Birding Australia

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Birding Australia by Lloyd Nielsen. 2002. 161 pages. Maps. Softback. 

With lower air fares and more carriers, birders are increasingly seeing Australia as a viable destination, some on dedicated and extended birding trips but many on family holidays, either to visit relatives or as tourists, though in both these cases with the expectation of some days' birding. Having been to different parts of Australia on trips which fit into this latter category three times in the last five years, the problem as always with any birding abroad is knowing where to go, where to stay either for the whole stay or for short visits, and how best to see an acceptable range of birds. There are a number of 'where to go' guides available in this country - Where to Find Birds in Australia, Bransbury, 1987 (recently reprinted), now getting a bit dated, although still informative; Where to Watch Birds in Australasia and Oceania, Wheatley, 1998, which is rather abbreviated with, in my experience, some inaccuracies; and The Complete Guide to Finding the Birds of Australia, Thomas and Thomas, 1996, which is really an extended trip report. There are also a number of regional and local site guides, but these are generally only available in Australia. There therefore remains a real problem about getting up to date and reliable information, not only about where to go, but also about the logistics of both extended trips or short visits. 

Lloyd Nielsen's Birding Australia is intended to plug this gap, a task which it carries out successfully; I would have no hesitation in recommending the book to birders making either a first or a repeat trip to Australia. Nielsen is an experienced birder throughout Australia, particularly in Queensland; formerly a wildlife guide at the legendary O'Reillys in Lamington National Park, he has previously authored Birds of Lamington National Park and Environs (1991), and more recently Birds of Queensland's Wet Tropics and Great Barrier Reef (1996), both incidentally books well worth obtaining if intending to visit either area. With a colleague, he also discovered a resident population of Pacific Swallow in the Wet Tropics, a new species for Australia. 

The book starts with a general introduction to birding in Australia, covering climate, field guides, national regional and local site guides, and other printed, audio and video material. This is particularly useful for first time visitors. I would agree with his conclusion that the best field guide is Pizzey and Knight's Field Guide to the Birds of Australia, but the best for use in the field (despite its age) is The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds. His review of the existing national site guides referred to above is fair, concluding that they all have their faults. Despite this conclusion, the review is helpful since you can still use the guides, but bearing in mind the reservations expressed, making sure that any intended destination is cross checked. The concluding section of the book provides further general birding information, covering organised tours, birding organisations, journals, observatories and a list of useful websites. There is also a general 'facts for visitors' section, including information on driving, travel and health - particularly useful for first time visitors. 

The main part of the book, though, takes each of the main visitor destinations, eg Cape York, the Wet Tropics, Brisbane and the South West in Queensland, Sydney and environs and the Riverina in New South Wales, Melbourne and environs in Victoria, and provides detailed information on each of them in a standard format. One of the principal advantages of Nielsen's choice of the areas to cover is that the birding information relates to destinations which can be reached relatively easily from the main population centres. Each section contains a general description of the area; and a list of the key species and endemics, together with a brief list of good birding locations. Detailed information on these locations can be found in the national and regional site guides, referred to above. However, the real value of Nielsen's book is the additional, practical, information he goes on to provide in these sections - best time to visit; suggested itineraries; climate and getting about (especially whether a 4WD is needed); birder targetted accommodation, and other accommodation; guiding services, tours, organisations and websites. There is also a section on pelagics. 

As far as I'm aware, this range of information is not available anywhere else, even on the various websites. One of the real problems especially with the contact information which comprises a large part of this book, is ensuring its accuracy in the first place and then keeping it up to date. From an overall reading of the book, and then checking places I've already been and places I have already researched for my next trip. Lloyd Nielsen has certainly achieved the first. And as far as I can see, he has also achieved the second - two places I had in in mind to visit, which are in all the site guides as the places to stay in Cape York (in Queensland), Pajinka Wilderness Lodge and Lotus Bird Lodge, Nielsen advises are closed for 2002, saving me considerable time finding that out for myself. For birders on family holidays into which they can squeeze some days' birding, this is a particularly valuable source of information, identifying both localities and accommodation for short trips from their main centre of stay. It also provides information on guiding services, some of which are linked to accommodation; this I have found is an especially good way to see well a good list of species, which the short term visitor might otherwise struggle to see. It is also information which I have in the past found particularly hard to obtain. 

At first sight the cost of the book may appear expensive for a 160 page spiral bound paperback. But it is being privately printed, in order to ensure that it can be kept up to date. Given the savings in time and effort (and money) generated by having all this information in one place when planning a visit to Australia, I think it is good value for money and well worth the cost. My only moan is that it wasn't available for my earlier trips to Australia; I will certainly use it, with confidence, for future trips. 

Lloyd Nielsen's book is not enough on its own to plan a trip to Australia, but it should be the first on the list of books obtained by any birder considering either an extended, dedicated, trip to Australia or short trips as part of a longer family holiday.

Iain R Roberts
MD.B.3.Review1 - 27/8/02


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