Stephen Burch's Birding & Dragonfly Website
Australia & Singapore: Introduction
to 29 October 2017
By Stephen Burch, England
Over at least the last decade I had been collecting information on good places to visit, which included a few sporadic pieces in Birding World, and even snippets in the Guardian newspaper. Most of these were in Queensland, but I was also keen on visiting Kakadu National Park which was nearest to Darwin. Sydney was almost on our list, but for general tourism only not birds! Given the immense distances involved in Australia, three internal flights would be needed to cover all the places we wanted to visit.
The duration of this trip was 4 weeks, which was limited by the maximum amount of time we could both feasibly get off work. Timing was chosen carefully to avoid the hotter months, which sounded increasingly problematic in Australia at present.
This was a non business trip, and we travelled independently on our own, having planned and made all the arrangements ourselves. We were not part of an organised group, although we benefitted from some guiding and went on some good boat trips.
A word of warning about planning and booking a trip of this type - some of the places we stayed in Queensland were small, and can get booked up many months in advance - especially the local guides which tend to be in great demand and limited. I'd suggest booking a year in advance to avoid disappointment, as October is a prime time for birding in Queensland especially.
Travel in Australia was straightforward - of course there are no language problems, and car hire & internal flights are as you would expect in a first world country. However photographers especially need to watch their hand baggage weight on internal flights - with all carriers it is limited to 8 kg.
The long haul flights were all on time. However, I found that journeys of this length, combined with a 10hr time difference took some getting over, especially the return. There is no escaping the fact that Australia is a very long way from the UK, although New Zealand is even further away!
The internal flights we took were with Qantas (Darwin to Cairns) and Virgin Australia (Cairns to Brisbane and Brisbane to Sydney). Qantas fares are much higher than Virgin Australia's but both airlines seemed to provide very similar levels of service. On all internal flight we needed to book an additional check-in bag, which was inexpensive if done in advance. The 8kg hand baggage allowance wasn't checked on out first two flights, so on the last we were rather blase and taken aback when, having checked in our main bags, we were asked to put our hand luggage on the scales! This could have been quite problematic but fortunately I managed to put some items into pockets and we were able to take out our laptops, tablets etc. The remaining optics and other gear just scraped through!
At Cairns we arrived very late in the evening and had a booking with Europcar. Their representative that night was unpleasant, almost rude and seemed most surprised by the forced "upgrade" to a 4x4 which I didn't like at all. Fortunately when we returned the next morning, we found a much more pleasant person who was able to happily change it to a model more of my liking.
At Brisbane we used Avis and had no problems at all.
The "Birds of Australia" second edition by Richard Thomas was less useful, although I copied sections of it, and took these with us. The aged "Where to find Birds Australia" was worse and hardly any use and certainly not worth the purchase price. For the Darwin area, I got hold of a small booklet called "Top End Birdwatching" by Mike Reed which was of some value. However for this area, Mike Jarvis' excellent website https://www.experiencethewild.com.au/ was much better (and free!)- especially for sites around Darwin itself, and Kakadu and the journey to it.
For birding ID in Australia we used "The Slater Guide to Australian Birds" which I can recommend - reasonably compact, with adequate illustrations and clear distribution maps. Being totally unable to memorise all the key features of the hundreds of possible new species, once again my tactic was to try to secure any sort of photo of an unknown species, which then allowed ID at leisure afterwards, by close reference to the book. This worked pretty well, and I don't think we missed many new species due to lack of ID. Of course, the days when we had human guides were much easier (and usually much more productive than on our own).
For this trip, I didn't make much use of trip reports on the web, as I couldn't easily find many of great value.
This spell of poor weather coincided with much worse conditions elsewhere in Queensland, which resulted in considerable flooding and some travel disruption. After O'Reilly's we drove north past Brisbane to Hervey Bay where we met someone at the airport who had been stranded in some remote location for a depressing 6 days waiting for the floods to clear! Fortunately we experienced nothing like this and all our pre-booked travel arrangements worked smoothly. The weather on Lady Elliot Island, at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, and our final birding destination was warm and sunny at times, but there was also some heavy rain, especially at night.
Sydney, our final stop, was again reasonably warm but even here we had a little rain from time to time.
All pics were taken in RAW format, and I use NeatImage for noise suppression, with PhotoShop Elements 9.0 for subsequent processing. For further details see the equipment and image processing pages elsewhere on this website.
© All pictures copyright Stephen Burch