnstone, Eastern Curlew, Eurasian Whimbrel, Black-tailed Godwit (of the eastern form, sometimes split as Eastern Black-tailed Godwit), Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey-tailed Tattler, Common Greenshank, Red Knot, Red-necked Stint, and Common, Terek, Curlew and Broad-billed Sandpipers. We also have a good chance of spotting some Asian Dowitchers. Other species we should see at Broome, either along the coastline itself or in areas of tropical woodland and dry grassland, include Brown Booby, Little and Pacific (or Eastern) Reef Egrets, Striated Heron, Rufous (or Nankeen) Night Heron, Royal Spoonbill, Plumed Whistling-Duck, Osprey, Black and Brahminy Kites, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Masked Lapwing, Gull-billed, Common, Little and Lesser Crested Terns, Peaceful and Bar-shouldered

Doves, Red-winged Parrot, Tawny Frogmouth, Sacred Kingfisher, the lovely Rainbow Bee-eater, Mangrove Gerygone (rather surprisingly, not often residing in mangroves around Broome!), Little Friarbird, the impressive Great Bowerbird, Pied Butcherbird and Torresian Crow.

Day 10 After some final birding at Broome we will take a short flight eastwards to Kununurra for a three nights stay.

Days 11-12 Situated in the heart of the Ord River irrigation district, the Kununurra region possesses a rich abundance of birdlife and some wonderful specialities. A drive through the agricultural research station fields will provide us with an opportunity to observe a staggering array of birds. Huge numbers of Magpie Geese feed along the edges of the irrigation channels, while Brolgas, large flocks of Little Corellas and Australian Pratincoles feed amongst the stubble fields and flocks of finches infest the seeding grasses. Chestnut-breasted Manikins, and Double-barred, Long-tailed, Masked, Crimson and Star Finches generally make up the flocks, but the localized Yellow-rumped Mannikin can regularly be found amongst them. Out in the dry bush country we have a good

Red-winged Fairy-wren (Nik Borrow)

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chance of finding the rare Pictorella Mannikin, as well as the enormous Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo.

As we take a morning boat trip on Lake Argyle, we will watch Pied Cormorants perching on drowned trees and Comb-crested Jacanas striding across the lily pads. The reed-fringed edges of the lake sometimes harbour Baillon’s and White-browed Crakes, while rocky areas are home to Sandstone Shrike-thrush and Short-eared Rock Wallaby. We will stop to explore a grassy island where we shall be looking out in particular for one of Australia’s rarest birds, Yellow Chat, which is often present in good numbers. The muddy margins of the island often hold Long-toed Stint, and both Wood and Marsh Sandpipers, while the shorter areas of grass are favoured by the elegant and much sought-after Oriental Plover and the equally interesting Little Curlew. Amongst the many other waterbirds we should see at Lake Argyle are Australasian Darter, the handsome Pied Heron, Intermediate Egret, Glossy Ibis, the impressive Black-necked Stork, Wandering Whistling-Duck, Radjah

Shelduck, the lovely Green Pygmy-goose and Whiskered Tern. Lake Argyle is also one of the best localities in Australia to observe the stunningly plumaged Spinifex Pigeon, so we should enjoy great views of these cryptically-coloured, plump little birds which emerge from the spinifex-covered hills to look for scraps of food around camping areas and the like. Additional species likely at Kununurra include Australian Kite (also, rather confusingly, called Black-shouldered Kite), Whistling Kite, the handsomer Spotted Harrier, Collared Sparrowhawk, Black Falcon, Australian Hobby, Bush Thick-knee, Black-fronted Plover, Brush Cuckoo, Pheasant Coucal, the huge Blue-winged Kookaburra, Dollarbird, Red-backed Fairy-wren, Silver-crowned Friarbird, Blue-faced, gaped, Yellow-tinted, White-throated and Rufous-White-throated Honeyeaters, Yellow-throated Miner, Northern Fantail, Paperbark Flycatcher (split from Restless), Grey-crowned Babbler, Olive-backed and Yellow Orioles, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, White-winged Triller, White-breasted Woodswallow and Horsfield’s

Bushlark (split from Singing), Fairy Martin, Golden-headed Cisticola, Zebra Finch and Mistletoebird.

Day 13 We will set off very early today for the long drive deep into the Kimberley, to the remote Mitchell Plateau, for a two nights stay. Travelling through this spectacularly scenic region, one of the wildest and most celebrated upland areas in Australia, is an experience all of its own. We will make a few stops along the way, including one for the very attractive but rare and endangered (through overgrazing by livestock) Purple-crowned Fairy-wren. Day 14 Early this morning we will drive the short distance to the start of the trail to Mitchell Falls. Our target here is the elusive Black Grasswren, which likes to play hide and seek with visiting birders amongst the much-eroded limestone terrain, interspersed with thorny spinifex bushes. We will hope to spot this stunning little bird from the trail, but if not those who are willing can try to penetrate further into this difficult habitat. We have a good chance of seeing this most sought-after of all the grasswrens, but we cannot be sure of success. We will also be looking out for the yellow-faced form of the Partridge Pigeon (restricted to the Kimberley, and a potential split), White-quilled Rock-Pigeon (endemic to northwestern Australia), Variegated Fairy-wren, Kimberley Honeyeater (split from White-lined and another regional endemic), Bar-breasted Honeyeater, Leaden Flycatcher and Silver-backed Butcherbird (split from Grey). Day 15 Today we will return to Kununurra for an overnight stay.

Day 16 After some early morning birding around Kununurra, the tour ends later this morning.

Christmas Island Pre-Tour Extension Itinerary Day 1 The extension will begin this morning at Perth, from where we will take a flight to Christmas Island, an Australian territory situated about 300 km south of the western end of Java and over 2700 km north-northwest of Perth, for a three nights stay. Our hotel is pleasantly situated along the island’s coastline. We may arrive in time for some initial exploration.

Days 2-3 Christmas Island is the emergent summit of an underwater mountain, rising 1180ft (360m) above the Indian Ocean in a series of steep cliffs and wave-cut terraces to a central plateau. It is an isolated oceanic island, where the birds are few but incredibly tame. The island is covered in a dense rainforest where ferns, orchids and vines flourish in the humid atmosphere beneath the canopy of giant trees up to 160ft (50m) high. The superstructure of the island is limestone and millions of years ago phosphate was deposited between the limestone pinnacles resulting in valuable commercial deposits of calcium

phosphate. Mining started in the 1880s and resulted in the felling of about 30% of the rainforest. The exploitation of the phosphate has now almost stopped and almost two thirds of the 52 square miles (135 square kilometres) island is national park. Christmas Island is known worldwide as being the only breeding haunt for two species of seabirds: Abbott’s Booby and Christmas Island Frigatebird. The Abbott’s Booby, the rarest of the nine species of gannets and boobies, used to be more widespread in the Indian Ocean, but is now restricted as a breeding species to Christmas Island and numbers about 3000 pairs. It requires tall rainforest trees for nesting and it certainly is a weird experience to find a truly

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pelagic seabird sitting on its nest 100ft (30m) or more high in the middle of the rainforest! Even more strange is the decidedly prehistoric appearance of Abbott’s Booby, which has a flight silhouette and wing action very unlike that of other boobies. The Christmas Island Frigatebird, which breeds only here but wanders more widely, is the rarest of the five species of frigatebirds and the population numbers about 1600 pairs. They nest in three separate colonies in the northern part of the island. We should be able to witness the impressive courtship with males inflating their scarlet gular pouches and emitting crazy whistles trying to attract seemingly uninterested females. The remarkable Golden Tropicbirds of Christmas Island have a beautiful deep golden hue rather than pure white plumage and are called ‘Golden Bosunbirds’ by the locals. Some people consider this unique endemic form

fulvus (which likely represents

a distinct endemic species, rather than a race or morph of White-tailed Tropicbird)

to be the most attractive seabird in the world. They are marvellously common and often perform their spectacular display flights over the settlement. Smaller numbers of immaculate Red-tailed Tropicbirds breed in the same area. Red-footed Boobies (white phase birds only) perch low in trees and bushes, whilst Brown Boobies prefer the open areas near the shore. Both Boobies are often harassed by Great Frigatebirds trying to steal their fish. A few Lesser Frigatebirds also breed on the island, so this is a great spot to study the very complex plumages of the three species. The only other seabird that breeds on the island is the Brown Noddy. Christmas Island also harbours three endemic landbirds and a number of endemic races of more widespread species. The cooing of the endemic Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon can be heard all over, as this substantial purple-grey bird is still a regular sight in the rainforest. Easily the most commonly encountered bird is the endemic Christmas Island White-eye. Small

flocks of these unobtrusively-coloured birds roam the forest and the gardens. At night we will search for the endemic Christmas Island Boobook (or Christmas Island Hawk-Owl), which is surprisingly common. The widespread Island Thrush is represented here by a beautiful orange-flanked race that, most unusually, occurs at sea level. This form may well represent a distinct species; Christmas Island Thrush. Good numbers of Linchi Swiftlets (split from Glossy) hawk over the forest and Emerald Doves (or Green-winged Pigeons) rummage in the leaf litter. The Nankeen (or Australian) Kestrel colonized the island in the 1940s and is regularly observed hovering over the more open areas, where White-faced Herons can also be encountered, while Christmas Island Goshawks favour forest edges. (The latter is now often treated as a full species rather than being lumped with Variable Goshawk or, more bizarrely, with Brown Goshawk.) Along the shoreline we should find foraging Pacific Reef Egrets and maybe a migrant Eurasian Whimbrel or Ruddy Turnstone. Since the 1980s Eurasian Tree Sparrows have established themselves in the village and small numbers of Java Sparrows (introduced in the first decades of this century) favour chicken coops and fallow ground. White-breasted Waterhens are the most recent colonists on the island. Huge Large Flying Foxes ravage the fruiting trees, but the most famous inhabitants of Christmas Island are the crabs. Incredible numbers of Red Crabs inhabit the forest floor and in the early wet season (later in the year than

we visit) a staggering 120 million of these dinner plate-sized creatures migrate from the plateau to the ocean in preparation for the mating season. Huge blue-coloured Robber Crabs (weighing up to several pounds each) can sometimes be found eating fruits high in palm trees and eleven more species of crab make a living here.

Day 4 After some final birding on Christmas Island we will take an evening flight to Perth, where we will stay overnight.

Day 5 Today we will meet up with those arriving for the main tour. (This is Day 1 of the main tour.)

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/motels are of normal Birdquest standard throughout. Road transport is by minibus or 4x4 vehicles and roads are mostly good (even the dirt roads are mainly well graded).

Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy or moderate, but there will be one or two optional hikes in uneven terrain.

Climate: In the southwest conditions are changeable with periods of warm, dry and sunny weather alternating with cool, overcast and wet spells. In the interior and north most days are warm or hot (sometimes very hot), dry and sunny (although it can get very cool at night in the interior). While overcast conditions are not infrequent, there is only a low probability of rain. It is generally rather humid near the north coast.

Bird Photography: Opportunities are good.

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