When you take a “bucket list” trip, there are certain places you very much want to visit, sights you’re eager to see, and experiences you don’t want to miss. When we went to Australia last year—a destination that had been on my bucket list since 1968—the number two item on my list was “see the flying foxes (aka fruit bats).” (Number one was to visit the Daintree rainforest, which as you will see, turned out to be an essential stop.) Continue reading “Batty for Bats”
A visit to tropical Australia has been at the top of my bucket list since I was 13. As we headed north on the Cook Highway, I was sure I was about to encounter a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There’s a reason UNESCO has designated this area as a World Heritage site. (Actually, there are four reasons, including geology, “exceptional natural beauty,” “superlative natural phenomena,” and the presence of endangered species.)
That’s a pretty impressive reputation. Would the Daintree live up to my expectations?
When you love the ocean but live in land-locked Colorado, you have to take advantage of every opportunity to get visit the beach. We were on our way to the Daintree Rainforest (more on that next month) but to get there we had to drive north along the coast from Cairns. Darn.
What has two big hind legs, two small front legs, a big tail, a pouch, jumps, and lives in Australia? I used to think the obvious answer to that was a kangaroo. Then I learned about wallabies. And wallaroos. Being thoroughly confused, I turned to the internet. Oh my.
Tropical rainforests. That was why we had come to northeastern Queensland. I had romantic visions of colorful birds, stunning flowers, perhaps a python or two. Now that we were finally there, it was time to see if my fantasies had any basis in fact.
Our first excursion was to Eubanangee Swamp National Park, south of Cairns. The terrain was rolling grasslands and scrub interspersed with tracts of forest, mostly in the valleys. Cloud-shrouded mountains loomed in the distance. I figured that the edge habitat would be an excellent place to find birds, but the trails were so dark and the foliage was so dense, I was quickly frustrated. Clearly, I need to work on my “birding by ear” skills!
Birding in northeastern Queensland was a bit like a Dickens novel—“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… .” The best parts are easy to list—friendly people, tropical beaches, verdant forests, balmy breezes, exotic species. We were there for a week—I could have spent years.
We had one day in Brisbane, and we chose to spend it at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. We had spent twelve days exploring the east coast of Australia, and had yet to see a single koala. I wasn’t going to go home without a good look, even if it had to be at a zoo.
You might get the impression that the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary only contains koalas, but in fact they have a wide range of indigenous Australian mammals, birds, and reptiles, plus an abundance of local birds who just come to visit for the free handouts. And while we certainly enjoyed seeing the koalas up close, I was just as thrilled by good views of a Tasmanian Devil, dingo, duck-billed platypus, and some extremely venomous snakes (safely behind glass). Plus, I got to pet an emu!
It was our final day on the coast of New South Wales, and I wanted to see shorebirds. We had stayed in Yamba, so after breakfast we headed for the beach. It was empty. No people. No birds. Just wind, and plenty of that.
Discouraged, I started to head back to the car when a large, blunt-headed black bird flew overhead, then landed in a near-by tree. I rushed over, camera in one hand and binoculars in the other. Yes, there it was—a Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo! It gave me an indifferent look, then went back to munching on the flowers while I clicked away.
(This post continues my series on birding in Australia… choose “Birding Trips” in the Category box at right to see my previous posts.)
I woke the next morning as soon as it was light and headed out the door, surprising several grazing kangaroos. I snapped their picture as they bounded away. Several Noisy Miners lived up to their name, making a racket in the early morning stillness. A pair of raptors landed on the top of a tall tree nearby. Pulling out my binos for a good look, I realized they were Ospreys—familiar birds. It seemed strange to see them so far from home.
You can’t go to Australia and skip the beach. It would be unthinkable! That’s why, after spending a wonderful week in the Blue Mountains, we decided to drive north along the coast to Brisbane. Determined to allow plenty of time for birds and beach stops, we allocated three whole days. We could easily have spent a lot longer.