Stephen Burch's Birding & Dragonfly Website
Australia & Singapore: O'Reilly's
October to 20 October 2017
By Stephen Burch, England
Having collected the hire car, we then laid in a course to O'Reilly's on my faithful TomTom and we were off driving through rain the whole way. The journey was initially on dual carriageways/motorways but we soon turned off these for the inland route towards O'Reilly's that is a Rainforest "Retreat" up in the hills of the Lamington NP about 80miles (2hrs) to the south of Brisbane.
We stopped briefly to stock up on provisions at a soggy Canungra, which is near the start of the narrow road to O'Reillys that leads up into the hills. Just before the climb started we saw a few bedraggled Gala Parrots on wires by the road and had brief views of Wonga Pigeons as we ascended up towards the clouds. We also had glimpses of birds with yellow rumps that we later learned were Eastern Yellow Robins.
On arrival at O'Reilly's, which is at the top of the hill and the end of the access road, the temperature had dropped to a cool 12C° and it was still raining. More like Scotland than Australia! We checked in and drove round to the Rainforest View villa that we had booked - imagining an extensive vista across the rain forest. However this was not the case - the villas in this category have no view at all, other than the very edge of the forest. We phoned reception to explain our disappointment and, as it was a quiet time of year, managed to get a free upgrade to the type of villa we thought had booked - called Valley View. This was much better! It was very large, with extensive decking that had superb views over the rainforest and valley below. The deck even had a spa bath on it - not much use when it was cold and wet though! By far the best accommodation we had on this trip, albeit probably the most expensive.
We saw few birds that late afternoon/evening in the poor conditions - only a bedraggled Crimson Rosella that arrived on our deck - no doubt expecting to be fed.
Guiding - day 1
We then headed over to the centre to meet up at 07:00 with our guide, Matt, who had driven up from the coast, for about 3.5hrs of guiding. There were both Satin and Regent Bowerbird around the entrance and we were then driven off for the guiding. The first good bird was a Bassian Thrush on its nest by the road - which we would never have spotted without a guide. But the weather and light was very poor for photography - and stayed that way for most of the day. We then had a few glimpses of Green Catbirds flying across the road in front of the car before walking down a track to a colony of Bell Miners. Another stop produced Grey Shrike Thrush, Grey Butcherbird and a Tawny Frogmouth on its nest.
We had been told by Carol, of Kingfisher Park Birders Lodge, that Duck Creek Road was the place for various new species so we asked to go down there. Unfortunately, our progress was halted by a tree across the track - that had come down in the night. So that put paid to any prospects for Pardalotes etc.
Area around the
There used to be Satin Bowerbird bowers in the nearby car park, but we were told there were none there any longer. However during our first day's guiding we were told of the site of a bower that was currently occupied and was close to the central buildings. The owner was apparently famous, having starred in a David Attenborough programme for which the camera crew had been in residence for a month. We on the other hand only had two, mostly rain filled days!
After the guiding, this is the place we headed. Here we easily found the bower and its builder was in residence! We also came back here the following day, but both times the conditions were poor (rain and bad light). It is a remarkable testament to the capabilities of modern digital cameras and lenses that any worthwhile images could be obtained hand-held. The high ISO ability of the 7D Mk II (for frame filling subjects) and the four-stop IS on the Canon 100-400 Mk II lens (& its close focussing capability) both played their part in allowing these photos to be obtained.
Between the main reception and the large car park there is a grassy area, with a small roped off area that is designated as the bird feeding area. Feed can be purchased from the visitor centre between 11am and 3pm, I think. The birds are hand tame and descend on anyone with feed - perching on their heads, arms etc! The main species are both brilliantly coloured, even in the rain - Crimson Rosella and King Parrot. These birds can also be found all over O'Reilly's and come into the visitor centre cafe and even the villa decks looking for food. So plenty of photo opps - particularly if you have a close focussing lens.
Probably the most sought after bird at O'Reilly's is the extremely localised Albert's Lyrebird, which naturally I was keen to see. Connecting with them can be a matter of chance, but fortunately we found them relatively easily and had 3 separate encounters. The first was of a couple of birds close to the path at the start of the track to Mick's tower (a location recommended by our day 1 guide, Matt). But these were in dense cover and moving fast with no photo opps. The second was quite by chance and was more obliging - seen from the car at the top of the side road down to the villas (the bird was on the track that runs parallel to the main road). We were put onto the third by a helpful member of staff who passed by when we were at the Satin Bowerbird's bower. It was near the staff buildings that are beyond the main reception building (quite close to the start of the track to Mick's tower).
Guiding - day 2
Arriving at the reception area at 06:30 we met our second guide - the amazing and entertaining Glen who had clearly been at O'Reilly's for many years, and had personally hand-tamed several of the local birds who recognised him and came when called! With only a couple of hours available, Glen chose to stay in the area around the centre. Initially he took us out along the Main Border Track where he introduced us to 'his' Eastern Whipbird - the only hand tame one in the world, Glen reckoned! Others birds readily seen from this track included Eastern Yellow Robin, White-browed Scrubwren and Yellow-throated Scrubwren.
A more difficult bird to see well, let alone photograph, was Southern Logrunner that crept around on the ground feeding, never staying still and usually well hidden in vegetation or leaves. Eventually, I got a just about acceptable image by turning the ISO up to 12800!
At the end of this guiding session, Glen took us past the car park, and back along the approach road a little way to a spot where Rose Robin had been seen recently by others. Here, the bird appeared but very briefly and never stayed stayed put for more than about a second - so I never even got my bins on the bird, let alone the camera!
© All pictures copyright Stephen Burch