Cairns, Mt Isa, Karumba trip report (Part 1a of 2)

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Cairns, Mt Isa, Karumba trip report (Part 1a of 2)
From: Carl Billingham <>
Date: Wed, 15 Aug 2007 22:20:04 -0700 (PDT)
(Part 1 of this email was over the forum size limit and so I have now split 
into parts 1a and 1b)

Here are the notes for a recent trip undertaken by Carl Corden and myself (Carl 
also, just to keep things simple) from Cairns to Mount Isa and return, taking 
in Michaelmas Island, Karumba, Cloncurry, Cumberland Dam, Atherton Tablelands 
(Cassowary House), Julaten (Kingfisher Park), Mt Lewis and Cairns Esplanade.  
Carl and I covered about 3,400km in the limited time we had (9 and 10 days 
Michaelmas Island
Unfortunately Carl couldn?t join me for this cruise out to the island.  The 
weather was overcast and the seas a bit lumpy which was evident by the number 
of persons leaning over the stern railing on the return trip!   
Birds noted included: Crested Terns, Common Noddies with chicks and Sooty Terns 
attending to crèches which were being constantly marauded by Silver Gulls.  It 
was interested to see the Silver Gulls trying to drown in the sea the Sooty 
Tern chicks they had carried off from the creches.  I have never seen this 
before so I?m not certain if it is common practice or not.
In addition Black Noddies, Black-naped Terns and Roseate Terns were located on 
a distant sandbar.  
Cairns to Mt Isa
The following day after Carl?s arrival we did a quick walk around the Botanical 
Gardens picking up 5 lifers for Carl before breakfast and a fair few FNQ 
species including Yellow Oriole, White-browed Crake, Little Kingfisher, 
Orange-footed Scrub-fowl, Brown-backed Honeyeater, Helmeted Friarbird, 
White-rumped Swiftlet, Black Butcherbird Cicadabird, Varied Triller and Leaden 
After shopping and picking up some camping essentials we then set out and made 
it as far as Haydon Creek located about 70km short of Normanton and next to the 
Gulflander railway line.  There were plenty of trees in flower and consequently 
a lot of birds present including White-throated, Yellow-tinted, 
Rufous-throated, Brown, Banded and Dusky Honeyeaters, other birds present 
included Varied Lorikeets, White-browed and Masked Woodswallows, 
Black-throated, Zebra and Double-barred Finches, Squatter Pigeons (race 
pininsulae with pink eye ring) as well as Variegated Fairy-wrens (the females 
having a slight blue flush on the head reminiscent of those in the NT).
The next day we continued on through Normanton, Cloncurry stopping briefly at 
Corella Dam before arriving at Mt Isa.  Along the way we saw Bustards, Great 
Bowerbird, Australian Pratincole, Black-necked Stork and were lucky enough to 
see a Black Falcon about 85km north of the Burke & Wills Roadhouse (S18 32.762 
E140 36.712) fly over the car and land in a nearby tree.  We had good views of 
it and noted in particular the relatively small head size in comparison to the 
Brown Falcons which were common in the area.
Mt Isa/Cloncurry area
We arrived in Mt Isa and still having time on our side we decided to head out 
to Mica Creek and take a quick look for the Kalkadoon Grasswren and 
Spinifexbird being successful with the Spinifexbird alone before the sun went 
down.  We also saw Grey-fronted and Grey-headed Honeyeater and the larger race 
?dalyi? of the Apostlebird.
The following morning we started exploring the Sybella Creek area which is most 
picturesque and worth a look even if you aren?t after the KGw.  Aside from 
Painted Finch, Black-tailed TreecreeperBeing unsuccessful here (it was quite a 
windy day which made it difficult to hear any possible twitterings) we returned 
to Mica Creek.  Here we spent a fair few hours scaling the hilltops with little 
I thought I heard a few high pitched calls in a small gully but because I was 
above it and it was steep we decided not to investigate further.  We then 
returned along on either side of the main gully when I noticed two Kalkadoon 
Gw?s skulking back up the hill after Carl had walked through. It was quite easy 
to redirect Carl back to where they were and we both had excellent views of a 
small party of 4 or 5 birds.  Although my view was slightly more distant I got 
to see how they were reacting to Carl moving along in their direction ? quite 
One interesting thing Carl noticed was that they tended to stay in the areas 
where the predominant rock colour was red and didn?t go into the white quartz 
(?) areas higher up the slopes even though the Spinifex was the same age and 
density in both areas.  This might have been an isolated instance but it would 
make sense from a camouflage perspective.
If I were to go looking for them in that same location again I would recommend 
looking for the old car engine (S20 49.256 E139 27.518 ? possibly the only 
remnants of the car wreck noted in Thomas and Thomas?).  Then follow the main 
gully along until you see an even steeper gully on the western side (S20 49.149 
E139 27.453) then just sit and wait until you hear them or see them move on the 
ridges on either side.  It seems a lot easier than scaling up and down the 
shaley slopes on either side and a lot less disruptive to the wildlife in the 
area as well.
After this we continued on to Lady Loretta Mine which is obviously now active.  
We had been warned that the Carpentarian Grasswren was often more difficult to 
track down than the Kalkadoon which was a concern for us as we only had limited 
time in the area.  Therefore it was a real pleasure to spot one within half an 
hour of searching.  We also met Marg and Ian and managed to put them onto the 
Carpentarian as well.  We swapped information on the Kalkadoon Gw?s for 
information on birds around Karumba which proved most useful.
It was quite interesting that once I had seen the three target species I had 
hoped to get around Mt Isa it was like a weight had been lifted of my shoulders 
and from that point on I could just enjoy my birding - everything that popped 
up in front of me from then on was a most pleasant bonus.
Anyway, from Mt Isa we backtracked and arrived at Corella Dam outside of 
Cloncurry and were treated to a wonderful night camping under the stars with 
the campsite all to ourselves except for a couple of Euro looking down on us 
from the top of the escarpment on the other side of the waterlily filled 
billabong.  If you have the opportunity I would strongly recommend a stop off 
at this site if you are passing as it is truly magical.  The sunrise the 
following morning was definitely one to remember as well.

refer part 1b

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