With both my regular trip companions unavailable for various reasons, and no tour available that fitted my target list of species/families, I decided on a solo trip to Queensland. Lots of interesting and endemic birds to look for, plus mammals and other wildlife, and for me a total of 8 new families (IOC taxonomy), the most available on a single trip.
Solo trips are not everyone’s cup of tea – not my first choice either, but Queensland is a pretty easy trip to do on your own (though I had some very useful help along the way). As long, of course, as you are sensible. Getting lost, injured or bitten by something venomous are the main concerns – I should have been better about letting people know where I was going and when I expected to arrive, but I was very wary of wandering off-piste, and I avoided walking through long grass if at all possible. The latter probably contributed to me seeing only one buttonquail all trip, but also minimised the chances of an unfortunate encounter with a snake (or an ankle-breaking hole in the ground).
I saw 310 species over the two weeks, 186 of which were lifers, and got good views of at least one member of all 8 possible new families. A very high percentage of these were self-finds (unsurprisingly), and most of the time without use of recordings too (not on principle, though I prefer them to be used sparingly – I was just rubbish at downloading them). It was a refreshing challenge, and added another dimension to a very successful and enjoyable trip.
Particular thanks must go to Duncan Walbridge, who gave me lots of useful advice and loaned me maps and site gen from when he lived in Queensland. This trip would have been much less successful without his help. Many thanks too to Tom Tarrant, a well-known Brisbane area birder and friend of Duncan’s, for a great day’s birding, and Roger and Megan McNeill at the Mountain House for their hospitality and crucial assistance in the field. Sue Gregory at Cassowary House also deserves particular thanks for up-to-date gen for the Tablelands and for arranging my Daintree River cruise. Keith and Lindsay Fisher at Kingfisher Park were immensely helpful both with locating birds there and pointing me in the right direction for others elsewhere, and only ribbed me occasionally about the England cricket team’s wretched performance in the Ashes test in Brisbane!
I left home in Somerset on the afternoon of the 11th, and embarked on a long but uneventful journey to Brisbane via Heathrow and Hong Kong. It was the first time I had flown with Cathay Pacific, and I was impressed – legroom in economy could be a little better for someone 6ft-plus like me, but food, service and in-flight entertainment were all very good. I would happily fly with them again, which I cannot say about all long-haul airlines I have flown with in recent years.
I arrived in Brisbane just after 8am, and the usual formalities took a lot less time than it did to get into my off-airport hire car and away. A few birds showed well at the airport while I was waiting – Figbird, Noisy Miner, Welcome Swallow, and the only Aus. Raven of the trip. It took a couple of hours to get to Canungra, including stops for supplies and a few birds, but as soon as I got on the Lamington NP Road the birding started in earnest – a quick halt for my first male Superb Fairywren rapidly racked up Aus. King Parrot, Pale-headed Rosella, Noisy Friarbird, and Rufous Whistler too.
It was after midday when I checked in at O’Reilly’s, and the short drive between reception and my room showed me what I was in for – male Regent and Satin Bowerbirds, a Wonga Pigeon and 2 Aus. Brush-turkeys showed very well in a couple of minutes! After a shower and a short rest, it was time to get stuck in. Two circuits of the Border Track/Mountain Gardens/ Treetop Walkway loop produced a decent number of new birds, including Green Catbird, very obliging Yellow-throated Scrubwrens and Eastern Yellow Robins, Black-faced Monarch, and the first family tick of the trip – a very confiding and endearing pair of Logrunners scratching away in the leaf litter like mini chickens, except that they push the leaves out sideways rather than behind them, which is even more comical. An instant favourite.
Too soon it was dusk, followed by a quick dinner, a couple of beers and an early bedtime, trying to shake off the jetlag.
Up at first light (4.30am) and quickly out on to the Border Track again, moving slowly and learning calls. Eastern Whipbirds were common and loud, and I soon got good views of a calling male. Then another even louder, closer call, and an Albert’s Lyrebird promptly walked slowly across the track in front of me! Family tick number two, and a wonderful intimate encounter with a restricted-range bird only easily available here – just me and the bird as it scratched at the bank then walked slowly off into the rainforest. On the loop back past the Mountain Gardens, I bumped into a loud scuffle between two pairs of Logrunners, and more ridiculously close views ensued. Then came family tick number three as a ripping noise alerted me to a female Paradise Riflebird tearing the bark off a large Araucaria tree above me.
After breakfast I headed down to Duck Creek Road – a pair of gorgeous Rufous Fantails and a flyover Wompoo Fruit Dove were the best along the rainforest section. In the eucalypt section I bumped into the Fieldguides tour group also staying at O’Reilly’s, which had just found a Red-browed Treecreeper, one of the key targets here. Great! Except that I didn’t get on it the next time it showed briefly, and it didn’t again despite searching for the next hour. Bummer! A couple of jewel-like male Variegated Fairywrens were great, but little else showed.
At lunch at the café I kept a close eye on the Crimson Rosellas – rewarding enough in itself, but I’d been warned about their pincer movements, where one approaches from the front, distracting you while another sneaks in from the side and raids your plate. I may have been wise to this, but it left me defenceless when a male Regent Bowerbird came in from the blindside and landed on my hand to pinch part of the fishburger I was holding in it at the time! Not that I minded – I just wish I’d had my camera to hand.
There was a flock of Glossy Black Cockatoos along Duck Creek Road, but way down in an area which was definitely 4WD vehicles only, so no chance in my little Hyundai. One of the O’Reilly’s guides told me of another spot where I might have a chance at this species, a patch of Casuarina (‘she-oak’) trees where the road splits about 15km back, below Mt Cainbabel. An hour there failed to produce any cockatoos, but I did get White-throated Treecreeper, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, and Buff-rumped Thornbill. Then a big thunderstorm rolled in and the heavens opened. I did manage a quick walk before dusk down the Wishing Tree Track after it stopped, but didn’t add much.
Dawn this morning was a walk down the road to the start of the Python Rock Trail (which was closed) and back to get better views of the two Zoothera thrushes – Bassian and Russet-tailed. This worked out well, and after good views of a few of each I was pretty sure I’d got a handle on them – more good views of whipbirds and Logrunners too. A Scarlet Honeyeater showed well in the car park, a male Satin Bowerbird at a bower off the Wishing Tree track was an unexpected treat, and a Topknot Pigeon flew over as I got back to the lodge. The Villa Track failed to produce the hoped-for Rose Robin, and after breakfast and checking out, I spent another hour down Duck Creek Road dipping the treecreeper again. Still, I had a brilliant time at O’Reilly’s and had to tear myself away.
On the way down the mountain, still in the national park, a major surprise was a Red-chested Buttonquail by the side of the road, and further down both Brown Goshawk and White-necked Heron soared over and a Dollarbird posed well in a dead tree.
With appetite whetted by Duncan’s tales of the birding available inland in the Granite Belt, today I was heading for Girraween NP and an overnight stop in Stanthorpe. At Beaudesert at midday, I decided against the twistier, more scenic Mt Lindesay Highway in favour of the faster Cunningham Highway to the west – logical, but an error. Slow going due to roadworks getting over to the Cunningham, only to find out it was shut for flood damage repairs. And the recommended alternative was – guess what – the Mt Lindesay Highway!
The ‘big detour’ was long and frustrating, and involved an unscheduled visit across the state border to New South Wales, but was lightened by new birds such as Red-backed Fairywren, Brown Quail, and Eastern Rosella. Also by place names like Woodenbong and Bald Knob State Forest (which hosted an extraordinary number of Bell Miners with their maddeningly repetitive 'tink, tink' calls). I eventually arrived at Girraween after 5pm, a couple of hours late, which left no time to do justice to an interesting site. Few birds showed in the pre-dusk hour, though Striated Thornbill was new.
The Boulevard motel in Stanthorpe was not plush, but adequate, and handy for takeaway pizza and a few beers and a chat with some locals in O’Mara’s (which is a bit of a dive, so my kind of pub).
A flock of Little Corellas screeched their way out of roost over the motel at dawn. Heading towards Texas (yes, really) I had a very close shave with a kangaroo – they are a real danger to traffic (and themselves) in this area. Pulling over at Pike Creek to calm my nerves proved an excellent move, as it was quite birdy, with Grey Goshawk (the only one of the trip), Rufous Songlark, and Dusky Woodswallow the best. At Mingoola I came across a roadside party of 13 Apostlebirds – not exactly brightly coloured, but noisy and fun to watch, they reminded me of New World anis in some ways. And were another family tick, of course.
Sundown NP was excellent. The Permanent Waterhole trail provided White-eared Honeyeater and White-winged Triller, two species I had missed in WA, and a mixed flock of warblers that included Speckled Warbler and Brown, Buff-rumped, Chestnut-rumped and Little Thornbills. Red-winged and Turquoise Parrots added a splash of colour, the latter all too briefly. And the access track on the way out finished the visit with a great flourish – Brown Treecreeper, Diamond Firetail, Double-barred Finch, Jacky Winter, a pair of White-winged Trillers at a nest, a single stunning White-browed Woodswallow, more Apostlebirds, and best of all a party of 16 White-winged Choughs! Just as entertaining to watch as their cousins. From ‘needing’ a family to completing it in a morning!
Unfortunately I was now behind the clock again, so I had to press on, arriving in Gatton at around 2pm. Lake Apex was a great spectacle of birds, but the only new one was Masked Lapwing. I headed out into promising-looking fields, but couldn’t find any Banded Lapwings, though I knew they were in the area. I only had a couple of hours in the end, in an area that could have done with much more time, and found signs to places I had wanted to check out just before I had to leave. But now it was back into Brisbane and on to Samford.
The Mountain House is Roger and Megan McNeill's place, just outside Samford Village. Roger's an American birder and they have a cottage just down from the main house which they rent out to visiting birders, putting the proceeds into regenerating rainforest on their property. Great place to stay, great people, and good to support the project too – thoroughly recommended.
Tom Tarrant was free this weekend, luckily, so we went nightbirding on Mt Glorious. Not much joy, unfortunately, despite Tom's best efforts, with Sooty Owl heard a few times but not seen, and no response from Marbled Frogmouth at all. A decent-sized Carpet Python on the road, though.
Out at dawn round the Mountain House with Tom, learning from him and seeing some commoner rainforest stuff I'd missed so far – Little Shrike-thrush, Spangled Drongo, Cicadabird, and the like. After an hour or so there and a quick breakfast in Samford, we went to Tom's local stakeout site for Spotted Quail-thrush (a difficult bird, increasingly under pressure from human activities) and eventually got cracking views of a female (and a good flight view of a male). Next were some ponds by the road opposite Fogg Park in Mt Samson, where we quickly added both whistling ducks, Comb-crested Jacana, Red-kneed Dotterel, and two of the extraordinary Channel-billed Cuckoo. Then on to Tom's local patch of Samsonvale Cemetery, on the edge of Lake Samsonvale –lots of waterbirds, and other highlights included Brown Quail, Forest Kingfisher, Tawny Grassbird, and astonishingly good flyover views of a Square-tailed Kite.
Heading towards the coast at Toorbul, a brief stop at Bishop's Pool revealed 20+ gloriously aerobatic White-throated Needletails doing their thing! Having missed the one in Britain earlier in the year, this was a species I was desperate to see, and I was not disappointed. At Toorbul itself a little judicious use of recordings enticed Mangrove Honeyeater and Mangrove Gerygone to show well. The tide was dropping and there were lots of waders to sift through – only Far Eastern Curlew was a tick, but it was instructive to see lots of Great Knots and Grey-tailed Tattlers in particular.
Next we drove round to Bribie Island – more waders at Kakadu Beach, and 2 Buff-banded Rails. At Woorim we didn’t expect much from a brief seawatch, but I picked up a shearwater, then another, then another – at least 60 Short-tailed Shearwaters were lingering offshore! By now time was running on and Tom needed to get home before dark, so after a quick look at Buckleys Hole (failing on the Spotless Crake seen earlier in the day) we left the island. A bonus was a group of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos feeding by the exit ramp off the Bruce Highway as we headed back towards Samford. A brilliant day out with a great guy - thanks again, Tom!
Rain of truly biblical proportions hit us on the last leg back to the Mountain House, and with it still raining heavily at dusk we called off our planned nightbirding session and I settled in for the evening. But at about 7.30pm it stopped – Roger was straight down to the cottage to collect me, and it turned out brilliantly! In a magical hour or so he and I saw 2 White-throated Nightjars, really close spotlight views of Australian Owlet-nightjar (a much-wanted family tick) and a Koala! I cannot thank Roger enough for putting himself out on such an evening – by 10pm it was hammering down again, but we'd used the rain-free window to maximum advantage.
Roger joined me briefly early morning in an effort for White-eared Monarch, which as yesterday was calling but not responding to tape. A loud and showy Olive-backed Oriole and a couple of White-throated Honeyeaters were new, though. After Roger had to go to work I pottered on: good views of 4 Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, a brief Varied Triller, then I noticed a movement at the back of a small tree – was it, was it? Yes, White-eared Monarch! The last tick of the Brisbane leg of the trip, and my only realistic shot at it, so a great way to sign off from the brilliant Mountain House.
Another excellent tip from Dunc was to fly to Townsville rather than straight to Cairns. The midday flight from Brisbane went smoothly, I picked up my new hire car (another little Hyundai) and spent the rest of the afternoon at Townsville Common. Two Brolgas on pools by the entrance were a great start, and, having heard a few already, good views of Pheasant Coucal were also very welcome, but there was very little water elsewhere, so I struck out on a bunch of hoped-for waterbirds.
A flowering tree by the car park was packed with assorted honeyeaters coming and going, though, including Yellow, Brown, White-gaped, and Brown-backed, as well as many Yellow-bellied Sunbirds. Crimson Finches and Rainbow Bee-eaters added splashes of colour, but the biting flies eventually drove me back to the entrance pools, where the Brolgas had gone, but a small selection of other waterbirds included a Glossy Ibis and Intermediate and Little Egrets. I stood there till dusk hoping for a crake (the pools looked good for one), but had to make do with Helmeted Friarbird, Golden-headed Cisticola, and a showy Brush Cuckoo. I could live with that.
Overnight was at the Summit Motel in Townsville – nothing special but perfectly adequate. One small plaza on the main road at the bottom of the hill had a supermarket for water and snacks, an ATM, a ‘bottle-o’ to pick up a beer supply, and a pizza place. What more could a boy want?
The usual early start saw me heading up to the brilliant Paluma NP, another site not usually visited by bird tours, but they really should. A male Leaden Flycatcher was singing by the road at Mutarnee, just off the Bruce Highway, then at least 3 Noisy Pittas and a few thrushes flushed off the roadside as I drove up into the mountains. The target site was the trail to Birthday Creek Falls, and immediately on arrival there was a very loud and showy Tooth-billed Bowerbird by the car park. Spotted Catbird, dapper Grey-headed and Pale-yellow Robins and Bridled Honeyeater all showed well along the trail. The drive back towards Paluma village was rapidly interrupted when a female Golden Bowerbird flew across the road – over the next half an hour it showed several times very well, along with another each of Tooth-billed Bowerbird and Spotted Catbird, a Spectacled Monarch and a Grey Whistler. Excellent!
After a brief stop at the information centre in the village, and a chat with a very helpful lady there, I tried the rainforest boardwalk loop and a couple of places nearby where Cassowaries had been seen recently, without much joy. So it was back to Birthday Creek Falls, armed with the precise location of the Golden Bowerbird bower, which I had walked past earlier. After a short wait, a brief flash of bright yellow told me the male had come in but seen me before I saw him. He didn’t return quickly, so at last it was time to move on.
On the drive north in the afternoon, I noticed lots of waterbirds round Cattle Creek, near Ingham, so quickly pulled off the road. A great selection included my first Magpie Geese (about 500 of them, and another family tick) and Green Pygmy Geese, as well as Comb-crested Jacana, Black-fronted Dotterel, many Plumed Whistling Ducks, and various other ducks and herons. Buoyed by this, I decided to stop on the fly at the nearby Tyto Wetlands, but they were nearly dry and an hour there was disappointing in now persistent rain. The Osprey nesting tree mentioned on the interpretive boards is dead and platformless.
Another huge thunderstorm rolled in, and the rain was torrential as I arrived at Mission Beach and checked into the Retreat backpackers' hostel, raising the average age of the guests considerably. A quiet bunch though – most were in bed before me and lights out at 11pm, which suited me fine.
Dawn was half an hour later here than around Brisbane, so 4.30am saw me creeping out of the hostel in the dark. Which worked out very well – as I was loading the car I heard a Large-tailed Nightjar calling from the next garden. Then it flew and landed in a tree right next to me! I could see it silhouetted, and quickly had the torch on it too. An excellent start to the day! No Beach Thick-knees in a quick look on the beach, but Metallic Starling was another new bird.
But Mission Beach is mostly famous for one bird – Cassowary! I was staying at Cassowary House near Cairns later in the trip, but I never like relying on one site for a must-see bird. And Mission Beach was where my old friend and mentor Stuart Holdsworth, sadly no longer with us, had seen his Cassowary 25 years and more ago. So I set off to drive around the roads I had seen in the rain yesterday evening – wide grass verges, then thick rainforest either side. I passed Carmoo, a few km inland of Mission Beach, and rounded a bend – it took a second or two for the brain to register that the dark shape at the bottom of the incline wasn’t a silhouette on one of the many signs in the area, but was an actual Cassowary! Even better, it had a tiny (relatively), stripy chick in tow! I pulled up sharply, still some distance away, and watched them quietly cross the road and melt away into the rainforest. Then I swore the inside of the car blue and punched the air with delight!
Heading back towards town, a car coming the other way flashed its lights, and as I rounded the bend, there was another Cassowary! Closer and longer views, though all too soon it too was off into the forest. I didn’t get out of the car – Cassowaries have a well-earned reputation for being bad-tempered, and this one had (or I imagined) a nasty glint in its eye. There was no doubt about its powerful legs and feet – not a bird to be trifled with.
It was barely 7am, and family tick number 7, and the most difficult to get elsewhere, was firmly in the bag. With nearly the whole day still ahead of me, I headed north to Cairns and arrived at the north end of the famous Esplanade at about 9.30am, just before high tide. Not much beach left, and only a few waders, but plenty of new birds anyway – Torresian Imperial Pigeon, Australian Swiftlet, Varied Honeyeater, Mangrove Robin, Collared Kingfisher, and Large-billed Gerygone all showed very well in a breathless hour of excellent birding.
On to Centenary Lakes, a few minutes’ drive away, and more paydirt immediately with a pair of Radjah Shelducks, a difficult and unpredictable species. Black Butcherbird and Orange-footed Scrubfowl quickly followed, but the rainforest boardwalk was disappointingly birdless, and a walk along the saltwater creek was interrupted when the heavens opened once more. It was good to see Striated Heron and Rufous Night Heron there, but no kingfishers and I got soaked – you know it’s wet when the path back to the car suddenly has 3 Royal Spoonbills standing on it!
I dried out in no time at Cattana Wetlands, but birding was a bit more of a struggle as it was now the heat of the day. The green on the head and back of the Green Pygmy Geese shimmered in the sun – stunning little ducks! Lots of Comb-crested Jacanas too. Back to Cairns and the Flecker Botanical Gardens, trying again for Double-eyed Fig-Parrot, but it rained again. OK, I know when I’m beaten!
The next stop was the grandly-titled Jack Barnes Bicentennial Mangrove Boardwalk, right by Cairns airport. The southern boardwalk was closed due to the spring tides – some of it goes underwater then, apparently, and there are ‘Salties’ (Saltwater Crocodiles) in the creeks, so too much of a risk. Two circuits of the northern half were hard work, with the few birds heard being very hard to see in the dense mangroves. I’d had enough of the mosquitoes, which were only going to get worse, so after a quick return visit to the Esplanade (rather more waders, but nothing new) I elected to finish the day off at Machans Beach. Once more no Beach Thick-knees, but a good number and selection of waders and terns, and a distant Brush Cuckoo.
It took a while driving around in the dark to find my hotel for the night, the even more grandly-titled Palm Royale Cairns Resort, which is just a glorified motel really, but the compensation was a Bush Thick-knee on one of the roundabouts. And later I sank a few more of my stash of Great Northern beers, reflecting on another great day.
Today was the day of my boat trip out to the Great Barrier Reef – I had looked forward to it for a long time, and the weather was beautiful, bright and sunny with virtually no wind. I booked with Seastar cruises, as they go out before any of the other operators, and I can thoroughly recommend them – a relaxed, friendly, very professional operation. I was the only birder on the boat so I stuck out like a sore thumb, but I didn’t mind – when we got to Michaelmas Cay they left me on the beach while the rest snorkelled or dived. For a tern freak like me this was heaven – thousands of Brown Noddies and Sooty Terns, hundreds of Lesser Crested Terns, and a few Black Noddies too. Both Great and Lesser Frigatebirds circled menacingly among the wheeling flocks, and Brown Boobies fed large fluffy white chicks on the cay. Then came an unfamiliar, squeaky call and my first Black-naped Tern flew by – a thing of beauty even amongst terns, and an instant favourite. In the end I racked up 10 species of tern on the day. I ripped my trousers getting back on the RIB to go back to the Seastar, and I didn’t care one bit.
The afternoon at Hastings Reef was quieter birdwise, but a close Green Turtle made up for that, and then there was the jaunt in the glass-bottomed boat. Ridiculously beautiful and colourful reef fish, corals, purple starfish, and giant clams. Not quite the same as being down there with them like the snorkellers had been, but still pretty mind-blowing. A stunning day!
Of course, by the time we got back to Cairns the afternoon rainstorm had hit and it was chucking it down again. After a quick stop for supplies, it was off up into the mountains to Cassowary House. Another wet evening stymied any chance at nightbirding, so the day ended mundanely with me doing my laundry in Kuranda, though the barramundi and chips at the Cyber Café was rather good. Back to CH and a beer or two to counter the loud Barred Frogs just outside my window – I knew my snoring would give them a run for their money once I was asleep!
A pre-breakfast walk along Black Mountain Road provided a good selection of birds, including great views of both male and female Victoria’s Riflebirds, Macleay’s Honeyeater, and Forest Kingfisher. I was the only guest at the time, and Sue Gregory was glad of the relative peace after looking after a couple of tour groups the previous week (Phil was away on tour). We hit it off straight away and chatted for quite a while over breakfast, discussing where I’d been and what I’d seen. When planning the itinerary I had reluctantly decided against a Daintree River cruise, thinking I couldn’t fit it in, but having done so well up to now, maybe I could? Sue was straight on the phone arranging it for me – absolutely brilliant! Good thing I’d gone to Mission Beach, though - the male Cassowarywas still on the nest and the two regular females were having a bit of a tiff. I never got close to seeing one here, though the next week would probably have been fine.
I headed out after breakfast to Barron Falls, just the other side of Kuranda. It was a pleasant walk, and the falls themselves are worth seeing. Not that many birds, but enough for it to be worth it, and a couple of new ones – Fairy Gerygone and Dusky Honeyeater. Just down the road is Wrights Lookout, where a small party of Double-eyed Fig-Parrots frustrated by hurtling noisily but unseen into a tree, then spending several minutes in there feeding without me being able to pick them out, before hurtling noisily out again. At least this time I saw them flying overhead. A decent selection otherwise there too, but time was running on into the afternoon.
Cattana Wetlands is only about 20 minutes back down the mountain from Kuranda, and I’d managed to overlook White-browed Crake on my previous visit. Armed with Sue’s precise gen I took the path straight ahead from the crossroads out of the car park, rather than walking around the main lake, and plonked myself on the bench near the far end. It took about a minute sat scanning to begin getting great views. Doddle. I tracked down some of the small finches I had seen briefly on the previous visit too – as expected, they were Nutmeg Mannikins. Better still, a couple of male Chestnut-breasted Mannikins joined them – a very smart little bird.
Ahead of the game and buoyed by success, I headed inland. After all, the weather was lovely, and I might avoid the afternoon thunderstorm by birding the ‘dry country’. So it was with crashing irony that I drove past the sign welcoming me to Mareeba and its ‘300 days of sunshine a year’ in torrential rain. I outran it by driving north to Lake Mitchell, where I saw lots of birds, but nothing new. Then the rain caught up, so I gave up and headed back to Cassowary House, spending the last hour of light looking for Red-necked Crake, then the first hour of darkness looking for Lesser Sooty Owl, both unsuccessfully, before the rain started again. Frustrating, after a good start to the day. Bit like the cricket.
Dawn saw me back by the main house, searching once again in vain for the crake. After a while I gave up and headed down towards the cottage, where I bumped into a noisy and showy pair of Chowchillas. That’s better! After watching them for a while I stood in a little clearing, thinking what to do next, when a Red-necked Crake walked out on to the main track, paused, then scuttled across into cover. Excellent! I headed out on to Black Mountain Road again, walking a little further this time back past the Duggan Creek bridge. A good selection included a pair of Yellow-eyed Cuckoo-shrikes Double-eyed Fig-Parrot, Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, Forest Kingfisher, Victoria’s Riflebird (a calling male, sadly heard only), Macleay’s and Yellow-spotted Honeyeaters, Mistletoebird, and a rather dazed Red-browed Firetail sat on the tarmac. Presumably clonked by one of the huge logging trucks that use that road, it seemed physically OK, so I set it on the bank in cover to allow it to regain its senses.
After another long, chatty breakfast with Sue, with the regular Black Butcherbird and a brief female Victoria’s Riflebird for company too, it was time to say goodbye and head off back to Mareeba. Much drier this morning, in fact boiling hot by the time I arrived at Granite Gorge, which is about 12km SW of Mareeba and for a $5 fee gives some interesting dry country birding. The main target here was Squatter Pigeon, and I was 'amused', after wandering around for an hour among bare rocks in the searing heat, to find four of them feeding just behind the toilet block by the car park! Three Great Bowerbirds showing well here saved me from having to visit the bower in the school at Mt Molloy, and my wanderings also provided my first Australian Koel and a group of Grey-crowned Babblers (always fun to watch), so it was hardly wasted time.
Next stop was Lake Mitchell again, and another good selection of waterbirds on view, this time including a Black-necked Stork. Then on to Maryfarms, most famous for the frankly ridiculously good views of Australian Bustards, besides which the good views of Horsfield's Bushlark and Black-faced Woodswallow rather paled by comparison, but very nice nonetheless. The riverine woodland along the creek looked interesting, but was quiet in the heat of the day, and the only other thing of note was just my second snake of the trip, an Eastern Brown which slithered off the track in front of me.
Not far from Julatten, just past the sign for Abattoir Swamp, is Hunters Creek. A honeyeater flew across the road, so I stopped to check it out and hit a great flock of birds, which included Graceful and White-throated Honeyeaters, Leaden Flycatchers, Rufous Whistlers, a Red-browed Pardalote, a Northern Fantail, 2 Gould's Bronze-Cuckoos, 2 White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes, Yellow-bellied Sunbirds etc. And a Little Lorikeet flew over calling, twice. Not bad!
Kingfisher Park is another of the lodges favoured by independent birders and tour groups alike – run by ex-pat Brits Keith and Lindsay Fisher, it is a rainforest patch with its own goodies, and handily placed for other good sites nearby. Not only were they very welcoming, so were the birds – by the time I’d checked in I’d already had a good view of the stunning creature that is a Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher, their logo bird and freshly arrived from New Guinea. Then a Barking Owl started calling close by, so Keith and I set off in pursuit, just in time to see the bird fly from one patch of trees to another before briefly calling again – not great but good enough. A Boyd’s Forest Dragon by the feeders showed rather better. There was just enough light left after dumping the bags to head to the creek in the hope of Duck-billed Platypus. No joy with them, unfortunately, but as I arrived I could see two largely silhouetted birds in the creek – Red-necked Crakes!
The next morning at 6.15am was my Daintree River cruise – Daintree is about 50 minutes' drive from Kingfisher Park, and I made it, just! Sue had booked me in with Ian Worcester (known as 'Sauce'), and it was excellent. In two hours we saw lots of good birds, including 2 Papuan Frogmouths sat on nests overhanging the river, an immature Great-billed Heron, 2 Shining Flycatchers, 3 Cotton Pygmy Geese, 3 Black Bitterns, Darter, Double-eyed Fig-Parrot, Brown-backed Honeyeaters building a nest, an immature White-bellied Sea Eagle, and a brief Bush-hen. We only heard Yellow Oriole and had no joy with kingfishers, but you can’t have everything. Best non-bird was definitely a 'Saltie', only medium-sized but with the broadest head I have ever seen on any crocodilian.
Back on dry land by 8.30am and off to Wonga Beach – good views of 3 Beach Thick-knees (at last!), until some numpty non-birder flushed them. Grrr! Happily they didn’t go far, and driving round to the next beach access point produced scorching views of two of them. Brilliant, strange birds. I didn’t want to leave them, but time was getting on…
Mount Lewis was the next stop, and it was 11am before I reached the head of the track to the dam, over 10km off the end of the tarmac road. Atherton Scrubwren showed well almost immediately, as did a family party of Chowchillas and other now familiar rainforest birds such as Yellow-throated Scrubwren, Grey-headed Robin, and Tooth-billed Bowerbird. At the fork in the track I had just found a Mountain Thornbill when I heard a rumble of thunder. Time to turn round! Happily it didn’t seem to be getting any closer, so I walked back slowly. The value of being able to move more quietly than any group could manage was proved again, as I tracked down a Fernwren which fed unconcernedly near the track for several minutes. Soon after, an unfamiliar song had me searching for the singer – there it was, Bower’s Shrike-thrush! Sadly that’s where my luck ran out, as there was no sign of the Blue-faced Parrotfinches which are often around the grassy area at the trailhead. It started to rain, convincing me to head back down off the mountain.
Back at KP, the afternoon was wet on and off, but emerging from my room just after a heavy shower got me my last family tick of the trip – a male Yellow-breasted Boatbill which called then landed in a tree almost opposite for a minute or two. From below that bill is truly extraordinary. Another sally out into the grounds delivered a brief flight view of Pied Monarch but was cut short by another heavy shower, so I drove to Abattoir Swamp – disappointingly it was nearly dry, so no waterbirds, and the boardwalk to the hide is damaged and officially closed, though negotiable. A Lemon-bellied Flycatcher by the car park was a new bird, though.
Back to KP again, and the Superb Fruit Doves continued to frustrate by calling from the canopy, giving only fleeting flight views at best. The planned night walk had been called off due to the weather, so off to the creek in the rain to fail again with Duck-billed Platypus. At least I got to enjoy the best garlic prawn pizza of the trip (and there were a few) from the Highlander Tavern down the road, and the two Northern Brown Bandicoots at the feeders at KP after dark were great value too.
Dawn, and another platypus dip, but at least it produced an Azure Kingfisher whizzing by – a species that had eluded me all trip – and careful stalking with Keith got me cracking views of a calling Noisy Pitta perched on an angled vine. More hide and seek with fruit doves got me marginally better flight views too. Then it was time to leave, armed with lots of useful gen from Keith and Lindsay.
First stop heading south was Lake Mitchell again, where the waterbirds remained about the same. A real highlight was a large Frilled Dragon – not close, but still impressive. Next stop was Big Mitchell Creek nearby to try for White-browed Robin. Or rather I overshot it, cursed, turned round, and promptly found a pair of Pacific Bazas! Another species I had been missing all trip, but now I got great scope views in a roadside tree. Yet another occasion where I had to tear myself away.
It was now late morning, and Big Mitchell Creek was hot, sweaty and fly-ridden. An hour and a half later I had had only a couple of fleeting views of the robin, and could take no more. At KP that morning Keith had casually mentioned that a Rufous Owl had been roosting in the middle of Cairns for the past three weeks! If only I'd known when I was there. Now I couldn't resist the detour to try for it. It took a while to locate it in the Moreton Bay Figs on the corner of Abbott St and Florence St, but eventually I got excellent views of it, and of the flying foxes roosting in the same trees.
Brilliant stuff, but I was now short of time to get down to the Atherton area. I arrived at Hasties Swamp around 5pm – a great little site absolutely stuffed with birds. Highlights were loads of Plumed Whistling Ducks, 2 Red-kneed Dotterels, 5 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, lots of Australasian Little Grebes, Purple Swamphens, another White-browed Crake, and, best of all, 24 Freckled Ducks. Another species I missed out on in WA, so a very welcome lifer. Then it was a late charge towards Malanda and the viewpoint overlooking Bromfield Swamp, where 9 Sarus Cranes came into roost, but surprisingly no Brolgas. I stayed until dusk in the hope of a Barn Owl or Grass Owl – it looked good for them – but predictably it started to rain yet again, so I headed back to Atherton.
Thankfully I had already worked out that the Atherton Hinterland Motel, where I was booked in, was in the centre of town, whereas the Atherton Motel was about a mile out of town in the, er, hinterland. Confusing, huh? A small, standard motel, no frills but perfectly adequate. It was my last night in Australia, and with no big targets left that I had any realistic chance of seeing, I allowed myself the luxury of an extra beer or two and even a film on TV.
The last day started with a bang not far from Atherton when a Lewin's Rail ran across the road! Notoriously difficult birds to see, so I did a bit of a double-take, but yes it was – long, reddish bill, like a Water Rail but very dark – it could be nothing else.
Mt Hypipamee (or the Crater, as it is also known) is another upland rainforest site. I saw nothing new here in a couple of hours, though there were plenty of good birds including another Bower's Shrike-thrush, more Bridled Honeyeaters, and really nice views of Grey Whistler and Mountain Thornbill. Sadly the calling Pied Monarch refused to show, as I would have liked better views of that too.
Most of the birds I was still missing were dry country ones, so I decided to head back north and try for them around Lake Mitchell. At Rocky Creek Memorial Park near Mareeba the best I could find were a Lemon-bellied Flycatcher and a few White-throated Honeyeaters. I spent most of the rest of the available time at Big Mitchell Creek trying for better views of White-browed Robin without success, though I did rack up more good views of Olive-backed Oriole, Red-winged Parrot, Red-winged Fairywren, and the like. And then it was time to start the long drive down to Townsville.
A couple of hours in, a short break just before hitting the Bruce Highway at Innisfail got me another Square-tailed Kite, but most of the time it was standard roadside birds – White-breasted Woodswallows, Magpie-larks etc. It was the hottest day of the trip (37 °C indicated), the car’s air-conditioning was struggling, and it was soon clear that I would not have time for anything other than brief birding stops. Oh well. At Cardwell I couldn’t resist the very short detour to the beach to check it out in the vain hope of Eastern Reef Egret, which has eluded me on two Oz trips now – Crested Tern and Rainbow Bee-eater the best there. As I approached Townsville at gone 5pm, it looked like I had had my last tick of the trip, but then something about a kookaburra on the roadside wires didn’t look right. All had been Laughing Kookaburras up until now, but here at last was a Blue-winged Kookaburra! Not sure you’re supposed to park on the side of the Bruce Highway, but I quickly hopped out of the car – pale eye, streaked head with no mask, tick!
I arrived at the airport at 6pm, just nicely in time to drop off my trusty Hyundai and check in. The next 36 hours went something like this: fly to Brisbane; faff about trying to find bus stop for free shuttle bus from domestic terminal to international one, fail and pay $5 to go one stop on the Airtrain; hang around terminal for 3 hours; 8½ hour flight to Hong Kong; 2½ hours in Hong Kong airport – this time in daylight, but sadly the only birds seen were Eurasian Kestrel and Common Myna; 13 hour flight to London; another hour and more to get through all the usuals and back to my car; and a 2½ hour drive home. But was it worth it? Oh yes!
SF – State Forest
NP – National Park
WA – Western Australia, referring to my previous Australia trip in 2005
Two adults, the first with a small chick, behind Mission Beach along the Tully road early morning, 20th. The first was just west of Carmoo, and the second by the entrance track to Licuala SF.
The first were 500+ at Cattle Creek, on the outskirts of Ingham, 19th. Seen regularly after that, usually in large groups and especially on the Atherton Tablelands.
Wandering Whistling Duck
Smaller numbers than the following species: 3 at the pools opposite Fogg Park, Mt Samson, 17th; 35 at Lake Mitchell and 3 at Hasties Swamp, 25th.
Plumed Whistling Duck
Much more numerous than the previous species: 20 at Fogg Park, 17th, then 300+ at Cattle Creek, Ingham, 19th, and 500+ at Hasties Swamp, 25th.
24 at Hasties Swamp, 25th. An unexpected and welcome bonus having missed the species in WA.
15+ from Samsonvale Cemetery, 17th, and 40+ on all visits to Lake Mitchell on the Tablelands.
Two at Centenary Lakes, Cairns, 20th.
Cotton Pygmy Goose
Three on the Daintree River, 24th.
Green Pygmy Goose
Much commoner than the previous species: 7, Cattle Creek, Ingham, 19th; up to 15 at Cattana Wetlands, 20th and 22nd; and present on all three visits to Lake Mitchell, with 15+ there on 25th.
Only seen on the Brisbane leg – small groups apart from 50+ in Stanthorpe, 16th.
Pacific Black Duck
Seen regularly on bodies of water of all sizes – 100+ at Hasties Swamp, 25th.
Small numbers seen with other wildfowl at a few sites – the most were 10+ at Hasties Swamp, 25th.
A dozen or so at Toorbul, 17th, were the only ones seen.
Total of 150+ on Lake Apex and other waters in the Gatton area, 16th, and 100+ at Hasties Swamp, 25th.
A few seen at most wildfowl sites, including small farm ponds.
Seen in small numbers on virtually every day.
One, Centenary Lakes, Cairns, 20th; 2, Cattana Wetlands, 22nd; up to 3 at Kingfisher Park; and 2 at Mt Hypipamee, 26th.
Two flew across the road near Maroon, 15th, and 3 at Samsonvale Cemetery, 17th.
Australasian Little Grebe
Small numbers regularly at wetland sites – 30+ at Hasties Swamp, 25th.
Great Crested Grebe
Singles from Samsonvale Cemetery, 17th, and on Lake Mitchell, 22nd.
A raft of 60+ offshore from Woorim, Bribie Island, 17th, was unexpected, though good numbers had been on the move along the SE Queensland coast in previous weeks.
Singles of this impressive bird at El Arish, 20th, and Lake Mitchell, 23rd.
At least 4 patrolling Michaelmas Cay, 21st.
Two different individuals noted at Michaelmas Cay, 21st.
40+, Michaelmas Cay, 21st, including a few well-grown downy young.
Little Black Cormorant
300+ off Samsonvale Cemetery, 17th; only a few elsewhere.
Noted singly or in small groups at a number of sites.
Small numbers off Samsonvale Cemetery, 17th, and at Lake Mitchell.
Little Pied Cormorant
Singles or small numbers at most wetland sites.
Singles seen at several wetland sites scattered throughout the trip.
One over Brisbane airport, 13th; thereafter seen occasionally in small numbers at wetland sites.
Three on the Daintree River, 24th.
Two on 15th and singles on five other dates, mostly on roadside pools.
Great White Egret
Varying but usually small numbers at most wetland sites.
One, an immature, on the Daintree River, 24th.
Three singles at wetland sites north of Brisbane on 17th, and 5 scattered over 4 dates on the Cairns leg.
Seen on five scattered dates, mostly singly.
Singles on five dates.
Eastern Cattle Egret
Seen on all but one day in varying numbers – 200+ at the breeding colony at Lake Apex, Gatton.
In Cairns, one at Centenary Lakes and one by the mangrove boardwalk, 20th.
Rufous Night Heron
One along the saltwater creek, Centenary Lakes, Cairns, 20th.
Singles at Townsville Common, 18th, Lake Mitchell, 22nd, and Hasties Swamp, 25th.
Australian White Ibis
Common and widespread, the most being 100+ at the breeding colony on Lake Apex, Gatton on 16th.
Common and widespread, seen nearly daily, usually in small numbers and often away from water.
Common and widespread, seen on 11 dates – largest flock was 12 at Cattle Creek, Ingham, 19th.
The dry country counterpart. Singles at Sundown NP, 16th and Samsonvale Cemetery, 17th; 3, Hasties Swamp, 25th; and 8, Biboohra, 26th.
An IOC split. One on a channel marker as we left Cairns Harbour for the Barrier Reef, 21st.
Excellent views of a pair perched and in flight south of Big Mitchell Creek, 25th.
Fantastic views of one low overhead at Samsonvale Cemetery, 17th. Also one near Innisfail, 26th.
Six singles on 5 dates, including at Townsville Common, 18th, and Cattana Wetlands, 20th.
Seen on 8 dates, usually on drives between sites; a kettle of 13 noted on 23rd near Mareeba.
Eight seen on 4 dates, including 2 each at Bishop’s Pool, Toorbul, 17th, and Lake Mitchell, 22nd and 25th.
Eight on 4 dates, including singles at Bishop’s Pool and Kakadu Beach, 17th; 2, Mission Beach, 20th.
White-bellied Sea Eagle
An adult at Townsville Common, 18th; and an immature by the Daintree River, 24th.
One at Pike Creek, on the way to Sundown NP, 16th.
Two singles, in Lamington NP, 15th, and near Dayboro, 17th.
Two together near Dayboro, 17th, were the only ones recorded.
Singles at Townsville Common, 18th, on the drive to Paluma NP, 19th, and Granite Gorge, 23rd.
Only 5 seen all trip– singles near Warwick, 16th, and at Townsville Common, 18th, and 3 on 26th.
One briefly on Bribie Island, 17th.
Six, a mixture of males and females, showed very well at Maryfarms, 23rd.
Two, Kakadu Beach, Bribie Island, 17th.
One seen briefly on the Daintree River, 24th.
One which ran across the road just south of Atherton, early morning of 26th, was a major surprise.
Good views of 3 on 23rd – 1 early morning at Cassowary House, and 2 at dusk at Kingfisher Park.
Singles showed well at Cattana Wetlands, 22nd, and Hasties Swamp, 25th.
About 30 seen, on just 4 dates, but spread over several wetland sites scattered throughout the trip.
Singles/small numbers seen on five dates – 10+ on 17th at Fogg Park and Buckleys Hole.
A few at wetland sites, with a notable concentration of up to 80 at Lake Mitchell.
Nine roosted at Bromfield Swamp, near Malanda, on the Tablelands, 25th.
Only two sightings: 2 by the entrance to Townsville Common, 18th; 1, Cattle Creek, Ingham, 19th.
A female showing well by the roadside in Lamington NP, 15th, was an unexpected bonus.
Four, all after dark: 1, Cairns, 20th; 2 along Black Mountain Road, Kuranda, 21st, and one there, 22nd.
I drew a blank at Mission Beach and Cairns, but 3 showed well at Wonga Beach, nr Daintree, 24th.
Two each at Kakadu Beach, Bribie Island, 17th, and at Machans Beach, 20th.
Concentrations of 15-30 noted in the Lockyer Valley, 16th, the Toorbul area, 17th, and Hasties Swamp, 25th, with a few others noted elsewhere.
Four in the Lockyer Valley, on a pool north of Gatton, near the Lake Clarendon turn, 16th.
30+, Gatton/Lockyer Valley area, 16th. Seen regularly after that, including a very aggressive pair with chicks on Cairns Esplanade, 20th.
Four on the pools opposite Fogg Park, Samford, 17th, and 2 at Hasties Swamp, 25th.
One, Toorbul, 17th.
Pacific Golden Plover
One, Cairns Esplanade, 20th.
Lesser Sand Plover
At least 10 on 20th, a few at Cairns Esplanade but mostly at Machans Beach; 3 at Wonga Beach, 24th.
Greater Sand Plover
Two at Cairns Esplanade, 20th, and one there, 21st. Plenty of distant unidentified sand plovers seen; probably they included more of both this and the preceding species.
Singles at Machans Beach, 20th and Wonga Beach, 24th; 3 at Cardwell, 26th.
Two, Lake Apex, Gatton, 16th; 1, Cattle Creek, Ingham, 19th.
First seen on the pools opposite Fogg Park, and at Buckleys Hole, 17th. At most wetland sites on the Cairns leg, including a partial albino with almost completely white wings at Lake Mitchell on 22nd.
Two, Cairns Esplanade, 20th.
At least 30, Toorbul, 17th; 3, Cairns Esplanade, 20th.
Seven, Toorbul, 17th; one heard, Townsville Common, 18th; at least 4, Machans Beach, 20th.
40+, Toorbul, 17th; 50+, Cairns and Machans Beach, 20th.
Far Eastern Curlew
One, Toorbul, 17th; 3, Cairns Esplanade, 20th, and one there next morning; 3+, Machans Beach, 20th.
Eight, Toorbul, 17th; 2, Cairns Esplanade, 20th.
200+, Toorbul, 17th; 50+, Cairns Esplanade, 20th, and 20+ there the next morning.
Two, Michaelmas Cay, 21st.
30+, Toorbul, 17th; 104 on 20th at Cairns Esplanade, but just one there the next morning.
About 10, Toorbul, 17th.
15+, Toorbul, 17th; 50+, Machans Beach, 20th; 20+, Cairns Esplanade, 21st; 7, Wonga Beach, 24th.
At least 20 at Toorbul, 17th; singles at Cairns, 20th and Lake Mitchell, 22nd; 5 at Hasties Swamp, 25th.
10+, Toorbul, 17th; 8, Cairns Esplanade, 20th.
5+, Samsonvale Cemetery, 17th. Small numbers at most coastal sites; 100+ at Machans Beach, 20th.
One, Machans Beach, 20th.
Thousands breeding on Michaelmas Cay, 21st.
Four, Toorbul, 17th. Four, Machans Beach, 20th. Singles at Hastings Reef, 21st, and Wonga Beach, 24th.
20+, Toorbul, 17th. Singles at Cairns Esplanade, 20th/21st, Lake Mitchell, 22nd, and Wonga Beach, 24th.
Four, Samsonvale Cemetery, and one, Toorbul, 17th; 4, Machans Beach, 20th; 1, Michaelmas Cay, 21st.
One, Lake Apex, Gatton, 16th, and 4, Samsonvale Cemetery, 17th.
Four, Tyto Wetlands, Ingham, 19th; 40+, Machans Beach, 20th; 6, Hastings Reef, 21st.
Two each at Michaelmas Cay and Hastings Reef, 21st. An instant favourite for a tern freak like me.
Singles and small numbers at most coastal sites; 20+, Michaelmas Cay and Hastings Reef, 21st.
Lesser Crested Tern
Several hundred on Michaelmas Cay, 21st.
Thousands on and around Michaelmas Cay, 21st.
Five, Michaelmas Cay, 21st.
One, a dark phase, heading south past Woorim, Bribie Island, 17th.
Yes, they’re here too, though mercifully few, mostly in Cairns.
Only 2 sightings: 2, O’Reilly’s, 14th; and 1, Paluma NP, 19th. More heard at both sites and at Mt Lewis.
Spotted Turtle Dove
A few of this introduced species seen, usually in or near cities (Brisbane/Townsville/Cairns).
A bird that says its name (‘cuckoo-dove, cuckoo-dove’). Good views of up to 5 each at O’Reilly’s, the Mountain House, and Paluma NP. More heard at those sites and in the Tablelands rainforests.
Pacific Emerald Dove
A recent IOC split. Two at the Mountain House, 17th, and up to 4 around reception at Kingfisher Park.
Around 30 seen, but on just 2 dates, in the Granite Belt, the Lockyer Valley, and the Brisbane area.
Four showed ridiculously well behind the toilet block at Granite Gorge, 23rd.
I no doubt overlooked this tiny dove until one identified at Toorbul on 17th. Seen daily after that.
The first was on the big detour on 15th, at Bald Knob SF, NSW. Seen most days in small numbers.
Only seen on the Brisbane leg, as expected. Up to 5 at O’Reilly’s, including one by reception, and a very confiding bird by the cafe. Singles at Sundown NP, 16th, and the Mountain House, 18th.
Four, O’Reilly’s, 15th; 16+, Paluma NP, 19th; and 20+, Mt Lewis, 24th. Virtually all flyovers, usually in flocks, so some may have been migrants. Unusually slow flight action for a large pigeon.
Torresian Imperial Pigeon
Common and easy to see at all coastal sites in the Far North, including nesting birds in Cairns.
Wompoo Fruit Dove
One, Duck Creek Road, Lamington NP, 14th. Commoner in rainforest further north – regularly heard, but only showy singles at Cassowary House on 22nd and 23rd seen.
Superb Fruit Dove
A difficult bird to see well. Heard at O’Reilly’s on 2 dates and regularly at Kingfisher Park, where I had to settle for a few flight views. Keith Fisher hadn’t done any better in recent weeks, either.
Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo
Three by the Bruce Highway at the North Lakes turnoff, 17th, and 4 at the Mountain House, 18th.
About 20 in the Granite Belt, Lockyer Valley, and Brisbane area, 15th-17th; 5 on the long drive, 26th.
At least 6 in a paddock near Fogg Park, Mt Samson, 17th. Introduced in Queensland.
About 40 heading out of roost over the Boulevard Inn, Stanthorpe, early morning on 16th.
Singles or small numbers on 10 dates, in a variety of habitats and usually noisily flying over.
Noisy, obvious, and just about everywhere, including in towns.
Two, Samford, 16th, roosted in the village centre with Rainbows. Probably initially overlooked when in mixed flocks, but seen regularly on the Tablelands, where Rainbows seemed less common.
One hurtling around calling over Hunters Creek, 23rd.
Six, Wrights Lookout, Kuranda, 22nd; 3, Cassowary House, 23rd; and 2, Daintree River, 24th. All were seen only in flight – frustratingly the first group spent some time feeding hidden in a large tree.
Common and very easy to see at O’Reilly’s – among the regular lunch thieves at the cafe. Small numbers at Girraween NP, Stanthorpe, the Mountain House, and Paluma NP, but not further north.
Four near Liston, New South Wales, on the big detour on 15th; one, Sundown NP, 16th.
Surprisingly scarce: 1, near O’Reilly’s winery, 13th; and 2, Lake Mitchell, 22nd. One at Sundown NP, 16th, with an Eastern Rosella, was presumably a hybrid/intergrade, as it had a red ‘noseband’ just above the bill, but was otherwise a Pale-headed on plumage.
Two hurtled by at Sundown NP, 16th.
Australian King Parrot
At least 10 daily around O’Reilly’s. Singles at Mt Lewis, 24th, and Big Mitchell Creek, 25th.
One at Sundown NP, 16th, and 4 at Big Mitchell Creek, 26th.
Two, Cairns Esplanade, 20th, both appeared to be wild types.
One flew across the road near Julatten, 24th.
An adult at the Mountain House, 18th, showed very well.
Single adults seen at the entrance to Townsville Common, 18th, and distantly at Machans Beach, 20th.
One at Townsville Common, 18th; 2, north end of Cairns Esplanade, 20th; and 2 of the rufous-breasted race (‘Gould’s Bronze-Cuckoo’) at Hunters Creek, 23rd.
Singles at the Mountain House and Samsonvale Cemetery, 17th.
Singles, all females, at Granite Gorge, 23rd, Daintree River, 24th, and Lake Mitchell, 25th.
Heard at the Mountain House, 17th, then good flight views of 2 at Fogg Park later the same morning.
Heard more often than seen, but good views of: 3 singles at Townsville Common, 18th; 2 between Kuranda and Mareeba, and another north of Mareeba, 22nd; one near Lake Mitchell on 23rd.
Sooty Owl (H)
Two or three birds heard on Mt Glorious, 16th, but none came close despite Tom’s best efforts.
Southern Boobook (H)
Heard in several places, including Mt Glorious on 16th, but never close. I had good views in WA so I did not make a serious effort to see this species.
One day-roosting in Moreton Bay Figs in central Cairns, 25th, had been present for about 3 weeks.
One calling in daylight and seen briefly in flight at Kingfisher Park, 23rd.
Two adults sat on nests, one with a chick visible as well, on the Daintree River cruise, 24th.
Two calling and showing well at the Mountain House, 17th.
One seen well in the spotlight at the Mission Beach Retreat backpackers’ hostel pre-dawn on 20th; at least one other bird was calling nearby. Also one heard along the road from Cassowary House, 21st.
Excellent spotlight views, perched and in flight, at the Mountain House, 17th. They are tiny!
Watching 20+ of these superb aerialists over Bishop’s Pool, Toorbul, 17th, was a trip highlight.
About 15 around Cairns, 20th; 5+, Daintree River, 24th; scattered singles on the Tablelands.
A party of 5 birds over Lake Mitchell, 25th.
At least 20 seen over 8 dates, mostly as roadside birds.
This species appeared to be avoiding me, but I finally saw one early morning at Kingfisher Park, 25th.
Regular sightings of this iconic species on 10 dates, usually in open woodland or on roadside wires.
A last-gasp tick – one showed well on wires outside Townsville on 26th.
At least 16 over 6 dates, including at Samsonvale Cemetery, Paluma NP, and near Cassowary House.
One on wires in the Lockyer Valley, 16th, and singles at Samsonvale Cemetery and Toorbul, both 17th.
One in the mangroves at the north end of Cairns Esplanade, 20th.
Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher
The logo bird of Kingfisher Park, freshly arrived from New Guinea and in full finery. One seen just after my arrival there on 23rd, and several more sightings there over the next couple of days.
33+ seen over 7 dates, including in the Lockyer Valley, Townsville Common and the Tablelands.
Heard at all rainforest sites, but more difficult to see. Three flushed off the roadside as I drove up through Paluma NP early morning on 19th; excellent views of a calling bird at Kingfisher Park, 25th.
One, probably a female, walked slowly across the Border Track at O’Reilly’s early morning, 14th.
Only at O’Reilly’s: one seen on 13th and 4 more on 14th; plenty more heard over the three days there.
Seen well at Paluma NP (6 on 19th), Cassowary House (2 on 22nd), and Mt Hypipamee (2 on 26th). Several others heard at these sites and other rainforest sites on the Tablelands, often not looked for.
A very confiding and vocal bird by the Birthday Creek Falls trail car park at Paluma NP, 19th, and two more seen in the park that day. Another vocal bird showed well briefly at Mt Lewis, 24th.
A female found by chance along the Birthday Creek Falls road in Paluma NP, 19th, showed well on and off for half an hour, but only a brief glimpse of a male near the stakeout bower later in the day. The bower on Mt Lewis has not been used since 2005 apparently, and the birds are much more difficult to find there now, so Paluma seems to be the place to go for this Wet Tropics endemic.
Nine birds seen, males and females, but only in Lamington NP, chiefly at O’Reilly’s, where they can be very confiding, not to mention cheeky. Having a male land on my hand to pinch some of my lunch at the café on 14th has to be one of the strangest, most wonderful experiences of my birding life.
Also only seen on the first three days of the trip, chiefly at O’Reilly’s, with both males and females being very confiding around the lodge. A male was seen sprucing up a bower along the Wishing Tree Track, and others were heard calling, making some quite extraordinary noises.
Three showing well at Granite Gorge, 23rd, obviated the need to visit the bower at Mt Molloy school.
Two at the Casuarina site near the rockwall road split in Lamington NP, below Mt Cainbabel, 14th; 2, Sundown NP, 16th; one at the Mountain House, 17th; 2, Mt Hypipamee, 26th.
Three showed well along the access track on the way out of Sundown NP, 16th.
A male seen briefly along the mangrove boardwalk at Cairns, 20th, was thought to be this species. One or two other birds present and calling, but very elusive.
Two males in the eucalypt section along Duck Creek Road, Lamington NP, 14th; one male, Samsonvale Cemetery, 17th; a pair, the Mountain House, 18th; a male, Big Mitchell Creek, 25th.
Aptly named – the males stand out even among fairywrens as real stunners. First seen on Lamington NP Road on 13th; several small parties at O’Reilly’s and in the Granite Belt, but not further north.
The first was a male which flew across the road near Aratula as I started the big detour on 15th. A few others at Townsville Common, 18th, and on the Atherton Tablelands. Another stunner.
A pair of this cracking little honeyeater was holding territory outside my room at O’Reilly’s. A few others seen there, and singles at Paluma NP, 19th, and near Innisfail, 26th.
Up to 4 noisily chasing around the trees at the north end of Cairns Esplanade on both visits.
One seen well at Toorbul, 17th.
One at Pike Creek and 2 at Sundown NP, all on 16th.
At least one in a melee of honeyeaters visiting a flowering tree by the car park, Townsville Common, 18th, and one at the Cairns mangrove boardwalk, 20th.
Two, Townsville Common, 18th; 4, Tyto Wetlands, 19th. Seen almost daily after that, mostly singly.
10+ at the Casuarina site in Lamington NP below Mt Cainbabel, 14th, and 3 there the next day. Two, Sundown NP, 16th, and 3 at the Mountain House, 18th. Only one further north, at Hunters Creek, 23rd.
Good views of this Wet Tropics endemic at Paluma NP, 19th, Mt Lewis, 24th, and Mt Hypipamee, 26th – 3 birds each time, oddly.
Small numbers of this impressive honeyeater on 6 dates, chiefly in open country or round gardens.
Seen on five dates on the Cairns leg, mostly singly, scattered across sites and habitats.
Seen every day of the Brisbane leg, in a variety of habitats, mostly singly. Further north, just two sightings: 2, Granite Gorge, 23rd, and 2, Lake Mitchell, 25th.
Singles at Sundown NP, 16th, Mareeba, 22nd, and Maryfarms, 23rd; 2, Lake Mitchell, 25th.
The extraordinary racket of dozens of these odd honeyeaters ‘tink, tink’ing away was almost unbearable at Bald Knob SF, New South Wales, 15th. Only one other seen, at Sundown NP, 16th.
Seen regularly on the Brisbane leg (even at the airport on arrival), but not further north.
One briefly in flight on Bribie Island, 17th.
One showed very well at Sundown NP, 16th. A species I missed in WA, so a welcome retrieve.
Three, Cassowary House, 22nd, and one, 23rd. Singles, Kingfisher Park, 24th, and Mt Hypipamee, 26th.
Common at rainforest sites on the Brisbane leg, notably Lamington NP and the Mountain House.
Two at the Cairns mangrove boardwalk, 20th, were either this species or the next, but seen too briefly. No such problems in the Tablelands rainforests, where this is the commonest bird.
Difficult to tell apart from the previous species, but one seen very well at Hunters Creek, 23rd.
Seen on 6 dates; 15+ visiting a flowering tree by the car park at Townsville Common, 18th.
Two, Kakadu Beach, Bribie Island, 17th.
Five of this dapper little honeyeater at the Mountain House, 18th, then 7 between Mt Molloy and Julatten (including Hunters Creek), 23rd; 4,Rocky Creek Memorial Park and 2,Big Mitchell Creek, 26th.
10+ among the honeyeaters visiting a flowering tree by the car park at Townsville Common, 18th. Two at Cattana Wetlands, 20th, and one there, 22nd. At least 6 on the Daintree River cruise, 24th, including a pair building a nest suspended over the river.
2, Barron Falls, 22nd; 3, Cassowary House, 23rd; 1, Mt Lewis, 24th; and 1, Kingfisher Park, 25th.
Good views of one in the car park at O’Reilly’s, 15th.
One, Glen rest area, near Warwick, 16th.
One in the brilliant mixed flock at Hunters Creek, 23rd.
One, Sundown NP, 16th. One, Samford, 17th. A family group of 5 at the Mountain House, 18th.
Seen regularly at all forest sites on the Brisbane leg, including the dry forests in the Granite Belt. Five seen at Paluma NP, 19th, but none further north.
More strictly a rainforest specialist than the previous species – good numbers in Lamington NP and Paluma NP, and 4, Mt Lewis, 24th.
One along the track to the dam on Mt Lewis, 24th, and 2 at Mt Hypipamee, 26th.
Ones and twos seen on 8 dates, from Lamington NP to the Tablelands rainforests.
Three along the Permanent Waterhole track at Sundown NP, 16th.
A male quietly fossicking around in the leaf litter off the track to the dam, Mt Lewis, 24th.
Seen at all rainforest sites as far as Paluma NP, but not further north. Also at Sundown NP, 16th.
One along the track to the dam, Mt Lewis, 24th, and 4 at Mt Hypipamee, 26th.
Three at the Casuarina site in Lamington NP below Mt Cainbabel, 14th; one, Sundown NP, 16th.
Two in the mixed warbler flock along the Permanent Waterhole track at Sundown NP, 16th.
A small group (3+) seen near dusk at Girraween NP, 15th, were the only ones.
Four along the access track at Sundown NP, 16th.
A single in the mixed warbler flock at Sundown NP, 16th, was a bit of a surprise, but the pale eye and bright chestnut rump were features I remembered from WA.
One in the mixed warbler flock at Sundown NP, 16th.
Small numbers seen and many more heard singing up in the canopy at O’Reilly’s and at Paluma NP.
One in mangroves at the north end of Cairns Esplanade, 20th, and 2 there next morning. Three, Daintree River, 24th, and 3 at Big Mitchell Creek, 25th, with one there next day.
One at Toorbul, 17th, and 2 in the mangroves at the north end of Cairns Esplanade, 20th.
Two at Barron Falls, Kuranda, 22nd, and one at Granite Gorge, 23rd.
Just one identified, a singing bird showing well at the Spotted Quail-thrush stakeout, 17th.
A dry country specialist: 1, Sundown NP, 16th; 7, Granite Gorge, 23rd; 4, Lake Mitchell, 25th; and 5, Big Mitchell Creek, 26th.
These endearing little birds were common and noisy at O’Reilly’s, and seemed unconcerned by my presence, showing to a few feet in some cases – 11 birds seen over 3 dates, and others heard.
Just as endearing as the previous species: a loud pair showing well at Cassowary House, 23rd, and 7, including a family group of two males, two females and a fledged juvenile, on Mt Lewis, 24th.
The sound of the rainforests – many more heard than seen, but good views obtained of several birds (males and females) at O’Reilly’s, the Mountain House and Paluma NP. Also heard at all rainforest sites on the Tablelands – few seen there, but I didn’t look hard for them.
Excellent views of a female strutting through the undergrowth and good flight views of a male at Tom’s favourite stakeout site for the species near Samford, 17th.
A male showed well for a minute or two at mid-storey level just outside my unit at Kingfisher Park, 24th. From underneath the extraordinary bill shape was evident, and also an irregular black patch on the belly between the legs which I have not seen portrayed in field guides.
Two at Centenary Lakes, Cairns, 20th; one at Cattana Wetlands, 20th and 22nd; one at breakfast at Cassowary House, 22nd and 23rd; and one at Wrights Lookout, 22nd.
Three in the Granite Belt, 16th; 4 on 17th, including one at Buckleys Hole, Bribie Island; heard at the Mountain House, 18th. No records further north.
Singles near Samford and at Samsonvale Cemetery, 17th, the latter mobbing a Square-tailed Kite! One at Bishop’s Pool, near Toorbul, also 17th; one, Mareeba, 22nd; 2, Walkamin, near Mareeba, 26th.
A common roadside bird, seen on most dates, but not north of Cairns.
Seen every day on the Brisbane leg, but only once after that, on the drive back to Townsville, 26th.
First seen near Samford, 17th, though probably overlooked before that, as I then saw them daily.
One along the entrance track to Sundown NP, 16th. A real cracker.
Five at Maryfarms, 23rd.
Four at Pike Creek, 16th.
Seen regularly in open woodland areas on the Brisbane leg; less so further north, but still on 3 dates.
A pair along Black Mountain Road near Cassowary House, 23rd.
Singles at Maudland, on the way to O’Reilly’s, 13th, and at Townsville Common, 18th. An adult and juvenile at the north end of Cairns Esplanade, 20th, were joined by the other parent next morning. Singles at Lake Mitchell, 22nd, and Maryfarms, 23rd; and 2 in the flock at Hunters Creek, 23rd.
Two each at the Mountain House and the quail-thrush site, 17th; one, Townsville Common, 18th; 2, Cassowary House, 22nd; single males at Granite Gorge, 23rd, and Mt Lewis, 24th.
A male and a pair at a nest, Sundown NP, 16th; 2 males at Lake Mitchell, 25th; 1, nr Atherton, 26th.
One at the Mountain House and 2 at Townsville Common, 18th. Singles at Tyto Wetlands, 19th, Cattana Wetlands, 20th, Wrights Lookout, 22nd, and Kingfisher Park, 25th.
Three briefly at Cattana Wetlands, 20th, were the only ones seen.
Two at Paluma NP, 19th; heard at Kingfisher Park, 24th; one showing well at Mt Hypipamee, 26th.
Commonly seen and heard at O’Reilly’s. Two males seen and more heard at Paluma NP, 19th, but not recorded again until a male heard singing at Mt Hypipamee, 26th.
Singles or pairs recorded on 6 dates, spread over both legs.
Singles at Mt Lewis, 24th, and Mt Hypipamee, 26th.
At least 2 at the Mountain House, 17th/18th; seen and heard regularly on the Tablelands.
Singles at O’Reilly’s, 14th and the Mountain House, 18th.
Common, obvious, and seen almost daily – vieilloti on the Brisbane leg and flaviventris further north.
Singles: the Mountain House, 18th, Cassowary House and Mareeba, 22nd, and Big Mitchell Creek, 26th.
Yellow Oriole (H)
Heard at Cairns Esplanade, 20th and the Daintree River, 24th, but not seen in either case.
No doubt overlooked until 17th at the Mountain House, where I learned the calls from Tom. Seen and heard every day after that in small numbers.
A common and widespread bird, seen on most dates. One at Cairns Esplanade followed me very closely (within a metre) as I walked across the grass, picking off insects I disturbed.
One in the stunning flock at Hunters Creek, 23rd, was the only one seen. Beware the dark montane race of the following species.
Seen on 6 dates, including 8 at O’Reilly’s and 15+ at Paluma NP. Birds at Paluma and the Tablelands rainforest sites are darker above than lowland birds, and dirty buff underneath – all still had obvious white ear marks, though, distinguishing them from the previous species.
At least 5 of this stunning little bird seen at O’Reilly’s, 14th/15th, and a single on Mt Lewis, 24th.
One at Paluma NP, 19th; 2 at Kingfisher Park, 24th; one there 25th. Another very attractive species.
One, the Border Track, O’Reilly’s, 13th; singles, Duck Creek Road and at Girraween NP, both on 15th.
Heard at the Mountain House, 17th, and seen briefly there the next morning.
Seen briefly at Kingfisher Park, 25th; heard but not seen at Mt Hypipamee, 26th.
A common roadside bird. The two days it was not seen were spent entirely in rainforest or on a boat.
Singing males at Mutarnee and at Tyto Wetlands, 19th. Two pairs between Mt Molloy and Julatten, 23rd, the second at Hunters Creek. Also a male at Mt Hypipamee, 26th.
Two, a female and immature, on the Daintree River, 24th. Stunning!
At least 3 between Brisbane and O’Reilly’s; seen on several dates after that, usually singly.
One over Brisbane airport, 13th; no more noted, but I did not look hard at corvids after the first day.
A group of 16, including a recently-fledged juvenile, along the access track at Sundown NP, 16th.
A group of 13 at Mingoola and 10 more nearby at Sundown NP, both 16th.
At O’Reilly’s, two females by the Mountain Gardens then a displaying male along the road, on 14th.
Four around Cassowary House, the best being a splendid male along Black Mountain Rd, 22nd.
Three along the Birthday Creek Falls trail at Paluma NP, 19th, and 5 on Mt Lewis, 24th; also heard at Cassowary House. An attractive and confiding species.
Brief views of one at Big Mitchell Creek, 25th.
Two showing well in the mangroves, north end of Cairns Esplanade, 20th; one there next morning.
Two at Paluma NP, 19th, and seen regularly in ones and twos at rainforest sites on the Tablelands.
Eastern Yellow Robin
Common, easy to see and confiding at all forest sites on the Brisbane leg, but not further north.
Two along the access track at Sundown NP, 16th.
Singles at Abattoir Swamp, 24th, Geraghty Park (next to Kingfisher Park) and Big Mitchell Creek, 25th, and Rocky Creek Memorial Park, near Mareeba, 26th.
Singles at Sundown NP, 16th, and Maryfarms, 23rd.
Seen daily in varying numbers – breeds around the accommodation units at O’Reilly’s.
Odd singles and small groups seen in various places dotted throughout the trip.
One at Samsonvale Cemetery, 17th, and 4 at Cattle Creek, Ingham, 19th. May have been overlooked.
Singles at Samsonvale Cemetery, 17th, and Tyto Wetlands, 19th.
Singles at Pike Creek and Sundown NP, both 16th, and Maryfarms, 23rd.
Heard, Samsonvale Cemetery, 17th. Singles seen at Townsville Common, 18th and Lake Mitchell, 25th.
Small groups seen and heard regularly at forest sites.
At least 25 at Mission Beach, early morning on 20th. Seen regularly around the Tablelands, with an active and noisy breeding colony in Geraghty Park next to Kingfisher Park.
A depressingly common and widespread introduced species.
This introduced species is in decline (no bad thing). Just 6 at Sundown NP, 16th, and one next day.
Mostly seen at O’Reilly’s, including 3 along the road between the lodge and the start of the Python Rock Trail early morning on 15th. One also in Paluma NP, 19th.
Mostly seen at O’Reilly’s, the best views being along the road early morning on 15th, when the differences between this and the previous species could be seen well. A brief flight view of a thrush at Cassowary House, 23rd, was presumably the cuneata race of this species.
Singles at O’Reilly’s, 14th, and the Mountain House, 18th; a few around Kuranda and Kingfisher Park.
At least 15 at Townsville Common, 18th; seen regularly in smaller numbers after that. Very smart.
Very few seen – just a couple each at my breakfast stop at Babinda, 20th, and in Cairns, 21st.
One briefly along the access track at Sundown NP, 16th.
A common species in and around rainforests, seen on 7 dates.
Seven, Townsville Common, 18th; 5, Tyto Wetlands, 19th.
Two, Sundown NP, 16th; 2, Townsville Common, 18th; 9, Granite Gorge, 23rd.
Scaly-breasted Munia (Nutmeg Mannikin)
About 20 at Cattana Wetlands, 20th, briefly in flight; much better views of 6 at the same site on 22nd.
Two males at Cattana Wetlands, 22nd.
One, Bishop’s Pool, Toorbul, 17th; one by the Bruce Highway between Mutarnee and Ingham, 19th.