Part 1.2 Trip Report: Cairns, Georgetown, and Karumba

Subject: Part 1.2 Trip Report: Cairns, Georgetown, and Karumba
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Date: Fri, 15 Oct 2004 18:10:45 +1000
CONT. Trip Report: Cairns, Julatten, Mossman River, Georgetown, and 
Karumbaon the Gulf of Carpentaria, Mid-September 2004 (Part 1.2)

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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