Overview: Two birders based in Brisbane (southern Qld) birding in the Cairns and Tablelands area (approx 1500kms north of Brisbane) for 6 days. We visited the mangrove areas, Cairns esplanade and the tablelands - mainly in the areas around Kingfisher Park and Cassowary House.
Getting there and getting around: Flew with Virgin from Brisbane to Cairns ($88 each way, daily special) and hired a car from Hertz . We had booked a Yaris ($225) as the cheapest option but were eager to get up Mt Lewis which, after the recent cyclone, would possibly require a 4WD,however, the road conditions and access were unknown so outlaying $600+ for a possible one day trip up Mt Lewis was a bit more than we could handle. However, the birding God smiled and Hertz asked us if we would ‘mind’ if they upgraded us to a Toyota Rav 4 All Wheel Drive. Mind? Would we? We almost kissed the guy!! Perfect – Mt Lewis was now a certainty so long as the road was open. We spent a total of $82 on fuel, and at 92 – 95cents a litre this was not a problem.
Accommodation: We had pre-booked 4 nights accommodation at Kingfisher Park in the Bunkhouse. On our arrival, however, Lindsay offered us an upgrade to a unit at a cost we would have been foolish to ignore and we were very glad of the change. With our own fridge, kitchenette, toilet and shower and in the wet and muggy conditions it was a much preferable option to the bunkhouse. (Certainly something to consider if there is more than one of you and it is summer.) It is also important to make bulk food purchases prior to travelling up to Julatten as there is not much scope to buy food in the immediate area. The Highlander does a very good evening meal, and huge coffees, and there are various other eateries within easy driving that we didn’t experiment with.
We had also booked a night, bed and breakfast, (Monday) at Cassowary House in Kuranda with Sue and Phil Gregory. We were offered the option of a cooked evening meal or self catering and chose the latter – luckily as it happened as I had provided the wrong day/date combination and our arrival on the Monday night was a surprise to Sue!
Preparation: I had birded the area previously (Oct 2007) and had some idea of the local areas. Additional information is always available from Keith & Lindsay at Kingfisher Park (KFP) and Sue at Cassowary House (CH). Most of the hot spots are probably familiar to any birders interested in the Atherton Tablelands – Abattoir Swamp, KFP itself, Mt Molloy, Marylands, Mt Carbine, Big Mitchell Creek etc – but more of them later…. The trip had been partially inspired by the report of Barn and Red - rumped Swallows at Mossman and we both had wish lists. Stuart’s totalled 105 species, with 65 really possible desirables, mine had, miserable in comparison, 15!
Lifer for one or both of us. New Australian bird for one or both of us
(S) – Stuart (C) - Colin
Arrived at Cairns on time at 09.20 after an uneventful flight during which our travel companion offered us lollies and then left us with the bag as her grandchildren were not allowed sweets! We enjoyed them. The moist heat hit us as we exited onto the tarmac and made our way to the baggage collection and then hire car areas. Even though we live in Brisbane, the heat in NQ can be stifling. Following our excitement with our car upgrade – see ‘Getting there’ above, we hurried out, located our blue Rav and headed straight for our first birding destination – the mangrove boardwalk on the airport access road. Grabbing bins and camera we walked in the right hand side (there are separate boardwalks, the right hand one is reputedly better for our target bird – Mangrove Robin.) sweating in the still heat and fending off mosquitoes threatening Dengue or Ross River fever (!) we wandered along listening for the call we hoped to hear. Within a few minutes we recorded VARIED HONEYEATER (S), SHINING FLYCATCHER (S), BLACK BUTCHERBIRD (S), CICADABIRD, BROWN HONEYEATER, YELLOW-BELLIED SUNBIRD, MISTLETOEBIRD, DUSKY HONEYEATER (S) and GRACEFUL./YELLOW SPOTTED HONEYEATER. The latter almost impossible to distinguish unless calling – these were not calling so remain specifically unidentified at this location.
We had almost reached the end of the boardwalk, where the outlook tower stairs are still ‘Under repair’, when we heard the mournful whistle we had been waiting for. The bird answered my poor imitation and, after some time, we caught a glimpse as it flew between mangrove buttresses. Eventually it came close enough for good views and even some poor photos of its undersides. There were two individuals and they chased through the shadows, their black and white plumage perfectly suited to their habitat. At last - MANGROVE ROBIN – a lifer for me (C) as well as Stuart.
Returning rapidly to the car to apply the Tropical strength RID and hopefully ward off the possible diseases transmitted by mosquitoes; we drove on into Cairns and the famous Esplanade.
The tide was very high and a small flock of mixed species huddled along the edge of the bike path. They were shifty and nervous and continually disturbed by children and non-birders. We approached as close as possible making it obvious we were watching the birds and most walkers steered off the bike path and gave us space. A persistent child on a scooter moved away following my request but hovered at the edge of the wader’s ‘safe space’. BAR-TAILED and a few BLACK-TAILED GODWITS dominated, GREAT KNOT and CURLEW SANDPIPERS made up the rest. A single RED-NECKED STINT caused a bit of excitement for a few minutes until correctly identified. Why is it that a single bird can do that to you? HOUSE SPARROWS, PEACEFUL DOVES, COMMON MYNAS and DOMESTIC DOVES abounded, 40+ Peacefuls in one tree roosting out the heat of the day! More Varied Honeyeaters sang from the parkland trees and an INTERMEDIATE EGRET flew from the encroaching tide. We both spotted a movement in one of the trees further back from the beach and quickly realised it was a number of juvenile METALLIC STARLINGS (S). We got great views as they chased around a large shade tree and appeared to drink from a hollow not far above our heads. As we watched them a PIED IMPERIAL PIGEON (S) flew in to join a previously unseen bird higher in the canopy. The new arrival appeared to regurgitate food and feed the other bird, although both were in adult plumage, possibly some sort of bonding ritual? There was no nest in sight. A pair of WILLIE WAGTAILS, 3 WHITE-BREASTED WOOD-SWALLOWS and 1 WHITE-THROATED HONEYEATER completed our esplanade birding before we moved on into Cairns and lunch. (Eating places are many and varied in the town – the choice is almost limitless) Once we had eaten and had cold drinks followed by hot coffee we drove to Centenary Lakes, parked near the fresh water lake and went for a walk.
Immediately we had MAGPIE GEESE, BEE EATERS, LITTLE BLACK CORMORANT and a flock of WHITE-THROATED NEEDLETAILS low overhead. We walked around the lake and came upon a very exposed BROWN-BACKED HONEYEATER’s (S) nest hanging over the water – a favourite location for this species. As we watched the bird move back and forward with building material Stuart spotted a YELLOW HONEYEATER (S) high in a palm tree on the other side of the lake. Further on and we heard then saw a BRUSH CUCKOO, AUST BRUSH TURKEY and RAINBOW LORIKEETS screamed past. Round a corner and a patch of heavy growth produced a SPANGLED DRONGO with a pair of chicks fresh out of the nest, a pair of Yellow Honeyeaters at head height and a noisy HELMETED FRIARBIRD (S) higher up in the canopy.
Just as I had almost given up on a couple of target birds – they both turned up! ORANGE-FOOTED SCRUBFOWL (S) and YELLOW ORIOLE (S) one after another! This was turning into a total tick fest for Stuart!
We exited the parklands beside a small bridge over a muddy, mangrove lined creek which flows along the edge of the gardens. I had had Little Kingfisher here before so that was our target bird, however, it wasn’t to be and we shortly found ourselves back at the car without any further excitement. We did have, our first for the trip, VARIED TRILLER and WHITE-BELLIED CUCKOO-SHRIKE. A STRIATED HERON was also seen along the path.
We grabbed a cold drink – it was very, very muggy – and headed north towards Port Douglas. Just before the turn off to Yorkey’s Knob we stopped at a side road (Walker’s Rd) between a pitch and putt golfing range and a Go-Kart track. Our target bird here was CRIMSON FINCH (S) and sure enough within a few minutes we had a pair hanging around a grey looking palm (sorry don’t know the species, but they’re pretty obvious!) Good views of them and a few NUTMEG and CHESTNUT-BREASTED MANNIKINS too. SCALY-BREASTED LORIKEET and WHITE-BELLIED SEA EAGLE overhead, AUSTRALIAN PIPIT and Brown and Dusky Honeyeaters completed our list at this location.
We now headed north on one of the best drives, in my opinion, on the east coast. Swooping along the curves of the road beside the ocean and below the forested mountains is a glorious journey and one I always enjoy. We stopped at the appropriate places to take the necessary photos and then turned off after Port Douglas and headed up the range to Julatten. At the second ‘Lookout’ we stopped to see the view. It was wet, had rained not long before and evening was rapidly approaching. A Shrike-thrush tested us for a few minutes, but we agreed it was a Little. A few Pied Imperial Pigeons passed in the distance and then a small, apparently tailless, squeaking parrot silhouetted against the sky – and a cry of ‘Fig Parrot’ – not a good view by any standards but a DOUBLE-EYED FIG PARROT (S) no less!
Heavy skies and a damp feel to the air encouraged us to move on the last few kilometres to Kingfisher Park. As we drove in through the trees, Stuart grabbed my arm and whispered ‘Stop’ – right beside the track and no more than 3 meters from his window was his first BUFF-BREASTED PARADISE KINGFISHER. We sat quietly for several minutes watching this stunning bird fly backwards and forwards to the nest hole, long white tail streamers flicking almost continuously, bright colours luminescence in the dark rainforest. Eventually it disappeared into the gloomy undergrowth and we moved on to check in with Keith and Lindsay.
We threw our bags into our room and went for a short walk to see the lay of the land, ending at the creek at the back of the property. Most birds had settled down by this stage so we didn’t see much, but did have a few fireflies along the river bank which is always worthwhile. We met a couple from Newcastle travelling in a Wicked camper van and chatted for a while.
As we unpacked and discussed dinner options, a (Lesser) Sooty Owl called outside and we dashed out to try to see it, but despite the whistling bomb sounding like it was going to land on our heads, we didn’t see any sign of the ‘bomber’. As we prepared dinner, Lindsay called us out to see a couple of Bush Rats and huge White-tailed Rat feeding beside the verandah. We crashed early anticipating a big day tomorrow and with 16 new birds and 2 Australian additions Stuart had already had a big day!
A damp muggy morning, heavy cloudy cover, bird activity a little muted. Stuart had his first MACLEAY’s HONEYEATER (S) outside the unit immediately – a soggy looking youngster, not in the most impressive plumage. RED-BROWED FINCHES, LAUGHING KOOKABURRA, Sunbirds, SPECTACLED MONARCHS, Peaceful and BAR-SHOULDERED DOVES, Little Shrike Thrush, Metallic Starlings, PALE YELLOW ROBINS, LARGE BILLED GERYGONES,FAIRY GERYGONES, CHANNEL-BILLED CUCKOO, DOLLARBIRD and a pair of EMERALD DOVES joined our list. 2 SPOTTED CATBIRDS (S) were harassing and being mobbed by a pair of Spectacled Monarchs before we met Keith in the Orchard. Shortly afterwards he called to us to follow a call in the canopy, until we picked out our first PIED MONARCH (S,C) which then showed well. As we were admiring its tree creeping abilities and fluffed up nape – stunning stuff! – I noticed another smaller bird nearby and chasing it down identified a female YELLOW-BREASTED BOATBILL (S). Difficult to follow and see clearly, we did eventually achieve great views of its flattened bill and delicate colours. Almost immediately afterwards, Stuart picked up and IDd a pair of GREY WHISTLERS (S), his fourth tick for the day. Well pleased with ourselves we returned to the verandah for a breakfast of cereal, poached eggs on toast and the very important coffee. As we ate we watched the Macleay’s Honeyeaters and Monarchs flitting around the feeders and nearby bushes. Suddenly a larger bird flew in under the eaves, circled once, appeared to pick up a spider or similar insect and flew out again to disappear almost immediately! Stuart, Keith and I almost simultaneously called ’Riflebird’, for that was what it was – a female VICTORIA’S RIFLEBIRD(S)! Keith declared the event ‘unusual’ and brief though the visit had been we had had enough to be satisfied with our identification.
We headed out to Abattoir Swamp after breakfast – a 10 minute drive in the direction of Mt Molloy. As expected we had Brown-backed Honeyeaters in the trees from the boardwalk entrance. A Dollarbird and a few Chestnut-breasted Mannikins were also around. Not long after we arrived WHITE-BROWED CRAKES (S) were calling from 3 locations – the swamp was really flooded and well grassed after the recent rain. We soon had a crake walking along the edge of the pond in full view – I even managed to get some photos - a lifer for me and an Australian tick for Stuart!
Before we left a flock of AUSTRALIAN SWIFLETS (S) arrived to savour the local insect population and a pair of BROWN QUAIL on the side of the road gave us some more excitement for a few minutes!
We drove on to Mt Molloy and straight round to the school on the side road. Exiting the car into the extreme heat Stuart immediately pointed out his 7th and my 2nd lifer for the day – SQUATTER PIGEON!! (S, C) 2 birds inside the new tennis court quickly followed by 2 more outside. We scaled the fence quietly and stalked the closest birds for some time – again I managed to get some acceptable shots. We located the Great Bowerbird bower at the back of the principal’s house and settled in the shade to await the owner’s arrival. Despite waiting 30 minutes or so it was a no-show so we moved on promising to return. We did have BLUE-FACED HONEYEATERs and Rainbow Lorikeets squabbling in the trees on the way out via the front gate and a BLACK KITE overhead along with a few DOUBLE-BARRED FINCHES at the edge of the property.
Drove on to Lake Mitchell and out along the ‘dam’ wall. There was ‘dam all’ in the lake – a single PELICAN, a few COMB-CRESTED JACANAS and GOLDEN-CROWNED CISTICOLAs. No duck, no herons’ or egrets, no geese. Possibly it’s the time of year when there has been plenty of rain – I had had quite a range of species here 18 months previously. Oh well, guess we had better just go and look for the White-browed Robin then, eh? Along a little further to Big Mitchell Creek, park up and start walking the creek bank – White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, OLIVE-BACKED ORIOLE, Scaly-breasted Lorikeets, LEADEN FLYCATCHER, Fairy Gerygones and then, perched on a branch over the creek, a Willie Wagtail and a WHITE-BROWED ROBIN! (S).
Turning the air con on high we set off back the way we’d come, back to the school grounds and into the shade again, the Squatter Pigeons still hanging around waiting for the tennis to begin…. A few minutes after we arrived a medium sized bird moved through the bushes in the principal’s yard and then suddenly it was there - a single GREAT BOWERBIRD (S) standing at the bower checking out the stones and bits it had collected. No sign of any pink tufts, presumably because it didn’t display, instead it discreetly moved a few of its treasures around and then silently left the scene. Around the bower these birds are so quiet and unobtrusive. On the way out this time we had a FOREST KINGFISHER and Brown Honeyeater.
Marylands was our next destination, about 15 kms on the Mt Carbine road. We stopped off at Stockyard creek for a quick look but only had a slim non-descript snake sliding smoothly down the creek until it saw us and then it vanished in a split second. Very quiet, very hot.
Turning off at East Mary Farms rd we very quickly saw the first AUSTRALIAN BUSTARD (S), then another, and another and two more and….. finally we stopped counting at 40! The farmer was cutting the grass in the first field on the left and the Bustards were having a ball collecting insects, we assume, as they were exposed. Many Black Kites and AUSTRALIAN BUSHLARKS, too, joined in. Maybe there was some other damaged prey in the grass. We had excellent, long scope views and spent some considerable time enjoying the spectacle.
Eventually we drove on further up the road to find one of the Bustards within 3 meters of the car, nervously allowing us to move beside it while we both took photos and marvelled at this huge bird standing so close.
We explored West Mary Farms road too, seeing a few more Bustards, but nothing like the other field. Eventually this road became unsealed but we continued on, leaving the car for a while to walk and listen. Not too far away we heard a gargling cackle and identified it as BLUE-WINGED KOOKABURRA. (S) Tracking them down in the bush took a few minutes, but eventually Stuart got good views of another lifer! A CRESTED HAWK or PACIFIC BAZA flew over the road at one point and further back a pair of COLLARED SPARROWHAWKS carried on a bit for some unidentified reason.
By now darkness was descending in the shape of heavy clouds and threatening rain, thunder rumbled in the distance but we remained curiously dry. Heading back to KFP the rain began in earnest and continued that way for the rest of the evening and into the night precluding any opportunity for night bird watching.
Today is Mt Lewis day! Weather looking good despite the rain of last night – damp, bright, clear, we hoped the road hadn’t suffered too much. It was a bit carved up here and there by the rain channelling down, however, it was no effort for the Rav 4 – the clearance providing all the help we needed. We picked up the birding couple from Newcastle about 3 kms up the hill. They had parked the campervan not wanting to risk it. The roads actually improved the further up we went! We stopped a couple of times and walked parts of the road eventually arriving at the car park area at the top. Stuart and I then walked the trail to the dam and back again, while the other birders walked further up the road and then met us on the trail later on.
We saw a couple of Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfishers fly away from the road and identified 2 RUSSET-TAILED THRUSHES in the same way. A wild pig trotted off the track at one point and we had a family party of CHOWCHILLAS (S) at another and on the track to the dam. BRIDLED HONEYEATER (S) came easily enough and we saw several during the morning. At the car park area we immediately had approx 8 BLUE-FACED PARROT-FINCHES (S) the main target bird on Mt Lewis of course. A very pretty and unusual little finch with it’s blue face (surprise, surprise!), pale green body and red tail – an uncommon colour combination. We also quickly identified ATHERTON SCRUBWREN (S) and MOUNTAIN THORNBILL (S) along with Red-browed Finches, GOLDEN WHISTLER, EASTERN WHIPBIRD, EASTERN SPINEBILL, Grey Whistler, Spotted Catbird, RUFOUS and GREY FANTAIL (northern sub sp), Mistletoebird, YELLOW-THROATED SCRUBWREN and Pale Yellow Robin. It took us a while, surprisingly, but again maybe it’s the different season, but we finally got good views of GREY-HEADED ROBIN (S) – usually an easy trail-hopping bird. Fernwren was a bird we especially wanted to see. I had had a brief experience last year in Paluma, but it would be a new bird for Stuart and we had been keenly listening for any sign of it without success. As we began our return trip from the dam,just past the junction in the track a movement just inside the forest edge drew my attention, grabbing Stuart’s arm I pointed and there feeding behind a family party of Chowchillas was our target, a male FERNWREN (S). We stalked it carefully down the slope gaining excellent views as it fed in the leaf litter. (Apparently it is common for Fernwrens to follow Chowchillas – a fact worth noting I think.) The final birds we had been seeking on Mt Lewis were Tooth-billed Bowerbird and Bower’s Shrike Thrush. Both were proving elusive. We had heard both calling but had failed to get satisfactory views of either and now, late in the morning, the birds were shutting down as the heat took over. We decided that as the road was in good condition we would come back tomorrow to follow up on these two birds and headed back to the car, the sweat running down our backs, looking forward to the warming cans of Sprite we had left there.
Once we had slaked our thirst on the sweet fizzy drinks we decided to walk further up the road to follow up on reports of Fig Parrots we had heard about. Not far up the road before the gate into the National Park section we heard the zit call and located 2 birds quietly feeding in a tree right beside the road. These have got to be the quietest parrots ever! They are so discrete it would be easy to overlook them. We had excellent views from relatively close range for some time before they moved higher and eventually disappeared into the foliage. As we walked back to the car two birds flew into the clearing and landed in separate trees – BARRED CUCKOO-SHRIKES - a very welcome addition to our list and great views again! Finally as we reached the car a WHITE-CHEEKED HONEYEATER appeared in a tree beside us – a strange species we thought for location and habitat, but a regular breeder we found out later from Keith.
We drove back down Mt Lewis and then down the range to the Mossman/Port Douglas road and headed north – on the Swallow quest.
The immigrants had been reported as inhabiting a barn on the side of the road past the Newell Beach turnoff just north of Mossman and sure enough we found them there. A single RED-RUMPED SWALLOW (C) perched on a wire inside the barn and, across the main road, 4 or 5 BARN SWALLOWS (S, C) perched on the beams inside a second newer barn. The Red-rump flew out of the barn and circled a couple of times before disappearing – we didn’t see it again, but did have good views of its main characteristics. I managed to get some acceptable photos of the Barn Swallows – both adult and immature – perched inside the other barn along with local WELCOME SWALLOWS for perfect comparison.
It started to rain and we retreated to Mossman and enjoyed enormous mugs of coffee in the main street while the rain washed the Mt Lewis mud off the car. Heading back to KFP it stopped but by now the light was fading and the rain started again not long after our return so we opted for the Highlander for dinner – on the corner as we turned in, a bedraggled BUSH STONE CURLEW showed in the headlights!
Back up Mt Lewis – earlier this morning, as daylight slowly appeared. Stopping along the track checking fly bys, calls. Listening. Eventually near the top a Fernwren - like bird across the track proves to be just that and we watch a pair in close range foraging for breakfast. Back on the track and a bird high in a tree attracts my attention – it’s, finally, a TOOTH-BILLED BOWERBIRD (S) We get the scope on it and enjoy stunning views. In time we see several and a Victoria’s Riflebird - another female unfortunately. A Superb Fruit-dove is calling and I am trying to get onto it, but just cannot see it in the canopy. We wander up and down the road and finally get dent views of BOWER’S SHRIKE THRUSH (S). A small flock of TOPKNOT PIGEONS fly over head as we walk down towards the NP gate on the road and again we find Double-eyed Fig parrots and again get great, almost intimate, views. A few Blue-faced Parrot-finches fly along the road ahead of the car as we leave.
As we reached the bitumen and sped towards the Highlander on the corner Stuart grabbed my arm and urged me to stop! He had spotted what developed into the biggest grey morph GREY GOSHAWK either of us had ever seen perched in a tree on the far side of the paddock. We watched as a Magpie Lark mobbed it and irritated it flew off along the tree line – wow it was huge!!
On now to a spot I hadn’t been to before – Mowbray State Forest via Pinnacle road. As we crossed a small bridge over a creek a dark, chicken sized bird scuttled off the road into the grass and Stuart called ‘BUSHHEN’ – we came to a halt further up the road and walked quietly back to the culvert. Two birds were calling and came right to the edge of the grass but would not come out again – probably wary of flying Rav 4s…..
Reaching the track entrance at Clayton’s Place, we birded along the road immediately outside, our target here was Superb Fruit Dove. We could hear them calling but could not locate them high in the canopy. As we searched two small cuckoos flew in – LITTLE BRONZE CUCKOO and a GOULD’S BRONZE CUCKOO (S) together! Both calling, clearly different, views not the best, but identifiable.
As we searched for the fruit-dove we became aware of a trilling, a quick movement and we had another cuckoo in sight – strong deep chestnut colour from the throat right down to the vent. Dark contrasting blue grey on the cap, head, nape and wings. The bird appeared a little smaller than the average Fan-tailed Cuckoo, but that may have been the perception from the stronger colouring present in this bird. It called a few more time and then flew – and we lost it. A few minutes later, however, the trilling began again, but we struggled to see the bird in the dense canopy. 15 minutes, 30 minutes, how long would this bird keep calling? We searched and searched every twig, every branch; we tried to triangulate – nothing. Finally it flew again to a high exposed branch and we quickly got the scope onto it and picked out the features, until again it flew and this time disappeared into the distance. We listened to the calls on tape and there was no doubt – CHESTNUT-BREASTED CUCKOO(S, C), the call was quite distinct, especially after listening to it intensely for nearly an hour!
We decided to hike into the forest to look further for the Fruit-doves. The track was rough, muddy and quite wet after the recent rain. We didn’t find any Superb Fruit-doves, but we did come across a group of NOISY PITTAS which called and flew quite close to us affording good views. We also had Dusky Honeyeater, Emerald Dove, Spectacled Monarch and WOMPOO FRUIT-DOVE (calling only).
As we exited the forest again a Forest kingfisher attracted our attention and scanning for it through the bins Stuart picked up a pair of Fig Parrots inspecting a dead tree for nesting (?) or food (?). We had great views of them as they climbed around the exposed perch before taking off for more interesting trees! Another Bush hen was calling continuously from a nearby field as we drove off.
Keith at KFP had suggested we have a look on Wessel’s Rd near Abattoir Swamp for Lovely Fairy-wren, a species we both wanted to see. We stopped in at the Highlander for a huge coffee before heading for that destination.
The road in is bitumen and then a good condition unsealed road runs through a swampy area labelled as nature reserve – not sure what the background is, but it certainly is worth birding. We had another new bird for Stuart – a NORTHERN FANTAIL (S) provided great views as it fly- hunted along a fence line. We also had Cicadabird, Leaden Flycatcher, Brush Cuckoo, Varied Triller, Brown-backed and Yellow Honeyeaters and Stuart flushed another Bush hen, among lots of other commoner species. It started to rain as we neared the end of the road system and we headed back to KFP for our last night on the tablelands.
Thankfully the rain eased and stopped shortly afterwards and so we had time for another walk around KFP in the late afternoon. Our target this time was LARGE-BILLED GERYGONE (S) and after sometime walking the edge of the forest and along the riverbank we found one over the river from the seat beyond the orchard.
Darkness fell and we had dinner, then prepared for a spotlighting appointment at 19.00. Out to Geraghty park, a short walk into the open field and not long after 7, as predicted, 2 MASKED OWLS (S) emerged from a hole we couldn’t see high in a gum tree. We watched as they flew from branch to branch calling occasionally and preening after their long day in, presumably, cramped conditions. We decided to leave them in peace after an interval and headed back across the field to check out the other trees – a white shape and I spotted a BARN OWL perched high in another gum – it called and the difference was noticeable from the Masked Owls. The facial disc was more heart shaped and the legs more exposed – less feathered. Two Owl species in 10 minutes! We were well pleased!
We decided to look in the orchard for Frogmouths but as we descended the track through the rainforest towards the spot we had a greater reward. Perched like a Yellow Robin on a hanging vine at head height about 3 meters in front of us was a SOOTY OWL – a Lesser Sooty Owl in the old books. Talk about great viewing! It hung there occasionally looking at us, then looking elsewhere as we stood transfixed. I left it with Stuart and dashed back to the unit to get my camera – always the way isn’t it? Returning it was still in position but moved almost as soon as I prepared for an award winning shot. Moving to a higher branch but still within brilliant viewing distance I took a couple – unfortunately cutting off its head as I couldn’t see it through the lens….
There Owl species in 20 minutes!! Wow!!We looked for but didn’t find any frogmouths in the orchard.
We had booked for a cruise on the Daintree at 6.00 with Chris Dahlberg and woke at 3.45 to the sound of rain, heavy rain. Hoping it was only local rain we finished packing and dashed everything into the car. The power had gone out too so we managed with headlights. No water for coffee or washing up, we settled for cereal and left a note of apology.
The drive down the range and up the coast took just over an hour, we arrived in Daintree at 5.20, I had allowed plenty of time and so we snoozed in the car while we waited, but the rain continued. Chris turned up and we discussed the situation – it wasn’t worth venturing out so we made tentative suggestions for the next day and then headed back towards Cairns. Stopping off at Port Douglas for breakfast we discussed our options – and used a talking toilet. I didn’t really need to, but it had so amused Stuart that I just had to see it for myself. Basically it told you it couldn’t ‘see you cause you hadn’t moved and threatened to open the door if you didn’t move! Somebody with a very sick mind developed that – I waved my arm to let it know I was still engaged, however, I am sure others had leapt up and hopped around in their panic – imagine the video tapes for the Christmas party!
Keith had told us about the possibility of Pied Herons at a waste transfer station near Port Douglas and had supplied us with a bag of recyclables as an entry pass! We hadn’t seen any sign of a ‘dump’ on our way down but on heading back up the road towards Mossman we came across the sign on the left pointing to a small side road – Killaloe waste transfer station. Worth noting the sign can only be read from the south, the reverse side is blank and it is not very far north of Port D, I forgot to note the mileage. There is only the transfer station on the road and when we told the guy on the gate that we had a bag of recyclables to dump he waved us through and told us to go to Bay 1. It’s a very small dump and we immediately saw the PIED HERONS (S, C) – 6 of them in various plumages hanging out around some rain puddles and a culvert. As we watched they flew up to the lip of a large waste bin and started poking around the rubbish in there! All in all a poor environment to see such a lovely bird – but we were still happy to add it to both our Australian lists!
The rain had eased by now and we called Chris again in the hope of maybe driving back to Daintree, however, he was unavailable so we headed south again towards Cairns. All along the ocean road water cascaded down the rocks creating temporary waterfalls – something you don’t see every day.
Stopped off at Yorkey’s Knob in the expectation of Green Pygmy Goose – but to my surprise there were no ducks at all. We did see a pair of Crimson Finch and Black Butcherbirds and we did meet a local who told us they had been there but had left a few days ago – she didn’t know why or where. Dam! This was mine – and everyone else we had asked - best location for GPG.
We had thought about our options and decided that the Barron Falls in full flow was probably worthwhile seeing so we headed into Cairns and booked a trip on the Skyrail (cablecar) to Kuranda and the train trip back down. (Round trip $175 for two) leaving at around midday we needed to get the 14.30 train back so we had time to get to Cassowary House before dark.
Before we left we had a quick look along the esplanade, the tide was about half way and we saw similar birds to our first visit plus a couple of Striated Herons, TEREK SANDPIPER, LESSER SAND PLOVER and LITTLE TERN.
The falls were spectacular and we spent the next 4 hours playing tourist, taking photos and videos and buying souvenirs, having coffee in Kuranda and falling asleep on the train….the only bird of note being a Bush Stone-Curlew under the skyrail just before the Kuranda stop.
We retrieved our car and headed up the range – once we had done battle with other road users in Cairns, probably copped a speeding ticket and taken the wrong road …..arriving at Cassowary House and meeting Sue Gregory at about 16.30. She was a little surprised to see us as I had provided the wrong day/date combination in my email and she had been expecting us on Tuesday…. However it was no major inconvenience – we were the only guests, our room was ready and we were self catering. As we stood on the verandah with Sue she pointed out a MUSKY RAT KANGAROO searching for food in the garden below and explained how upset it would be if it heard me referring to it as a ‘rat’….
We dumped our bags and went for a walk around. Spectacular habitat, heavy rainforest, tall canopy, good undergrowth, open areas and a good sized creek – and that was just the garden! Down on the riverbank a Victoria’s Riflebird, a female again, landed close by and a LITTLE KINGFISHER (S) sat quietly on the other side of the creek.
We walked up the road towards the entrance of the National Park, then down the track there to the creek again. We heard a Fernwren and Catbirds, but as the light was failing we headed back up to the road continuing on for a short distance. I was walking a little distance ahead of Stuart when I heard a strange deep breathing kind of noise in the forest. Signalling Stuart, who approached quietly we both listened and heard it again – Cassowary? Nothing moved but the noise ceased and we heard no more. A fruit-dove landed high on an exposed branch over the road and, although partially silhouetted, we could make out the white belly and light green flanks, minimal cap and green upperparts of a female SUPERB FRUIT-DOVE (S, C) – lousy view, but undoubtedly our long sought target. It sat long enough for us to discuss its vital stats then flew off to roost. We also had a Wompoo Fruit-dove a few minutes earlier for comparison.
We headed back to Cassowary House discussing the next day’s activities and plans for dinner. As we turned the corner in the driveway Stuart grabbed my arm and whispered RED-NECKED CRAKE (S) in my ear and there it was, a single bird casually wandering around a large rain puddle in the wheel ruts! It wasn’t the best view either but it did last for some time as the bird walked away and then back towards us before heading off into the undergrowth.
We carried on and spent the evening chatting to Sue as we prepared dinner, then crashed for our last night in N Qld.
Up early and out to search the garden again. It was raining lightly, then heavier, driving us back to our room by 8.00. Sue called us to breakfast and we spent the rest of the morning on her verandah enjoying a leisurely breakfast of fruit and coffee as the rain bucketed down. Macleay’s Honeyeaters came to feed beside the verandah as we hopefully scanned the sky through the dripping trees. Finally at 12.30 it eased enough for us to venture out and we wandered the garden again with only a 3.5- 4 meter AMESTHINE PYTHON for company before heading 3.8 kms up the road to search for another target – Lovely Fairy-wren.
We walked up and down a section of road beside a pine forest, which, Sue had assured us, was a favourite haunt of the species. We saw other commoner species such as Red-browed Finches, Silvereyes, Little Shrike Thrush and Dusky Honeyeaters but despite our search it appeared no LFW. We had agreed that we needed to leave Cassowary House at 14.45 to get to Cairns airport for our 16.30 flight. It was 14.00 and we still had to finish packing. We trudged back towards the car and suddenly, there it was, a stunning female LOVELY FAIRY-WREN (S, C) flitting through the foliage at the edge of the bush and what a Fairy-wren! The bluecap, nape and lower cheeks, white face and dark eye made for a stunning contrast and the white tipped continually flicked tail! Wow.! We were impressed!
Happy now we dashed back to CH and as I changed and finished packing stuff into my bag, then into the car, Stuart made one last foray for Cassowary – he was really, really keen to see, as he put it, “a bird I have to run away from” - on the road outside. Finally he too threw his bag into the boot, we said goodbye to Sue and tore off at 14.55.
Down the range and out onto the main road to Cairns and it was only 15.15 as we approached the Yorkey’s Knob turnoff. Ah, what the hell, I swung hard left at the roundabout and booted it down through the cane fields and slid to a stop at the golf club pond – one single duck in the middle – and it was, Yes, a female GREEN PYGMY GOOSE (S) – last tick for the trip!! I gave Stuart a couple of minutes to enjoy, then back onto the road again and into the first service station to top up the petrol tank. We arrived in the check in desk at 15.55 (exactly 30 mins before our flight) and it was boarding already. It was bucketing rain again and so I left Stuart and dashed down to the Hertz desk. One operator and she was busy. I waited a couple of minutes, then interrupted and asked what she needed as there had been no one in the car park to check the car back in. She wanted the key (which I had for some inexplicable reason left on the front seat) and the mileage. Out again into the teeming rain, key grabbed and odometer read and I was heading back when I noticed another Hertz employee heading back into the terminal. I asked for her help and she very kindly took the key and the mileage and left me to my own devices – Hurrah for Hertz!
I met Stuart in the boarding queue and we boarded on time and then sat and waited for another 10 minutes while everyone else settled in – what a waste – we might have had time to check the esplanade……..
A very successful trip. We didn’t miss a lot of birds – Great-billed Heron possibly due to Daintree river cruise cancellation, Southern Cassowary – unlucky really – the male has returned to the garden at Cassowary House since and we might have chosen to try Longlands gap for the Golden Bowerbird or the Mareeba wetlands fro Black-throated Finch or a known Rufous Owl roost that might have been accessible or …. However Stuart scored 54 new birds and I added 8 to my life list and 2 to my Australian. I think we did OK.
To the following people who offered assistance and advice: Tom Tarrant, Keith and Lindsay Fisher (KFP), Sue Gregory (Cassowary House) – all as always helpful, friendly and patient!