Our first snorkelling trip with Cooly Dive

to the boat Twice before we’d booked for snorkelling at Cook Island, which we had so many times looked towards on the third day of our tours while watching for dolphins, but had never visited, with Cooly Dive. Each time the weather had been so bad they had to cancel the cruise. With the cyclone up north I was afraid we’d get some rough weather down our way as well.

We had just led a three-day wildlife tour, but added a couple of extra days at the request of our British guest, to include snorkelling and Aboriginal culture, and he was flying out the following day.

Third time lucky!

Darren life-jacketThe sea is always a little rough as you enter it from the mouth of the river, and we were all given life jackets as a precaution

Unfortunately it was rough enough to make my stomach a bit queasy on the way (I hadn’t bothered with seasick pills as it seemed such a short distance, but maybe I shouldn’t have been taking so many photos while clinging to the edge of the plunging boat)

We soon reached Cook Island, well-known for nesting seabirds and turtles 

Cook Island arrival

Cook Island arrival


Holding our masks firmly to our faces we each obediently took a big step  outwards from the boat and sank swiftly below the water

snorkelers Cook Island

Ronda underwater
Ronda underwater

We soon saw what the dives here are famous for – a turtle (unfortunately the visibility wasn’t good enough for a better photo).

Turtle Cook Island
If you look closely you can see the shell, head, tail  and flippers of the turtle

We saw another later in the dive, also a wobbegong shark (a small harmless species, and regrettably I didn’t manage a recognisable photo), toadfish and lots of other fish and scattered bits of coral. Our English guest also saw a pike fish.

Unfortunately the water was too murky that day to see the colours of the coral
Unfortunately the water was too murky that day to see the colours of the coral

fish Cook Island

Then finally back to the boat:

Darren about to go under againDarren heading back to the boat

Maybe next time the water will be a little clearer and we’ll get some better photos, but apart from my seasickness (which worsened on the return trip – must remember those pills next time!) it was a nice introduction to diving at the island.



Wildlife tourism: guides, students, operators



Wildlife Tourism: A Handbook for Guides, Tour Operators, Job-seekers and Business Start-ups

WT book coverMost books on wildlife tourism are aimed at researchers and policy-makers. This one is more of a practical guide for those who want to work (or are already working) within the field of wildlife tourism as guides, ecolodge managers, wildlife park staff or other situations where they will be interpreting our wildlife to visitors and also making a living.

Coming more from an academic background than a business one (although I had once run a holiday farm), the business of starting and running a small business took me and my husband into a very steep learning curve. I knew little of the red tape involved,  marketing, book-keeping, insurance,  or working with booking agents. One of the aims of the book is to help others who may be in the same boat  -  starting out with loads of enthusiasm for  wildlife and for haring their enthusiasm with others, but lacking experience in running a business venture.

Other readers come from the other direction – they’ve been running a tourism or related business but have an interest in including more wildlife experiences, and want to brush up their wildlife skills (bail knowledge and how to find, view and interpret animals), so there are chapters devoted to getting a grasp of the basics and links to further information.


For students and job-seekers there are also guidelines on what might appeal to your prospective employers.

Most of the examples are Australian, but there is ample general advice to be applicable anywhere in the world.

The book is available on Kindle


Printed versions are available from Andrew Isles bookstore:


A PayPal system will soon be set up for other online  and printed copies. Until then, it can be purchased directly by electronic transfer, cheque or credit card: contact me (Ronda) on info@learnaboutwildlife.com if interested. Cost $27.50 plus postage ($5 Australian, $12 Asia-Pacific,  $15 elsewhere)



1 Introduction

  • Is this book for you?

  • The big picture: does wildlife tourism matter for our economy or for conservation?

  • Not just the facts ma’am (but not ignoring them either): why good interpretation is so important

  • What this book will do for you

  • Background experience of author

2. The basics

  • Skills you will need as a guide

  • Going a bit further: how to excel as a tour guide

  • Becoming self-employed as a tour operator or using your skills in other areas

3. Wildlife Skills 1: knowing the wildlife

  • Getting the ‘big picture’ of wildlife in Australia (or other countries): a good start for avoiding major errors and showing your guests what is different from their own homelands

  • Identifying wildlife: how to know what you’re looking at (or at least narrowing down the possibilities)

  • Finding out what species to expect in your district

4. Wildlife Skills 2: finding the wildlife 

  • Knowing when and where to search

  • When you can’t see the wildlife: tracks, scratches, scats and sounds

5. Wildlife Skills 3: understanding the behaviour and ecology of wildlife

  • Why should you understand ecology?

  • Population ecology: why populations of animals of a particular species increase, decrease, stay the same or never enter a particular area.

  • Community ecology: interactions between species living in the same locality

  • Further notes on wildlife behaviour

6. Wildlife Skills 4: not disturbing the wildlife

  • How much disturbance can animals tolerate without changing their behaviour, avoiding you or even disappearing from the region?

  • How should we approach wildlife?

  • What happens to the wildlife you never see?

  • Feeding animals

  • Other interactions with animals

  • Wildlife habitat

7. Wider conservation issues

  • Getting it straight

  • Some threats to wildlife

  • Learning about conservation problems while still enjoying a holiday

  • Knowing the legislation.

  • Contributing positively to conservation

8. People Skills 1: Attending to customer needs and desires

  • Not making them unhappy – general etiquette

  • Making them happy – Changing customer satisfaction to customer delight

  • Dealing with problems: avoiding them if possible, acting appropriately when they do happen

  • Feedback from customers, and what to do about it

9. People Skills 2: Interpretation

  • Enjoy your creativity

  • Not a school-room: remember people want to learn but are also here to enjoy themselves

  • Clarifying your goals: what would you most like them to remember and talk about?

  • What to tell them and how to tell it: the guided walk, drive or cruise

  • What to tell them and how to tell it: the information display

  • What to tell them and how to tell it: the self-guided nature trail

  • Learning about Interpretation techniques: links to further information

  • Testing: what best holds their interest and stays in their memories?

10. People Skills 3: Workplace, networking, and public relations

  • Why network?

  • Making face-to-face networking effective

  • Keeping records

  • Social media

  • Don’t forget your customers

  • Employer/employee and workmate relations

11. Financial matters

  • Starting an ecotourism venture

  • Staying afloat through the bad times

  • Hiring yourself out as a guide

  • Keeping records and projecting costs

12. Health and Safety issues

  • Food and water

  • First aid courses and kits

  • Driving

  • Walking

  • Other modes of travel

13. Legal matters 

  • Licences and permits needed for starting and running a tour business

  • Public liability – nowadays it’s risky not to have insurance, and there are some things you can’t legally do without it

  • Copyright (yours and others), slander and related topics

  • Hiring staff

  • Indigenous culture

  • Conservation legislation

14. Final note: Never-endingLearning and Innovation

  • Learning about wildlife

  • Nature interpretation and guiding techniques

  • Wildlife tourism literature

  • Market trends: keeping up to date with what your potential customers are looking for

  • Thinking creatively: it’s fun and often productive!

References and further reading


The book is packed with links to useful websites and other publications on wildlife, environment education, conservation issues, bureaucracy of running a small business, and other essential topics.



Frugivory and seed dispersal at Araucaria, SEQ


Wompoo Fruitdove eating bangalow palm fruits
Wompoo Fruitdove eating bangalow palm fruits

Animals obviously need plants, but many plants also need animals. If all seeds drop beneath the mother tree, they’ll be competing with their mother and with their siblings for light, water, space and nutrients, and there may be heavy shade under the mother. They are also more easily found by seed-eating animals if they are in a big clump  on the ground. The tree has a better chance of contributing to the next generation if its seeds  are spread through the forest (or other habitat) in the  hope that some of the sites are better for germination and survival. Many trees, shrubs, herbs and vines simply scatter their seeds in the wind, but in the rainforest there’s not so much breeze, and when there is, the seeds are likely to hit a neighbouring tree and thus not travel far.

Frugivory (fruit-eating) is obviously useful for the animals that derive the nutrients, and if they also digest the seed (as parrots and many pigeons do) it’s not much good for the plant. If however they only digest the soft parts and regurgitate or pass the seeds through their digestive tracts unharmed (as some of our pigeons do, and also bowerbirds, honeyeaters and many others) they also provide an unwitting service for the tree, vine or other plant they fed on.

I was attracted to the topic because it involves so many disciplines – conservation biology (we can’t think only in terms of conserving species,but need to consider the relationships between them and others they interact with, and are there particular animals that threatened =plants depend on, and threatened animals that depend on particular fruits, especially in lean seasons?), ecology, evolution, animals behaviour and physiology.

A channel-billed cuckoo eating native  figs
A channel-billed cuckoo eating native figs

I’ve been conducting research on frugivory and seed dispersal, especially local birds that eat rainforest fruits, for some years now. One of the most popular fruit in our region – in terms both of of numbers of individual birds and the numbers of species feeding on the fruits – is a native fig Ficus rubiginosa (formerly regarded as  F. platypoda). So why aren’t there more growing around here?

I’m currently looking at this and other local plant species from three angles: (1) what eats them and how frequently? (mostly looking at birds, but other creatures as well) (2) where do frugivorous birds sit when not feeding (and thus likely to deposit seeds) and (3) what conditions do they need for germination and growth?

I do most of the observations alone, but guests on our tours can also assist on  forest walks by helping to find birds that are either eating fruit ( for 1 above) or  doing other things (for 2 above).

For the third aspect of the study, I’ve been germinating seeds in the brush house, but am now about to embark on some experiment field plots. In the photos below, Darren is heeling set up some of these experimental plots which in the future can be viewed by visitors to the Araucaria property and which I hope will help answer some of my queries.

prepare germination plots  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Frugivores other than birds include fruit bats and other mammals, some lizards (especially the larger skinks and dragons), fish (but not many in Australia) and ants, and we’re planning more observations of these.

Dugongs and more at Tangalooma

Dugongs and more at Tangalooma, Moreton Island, near Brisbane

I had a delightful surprise at a business breakfast meeting run by the Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) a couple of months ago.  I dropped my business card as usual into the bowl of cards while preparing to listen to a speech by our opposition tourism minister, and won the draw for an overnight trip for two to Tangalooma Resort, including return ferry journey, dolphin feeding, accommodation and buffet breakfast.

So two of us (Ronda and Denis) headed off in pre-dawn light to the wharf on Brisbane River, pleasantly surprised to find they had also allowed us free parking for two days.

So we were soon leaving Brisbane and heading for the one of the world’s largest sand islands

Leaving Brisbane
Leaving Brisbane
Even here we couldn’t escape the federal election campaign!
Approaching the resort
Approaching the resort

Near the resort is a grim reminder of the island’s whaling days – now the whales are appreciated more as magnificent, intelligent, playful animals than for their body parts. This harpoon was bent during such an animal’s struggles while its captors waited for it to slowly exhaust itself

harpoon - bent
Harpoon bent while a whate struggled to escape – thankfully this no longer happens along our coasts

Nearby a whistling kite fought his reflection in a resort window (they’re nesting nearby and don;t want rivals), and also rebuffed some crows that were protesting his presence

kite on roof
A whistling kite nesting in a tree nearby is taking a bit of time to learn that the bird it sees in the window is not a competitor
whistling kite nest
Nest of the whistling kite, in an Araucaria tree (Norfolk Island Pine)


kite above resort
The kite flying above the resort

A white-faced heron sat nearby

Heron at Tangalooma Resort
This heron tried to land on the same spot the next day, saw me sitting there, squawked and did a u-turn. After I moved on he came back to what he obviously considered his rightful place

A pied cormorant wandered down towards the bird feeding area

cormorant heads to feeding spot
This pied cormorans knows bird feeding on the beach will start soon
The heron decided he’d better not miss out


pelican coming in
as did this pelican

While waiting for our room to be prepared, we watched fish and seabirds being fed

fish feeding
Tangalooma staff member feeding fish at the resort
puffer fish
Puffer fish amongst the rocks and amenomes in the feeding pond


“I’m ready!”
"Me too!"
“Me too!”


birdfeeding Tangalooma
Pied cormorans, Australian pelicans and silver gulls being fed at Tangalooma

Now the bit I’d really been waiting for!  After lunch we headed off on the eco-cruise to seek dugongs and other marine life.

wait for boat



And sure enough, within 20 minutes we had found a dugong

dugong surfacing for air: his tail is towards us, his face out of sight as he’s swimming away

They don’t leap out of the water like dolphins, just quietly feed on the sea-grass (they’re sometimes called ‘sea-cows’) and come every couple of minutes or so to the surface for a breath of air.  Our guide told us they do some farming – pulling out the sea-grass species they don’t like so much, which facilitates the growth of their favoured species

I had previously patted an Amazonian manatee (one that had been confiscated as an illegal pet and being prepared for rehabilitation into the wild, near Manaus) and seen a captive dugong a tSeaWorld, but this was my first sighting of a wild dugong, so I was quite enthralled. He surfaced several times before we left I’m to seek other creatures

a green turtle swimming past- like the dugong the green turtle is herbivorous, unusual amongst marine mammals and reptiles

A cormorant dived for fish alongside our boat

cormorant diving

The wrecks that were deliberately sunk as artificial reefs for fish and other marine life are popular with kayakers and divers

kayaking at wrecks

That evening we indulged in the activity Tangalooma is famous for – dolphin feeding

dolphin sign
Tangalooma is careful with  the feeding of dolphins.  The sign gives regulations on how to feed the dolphins, and info on which dolphins have visited recently

The feeding of the dolphins is carefully regulated, based on research on effects offending practices her and elsewhere

Lines of visitors are speed out so that the dolphins also spread out, not crowding together, competing for food and knocking each other over. Thy are not fed enough fish to satisfy ten, so have to keep up their skills at catching wild fish each day. Visitors are requested to hold the fish under water so dolphins don’t strain their muscles trying to reach up for them. Frozen fish are thawed in fresh water to avoid them being too salty. Young dolphins are not fed while still feeding from their mothers. Visitors are advised not to pat or otherwise touch them while giving them the fish, to avoid any stress.

Tamgalooma sunset

dolphins lining up

feeding dolphins Tangalooma

dolphin and suckling calf
Young dolphin having a feed from Mum

 The close contact with these wild creatures does have an emotional impact, and we hope that many of the people participating now have a more positive attitude towards them as a result

Next morning we enjoyed a hearty buffet breakfast (also included in our prize)

Tangalooma breakfast
a Tangalooma breakfast

We spent the day relaxing, watching birds and finally watching another bird feeding session and dolphins feeding session before finally leaving.  We would have loved to spend a few more days

pelican jump for food
“I really want this one!”


more soon ….


For information on how to have a holiday at Tangalooma, visit http://www.tangalooma.com/info/home/

Outback tour from Longreach, Queensland August 2013: raptors, emus, other birds, red kangaroos …

The Central West Queensland section of the Lake Eyre Basin is a magnificent region of the outback that can be very rewarding for birders, and for those wishing to explore the ecological variety of this semi-arid temperate zone. Summer can be over-whelming, but in August the mean mid-day temperatures are around 26 degrees Celsius, and usually only one or two days have more than a few millimeters of rain, making very pleasant conditions for touring, and perhaps a great escape from southern winters

Black Falcon near Windorah
Black Falcon near Windorah

This birding tour, led by raptor-enthusiast Keith Fisher, will visit Lochern, Welford, and Diamantina Lakes National Parks harbouring that symbol of the outback the red kangaroo, biggest macropod in the world, in its natural habitat. Dams that provided water for cattle on Welford National Park when it was a grazing property have now been removed, ensuring that kangaroos in the park are surviving on natural water levels. Sweeping grasslands, often mixed with rocky sections, ensure that kangaroos easy to see. No less impressive are slightly shorter wallaroos, with their apt scientific name of ‘robustus’ - very stocky and powerful animals that often tolerate a close approach. Grey Kangaroos are also common.

Brolgas Gemma Deavin
Brolgas courting

The region is home to another Australian icon, the Coolibah tree of Waltzing Matilda fame. These trees send their roots deep under the channels that funnel down into Lake Eyre. Parts of this region are in fact often referred to as the ‘Channel Country’ – a network of watercourses that curve across the country. Channels can be very deep, making it possible to sit on the banks watching birds such whistling kites, white-necked herons and other birds hunting down below.

Some of Australia’s endemic raptors, not regularly seen on the coast, are reasonably common in this region. These include the second smallest booted eagle in the world, the ‘little’ eagle (not all that little), and also the spotted harrier and the so-called black-breasted buzzard (not really a buzzard). The brown falcon, a powerful and common bird, does particularly well in this area, and you will be in a zone of intergradation, where pale, dark, and rufous forms of this species intermix. Australia’s largest falcon, the black falcon, is found in this region, and there is always a possibility, though the chances are slim, of seeing one of the rarest birds in the world: the elusive but rewarding grey falcon.

Tracks in the sandhills
Tracks in the sandhills

Australia’s heaviest flying bird, the Australian bustard, lives here, as does Australia’s largest (and the world’s second largest) flightless bird, the emu. Huge flocks of budgerigars are sometimes present. Other flock species which may be seen in large numbers include woodswallows, and flock bronzewings. Along the watercourses, a variety of honeyeaters make their way through the trees, and in the grasslands and in fringing vegetation are finches and quail.

The tour will start 17th August in the outback town of Longreach (which can be reached by train or flight from Brisbane), cover a lot of ground with great variety of outback habitats, clear skies, wide open spaces inhabited by Aussie icons (kangaroos and emus) and of course plenty of birds not often seen even by most Australians.


Contact Ronda if interested 

Recent half-day tours to Tamborine Mountain

Cedar Creek Falls
Cedar Creek Falls

Recent half-day tours to Tamborine Mountain

Araucaria Ecotours has recently joined with Living Social and the Starlight Foundation (an Australia-wide organisation dedicated to helping seriously-ill children and their families) to offer discounted half-day tours from Brisbane to Tamborine Mountain (offer now closed). Read more on this in a Tamborine Daily Star article

The waterfalls have been pounding down very nicely after all the rain we’ve had recently. Mostly on this half-day tour we just visit Curtis Falls, but we took a little extra time on our most recent tour to also visit the Cedar Creek Falls, which we haven’t seen so often this year because the road was closed for a while due to flooding.

While there we were visited by a hopeful lace monitor (goanna) while having tea and biscuits under the gum-trees. We don’t feed the wildlife on our tours, but the goannas have learned that some picnickers still do, or at least leave a few scraps behind, so they lumber through the area in with their prehistoric-looking walking style, flicking their forked tongues to determine the direction of whatever scent they find most interesting

Goanna searching the picnic grounds
Goanna searching the picnic grounds


Goanna forked tongue
“Now where is that scent coming from?”

Another bit of wildlife action was a female golden orb-weaver spider catching a small dragonfly in her web, and vigorously wrapping it up for later.


Orbweaver and dragonfly
Golde orb-weaver preparing to wrap dragonfly


The Curtis Falls in the Joalah section of Tamborine Mountain National Park have been putting on a good show – they’re small but in a very pretty setting

Approaching Curtis Falls
Approaching Curtis Falls
Curtis Falls
Not quite as vigorous as last month but still good to see

A special feature of this tour is visiting the glow worm caves on Cedar Creek Estate, which were constructed to take the pressure of wild populations of glow worms

Into the glow worm cave
Into the glow worm cave

No photos are allowed of the actual glow worms in the cave because it causes them to turn off their lights and stop feeding, so the following photo is from a post card:

glow worms
glow worms glowing

And finally, everyone gets to taste half a dozen local wines, some from Cedar Creek Estate itself and some from elsewhere in southeast Queensland

Tasting local wines
Tasting local wines


Half-day tours are still running throughout winter, and full-day Tamborine Mountain tours throughout the year (including all the above plus the Skywalk through the rainforest canopy and a gourmet picnic lunch). We also visit the glow worms on our Wildlife and Forests Day-tour

New work on butterfly walk

Butterflies have been happily fluttering around our butterfly walk on the Araucaria property, Scenic Rim. Queensland, although none of them are captive. And although most people hope there plants don’t get eaten, we’ve been happy to see caterpillars munching away on the leaves.

We’ve added a few features recently:

  • colour-coding the butterfly families on our walk with coloured ropes along the tracks
  • planting additional caterpillar foodplants
  • planting extra plants for  attracting adult butterflies
  • planting low-growing herbaceous and shrubby plants with flowers to match the colour theme for the butterfly family
  • constructing a cement path in the shape of a caterpillar leading from the wildlife ecology centre  towards the start of the walk
  • construction a “pupa” to walk through after the caterpillar just before the butterfly walk begins
  • completing the life cycle by painting an egg on the step outside the centre before stepping onto the caterpillar tail

early sign to butterfly walk

butterfly walk sign

caterpillar path

butterfly walk pupa construction(just as well Darren wasn’t still on that ladder when it fell)
Butterfly walk - Pieridae
orchard butterfly caterpillar
orchard butterfly caterpillar


Blue Tiger butterfly
Blue Tiger butterfly


Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef

At the edge of Agincourt Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef in Far North Queensland

Snorkelling at Agincourt Reef, Far North Queensland

What to do with a break from wildlife-iewing?  Perhaps go wildlife-viewing!

I had a meeting of the Rainforest and Reef Research Centre to attend in Cairns, and since it was close to both Christmas and our wedding anniversary, this time Denis came with me and we spent a couple of days after the meeting in Port Douglas and one day out from there to the Great Barrier Reef.

Our first morning atPort Douglas was breakfast with the birds at Wildlife Habitat – more on this later

We also booked a full-day tour with Quicksilver which took us to three locations on Agincourt Reef (level with Cape Tribulation) on the Great Barrier Reef

Here are some photos with the digital camera we hired:

Not sure what this big fish was - maybe one of the groupers?
Not sure what this big fish was (below the coral) – maybe one of the groupers?


Hello, Big Fish!
Hello, Big Fish!
We saw a a variety of corals at Agincourt Reef
We saw a a variety of corals at Agincourt Reef
Some of the coral  was very colourful
Some of the coral was very colourful


Blue on blue
Blue on blue



a unicorn fish
a unicorn fish


Moorish Idol: quite a common fish but always lovely to see
Moorish Idol: quite a common fish but always lovely to see


Some of the group went scuba diving
Some of the group went scuba diving



but Denis and I stuck to snorkelling this time (this photo was obviously NOT taken by me)
but Denis and I stuck to snorkelling this time (this photo was obviously NOT taken by me)
Denis snorkelling
Denis snorkelling



a sea-star
a sea-star


a white-tipped shark (not a dangerous species - although some small fish may disagree)
a white-tipped shark (not a dangerous species – although some small fish may disagree)



a black-tipped shark (ditto)
a black-tipped shark (ditto)


a clam
a clam


Can you understand why we found it hard to leave the water when time was up?
Can you understand why we found it hard to leave the water when time was up?








Wildflowers and birds at Girraween National Park November 2012

Boronia at Girraween National Park

We were worried the wildflower season would be almost one in November, but in our three-day custom tour this year we still saw plenty. We also saw black cockatoos, yellow–tufted honeyeaters,red wattlebirds and other birds,   and plenty of kangaroos.

Here’s just a sample of the flowers and birds plus some kangaroos and general scenery , and our accommodation with observatory:




Iris – two flowers together
Isopogon – a relative of banksia and grevillea


Pimelia, a genus always recognisable by the two (and two only) stamens


“Pincushion daisy”
Triggerplant – so called because as the bee or other insect inserts its proboscis in to feed on nectar, it trigger the stigma to zap downwards and collect pollen from the insect’s back
A woodland of wildliflwers, Girraween National Park 2013



Yellow-tailed black cockatoo feeding amongst a small flock by the roadside, prising apart bark to reach grubs
Yellow-tufted honeyeater after feeding on bottlebrush nectar
white-naped honeyeater gleaning insects from gum leaves
Rufous whistlers were singing in many parts of Girraween National Park

Satin Bowerbird
variegated fairy-wren


KANGAROOS (Eastern Grey)

The kangaroos weren’t concerned by Darren’s quiet presence
Joey having a feed from Mum



Instead of our usual accommodation (Girraween Environmental Lodge) we stayed this time at Twinstar Guest House, a delightful little place run by an Environmental Science graduate and her partner who is a very knowledgable amateur astronomer.  The guesthouse includes an observatory, and we were able to view globular clusters, nebulae and other features of the night sky. They also had an amazing variety of roses in the garden

Twinstar Guest House with observatory out the back

(their meals were good too)

Girraween is not one of our regular tours, but can be arranged with sufficient notice, for a three- or four-day tour.  It is quite different from the country around Brisbane, largely because of the huge granite boulders and the unseen granite that influences the soil type, and the lesser rainfall, being further from the coast.

Outback birding and other wildlife viewing in 8 days from Brisbane

We headed out west last month (October 2012) with two Americans (one an avid life-lister of bird spies) an amateur bird photographer from Hong Kong keen to see parrots and cockatoos, and two Aussies, one of whom had never been to the outback but dreamed of seeing large flocks of budgies, plus Darren and myself as guides. .

Lester the Bilby at Queen’s Park, Ipswich, held by ‘Bilby Brother’ Frank Manthey

The famous bilby fence of Currawinya National Park s still off-limits to visitors (and has tragically been damaged recently, allying feral cats and foxes in once more with devastating results), so we decided to call at the little council-run zoo in Queen’s Park, Ipswich to see bilbies and also the red-tailed back cockatoo (for our bird photographer).

While there we had the good fortune of meeting ‘Bilby Brother‘ Flank Manthey, a very effective campaigner for the protection of bilbies and for the funding and construction of the bilgy fence, and he introduced us to Lester.

He also asked if we could help put pressure on the fed era government to do more about controlling the feral animals that threaten our wildlife, whichI intend doing in my capacity as chair of Wildlife Tourism Australia.  The fact that so many bilbies were killed so soon after the damage to the fence points alarmingly to the danger any wildlife outside the fence is in constantly, and on all our trips out west we see far more ferals than small native animals (although we always see lots of kangaroos)

We hadn’t traveled too far west hewn we saw our first reptile – a shingleback lizard, one of our largest skinks.


Coolibah tree (as in ‘Waltzing Matilda’) near Eulo

We spent our first night in Eulo, and visited a neighbouring lagoon, where we saw a coolish tree (an outback Eucalyptus species made famous by the song ‘Waltzing Matilda’.  Everey Australian has sung (or at least heard many times) about the jolly swagman camping iunder its shade, but I wonder how many have actually seen one.

At the lagoon we saw yellow-billed spoonbills, pelicans, dotter ells and other waterbirds, and also saw woodswallows, rainbow bee-etares, crested bellbird, brown treecreeper, whistling kite and other land birds.

Very early next morning we headed to the waterhole about 16kn from Eulo, well-known for sighting of Bourke’s parrot and Hall’s babbler, neither of which we saw that morning.  We did however see Major Mitchell cockatoos, parrots honeyeaters, finches and other birds coming to drink, and further back saw kangaroos and red-capped robins.

Outback water-hole near Eulo: good for quiet, patient birdwacthing at dawn

In Eulo itself we saw apostle-birds, grey-crowned babblers, spotted bowerbird and various other species

Apostlebird in Eulo, outback Queensland
Grey-crowned babblers (pictured here) , spotted bowerbirds and others were congregated around the sprinkler on a hot day in Eulo

A surprise was a bird that looked like one of those very common noisy miners until I took a better look and found it was a yellow-throated miner, which we were then to see quite a lot of over the next few days

Yellow-throated miner in Eulo, outback Queensland

One of the Aussies decided to indulge in a mud bath at the Eulo Date Farm, and I bought a couple of bottles of their delicious date liqueur for Christmas.  Unfortunately they won;t be making this or their wines any more, but the mud baths will continue.

We were to have moved on to Kilcowera, a vast cattle station now run as an ecotourism destination, with plenty of birds and other wildlife,  as well as continuing as a working cattle station, but we received a phone call to say there were severe bush fires raging nearby and it would be safer not to come.

So we changed plans and headed into Currawinya National Park a day early, first arranging to spend three nights at Bowra instead of two.

Now I really felt as though this is the outback – travelling over red-sand roads

Looking back as our trailer is towed over the red dusty road (don’t ever expect to visit the true outback and not get a bit dusty!)

We weren’t far into Currawinya National Park when we saw Major Mitchell cockatoos feeding on Callitris fruits (native ‘cypress’), giving our photographer from Hong Kong a chance to take several photos  …

Major Mitchell cockatoos, Cuarrawinya National Park

… also plenty of sand monitors (sand goannas)

Sand monitor in Currawinya National Park

… a couple of inquisitive emus wandered over for a closer look at our vehicle, …

Emus coming for a closer look at our tour vehicle in Currawinya National Park

…  and we saw many red kangaroos over the next few days

Another sign that we’re really in the outback – a red kangaroo in Currawinya National Park

The lakes were a little disappointing – the same wind that was fanning the fires at Kilcowera was whipping up the water on the lake, so we didn’t see as many waterbirds as hoped, although we still some a few at various waterholes.

The signs informing us about bilbies and the bilgy fence are unfortunately showing signs of bleaching in the sun

We hope these signs can be replaced – they’re packed with interesting information about bilbies in Currawinya National Park, when you can actually read them!

And most importantly, we hope the bilby fence itself can be fully mended soon!  Also that the ferals can be controlled – we saw lots of goats and quite a few pigs while there

There are far too many feral mammals in Currawinya National Park – goats, pigs, sheep, rabbits, foes, cats …

After a night of camping by the Paroo River we headed on to Bowra, a former cattle station long known as a birding hotspot and now owned by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy

You can see a lot of bits here just by getting out of bed and sitting near the waterhole (not too near – you don’t want to make yourself too conspicuous to the shier birds).  Wandering down the tracks from the accommodation or driving to one of the other waterholes in the early morning or late afternoon is also good.  Here is some of what we saw …

Darren photographing birds at the waterhole next to the accommodation
Budgerigars and finches arriving at the waterhole soon after dawn


The Major Mitchell cockatoos arrive at the waterhole
There were many dutiful emu Dads around, including this one bringing his chicks to the waterhole
Rainbow bee-eaters abounded here


Red-eumped parrots: male and female


White-browed woodswallow
White-breasted woodswallow


White-winged triller
Brown tree-creeper, which I was surprised to see foraging at times on the ground (I’ve never seen the white-throated one do this)


It was great to see the chestnut-crowned babblers here, as well as grey-crowned, but it took some time to find their more elusive relatives


On the final morning we finally spotted a drop of Hall’s Babblers in the woodland behind the Sawpit waterhole


Also on the final morning we found crimson chats – they didn’t stick around long enough for a decent photo but at least we did glimpse these beautiful little birds


This track was left by a kangaroo using the ‘pentadactyl motion’ very common when moving slowly – hind legs, then tail and hands, hind legs again etc. (confusing things a little are some old tyre tracks)


This large fellow crossed the road in front of our vehicle and quickly disappeared into the long grass


This gecko, possibly a tree stella, seemed to appreciate the way our light attracted invertebrates to feast on


This emerald-spotted (or Peron’s) tree frog was one of three species of treefrog regularly inhabiting the toilet bock

Then goodbye to Bowra, goodbye  to outback until next time (which won’t be until at least April next year – things are likely to be pretty hot out there before then, and at time of writing the bush fires are still raging at Kilcowera and surrounding district)





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