Iron Range NP & Musgrave Trip Report (Part 1 - Long)

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Subject: Iron Range NP & Musgrave Trip Report (Part 1 - Long)
From: "Tim Dolby" <>
Date: Mon, 19 Oct 2009 20:56:32 +1100

Please see below a trip report to Iron Range National Park (Sept-Oct 2009). 
It's broken into 2 parts. A full reports with photographs can be found on the 
interweb at On the way up we stopped at Musgrave 
Station, birding several sites nearby. On the trip we also briefly stopped at 
Lakefield NP, Kingfisher Park, Mt Lewis, Mareemba Wetland and sunny downtown 
Cairns. Feel free to provide any feedback. Birding highlights included 
Golden-shouldered Parrot, Black-backed Butcherbird, Red Goshawk, the Iron Range 
endemics, King Quail, possible Swinhoe's Snipe, Laughing Gull, Asian Dowitcher 
and Broad-billed Sandpiper to name a few.

Our intrepid team of birders included me Tim Dolby, Greg Oakley, Paul Dodd and 
Ruth Woodrow. Several other birding groups travelled to the Iron Range at the 
same time. One group consisted of Jim Preston, John McRae, Tim Bawden and 
Laurie Living, the other was made up of birders from the Melbourne-based 
Twitchathon team, the Common Loudmouths. It was great fun linking up with them 
at various locations along the way. Victorian birders really hit FNQ in a big 
way; I don't think they quite new what hit them.

ACCESS: Musgrave Roadhouse is about 450 km Cairns from Cairns on the Peninsular 
Development Rd. A further 350 km Iron Range is accessed the Peninsular 
Development Rd and then onto Portland Rd 20 km north of the Archer River 
Roadhouse. From the turnoff it's about 110 km to the park. The Peninsular 
Development Rd is relatively straightforward, although is 4x4 and 2 spare tyres 
is highly recommended. We only had 1 spare, got a flat, and until we'd got it 
fixed (in Coen) we were driving around in a very precarious situation. Road 
conditions in Iron Range were good, and aside from a few river crossings 
(during Sept - Oct) it would have been ok to drive in with high chassis 2 wheel 

CAR HIRE: for the trip we hired a Toyota Land Cruiser. We affectionately named 
her 'Bessie', mainly because she was not quite what we expected. Basically 
Bessie was falling apart at the hinges, with the expectation that when we 
returned to Cairns she would simply collapse in a heap. For example my door 
handle came off in my hand the first time I tried to open the door. Another 
incident involved a flat tyre. Instead of having the appropriate wrench or 
wheel brace we had a small adjustable spanner that didn't (couldn't) fit the 
wheel nuts. Luckily we were able to hail down a passing 4x4 who had the 
appropriate sized wheel brace. If we'd been in a more remote area we would have 
been... well you know. (I've since heard that Bessie has been retired from 
active car-hire service.) My recommendation is that when hiring a car for your 
Iron Range trip, hire from one of the larger rental groups, check that you 
understand how to change the tyre on the model of your car, if possible request 
an extra spare - and I also recommend a car fridge. (It's worth noting that 
when flying into the Iron Range there is 4x4 hire available at Lockhart River, 
but book early.)

FOOD & DRINK: food is available in Lockhart River, although you may want to 
stock up in Cairns. It's also worth taking in plenty of water. There's an 
excellent cafe at Portland Rd (discussed in more detail below). It's worth 
noting that strict alcohol restrictions apply at the Lockhart River community 
(with a $75,000 fine). This includes the accommodation at Lockhart River 
Airport. Basically Iron Range is dry, so if you have a need, buy it in Cairns. 
We had a car fridge, however when enter the Lockhart River we had to secretly 
stash our beer and wine by the roadside (recommended to us by the ranger, and 
standard practice). The parks office is 3km down Lockhart River Rd.

ACCOMMODATION: When staying in the Iron Range I camped most nights at Gordon 
Creek. Others in our group stay in a bungalow at Portland Road. (The 2nd group 
stayed at huts at Lockhart River Airport, which from every indication was 

WEATHER: To give you an indication of what the weather was like, although I'd 
packed a sleeping bag and a sleeveless polar-fleece vest I didn't use either 
for the entire trip. During our stay there was no rain, and the mean daily 
temperature was about 30 degrees Celsius.

Described below is a summary of the birding sites, starting with Laura and 
Musgrave, and then moving up to Iron Range. On the way back we stopped briefly 
at Lakefield National Park, and then further south at Kingfisher Park, Mt Lewis 
and Cairns.

The first site of interest was a small dam just north of Laura. At the dam we 
saw Sarus Crane and Brolga, and there was also an interesting Brown Duck / Grey 
Teal hybrid which tried to confuse us into thinking it was Garganey. An 
interesting looking bird, the size of a Grey Teal, it had dark lines on a 
buff-face like that of a Black Duck. Also seen here were Striated Pardalote 
(black-headed race uropygialis Northern Pardalote), Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, 
Silver-crowned Friarbird, Spangled Drongo and Australasian Darter.

We visited two main sites near Musgrave; one a dam near Artemis Station, the 
other a nice area of open woodland east of Musgrave.

At the dam site we saw a party of 24 Golden-shouldered Parrot. They came into 
drink between 6:30 - 7:30am. I'm guessing that if we'd arrived any later we 
would've missed them. There was a nice selection of dry woodland birds around 
the dam including Black-backed Butcherbird, Pale-headed Rosella, Red-winged 
Parrot, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Grey-crowned Babbler, Red-backed 
Fairy-wren, White-throated Gerygone, and Masked Finch (the Cape York 
white-eared race leucotis). Honeyeaters included Dusky, Banded, Yellow, 
White-throated, Bar-breasted and Blue-faced Honeyeater, Little Friarbird. I 
also had brief views of honeyeater that looked like a Grey-fronted Honeyeater, 
a rare bird this far north (this would be a major extension of its range). The 
nearest I've seen them was Georgetown, 500km south. The more likely sp. would 
be Yellow-tinted Honeyeater, with an isolated population found in this part of 
Cape York. Any thoughts or other sightings?

At the 2nd site - a tall open forest bordered by lightly treed savannah - we 
saw a Red Goshawk, sitting quietly, allowing excellent views. One of the 
world's rarest birds of prey, there are only an estimated 30-35 pairs in the 
wet tropics of Queensland. Our bird had an attractive reddish-brown body colour 
with darker mottling, the head was white and streaked with darker feathers, and 
had prominent long yellow legs. Stunning! Nearby we also saw Red-winged Parrot, 
Channel-billed Cuckoo, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, White-throated Gerygone, 
White-throated Honeyeater, and Black-backed Butcherbird.

At the Musgrave Roadhouse itself Pied Butcherbird serenaded us in the morning, 
its melodious call was a great way to start a day, and we saw our only Collared 
Sparrowhawk and Nankeen Night-Heron for the trip. In the area we also saw a 
White-bellied Sea-Eagle feeding on carrion, a dead Agile Wallaby. We must have 
been miles from any significant body of water, so seeing a sea-eagle feeding on 
carrion Black Kite-like appeared unusual (although perhaps not as unusual as an 
Arctic Tern feeding on worms on a road in the highlands of central Victoria). 
Mammals around Musgrave included Agile Wallaby, Little Red Flying Fox and Wild 

Remember that Artemis Station is private property and it goes without saying 
that if you're thinking about looking for the parrot you must contact the 
owners (Tom and Sue Shephard) first. The station entrance is about 24 km south 
of the Musgrave. Black-backed Butcherbird was common in Artemis Station's 
parking area.

At Coen we stopped to fix a flat tyre. Pied Currawong somewhat surprisingly was 
the main town bird, along with Blue-faced Honeyeater. The common corvid for the 
area was Torresian Crow. A town with a nice feel, it had some good shops. One 
shop had a pet Palm Cockatoo out the back. Upon hearing its call, just for a 
moment I was jumping.

Iron Range National Park protects the largest area of lowland rainforest in 
Australia. The park also includes open eucalypt forests and some nice coastal 
habitat. Of interest the dominant rainforest plant species are the Leichhardt 
Tree (Nauclea orientalis), Black Bean Tree (Castanospermum australe), fig trees 
such as the giant Green Fig Tree (Ficus albipila) a favoured breeding tree for 
Eclectus Parrot, Cape Fig (Ficus nodosa), Sandpaper Fig (Ficus opposita) and 
Swamp Fig (Ficus hispida). There are striking palms such as Bangalow Palm 
(Archontophoenix cunninghamiana) and Gulubia costata, and I was particularly 
attracted by the native bamboo (Arundinaria cobonii) and local pandanus 
(Pandanus zea). Far less appealing was the sharp spiked Wait-a-While Vine 
(Calamus australis), which caught all of us of guard at some point. It was also 
nice to see flowering Illawarra Flame Tree (Brachychiton acerifolius), with a 
few flowering while we were there.

On road into Iron Range small to medium bush fires burnt throughout the park, 
often immediately beside the road. I never quite get used to this aspect of 
northern Australia; if similar fires were burning in Victoria or NSW there 
would have been a major evacuation of the area. However in FNQ and the Northern 
Territory they seem barely worth mentioning.

About 30 km after you enter the national park you cross a river and then come 
to a large strip of rainforest which runs parallel to West Claudie River - it 
is the first significant section of rainforest you come to when entering Iron 

Despite not being mentioned in any texts or trip reports, this site proved an 
excellent place for seeing the larger rainforest specialist particularly 
because you have extended views across the West Claudie River and up a hillside 
north of the river. On reaching this point for the first time (when you first 
enter Iron Range) it was like being in a lolly shop and not knowing which one 
to eat first. There was a real dilemma of which to look with so many fantastic 
birds just waiting to seen! The conversation at time went something like this:

"There's a Trumpet Manucode, and there's another, dancing on that tree! There a 
Magnificent Riflebird calling. Eclectus Parrot overhead, wow! Look! 3 
Red-cheeked Parrots overhead! White-eared Monarch in that fig tree, there!"

And so it went on: Wompoo, Superb and Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, Spectacled 
Monarch, Australian Swiftlet. There was also the odd Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, 
which surprisingly were usually seen as individual birds. In Victoria you'd be 
hard pressed to see Sulphur-crested Cockatoo in groups under ten, and more 
likely in the hundreds.

I camped at the larger of the two Gordon Creek campsites, an area bordered by 
riverine rainforest. White-faced Robin was a campground bird, particularly in 
the morning, frequently clinging sideways low down on tree-trunks like Eastern 
Yellow Robin. In the afternoon the campsite area was a good place for 
Yellow-legged Flycatcher. Listen for its distinctive call, a part of which has 
a short 5 second trill somewhat simular to the Yellow-billed Kingfisher. The 
common honeyeaters were Tawny-breasted, Graceful and Dusky Honeyeater. The 
campground was also a good spot for Frilled-necked Monarch (recently split from 
Frilled Monarch) - a bird which would surely qualify as one the worlds cutest 
birds. Double-eyed Fig-Parrot (the northern race marshalli Marshall's Fig 
Parrot) feed in a fig tree overhanging the campground. Orange-footed Scrubfowl 
and Australian Brush-Turkey hassled each another for food. One particularly 
male large Brush-Turkey stood out because of its distinctive large violet 
tinted wattle, characteristic of the race purpureicollis found on Cape York. 
The nominate sub-species found further south has a bright yellow wattle.

A walk along the Gordon Creek proved to be the best site for tracking down 
Yellow-billed Kingfisher, with birds regularly calling up and down the creek. 
We found a good spot was near a small turn in the creek just south-east of the 
main GC campground. Yellow-billed Kingfisher can be very difficult to see as 
they sit quietly high up in the rainforest. They tend to call every 5 minutes. 
One trick for seeing them is to find the tree it's calling from and wait 
underneath it until it flies away. They tended to not fly far, so if you're 
lucky you might see where it lands. Yellow-legged Flycatcher commonly called 
along Gordon Creek, but again was difficult to observe.

At night it Gordon Creek a good site for Marbled Frogmouth; one night we had 
two birds calling off against each other. The call of Marbled Frogmouth is 
quite humorous - one part in particularly sounds like a turkey who getting its 
head chopped off, a noise created with a clap of the beak.

At Gordon Creek saw Spotted Cuscus twice: once spotlighted along the roadside 
about 50 metres west of the campground, the other seen at the campsite during 
the day. Obviously only semi-nocturnal, it was nice to see it feeding on leaves 
and clinging tenaciously to branches while I was drinking my morning Mareeba 
coffee! With its round face and big eyes Spotted Cuscus appears to be a mix 
between a Sloth and a Bald-headed Uakari (the South American monkey).

The Claudie River Bridge, just before the turnoff to Lockhart River, proved a 
good spot to see Frilled-necked Monarch, with a pair hanging around the east 
side of the bridge. A walk into the rainforest just north of the bridge 
produced our best views of Green-backed Honeyeater, as well as White-eared 
Monarch and Yellow-legged Flycatcher. At one point we must have disturbed a 
nest of Paper Wasps (Polistes humilis). Anyone who has done this before will 
know exactly what it is like; 3 of us sustained extremely painful bites (I was 
bitten on the ear, Ruth on the upper lip), sending us all into a mild state of 
panic. We rushed up a nearby ridge, stumbled through Wait-a-while, which under 
the circumstances seemed mild by comparison. Fortunately the pain from the 
bites disappeared after about half an hour.

West of the bridge is a large open grassy area. Here we found large numbers of 
Cisticola sp. Although Cisticola identification can be difficult, we were 
fairly certain they were Zitting Cisticola. Interestingly most field guides 
suggest that Zitting isn't found at Iron Range - I assume they are race 
laveryi, recorded in southern Queensland. Eclectus Parrot, Palm Cockatoo and 
small parties of Red-cheeked Parrot were observed high overhead in the 
grassland areas, flying between the different areas of rainforest. There was 
also nesting Brown-backed Honeyeater, Dollarbird and Grey Goshawk. In the Iron 
Range both white and grey morphs of the Grey Goshawk were evenly present - by 
contrast in the Otway Ranges in Victoria we only get white Grey Goshawk.

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