North Queensland Birding - Wheatear one day, Wagtail the next!

Subject: North Queensland Birding - Wheatear one day, Wagtail the next!
From: Chris Tzaros <>
Date: Tue, 03 Dec 2002 12:30:12 +1100
Hi folks,

My partner Julie and I have just returned from a sensational couple of
weeks holidaying (birding) in FNQ, centred around the Julatten region near
Cairns, then Mission Beach south of Cairns.  I only have time to mention
just some of the highlights but am willing to answer any questions that
people might have.  But before I go any further, I must thank Geoff Walker
who recently visited the area and put me on to some great spots and offered
advice on where to look for specific beasts.

The major highlight of the trip was, you guessed it, the Isabelline
Wheatear sighting.  Congratulations to Alan, Dale, Betty and Neal - the
party of visiting American and Canadian birders who first discovered the
thing whilst watching Australian Pratincoles at Mt. Carbine, and then so
promptly informed everybody at Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge (where we
were staying).  Andrew and Carol Iles (will get back to them in a minute)
kindly took us out the following morning where together with Glenn Holmes,
we observed and photographed the bird for a couple of hours.  I am yet to
get the slides developed but hopefully just hopefully, at least one will
turn out as well as Tony Palliser's or Mike Carter's tremendous shots.
Really it's a credit to the original observers for them to have even
noticed the little fawn job bouncing around the bone dry cricket oval in
the middle of nowhere, let alone so accurately identifying it from the
beginning!  I might have called it an un-coloured White-winged Triller had
I seen it first-up!

So following the sighting of this mega rarity came the entourage of
twitchers - Carter, Palliser, Hobcroft and Dooley to name but a few, who
all managed to obtain great views of the cooperative Wheatear, increasing
their life lists.   Dion Hobcroft then decided to make another rarity
discovery at a nearby drying lake bed - a Grey Wagtail!  Twitchers from the
region were back to Mt. Carbine for the twitch once again.  What a
conveniently chosen time it was for us to spend in the district, with all
these rarities being found, on top of all the other 'usual' residents and
migrants.  We were able to see it all!

So back to the rest of the birding trip.  I have to say that Kingfisher
Park in Julatten is one of the best places I've ever stayed and birded - a
big call but an honest one.  I was excited before arriving having being
told by friends and colleagues how good they found it to be, and it
certainly exceeded all of my expectations.  The people, the accomodation,
THE BIRDS, were just amazing.  One doesn't need to go far from the lodge to
see all 13 wet tropics endemics (which we did) plus stacks more.  And with
the generous assistance of the wonderful Carol and Andrew Iles (the guides
who base themselves at Kingfisher) and Ron Stannard (manager of KP) we were
able to tick off almost everything on our wishlist.  And contrary to a
story told in one recently published Australian twitching book, they DO
destroy Cane Toads upon finding them on their evening spotlight walks,
which incidently, everyone who visits must do this.  Apart from seeing
Lesser Sooty Owl, there are all sorts of furred critters worth looking at -
Striped Possum, Green Ringtail, Northern Brown and Long-nosed Bandicoot,
Giant White-tailed Rat and the extremely rare Prehensile-tailed Rat. Oh
yes, I was supposed to be talking about the birds!

Bird highlights include:

Blue-faced Parrot-Finch:Success on all 4 visits to Mt.Lewis, great views
(sorry Dools!)
Oriental Cuckoo:  Abbatoir Swamp
Southern Cassowary: Mt. Lewis then a few at Mission Beach
Red-necked Crake: 2 at Kingfisher then a few heard at Mission Beach
Orange-footed Scrubfowl: absolutely everywhere but what a comical bird!
White-browed Crake: Cairns Crocodile Farm at Edmonton
Beach Stone-Curlew: Dunk Island and Garners Beach (near Mission Beach)
Oriental Plover: 7 at Lake Mitchell (otherwise known as Quaid's Dam)
Superb Fruit-Dove: the most aptly named Australian bird! (seen on Mt. Lewis)
Double-eyed Fig-Parrot: A few fleeting glimpses at Julatten but great views
at MB
Rufous Owl: Pair at Emeral Creek Falls NP (thanks Geoff!)
Lesser Sooty Owl: Juv. at Kingfisher and adult seen and photographed at MB
Large-tailed Nightjar: On the Rex Hwy early one morning - stopped for great
Little Kingfisher: a surprise on the Mobo Crater walk near Lake Tinaroo
(Atherton T/L)
Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher: seen easily at Kingfisher
Barn Swallow: Newell Beach
White-browed Robin: Big Mitchell Creek (adults feeding fledgling)
Pied Monarch: 1/3 way up Mt. Lewis
Crimson Finch: Cairns Crocodile Farm at Edmonton
Victoria's Riflebird: found them all over the place, inc. young male

After staying 10 fantastic nights at Kingfisher, we moved on to Mission
Beach where we stayed at a true eco-village, Mission Beach Sanctuary
Retreat.  We were housed in a great little hut set into the side of an
incredibly steep hill that overlooked the sea to the east and the
rainforest at every other angle.  The place was generally "less birdier"
than Kingfisher but life's what you make it and we ended up chasing a few
things down.  Not many newies but often better views of things we'd seen
little of elsewhere.  So it was great too.  And sorry to make this sound
like an advertisement, but I also thoroughly recommend sea-kayaking to Dunk
Island - the best, quietest and most environmentally-sensitive way to see
the island.

That must do for now.  It was a sensational couple of weeks and thanks to
those who helped really make the trip so much more enjoyable through their
generosity and assistance.


Chris Tzaros
Co-ordinator, Threatened Bird Network
Birds Australia (Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union) 
National Office
415 Riversdale Rd
Hawthorn East, Vic., 3123
Ph: 03-9882-2622
Fax: 03-9882-2677
Website address:

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