THE NATURAL HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA
October 24 - November 16, 2014
AUSTRALIA, the island continent, is home to the most distinctly different assemblage of organisms on earth. Plant and animal groups, long-since declined or extinct over the rest of the world, have persisted and diversified during 60 million years of Australian isolation. Over half the birds and most of Australia's mammals are endemic, occurring nowhere else.
Marsupials are the most obvious feature of the fauna, and during our visit we'll see several species of kangaroos, wallabies, bandicoots, delightful possums, and the popular koala. Among the spectacular birds we'll view are emus, lyrebirds, mound-builders, bowerbirds, penguins, woodswallows, honeyeaters and a slew of colorful parrots. Expert local naturalists will co-lead in each region.
Australia's geography is varied and spectacular, from temperate to tropical, from desert to rainforest. We visit four major regions. Beginning in the temperate southeast, we sally out from Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide into forested parks and along rugged, rocky coastline. Out of Melbourne we visit the penguin colony on Phillip Island, hike through open forests and fern gullies in the craggy Grampian Mountains, pass through wheat and sheep farms, and search out the secretive malleefowl and the brilliant parrots of Wyperfeld National Park. We cross the Murray River by Adelaide, then fly north to Alice Springs in the arid "Red Center." Mysterious Ayer's Rock and the Olgas are both eroded monoliths of religious importance to the Aborigines. On easy hikes in and around them we'll see cave paintings and desert flowers and wildlife.
Flying north to Darwin, we enter the tropics. Kakadu National Park protects a mixture of eucalyptus forests, marshy billabongs (lakes) and abrupt escarpments; this is the land of Crocodile Dundee. Giant saltwater crocodiles (Saltys) and water birds like the magpie goose are approachable by boat, and on excellent paths we'll find blue-winged kookaburras, red-tailed black-cockatoos, rainbow pittas and fruit bats.
Next we fly east to the lush coast of Queensland. From Cairns and Port Douglas we boat out to the Great Barrier Reef and spend one night on a beautiful coral caye. Exploring the dazzling coral reef is easy because the water is calm and warm. West of Cairns are the Atherton Tablelands, where many endemic plants and animals occur in the cool forests. On walks through lowland rainforest we'll search for birds of paradise and bowerbirds and enjoy the unique ancient flora. By boat we explore the famed Daintree River with mangrove, marsh and lowland rainforest habitats. From Cairns we return stateside via Sydney.
October 24 to November 16, 2014
Leaders: Mark Smith and Australian naturalists
LIMIT: 14 (If the group size is less than 10, only the Australian guides will lead.)
GROUND COST: $6250