I booked a flight via Virgin Airways on their Happy Hour from Brisbane to Cairns return. Cost: $89 each way, see http://www.virginblue.com.au between 12pm and 1pm. An excellent and cheaper way to buy air tickets if one has some flexibility and books ahead of time.
I hired a car via http://www.carhire.com.au which provides a choice of vehicles and companies, allowing one to chose the cheapest or the best suitable. Cost: $140 for the 5day hire, which I thought very reasonable, for a Hyundai Getz, which was quite suitable for most locations.
I had decided to stay at Kingfisher Park at Julatten (see http://www.birdwatchers.com.au) and had pre-contacted them with a ‘booking’ for a camp site. I had understood that as a camper I would have access to cooking and refrigeration facilities and, from that, assumed I would also be provided with eating and cooking utensils. This was incorrect, however Keith and Lindsay were kind enough to provide both when I arrived.
There are several levels of accommodation at KFP – all reasonably priced. Weather is a consideration that should be included when deciding whether to camp or not – especially in the wet season.
One needs to be aware that there are no supermarkets or food supplies close to KFP. It is not that far back to Port Douglas or on to Mareeba, however, it could be a bit awkward if one arrived at night with nothing. I stocked up on food in Cairns, gaining a 4cents/litre fuel discount voucher into the bargain which always helps to defray the fuel costs! (Fuel $1.29 - $1.32 per litre during my trip) Cooking facilities include a barbeque, a gas stove and a microwave in an open sided cook house, no freezer, but large fridge included.
I had a list of 48 species that I ‘potentially’ could achieve – we all have these lists in these circumstances I think, some unrealistic inclusions, but you never know! I had spent limited birding time in this area earlier in the year and had had one day’s birding at Mission Beach (150kms south of Cairns) at that time so had already ‘ticked’ some of the area’s specialities. I had vague knowledge and plans regarding areas like Mt Lewis, Mareeba, Atherton and the Julatten/KFP area, but was leaving it flexible to adapt as information or advice occurred. I knew there were several species I would pick up fairly easily, or at least assumed so, while others would require more effort or luck and the remainder, well….!!
Day 1:: Left Brisbane on 13.30 flight (delayed 20 minutes) arriving at Cairns at 16.05. I knew there would be a delay in the baggage coming off so I went immediately to Hertz and collected my car details. After picking up my backpack I headed into Cairns in the embarrassingly bright red Getz! Shopped at Woolworths and then out on the road north. There are two ways to get to KFP from Cairns, one via Mareeba and the other via the coast. I chose the latter figuring it would be a nicer drive and, in the early evening, probably less ‘kangarooed’.
As I drove north I got my first tick – this one an addition to my Australian list as I had seen PIED IMPERIAL PIGEON in PNG in 2006. (Strangely enough I did not encounter this bird in the Cairns area over a three day period in May this year) They came flying in high over the road from the offshore islands – easily identifiable despite the traffic, speed limits and distance….
I arrived at KFP before 18.30, having made good time despite the pigeons, set up camp and had something to eat. Another birder was the only other current ‘resident’ – Frankie from South Africa. Needless to say we were soon sharing stories and talking birds from three continents.
Keith appraised me of recent sightings in the area and behaviour of the resident rarities such as the Red-necked Crake, providing excellent maps for both the surrounding road systems and KFP itself. He mentioned the Blue-faced Parrot-finch, obviously one of my target birds, and that one had been seen in KFP, a male, a few days before, but they should have all headed up Mt Lewis by now.
Through the night there were continuous calls including Beach Stone Curlews and Owlet Nightjar. Bird calls are not my strong point – I seem to be lacking the thing in your head that links a sound with a picture. I have no problem identifying U2, Pink Floyd or other rock bands but it can take me 10 or 15 minutes to bring (for example) Brown Honeyeater to mind on hearing the call – very frustrating.
Day 2: Up and about just after 5.00, as one does. PALE YELLOW ROBINS, LITTLE SHRIKE THRUSH, BAT-SHOULDERED DOVES, PEACEFUL DOVES in immediate evidence, then while finishing my coffee my first target bird BUFF-BREASTED PARADISE KINGFISHER. I had felt pretty confident about this species so it was not a surprise from that point of view – but spectacular? Oh yes, absolutely stunning bird – enough to stop you in your tracks for sure! I headed down into the orchard – an open grassy area surrounded by rainforest with a few fruit trees scattered through the grass – MACLEAY’S HONEYEATER, RAINBOW LORIKEET, ORANGE-FOOTED SCRUBFOWL, BUSH TURKEY, YELLOW-BELLIED SUNBIRD, SHINING STARLING, DUSKY HONEYEATER, GRACEFUL HONEYEATER, RED-BROWED FINCH, EMERALD DOVE, SPECTALED MONARCH and LARGE-BILLED SCRUB-WREN all quickly identified. I decided to sit by the Red-necked Crake pond in the hopes of seeing its namesake. The orchard was quiet – just a couple of Japanese birders filming the odd Kingfisher with absolutely huge lenses mounted on tripods. I didn’t really know if the crake was a possibility at this time, but thought it was worth a try. Three Red-browed Finches alighted on the edge of the rainforest to my right and fed on the grass seeds and, as I idly watched them, another finch like bird flew down. I scanned it with my bins and realised it was a BLUE-FACED PARROT-FINCH.
Wow!! There was no one else immediately available to share it with and the sighting lasted only long enough to register the large bill, green plumage on the back and wings, the brown/red undertail coverts and tail and lack of blue face. With underparts a washed grey/blue – I can only assume it was a female or juvenile bird, as I have had difficulty finding a similar picture/description since. It took off after about a minute and disappeared into the forest in a straight flight line. I didn’t see it again.
Elated by my success I continued to wander around the grounds. I was surprised at how small KFP is in area, but was then more impressed at the bird activity and numbers in such a small isolated area. I watched Scrubfowl squabbling, took some shots of a male Sunbird, visited the Metallic Starling colony in the open park next door and wandered down the road towards the retirement home, having a momentary adrenaline hit as a BUFF-BANDED RAIL scooted across the road. Added WHITE-RUMPED SWIFTLET, SPANGLED DRONGO, GREEN FIGBIRD, FOREST KINGFISHER, MASKED LAPWING, SULPHUR-CRESTED COCKATOO, WHITE-BROWED WOOD-SWALLOW, BROWN AND LARGE-BILLED GERGONE and, near the creek at the back of KFP SPOTTED CATBIRD at very close range hissing and calling at my intrusion.
I decided I would wander further afield and explore some local spots Keith had pointed out. First stop a couple of ks up the road towards the Mareeba/Cooktown junction I stopped at Sides Rd and walked down the short track – BROWN CUCKOO-DOVE, LEWIN’S HONEYEATER, GREY SHRIKE-THRUSH, CATTLE EGRET, GREY WHISTLER, SILVEREYE, RUFOUS WHISTLER and RUFOUS FANTAIL with more Bar-shouldered and Peaceful Doves, Spectacled Monarchs, Pale Yellow Robins and Dusky Honeyeaters. I drove on to Abattoir Swamp, a location I had read about many times in emails from this area. As I left the car, a bird flew past and landed – at last - YELLOW HONEYEATER! A DARTER perched in the dead tree and a WILLY WAGTAIL fly catching were the only birds evident from the hide itself. On returning to the car park a Buff-banded Rail flew out from under the boardwalk and a WHITE-BELLIED CUCKOO-SHRIKE showed well. As I was about to drive away another smaller bird crossed my vision, back out of the car and a NORTHERN FANTAIL was added to my list.
I headed on up the road to the T junction and turned left towards Cooktown, stopping at Luster Creek, about 12kms further on. Lovely clear water flowing through the dry woodlands and lots of bird activity. A PACIFIC BAZA hunted insects in the canopy, NOISY FRIARBIRDS, BLUE-FACED HONEYEATERS, and EASTERN SPINEBILL called and chased and a probable BB P-Kingfisher flew off, then my sixth new bird for the day – BRIDLED HONEYEATER – 2 birds feeding mid canopy, excellent views. A PHEASANT COUCAL called and further upstream a pair of BLUE-WINGED KOOKABURRAS patrolled their territory. More Drongos, Little Shrike-thrushes, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes, Rainbow Lorikeets and Forest Kingfishers. The creek looked very tempting as midday approached, but I decided to see what Station Creek was like for a possible ‘swim’ so pushed on another 3 or 4 ks. Smaller and shallower Station Creek was not as attractive for a dip however, the birds were there too. Another Baza, LITTLE FRIAR BIRD, a LEADEN FLYCATCHER, YELLOW-FACED AND WHITE-NAPED HONEYEATERS feeding on the flowering trees, then a different movement and I identified a LEMON-BREASTED FLYCATCHER, adequate views but it would not let me close enough for photos. It was quickly followed by a ’wave’ of small birds – a SCARLET HONEYEATER female gave me pause for a few minutes and I enjoyed a couple of Yellow Honeyeaters moving through before another bird higher in the canopy and, oh yes, BANDED HONEYEATER! Keith had mentioned they had been seen in this area, however, being so nomadic I hadn’t really expected to see any, but here it was, white belly shining, black chest band clear – I was surprised at the small sized ‘cap’ - and after a reasonable view it flew and I lost it in the breeze blown tree tops.
Feeling pretty good – 8 lifers today so far – I returned to Luster’s Creek, stripped off and enjoyed a relaxing half hour in the cool waters. Looking at the map Keith had given me I decided Lake Mitchell was probably my next destination so back along the road, a can of Coke at Mt Molloy and a quick check for Great Bowerbirds in the ‘village’ – nothing – then on to the dam wall at Lake Mitchell, not signposted, but the kilometre measure provided on Keith’s map was accurate. Through the old wooden gate and out along the wall. At this stage a brisk breeze had developed and was keeping temperatures relatively comfortable. LITTLE PIED and LITTLE BLACK CORMORANTS, GREAT and INTERMEDIATE EGRETS, WANDERING WHISTLE DUCKS, BLACK SWANS, MAGPIE GEESE, JACANAS,PELICANS were all immediately evident as was my 9th lifer for the day and a bird I had wanted to see for a long time - GREEN PYGMY GOOSE and in numbers I had not expected – 30 – 40 birds. I had a good long look at these and then walked on past the barricade on the dam wall and off to the left across a small peninsula picking up RED-BACKED FAIRY-WREN, BRUSH CUCKOO, WHITE-WINGED TRILLER, GREY-CROWNED BABBLER, KOEL, CICADABIRD, DOLLARBIRD, Whistling Kite, Rufous Whistler, White-throated and Yellow Honeyeater, Little Friarbird, Green Figbird, Peaceful and Bar-shouldered Doves. I flushed a small flock of HARDHEADS and a couple of Darters and on the dam wall itself several OLIVE-BACKED ORIOLES flushed from tree to tree. On my way out a GLOSSY IBIS launched itself out of the shallow channel to the right.
I headed back to Mt Molloy and stopped off for a Mexican coffee, unfortunately they had just closed the machine, so I settled for an instant. Coffee is my drug and I gulped the steaming liquid gratefully in the heat promising to try the Mexican variety next time around. Stopped off at Abattoir Swamp on my return trip to KFP and picked up CHESTNUT-BREASTED MANNIKIN to add to my trip list and BROWN-BACKED HONEYEATER to add to my Australian list (PNG last year) – several birds, quite confiding in the trees beside the walkway.
Returning ‘home’ I prepared dinner in company with Frankie, who had had a very successful day on the Daintree Cruise and Mt Lewis. Keith came over to advise he was going to go for a brief spotlighting walk in the nearby park. We eagerly agreed and just after dusk the three of us wandered out into the open field. Keith advised us, in answer to my questions, that the Lesser Sooty Owls were not presently in residence, the majority of Masked Owls had temporarily disappeared and the Rufous Owl that had visited had feasted on several possums and moved on… However, he gave us a very interesting tour of the nest holes and who had done what to whom and when. A persistent call in the nearby forest encouraged investigation and we all had crippling (as they say) views of an OWLET NIGHTJAR perched sideways in the open. I was explaining to Frankie just how brilliant a view this was, when we heard, or rather, Keith heard, an Owl calling in the distance and we shortly discovered an immature MASKED OWL, high in a tree staring into the spotlight. Ten Lifers in one day in my home state - Yahoo!
Day 3: Mt Lewis – the challenge in a hire car – will I or won’t I??? It hadn’t rained for several days and Frankie’s report from yesterday sounded positive so as soon as I could I headed off. It’s a short drive to the turn off (1.5kms) and then a short distance on bitumen before the road becomes unsealed gravel/soil. It was in good condition, though, hard packed, and I had no trouble with the Getz. There are ‘berms’ across the road, somewhat like speed bumps, that I would suggest negotiating at a reasonable speed as being airborne will not endear you to Mr Hertz or Mr Able, however, apart from that it was OK. It’s 10kms to the summit and I parked about 400 meters before it as the local council, in their wisdom, had dumped a load of red soil to fill in holes (?) and this had become churned up with 4WD tracks. I wasn’t willing to risk my undercarriage for 400 meters of prime Blue-faced Parrot-finch territory so….I walked the rest of the way.
A few Red-browed Finches in the grass verges, but despite diligent searching and ‘hanging around’ – no other finch species were visible. I did, however, identify ATHERTON SCRUB-WREN, MISTLETOEBIRD and several GOLDEN WHISTLERS before heading off onto the track that leads to the dam. Within a few meters a GREY-HEADED ROBIN approached to within a couple of meters and hung around inquisitively. EASTERN WHIPBIRDS called along the track, but otherwise not much showed for about 100 meters until a distinctive (even to me!) Bowerbird ‘song’ erupted off to the right side. There was an obvious side track of damaged vegetation and I pushed through and shortly (within 10 meters or so) found the bower of a Tooth-billed Bowerbird - leaves on the ground turned up the ‘wrong’ way on a roughly cleared patch of soil. I sat a few meters away and waited for about 15 minutes – probably not long enough – to no avail, so, feeling confident I returned to the track and pushed on up the slight hill. Just as I was thinking it was a lot quieter than I expected with only distant WOMPOO FRUIT-DOVE and BROWN CUCKOO-DOVES calling, a movement attracted my attention and a BOWER’S SHRIKE THRUSH put in a sudden appearance. This was to be the first of many I saw through the rest of the morning and their call actually became quite recognisable! I had just got over the thrill of yet another lifer when a medium sized dark bird flew right past me and landed abruptly at the edge of the track – CHOWCHILLA – female!! A bird I had wanted to see for along time. It wasn’t a long sighting, but it was just great to see at last! On up the track I went and turned left, as advised, at the fork to descend the gentle slope to the dam. As I approached a couple of small birds flitted in the lower branches and with cautious approach and good views I ascertained they were MOUNTAIN THORNBILLS, fourth lifer today! I was cautious around the dam wall and was rewarded with a close, controlled encounter with a Red-bellied Black Snake sunning at the edge of the track. These are common in this area and need to be avoided as their bite is cause for serious concern, however, like most snakes, leave them alone and they aren’t a problem – beautiful creatures that they are. I sat beside the dam and had something to eat, watching a Grey Fantail fly-catching and listening to Spotted Catbirds calling in the forest. Heading back down the track it was very quiet – a few Mountain Thornbills near the dam, 3 Bridled Honeyeaters chasing and again the Bowerbird calling, but no visuals. Added Pale Yellow Robin and Rufous Fantail to my list for the day, and YELLOW-THROATED SCRUB-WREN and YELLOW-SPOTTED HONEYEATER to the trip list.
I reached my car and had some water, thought about my options and decided I would do the track again, as I didn’t want to come back up the mountain again. So, shouldered my pack and headed off again. Back to the bower again and sitting down this time I had short but identifiable views of the TOOTH-BILLED BOWERBIRD as it hovered around the edge of the bower but didn’t display or call while I was there. It was, in fact, much more discrete that I had imagined. I walked to the dam again without further incident, but on my return journey was rewarded for my persistence with 2 family parties of Chowchillas (2 adults with 2 young) feeding close to the track quite calmly providing excellent views, but no photos (too dark). Also added Eastern Spinebill and WHITE-THROATED TREECREEPER.
Back to the car and close to midday and I decided it was OK to leave despite the lack of finches – I’d seen most of my target birds – Fernwren being the main ‘escapee’ – and it was so hot and sticky everything had shut down for the day.
Back down the hill and half way around a corner I came across a 4WD from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency – National Parks & Wildlife) blocking the road. I had to wait for a few minutes while they cut a dead tree down that was threatening the track. I was glad, as it would have made a mess of the Getz…..
After a short break at KFP I decided Mt Carbine dam might be worth a visit at this time of day so 30kms later I was there. It seemed to be a deeper dam than Lake Mitchell, possibly the result of quarrying (?), and I picked up COOTS, ROYAL SPOONBILL, PURPLE SWAMPHEN, GREAT-CRESTED GREBE, GREAT CORMORANT and LITTLE EGRET, Hardheads, Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants, Pelicans, Intermediate and Great Egrets, Darter, Black, Wandering Whistle and Wood Duck on or beside the water. MAGPIE (!), Rainbow Lorikeets, Noisy Friarbirds, Peaceful Doves, a Drongo, Laughing Kookaburras, RAINBOW BEE EATER and 2 RUFOUS NIGHT HERONS completed the picture in the trees close by and as I left a CHANNEL-BILLED CUCKOO flew over the car.
Back all the way to the bush near the entrance to Lake Mitchell again and a walk beside the non-existent Big Mitchell Creek – dry riverbed in search of White-browed Robin. By this time it was quite windy and very dry and no sign of the Robin reported to inhabit this spot. I did, however, see FAIRY GERYGONE and flushed a Pheasant Coucal.
Feeling very desiccated I drove back to Mt Molloy determined to try for Great Bowerbird and a can of coke. I had heard the school and a bikepath close by were the places to try so drove slowly down the road between both. I parked outside and, sipping my coke looked into, the school grounds. There was what looked like a bower out in the middle of the playground and as I checked with my bins, a GREAT BOWERBIRD flew down and ran inside!! I quickly re-located to the car park and strode eagerly in to meet the groundsman who laughed and assured me that, as school was over, I could “go for my life”. I chose my spot and sat for a while with 2 bowers in view watching up to 4 birds chasing and running around and between the two locations. Very visible but at the same time very wary – as soon as I moved within photographic range they quietly pulled stumps and remained hidden until I moved away again…. As I watched 2 RED-TAILED BLACK COCKATOOS flew overhead and BLUE-FACED HONEYEATERS and PALE-HEADED LORIKEETS moved through the trees. Green Figbirds distracted me as I sought out the bowerbirds and a Black Kite soared for a while.
Having had my fill I headed back to KFP determined to be back before dusk. As I left the school grounds 2 RED-WINGED PARROTS flew into a nearby tree.
Arriving back at KFP I headed down to the Red-necked Crake pond and settled down quietly on the edge of the forest at 17.30. A couple of Noisy Pittas hopped around – one with building material which it deposited out of sight and then re-appeared before it became almost too dark to see. Just as I was considering enough was enough the RED-NECKED CRAKE appeared from the right, walked down between the two small pools of water and disappeared off to the left! Clear view, easy to identify, I was well pleased with a day that had provided me with another 7 lifers!
I chatted to Keith and Lindsay for a few minutes and obtained directions for a Golden Bowerbird location at the far end of the Tablelands. While talking I asked about Crimson Finch and a visiting friend described a location near Cairns where “they are always there when I go”. It seemed a possible exaggeration given the relative scarcity of this species in this area, however, I filed it away for follow up.
Day 4: I had decided to go further afield today and check out locations I had only read about or briefly visited in the past – Hastie’s Swamp, Lake Barrine and Mareeba Wetlands. I left early and headed north. Today was also voting day for the Federal elections so I had to remember to find a booth for an absentee vote somewhere.
Along the road to Mareeba, (2 WEDGE-TAILED EAGLES near Lake Mitchell and 40 or 50 Red-tailed Black Cockatoos near the war museum north of town) then on to Atherton (CRESTED PIGEONS and PIED BUTCHERBIRDS) and finally to Hastie’s Swamp. It appeared a small storm had gone through the immediate area as there were branches and leaves all over the road leading into the bird hide. A large bird in the paddock opposite the hide attracted my attention and getting the scope out I saw 10 SARUS CRANES pacing, feeding and preening. My first lifer today!
There had been reports of a Green Sandpiper at Hastie’s Swamp - a mega-rarity for Australia, there being no confirmed records. Unfortunately it wasn’t for me; whatever it had been may have left on the winds that had blown through the day before. Dozens of Purple Swamphens, 2 BROWN QUAIL, 2 Buff-banded Rails, Chestnut-breasted Mannikins, 20 Intermediate Egrets, 1 WHITE-FACED HERON, 20 Masked Lapwings, Black Duck, WHITE IBIS, 1 TAWNY GRASSBIRD, 6 BLACK-WINGED STILTS, 20 Black Kites, 1 Little Egret, Pelicans, Straw-necked Ibis and Cattle Egrets joined my lists, but no mega rarities. Great hide though!
Following directions for the Golden Bowerbird bower I drove to Longlands Gap State Forest – about 3kms past the Crater turnoff - pulled into the gravel dump and made my way through the fallen overgrown timber in the old logging track to cross the forked branch and then find the bower! I found what I believe was an old bower and settled down to wait. A Grey-headed Robin and an Eastern Whipbird foraged around the forest floor, until a flicker about 20 meters away drew my attention and I cautiously raised my bins to spot a female (damn!) GOLDEN BOWERBIRD hanging sideways and checking out my presence. She moved around quietly for a few minutes providing partial views until flying off never to be seen again. I waited around for about another 40 minutes, spending some time searching for a newer bower, but with no success. Other birds in the area included CRIMSON ROSELLAS, Lewin’s and Bridled Honeyeaters, Grey Fantails, Large-billed Scrub-wrens, Brown Cuckoo-doves, Spotted Catbirds, Rufous Whistlers and Drongos.
I stopped off at the Crater for a quick look – no birds, but fascinating to see the Crater lake and realise that no one has explored it’s depths! It would be so exciting to dive the bottom and explore the tunnel it is believed exists at the bottom.
I had visited Lake Barrine briefly with relatives in May, but had had no chance to bird properly. All reports seemed positive so I headed off, stopping off at the Curtain Fig on the way hoping for Fig Parrot, but seeing nothing of note.
When I got to Lake Barrine I decided that the 5km walk would be good and I set off around the lake’s perimeter. As it happened it was largely a waste of time bird-wise, my time could have been spent more productively elsewhere; however, it’s an easy walk and would be quite pleasant if one had the time! I did see White-throated Treecreeper, Black Duck, Coot, WELCOME SWALLOW, Pelican, Little Black & Little Pied Cormorant, Australian Grebe, Hardhead, Brown Cuckoo-dove, Eastern Spinebill, Pale Yellow Robin, Bush Turkey, Golden Whistler, Little Shrike-thrush, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Grey-headed Robin, Grey Fantail, 1 Scrubfowl, Spotted Catbird and approximately 80 – 100 Great Crested Grebes! At one point two birds flashed past very near my head and when they landed I saw it was a Lewin’s Honeyeater chasing a female VICTORIA’S RIFLEBIRD! I also had excellent views of a Musky Rat Kangaroo on the track ahead of me – not a particularly attractive species so far as marsupials go, but interesting all the same!
Back along the road through the most attractive town on the tablelands, I think, Youngaburra, back through Atherton and Mareeba to arrive at the side road to the Mareeba Wetlands at 15.30. The Wetlands is run by a non-profit organisation and opens only from 10.00 – 16.30 to the public. Before 10.00 it is possible to gain access via a guided tour – not really something I am into, however, it may be the only way one has a chance for good birding. There is a charge (currently $28 per head) for this opportunity. Between the hours of 10.00 and 4.30pm one can go on the walks, alone, for a fee of $10.
As I arrived at the 7kms of unsealed road ‘suitable for conventional vehicles’ it started to rain and by the time I had traversed said road the car was covered in splashed mud and the road was resembling a river. The setup at the wetlands is very impressive – a beautiful cool veranda overlooks the water and is perfect – if there was anything on the water. Unfortunately there was only a Black Swan and a couple of Little Black Cormorants at my visit. I was assured, however, that Black-throated Finches were breeding along one of the walks. I did toss up trying for them and wished I hadn’t spent so long, fruitlessly, at Lake Barrine, however, 45 minutes was too short a time to try to find them so I had a cup of coffee and headed home.
A LITTLE EAGLE flew over the car park as I left and a BLACK-NECKED STORK flushed from the roadside at the sugar cane plantation on the way out.
Other birds noted on the road during the day - NANKEEN KESTRELS and a BROWN GOSHAWK.
I tried for the Red-necked Crake again, but with no luck. Planning on leaving early next morning, I settled my account and gained further directions for a couple of spots near Cairns from Keith before having tea and retiring early.
Day 5. I managed to get on the road, damp tent packed, by 6.15, a little later than I had hoped. I drove as fast as I dared down the range and back along the very picturesque coast road towards Cairns. My first stop was Yorkey’s Knob Lagoon. This was one possible location for Crimson Finch. I did have Green Pygmy-goose, Black & Wandering Whistle Ducks, Welcome Swallows, Australian Grebes, Peaceful Doves, Yellow-bellied Sunbirds, Mistletoebird, Chestnut-breasted Mannikin, White-breasted Wood-swallow, Green Figbird, Rainbow and Scaly-breasted Lorikeets, Australian Pipits and, new for the trip list, HELMETED FRIARBIRD,YELLOW ORIOLE and BLACK-FRONTED DOTTEREL, while overhead Pied Imperial Pigeons and White-rumped Swiftlets shared the airwaves. I walked around the football oval and flushed 3 BUSH STONE-CURLEWS roosting in the shadows, but no Crimson Finches.
I drove off to the location described at KFP – I had been told I couldn’t miss the turnoff – I did, of course, and only found it after driving right through Cairns and back again and asking at a local service station to then try to understand how I could have not seen the establishment as it was so accurately described….. I parked at the side of the road, got out of the car and a CRIMSON FINCH flew over my head and landed in a palm tree with building material! It was very exciting – it’s one of those birds that you see in the book and think ‘Nah, can’t be like that’ but it is! Must be something to do with a bright red bird I think! I watched two pairs fly back and forth across the road collecting building material from the long grass for their nests in the palm tree. I walked further down the road and flushed a couple from the verge and another further down that flew into someone’s front yard! Imagine having that in your front yard? Almost as good as a Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher…….!
Other birds there were – FAIRY MARTINS, GOLDEN-HEADED CISTICOLA, Bee Eater, Brown Honeyeater, Chestnut-breasted Mannikins and HOUSE SPARROWS.
(Note – I have deliberately not described the location, for obvious reasons – I will provide them to personal requests email@example.com and they are well know at KFP)
Sated with little red birds I headed in to the famous Cairns Esplanade – unfortunately too late for a proper incoming high tide, the water was right up to the path and most of the birds had departed ..where? I did have a few BAR-TAILED and 1 BLACK-TAILED GODWIT, RED-NECKED STINTS, 4 LESSER SAND, RED-CAPPED DOTTEREL, 1 GOLDEN and 1 GREY PLOVER. I also had the locally common VARIED HONEYEATER and excellent views of a Pied Imperial Pigeon feeding in the trees along the esplanade. At the north end I again (first time in May) heard the Mangrove Robin but it refused to respond to my imitation – in fact it stopped calling to laugh….
Choice now between Centennial Lakes and the Mangrove Boardwalk before checking in for my home flight by 12.30. I filled the car with fuel and went to the lakes for lunch – nothing of note – Magpie Geese, White Ibis, Wandering Whistle Ducks and a few cormorants, but then I did just sit at the edge and eat, I didn’t go wandering.
On to the airport and the boardwalk – very quiet at this time of day – only 1 Buff-banded Rail (which surprised me given the saltiness of the water – it is the sea you know!) and a couple of Gerygone species – probably Brown. Well worth the effort though to see the ‘forest’ the mangroves become. Living in Brisbane I am used to mangroves, but these are exceptional.
I checked in the Getz and into the flight at 12.15 and enjoyed a large mug of freshly brewed ‘skinny flat white’ before flying out only a few minutes late.
Summary – 163 species, 19 Lifers and 2 additions to my Australian list in, basically, 4 days birding. A couple of real stunners – the Kingfisher and the finches, a couple of long term ‘wanna sees’ – the Pygmy-goose and Chowchilla, a number of ‘expected’ species – Shrike-thrush, Crane, Catbird, Scrub-wren and Bridled Honeyeater and a couple of surprises – Banded Honeyeater and Golden Bowerbird.
Dips – Fernwren, White-browed Robin, male Golden Bowerbird, male Parrot-finch, White-browed Crake and the Fig Parrot continues to elude me, but I should stop there, they are just experiences I still have to have!!!
Thanks to everyone who helped – you know who you are - and, finally, I can’t recommend Kingfisher Park highly enough – go, it’s brilliant and with the current competition in airfares it’s a pretty cheap trip for some BRILLIANT birds!