Australia: Cairns, 20-23 January and 08 February 2005

Published by Catherine McFadden (mcfadden AT

Participants: Cathy McFadden


The Plan: In January 2005 I had to fly through Cairns en route from Darwin to the Republic of Palau. As my flight schedule already required a layover of 18+ hrs in Cairns, I decided to extend the stay to 4 days in order to do some birding in NE Queensland. I planned to stay two nights at the Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge in Julatten, a base from which I could spend a day in the upland rainforest of Mt. Lewis and a day birding the drier inland region around Mt. Carbine. My third night would be spent further north at Red Mill House in Daintree, and I booked a place on Chris Dahlberg’s early morning Daintree River cruise for my final morning. During my 18 hr layover on the return trip through Cairns on 08 February, I would bird the Esplanade and Centenary Lakes in Cairns. The primary resources I used to plan this itinerary were Lloyd Nielsen’s (2004) “Birding Australia: A Directory for Birders” and Jo Wieneke’s (2000) “Where to Find Birds in North-East Queensland”. The former has useful information on lodging and suggests general areas to visit, while the latter is a more detailed site guide. Both can be ordered online at

The Reality: 20 January: My plane descended into Cairns through a thick layer of very dark clouds, and we landed in a torrential downpour. The woman at the Avis rental car desk cheerfully informed me that a cyclonic storm system was stalled off the Cape York Peninsula, it had been pouring since the previous night and was likely to continue for several days, “but, hey, it’s good for the rainforest”. My first change of plan was to abandon the idea of taking the long inland route through the Atherton Tablelands to Julatten, opting instead to drive straight up the coast to Kingfisher Park, where I hoped there might be a nice dry veranda where I could sit in comfort and watch birds in the garden. From all I had heard about Kingfisher Park over the years, I had assumed it would be a relatively upscale eco-tourism lodge like those I’ve stayed at in Central America.

Upon arrival I discovered that it is actually more akin to a budget caravan park, with campsites, several cabins, and a bunkhouse whose rooms are considerably smaller and more spartan than those of any caravan park I have ever stayed in. The shared cooking facilities – shared in my case with swarms of mosquitos – consist of an outdoor barbecue area under a pavilion, and the restrooms are about 100 m from the bunkhouse. No dry veranda anywhere. No bird activity either, as owner Ron Stannard quickly pointed out upon my arrival. He suggested that my best chance of seeing birds would be to drive inland to Mt. Carbine where the weather might be better. I took his advice, the rain did ease up as I drove east, and I was delighted to find lots of Australian Bustards in the paddocks and Brown Quail on the roads around Mary Farm. Near the old wolfram mine and dam in Mt. Carbine I found Crested Pigeon, Great Bowerbird and a few common waterbirds, but no Black-throated
Finches or Squatter Pigeons. I then drove south through Mt. Molloy to Big Mitchell Creek, where I found species such as Leaden Flycatcher, Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, Blue-faced and White-throated Honeyeaters, Grey-crowned Babbler and Little Friarbird. Returning to Kingfisher Park in the late afternoon, I put on a poncho and tried to bird the trails, but saw little in the heavy rain and failing light other than wet Pale-yellow Robins, Australian Brush-Turkeys, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, and the Emerald Doves that visit the cooking area. After an early dinner at the tavern down the road, I went to bed and hoped for better weather the next day.

21 January: It was still pouring in the morning, the bunkhouse was now surrounded by a moat, and a large lake had swallowed the track to the restrooms. I slept late, and when I eventually emerged from my room to have breakfast with the mozzies, Ron came over to ask about my plans for the day. He told me that Mossman had recorded 9 inches of rain overnight and that the inland road to Mareeba was flooded, cutting off all but one route into Julatten. He also confirmed that the Daintree River was impassable, and advised me to return to Cairns while I still could. I took his advice, reached Cairns before lunch, and checked in to the Queens Court Hotel for the remainder of my stay. This hotel is cheap and located within walking distance of the Esplanade, but it is also noisy, the rooms are small, and the bathroom facilities consist of a single sink, toilet and shower shared by all same-sex residents on the floor. The neighboring Rainbow Inn, where I stayed on my return trip, is much nicer (large rooms en suite) and only marginally more expensive. I spent the afternoon watching the downpour from my room, but when the rain showed signs of letting up at about 4:30 pm I went down to the Esplanade and got in about an hour’s birding before heavy rain started again. Although there were not large numbers of waders along the Esplanade, there was good species diversity, including Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Eastern Curlew, Red-necked Stint, Gray-tailed Tattler, Terek and Curlew Sandpipers, Great Knot, Pied Oystercatcher, and both Lesser and Greater Sand-Plovers. Little Terns were also present, and in the trees along the shore Varied Honeyeaters were common. Large flocks of White-rumped Swiftlets passed over at dusk.

22 January: It was still bucketing down when I got up in the morning, but after breakfast the rain seemed to ease a bit. I decided getting wet was preferable to another day sitting in the hotel room, so I grabbed a poncho and umbrella and went to Centenary Lakes for the morning. In between several heavy showers I managed to find Brown-backed and Yellow Honeyeaters, Yellow-bellied Sunbird, Large-billed Gerygone, Black Butcherbird, Collared Kingfisher, Bush Stone-Curlew, and, surprisingly, a small group of Lovely Fairy-Wrens in the mangroves along the lake. After lunch at the Botanic Garden café, I drove to Lake Morris, a reservoir set in rainforest in the hills above Cairns. Dusky Honeyeaters, Silvereyes and Yellow-bellied Sunbirds were very common around the parking areas, and I also managed to find Spotted Catbird and Yellow-spotted Honeyeater. The increasing frequency of heavy showers eventually drove me back down to Cairns, where I finished the day back at Centenary Lakes, looking unsuccessfully for Red-necked Crake along the rainforest boardwalk.

23 January: During the night the rain eased off, and it was looking relatively dry out when I awoke at dawn. I drove straight to the Atherton Tablelands via the Gillies Highway, and spent most of the morning at Lake Eacham near Yungaburra. The perimeter trail around the lake was very productive, and here I saw Grey-headed Robin (very common), Eastern Whipbird, Yellow-spotted, Bridled and Macleay’s Honeyeaters, Double-eyed Fig-Parrot, Superb and Wompoo Fruit-Doves, Spotted Catbird, Black-faced and Spectacled Monarchs, White-throated Treecreeper, Brown Gerygone, Atherton and Large-billed Scrubwrens, and several Victoria’s Riflebirds. From there I moved on to Curtain Fig State Park, where Black-faced Monarchs and tourist buses were both abundant, and then to Mt. Hypipamee NP (The Crater), where the rain showers started again. Bridled Honeyeater, Grey-headed Robin, Atherton Scrubwren and Bower’s Shrike-thrush were common around the parking lot edges, and I also found Yellow-throated Scrubwren and Mountain Thornbill here. The walk to The Crater and to Dinner Falls, however, turned up little other than Rufous Fantail. As I returned from this walk, I stopped to look at a Superb Fruit-Dove perched above a wooden bridge that spans a creek about 50 m from the parking lot. A photographer came by, and casually asked if I had seen the Southern Cassowary that was at that moment in the parking lot. I started off at a run, only to find that the cassowary was by now crossing the creek directly below me. He circled around the end of the bridge and began foraging on figs about 5 m from where I and several other onlookers stood gaping. Fortunately, the bridge had a meter high railing so we felt quite safe, and we watched the bird for about 20 min as he fed and preened, totally unconcerned by our presence. Eventually he wandered off and silently disappeared into the forest. Magic! The rest of the day could only be an anticlimax, but I moved on to Wongabel State Forest, where I saw a number of Brown Cuckoo-Doves and finally found a Tooth-billed Bowerbird. A final stop at Lake Tinaroo on the way back to Cairns did not turn up anything other than lots of Purple Swamp-hens and a few other common waterbirds.

08 February: On my return trip through Cairns, I again rented a car and drove back up to Kingfisher Park for the day to bird the lodge grounds in much better weather. Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfishers were conspicuous, and I also picked up Fairy Gerygone and Graceful Honeyeater. Spangled Drongo, Metallic Starling, Little Shrike-Thrush, Macleay’s and Dusky Honeyeaters, and Spectacled Monarch were very common around the grounds, and I got a glimpse of a Bush-hen at the edge of the cane field beyond the orchard. I took the inland route back to Cairns, stopping briefly at Abbatoir Swamp, where I saw several Brown-backed Honeyeaters, and Big Mitchell Creek, where Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, Yellow Honeyeater and another Great Bowerbird were the main additions to what I had seen there on my previous visit. A final, brief stop in Kuranda was cut short by a heavy shower, but not before I had added Lewin’s Honeyeater to the day’s list.

This trip was an excellent introduction to the difficulties of wet-season birding in tropical Australia. Despite the dismal weather, however, I managed to see 136 species, 25 of them life birds. Hopefully I’ll have a chance in the future to return to Cairns at a drier time of year.

Species Lists

Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius)
Australian Brush-Turkey (Alectura lathami)
Orange-footed Scrubfowl (Megapodius reinwardt)
Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora)
Magpie Goose (Anseranas semipalmata)
Plumed Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna eytoni)
Wandering Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna arcuata)
Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa)
Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)
Darter (Anhinga melanogaster)
Little Black Cormorant (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris)
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Eastern Reef Egret (Egretta sacra)
Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Intermediate Egret (Egretta intermedia)
Striated Heron (Butoroides striatus)
Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca)
Straw-necked Ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis)
Royal Spoonbill (Platalea regia)
Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus)
Black Kite (Milvus migrans)
Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus)
Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus)
Nankeen (Australian) Kestrel (Falco cenchroides)
Bush-hen (Amaurornis olivaceus)
Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio)
Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)
Australian Bustard (Ardeotis australis)
Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)
Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis)
Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus)
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
Grey-tailed Tattler (Heteroscelus brevipes)
Great Knot (Calidris tenuirostris)
Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis)
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Calidris acuminata)
Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea)
Pied Oystercatcher (Haematopus longirostris)
Bush Thick-knee (Burhinus grallarius)
Lesser Sand-Plover (Charadrius mongolus)
Greater Sand-Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii)
Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles)
Silver Gull (Larus novaehollandiae)
Caspian Tern (Sterna caspia)
Little Tern (Sterna albifrons)
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)
White-headed Pigeon (Columba leucomela)
Spotted Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia chinensis)
Brown Cuckoo-Dove (Macropygia phasienella)
Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica)
Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes)
Peaceful Dove (Geopelia placida)
Wompoo Fruit-Dove (Ptilinopus magnificus)
Superb Fruit-Dove (Ptilinopus superbus)
Torresian (Pied) Imperial-Pigeon (Ducula spilorrhoa)
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita)
Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus)
Scaly-breasted Lorikeet (Trichoglossus chlorolepidotus)
Double-eyed Fig-Parrot (Cyclopsitta diophthalma)
Brush Cuckoo (Cacomantis variolosus) (heard only)
Australian Koel (Eudynamys cyanocephala)
Pheasant Coucal (Centropus phasianus) (heard only)
White-rumped Swiftlet (Collocalia spodiopygius)
Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher (Tanysiptera sylvia)
Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae)
Blue-winged Kookaburra (Dacelo leachii)
Forest Kingfisher (Todiramphus macleayii)
Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris)
Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus)
Dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis)
White-throated Treecreeper (Cormobates leucophaeus)
Lovely Fairy-Wren (Malurus amabilis)
Yellow-throated Scrubwren (Sericornis citreogularis)
Atherton Scrubwren (Sericornis keri)
Large-billed Scrubwren (Sericornis magnirostris)
Brown Gerygone (Gerygone mouki)
Large-billed Gerygone (Gerygone magnirostris)
Fairy Gerygone (Gerygone palpebrosa)
Mountain Thornbill (Acanthiza katherina)
Helmeted Friarbird (Philemon buceroides)
Little Friarbird (Philemon citreogularis)
Blue-faced Honeyeater (Entomyzon cyanotus)
Macleay’s Honeyeater (Xanthotis macleayana)
Lewin’s Honeyeater (Meliphaga lewinii)
Yellow-spotted Honeyeater (Meliphaga notata)
Graceful Honeyeater (Meliphaga gracilis)
Bridled Honeyeater (Lichenostomus frenatus)
Varied Honeyeater (Lichenostomus versicolor)
Yellow Honeyeater (Lichenostomus flavus)
White-throated Honeyeater (Melithreptus albogularis)
Brown Honeyeater (Lichmera indistincta)
Brown-backed Honeyeater (Ramsayornis modestus)
Dusky Honeyeater (Myzomela obscura)
Lemon-bellied Flycatcher (Microeca flavigaster)
Pale-Yellow Robin (Tregellasia capito)
Grey-headed Robin (Heteromyias albispecularis)
Grey-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus temporalis)
Eastern Whipbird (Psophodes olivaceus)
Golden Whistler (Pachycephala pectoralis)
Little (Rufous) Shrike-Thrush (Colluricincla megarhyncha)
Bower’s Shrike-Thrush (Colluricincla boweri)
Black-faced Monarch (Monarcha melanopsis)
Spectacled Monarch (Monarcha trivirgatus)
Leaden Flycatcher (Myiagra rubecula)
Magpie-Lark (Grallina cyanoleuca)
Willie-Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys)
Grey Fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa)
Rufous Fantail (Rhipidura rufifrons)
Spangled Drongo (Dicrurus bracteatus)
Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike (Coracina novaehollandiae)
White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike (Coracina papuensis)
Varied Triller (Lalage leucomela)
Figbird (Sphecotheres viridis)
White-breasted Woodswallow (Artamus leucorynchus)
Black Butcherbird (Cracticus quoyi)
Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)
Victoria’s Riflebird (Ptiloris victoriae)
Spotted Catbird (Ailuroedus melanotis)
Tooth-billed Bowerbird (Scenopoeetes dentirostris)
Great Bowerbird (Chlamydera nuchalis)
Australasian (Singing) Bushlark (Mirafra javanica)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Red-browed Finch (Neochmia temporalis)
Chestnut-breasted Mannikin (Lonchura castaneothorax)
Yellow-bellied Sunbird (Nectarinia jugularis)
Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum)
Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena)
Golden-headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis) – heard only
Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis)
Metallic Starling (Aplonis metallica)
Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis)