Our Mad Adventure 2023

Netra (far left) and I with our amazing guests on the last day.

After our last trip to O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat back in 2022 November, Netra and I decided, that we really needed to create an opportunity for other keen photographers to join us on an organised adventure. O’Reilly’s has been one of our very favourite locations in Australia so far, sue to the stunning scenery and the beautiful bird life that abounds, especially close to the retreat.

We got into action with Trudy, our travel agent from Time Fly’s Travel, and worked out the itinerary and all the little details well ahead of time. We launched the offering in March this year, barely six months out from the proposed dates of the photography tour. With all transport to O’Reilly’s included from the nearest major airport, it was a drawcard for some of our guests. Let’s face it, the road up and down Green Mountain is not for the faint-hearted in places, with sharp turns, dozens of blind corners and some pretty average drivers who use the road at times, all making the drive up an adventure in itself.

The reason why we love going to O’Reilly’s. Netra’s amazing shot of a male Regent Bowerbird.

Netra and I arrived a few days early to scout the locations and to get the latest intel of the species and where they are best found. Let’s face it, as amazing and spectacular the walks are in Lamington National Park, when you teach bird photography, the best subjects are within a five-minute walk from your room. Really! It’s that simple, because many species of birds are so habituated to humans, you have to push them out of the way. well, not literally, but we think you get the picture [pun fully intended].

Our guests having a great time photographing the birds on the Booyong Walk. Photo courtesy of Kewyn Gold.
The Mad Adventurers getting into birds, big time!
Some of our amazing guests enjoying a spot of bird feeding in the middle of the day.

So, on the 15th of October, 10 guests joined us at O’Reilly’s – most from Australia, but one couple made their way from over the ditch from New Zealand’s north island, which was remarkable. In addition, we had Kewyn Gold join us to assist Netra and me.

Eastern Whipbird along the Booyong Walk.

While a few of the folks still chose to make their own way up the mountain to the retreat, most were happy to take the shuttle bus from the airport to O’Reilly’s. It took a lot of headache off their plates and they could happily relax on the two-hour drive up the mountain. Once they arrived, we did a quick meet and greet in the foyer, handed out their trendy tour jackets and after a quick welcome to O’Reilly’s from the staff, everyone checked into the rooms before heading out with all the camera gear to get straight into action.

One thing we realised, was that the feeding permit for the retreat had changed since our last trip with the lesser amount of free handouts at the main entrance, the birds were a little less cooperative for the first half hour. When you start a photography tour with guests likely expecting results, you really want birds to be there!!! However, after an incredibly painful slow start, the birds appeared within the hour and performed for us and all the other guests in attendance out in the front garden.

Netra’s fantastic photo of a very photogenic Crimson Rosella.

Our guests quickly started to take advantage of the habituated birds that included the most vividly coloured Regent Bowerbird, Satin Bowerbird, Crimson Rosella and Australian King Parrot. The odd drop-in from a hungry Lewin’s Honeyeater and the ever present Australian Brush-turkeys kept the crew busy. Before everybody knew, it was time to make our way over to the pool deck and watch the ever so spectacular O’Reilly’s sunset, which, unless it’s completely overcast, makes for incredible colours and patterns with the various shapes of clouds in the evening sky. We believe this is an absolute must when we visit this retreat.

Netra has mastered the birds in flight! So many great opportunities here.

Time for dinner at 7pm and our group had a set table specifically with dedicated wait staff looking after just us; The 2Mad Crew! Dinner was 2 courses, served alternately and we ordered in a couple of bottled of bubbly to celebrate our first meal together. That was rather special and the food was excellent throughout the entire tour.

Our daily schedule was set to specific activities and the guests, naturally, had the flexibility to opt out of anything they did not feel like participating in and do their own thing. A 6:00am start daily ensured we were early to see the best bird activity and get the most ideal opportunities to photograph. Being in south east Queensland and not having daylight savings time, it meant that by 5:00am it was daylight and we were well awake. Therefore, a 6:00am start was not that ungodly after all.

Another great flight shot from Netra. While the bird is a captive Black Kite, it makes no difference in the difficulty of getting a good image.
Des, the Wedge-tailed Eagle showing the raptor show spectators how it’s done. Netra nailed this one too!

The morning also consisted of a walk along the main trail up towards the Treetop Walk and the Mountain Garden, along which route the most habituated birds were always there, waiting for the people to walk by. In these areas we saw quite a few species that presented with good opportunities for our guests and us to get nice images. One caveat though, while it was daylight, most of the walk is inside a dark rainforest, so light is at a premium, and fast shutter speeds are not really something we could accomplish, even when using very high ISO values.

Happy guests! The birds loved them too.

Shutter speeds were rarely above 1/125th of a second for me at least and I was regularly using ISO10,000 or even higher! You just can’t take fast action shots in low light like that. However, the beauty of modern camera sensors and the amazing software we now use for post processing, is that it is possible to obtain excellent, and very usable, images from properly exposed RAW files.

Eastern Yellow Robin in patchy rainforest lighting. At ISO3200 I was only able to shoot at 1/100th in this scene.

Breakfast at 7:00am consisted of an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, which is a great way to fortify oneself for the rest of the day. There was a big selection of hot cooked food, baked foods, fruit and cereal, juice, tea and coffee were available to everyone. It was a great way to prepare for the next activity which was a classroom session for three hours with morning tea in the middle of it.

A gorgeous Rufous Fantail I photographed in the rainforest near the Wishing Tree. I had to shoot this at ISO12,800 to get any shutter speed!

Lunch was at 12:00pm, followed by the Birds of Prey free-flight show at 1:00pm which was a great way to spend a couple of hours during the middle of the day. The show was scheduled for every day of the tour to give all our participants a change to put what they learned into practice and ramp up their bird-in-flight photographic techniques. The handler offered information about each captive bird as he held them on his arm, or threw bits of food onto the ground between the seats for the birds to find. This was a special treat for guests, some who had never have been that close to a bird of prey previously.

He also flew a few of the birds overhead, allowing us to capture images of a number of owls, falcons, a kite and a couple of eagles among the mix. The presenter was very knowledgable and we learned a few things ourselves!

I was able to capture this nice image of the Barking Owl they use in the raptor flight show.

The afternoons were a mix of free activity, hands-on tuition and review of images from the morning or another walk before the afternoon bird feeding at the retreat main entrance where more bird photography skills were to be practised. We visited a few different areas over the five days, including the Wishing Tree Track, where Mark, one of our guests spotted the spectacular local species of crayfish in the creek and we were all super excited.

We also walked along the old dam track towards the villas, and on the return trail, Peta, one of our guests from western Sydney spotted the beautiful Albert’s Lyrebird, who unfortunately had other ideas and quickly retreated into the impenetrable undergrowth away from us.

Not often you could get the whole gang into the one shot, except when there was great food to be eaten. We were spoilt with good food!

On a couple of nights, after dinner, we offered a spotlighting sessions for those keen to search for some of the more elusive critters of the night. Due to the dry conditions, nocturnal activity was not great and we wern’t able to find too many amazing creatures, but managed a few in any case, which was consolation for those of use putting in the extra effort in the dark. I was actually happiest with the Atracid finds, which is the most numbers I have ever seen here in all our visits. Atracidae is the family of the most venomous spiders, the funnel-web spiders, and the local species, which is Hadronyche lamingtonensis lives in the rainforests of Lamington National Park. During each visit, irrespective of how many spotlighting outings I did, I managed to only find one of these special spiders, on one night only. So that’s two spiders for two previous visits in total. However, on the first night’s spotlighting with guests, I found two and Kewyn found a third, of these amazing and scary looking arachnids.

Our guests checking out the Wishing Tree Track. Photos courtesy of: Kewyn Gold.

Naturally, we photographed all of them and every single person seemed pretty stoked to have seen one of the more venomous and feared Aussie spiders. The defensive rearing-up behaviours were demonstrated by each specimen, but the good thing is that I was able to personally demonstrate how little interest these feared spiders actually have of harming us. Sadly, bites do occur from funnel-web spiders, and also the media and general public tend to talk up most things so they almost have a supernatural reputation and people tend to fear them naturally. I hope to have shown our group, that those reports are really far-fetched and they simply sensationalist and vilify an animal that has no interest in humans. We managed to spot more spider species and a Common Ringtail Possum. There is always next time, right?

The Lamington Funnel-web Spider in defensive mode. A shy, non-aggressive spider, although when it needs to defend itself, it’ll rear up like this and be ready to strike!

Our classroom sessions were specifically tailored to our group and the tour and we believe every one of our guests walked away with some new-found knowledge of the mysterious art of bird photography.

One of my favourite in-flight images of a Crimson Rosella.

More of our guests and the birds.

The feedback received so far has confirmed for us that the tour was a success! We have already decided to do it all again next year and we are just in the middle of confirming dates for the tour.

Beautiful sunsets on most days.

Thank you to all the great team at O’Reilly’s as well; Shane (CEO), Megan and Rahula (guides), Brendan (Retreat Manager), Gretel (HR Manager), Fiona and Klara and the awesome staff in the restaurant and conference areas. They all go above and beyond to make anyone’s stay an incredible experience.

Just another stunning O’Reilly’s Sunset. Photo courtesy of: Kewyn Gold.
Kewyn loving all the colourful birds and he was incredibly great support to Netra and I.

Until next time, stay safe and enjoy your photography!

Ákos and Netra, the 2Mad Photographers……

2 thoughts on “Our Mad Adventure 2023

    1. Ákos says:

      Hi Brian
      Yes, we are just in the process of finalising our itinerary with our travel agent. Details should be available in the next few weeks. Sometime in mid to late October.
      Keep an eye on our page, and we can also send you an e-mail.
      Ákos and Netra


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