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From: Tim Dolby <>
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Subject: (Part 1) Trip Report: Cairns, Georgetown, and Karumba
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(Apparently there were a few problems when I sent the first copy of
this? Not sure why. So Take 2.)

Trip Report: Cairns, Julatten, Mossman River, Georgetown, and Karumba
on the Gulf of Carpentaria, Mid-September 2004 (Part 1.)

Hi All,

I've just spent a couple of weeks birding with Greg Oakley in Far-North
Queensland around Cairns, Julatten, Mount Lewis and the Mossman River.
We then headed west to Georgetown and Karumba on the Gulf of
Carpentaria. The following trip report is essentially a summation of
the main areas we visited during mid-September. I have also included a
selected annotated bird list at the end of this report for future
reference, including local information status and subspecies

Basically we treated the trip as a bit of a Twitchathon, which meant
that we birded continually from dawn to dusk (and beyond), which was
incredibly rewarding but also extremely tiring. Overall we travelled
2500 kilometres and saw an impressive 261 bird species. I hope you
enjoy the read.

1.   Cairns

As our plane touched down at Cairns Airport our first bird for the trip
(from the plane window) was a White-breasted Woodswallow, a good bird
for Victorians but perhaps the most conspicuous bird around Cairns.
 =46rom the airport we picked up our hire car and headed straight to the
Cairns Esplanade, seeing Graceful Honeyeater and Spangled Drongo along
the way. The mudflat along the Cairns Esplanade was teeming with waders
including Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Curlew
Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Pied Oystercatcher, Striated Heron, Red-
necked Stint, Pacific Golden Plover, and Bar-tailed Godwit. There were
also several Eastern Reef Egret, good numbers of Gull-billed Tern,
Crested Tern and the odd Caspian Tern. Also seen here were Brown and
Lewin=92s Honeyeater as well as Varied Honeyeater calling from flowering
Frangipani along the boardwalk, Helmeted Friarbird, Pied Imperial-
Pigeon and Nutmeg Mannikin.

We visited the Esplanade both at the beginning and the end of our trip.
On our second visit to the Esplanade we concentrated our birding around
the mangroves to the north of the Esplanade. We were able to whistle in
a pair of Mangrove Robin, and Collared Kingfisher hunted on the mudflat
near the mangroves. And just for good measure an Osprey flew south down
the boardwalk.

I had received a report of a pair of Papuan Frogmouth at Centenary
Lakes, so we headed to the south side of the lake. As we parked beside
the lake we heard honeyeaters calling from bottlebrush across the road
in the gardens of James Cook University. Theses were literally jam-
packed with honeyeater, including Brown-backed, Dusky, Yellow and
Graceful Honeyeater, and Yellow-spotted and White-throated were seen
nearby.  Not a bad way to start our passerine list! Not surprisingly,
as a general rule we found that wherever there was flowering
bottlebrush (or Grevillia) it was worth stopping because they were
usually stocked full of honeyeater.

With little trouble we found the reported Papuan Frogmouth on the
rainforest boardwalk =96 go to the third crick in the boardwalk when
entering from the south, look right and up =96 and nearby we also got
onto several fast flying Double-eyed (Macleay=92s) Fig-Parrot and White-
rumped Swiftlet, both of which were seen with regularity throughout our
trip. A Black Butcherbird was calling loudly in Flecker Botanic Gardens
and Metallic Starling was seen in a suburban street nearby. =46rom =
we headed North to Kingfisher Park at Julatten.

2.   Julatten and Kingfisher Park

We arrived at Kingfisher Park just before dusk, and the first bird we
saw was Pale-yellow Robin. I had searched long and hard for the
southern race of the Pale-yellow Robin capito in North-Central NSW
earlier in the year, and yet here was the northern race nana flittering
around our campsite. During the night we heard Barking and Barn Owl,
and Bush Stone-curlew hollered in the distance. In the morning we awoke
to a dawn chorus full of intriguing calls for Victorians. We heard the
call of a Grey Whistler, which we tracked down to the entrance drive,
Little Shrike-thrush were the common shrike-thrush, Macleay=92s, Yellow-
spotted, Graceful and Dusky Honeyeater where plentiful, particularly in
a flowering Grevillia next to our campsite, and Metallic Starling moved
in unison like the Peloton of the Tour de France. Other birds at
Kingfisher Park included Gould=92s Bronze-cuckoo, Emerald Dove, Brown
Cuckoo- Dove, Wompoo Fruit-Dove, Brush-turkey and Orange-footed
Scrubfowl (surely Australia silliest bird with a head far too small for
its body), which bustled their way around the Park, White-bellied
Cuckoo-shrike, Spectacled Monarch, Fairy Gerygone, a Noisy Pitta
patrolled its territory next to the main drive, a Red-necked Crake was
seen on dusk at the small dam near the orchard, and a pair of Pacific
Baza were seen roosting in the gum trees in the northern corner of

 =46rom our base at Kingfisher Park we then headed to the Mossman River =
do Peter Cooper=92s birding boat trip.

3.   Mossman River

We were particularly looking forward to this trip. =46rom all reports it
had become one of the best birding boat trips in Australia, and it
certainly lived up to all expectations!

The short river cruise travels up the Mossman for several kilometres,
passing through a number of different environments: beaches and coastal
estuary, mangroves and reed beds, and finally coastal rainforest and
mangrove thickets. Our first bird was an Osprey that circled the boat,
Common Sandpiper (or Uncommon Sandpiper as it is known in Victoria)
teetered on the banks of the river, and Large-billed Gerygone and
Varied Triller called from the mangroves. We managed to get onto a few
Mangrove Robin and Shining Flycatcher, both responding well to pishing,
and we saw five species of kingfisher: Forest Kingfisher (seen earlier
near the car park), Sacred, Azure, Collared and superb views of a
Little Kingfisher in reeds half way up the river. In an area intermixed
with rainforest and mangroves the icing on the cake was a Great-billed
Heron, which took flight and landed like a tetradactyl on a branch over-

hanging the river. On the way back a pair a Grey-tailed Tattler sat
quietly on a log, while a large flock of a Greater Sand Plover
nervously circled the beach looking for somewhere to land.

 =46rom Mossman we drove to the small township of Daintree. Alan
Gillanders had given me information on a Lovely Fairy-wren site behind
the water tower near the centre of town. We eventually found a small
group of birds, approximately100 meters up the track that leads north,
with several males giving us excellent views of their lovely fairy-wren

4.   Mount Lewis State Forest

Although it was the wrong time of year to see Blue-faced Parrot-finch
at Mount Lewis (they tend to turn up around early November), it is an
excellent place to see many of the local endemics. We visited the
mountain several times concentrating on the well documented clearing 10
kilometres up the track. At this clearing there was Grey-headed Robin,
Mountain Thornbill, Atherton Scrubwren and Bridled Honeyeater. =46rom =
clearing we hiked up the track which lead southwest. Along the way we
saw Golden Bowerbird, Tooth-billed Bowerbird, Spotted Catbird,
Victoria=92s Riflebird, Chowchilla, which like Logrunner bustles loudly
in the undergrowth, Fernwren, Yellow-throated Scrubwren, Grey and
Golden Whistler, Bower=92s Shrike-thrush, Bridled Honeyeater, Spectacled
Monarch, Rufous and Grey Fantail, Pied Imperial and Topknot Pigeon and
Brown Cuckoo-Dove.

5.   Other birding sites within a stone's throw of Kingfisher Park

While staying at Kingfisher Park we visited a number of good bird spots
in the area including Abattoir Swamp, Mount Molloy, Mount Carbine, Big
Mitchell Creek, and Lake Mitchell. Further a field we also visited
Emerald Creek Falls and the Curtain Fig Tree. All these areas proved
excellent birding sites with each containing a few additional target
birds for our trip.

i.   At Abattoir Swamp we got onto a single White-browed Crake on the
waters edge near a clump of small gum (10 metres) as you look north
through the hide.

ii.   In bush at the end of Wessels Road (between Abattoir Swamp and Mt
Malloy) we saw Northern Fantail and flushed a pair of Large-tailed
Nightjar, with their distinctive white tail feathers and looking like a
pair of large black butterflies. In many ways the nightjar were the
birds of our trip, being unexpected (especially during the day) and
entirely delightful. Scarlet Honeyeater was also common here.

iii.   At Mount Molloy we had excellent views of a pair of nesting
Square-tailed Kite, distinguished with their beautiful white face,
immediately to the east of the two sports fields.

iv.   There had been recent reports of Painted Snipe at the dam near Mt
Carbine. We did not see the Painted Snipe but we did see half a dozen
Latham=92s Snipe, large numbers of Plumed Whistling-Duck, Great-crested
Grebe (uncommon in this part of Queensland), Australian Pratincole, Red-

kneed Dotterel, Greenshank and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.

At Mt Carbine we also nearly rolled the four-wheel drive down the wall
of the dam; any further and we would have been in the drink! After the
appropriate curses, Greg and I walked to the pub, had several middies
with Jonesy, a local hero who was renowned for pulling people's cars
out during the wet, before we headed back to our car and he pulled us
out. Nice bloke, although most of the time he complained about birders
peering into the backyards of the locals, and he was particularly upset
about all the people who came to see "some bloody warbler"(referring to
last year's Isaballine Wheatear). "They even bloody flew in from
overseas!" he said.

v.   At Big Mitchell Creek we searched several times for White-browed
Robin. On our first visit we walked a kilometre or so up-stream with no
success. On our second visit, we pulled into the car park, dropped
immediately into the dry creek bed, pished several times and out popped
the bird. Lemon-bellied Flycatcher was also fairly common at this site.
We also saw a pair of distant friarbird, which took flight before we
had a chance to get a good look. Based on very brief views, by colour,
size and facial features, we speculated Silver-crowned Friarbird,
although this bird needs verification this far south, being more common
around Cooktown. So if anybody has had recent sightings of SCF at this
location please let me know?

vi.   Mitchell Swamp (if that=92s the right name), which is just north =
Big Mitchell Creek, is a tremendous wetland area, looking distinctively
like the Camargue with horses feeding in amongst the lilies. The swamp
was literally covered with thousands of waterbirds, including Comb-
crested Jacana, Wandering Whistling-Duck, Magpie Geese, Green Pygmy-
Goose and it was the only site we saw Cotton Pygmy-Goose.

vii.   Emerald Creek Falls Picnic area. We were unable to locate the
Rufous Owl that Peter Waanders had recently reported; however there was
several Squatter Pigeon and Scarlet Honeyeater were calling on mass.

viii.  The Curtain Fig Tree was the only place we saw Yellow-breasted
Boatbill where they proved to be quite common in the under storey of
the upper canopy. We also had good views of Pied Monarch and Gould=92s

ix.   On the second last day of the trip we visited the Cairns
Crocodile Farm, which despite being fulling staffed was closed. My
guess is that someone has been eaten? With some irony we did not visit
the farm to see White-browed Crake (which we had seen at Abattoir
Swamp) but to add Crimson Finch to our trip list. Despite the farm
being closed we did investigate the mangrove areas around the farm i.e.
those areas in front of the farm. This area proved to be a good birding
spot, particularly for Shining Flycatcher, which responds well to
pishing. We also managed to get onto Crimson Finch (and Chestnut-
breasted Mannikin) in cane fields along nearby Thomson's Road.

6.   Georgetown and Cumberland Dam

After our stay at Kingfisher Park we headed 450 kilometres west to
Cumberland Dam near Georgetown. There had been recent reports that
Cumberland Dam was firing, with large numbers of finches coming in each
morning to drink. In some ways we had deliberately timed out trip to
FNQ to coincide with the end of the dry season and the beginning of
spring, which would give us our best shot of seeing some good birds
around the waterholes of central Cape York. Cumberland Dam did not

The first bird we saw when we arrived upon dusk was Rufous-throated
Honeyeater, which was the most common honeyeater in central Cape York.
In the morning once again we arose to the intriguing sounds of an
unusual dawn chorus. We saw more Rufous-throated Honeyeater, as well as
Yellow-tinted, Brown, Yellow, Grey-fronted and Blue-faced Honeyeater; a
nearby Pied Butcherbird called clean and crisply, a happy family of
Grey-crowned Babbler claimed several trees as their own, and a male
Great Bowerbird had its bower on the rise immediately opposite our

We spent two days at Cumberland Dam, once on the way through to Karumba
on the gulf and once on the way back. On both occasions we found that
the most productive dam (in terms of birds coming in for their morning
drink) was not the main dam, but the smaller dam to the west. At this
dam we hung around the fence line, which had several mid size shrubs
nearby, acting as a protective vantage point for the finches to roost
as they came into drink. We saw six species of finch: Zebra, Chestnut-
breasted, Double-barred, Black-throated, Masked and a single Plum-
headed Finch.

We also had our fingers crossed in the hope of seeing either Gouldian
Finch or Pictorella Mannikin, but basically we were dreaming! It was
the wrong time of year for seeing Pictorella, and there had been no
sightings, despite extensive searching, of Gouldians on Cape York for
several years. Interestingly one story going around the traps reveals
that a finch breeder near Mareeba had released Gouldians several years
back, but that a Hobby ate all these for breakfast in the first week!

Some of the other birds seen at Cumberland Dam included Pale-headed
Rosella (race adscitus or the Blue-cheeked Rosella), Red-winged Parrot,
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Blue-winged Kookaburra, Australian Bustard,
Hardhead and Green Pygmy-Goose, Comb-crested Jacana (which seem to turn
up where-ever there are lily pads, even if the dam is in the middle of
no-where and the it is the size a tennis court), Squatter Pigeon, Red-
backed Kingfisher, Brown Treecreeper (race melanota or the Black
Treecreeper) and White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike. Another striking thing
about Cumberland Dam was the colour and light at dusk, which had the
most subtle pastel blues and pinks.

We saw a couple of other good birds in the vicinity of Georgetown
including Ground Cuckoo-shrike, seen at several locations along the
Gulf Development Rd, and a nice surprise was a Black-breasted Buzzard,
20 kilometres west of Mount Surprise.

 =46rom Cumberland Dam we headed to Karumba, approximately 400 =
west of Georgetown. On the way to Karumba we passed the famous
Gulflander railway, which runs between Croydon and Normanton; or to put
it another way (and with out any disrespect) it runs between nowhere
and nowhere, unless you happen to live in nowhere, in which it is a
great railway service!

7.   Karumba

On the road between Karumba from Normanton we saw a pair of Sarus Crane
with one juvenile, several hundred Brolga, Australian Bastard, Black-
necked Stork, Glossy Ibis and Australian Pratincole was common
particularly in areas of grassland that had been recently burnt-out.
(These burnt areas can also be good for Gouldian Finch.)

Karumba is a fantastic place for viewing the mangrove birds of the
Gulf, and regarded by many as one of the best birding spots in
Australia. We birded several times in the mangroves to the north of the
Karumba School, seeing Zitting and Golden-headed Cisticola, Tawny
Grassbird, Mangrove Gerygone, Yellow White-eye, White-breasted
Whistler, Rufous-throated and Brown Honeyeater, as well as the
occasional Yellow and White-gaped Honeyeater. As with most mangrove
birds, pishing was an effective way to attract most of these birds.

While in Karumba I recommend doing Russell Holt=92s (the Ferryman=92s) =
trip. It leaves at 9:00am (during the dry) from the boat ramp in the
centre of town, although it is worth booking the night before. On the
boat trip we saw Red-headed Honeyeater (which is specifically linked to
flowering mangrove), Mangrove Robin, Mangrove Grey Fantail, Broad-
billed Flycatcher, White-breasted Whistler, Little Bronze-Cuckoo,
Mangrove Gerygone, Terek Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Little Curlew, Eastern
Curlew, Common Sandpiper, both Sand-plover, Black-necked Stork,
Brahminy Kite and White-bellied Sea-Eagle.

I also suggest having a few quiet beers at the Sunset Tavern in
Karumba, particular because of the view the sun setting over the Gulf
of Carpentaria. There is also an excellent area of mudflat in front of
the tavern that attracts large numbers of waders. So you can do some
wader watching while having a quiet beer at the same time. Here we saw
Lesser and Greater Sand Plover, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Red-necked
Stint, Grey Plover and a possibly a Broad-billed Sandpiper. We camped
in the Karumba Point Caravan Park, which had Barking Owl calling at
night. The local fish & chip shop also has a mean Barramundi (Barra)

There is also an excellent site for Star Finch next to a small dam
immediate to the north of the intersection (20 metres) of Col. Kitching
Drive and the Karumba Development Road. In a small bush beside this dam
we saw a mixed flock of over 100 finches, including Star Finch, Double-
barred Finch, Zebra Finch and Chestnut-breasted Mannikin. After Karumba
we headed back to Cumberland Dam and then back to Cairns.

8.   Conclusion

Our bird total for the trip was an impressive 261 birds, 262 if you
count the Helmeted Guinea Fowl near Ravenshoe (although it was
farmed!), as well as a few questions marks. We birded hard, basically
from dawn to dusk, which was incredibly tiring but extremely rewarding.

Finally I would like to thank a number of people including Mick Todd,
Peter Waanders, Stuart Dashper, Alan Gillanders, John Harris and Del
Richards, who freely provided us with local birding tips, Ron Stannard
and his fantastic team at Kingfisher Park for there hospitality,
general good character and excellent mud maps, Peter Cooper for a
memorable trip up the Mossman, and Russell Holt for an a excellent trip
on the Norman. Thanks.

(Continued: See Part Two for Annotated Birds List.)

Part Two: Selected Annotated Bird List

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