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Good morning everyone. This diary is the latest in my occasional "An American Gets Giddy over Someone Else's Common Backyard and Nuisance Birds" series. My wife and I finally made our long-discussed trip Down Under last month, spending a few days each in Sydney, far North Queensland, and New Zealand's South Island.

Our first stop was New Zealand. Merely setting foot in the country was quite moving, bringing to life the images from -- admit it, you're expecting me to say LOTR -- the songs of my all-time favorite musician Neil Finn. While working through our jet- and stomach-lag in the friendly but still earthquake-devastated city of Christchurch, we took an afternoon trip to Akaroa, an old, French-settled village on a stunning volcanic bay.

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During a brief hike in a forested area, I was lucky to see one of my most-desired New Zealand songbirds, a fantail:

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A week-long drive through remote corners of the South Island brought my first-ever glimpse of the Southern night sky:

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The big priority, of course, was the daytime sky, particularly hiking under it and photographing the colorful chirpy and squawky things that fly through it. Unfortunately, the rain was relentless, and most of our landscape and birdiescape photography was compromised. Occasionally, the rain produced some pleasant byproducts, as on this soggy hike above Queenstown:

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We saw various birds around Queenstown and its historic neighbor Arrowtown, including the common New Zealand songbird the silvereye:

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. . .and the abundant European import, the chaffinch:

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The biggest birding disappointment was our inability to see the famous kea parrots in the wild. The world's only alpine parrot, and one of the smartest bird species on the planet, they annoy locals but delight tourists with their crazy antics such as eating the rubber off cars and stealing food. I had planned two stops in kea-heavy areas: the Homer Tunnel and Arthur's Pass. However, both stops were cancelled by hazardous weather (in fact, we missed being trapped in Arthur's Pass by a massive landslide by about 2 hours). I wouldn't usually post zoo pictures -- but this is the only kea I ended up seeing, at the Queenstown Kiwi Birdlife Park:

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True to its name, the park also had kiwis (no photos allowed). After failing to see them numerous times at the poorly designed kiwi enclosure at the DC National Zoo, this was quite exciting.

We took the bad weather with us as we drove up the sparsely populated West Coast. That didn't stop us from taking a couple of hikes in the rainforest of Westland National Park:

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Supposedly there's a spectacular view of snow-capped alpine peaks behind those clouds. Sigh. During one of the hikes, we saw a common forest songbird, the tomtit:

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Next, we flew to Sydney and spent a few days downtown.

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One of Sydney's most conspicuous aviattractions is the Australian white ibis:

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I was surprised to discover that, like Amsterdam's psychotic herons, they're fearless rubbish scavengers:

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Sydney birdlife was a fascinating mix of generic urban and quintessentially Australian. On the one hand, house sparrows, gulls, and pigeons were abundant. Occasionally, though, ear-piercing squawks echoed off downtown buildings, and we were treated to a sulfur-crested cockatoo (not photographed), or the extremely well adapted rainbow lorikeet. These two were on the roof of a museum in Darling Harbour:

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My wife has cousins scattered throughout New Zealand and New South Wales (and she's smart, funny, gorgeous, and has great music taste -- I did well in that department), and my favorite birding of the entire trip came in a cousin's backyard 30 miles north of Sydney, as well as a nearby park. In only two hours, we saw some eastern rosellas:

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And an Australian king parrot:

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This was my Holy S*t, Man Walks on F*ing Moon moment: "Holy S*t, there are parrots flying around your f*ing yard!" Oh yeah, and then a kookaburra landed in their garden:

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I also saw a magpie:

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And lots of purple swamphens (known as pukeko in New Zealand):

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Our last stop was the coastal and upland rainforest of far North Queensland:

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As this is one of the best birding spots in the world, hard-core birders would have been disappointed with our yield. However, on our short stopover with multiple priorities (e.g., the Great Barrier Reef), I was content to look for lifers -- pretty much anything besides sparrows and pigeons -- rather than seeking rare endemic species. We stayed in Port Douglas, a laid-back tropical resort community with a fabulous bird-heavy animal park called the Wildlife Habitat, with cassowaries, parrots, finches, kangaroos, wallabies, and chazwazzers. Right in the heart of downtown, we saw a tree full of lorikeets:

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Also in Port Douglas was a bush stone curlew:

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And an orange-footed scrub fowl:

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The otherwise-unremarkable transportation hub of Cairns has a gorgeous waterfront area known as the Esplanade, with abundant shore- and songbirdage. A sacred kingfisher:

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Masked lapwing:

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Magpie lark:

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I've always been a fan of doves, and I enjoyed seeing several peaceful doves:

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They remind me of inca doves, except they have turquoise eye rings. Speaking of pretty colors:

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That's a wompoo fruit dove, perhaps our most exotic find during a too-brief drive through birding hotspot Daintree Village. Alas, we had to return Up Over via a 36-hour travel day (our punishment for booking with frequent flyer miles). The trip was gone too soon, but the extra weight I gained from daily Bundaberg Ginger Beer and fish and chips is still here.

[All of my photos are copyrighted. My amateurish birding narrative is not. All IDs come via Google search strings such as "bird small black white eye patch Queensland," so feel free to correct any errors.]

Originally posted to Adam S. (cardinal) on Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 06:02 AM PDT.

Also republished by Birds and Birdwatching.

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