Inala Nature Tours
South East Australia Trip Report
8th - 17th November 2022
NOTE: Flooding, road-closures and challenging weather conditions during the 2022 tour meant the itinerary was adapted to match the conditions.
Day 1, 8th November - Melbourne to Geelong
Gathering everyone from their hotels in the morning worked out perfectly as we collected Stefan last, and he happened to mention there was a Tawny Frogmouth just around the corner on a nest! We headed down the river path, with Eastern Rosellas, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Red-rumped Parrots, Little Corella, and all the invasives of the area putting on a good show. There in a large tree over the river in clear view was the Tawny Frogmouth, sitting tightly over the top of a small white ball of fluff.
Heading southwest of the city we visited a Conservation Reserve in search of the currently elusive ducks and shorebirds. Significant rain across the southeast of Australia has caused many waterfowl to move inland. With no ducks to be seen we wandered the wetland with Little Grassbirds, Superb Fairywrens, Eurasian Coots, Australasian Swamphen, Silver Gulls, and Black Swans to keep us busy. As we walked Ed commented on a blue-billed bird on the water…it vanished not to be seen by others. As we rounded the corner though, it was back, two of them, Blue-billed Ducks! There was also Pacific Black Duck and Chestnut Teal. Wandering on Welcome Swallows, European Greenfinch and New Holland Honeyeaters cause some excitement and just before we left a Great Crested Grebe sitting on a nest close to the water’s edge was a very nice way to finish our time here.
A quick stop for lunch before we headed towards a sanctuary, and we were back into our birding. The thunder was incredible, but fortunately the rain held off and we walked the sanctuary and birded in relative comfort. New Holland Honeyeaters and Red Wattlebirds were abundant dominating the flowering trees. Red-rumped Parrots, Purple-crowned Lorikeets, White-plumed Honeyeaters, Welcome Swallows were all about with the Cape Barren Geese and their goslings putting on a fine display. Moving through the park, we saw a number of resident animals, Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Swamp Wallaby, Buff-banded Rail, Blue-faced Honeyeater, some of which we’ll hopefully see in the wild before the trip is over.
Our next stop was the Treatment Plant. Brown Falcon, Masked Lapwing, Little Black Cormorant, Australian Pied Cormorant, and Eurasian Skylark all flew by as we looked for some of the smaller birds in the saltbush. Striated Fieldwren, was a lifer for some, White-browed Scrubwrens, Golden-headed Cisticola, and Brown Quail also lurked in the undergrowth, with all but the quail giving excellent views. A Swamp Harrier, Whistling Kite and Black Kite, flew by giving reasonable views.
Our final stop was down another road within the Treatment Plant area, recent flooding and an excess of water restricting our access to being near the ponds. We pulled up and there right next to us on the saltbush in the sun was a male White-fronted Chat in all its glory. Having enjoyed our view we made our way out, stopping for a beautiful pair of Black-shouldered Kites sitting in a tree on the edge of the road.
Day 2 , 9th November - Geelong to Lorne
A delicious breakfast was prepped and ready for our 6am start, before we headed out 40 minutes to our first stop. Our first Target was Southern Emu-wren, but with lots of bird activity it took us a while to get to them. Sitting at the top of a tree, singing beautifully in full sun was a White-eared Honeyeater, this was followed by a pair of mating Grey Fantails, feeding Welcome Swallows, Maned Ducks, and begging Australian Magpies. Once we got into the reedbeds it didn’t take long to find a semi-confiding Southern Emu-wren. It moved stealthy through the vegetation, best seen as it flew between the large patch of flowers and a close by area with tall grass. Views weren’t great but it was better than nothing. We moved along the trail and as we stopped for Black-fronted Doterells, and Chestnut Teal that view by a male Southern Emu-wren appeared behind us making its way along a small section of heathy shrubs and gave us all good looks as it paused from time to time in the open. As we continued a Painted Buttonquail ran down the path in front of us, in and out of the vegetation, at one point stopping to give a small mating display in the centre of the track! As we waited for it to come back, we had White-naped Honeyeaters within 1.5m, Brown-headed Honeyeaters, Eastern Yellow Robin, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo and Gang-gang make an appearance, some for longer than others Before finishing we checked out a spot for Blue-winged Parrots, which were fortunately sitting in the sun just wanting to be photographed! We spent longer than planned, but the birds just kept coming, but we did need to leave but not before watching a male Gang-gang in a tree.
We headed to the heath, with one major target, Chestnut-rumped Heathwren. The Heathwren was not at all obliging and we didn’t see or hear any we moved back along the heath and were fortunate to spot a Blotched Blue-tongue on the edge of the road. Whilst we were looking at the lizard, a Pied Currawong was foraging in the leaf litter, pulling a tasty morsel before flying directly past us, giving us a look at the features we needed to split it from the local Grey Currawong subspecies which looks extremely similar.
Before lunch we visited the beach in search of Hooded Plovers. With a beautiful sunny day, we unfortunately were not alone in wanting to go to the beach. It was a busy day and there were numerous dogs that makes spotting the shy plovers difficult. We tried both sides of the headland but were unsuccessful on the plover front but had great views of the Rufous Bristlebird which sang its little heart out on a branch, with its partner nearby. The flock of Silvereyes didn’t hurt either.
We stopped in at briefly in a last attempt at the Chestnut Heathwren, which remained evasive, but we had more looks at bristlebirds, emu-wrens, and had a pair of Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo land on the telephone wires and a flyby from a Crimson Rosella. Then we visited a site where we saw a number of Rufous Bristlebirds, but the beautiful calm day, made seabirds difficult to spot. A few distant pairs of Crested Tern and a single Australian Gannet were all we could muster whilst relaxing in the sun.
Wanting a better look at kangaroos than we had in the morning we made our way down the hill to a small dense wetland full of Welcome Swallows but not much else. We were hoping for Latham’s Snipe, but it wasn’t to be on this occasion, so we continued on towards the Eastern Grey Kangaroos which were abundant in the local horse adjustment paddocks. As we were leaving a Grey Currawong crossed the road and landed in a tree nearby, its duskiness and slightly different white/off-white patches letting us know who it was without calling.
After the early start we took a break and relaxed before a quick visit to a pier. The beautiful weather was great for visiting the pier but restricted our ability to see any seabirds over the water. A large group of Crested Terns rested on the rocks, with three types of Cormorant in amongst them. A single juvenile Pacific Gull also stood on the rock, giving us one last bird for the day.
Day 3, 10th November – Lorne to Bendigo
Our pre-breakfast outing started with a beautiful sunrise over the water as we made our way to the river. Arriving on the beach, we were the first people onto the beach and wandering along we searched for the Hooded Plovers. It didn’t take long to find a pair sheltering near some low rocks, standing still as if we couldn’t see them, very cute. We then moved off the beach and into the Eucalypt forest in search of Koalas. Crimson Rosellas, Red Wattlebirds, and Sulphur Crested Cockatoos were common and the Spotted Pardalotes were calling but not seen. We wandered along, working on our warbler neck as we stared into the trees. Looking for lumps in the fork of branches sounds easy, but koalas are remarkably camouflaged for a ball of fluff. It wasn’t to long before we spotted one taking a nap in the breeze, fortunately waking for a scratch as we looked on from the road.
To breakfast, and onwards we made our way to a Picnic area and the temperate rainforest. Crimson Rosellas, King Parrots, and Gang-Gangs were a great introduction to the picnic area on our arrival. Pied Currawong, Striated Thornbill, and Brown Thornbill didn’t take long to spot, and we hadn’t started walking yet. The trail was beautiful, with a hint of rain, and calling Australian Golden Whistlers. Spotted Pardalotes remained elusive, despite calling adamantly. A pair of Eastern Spinebills were zooming through the mid-canopy and gave a good show as we stopped in their territory. Grey Fantails flitted non-stop as we wandered the trail, finishing the loop and saying goodbye to the Crimson Rosellas.
We headed back west-ish towards Brisbane Ranges National Park and our next target, Spotted Quailthrush. A delicious lunch was picked up on the way and we avoided the worst of the rain in a picnic shelter before searching for the Quailthrush. We were fortunate that the rain held off whilst we searched, and it was only a few minutes until we heard the contact call coming from just near the road. We stopped and waited and before long the male popped onto the road and strolled across in front of us. Searching the vegetation on the opposite side of the road for a few minutes before heading back to its calling partner.
Another hour on the road through the rain and we arrived in Bendigo, the rain eased, and we had an hour to spare and headed into a Reservoir. The lack of aquatic birds was apparent, with a single Great-crested Grebe the only water bird seen. Not a problem, the woodland birds were calling and a Pallid Cuckoo was intent on finding a friend, calling loudly from a tall Eucalypt. Purple-crowned Lorikeets, Rainbow Lorikeets, Welcome Swallows, Red Wattlebirds, and Magpie-larks flew by as we made our way into the woodlands. A pair of Weebills greeted us, and despite calling were predominantly seen in silhouette flitting between trees above us. Superb Fairywrens, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, and a lone Dusky Woodswallow were all present as the mosquitos swarmed and the wind blew.
A rest before dinner but the birding wasn’t over, and we all learnt that you should always carry your binoculars, as walking to dinner a number of Musk Lorikeets and a Blue-faced Honeyeater were feeding on the prolific flowers in the supermarket car park. This time we were lucky they were so close and didn’t need our binoculars
Day 4, 11th November - Bendigo to Echuca
A more leisurely start today, with a 7am breakfast before heading out to Kamarooka and Greater Bendigo National Park. It was as if the Honeyeaters were prepared for us today, they were pretty obliging and for the most part sat out in the open, White-fronted, White-eared, Purple-gaped, and more White-eared were seen as we moved along the road. Although remaining hidden there were at least eight individual Shy Heathwrens heard calling along the first 200m of track and it was about 200m from the car we saw our first. This bird was not at all shy and put on a good show, moving through the edge of the vegetation, even stopping in the open for short periods. As we moved towards the dams, the small birds kicked into action with Superb Fairy-wren, Buff-rumped Thornbill, Weebill, and Spotted Pardalote all dropping in to say hello. Not every bird was friendly, the Common Bronzewing, Grey Currawong, and Rainbow Bee-eaters called, and two of the three were seen as they disappeared.
Next stop and the birds were quite different to those seen up to this point. Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater and Diamond Firetail were the first birds seen and as we looked at them the mosquitoes made a meal of us, to the point of uncomfortability We moved up the road and fortunately the mosquitoes disappeared but the birds remained. Singing Honeyeater, Rainbow Bee-eater, Mistletoebird, Wedge-tailed Eagle, and Brown Falcon were seen well, but Gilbert’s Whistler called from the vegetation unwilling to show itself. We began our search for the Painted Honeyeater and as we searched both Southern Whiteface and White-browed Babbler were seen foraging, preening, and being their active selves. It was then we heard it, the Painted Honeyeater. It was distant and coming from two different directions but they were present. We waited and listened and had average views as the birds flew by. We waited and looked in hope but they had gone quiet but had not left us. One bird flew into a dead tree and gave us good looks at its clean coloration in the sunlight.
After a great start to the day, the afternoon became long. We headed in search of Banded Stilts and Red-necked Avocets, targets for everyone. An hour and a half later we arrived and the road was closed 3km from our destination. We tried the opposite side of the lake and saw an Australian Shelduck, Caspian Tern, Grey Teal, and some Pacific Black Ducks, but did not find our targets. So we headed for our accommodation…but in the past 30 minutes the highway had been closed. We tried a slightly longer route, only to be greeted by a ‘Road Closed Ahead’ sign. We took our chances and a few back roads and made it pretty close to our accommodation when we found both a Shingleback and Yellow-billed Spoonbill. It was a longer day of driving than hoped for but worth it all in the end!
Day 5, 12th November - Echuca to Deniliquin
Heading out in the morning, we were met with floodwaters and closed roads. This made things a bit of a challenge as most of the woodland around town that is good for birding was underwater. We headed north to visit a bird hide within the Barmah Forest. The area was also underwater but we could walk along the roadside and look through the forest. Fortunately many birds were close to the edge and many in the shrubs along what little dry land there was. White-winged Chough were everywhere and the skies were full of birds, Little Friarbird, Noisy Friarbird (nesting), Rainbow Bee-eater, Galah, Great Egret (finally an egret), Rufous Whistler, Grey Teal, Sacred Kingfisher. The shrubs also had Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Superb Fairywrens, and Red-browed Finch, with Brown and White-throated Treecreepers on the trees.
We walked the flooded area, sticking to the pathway, which was covered in Eastern Water Skinks, and were joined by (Eastern) Crested Shrike-tit which gave us views from below. The bird hide itself provided good cover, but there wasn’t much to hide from. A distant Musk Duck and Purple Swamphen were the only birds on the water, Straw-necked Ibis, Australian White Ibis, and Nankeen Night-heron were flying about high above the water. The second story of the bird hide was inhabited by a Tiger Snake which cause a little excitement but it didn’t stick around long or cause us any problems. As we left a Restless Flycatcher did a flyby but the White-plumed Honeyeaters didn’t allow it to stick around.
We made a quick stop in Gulpa, and saw a Western Gerygone, another flooded road, and as we went to leave five Superb Parrots raced through giving little more than flashes of green. It was time for a break with a long evening ahead, after a relaxing lunch.
In the afternoon Phil Maher met us and we headed out to his rehabilitation paddocks which he’s spent twenty years replanting. An Australian Owlet Nightjar was waiting for us with its head poking out of a nesting hollow. Singing and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters were buzzing around as were Horsfield Bronze Cuckoo and Rufous Songlark.
We worked our way slowly along the Hay Plain. Emu, White-winged Fairywren, Purple-backed Fairywren, Plumed-whistling Duck, Black Kite, Red-rumped Parrot, Zebra Finch, Black-tailed Nativehen, and Hardhead were just some of the birds we saw within the now very wet wetlands. The highlight for most though was a pair of Australian Crake which we saw walking along the edge of the wetland.
Heading out to our final destination we stopped for Brown Songlark and then we saw an Australian Boobook before dinner. Moving out towards the paddocks we spotted a number of Eastern Barn Owl before reaching the point where we would start our walk. The ground was firm, dry, and flat which was great…the lightning in the distance wasn’t. we knew a big storm was coming and our time was limited, so we hit up the paddocks and searched for the Plains Wanderer. Common Spadefoots were above the ground, having come up with recent rains from their burrows, a small and cute Fat-tailed Dunnart attempted to hide in the grass but was not match for the thermal scope. Australian Pipits popped up left and right but the Plains Wanderer was elusive. Phil spotted our quarry and everyone was surprised at the small size of the bird, how well it hid and how difficult to spot they were. We watched a female, the male which we hadn’t spotted flushed 10m away and the female called for his return. We watched as he eventually made his way back towards her and made our way back to the car before the downpour. As we walked a Stubble Quail was found in the long grass, and we had great views of this healthy looking male. A Giant Banjo Frog and another Eastern Barn Owl on the drive home were a nice little ending to the night, but more importantly we got to our rooms five minutes before the rain began!
Day 6, 13th November – Deniliquin
With an 11:30 finish we had a slower start to the day today and made our way just south of Deniliquin to try for better looks at Superb Parrots. Straight out of the car there was an Emu, Western Grey Kangaroos, Pied Butcherbirds as we slipped our way down the dirt track. Brown Treecreepers, Striated Pardalotes, Peaceful Doves, Crimson Rosellas, and Sulphur-crested cockatoos were we loud and active. A Yellow-rumped Thornbill was feeding it’s chick, with a Yellow Thornbill, and Chestnut-rumped Thornbill nearby added some tiny birds to our list before we flushed a buttonquail from the long grass. Following it along it came up again and we confirmed Red-chested Buttonquail, the buffish undertail coverts which ruled out the other local option of Little Buttonquail. White-winged Chough and Galah were everywhere and just before leaving a pair of Jacky Winter were foraging in the grass and perching nicely in the open.
A quick look at a local park area and assessment of the flooding and we were able to see a Sacred Kingfisher, it even stayed long enough for Ed to get a photo! A skulky Australian Reed-warbler hid ins a grass but did a quick flyby allowing us views as it popped in and out of the reedbed. After which we drove some back roads to continue our search for Superb Parrot and we found three. They flushed from the edge of the road and flew around but didn’t stick nearby. They flew about 200m away but fortunately returned to near the road about 100m from us. As we approached they remained hidden and flew out as another vehicle past us. We watched them fly very nicely by, followed by another three flying by and disappearing from view. The roads we were on were closed due to being underwater so we made our way back to town for lunch.
A rainy afternoon wasn’t motivating for getting out but we tried and had an hour walk east of town. The birds were very quite, the mosquitoes were not. Yellow and Chestnut-rumped Thornbills were probably were the highlights, along with a White-winged Chough nest.
Day 7, 14th November – Deniliquin to Benalla
Having been extremely successful in the Deniliquin area we spent the early morning driving towards Mt Pilot-Chiltern National Park. Continuing the theme from the last few days there we road closures and repeated changes in direction as we tried to get to our destination. Road closures, flooding, and tree fall limited our options but we made it! The ground was soaked, but the sun was coming and going as we attempted to bird. An Australasian Grebe and Fuscous Honeyeater were our first birds for the day, the grebe was beautiful as ever but the honeyeater left some a little confused at the overall drabness it showed. In its defence it was silhouetted. We began to move uphill to avoid the flowing water but somehow that was worse. We moved along Blakey’s Track and it was quiet. White-throated Gerygone was one of the few calling birds but we couldn’t see it. It kept its distance and there was water everywhere. Striated Thornbill and a lone White-winged Chough were more obliging but as the wind picked up birds were few and far between. A major highlight (at least for Angus) was a dark morph White-bellied Cuckooshrike! A rare morph that he hadn’t seen in 14 years of birding.
With bird numbers low we moved down the road, flushing a Common Bronzewing from the road verge on the way. Stop two within the park wasn’t much more successful but we saw more Fuscous Honeyeaters, Superb Fairywrens and a flock of 50 Australian Ravens. They may have contributed to the lack of other birds present.
A delicious lunch was had at the local cellar door, and a food coma would have ensued had we not had more walking to do. Back in the park we tried another track, but the wind and rain was a bit more forthcoming and this restricted our time. Whilst we were walking we saw a male Olive-backed Oriole, Grey Fantail, Willie Wagtail, and a Short-beaked Echidna! The little ball of spikes was spotted by Vance and Mary-jane about 200m away and fortunately hadn’t walked to far from where it was spotted when we got there.
During the later afternoon the rain picked up and came and went but got heavy just as we needed it to ease. We called it a day a little early and headed to our accommodation in Benalla, with hopes of better weather tomorrow morning.
Day 8, 15th November – Benalla to Healesville
It was a nice morning and we headed slightly north in search of Turquoise Parrots. Not far into our drive we made an emergency stop for a juvenile Eastern Ringtail Possum that was caught on a barbed wire fence. With help from Ed we were able to get it off an to a vet clinic. Then it was back to parrots. As we wandered a back road it didn’t take long to get onto the Turquoise Parrot sitting up in a tree. Red-rumped Parrots were also present, along with Restless Flycatchers, Dusky Woodswallows, Jacky Winters, and a single Brown Falcon. The wind began to pick up and the temperatures dropped, so with rain imminent we headed for lunch.
We stopped in at Winton Wetlands on the way, but continuing with a theme of the tour, there was no water birds to be seen. The entire wetland was well above the usual water level, making it unsuitable for bird life. So we continued on, as we drove south we made another animal stop, this time to pull an Eastern Long-necked Turtle off the road.
Getting very close to the wet forest we had another stop on the roadside, this time to help a Koala with it’s baby on its back across the road. It almost made it a few times and did eventually crossed both lanes whilst we blocked traffic. Thanks everyone! It’s not often you see Koalas with young or up close on the road, so this was quite exciting!
To end the day took a short walk through the wet sclerophyll forest provided the opportunity for a few new birds and some close up looks at the red Crimson Rosellas. Silvereyes, Eastern Yellow Robin, and Brown Thornbill were spotted in low vegetation, while Striated Thornbills stayed way up in the canopy. Moving through we came across a female Scarlet Robin, feeding along the track, and before we knew a Swamp Wallaby was just opposite us across the weird overflow. Then in it jumped, across it swam, climbed up, looked as us and then bounded away. Whist discussing this a small mixed flock appeared with Grey Fantail, Rufous Fantail, Silvereye, and Brown Thornbill. A nice way to end out the day….just before the rain began to sprinkle.
Day 9, 16th November – Healesville
It was a bit brisk in the morning as we jumped in the car and headed for Toolangi. Cold enough that when we arrived and began walking we quickly decided this wasn’t a good idea, it was too cold for us and the birds weren’t singing. We jumped back in the car and went for a drive around the forest in search of Superb Lyrebirds. A number of birds were glimpsed fleetingly as we followed the road up the hill. Unfortunately, none stuck around to be viewed well. As we moved up the hill we noted little patches of snow and stopped for a photo, not knowing that just a little further up everything was covered in snow! We took some photos and then headed back down the hill spotting some Flame Robins as we went.
Attempting the walk again, we had warmed a little and the sun had started to appear like it might provide some warmth (it didn’t). A Lewin’s Honeyeater called as we began, and Vance was straight onto the call. We tried for a pilotbird that we heard calling up the track but before long the rain had kicked in again, so after spotting a Golden Whistler we moved back below the canopy of the wet forest. We wandered the board walk and as we reached the end, we heard a Rose Robin and had somewhat limited views as the bird remain high in the canopy, not coming out to be seen well. Shortly after this as we wandered back up the board walk there was a flutter of activity with Eastern Whipbird, Olive Whistler, and Pink Robin all appearing at about the same time. The Olive Whistler was carrying food and was seen well, the pink robin stayed high but was seen quite well.
We drove the road again, but the Lyrebirds remained shy, quickly running out of view. As the rain, hail, sleet, and snow fell we went for coffee. After defrosting we made a quick stop at the Maroondah Reservoir, the overflow of the dam wall made for an impressive sight, but the rain again fell limiting our comfort. We stood under a rotunda as we waited for the rain to ease, and watched Noisy Miner, Grey Butcherbird, Australian Raven, Magpie-lark, and Australian Magpies forage in the grass.
Post lunch we headed to Mt Donna Buang, again avoiding road closures, and the weather was seeming nice but as we got higher up the mountains the sleet really kicked in with the rain and our outing was restricted. Super Lyrebirds again gave fleeting glimpses but nothing fantastic, and the poor weather meant we needed to head back down the hill. A quick toilet stop put us in proximity of a few calling lyrebirds, but none wanted to come out from the forest in our presence. As we waited a Pink Robin flew in and landed above us, giving us much better views than this morning.
We returned to our accommodation and decided the weather was against us but may give us a chance at some nocturnal birds tonight. After dinner the rain had stopped and we went out to search for Greater Sooty Owl. As we walked our path for the evening we quickly spotted a number of Greater Gliders, a Common Brushtail Possum, and then we heard from high in the canopy a Greater Sooty Owl giving its chitter call! It took a few minutes to spot but we found it sitting high up on a branch, staring down at us. Walking back to the car we spotted quite a few more Greater Gliders and an Eastern Ringtail Possum above the gate as we left through the gate.
Day 10, 17th November – Healesville to Melbourne
We woke and it wasn’t raining! Our final morning was spent back at a Rainforest Walk. Australian Golden Whistlers were vocal, and in general it was warmer and birdier than the day before. Pink and Rose Robins were calling from the rainforest and a Fan-tailed Cuckoo was calling loudly from the Eucalypt forest. We tried and tried for Pilotbird and it was calling from close to the track, but remained within the undergrowth, avoiding detection, skulking away before being seen. White-browed Scrubwrens were more active and foraged around us as we walked the boardwalk. To finish we drove back to where it had snowed yesterday but there was no evidence of the snow at all. There was however a pair of juvenile Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos. Returning down the hill we finally managed to see a Super Lyrebird sitting on the edge of the road, pausing and waiting before crossing the road in front of us and disappearing into the undergrowth giving us all ample time to see it move in front of the vehicle. From here it was back to the city and onto our own adventures, boats, hotels, and planes!
I’d like to thank you all for a wonderful trip, and for your tolerance and acceptance of the conditions we faced. The excessive rainfall the past weeks added some challenges to the trip and meant we couldn’t get everywhere we had planned, missed the shorebirds, and many water birds but we had a great trip and got a great diversity of birds along the way. I hope you all have some happy memories and were able to see enough birds to make you happy (my highlight was the dark morph White-bellied Cuckooshrike). I look forward to birding with you again at some stage in the future!
Guide: Angus McNab
Trip report & Images: Angus McNab