A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

New Guinea & Australia 2023

September 23-October 11, 2023 with Jay VanderGaast guiding

Field Guides Birding Tours
It was wonderful to see a spectacular male Brown Sicklebill back at the Kumul Lodge feeders after a hiatus of several years! Participant Pete Peterman caught this male on one of his forays to the feeding table.

Despite their proximity, Australia and Papua New Guinea are worlds apart, not just culturally, but also from a birding perspective. Australia is filled with brash, bold, in your face (sometimes quite literally!) kind of birds--cockatoos, kookaburras, currawongs, etc. Even a visitor with zero interest in birds can't help but be impressed with the number and variety of birds; you'd literally have to be blind and deaf to not notice the abundance here. Meanwhile birds in PNG tend to be much more shy and reserved, and outside of certain areas, it can sometimes seem like there are no birds at all. But both countries have some amazing treasures to find, and this tour gave us a wonderful taste of the unique and varied birdlife here.

Starting off around Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands, we were introduced to a number of iconic, familiar Australian birds--Willie-Wagtails, Magpie-Larks, Laughing Kookaburra, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Rainbow Lorikeets, and plenty of honeyeaters. Among all these common species, we searched out and found a bunch of other, less common specialties--the huge Southern Cassowary at Etty Bay, Emu and Australian Bustard near Mareeba, Double-eyed Fig-Parrot and the lovely Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove along the Esplanade, Squatter Pigeon at Granite Gorge, White-browed Robin at Davies Creek, and Tooth-billed Bowerbird, Victoria's Riflebird (our first BoP!) Pied Monarch, Gray-headed Robin, and other highland endemics at scattered rainforest locales around the tablelands. We also found time to track down some of the many unique mammals that Australia is famous for, among them the singular Platypus, which we saw amazingly well at 2 different sites, a mob of Eastern Gray Kangaroos at Mareeba, Lumholtz's Tree-Kangaroo, and even the endangered Yellow-bellied Glider, a first time sighting for a Field Guides tour!

With a successful start to the trip, we took a short flight across the Coral Sea to the very different world of PNG. Our first couple of days were focused mainly on birding at Varirata NP, one of my favorite PNG birding locales. As always, there was plenty to see here, with fantastic Raggiana BoPs, at their lek, Purple-tailed Imperial-Pigeon, Beautiful Fruit-Dove, great looks at a shy Forest Bittern, Papuan Frogmouth adult and chick on a nest, Brown-headed Paradise-Kingfisher, Hooded Pitohui, amazing views of Crinkle-collared Manucode at its nest, and White-faced Robins being just some of the many highlights here. A visit to the lovely grounds at PAU gave us a nice selection of waterbirds, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird (with a nicely decorated bower) and an unexpected pair of Common Paradise-Kingfishers!

The rest of our time was spent in the highlands at the charming Kumul Lodge, where the feeders as always, were a treat, giving us not only the expected Ribbon-tailed Astrapia and Brown Sicklebill, but with surprise visits from a Stella's (formerly Papuan) Lorikeet! Elsewhere in the area we saw superb male Lesser BoP and Magnificent BoP at Kama, a gorgeous male Blue BoP at Tonga (just before the rain ended our morning there), and a bunch of great birds at Murmur Pass, including incredible displaying male King-of-Saxony BoP, Stephanie's Astrapia, the very unique Wattled Ploughbill and Blue-capped Ifrita, the often difficult Lesser Melampitta, Tit Berrypecker, Plum-faced Lorikeet, Loria's Satinbird, and Blue-faced Parrotfinch, among a bunch of other great birds. And I have to mention the fantastic visit to John's waterfall at Walya village, not just a stunningly beautiful site, but also home to a pair of usually shy and difficultTorrent-Larks, which gave the best looks I've ever had!

After a delay in getting back to Australia, thanks to Air Niugini, we got things back on track in Brisbane, where a visit to the Port of Brisbane gave us Black Swan, Chestnut Teal, lovely Red-necked Avocets, and a bunch of other waterbirds. Then up to O'Reilly's for the usual plethora of very habituated birds. Satin and Regent Bowerbirds, a gorgeous Noisy Pitta, Green Catbird, Australian Logrunner, Rose Robin, and a wonderful encounter with Albert's Lyrebird were some of the more memorable sightings here, then all too soon, we were headed down to Sydney for the finale at Royal NP. A superb morning at the park gave us a bunch of new species, including the largest songbird in the world--Superb Lyrebird. Striking New Holland Honeyeaters, lots of goofy-looking Topknot Pigeons, huge Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos, Beautiful Firetail, an unexpected Varied Sittella, and a smashing male Southern Emuwren brought the trip to a successful conclusion.

This tour was so close to not going, so I was ecstatic that we were able to make it work, so thanks to all for signing up and accompanying me on this jaunt through these two incredible countries. It was so much fun traveling with you all, and I hope to see you all again very soon! Thanks, too, to our various local guides, especially Clayton in Cairns, Leonard in Port Moresby, and John at Kumul, for the parts they played in making this such an awesome adventure!


One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant

Casuariidae (Cassowaries and Emu)

SOUTHERN CASSOWARY (Casuarius casuarius) [E]

The last time I went to Etty Bay to look for cassowary, we had a lengthy wait before a bird finally turned up. Not so this time! We made a visit to the toilets immediately after we'd arrived, and before everyone was back out, a large adult cassowary had wandered out of the forest and proceeded to saunter through the very busy camping area, checking each camper and cabin for any morsels of food left out. It was mainly quite calm, though at one point, it suddenly bolted behind a cabin, seemingly in response to a sudden loud noise from a nearby garbage truck. They can really move when they want! Both Julia and Panos put this at the top of their lists of favorite Australian birds.

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If you think this female Australian King-Parrot is a beautiful bird (and it is), you really need to see the male! Photo by participant Pete Peterman.

EMU (Dromaius novaehollandiae) [E]

We really only have one reasonable chance for this widespread species on the tour route, and I was pleased to find that there were still a couple of birds around along the road to the former Mareeba Wetlands Reserve. Only one was present on the day we visited, but that was all we needed!

Anseranatidae (Magpie Goose)

MAGPIE GOOSE (Anseranas semipalmata) [E]

Big numbers of these odd geese were seen daily in the Cairns region. Especially numerous at Hasties Swamp, where I estimated around 3000 of them (other estimates on Ebird from the same time period ranged anywhere from 2000-8000). Our only record away from the Cairns region was some 300 birds at Swan Lake in the Port of Brisbane wetlands, a surprise as I'd only seen them here once before, and then only 4 birds!

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)

PLUMED WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna eytoni) [E]

Seen only at Hasties Swamp, though they were probably the most numerous species of waterfowl there, along with Magpie Goose. I estimated roughly 3000 of both species here.

WANDERING WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna arcuata)

Probably about 30 of these ducks were playing "Where's Waldo" among the throngs of Plumed Whistling-Ducks at Hasties Swamp. Far easier to pick out at PAU, though there just 5 of them there.

BLACK SWAN (Cygnus atratus) [E]

A lone bird on a farm pond along the road between Granite Gorge and Tolga was a nice find, as I don't see them often in that region. I was actually expecting to see big numbers later in the trip at Swan Lake, but was surprised to find just a pair there. A far cry from the 97 that I'd seen on one of my previous visits!

RADJAH SHELDUCK (Radjah radjah)

These handsome ducks were only seen at PAU, where we found about 18 birds near the quieter pond away from the main landscaped part of the campus.

GREEN PYGMY-GOOSE (Nettapus pulchellus) [E]

Cattana Wetlands remains a great place to find these lovely little geese, and we picked out 5 birds on the lily-covered ponds there, our only ones for the trip.

MANED DUCK (Chenonetta jubata) [E]

We only started seeing these in the Brisbane area, when Cheryl picked one out as it grazed on the island on Swan Lake amidst the hordes of other birds. We also saw plenty on the drives to and from O'Reilly's (including in Fred Bucholz Park), and a bunch of habituated ones along the Hacking River at Royal NP.

PACIFIC BLACK DUCK (Anas superciliosa)

The Mallard of Australasia, with some at pretty much any waterhole that had some ducks present, including a bunch at the ponds on PAU.

GRAY TEAL (Anas gracilis)

Only seen at a handful of sites, but quite common where we saw them. Biggest numbers were an estimated 250+ at Swan Lake, but also notable was a count of 38 at PAU, which appears to be the most ever noted at this site.

CHESTNUT TEAL (Anas castanea) [E]

We saw these gorgeous teals only at the Port of Brisbane wetlands, but there were quite a few of them there, with an estimated 50 birds each on Swan Lake and at the shorebird roost.

HARDHEAD (Aythya australis) [E]

About 25-30 at Hasties Swamp and 10 birds at Swan Lake. The evocative name apparently can be traced back to shooters in the late 1800's, who found that these ducks were particularly difficult to kill.

Megapodiidae (Megapodes)


A widespread bird of the east coast of Australia, regularly encountered throughout the Aussie portion of the trip.

YELLOW-LEGGED BRUSHTURKEY (Talegalla fuscirostris) [E*]

A relatively bold bird had been seen near the long-used mound at Varirata, and when a photographer showed up at the picnic area with video of it from just a few minutes earlier, we hurried down to try. Too bad for us, the bird had already moved back into the forest, out of sight, and though it called loudly once, we never did see it. But all was not lost, as we did end up getting the Forest Bittern as a result!

ORANGE-FOOTED SCRUBFOWL (Megapodius reinwardt)

Common in the Cairns region, where they can be pretty bold. We saw our first few at Cattana Wetlands.

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

AUSTRALASIAN GREBE (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae)

Mainly in singles, with two notable exceptions: at least 30-40 birds were at Hasties Swamp, all of them in non-breeding plumage, and Swan Lake held another 20-30 birds, with a few in lovely breeding plumage.

GREAT CRESTED GREBE (Podiceps cristatus australis)

Lake Barrine is usually a good place for a few of these widespread grebes, and is also the only place we usually see them on this trip. Our first scan of the lake came up empty, but a second sweep finally located some, though there were only 6 birds that we could see.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

In cities and a few large towns in Australia, with none in PNG, where we rarely see them.

WHITE-HEADED PIGEON (Columba leucomela) [E]

Though we usually do find this large pigeon, we rarely see more than a handful. This year's handful came on our final morning at O'Reilly's when we saw a bird fly in to a a treetop perch across the road from the main entrance, where it sat for some excellent scope studies. A couple of fly-bys later that morning were the only others, though we just missed seeing a couple at Royal NP. Our local guide, Steve had just seen 2 before we arrived, apparently his first in the park in about 15 years!

SPOTTED DOVE (Streptopelia chinensis) [I]

One or two along the Esplanade in Cairns were our only ones, though there were almost certainly some seen during the bus ride down to Royal NP as well.

BROWN CUCKOO-DOVE (Macropygia phasianella) [E]

Seen pretty regularly in Australia's eastern rainforests. Exceptional views early in the morning at Chambers where at least half a dozen birds showed up to feed in fruiting trees in the parking area.

AMBOYNA CUCKOO-DOVE (Macropygia amboinensis) [E]

Formerly treated conspecific with the above species, but now considered as a good species on its own. This is the commonest of the cuckoo-doves in PNG, and this trip, the only one we found. We had a couple on our day at Varirata, then saw a few more at the Kama Lesser BoP site and at the Lai River Bridge.

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Owlet-nightjars can be tricky birds to find, but thanks to our local guide, Leonard, we had amazing views of this one in its day roost at Varirata NP! Photo by participant Pete Peterman.

PACIFIC EMERALD DOVE (Chalcophaps longirostris longirostris)

Our driver, Clayton, pointed out the first of these beautiful little doves as it walked across the parking lot at the Malanda Lodge as we were about to leave. We saw a few others along the entrance road to Chambers, also as we left the lodge in the early morning.

CRESTED PIGEON (Ocyphaps lophotes) [E]

One of the most common, numerous, and familiar of Australia's many pigeon species, these handsome birds were first noted around the Mareeba area, with many more seen around Brisbane and Sydney, often along the roads as we traveled between lodgings and birding sites.

SQUATTER PIGEON (Geophaps scripta) [E]

A rather shy terrestrial pigeon, though the birds at Granite Gorge have become very habituated, and, as usual, our only ones were seen around the camp there. At one point, we spotted a Black Whipsnake slowly slithering across the parking area, and the pigeons did, too, and a little group of them converged on the snake and followed it along until it was back under cover, approaching within a foot or two of the snake, though without any noisy fussing or pecking at it. It looked just like they were escorting it off the property!

WONGA PIGEON (Leucosarcia melanoleuca) [E]

Several of these strikingly beautiful pigeons were well seen at O'Reilly's, while we also heard a couple calling incessantly and monotonously from along the Lady Carrington Track at Royal NP.

PEACEFUL DOVE (Geopelia placida) [E]

Seen daily in the Cairns region, with a few birds also at PAU, but we had no other sightings on our return to Australia though this species occurs throughout the areas visited.

BAR-SHOULDERED DOVE (Geopelia humeralis) [E]

A bit less numerous than the Peaceful Dove, but we still saw a few of these each day in the Cairns region.

WOMPOO FRUIT-DOVE (Ptilinopus magnificus)

This large, gaudy fruit-dove gave us a couple of memorable sightings, first during our late afternoon platypus vigil near Yungaburra, then again the next morning at Chambers, where we had three birds feeding in a fruiting tree right over the parking area. We also had a heard-only bird in PNG, at Varirata NP.

PINK-SPOTTED FRUIT-DOVE (Ptilinopus perlatus) [E]

Generally the most common and conspicuous of the several possible species of fruit-doves at Varirata NP, and we had great looks at several that were feeding in a fruiting tree in the picnic area.

SUPERB FRUIT-DOVE (Ptilinopus superbus)

Good scope views of a female sitting quietly (and for a long time) in the fruiting tree at Varirata. Later we saw a couple more nearby, but we were only able to confirm that one was a female before they both took off.

ROSE-CROWNED FRUIT-DOVE (Ptilinopus regina) [E]

Nice spotting by Cheryl to pick out our first one, a handsome male, in a fruiting fig tree along the Cairns Esplanade on our first morning. A second male put on an even better show later that morning, perching in full view on the edge of the mangroves for some long, satisfying, scope views. Our final sighting was of a dull, juvenile bird at Machan's Beach a couple of days later.

BEAUTIFUL FRUIT-DOVE (Ptilinopus pulchellus) [E]

Fantastic views of a single bird on our first outing to Varirata, then a pair the following day, as they fed in the large fruiting tree in the picnic area.

WHITE-BREASTED FRUIT-DOVE (Ptilinopus rivoli) [E*]

Several birds were very vocal at the Murmur Pass clearing, and we even heard the wing clap of one as it did a display flight nearby, but they all stayed just out of our sights.

ORANGE-BELLIED FRUIT-DOVE (Ptilinopus iozonus) [E]

A couple of pairs were hanging out with the other fruit-doves at the fruiting tree in the Varirata NP picnic area.


A pair of these large, colorful pigeons joined the fruit-doves for a quick meal in the Varirata NP fruiting tree, giving us some great views in the process.

ZOE'S IMPERIAL-PIGEON (Ducula zoeae) [E]

Usually the most often encountered imperial-pigeon at Varirata, though it looked like we were going to miss it, until we heard one calling as we birded the track along the creek. Leonard went into tracking mode, and finally managed to spot it teed up in a large Casuarina tree, where we got some good scope views of it.


You would need to be blind or oblivious to miss these ethereal pigeons in Cairns, as they are abundant and pretty much everywhere. Hard to believe I saw none on my very first visit to Cairns, but these birds migrate to PNG for the Austral winter. PNG also has a resident population, and we saw a pair of these birds at PAU.

TOPKNOT PIGEON (Lopholaimus antarcticus) [E]

After the above species, this was the second most numerous pigeon of the trip. We saw our first birds during breakfast at the Gillies Roadhouse one morning, then saw several large flocks in various parts of the tablelands. A few more were seen at O'Reilly's, but our best views were along the Lady Carrington Drive at Royal NP, where good numbers of them were feeding on the abundant palm fruits, with several birds perching nicely for excellent scope views.

PAPUAN MOUNTAIN-PIGEON (Gymnophaps albertisii)

Though this can be a pretty numerous species in the PNG highlands, we saw just 2 birds on our first afternoon at Kumul. The first was teed up in some dead branches, allowing us a good scope view, the second was merely a flyover.

Otididae (Bustards)

AUSTRALIAN BUSTARD (Ardeotis australis) [E]

I'd located a pair of these large birds on my day of scouting prior to the tour, and we went in search of them (along with Emus, etc) along the road into the Mareeba Wetlands. The time of day wasn't ideal, as it was mid-day and hot, but I managed to spot the head of one bird protruding from the roughly meter-tall sugarcane, and eventually managed to get everyone on it. Perhaps not the most ideal sighting, but certainly countable.

Cuculidae (Cuckoos)

PHEASANT COUCAL (Centropus phasianinus)

A few individuals were scattered around the Cairns regions, some heard only, others seen as they darted across the road ahead of the van and vanished into the tall grasses. But we did get a couple of good sightings, with one bird along Springvale Road near the Wondecla State Forest showing beautifully as it slunk along a side track and under the gate as we watched from our mobile hide (ie the van).

PACIFIC KOEL (AUSTRALIAN) (Eudynamys orientalis cyanocephalus)

Our lone sighting was of a male spotted drinking from a puddle in the middle of the Machan's Beach Road when we made a pit stop at the rest rooms.

CHANNEL-BILLED CUCKOO (Scythrops novaehollandiae)

A breeding visitor to Australia from wintering areas in PNG and Indonesia, these huge cuckoos parasitize several large Passerines, including crows, Australian Magpies, and currawongs. Many of ours were flyovers, such as at Cattana Wetlands and the Mareeba Golf Course, but we did have an excellent look at a perched bird at Granite Gorge.

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Of the nearly 40 species of honeyeaters we encountered on this tour, the White-cheeked Honeyeater was easily among the most distinctive and beautiful. Photo by guide Jay VanderGaast.

RUFOUS-THROATED BRONZE-CUCKOO (Chrysococcyx ruficollis) [E]

One was calling near Kumul Lodge just after we arrived there, but it went silent after I imitated it and never showed up. Luckily, we heard another on our damp morning at Murmur Pass, and that one flew in to some dead branches above where we stood, and gave us a good show, though the bird was a bit wet and bedraggled.

SHINING BRONZE-CUCKOO (Chrysococcyx lucidus)

Heard fairly regularly in Australia, but we had just a couple of sightings. The first was just after breakfast at the Gillies Roadhouse, where most of us had decent looks at a calling bird. The catch up bird was far better, though, as it sat right out in the open along the Morans Falls Road at O'Reilly's.

LITTLE BRONZE-CUCKOO (Chrysococcyx minutillus)

Recorded only in the Cairns region, with a couple of sightings at Cattana Wetlands, and along Pickford Road (road to Mareeba Wetlands), where we saw one especially well. Though we marked them as the Gould's subspecies on our lists, I've backed off on that as I'm not sure we definitively noted the key features, and the two forms are difficult to tell apart at times.

WHITE-CROWNED KOEL (Cacomantis leucolophus) [E]

A vocal, but usually difficult species to get a good look at, so I was surprised and pleased that we found this one relatively easily. We heard one calling near the Varirata picnic area, and Leonard quickly located it in a treetop, where it stayed just long enough for everyone to get a first scope view before it took off. Note that in the latest taxonomic updates that are happening as I am doing this list, this species has been renamed as White-crowned Cuckoo, which is more consistent, as all other Cacomantis species are cuckoos, rather than koels.

FAN-TAILED CUCKOO (Cacomantis flabelliformis)

We had quite a few vocal records, though just a few sightings, with the best being early in the morning from the parking lot at Chambers. Australian birds belong to the nominate subspecies, while the highland PNG race, excitus, was heard (by me, at least) at Kama.

BRUSH CUCKOO (Cacomantis variolosus)

Seen both in Mareeba, Australia (nominate) and in PNG at Kama and near the Lai River (ssp oreophilus). A pretty drab cuckoo that parasitizes a variety of small songbirds, mainly those that build cup nests like fantails, honeyeaters, and robins.

Podargidae (Frogmouths)

TAWNY FROGMOUTH (Podargus strigoides) [EN]

While folks enjoyed the Koala displays and information at the Daisy Hill Koala Center, I did a quick round of the park to try and find a wild Koala. I struck out on Koalas, but did manage to spot a frogmouth sitting on its nest on the broken snag of a large tree trunk, which turned out to be the only one of the trip!

PAPUAN FROGMOUTH (Podargus papuensis) [EN]

Great looks at an adult and fairly large juvenile on a nest in a leafless tree in the middle of the picnic area at Varirata. A good thing they were there, too, as the usually reliable birds at PAU had apparently moved from their usual location.

Aegothelidae (Owlet-nightjars)

BARRED OWLET-NIGHTJAR (Aegotheles bennettii) [E]

None of the usual roosts at Varirata were occupied during our visit, but luckily Leonard had another, new roost lined up near the picnic area. After getting us into a good viewing position, he carefully scratched on the tree trunk to coax the bird to peer sleepily out of the hole without chasing it out, and we all had excellent looks at this wonderful little nightbird.

Apodidae (Swifts)

GLOSSY SWIFTLET (Collocalia esculenta) [N]

Great views daily in the PNG highlands, and seen especially well at Kumul Lodge, where a pair made frequent low passes through the grounds, and up into a nest in the beams of the viewing deck, just over our heads when we were on the lower level. It's unclear if the nest was currently active, but it is fairly new as it wasn't there in July. It seemed like the birds were only using it as a roosting site now.

MOUNTAIN SWIFTLET (Aerodramus hirundinaceus) [E]

A handful of these birds gave us what were certainly my best views ever as they circled low, and often incredibly close, over the gardens near Walya village. No doubt the low clouds and rainy conditions are to thank for that! The virtually identical lowland counterpart of this species--Uniform Swiftlet-- was present at Varirata, but the birds there stayed too high, and as no one felt they'd had a good enough look at them, they were left off the checklist.

AUSTRALIAN SWIFTLET (Aerodramus terraereginae) [E]

Once considered conspecific with White-rumped Swiftlet of Melanesian and west Polynesian islands, but now treated as a full species endemic to Australia (and Queensland, essentially). We saw these in varying numbers daily in the Cairns region, including the Atherton Tablelands, with especially big numbers along the Esplanade one late afternoon, when we estimated about 300+ birds that streamed by while we scoped the mudflats for shorebirds.

Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

BUFF-BANDED RAIL (Gallirallus philippensis)

Super looks at one feeding fully in the open along the edge of the shrinking pond at Rotary Park in Mareeba.

DUSKY MOORHEN (Gallinula tenebrosa)

We saw about half a dozen around the ponds at PAU (ssp frontata) and 30+ at the Port of Brisbane Wetlands, with a couple also Royal NP (nominate race)

EURASIAN COOT (Fulica atra australis)

Small numbers at Hasties Swamp, and Swan Lake, with a single, cheeky bird looking for handouts with the Maned Ducks along the Hacking RIver in Royal NP.

AUSTRALASIAN SWAMPHEN (Porphyrio melanotus melanotus) [N]

We saw the nominate subspecies widely in Australia, with especially large numbers at Hasties Swamp, where we had a rough count of 150 birds! We also had about 20 birds of the PNG subspecies melanopterus at the PAU ponds. At Royal NP we also saw one bird with several large, gangly chicks.

WHITE-BROWED CRAKE (Poliolimnas cinereus)

After missing these birds at Cattana Wetlands, I thought we were done with them, but we had a brief view of a couple of crakes on a farm pond on our way from Granite Gorge to Tolga, and we decided to wait them out to see if they would emerge and allow us to get a positive ID. After a few minutes, one of the birds burst out of the dense cover and landed atop the floating lily pads, where we were easily able to confirm it as this species.

Gruidae (Cranes)

SARUS CRANE (Antigone antigone gillae)

Half a dozen were mixed in with a dozen of the next species at the same farm pond where we saw the crakes, allowing us an excellent opportunity to see the differences--pinkish legs and more extensive bare, red skin on the neck of this species, dark gray legs, an obvious dewlap, and a narrow band of bare skin on Brolga. We also had several groups of cranes totalling about 120 birds flying over the road at the Curtain Fig, all of which appeared to be this species.

BROLGA (Antigone rubicunda) [E]

After an unsatisfactory flyover flock of 9 birds at Granite Gorge, it was great to get some excellent scope studies of this species alongside the Sarus Cranes along Chewko Road later the same day.

Burhinidae (Thick-knees)

BUSH THICK-KNEE (Burhinus grallarius) [EN]

Mainly in the Cairns region, where we had them daily including an occupied nest at Centenary Lakes and a count of at least 18 birds on the Mareeba Golf Course. Our final one was a bit surprising, as it was huddled near the garbage cans outside the lodge at O'Reilly's, where I had never encountered this species before.

Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)

PIED STILT (Himantopus leucocephalus)

The bulk of our records were from the Port of Brisbane Wetlands, where we tallied about 80 birds. Elsewhere we saw just 4 birds each at Hasties Swamp and on the north end of the Cairns Esplanade.

RED-NECKED AVOCET (Recurvirostra novaehollandiae)

The Port of Brisbane Shorebird Roost is a fairly reliable site for this lovely, elegant species, but we still only get them on roughly half of our visits. Fortunately, this visit fell on the positive side of that split, and we counted 29 of these beauties there.

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Choosing your favourite fairywren is a tough task, as they are all pretty awesome, but this male Variegated Fairywren has got to be a top contender! Photo by participant Pete Peterman.
Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers)

PIED OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus longirostris) [E]

Our two sightings nearly bookended the tour, as we saw one on our very first outing on the north end of the Cairns Esplanade, then had our only other sighting nearly 2 weeks later, a single bird at the Port of Brisbane Shorebird Roost.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

MASKED LAPWING (MASKED) (Vanellus miles miles) [N]

This northern subspecies was seen daily in the Cairns region, as well as around Port Moresby (including a pair guarding a nest with 4 eggs at PAU).

MASKED LAPWING (BLACK-SHOULDERED) (Vanellus miles novaehollandiae)

Readily differentiated from the above by the black "scarf" that extends down the neck on to the sides of the upper breast. We saw a few of these in the Brisbane and Sydney regions.

LESSER SAND-PLOVER (SIBERIAN) (Charadrius mongolus mongolus)

The Cairns Esplanade gave us a great chance to compare the two species of sand-plover side by side. We found about 5 of these mixed in with roughly 3 times as many Greaters. Note that this species is being split into two species: Siberian and Tibetan sand-plover. The ones here are the Siberian species, which will retain the same scientific name.

GREATER SAND-PLOVER (Charadrius leschenaultii) [b]

Roughly 15 birds were tallied on our late afternoon sweep of the mudflats at the southern end of the Cairns Esplanade.

RED-CAPPED PLOVER (Charadrius ruficapillus) [E]

Our first was a rather nondescript bird in non-breeding plumage at the north end of the Esplanade. We fared better on the southern end a few days later, where we found around 10 birds including a couple of birds with the bright rufous caps of the breeding plumage.

BLACK-FRONTED DOTTEREL (Elseyornis melanops) [E]

A couple of these striking little plovers were at the north end of the Esplanade our first morning. We also had a pair at Rotary Park in Mareeba as well as a couple at the Port of Brisbane Wetlands. The Mareeba birds were fun, as when I first scoped them, one was standing on the back of the other, almost certainly a post-copulatory pose, but they remained standing like that for a short while before the upper bird hopped down.

Jacanidae (Jacanas)

COMB-CRESTED JACANA (Irediparra gallinacea)

Most common and conspicuous at the Cattana Wetlands, with a few scattered at other wetland sites in the Cairns region. Elsewhere we had just a single bird at the PAU ponds on PNG.

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

WHIMBREL (SIBERIAN) (Numenius phaeopus variegatus) [b]

A handful of birds along the Esplanade and at the Port of Brisbane Shorebird Roost.

LITTLE CURLEW (Numenius minutus) [b]

These small curlews have a preference for grassland areas, and kind of remind me of Upland Sandpipers to a certain extent. A small flock was seen a couple of times on the verges of the runway at the Port Moresby airport.

FAR EASTERN CURLEW (Numenius madagascariensis) [b]

A couple of these were seen along the Esplanade on each of our visits, and a single bird at the Port of Brisbane.

BAR-TAILED GODWIT (Limosa lapponica) [b]

This is usually the more numerous of the two godwits here, and we saw from 15-25 during our shorebird searches along the Esplanade.

BLACK-TAILED GODWIT (MELANUROIDES) (Limosa limosa melanuroides) [b]

Hard to come by this trip, but I eventually managed to pick one out from among the Bar-tailed Godwits on the Esplanade. The straighter bill and plain, un-patterned plumage helped distinguish it, but it was far more obvious when it opened its wings, showing the striking black-and-white pattern. We also saw two birds at the Port of Brisbane.

GREAT KNOT (Calidris tenuirostris) [b]

A flock of 25-30 of these plump shorebirds were seen on both visits to the mudflats along the Esplanade.

SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER (Calidris acuminata) [b]

Roughly a dozen were seen at the north end of the Esplanade on our first morning, and 10+ were at the Port of Brisbane Shorebird Roost.

CURLEW SANDPIPER (Calidris ferruginea) [b]

A group of 8 birds turned up on the mudflats as we scoped from the southern end of the Esplanade one afternoon. A further 20+ were at the Port of Brisbane.

RED-NECKED STINT (Calidris ruficollis) [b]

Very few, with just 4 birds noted at the southern end of the Esplanade.

TEREK SANDPIPER (Xenus cinereus) [b]

A lone bird was rather poorly seen moving through the mangroves at the north end of the Esplanade. Much better views were obtained a few days later at the southern end, where 5 of these distinct shorebirds were running around in typical Terek SP fashion, often coming quite close to our vantage point.

GRAY-TAILED TATTLER (Tringa brevipes) [b]

Roughly 10-15 birds were seen on either end of the Esplanade.

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

SILVER GULL (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae)

Seen in most coastal areas visited in Australia, and really the only gull likely on the tour, though, amazingly, a breeding-plumaged adult Laughing Gull (a 1st for Cairns) turned up on the Esplanade 2 days after we left Cairns for PNG!

GULL-BILLED TERN (AUSTRALIAN) (Gelochelidon nilotica macrotarsa) [E]

Armchair tick alert! I've just discovered that this Australian form of Gull-billed Tern has been split off as a full species, Australian Tern (Gelochelidon macrotarsa)! We saw roughly 20 on the mudflats along the Esplanade, and another 15-20 at the Port of Brisbane wetlands.

CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)

A cosmopolitan species, this large tern was seen a few times along the Australian coast, with one along the Esplanade, at least 9 at the Port of Brisbane Shorebird Roost, and a couple of birds from the viewpoint at Wattamolla.

Field Guides Birding Tours
The Spotted Pardalote is one of 4 species in the family Pardalotidae, a small family of eucalyptus forest birds endemic to Australia. Participant Pete Peterman snapped this photo of a curious male (possibly near a nest burrow) along Duck Creek Road.
Anhingidae (Anhingas)

AUSTRALASIAN DARTER (Anhinga novaehollandiae) [N]

Small numbers daily in the Cairns region including an occupied nest on a small island in the Cattana Wetlands, then half a dozen at the Port of Brisbane.

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

LITTLE PIED CORMORANT (Microcarbo melanoleucos)

Small numbers were scattered across the various wetlands in the Cairns region, and a couple were noted at PAU, but the vast majority of our records came from the Port of Brisbane where there were well over 100 birds present.

GREAT CORMORANT (AUSTRALASIAN) (Phalacrocorax carbo novaehollandiae)

One bird at the Fred Bucholz Park on our way down from O'Reilly's, and two singles at Royal NP, one along the Hacking River, the other off of Wattamolla.

LITTLE BLACK CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris)

Seen on fewer days than the Little Pied Cormorant, but the most numerous cormorant species seen thanks to a count of nearly 80 at PAU and 100+ at the Port of Brisbane.

Pelecanidae (Pelicans)

AUSTRALIAN PELICAN (Pelecanus conspicillatus) [E]

Three birds snoozed on the mudflats at the south end of the Esplanade, and another 40-50 were tallied between the two sites at the Port of Brisbane Wetlands.

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

FOREST BITTERN (Zonerodius heliosylus) [E]

Our attempt to find the brush-turkey at Varirata failed on the primary target, but it led directly to us flushing one of these scarce birds from the creek bed. Luckily for us, it perched in a fairly open spot long enough for all of us to get fantastic looks! Despite the name, this bird is not really a bittern, and is thought to be more closely aligned with the New World tiger-herons.

PACIFIC HERON (Ardea pacifica) [E]

Pacific Heron is such a meaningless name for this species, and I'll always prefer the much more descriptive alternate name, White-necked Heron. Whatever you call it, we saw just one individual at Hasties Swamp.

GREAT EGRET (AUSTRALASIAN) (Ardea alba modesta)

Just a few birds along the Cairns Esplanade, and a single bird at Hasties Swamp, then about 15 at the Port of Brisbane.

INTERMEDIATE EGRET (PLUMED) (Ardea intermedia plumifera)

Another armchair tick for you. This species has been split into three, with Australasian birds becoming Plumed Egret, A. plumifera. We saw small numbers at various wetland sites around the Cairns region, with a few birds at PAU and a single at Swan Lake.

WHITE-FACED HERON (Egretta novaehollandiae)

Seen at many of the wetlands visited on the Australian sector of the tour, with a high count of 7 birds on the mudflats at the southern end of the Esplanade.

LITTLE EGRET (AUSTRALASIAN) (Egretta garzetta nigripes)

The majority of our sightings came from the Port of Brisbane, though we also had a few birds along the Esplanade, and a single at the PAU ponds.

PIED HERON (Egretta picata)

Five of these handsome herons were at the PAU ponds, our only record for the tour.

CATTLE EGRET (EASTERN) (Bubulcus ibis coromandus)

Another split from the upcoming taxonomic revisions. Eastern Cattle Egret is the name given to the birds from Asia (including India) to Australia. Western Cattle Egret is the one that colonized the New World. We saw this species daily in the Cairns region, and in PNG at PAU and the airport (with a pair at Kama, as well). none were noted in the Brisbane and Sydney regions.

STRIATED HERON (Butorides striata)

A couple along the Saltwater Creek at Centenary Lakes were the only ones for the tour.

NANKEEN NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax caledonicus) [E]

We flushed one from the mangroves along the Saltwater Creek, and it sat out in the open not far away, giving fantastic looks. The bird was almost in adult plumage, though still showed some pale spotting on the wing coverts indicating a subadult bird. We also found at least 6 birds in the long-used roosting tree along the Esplanade, but there appeared to be none in the roost tree at PAU this visit.

Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)

AUSTRALIAN IBIS (Threskiornis molucca)

The infamous "bin chook" (ie bin chicken) has a bit of a bad reputation in Australia, but apparently they have been learning how to "prep" Cane Toads prior to consuming them, so they certainly have some redeeming qualities. We saw these more days than not on the Aussie portion of the tour, and also had 20+ at PAU.

STRAW-NECKED IBIS (Threskiornis spinicollis) [E]

Our Ebird totals (14 birds) don't reflect the reality of this bird's occurrence here, given that we saw far more while driving than we did at any of the sites for which I submitted a checklist. Most numerous around the Cairns region, but we also had a few in and around Brisbane.

ROYAL SPOONBILL (Platalea regia)

A careful count of 74 birds at Swan Lake made up the bulk of our sightings. Elsewhere we had just 2 birds at Fred Bucholz Park, and 8 on the mudflats along the Esplanade.

YELLOW-BILLED SPOONBILL (Platalea flavipes) [E]

Really hit or miss on this trip, and easily missed. Our lone bird was in a small wetland adjacent to the road into Etty Bay, a nice bonus from our cassowary excursion!

Pandionidae (Osprey)

OSPREY (AUSTRALASIAN) (Pandion haliaetus cristatus)

Three birds on our first day of birding, each at a different site--north end of the Esplanade, Cattana Wetlands, and the pond at the Yorkey's Know Golf Course. Our only other one was a bird that flew over as we watched for Platypus near Yungaburra. Fishing must have been good, as I think 3 of the 4 had a fish in its talons.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

BLACK-SHOULDERED KITE (Elanus axillaris) [E]

Just 3 birds total, all over 2 days in the tablelands, including a cooperative perched bird at the Platypus site.

WEDGE-TAILED EAGLE (Aquila audax) [E]

Though these impressive eagles are accomplished hunters, they also fill the niche of our Turkey Vultures (and even look similar in flight) by foraging on roadkill and other carrion. Our tally of 5 different birds was one of our best showings for this tour, and we had several very nice looks. The sightings came from near Granite Gorge, the Wondecla State Forest (2 birds), and singles on 2 days around Lamington NP.

Field Guides Birding Tours
The Australasian region is the place to be if you’re a kingfisher fan. We saw twice as many species as occur in all of the Americas, and this lovely Sacred Kingfisher is not even one of the fanciest ones! Photo by participant Pete Peterman.

PAPUAN MARSH-HARRIER (Circus spilothorax) [E]

A female, likely the same one as I saw in July, coursed low over the airfield at the Mount Hagen airport, giving great views as she glided by just beyond the taxiway.

BROWN GOSHAWK (Accipiter fasciatus)

Our only Accipiter of any sort was a lone Brown Goshawk, spotted by Richard as it circled over the forest at Granite Gorge.

BLACK KITE (BLACK) (Milvus migrans affinis)

Quite numerous in some areas of the tablelands, such as Pickford Road, where we didn't make an estimate, though I'd counted 110+ on a scouting visit a few days earlier. Also common in the PNG highlands, often seen scavenging along the roadways, evidenced by our sightings of at least a couple birds flying up off the road with plastic bags in their talons.

WHISTLING KITE (Haliastur sphenurus)

Not uncommon, but never as numerous as the above species. We had quite a few sightings of singles and pairs at a number of sites across the tablelands.

BRAHMINY KITE (Haliastur indus)

These striking raptors gave us so many great looks that Panos placed them at the top of his list of PNG favourites. We saw them primarily in the Port Moresby region, including two occupied nests at Varirata, though we also had a single bird at Murmur Pass (quite a high record for this species) and one over Swan Lake at the Port of Brisbane.

WHITE-BELLIED SEA-EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucogaster)

An adult at Hasties Swamp caused quite a spectacle as it flew over the wetland, causing thousands of Magpie Geese, whistling-ducks, and others to take flight in a whoosh of flapping wings! Another was seen soaring above the road on the drive up to O'Reilly's and our third and final was seen flying over the Hacking River at Royal NP.

Strigidae (Owls)

RUFOUS OWL (Ninox rufa) [E*]

A bird called in the distance after dark at Chambers, and though it did move closer in response to playback, it then appeared to lose interest, and we never heard it again.

BARKING OWL (Ninox connivens)

One of Leonard's stakeout birds at Varirata. We had great scope views of one perched high in a Casuarina close to the picnic area.

Bucerotidae (Hornbills)

BLYTH'S HORNBILL (Rhyticeros plicatus)

These massive birds are pretty hit and miss at Varirata, though overall they do seem to be seen more regularly than they were a decade or so ago, which is good news. We had a single bird fly over the entrance road as we left the park on our first visit, then saw (and heard the incredible wing sound) 9 birds fly overhead the following morning. An encounter with these birds is always an exciting experience!

Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

AZURE KINGFISHER (Ceyx azureus) [E]

We'd made a stop along the road near Walya village to scan the river for Torrent Flyrobins, which we eventually spotted, though one of these shimmering kingfishers perched on a boulder was a better find, given that this is a pretty high elevation for this species. At the end of the tour, we also had smashing looks at a couple of others along the Hacking River at Royal NP.


A difficult bird to spot, but Leonard is expert at it, and once again managed to pick out one of these splendid little kingfishers perched in the subcanopy overhead, where it sat long enough for everyone to get a scope view.

LAUGHING KOOKABURRA (Dacelo novaeguineae) [E]

An Australian icon, and a familiar sight by tour's end, as we saw them most days throughout the Aussie portion of the tour, except for the days at O'Reilly's. Hearing their raucous calls is as much fun as seeing them, and happily we were aurally entertained a few times as well. These birds can become quite bold and aggressive as we saw during lunch at Royal NP. One bird there made a couple of successful raids of one particular woman's plate of food, flying off with her entire burger patty the 2nd time! And it wasn't at all phased by my attempt to chase it off, as I nearly had to physically shove it off its perch before it finally took the hint!


The two kookaburras overlap in the Cairns region, though this species seems to be less common and perhaps a bit more local. We saw just 3 birds, all on the same day in the Mareeba area.


We had this gorgeous kookaburra on both visits to Varirata, with Cheryl picking out the first half hidden behind leaves in the big fruiting tree in the picnic area.

FOREST KINGFISHER (Todiramphus macleayii)

The subspecies incinctus is fairly common along the east coast of Australia and a winter migrant to PNG. We saw this form nicely at Hasties Swamp. We also this species along the Varirata entrance road, though these birds belong to the local breeding population, subspecies elisabeth.

TORRESIAN KINGFISHER (Todiramphus sordidus)

I haven't always had the easiest time of it trying to show this species to a group, but they were dead easy this year, as we came across a very vocal pair perched openly in a Casuarina tree near the north end of the Cairns Esplanade. We had a couple more the same afternoon at Centenary Lakes, though that was all for the tour.

SACRED KINGFISHER (Todiramphus sanctus)

Seen in small numbers almost daily in the Cairns region, then again at Royal NP, where we had a couple of pairs.


Though they were fairly vocal at Varirata, these birds were a bit tougher to track down than usual. But, once again, Leonard came through by spotting one sitting quietly right up near the top of a tall Casuarina. The scope certainly came in handy for getting improved looks at that one!

MOUNTAIN KINGFISHER (Syma megarhyncha) [E*]

Two birds were calling as we climbed the Tonga Trail en route to find the Blue BoP. Though they weren't far off, we couldn't spot them, and once the rain started a short while later, they, along with pretty much everything else, went quiet.


When Leonard told me he'd found a pair of these at PAU recently, I was a bit surprised as I'd never heard them there and didn't think there was enough good habitat for them. I was even more surprised when he showed me where as I'd been so close to them numerous times! The birds were a bit reluctant to show themselves at first, but eventually I managed to spot one perched close to the ground, where it stayed just long enough for me to get everyone on it for a good look.


A Varirata specialty, and we had super looks at these gorgeous kingfishers on both of our visits to the park.

Meropidae (Bee-eaters)

RAINBOW BEE-EATER (Merops ornatus)

Though resident across northern Australia, birds that breed in the south retreat to the north, as well as to PNG, in the austral winter. It appeared that the southbound migration was well underway, as not only were there none seen in PNG (there were lots in July), but there were loads in the Cairns region; they were seemingly everywhere, including all over the road early one morning! Our only record after leaving Cairns, though, was a group of three birds in the mangroves at the Port of Brisbane.

Field Guides Birding Tours
White-browed Robin is quite a local species on this tour route, so it was great to catch up with this one at pretty much the only place we visit where it is possible! Photo by guide Jay VanderGaast.
Coraciidae (Rollers)

DOLLARBIRD (Eurystomus orientalis)

Similar to the bee-eater, much of the breeding population in Australia retreat either to the northern regions, or (mainly) to PNG and Indonesia. The lone bird we saw in Australia, along Pickford Road, was the first returning migrant Clayton had seen this spring. Our only other sighting, a pair of birds along the Varirata entrance road, were likely the resident, endemic subspecies waigiouensis.

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

NANKEEN KESTREL (Falco cenchroides) [EN]

Like the night-heron, this species is named for the color--Nankeen is a pale, brownish-yellow cloth originating in Nanking, China. I guess this cloth color matches the pale, yellowish underparts of the two species. We saw these only in the Cairns region, mostly during the drives, but we also had a pair nesting in the rafters above the gas pumps at the Innisfail service station.

PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)

We were peering down into the deep crater at Mt Hypipamee, when a group of locals opened up a large sack of stones they'd carried with them from the car and began throwing them into the crater. The loud splashes and occasional bangs from a rock hitting the opposite cliff side disturbed something, though we couldn't immediately place the calls, nor spot the source. Eventually, though a Peregrine took off and flew over the crater below us before circling back to the cliff. This was our only Peregrine for the tour.

Cacatuidae (Cockatoos)

RED-TAILED BLACK-COCKATOO (Calyptorhynchus banksii) [E]

Prior to 2011, it seems that this species was a scarce visitor to the coastal regions around Cairns; since then, they have been recorded regularly. It appears that the huge Cyclone Yasi, in early 2011, may have displaced these birds from their usual haunts, pushing them to the coast, where they have stayed on since, feeding on abundant beach almonds and other available food sources. In addition to our usual sightings up on the tablelands, we had several encounters with them along the coast, none better than the 5 birds teed up along the road at the north end of the Esplanade.

YELLOW-TAILED BLACK-COCKATOO (Calyptorhynchus funereus) [E]

This species also seems to be increasing on the tour route. I saw my first one (A single bird) at Royal NP on the 2018 tour, then had quite a few in 2019. This year we had 4 of them along the Lady Carrington Drive, eventually getting good scope views of one perched in a Casuarina above the trail.

GALAH (Eolophus roseicapilla) [E]

Australians might not be overly fond of these birds, and the term "Galah" is a slang term for a fool or idiot, but these birds are stunning to us foreigners. We had some fantastic looks at a group of 9 or 10 grazing on the short grass along the road on our way to O'Reilly's, thanks to the quick reflexes of our driver, Karl, who was able to quickly pull off just opposite to where they were feeding.

LONG-BILLED CORELLA (Cacatua tenuirostris) [I]

As we were leaving Fred Bucholz Park, where there were plenty of Little Corellas, I noticed a corella on the ground next to the road that had an obvious dark pink spot on the chest, a feature of this species. Once we stopped, we were also able to make out the very long upper mandible for which it is named. Though it was fun to see, this species does not naturally occur in this region, and is considered introduced here.

LITTLE CORELLA (Cacatua sanguinea) [E]

Much more widespread than the above species. We saw a few flying over the Mareeba Golf Course, then had some excellent views of 20+ birds at Fred Bucholz Park, and finally, also saw a few at Royal NP.


In Australia, this species quickly became a familiar sight as we saw them every day, sometimes in pretty big numbers. We also had a small number along the entrance road at Varirata; the birds there belong to the endemic subspecies, triton, which to my ears sound somewhat less grating than the Australian birds. The cheeky birds during lunch at Royal NP were particularly memorable, though they were certainly better behaved than the marauding kookaburra!

Psittaculidae (Old World Parrots)

BUFF-FACED PYGMY-PARROT (Micropsitta pusio)

A flock of ~20 tiny birds flew over the canopy above us at Varirata, and we just couldn't work out what they were, until Leonard managed to track them down to where they'd landed. They turned out to be these miniature parrots, and we were able to get some pretty decent views of them through the scope despite their near constant movement.

AUSTRALIAN KING-PARROT (Alisterus scapularis) [E]

Though we heard our first one at Lake Barrine, it wasn't until we got to O'Reilly's until we finally laid eyes on these gorgeous parrots. And they laid their claws on our heads, shoulders, etc. Always a fun experience with these birds at the resort!

RED-WINGED PARROT (Aprosmictus erythropterus) [E]

Pretty local on the tour route, with Mareeba being the only place we visit that is within their usual range. Our only sightings came during our final afternoon around the town, when we had 3 birds fly over as we birded in and around Jack Bethel Park.

ECLECTUS PARROT (Eclectus roratus)

A lone bird that flew over at Varirata was not seen well by all, but luckily, we had about 8 birds that afternoon at PAU, several of which (both males and females) gave excellent looks as they passed overhead. Note that this species has been split into four species (occurring on different island groups), and the name for the one we saw is now Papuan Eclectus (Eclectus polychloros).

RED-CHEEKED PARROT (Geoffroyus geoffroyi) [E]

These birds regularly perch atop tall trees in the picnic area at Varirata, which is were we had some great scope views of both sexes.

BREHM'S TIGER-PARROT (Psittacella brehmii) [E]

The only easy tiger-parrot to find, as these birds are generally quite inconspicuous overall. And these ones are only easy as they are regular visitors to Kumul's feeding table, but no one's complaining about that!

CRIMSON ROSELLA (Platycercus elegans) [E]

We got the usual full sensory experience from these gaudy parrots at O'Reilly's. Well, maybe we didn't taste or smell them, but we certainly could have if we'd tried. Almost all of our birds came from the resort area, though there was a pair of proper wild ones at Royal NP as well.

PALE-HEADED ROSELLA (Platycercus adscitus) [E]

Nice spotting by Clayton to pick out a small group of these rosellas feeding in a field of tall, weedy plants next to the Pickford Road. They flew off back into the forest when we stopped, but we were able to scope a couple where they had landed, and one bird, a pretty dull-looking juvenile, flew back towards us and perched in the open for great views.

DOUBLE-EYED FIG-PARROT (Cyclopsitta diophthalma)

As we sheltered from the rain at the north end of the Esplanade on our first morning, we kept seeing fig-parrots flying into one particular fig tree. So, when the rain let up, we walked over for a look, and quickly spotted a couple fo pairs feeding just a few feet over our heads, giving us absolutely amazing views of these gorgeous little parrots!

PLUM-FACED LORIKEET (Oreopsittacus arfaki) [E]

These tiny lorikeets were fairly numerous at Murmur Pass, though initially tough to get a good look at. Finally, though, several birds began feeding in trees around our vantage point, and we all managed to get some incredible looks at them.

PAPUAN LORIKEET (STELLA'S) (Charmosyna papou goliathina)

We were watching the feeders at Kumul one afternoon when I heard one of these large lorikeets and alerted folks to keep an eye on the nearby Schefflera trees they like to feed on. Surprisingly, though, the bird landed above the feeding table and then dropped down and started feeding on a piece of papaya! The following day it did the same, allowing Panos to catch up as he'd missed the first one. Note that this species has been split into two, and the PNG birds are now called Stella's Lorikeet (C. stellae), with goliathina being the subspecies we saw.

YELLOW-BILLED LORIKEET (Neopsittacus musschenbroekii) [E]

Few around this visit, but we finally managed quick looks at a pair that briefly dropped into a weedy corner of the clearing at Murmur Pass before taking wing once again.

BLACK-CAPPED LORY (Lorius lory) [E]

We were walking down the Varirata entrance road on our way out of the park when a pair of these colorful parrots flew past, then landed right next to where the bus was stopped. They didn't stay put for long, but it was long enough for us to get some fine looks.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Many views of Crinkle-collared Manucode leave the observer wondering where the name came from, but Pete Peterman’s portrait of this bird, sitting watch over a nearby nest, shows off this feature to perfection!

LITTLE LORIKEET (Parvipsitta pusilla) [E]

These lorikeets were around at the Wondecla State Forest, as they usually are, but a lack of good flowering trees, coupled with the very windy conditions, made it difficult to track them down, and we had to settle for some poor flyover views.

SCALY-BREASTED LORIKEET (Trichoglossus chlorolepidotus) [E]

Not a numerous as the Rainbows, but there were still plenty around in the Cairns region, and we had numerous good views, though none were better than the pair at Cattana Wetlands that were feeding in a flowering bottle brush bush at eye level, just a few feet away! Beats looking up at them in the canopy!

COCONUT LORIKEET (COCONUT) (Trichoglossus haematodus haematodus)

The PNG version of the next species, this is generally the most numerous lorikeet in PNG, and we saw quite a few, mainly in the Port Moresby region, but also at Kama and the Lai River.

RAINBOW LORIKEET (Trichoglossus moluccanus)

A common and familiar bird all along Australia's east coast. We found them to be most numerous around Cairns, even seeing them from the hotel rooms as flocks flew over the Esplanade.

Pittidae (Pittas)

NOISY PITTA (Pitta versicolor)

After failing on our first attempt to lure in a calling bird along Duck Creek Road, we were left looking for these birds on our final morning at O'Reilly's. And it wasn't looking promising, as none were calling, and I wasn't especially optimistic that we would find one. I shouldn't have worried, as my whistled imitation soon evoked a response, and in no time, a bird flew in, landing on a nearby buttress, and we ended up with smashing looks at this beauty! This was Cheryl's pick for top bird of the Australian portion of the tour.

Menuridae (Lyrebirds)

ALBERT'S LYREBIRD (Menura alberti) [E]

This species has a tiny range straddling the border of SE Queensland and NW New South Wales, and O'Reilly's is the only place for us to find one. I'm almost always scrambling to find this bird on our final morning, so it was a great relief to get one so easily this trip. Richard first spotted it scurrying across the road while the rest of us were otherwise distracted. We managed some reasonable looks of it feeding along the road edge before it rushed off towards the campground, then located it again along the track behind the camping area. There we enjoyed some fine, close views as it used its large feet to scrape away leaf litter, fallen branches, etc, searching for things to eat, until a brushturkey came along to investigate and essentially chased the lyrebird off.

SUPERB LYREBIRD (Menura novaehollandiae) [E]

The largest Passerine in the world, and a big target for us on our final morning of birding at Royal NP. We made it all the way beyond Jersey Spring without any joy, despite how few people were walking or biking along the track. So local guide, Steve went after a calling bird across the river, hoping to herd it towards us, but that didn't work either. But just after we returned to the track, he spotted one between the river and the track, and we all got a quick look before it vanished. On the way back, I surprised another male that was feeding quietly below the track, hidden by an overhang. This one gave us a better show, but it also disappeared pretty quickly somehow. Amazingly sneaky for such a large bird!

Ptilonorhynchidae (Bowerbirds)

SPOTTED CATBIRD (Ailuroedus maculosus) [E]

This is the catbird from the rainforests in the Atherton Tablelands, where we had a few good views at Lake Barrine, the Curtain Fig, and Chambers.

GREEN CATBIRD (Ailuroedus crassirostris) [E]

Replaces the above species along the southeastern coast. Though they can be tricky to see, we did well at O'Reilly's, getting some super looks of a calling bird along the road near the camping area, then a couple more the following morning right outside the lodge.

TOOTH-BILLED BOWERBIRD (Scenopoeetes dentirostris) [E]

One was singing along the track at Lake Barrine, but it was not very close to the the path, so I went off into the woods to track it down. I first noticed its display area, a roughly oval patch of ground covered in upturned leaves, showing off their silvery undersides. The bird was, as usual, a bit tougher to see in the dense foliage, but I eventually located him on his song perch a few feet above the display area, and we all got some great scope views. We had a couple more in a fruiting tree at Mt Hypipamee the same day, but that was it for this tablelands specialty.

REGENT BOWERBIRD (Sericulus chrysocephalus) [E]

These showy, striking, birds are happily very easy to see at O'Reilly's, where they've become habituated by handouts of walnuts and sultanas. I'm pretty sure I've never seen these anywhere else but here.

SATIN BOWERBIRD (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) [E]

O'Reilly's is also the place for this glossy bowerbird, and we saw them daily there, with a few females also seen at Royal NP. As usual, there were a couple of blue-adorned bowers near the main compound at O'Reilly's.

GREAT BOWERBIRD (Chlamydera nuchalis) [E]

Our first was working at a bower at the Mareeba Golf Course, and though we could see the bower, we didn't approach as it was on private property. Happily, there was a more accessible bower at Granite Gorge, and we had some nice views of both the bower and the bird there.

YELLOW-BREASTED BOWERBIRD (Chlamydera lauterbachi) [E]

Pretty reliable and fairly easily seen around Kama and the Lai River, and we had nice views of at least three birds there. I've only ever seen the bower of this species once, which is too bad, as it builds a unique, 4-walled avenue bower.

FAWN-BREASTED BOWERBIRD (Chlamydera cerviniventris) [E]

A common bird at PAU, where they are pretty easy to see, too. Plus, Leonard usually knows where to find a bower, as he did this trip again, so we had great chance to admire a nicely decorated bower.

Climacteridae (Australasian Treecreepers)

WHITE-THROATED TREECREEPER (Cormobates leucophaea) [E]

This is the most commonly encountered treecreeper in the east coast rainforests, and though we heard far more than we saw, we did have some good views of both the Atherton Tablelands subspecies, minor (sometimes split as Little Treecreeper) and two different subspecies in the "White-throated" group at O'Reilly's (metastasis) and Royal NP (nominate).

RED-BROWED TREECREEPER (Climacteris erythrops) [E]

It took most of the morning to finally track these down along Duck Creek Road, but we were finally successful in getting some good views of a pair, with some White-throated Treecreepers nearby for a good comparison.

Maluridae (Fairywrens)

SOUTHERN EMUWREN (Stipiturus malachurus) [E]

Steve didn't know of any easily accessible emuwrens at Royal NP, so we had pretty low expectations for this species as we walked through the coastal heath. But then I heard a call that sounded like it could be this species, and I played a little tape, and immediately a male came charging in. It played a bit hard to get, but eventually settled into a bare tree below us, where we were able to get some awesome views before it went back to whatever it had been doing. One of the final new species for the trip and it was a big hit with the group.

VARIEGATED FAIRYWREN (Malurus lamberti) [E]

Fairywrens were thin on the ground along Duck Creek Road, perhaps a result of the extensively burned understory from the wildfires a few years ago. We finally did stumble across a small group with at least 2 gorgeous adult males, then had several more on our day at Royal NP.

SUPERB FAIRYWREN (Malurus cyaneus) [E]

Seen mainly, and best, at O'Reilly's where they were often hopping around on the ground paying very little attention to us.

RED-BACKED FAIRYWREN (Malurus melanocephalus) [E]

We only had a few, but fortunately those few included a couple of handsome adult males, our first one being spotted by Julia along the road near the Hasties Swamp bird hide.

WHITE-SHOULDERED FAIRYWREN (Malurus alboscapulatus) [E]

For the most part, PNG's fairywrens are a lot tougher to see well than those in Australia, though this species is the one exception. We had great looks at a couple of birds feeding on the weedy roadside near the Lai River.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Pittas are often secretive and elusive, so it was a thrill to have this gorgeous Noisy Pitta show up next to the trail at O’Reilly’s! Photo by participant Pete Peterman.
Meliphagidae (Honeyeaters)

EASTERN SPINEBILL (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris) [E]

Our first one of these beautiful honeyeaters was discovered feeding in some flowering lantana shrubs along the creek at the Wondecla State Forest. After that, we didn't see another until we got to O'Reilly's, where we saw just one more. They were quite numerous at Royal NP, however, and we had several excellent looks as they fed in flowering bushes along the tracks.

PLAIN HONEYEATER (Pycnopygius ixoides) [E]

The field guides states that this species "uniquely lacks any conclusive field characters" which pretty much hits the nail on the head. Luckily, the subspecies found at Varirata is finschi, the most distinctive, being rufous-brown rather than drab gray-brown in all other races. We had very good views of a pair in a fruiting tree in the picnic area.

STREAK-HEADED HONEYEATER (Pycnopygius stictocephalus) [E]

Quite similar in appearance to a friarbird, though noticeably smaller. We had excellent scope views of a couple of these along the Varirata entrance road.


Our only sighting was of a pair at the Cattana Wetlands on our first morning.

LEWIN'S HONEYEATER (Meliphaga lewinii) [E]

Very common and seen in good numbers throughout the Australia portion of the tour, with the exception of the coastal area around Cairns. The flowering Grevillea trees at Kamarun Lookout were especially crawling with these birds.

MOUNTAIN HONEYEATER (Microptilotis orientalis) [E]

The honeyeaters in this genus are one of the most difficult groups to identify in mainland PNG, where there are 8 very similar species (plus one nearly identical Meliphaga honeyeater). This one is fairly straightforward as it occurs at higher elevations than any other species. We had some nice looks at these near the Lai River.

ELEGANT HONEYEATER (Microptilotis cinereifrons cinereifrons) [E]

A fairly common species at Varirata, where fairly readily told by the shape of the yellow cheek patch which contrasts with the otherwise blackish sides of the head. We saw a few around the picnic clearing.

YELLOW HONEYEATER (Stomiopera flava) [E]

Not uncommon around Cairns, where we had small numbers at a bunch of different sites.

YELLOW-FACED HONEYEATER (Caligavis chrysops) [E]

Small numbers along the road at Hasties Swamp, as well as at Davies Creek, then more along Duck Creek Road below O'Reilly's and at Royal NP.

NOISY MINER (Manorina melanocephala) [E]

We didn't start seeing these until we got to Brisbane, but they were quite numerous once we did start seeing them, especially so at the Daisy Hill Koala Center and around the town square in Canungra.

ORNATE MELIDECTES (Melidectes torquatus) [E]

We had a few of these fancy honeyeaters at Kama and near the Lai River.

BELFORD'S MELIDECTES (Melidectes belfordi) [E]

The common melidectes at higher elevations, and as usual we had plenty around Kumul Lodge.

YELLOW-BROWED MELIDECTES (Melidectes rufocrissalis) [E]

Generally at slightly lower elevations than the above, though there is some overlap, as we saw at Murmur Pass, where we had great looks at a pair of these, though Belford's is the common species there. Our only others were seen along the Tonga trail, just before the rain started.

BRIDLED HONEYEATER (Bolemoreus frenatus) [E]

A high elevation endemic to the Atherton Tableland region. This one gave us more trouble than usual, but we finally tracked one down above the entrance road to Mt. Hypipamee, and it sat still enough for good scope views.

LITTLE WATTLEBIRD (Anthochaera chrysoptera) [E]

Quite plentiful at Royal NP this year, particularly along the Lady Carrington Drive, where there were swarms in the abundant flowering trees.

VARIED HONEYEATER (Gavicalis versicolor) [E]

As usual, seen only along the Cairns Esplanade, where we had excellent studies of this large honeyeater on both our visits.

FUSCOUS HONEYEATER (Ptilotula fusca) [EN]

Less conspicuous than usual at the Wondecla State Forest, probably as they were too busy gathering food for their fledglings, as we saw when we finally tracked some down. These "Wondecla Honeyeaters" are much yellower-faced than Fuscous Honeyeater populations elsewhere, looking more like a hybrid between Fuscous and Yellow-tinted honeyeaters.

BROWN-BACKED HONEYEATER (Ramsayornis modestus) [E]

Small numbers at a bunch of different sites in the Cairns region included a pair building a nest along the road at Davis Creek.

RUFOUS-BANDED HONEYEATER (Conopophila albogularis) [E]

Regular around the ponds at PAU, where it's not uncommon to see them do little sorties out over the ponds, and splashing down into the water for a bath.

SMOKY HONEYEATER (Melipotes fumigatus) [E]

Numerous in the PNG highlands, and always a fun bird to see as it possesses a fairly unique ability (shared by others in the same genus) to blush, with the bare facial skin changing from yellow to bright red in an instant, though I'm not exactly sure what triggers the change.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Participant Pete Peterman snapped this great shot of one of several male Raggiana Birds-of-paradise to show up at the famous lek at Varirata NP.

DUSKY MYZOMELA (Myzomela obscura)

Common around Cairns, especially so at Cattana Wetlands where we had some great close views of several feeding in the low flowering shrubs along the track.

SCARLET MYZOMELA (Myzomela sanguinolenta) [E]

These lovely honeyeaters teased us for a couple of days by singing often, but never showing themselves, but we finally had some more cooperative birds as we waited for Platypuses to appear along the creek near Yungaburra. Once we had those first views in hand, we started seeing them more regularly, right on down to Royal NP.

RUFOUS-BACKED HONEYEATER (Ptiloprora guisei) [E]

Similar to the next species, but mostly at slightly lower elevations. We saw quite a few of them at Murmur Pass.

GRAY-STREAKED HONEYEATER (Ptiloprora perstriata) [E]

Usually not too hard to find around Kumul Lodge, but they were scarce this trip, and most of us saw just one bird, though Richard saw a second one on our final day there.

BROWN HONEYEATER (Lichmera indistincta) [E]

Where it occurs, it is often one of the more numerous honeyeaters around, and we saw plenty of them throughout the Cairns region as well as around Brisbane.

NEW HOLLAND HONEYEATER (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae) [E]

As Steve pointed out, visiting birders like this species a lot more than Australian birders, as, though they are a handsome species, they are numerous and quite pugnacious, and familiarity breeds contempt, so it's said. We only saw these at Royal NP, first with so-so views along Lady Carrington Drive, then excellent looks at about a dozen that Steve squeaked up in the heath at Wattamolla.

WHITE-CHEEKED HONEYEATER (Phylidonyris niger) [E]

The town of Tolga is as good as any place to see this lovely honeyeater, and we had fantastic looks at 2 or 3 in some flowering shrubs across the street from the cafe.

BLUE-FACED HONEYEATER (Entomyzon cyanotis) [E]

A big, fairly gregarious honeyeater, mainly in drier, rather open habitats. We saw these at a number of different sites around Mareeba, with a few also at Fred Bucholz Park.

WHITE-THROATED HONEYEATER (Melithreptus albogularis) [E]

The genus Melithreptus is made up of 7 very similar species of small honeyeaters, 2 of them endemic to Tasmania. The two we regularly encounter on this tour are nearly lookalikes, but can be separated by the color of the tiny patch of bare skin by the eye, which is pale bluish in this species. We saw these around Mareeba and Davies Creek in Australia, as well as along the Varirata entrance road in PNG.

WHITE-NAPED HONEYEATER (Melithreptus lunatus) [E]

Differs from the above in having red bare skin by the eye, and despite being a pretty tiny feature, it is easily seen given a good look. We certainly were able to see this feature on the first ones we encountered along the creek at Wondecla. We also saw these in the eucalyptus forests below O'Reilly's.

TAWNY-BREASTED HONEYEATER (Xanthotis flaviventer) [E]

Quite variable throughout its range, and there might be some splitting in this bird's future. We had quick, but good looks at a pair in a fruiting tree at Varirata's picnic area. The birds here are very tawny with an obvious spectacled appearance, and are either subspecies giulianettii or visi.

MACLEAY'S HONEYEATER (Xanthotis macleayanus) [E]

Another Atherton Tableland specialty. We saw just one pair, a couple of birds that tumbled out of the trees and on to the edge of the parking lot at Lake Barrine. Guess they were having some sort of disagreement.

LITTLE FRIARBIRD (Philemon citreogularis) [E]

Fred Bucholz Park seems to be the most reliable spot on the tour route for this species, and the three birds we had there were the only ones for the tour.

HELMETED FRIARBIRD (NEW GUINEA) (Philemon buceroides novaeguineae) [E]

New Guinea Friarbird has sometimes been treated as a full species, but is currently considered a subspecies of Helmeted. We saw these fairly regularly, mainly in the Port Moresby region, but also a couple at Kama.

HELMETED FRIARBIRD (HORNBILL) (Philemon buceroides yorki) [E]

This one is common in the Cairns region, mostly seen in small numbers, but with 15-20 of them at Yorkey's Knob chasing each other around and making a ruckus. This subspecies is restricted to Queensland and is sometimes split from the above species and the subspecies from the Northern Territory.

NOISY FRIARBIRD (Philemon corniculatus) [E]

Replaces Helmeted Hornbill in drier areas of the tablelands (Mareeba, Granite Gorge, etc) where it can sometimes be quite numerous. We also had a singles along Duck Creek Road and at Fred Bucholz Park.

Pardalotidae (Pardalotes)

SPOTTED PARDALOTE (Pardalotus punctatus) [E]

With all the large, colorful, charismatic birds on this tour, it's pretty surprising that this tiny bird does so well in bird of the trip voting, but it is a stunning bird, and they often do give us quite a show. This trip was no different, and we had amazing, close eye-level looks at one along Duck Creek Road, prompting Richard to place it at number one on his list.

STRIATED PARDALOTE (Pardalotus striatus) [E]

A pair at Mareeba Golf Course weren't quite as cooperative as we would have liked, but Richard spotted another as we walked out along the main road from Granite Gorge, and that one sat up in a bare tree giving us some lengthy looks. We also had a couple more at Davies Creek a few days later.

Acanthizidae (Thornbills and Allies)

GOLDENFACE (Pachycare flavogriseum) [E*]

This unique bird was calling as it moved with a small feeding flock at Varirata, but, although Leonard and I both got on it at the same time, we were unable to get anyone else on it before it moved off, never to return, so it was really a heard only bird for the group.

MOUNTAIN MOUSE-WARBLER (Crateroscelis robusta) [E*]

Oddly we were unable to track any of these down around Kumul lodge, where they're usually pretty easy, but we did hear them singing both at the lodge and at Murmur Pass.

YELLOW-THROATED SCRUBWREN (Sericornis citreogularis) [E]

Very reminiscent of our Common Yellowthroat, these mainly terrestrial birds were common at O'Reilly's, where some birds are incredibly habituated. We also saw several of their surprisingly large nests both at O'Reilly's and at Royal NP.

WHITE-BROWED SCRUBWREN (Sericornis frontalis) [E]

A common species all along the eastern side of Australia, though we only started seeing them at O'Reilly's where they are bold and conspicuous, and one of many species that will hop right into your hand! Also seen at Royal NP, where they act more naturally.

Field Guides Birding Tours
With one of the smallest ranges of any species we saw, Albert’s Lyrebird is one of the trickiest specialties to see at O’Reilly’s, so it was fantastic to find it so easily this trip, and to have such an incredible close encounter! Photo by participant Pete Peterman.

ATHERTON SCRUBWREN (Sericornis keri) [E]

Separating this species from the near-identical Large-billed Scrubwren is one of the most difficult challenges in Australian bird ID, made harder as they do occur together at some sites, such as Mt Hypipamee. That's where we saw these birds, which we mainly identified by their vocalizations and habit of feeding primarily on the ground.

LARGE SCRUBWREN (Sericornis nouhuysi) [E]

Endemic to New Guinea, where a small party of them were seen regularly around Kumul Lodge.

LARGE-BILLED SCRUBWREN (Sericornis magnirostra) [E]

Much more widespread than the very local lookalike, Atherton Scrubwren. We saw these in Australia from the Atherton Tablelands south right through to Royal NP.

MOUNTAIN THORNBILL (Acanthiza katherina) [E]

Another high elevation specialty of the Atherton Tablelands region. We had excellent looks at a pair feeding not far over our heads along the entrance road to Mt Hypipamee.

BROWN THORNBILL (Acanthiza pusilla) [E]

The common forest thornbill down Australia's east coast, and we encountered these regularly at O'Reilly's and Royal NP.

STRIATED THORNBILL (Acanthiza lineata) [E]

There were lots of these in the Eucalyptus forest along Duck Creek Road, though they were tough to get a definitive look at as they were staying mostly quite high in the trees. We eventually got reasonable looks at some birds that came lower, but had our best views at the start of the Morans Falls trail where a small group of them were feeding just above eye level and quite nearby.

GREEN-BACKED GERYGONE (Gerygone chloronota) [E*]

We heard the distinctive song of this one a few times at Varirata, but never close enough to do anything about.

FAIRY GERYGONE (Gerygone palpebrosa) [E]

One of the fanciest of the gerygones, and we saw both the fancier of the 2 Australian subspecies, personata (a male at Granite Gorge, a female at Machan's Beach) and the even more colorful subspecies inconspicua in PNG (a pair at Varirata).

LARGE-BILLED GERYGONE (Gerygone magnirostris) [E]

Nothing fancy about this one, but we had some good views of them several times around the Cairns region, including at Centenary Lakes and Granite Gorge.

BROWN GERYGONE (Gerygone mouki) [EN]

By far the most commonly seen gerygone, regularly seen and heard at many sites all along the Australian portion of the tour. Our first were at Hasties Swamp, where we found a pair attending a nest in a roadside tree, evidently feeding the hungry youngsters inside.

BROWN-BREASTED GERYGONE (Gerygone ruficollis) [E]

We heard the lovely song more often than we saw these birds, but the song is the best thing about this rather drab bird anyway. We did have some okay views of them at Murmur Pass.

MANGROVE GERYGONE (Gerygone levigaster) [E]

Fantastic close looks at a lone bird in the mangroves (appropriately) at the Port of Brisbane.

Pomatostomidae (Pseudo-Babblers)

GRAY-CROWNED BABBLER (Pomatostomus temporalis) [E]

The pseudo-babblers are a pretty small family with just 4 species in Australia and a single one in New Guinea, and this is the only one we have any chance for on this tour. We did well this year, getting excellent looks at a group of 3 or 4 at the Mareeba Golf Course, then another group at Granite Gorge.

Orthonychidae (Logrunners)

AUSTRALIAN LOGRUNNER (Orthonyx temminckii) [E]

O'Reilly's is the place to see this beautifully-patterned terrestrial bird, and we had fantastic looks at a couple of pairs, one along the Booyong Track, the others at the Python Rock Trail.

Campephagidae (Cuckooshrikes)

STOUT-BILLED CUCKOOSHRIKE (Coracina caeruleogrisea) [E]

A pair of these chunky cuckooshrikes were feeding high above the trail at Varirata, but most, if not all, of us got reasonable looks at them.

BARRED CUCKOOSHRIKE (Coracina lineata) [E]

Seen in both countries, with the nominate form, in which both sexes are barred below, seen at the Curtain Fig and Chambers, while the widespread PNG form, axillaris, in which males are completely dark gray with unbarred bellies, were sighted a number of times around the Varirata picnic clearing.

BOYER'S CUCKOOSHRIKE (Coracina boyeri) [E]

Seen around the picnic clearing on both visits to Varirata, with a pair on the first visit, and alone bird on the second. Most easily told by the rufous underwing coverts, a feature shared only with the much large Stout-billed.

BLACK-FACED CUCKOOSHRIKE (Coracina novaehollandiae)

Though generally a common bird, it took us some time to finally catch up with these birds, as we didn't really see them until we got to the Port of Brisbane Wetlands, where there were quite a few flying over, but not really perching where we could get a look. It wasn't until our final birding spot at Wattamolla that we finally got some good looks at a perched bird.


Fair numbers seen all over the Cairns region.

VARIED TRILLER (Lalage leucomela)

We saw about a dozen of these in total, all in the Cairns area, though we did also hear one at Kamarun Lookout below O'Reilly's.

BLACK-BELLIED CICADABIRD (Edolisoma montanum) [E]

The resident pair around the clearing at Murmur Pass showed up several times on both of our visits, eventually coming in close and offering up some stellar views.

COMMON CICADABIRD (Edolisoma tenuirostre)

A female at Cattana Wetlands was seen briefly by a couple of folks, I believe, and our only other one was a singing bird at Centenary Lakes that refused to show itself.

Field Guides Birding Tours
This Black-throated Robin posed at close range during a visit to Murmur Pass in the PNG highlands, allowing guide Jay VanderGaast to capture this striking portrait.

BLACK CICADABIRD (Edolisoma melas) [E]

Heard several times at Varirata, and we finally managed some amazing close views of a male along the entrance road as we were leaving the park.

Neosittidae (Sittellas)

VARIED SITTELLA (Daphoenositta chrysoptera) [E]

The final addition to our triplist and a real surprise as I've rarely met up with this species at Royal NP (just once previously, that I recall). While it was nice to see this bird, it was also a bit sad, as these are generally very social birds, but this one was by itself.

Psophodidae (Whipbirds and Wedgebills)

EASTERN WHIPBIRD (Psophodes olivaceus) [E]

The call is among the easiest to learn songs among Australian birds, and we heard them often throughout the Aussie portion of the tour. Though we actually managed to see our first ones, a pair, in the lantana thickets along the creek at Wondercla, they were far easier to see at O'Reilly's, where they are pretty habituated.

Eulacestomatidae (Ploughbill)

WATTLED PLOUGHBILL (Eulacestoma nigropectus) [E]

One of the many oddball species to be found in PNG, and in an endemic, monotypic family, so it's always a big target for visiting birders. We were extremely lucky to get this one so quickly at Murmur Pass, especially as they were not at all vocal. We were just in the right place at the right time when this bird, a male popped out of a shrub near the start of the trail, staying just long enough for everyone to get a decent view before it was gone.

Oreoicidae (Australo-Papuan Bellbirds)

RUFOUS-NAPED BELLBIRD (Aleadryas rufinucha) [E]

Formerly placed among the whistlers, but now in a small family of 3 species, 2 in PNG, one in Australia. This species is quite common in the highlands, but more often heard than seen, though, as usual, a couple of birds made regular passes through the lodge grounds and we all caught up with one or two on at least one of their visits.

Falcunculidae (Shrike-tit)

CRESTED SHRIKE-TIT (EASTERN) (Falcunculus frontatus frontatus) [E]

A quiet start to our walk in the Wondecla Forest was immediately brightened up by the appearance of a couple of these fine birds. They didn't stick around long, but they showed well while they were in view.

Paramythiidae (Tit Berrypecker and Crested Berrypecker)

TIT BERRYPECKER (Oreocharis arfaki) [E]

Another small, endemic family to PNG, with just 3 species (2 before the current split separating eastern and western forms of Crested Berrypecker). We had these first at Kumul Lodge, but had our best views at Murmur Pass, where, after several tantalizing glimpses, we eventually had a striking male sit out in the bare branches of a tree in the clearing for some stonking views!

Pachycephalidae (Whistlers and Allies)

RUSTY PITOHUI (Pseudorectes ferrugineus)

A group of 5 or more birds moved through the canopy along a trail at Varirata, rarely staying in one place for long, but I believe we all managed a decent look at one or two of them. Note this is not one of the famous poisonous pitohuis, but rather, a shrikethrush.

BOWER'S SHRIKETHRUSH (Colluricincla boweri) [E]

Another Atherton tableland specialty, with singles seen at Mt Hypipamee and Lake Barrine.

GRAY SHRIKETHRUSH (Colluricincla harmonica) [E]

A widespread and familiar species in Australia. We saw them best, and most easily, at O'Reilly's, where they are quite bold and tame, though our first bird was seen nicely at Davies Creek.

VARIABLE SHRIKETHRUSH (Colluricincla fortis)

Part of the Little Shrikethrush complex which was split into 7 species a few years ago. This is the form found in Varirata NP, where we had exceptionally good views along the trail that follows the stream.

RUFOUS SHRIKETHRUSH (Colluricincla rufogaster)

Also part of the Little Shrikethrush complex and we had looks at several birds across a handful of sites in the Atherton Tablelands.

REGENT WHISTLER (Pachycephala schlegelii) [E]

This handsome highland whistler was seen beautifully several times around Kumul Lodge and other nearby sites.

GOLDEN WHISTLER (Pachycephala pectoralis)

A common species of Australia's eastern rainforests, where we saw them numerous times throughout the trip.

WHITE-BELLIED WHISTLER (Pachycephala leucogastra) [E*]

This very local species was heard along the Varirata entrance road on both our visits, but refused to show itself either time.

BLACK-HEADED WHISTLER (Pachycephala monacha) [E]

I think Pete was the only one to actually see this whistler at the Kama Lesser BoP site; the rest if us could only mark it down as "heard".

RUFOUS WHISTLER (Pachycephala rufiventris) [E]

Another beautiful whistler, this one seeming to occur mainly in dryer habitats than the Golden Whistler, though there is some overlap. We saw them at several sites in the tablelands, most notably along the road at Hasties Swamp and at Davies Creek, and we also heard a couple in Royal NP.

Oriolidae (Old World Orioles)

HOODED PITOHUI (Pitohui dichrous) [E]

This is the infamous poisonous pitohui, which is actually an Old World Oriole. We had a few good looks at these at Varirata NP.

BROWN ORIOLE (Oriolus szalayi) [E]

A common and fairly conspicuous dull oriole, seen a number of times around Varirata.

OLIVE-BACKED ORIOLE (Oriolus sagittatus) [E]

These seemed to be missing from a number of sites where I usually find them (Granite Gorge, Wondecla), perhaps it being just a bit too early for them to have returned to their breeding areas. So it wasn't until our final day at Royal NP that we finally caught up with these, but the ones we found that day put on a nice show, at least!

GREEN ORIOLE (Oriolus flavocinctus) [E]

Fairly common along the coast around Cairns, and especially so at Cattana Wetlands where they showed extremely well.

AUSTRALASIAN FIGBIRD (Sphecotheres vieilloti) [E]

Plentiful and seen daily in northern Queensland (race flaviventris), with a handful of the endemic, and quite local, PNG subspecies salvadorii at PAU. Most surprisingly were three birds of the nominate form at Royal NP, where I've only seen this species once before, and even Steve seemed a bit surprised to find them there.

Field Guides Birding Tours
The fancy head plumes of a male King-of-Saxony Bird-of-paradise are fully on display in this arty shot by guide Jay VanderGaast!
Machaerirhynchidae (Boatbills)

BLACK-BREASTED BOATBILL (Machaerirhynchus nigripectus) [E]

We saw just one of these wonderful highland birds, deftly spotted by Pete near the upper cabins at Kumul Lodge, which allowed us to clean up this very small family.

YELLOW-BREASTED BOATBILL (Machaerirhynchus flaviventer) [E]

Fairly common in the northern Queensland rainforests, but not always easy to see as it does like to stay high in the canopy. We did manage a couple of great looks, though, with first a pair in a mixed flock at the forest edge at Lake Barrine, then another that same afternoon at the Curtain FIg.

Artamidae (Woodswallows, Bellmagpies, and Allies)


Numerous and conspicuous in the Cairns region, often seen on roadside wires, including right outside our hotel on the Esplanade. Once we left Cairns, we had just one bird in PNG, at PAU.

DUSKY WOODSWALLOW (Artamus cyanopterus) [E]

Great views of a pair in the Wondecla State Forest. The white line along the leading edge of the wing is a useful mark for separating this species from the otherwise similar Little Woodswallow, which has also been recorded at this site a few times.

BLACK-BACKED BUTCHERBIRD (Cracticus mentalis) [E]

We were getting close to the end of our visit to PAU and still hadn't seen one of these birds when Richard saved the day by spotting one perched on the edge of a copse of trees nearby.

HOODED BUTCHERBIRD (Cracticus cassicus) [E]

A common species at Varirata, where we had several excellent studies of these striking birds.

PIED BUTCHERBIRD (Cracticus nigrogularis) [E]

It's kind of surprising that we only saw one of these usually common birds in Australia, that one being at Davies Creek.

BLACK BUTCHERBIRD (Cracticus quoyi)

Small numbers were seen in the Cairns region, and a single bird at Varirata NP.

AUSTRALIAN MAGPIE (Gymnorhina tibicen) [E*]

We picked up small numbers of these iconic Australian birds at scattered locales around the tablelands, but they were much more common further south, where in addition to daily sightings, we also found a nest with some nearly-fledged youngsters at Fred Bucholz Park.

PIED CURRAWONG (Strepera graculina) [E]

As with the above, we picked up our first few in the tablelands, then saw plenty more once we headed south. They were especially numerous around the cafe at O'Reilly's, where 20+ birds were hanging out waiting for an opportunity to raid an unguarded meal on the patio.

Rhagologidae (Mottled Berryhunter)

MOTTLED BERRYHUNTER (Rhagologus leucostigma) [*]

Though quite a vocal species, this can be a hard bird to actually see, unless you happen to find the right kind of fruiting tree. We did not, so had to settle for a few renditions of their song at Murmur Pass.

Rhipiduridae (Fantails)

NORTHERN FANTAIL (Rhipidura rufiventris) [E]

Not a bird we often see on this tour, as they seem to be pretty local in northern Queensland, so finding a bird feeding very low next to the road at Davies Creek was a nice surprise.

WILLIE-WAGTAIL (Rhipidura leucophrys) [E]

A familiar, ubiquitous species in both countries, seen almost daily, though we did miss them on one day in the PNG highlands, one day at O'Reilly's, and at Royal NP.

RUFOUS FANTAIL (Rhipidura rufifrons)

This fantail has just been split into 6 different species, with 5 of those occurring on various islands in the region (Solomons, Moluccas, etc). Australian birds are now called Australian Rufous Fantail, though they retain the same scientific name. We had several nice encounters with these lovely birds, first at Machan's Beach and Davies Creek in the Cairns region, then several at O'Reilly's, including an odd-looking tailless bird at the Morans Falls trailhead, and finally a single bird at Royal NP.

FRIENDLY FANTAIL (Rhipidura albolimbata) [E]

Quite common in the PNG highlands, and, as the name suggests, quite a "friendly" species, usually quite confiding and showing itself easily, unlike some of PNG's other fantail species!

CHESTNUT-BELLIED FANTAIL (Rhipidura hyperythra) [E]

We weren't having especially good luck with small Passerine flocks at Varirata, but we finally connected with one such flock along the creek, which allowed us to lay eyes on a pair of these beautiful fantails.

GRAY FANTAIL (Rhipidura albiscapa) [E]

Seen in small numbers throughout the eastern forests of Australia.

Dicruridae (Drongos)

SPANGLED DRONGO (Dicrurus bracteatus)

Though they occur all along the eastern side of Australia, all of our records of this species came from the Cairns area, where we saw a few almost daily. We also saw a few birds at Varirata NP, though these birds belong to the endemic PNG subspecies, carbonarius, which could possibly be elevated to a full species one day.

Paradisaeidae (Birds-of-Paradise)

CRINKLE-COLLARED MANUCODE (Manucodia chalybatus) [E]

An excellent trip for this species, and easily the best looks I've yet had. We saw a couple quite well at the fruiting tree in the picnic area on our first visit to Varirata, and that we would have been perfectly happy if that had been our only look. But the next day as we walked the trail towards the lookout, we came across a bird that was sitting quite boldly out in the open, not far off the trail. Not a usual behavior, but Leonard soon pointed out the reason--there was a nest not far away. We moved down the trail, then looked back, but the adult hadn't moved, but once most of the group had moved on, a couple of us got to see the adult come down to the nest and feed the hungry nestlings! What a superb encounter!


I think most of the group, if not everyone, missed the one at the picnic clearing in Varirata, but we were fortunate to find another at PAU the same afternoon, so we all saw one in the end.

KING-OF-SAXONY BIRD-OF-PARADISE (Pteridophora alberti) [E]

The kings were active at Murmur Pass, and we had so many fantastic looks at bizarre, antennaed males, that folks were no longer paying them much attention by the end of our visits! This is truly one of the best of the many wonderful BoPs we saw, and Julia certainly agree, placing it at the top of her favorite PNG birds list.

GREATER LOPHORINA (Lophorina superba) [E]

These birds always seem to be winding down their displaying by the time we do this tour, so they can be a challenge to find. We did find one, a male, from the roadside at Kama, and I believe everyone saw it, but it didn't stick around long, and was almost constantly moving, so it was tough to get it in the scope. We heard some calling at Tonga early the next morning, but the rainy conditions that started shortly after pretty much washed out our changes that day.

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What a nice surprise to encounter this nesting Papuan Frogmouth right out in the open at Varirata NP! Photo by participant Pete Peterman.

PARADISE RIFLEBIRD (Ptiloris paradiseus) [E]

We had no sooner decided to leave the Python Rock Trail to go in search of riflebirds elsewhere when a female flew across the trail ahead of us and perched in the subcanopy, giving us a super show before carrying on her way. Given that we'd had such good views of males of the other two riflebirds, it wasn't a disappointment that she was the only one we saw.

VICTORIA'S RIFLEBIRD (Ptiloris victoriae) [E]

Heard or seen at a bunch of tablelands sites, but our best views were early in the morning at Chambers, when at least 4 birds, including a glittering adult male, showed beautifully in the fruiting trees around the parking area. This was Pete's favorite Australian bird.

GROWLING RIFLEBIRD (Ptiloris intercedens) [E]

We heard several calling on our first visit to Varirata, then the next day had some fine views of a couple of calling males. Our security guy, Jackson, did a great job of finding the first one near the Raggiana lek, after we'd spent some time trying to track down its song perch. Later on we found another calling from a tall Casuarina along the trail along the creek.

BROWN SICKLEBILL (Epimachus meyeri) [E]

While females have been fixtures at the Kumul Lodge feeders for years, it had been a few years (since 2014 at least!) since I'd seen an adult male there, so it was wonderful to have one back there this year! We also saw several birds at Murmur Pass, where we also got to hear the loud, machine-gun rattle of the male a few times. This species was Pete's choice for top bird in PNG.

STEPHANIE'S ASTRAPIA (Astrapia stephaniae) [E]

Generally at slightly lower elevations than the next species, and on this trip, that means Murmur Pass. And that is where we saw a trio of birds, including a fantastic male with full, flowing tail feathers. He put on quite a show, too, flying across the clearing a couple of times, and once hopping around in a fruiting tree on the other side of the clearing for several wonderful minutes!

RIBBON-TAILED ASTRAPIA (Astrapia mayeri) [E]

Several birds were regular visitors to the feeders at Kumul, including an adult male which, even though his brilliant white tail plumes hadn't fully grown in (they were maybe half the length they eventually get to), still looked amazing.

MAGNIFICENT BIRD-OF-PARADISE (Cicinnurus magnificus) [E]

Our local guide John did a great job of finding a calling male near the roadside at Kama, and though it wasn't especially close, we all had some super scope views of this bird, which we rarely see on this tour.

BLUE BIRD-OF-PARADISE (Paradisaea rudolphi) [E]

We got a bit lucky with this one on the Tonga Trail, as the rain that eventually washed out the morning held off long enough for us to track down a male for some stunning scope views!

LESSER BIRD-OF-PARADISE (Paradisaea minor) [E]

Back in July I'd noticed that in addition to the Lesser BoPs at the Kama display area, there were also a couple of Raggiana BoPs that were at the lek, the first I'd seen there. And this visit, the first male BoP that turned up was a Raggiana (despite the landowner trying to convince us it was Lesser), but after a bit of a wait, a male Lesser popped up on the same display perch downhill from our viewpoint, giving a nice show as it sat out in full view for several long minutes!

RAGGIANA BIRD-OF-PARADISE (Paradisaea raggiana) [EN]

Plenty as always at Varirata, including some spectacular males at the famous display site. They put on a pretty decent show despite the lack of females that turned up. Leonard also showed us an active nest next to the bridge in the picnic area, the female sitting tight, probably realizing that she was nearly invisible despite being just a few feet away!

Ifritidae (Ifrita)

BLUE-CAPPED IFRITA (Ifrita kowaldi) [E]

Quiet this trip, but we finally did pick up a pair of these fantastic, unique birds (in their own family) at Murmur Pass.

Monarchidae (Monarch Flycatchers)

WHITE-EARED MONARCH (Carterornis leucotis) [E]

An unfamiliar call early in the morning at Chambers reminded me of a cuckoo (Long-billed Cuckoo, to be specific, a PNG endemic), but didn't fit any local species, and I just couldn't place it. I was about to give up when I finally located it atop a tree near the lodge, and it was one of these striking, and rather uncommon, monarchs. We often struggle for this species, so it was a nice surprise to see another one in a small mixed flock at Machan's Beach the next morning!

BLACK-FACED MONARCH (Monarcha melanopsis) [E]

Overall we had fewer than usual of this monarch, though the few we did see (at Cattana Wetlands, Davies Creek, and Royal NP, all showed very nicely.

SPECTACLED MONARCH (Symposiachrus trivirgatus) [E]

It was a good trip for this gorgeous monarch, as we had singles or pairs at a number of different sites in the Cairns region (Cattana, Lake Barrine, Wondecla, Machan's Beach) and most of those gave us incredible looks.

SPOT-WINGED MONARCH (Symposiachrus guttula) [E]

This monarch tends to stay low inside the forest, and isn't always easy to see, though we eventually got everyone on our only one along the creek trail at Varirata.

FRILLED MONARCH (Arses telescopthalmus) [E]

Usually fairly easy to see, but they weren't very vocal on this visit (likely on nests), and the only one we found, a male at about the same time and place as the above, was a bit less friendly than normal, though he eventually gave himself up.

PIED MONARCH (Arses kaupi) [E]

We rarely see many of these tableland endemics, and we usually have to work a bit for them, but the one bird we found, (a male) came easily this trip, as we found it with a small mixed flock feeding quite low next to the road at Lake Barrine.

MAGPIE-LARK (Grallina cyanoleuca) [E]

A common and very familiar bird through most of Australia. There was even one in the restaurant at our Cairns hotel at breakfast one morning, apparently having been trapped in there through the night.

TORRENT-LARK (Grallina bruijnii) [E]

Closely related to the Magpie-Lark, but this bird couldn't be more different. Though somewhat similar in appearance, this species is restricted to fast-flowing streams in the PNG highlands, where it is incredibly shy and hard to get a prolonged look at. But, that's just what we did, when John took us up to his waterfall below Kumul Lodge. As we sat in the shelter he'd built overlooking the spectacularly beautiful falls, a pair of these birds flew in and began foraging along the stream, mostly hidden from view, but the female eventually came out and gave us amazing long views, by far my best ever! While I think everyone agreed that the walk to the falls was the top overall experience of the tour, Richard and Cheryl also chose this as their favorite bird in PNG!

LEADEN FLYCATCHER (Myiagra rubecula) [E]

A few birds, primarily females, were tallied at several sites all the way down Australia's eastern seaboard. We eventually did find a couple of males, too, with one at Davies Creek being our first, if I remember correctly.

Melampittidae (Melampittas)

LESSER MELAMPITTA (Melampitta lugubris) [E]

Another of PNG's endemic bird families, this one with just two species. This is the easier to see melampitta, though it definitely isn't easy. We did exceptionally well, though, getting awesome looks at a pair along the trail at Murmur Pass in the late afternoon, then seeing them again on our return visit on our final morning at Kumul!

Laniidae (Shrikes)

LONG-TAILED SHRIKE (NASUTUS GROUP) (Lanius schach stresemanni)

A few birds seen in overgrown fields in the Kama area. This is the only shrike species with resident populations on the Australian side of Wallace's Line (Brown Shrike is a vagrant), and this subspecies is endemic to PNG, with no records on the western, Indonesian half of the island even! Would not surprise me if this is one day elevated to a full, endemic PNG species.

Field Guides Birding Tours
The speckled face, and barring in the breast and red tail panel mark this Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, snapped by guide Jay VanderGaast along the Esplanade in Cairns, as a female.
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

TORRESIAN CROW (Corvus orru) [E]

The common crow of the Cairns and Brisbane regions, as well as in the savannas around Port Moresby.

AUSTRALIAN RAVEN (Corvus coronoides) [E]

Only seen around Sydney, where they are most easily identified by their distinctive, drawn-out, rather whiny calls.

Cnemophilidae (Satinbirds)

LORIA'S SATINBIRD (Cnemophilus loriae) [E]

Fine views of a couple of different males sitting up and calling from open treetop perches at Murmur Pass.

Melanocharitidae (Berrypeckers and Longbills)

FAN-TAILED BERRYPECKER (Melanocharis versteri) [E]

A couple of birds at Murmur Pass, though I think most of us only saw the female well.

Petroicidae (Australasian Robins)

TORRENT FLYCATCHER (Monachella muelleriana) [E]

This species, as well as the Microeca flycatchers (ie the following 3 species) have all just been officially renamed as flyrobins. Torrent Flyrobin is, as the name suggests, a fast-flowing river specialist, and we found a handful along the Lai River and the smaller stream at Walya Village.

LEMON-BELLIED FLYCATCHER (Microeca flavigaster) [E]

Great looks at a pair of birds at Davies Creek.

OLIVE FLYROBIN (Microeca flavovirescens)

One bird along the creek trail at Varirata was a useful tick.

PAPUAN FLYCATCHER (Microeca papuana) [E]

In addition to being renamed a flyrobin, the first part of this bird's name has reverted to Canary, so it is now called the Canary Flyrobin. We had a couple of these cuties hanging around near our vantage point at Murmur Pass.

ROSE ROBIN (Petroica rosea) [E]

I'm always happy to hear the musical song of this bird when we get to O'Reilly's. And I'm even happier when we see it, as it is such a lovely, delicate shade of pink that you don't see on many birds. It took some effort to get one these to show itself, but a responsive male near the cabins eventually sat still long enough for all to enjoy.

WHITE-FACED ROBIN (Tregellasia leucops) [E]

Mainly a PNG bird, though there is an Australian population (endemic subspecies) restricted to Cape York at the northern tip of Queensland. We just happened across these delightful birds a couple of times along the creek trail at Varirata, each bird posing cooperatively for our group.

PALE-YELLOW ROBIN (Tregellasia capito) [E]

This one has two disjunct populations representing by two distinct subspecies. We saw these quite easily, first a bird feeding along the edge of the car park at Lake Barrine, and later, another at the Curtain Fig. This tableland subspecies is nana, which shows pale buff-orange lores.

EASTERN YELLOW ROBIN (Eopsaltria australis) [EN]

The most numerous and widespread of the robins we encountered. We had our first couple in the tablelands, at Hasties Swamp and Wondecla, but they were far more common further south, where we had them daily, including a nesting bird at Royal NP.

MANGROVE ROBIN (Eopsaltria pulverulenta) [E]

We had to work our way considerably further along the mangroves than we usually do to find this species, but despite the rain, we were successful in our quest, getting fine views of a trio of these dapper robins.

WHITE-BROWED ROBIN (Poecilodryas superciliosa) [E]

One of my favorite robins, and I was delighted to see they were still on territory along Davies Creek, where they put on a super performance.

BLACK-THROATED ROBIN (Poecilodryas albonotata) [E]

I've only had this species on the tour once previously, so spotting one in the clearing at Murmur Pass took me a bit by surprise. Happily it hung around for some time and posed right below where we stood for some fine views and photographs!

WHITE-WINGED ROBIN (Peneothello sigillata) [E]

As usual, there were a few of these hanging around Kumul Lodge, including a juvenile or two.

ASHY ROBIN (Heteromyias albispecularis) [E*]

Heard on one of our visits to Murmur Pass, but it didn't come out to feed this time. Incidentally, this species has just been split into two species, and this one is now called Black-capped Robin (H. armiti).

GRAY-HEADED ROBIN (Heteromyias cinereifrons) [E]

Once considered conspecific with the above, and it looks quite similar to the West Papuan form (now called Arfak Robin), but very different from Black-capped. This is another specialty of the tableland region, where we saw quite a few, mainly at Mt Hypipamee.

Acrocephalidae (Reed Warblers and Allies)

AUSTRALIAN REED WARBLER (Acrocephalus australis) [E]

One was well seen along the road at Hasties Swamp, another seen briefly as we waited for platypuses near Yungaburra, and that was it for the trip.

Locustellidae (Grassbirds and Allies)

TAWNY GRASSBIRD (Cincloramphus timoriensis) [E]

We got kind of lucky with this one, as I spotted some movement in some tall grasses well off the road at Hasties Swamp, through a small gap in the roadside trees. I focused the scope on the spot, and saw this bird poking its head out of the grass, where it stayed put long enough for all to get a chance at the scope. It turned out to be the only one of the trip.

PAPUAN GRASSBIRD (Cincloramphus macrurus) [E]

Split from the above a few years back, this species is restricted to the PNG highlands, where we had several good views of calling birds at Kama.

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

WELCOME SWALLOW (Hirundo neoxena) [E]

Common throughout the Australian part of the the tour. Cheryl was especially pleased to be welcomed by them , as this was the first species she saw upon arriving in Australia.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Surely the Wonga Pigeon is one of the most dapper of the many pigeons we encountered, though it also has one of the most annoyingly incessant calls! Photo by participant Pete Peterman.

PACIFIC SWALLOW (Hirundo tahitica)

Replaces Welcome Swallow in PNG, where it is generally the only swallow we see. We had them mainly around the airport in Port Moresby, with a few birds also at PAU and the Lai River in the highlands.

FAIRY MARTIN (Petrochelidon ariel) [E]

First seen in the rain flying low over the sports fields at the north end of the Esplanade. Better views were had at Swan Lake, where there were loads of them feeding over the lake.

TREE MARTIN (Petrochelidon nigricans) [E]

Darker-backed than Fairy Martin, and lacking the rufous cap of that species. This tends to be less common on this tour, and usually we only see them around Fred Bucholz Park, though we did had a few going over the platypus spot near Yungaburra.

Phylloscopidae (Leaf Warblers)

ISLAND LEAF WARBLER (Phylloscopus poliocephalus)

Phylloscopus warblers might be difficult to sort out in Asia, but as this is the only species in PNG, it is an easy call. We heard quite a few along the Tonga Trail, then had one bird feeding low right next to the track as we walked down in the rain.

Zosteropidae (White-eyes, Yuhinas, and Allies)

BLACK-FRONTED WHITE-EYE (Zosterops minor) [E*]

Heard a few times at Varirata, but we never connected with one.

SILVEREYE (Zosterops lateralis)

Mainly seen on the tablelands, with small groups at several different sites. Elsewhere we saw just a pair at Royal NP.

NEW GUINEA WHITE-EYE (Zosterops novaeguineae) [E]

Small numbers at Kama and the Lai River, where they are usually quite common.

Sturnidae (Starlings)

METALLIC STARLING (Aplonis metallica)

Quite common in the Cairns region, where we saw them most days. We missed them in PNG this trip, but they are fairly common there as well.

SINGING STARLING (Aplonis cantoroides) [E]

We had good looks at a noisy juvenile sitting by itself in a tree adjacent to the ponds at PAU, then saw a couple on a jet bridge (a favorite area for these birds) as we were awaiting our flight from Port Moresby to Brisbane.

YELLOW-FACED MYNA (Mino dumontii) [E]

A handful of these colorful mynas were seen at Varirata, including a couple in the big fruiting tree with all the doves.

COMMON MYNA (Acridotheres tristis) [I]

An unfortunately common introduced pest. We saw plenty in the Cairns region, none anywhere else, somewhat surprisingly.

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

BASSIAN THRUSH (Zoothera lunulata) [E]

The two Australian Zoothera thrushes are incredibly difficult to tell apart, so much so that in areas of overlap, such as O'Reilly's, Ebird only lists them as Bassian/Russet-tailed. There are, however, a few subtle field marks that can be used if one gets a good look and/or good photos. This species shows anchor-shaped pale feather tips on the wing coverts, a heavily scaled rump, and little to no white on the tail corners, all of which we were able to see on a very confiding bird in the parking area at O'Reilly's. We also had a couple along the Lady Carrington trail in Royal NP, where they are easy to ID since Russet-tailed doesn't occur so far south.

RUSSET-TAILED THRUSH (Zoothera heinei) [E]

This is the more commonly seen species at O'Reilly's. We saw a couple that were most likely this species along the road below the lodge, then had a definite Russet-tailed along the Python Rock Trail, told by its distinctive call notes.

ISLAND THRUSH (Turdus poliocephalus)

These were all over the Kumul lodge feeders back in July, so I was a bit surprised to not see any around at first, though eventually a couple of birds turned up on our second day. A highly variable species with roughly 50 different subspecies in 30+ different groups, so some splitting seems likely in the future. The birds we saw were subspecies papuensis.

Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

PIED BUSHCHAT (Saxicola caprata)

A couple of birds only around Kama and the Lai River.

Dicaeidae (Flowerpeckers)

RED-CAPPED FLOWERPECKER (Dicaeum geelvinkianum) [E]

Tiny and often difficult to get a good look at, though they're pretty common through much of PNG. We did manage reasonable looks at Kama and the Lai River.

MISTLETOEBIRD (Dicaeum hirundinaceum) [E]

This fancy flowerpecker was seen at a bunch of sites across the tablelands and around Cairns and though they often didn't stay put for long, everyone managed nice looks at a couple by the time we moved on to PNG. With forms from some of the Indonesian islands split off as Pink-breasted Flowerpecker, Mistletoebird is now an Australian endemic.

Nectariniidae (Sunbirds and Spiderhunters)

OLIVE-BACKED SUNBIRD (Cinnyris jugularis)

Another species that was on the chopping block in the latest taxonomic revisions, this bird was split into a whopping 8 species. The ones we saw regularly in the Cairns region are now called Sahul Sunbird (Cinnyris frenatus).

Estrildidae (Waxbills and Allies)

BEAUTIFUL FIRETAIL (Stagonopleura bella)

Not an easy bird to find these days at Royal NP, but Steve knew where some had been seen recently along the Lady Carrington Drive, and he successfully called in one of these well-named little finches in to the trailside for a fantastic look.

RED-BROWED FIRETAIL (Neochmia temporalis) [E]

We had our first looks at these colorful little finches early in the morning at Chambers, but the motherlode was at O'Reilly's where 30+ of them were all over the ground at the bird feeding area.

SCALY-BREASTED MUNIA (Lonchura punctulata) [I]

An introduced species, now quite common all along the east coast of Australia. we had them at a few spots in the environs of Cairns.

HOODED MUNIA (Lonchura spectabilis) [E]

A small flock of these striking little munias popped up in some shrubs at a roadside stop near the Lai River, and another small group was seen as we descended the Tonga Trail in the rain the next day.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Though the open-winged stance of this striking Tropical Rockmaster makes it look like a dragonfly, it is actually a large damselfly! Photo by guide and dragonfly enthusiast Jay VanderGaast.

CHESTNUT-BREASTED MUNIA (Lonchura castaneothorax) [E]

After a few mostly fleeting views in several tablelands sites, we found a big flock of them at the shrinking pond at Mareeba's Rotary Park.

BLUE-FACED PARROTFINCH (Erythrura trichroa) [E]

Usually a pretty inconspicuous, and I find it hard to pinpoint their location from calls, so I was thrilled when we spotted a trio of them feeding in the weedy scrub at the Murmur Pass clearing, especially since we were all able to get great looks, including through the scope!

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

Small numbers most days in the Cairns region.

EURASIAN TREE SPARROW (Passer montanus) [I]

These sparrows have really done well since first appearing in PNG in about 2003, and are now well-established at Port Moresby and other cities. Still, it was quite a surprise to see a flock of about a dozen on the road near Walya village. I think even John claimed he'd not seen them anywhere in the area before.

Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)

GRAY WAGTAIL (Motacilla cinerea) [b]

Though this is apparently a regular wintering bird in PNG, I'd never seen one before, so was not at all expecting the one we saw in a field at Walya village, though it was certainly not the rarity I thought it was.

AUSTRALASIAN PIPIT (AUSTRALIAN) (Anthus novaeseelandiae australis)

A couple of birds in pastoral farmland in the Atherton Tablelands, and a single in the grassy strip along the runway at Mount Hagen's airport were all for the trip.


PLATYPUS (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) [E]

We tried for these awesome creatures on both of our nights in the tablelands, and struck gold both times. Our first attempt was at a new place for me, where, after a bit of a wait, we finally had one swim across the surface right in front of us. The next afternoon we went to my usual site, which, though somewhat overgrown, still proved productive, as we were able to see 3 different platypuses at times! Always cool to see these unique critters.

LONG-NOSED BANDICOOT (Peramelas nasuta) [E]

We missed this in the tablelands where we usually see them, and I didn't expect them anywhere else, so it was a nice surprise to find one along the Booyong Track at O'Reilly's one night. First one I've seen there.

COPPERY BRUSHTAIL POSSUM (Trichosurus johnstonii) [E]

First one was walking across the rooftop of our lodge at Malanda at dusk. We saw several more as we spotlighted at the Curtain Fig the next night.

SHORT-EARED POSSUM (Trichosurus caninus) [E]

This is the brushtail possum that is found at O'Reilly's. We weren't seated at a good table to see these coming to the feeders just outside the restaurant windows, but we found one walking on the canopy walkway on our night walk.

YELLOW-BELLIED GLIDER (Petaurus australis)

On my last visit to Australia, Clayton had offered to take me out looking for this large, rare glider. So we took the opportunity presented by our stay in Malanda to head to an area where these animals are known to occur. It took a fair bit of walking and spotlighting, but we finally located a favored feeding tree, and found a glider feeding quite low on the trunk. This Wet Tropics subspecies is considered endangered, so it was a real treat to see one. It was also fun that my colleague, Phil Gregory, was able to join us, and get his lifer YB Glider as well!

GREEN RINGTAIL POSSUM (Pseudochirops archeri) [E]

We saw quite a few of these somewhat lethargic possums on our night spotting visit to the Curtain Fig.

RED-NECKED PADEMELON (Thylogale thetis) [E]

A few of these came out on the lawn below the cabins at O'Reilly's after dark.

RED-LEGGED PADEMELON (Thylogale stigmatica) [E]

We had brief views of one during the glider outing, then saw a couple more after dark on the lawn at Chambers.

MAREEBA ROCK-WALLABY (Petrogale mareeba) [E]

Our first macropod of the trip, these adorable small wallabies were a big hit as always at Granite Gorge.

LUMHOLTZ'S TREE KANGAROO (Dendrolagus lumholtzi) [E]

Kangaroos don't look like they belong in trees, but tree kangaroos are specially adapted with shorter limbs and stronger front legs which enable them to climb. Not an easy animal to find, though I've seen them more frequently over the last 10 years. We had just one, at the glider spot, where we had great looks as it clung to a tree several meters above the ground.

AGILE WALLABY (Macropus agilis) [E]

A fairly common open country species, though we only saw a few in the tablelands. Best was a very nonchalant male feeding next to the parking area at Davies Creek.

RED-NECKED WALLABY (Macropus rufogriseus) [E]

Great looks at one foraging quietly near the picnic area at Daisy Hill, then several along the road on our way up to O'Reilly's.

WHIPTAIL WALLABY (Macropus parryi) [E]

This one is also aptly known as Pretty-faced Wallaby. I was surprised that there were so many of these right next to the road on our drive up to O'Reilly's, then surprised again that we saw none at all on our way back down.

EASTERN GRAY KANGAROO (Macropus giganteus) [E]

We really don't get far into the range of the larger kangaroos, but fortunately the Mareeba Golf Course is a reliable hangout for good numbers of these, and we made a stop in to see them. I forget how many there were, but 40-50 seems like a safe estimate.

COMMON WALLAROO (Macropus robustus)

Also known as the Euro, this species is kind of midway in size between kangaroos and wallabies. Despite what it may seem, the term wallaroo is not a portmanteau of kangaroo/wallaby, but comes from an Aboriginal language from the Sydney area. We had 4 of these along Springvale Road on our way out of the Wondecla Forest. They were the first ones I'd seen on this tour.

SPECTACLED FLYING-FOX (Pteropus conspicillatus) [E]

Daily in the Cairns region, though the large camp of them that used to hang out in downtown Cairns were no longer there. We did see some enormous congregations of them at a couple of spots in the tablelands.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Australia has more than its fair share of gaudy garden birds, like the ridiculously common Rainbow Lorikeet in this photo by participant Pete Peterman, which is one of the many reasons that birding here is such a treat!

GRAY-HEADED FLYING-FOX (Pteropus poliocephalus) [E]

Hundreds, if not thousands of these adorned the trees along the Canungra Creek on the way to/from O'Reilly's. A truly impressive sight!

WHITE-TAILED RAT (Uromys caudimaculatus) [E]

Several of these large, arboreal rats were found during the night spotting trip at the Curtain Fig.

HUMPBACK WHALE (Megaptera novaeangliae)

A few of these were seen distantly at Wattamolla, and there seemed to be a fair amount of flipper-slapping going on.


EASTERN WATER DRAGON (Intellagama lesueurii) [E]

Quite a common large lizard, seen best along the Hacking River in Royal NP.

LAND MULLET (Bellatorias major)

One of these huge skinks was on the road ahead of the bus as we came down from O'Reilly's.

COPPER-TAILED SKINK (Ctenotus taeniolatus)

One of these smooth skinks scurried across the rocks along the heathland trail at Wattamolla.

CUNNINGHAM'S SKINK (Egernia cunninghami)

This beautifully-marked large skink was in a crevasse in the rocks along the trail at Wattamolla. Steve seemed quite surprised to find one there.

JACKY LIZARD (Amphibolurus muricatus)

A couple of these small lizards were seen in the heath at Wattamolla.

YELLOW-FACED WHIPSNAKE (Demansia psammophis)

We've found these snakes at the same spot in the tablelands for several years now, and I was happy to see it's still a good spot when Clayton located one in a small opening at the base of the rocks.

LESSER BLACK WHIPSNAKE (Demansia vestigiata)

This was a new species for me, and we saw two on the same day. The first was crossing the road as we were driving to Granite Gorge. Later, we had another slithering across the track near the reception building, accompanied by a group of concerned Squatter Pigeons. Though not among the many extremely venomous snakes in the country, large individuals of both this and the above species could pose a threat to humans if they were to bite.

COMMON KEELBACK (Tropidonophis mairii)

One of these semiaquatic snakes was seen swimming along the edge of the freshwater lake at Centenary Lakes, probably hunting frogs, a mainstay of their diets.

KREFFT'S RIVER TURTLE (Emydura krefftii)

We came across one digging a nest hole next to the trail at Centenary Lakes.

MACQUARIETURTLE (Emydura macquarii)

This was the turtle seen basking along the Hacking River at Royal NP.

LACE MONITOR (Varanus varius) [E]

Two sightings bookended the tour. We had a large one cross the trail just in front of us at Cattana Wetlands, then saw another on our final day along the Lady Carrington Track at Royal NP.


Since I did spend a bit of time snapping dragonfly pictures, here is a partial list of the species we saw:

Zircon Flutterer (Rhyothemis princeps): the fluttery, brown-winged dragon at Cattana Wetlands.

Chalky Percher (Diplacodes nebulosa): large gray dragon at Cattana.

Fiery Skimmer (Orthetrum villosovittatum): large, fiery red dragons at Varirata NP.

Tropical Rockmaster (Diphlebia euphoeoides) brilliant blue damsel with smoky wings at Davies Creek.

(Ictinogomphus lieftincki): some sort of Clubtail or Tigertail, this was the stunning black and yellow striped large dragon at Varirata.

Speckled Skimmer (Orthetrum balteatum): this is possibly the large, grayish dragon I photographed at Variata, though it isn't 100% sure. Caused a bit of a stir on iNaturalist as it could be the first confirmed record of this rare speciees in PNG since it was first described from there in 1931!

Variable Wisp (Agriocnemis femina): delicate whitish damselfly at Varirata.

Common Flatwing (Austroargiolestes icteromelas): the flatwing damsel on the Lady Carrington Track at Royal NP.

Totals for the tour: 357 bird taxa and 19 mammal taxa