Iron Range NP & Musgrave Trip Report (Part 2 - Long)

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Subject: Iron Range NP & Musgrave Trip Report (Part 2 - Long)
From: "Tim Dolby" <>
Date: Mon, 19 Oct 2009 20:57:09 +1100

Please see below a trip report to Iron Range NP(Sept-Oct 2009). A full reports 
with photographs can be found on the interweb at

A roadside area of open forest between the first and the second sections of 
rainforest along Portland Rd proved to be a reliable spot for White-streaked 
Honeyeater, darting in and out of shrubs somewhat like New Holland Honeyeater. 
(Also at this spot another group of birders thought they saw an early return 
Black-winged Monarch.)

On first arriving at Iron Range we were a little shocked to find that there was 
some serious road works being done to Portland Rd. The awkward thing about this 
(apart from the very large truck that drove too fast and took up the entire 
road) was that they were doing the road works immediately along side the Cooks 
Hut camping area, effectively curtailing birding at Cooks Hut for the entire 
trip! This is one of the major birding sites in Iron Range!

Despite this we were able to get access to the Old Coen Rd Track (a walking 
track), providing us with some of our best rainforest birding. The track is 
about 5 km long. We found the best birding near the entrance just west of Cooks 
Hut, particularly in a football field sized area between the creek bed and the 
Old Coen Rd Track gate and information sign. On our first morning at this site 
we saw many of the Iron Range specialist and endemics. This included: 
Chestnut-breasted and Oriental Cuckoo, Eclectus and Red-cheeked Parrot, Trumpet 
Manucode, Magnificent Riflebird, Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, Yellow-legged 
Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Frill-necked and White-eared Flycatcher, 
Spangled Drongo, Little Shrike-thrush, Noisy Pitta, Rufous Fantail, 
Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, Grey Whistler and White-faced Robin. Not 
surprisingly dawn was easily the most productive time for birding in the 
rainforest. This area was particularly good for butterflies, which included 
Ulysses Swallowtail (a series of wonderful bright blue flashes against the 
rainforest), Common Aeroplane, Orchard Swallowtail, McAlpine's Birdwing and 
Golden Jezebel amongst others.

We also search the rainforest are behind the Cooks Hut toilet block and soon 
heard and then saw Northern Scrub-robin. At this spot we also got our best 
views of a Yellow-legged Flycatcher.

The Portland Road Township is a small but welcoming town, and an excellent site 
for birding, particularly at low tide when the mudflats are visible. On the 
mudflat we saw Whimbrel, Striated Heron, Common Sandpiper and Collared 
Kingfisher. Throughout the day Wompoo, Rose-crowed and Superb Fruit-dove and 
Pied Imperial Pigeon flew across the inlet from boarding rainforest to roost in 
the mangroves. Seabirds included Lesser Crested Tern, Brown Booby, Common 
Noddy, Bridled Tern and surprisingly a couple of White-breasted Woodswallow 
feeding out at sea. A good spot for seabirds is the rocky breakwater just south 
side of Portland Rd, a good spotting for roosting, here we saw 6 Lesser Crested 
Tern. At night look for the eye-shine of Saltwater Crocodile, spotlighted in 
the water about 20 metres from the beach, explaining why swimming is not a good 
idea at Portland Rd. Town birds included Large-billed Gerygone, Olive-backed 
Sunbird and Dusky, Graceful and Yellow-spotted Honeyeater.

Birding in the mangroves immediately north of Portland Rd was rewarding. Birds 
included Mangrove Robin, Shinning Flycatcher, Grey Whistler, White-throated, 
Varied and Dusky Honeyeater, Red-browed Finch (brighter coloured northern ssp 
race minor), Large-billed Gerygone, Pied Currawong, Rose-crowned and Superb 
Fruit-Dove. Fawn-breasted Bowerbird flew between the mangroves and over 
Portland Rd to the open forest on the west side for the mangrove. We also had 
superb views of a small party of Palm Cockatoo, seen in an area of open 
woodlands about 1 km north of the mangrove, providing us with classic views - 
raised-crested-screeching cockatoos.

Here's a recommendation: whether staying or visiting Portland Road it's worth 
eating at the Portland Road Café. We regularly ate both lunch and dinner at the 
café, enjoying fish and chips, prawn tempura, calamari, and for lunch prawn 
roles! As a mark of their quality we ate virtually none of our food supplies. 
While eating our dinner a bonus is listening to Large-tailed Nightjar, with its 
distinctive donk, donk, donk call. We also saw what I assumed were Bare-backed 
Fruit Bat, feeding in the gardens in the front of the café.

We found the best birding site at Lockhart River was the treatment plant. From 
the township head down Piiramo Rd towards the coast (Quintell Beach), and after 
about 500 metres there is a track leading left. Travel down this for another 
500 metres, the treatment plant is on you right. Of note we saw up to 5 snipe, 
several birds of which were distinctively different from standard Latham's 
Snipe. They had differing amounts of rufous colouring on the tail, a differing 
shape to the outer tail feathers, and vocal differences in the flight calls. We 
are still having a look at the photos of several birds - and judging by the 
above distinction could possibly have been Swinhoe's Snipe. A bonus bird at the 
Lockhart River treatment plant was a single King Quail, which flushed, and then 
totally disappeared when we tried to find it a second time. This didn't seem 
possible as we saw exactly where it had landed. Other birds at the plant were 
Pied Heron, Glossy and Australian White Ibis, Cattle Egret, Australasian Grebe, 
Masked Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Leaden Flycatcher, Australian Swiftlet and 
White-breasted Woodswallow.

At Chilli Beach large numbers of Bridled Tern and Common Noddy and a few 
Crested and Little Tern circled Restoration Island just off the coast. At dusk 
Restoration Island is locally famous for the thousands of Metallic Starlings 
which swirl through the air before roosting on the rocks. Other birds included 
Pied Oystercatcher, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Pied Imperial Pigeon and Topknot 
Pigeon. There is also a small dam just before you get to Chilli Beach (on the 
east side of the road), reportedly good for Black Bittern, Azure Kingfisher and 
this is one of the sites that Spotted Whistling-Duck has been recorded.

At night Large-tailed Nightjar and occasional White-throated and Australian 
Owlet-nightjar were easily flushed along Portland Rd, particularly near the 
intersection to Chilli Beach. One night we recorded at least 10 Large-tailed 
Nightjar. It was also hard not to run over Cane Toads.

On the way back to Cairns we detoured into Lakefield National Park and I'm glad 
we did. Site visited here included Lotus Bird Lodge wetland, Low Lake and 
Mariner Plains.

Not far from the Musgrave Roadhouse the Lotus Bird Lodge wetland is well worth 
a stop. Birds included Rudjah Shelduck, Wandering Whistling-Duck, Green 
Pygmy-Goose, Black-necked Stork, Magpie Goose, Comb-crested Jacana, Glossy 
Ibis, Royal Spoonbill, Little Pied Cormorant, and our only Eastern Swamphen and 
Coot for trip. Drinking at the wetland were Agile Wallaby and Northern Nailtail 

Our main stop at Lakefield was at a wonderful wetland called Low Lake. Reach 
via Lilyvale and then Marina Plains Rd; it's about 60 km from Musgrave. One of 
the most pristine wetlands I've visited in Australia, it was surrounded by 
rushes and reeds and covered in waterlilies. Birds seen included Comb-crested 
Jacana, Wandering Whistling-Duck, Rudjah Shelduck, Green Pygmy-goose, Pacific 
Black Duck, Hoary-headed Grebe, Glossy and Australian White Ibis, Brolga, four 
egret sp., Great, Intermediate, Little, and Cattle. The surrounding woodlands 
contained Black-backed Butcherbird, Forest and Sacred Kingfisher, calling 
Rufous Whistler, Grey-crowned Babbler and from a tree on the eastern edge of 
the wetland Masked and Black-throated Finch flew down to drink. This seemed a 
good spot for Star Finch, has recently been recorded at Lakefield.

An accidental detour to the Mariner Plains area on the edge of Princess 
Charlotte Bay proved interesting. After entering an area of tidal mangrove we 
were attacked by a wild swarm of killer mosquitoes! Like a scene from the movie 
the African Queen (the scene where Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn pull 
their boat into shore on the Ulanga River) we were forced to run at high speed 
to get away from a swarm of 100,000,000 mosquitoes. Despite this the Mariner 
Plains was fascinating area, well worth an extended visit. It was mixture of 
floodplain grasslands, open-wooded mangroves forests, termite mounds and 
patches of the endemic palm Corypha utan. Brolga was common in the grassland 
area, and along the banks of the Annie River we saw our only Mangrove Gerygone 
for the trip. At Lakefield we also saw Emu, an adult with 3 young. I personally 
I reckon the Cape York Emu is taller and slimmer than southern Australian Emu, 
with less feather coverage. We also had nice view of the local race of the 
Australian Hobby, race murchisonianus.

Stop-over's at the wonderful Kingfisher (once on the way up, and once on the 
way back) produced Superb Fruit-dove and Papuan Frogmouth, roosted in the 
orchard, a flock of Barred Cuckoo-shrike feed in a fig tree directly above my 
tent, Red-necked Crake calling along Mt Malloy Rd, Dollarbird (first noted 
arrival for this area of Qld), Channel-billed Cuckoo, Scarlet, Dusky and 
Macleay's Honeyeater.

Sooty Owl and Barn (Masked) Owl called throughout the night. There seems to be 
an unresolved debate over whether the Tyto species at Kingfisher Park are Barn 
or Masked Owl. I'm tipping Barn. Mammals included Striped Possum, Northern 
Brown Bandicoot, Giant White-tailed Rat, Fawn-footed Melomy, Spectacled Flying 
Fox and Northern Broadnosed Bat, which roosted in the shower block, failing to 
budge even when I took a shower. The Striped Possum was seen 20 metres from the 
campsite. We were surprised to find it walking along powerlines along the 
Mossman - Mt Molloy Rd. Butterflies included Cairns Swallowtail and Ulysses 

A few attempts to see Blue-faced Parrot-finch as a recently discovered lowland 
site (along Mt Malloy Rd) failed. My feeling is that they had just started to 
head up the hill (Mt Lewis), as most of the grass in the area had just finished 

The standout highlight for Mt Lewis was a large male Boyd's Forest Dragon. Like 
something out of the Lost World, this is an exceptionally good looking lizard. 
Coloured in blue hues and ochre yellows-browns and reds, it is covered in large 
protruding spikes. The area around the dam at the top of the rainforest walk 
was particularly rewarding, with close views of Fernwren, Grey Fantail (dark 
mountain race Keasti), Victorian Riflebird, Spotted Catbird, Tooth-billed 
Bowerbird, Bridled Honeyeater, Mountain Thornbill, and Chowchilla.

Osprey nesting of power poles, a flock of Hardhead, 2 Pacific Baza roosting in 
the car park, and 40 Gouldian Finch! (In an aviary!) Between Mt Malloy and 
Mareeba there was Square-tailed Kite in flight and 2 Australian Bustard feed on 
the roadside of Peninsular Development Rd.

Or group birded in Cains twice, one of the way up and once before returning to 
Melbourne. We concentrated our effort on the Cairns Esplanade, with the bird 
list reading like a BARC rarity report: Laughing Gull, Asian Dowitcher, 
Broad-billed Sandpiper, Beach Stone-Curlew, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, 
Grey-tailed Tattler, Greenshank, Great Knot, Collared Kingfisher, Grey Plover, 
Pacific Golden Plover, Gull-billed, Caspian and Crested Tern, Olive-backed 
Sunbird, Doubled-eyed Fig-Parrot, and Varied and Yellow Honeyeater.

Finally on my last night in Cairns I stayed in the up market International 
Pacific Hotel - naturally! Actually it was cheaper than staying in the tin shed 
they call a room at the Musgrave Roadhouse. Typically, while relaxing over a 
few quiet beers, I kept a list of the birds seen from the 7th story balcony - 
it faced the Cairns Casino. (I must really get a life!). If anybody is 
interested (you could stop reading now) here is what I saw: Rainbow Lorikeet, 
Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, White-breasted Woodswallow, Common Myna, Gull-billed 
Tern, Crested Tern, Welcome Swallow, Australian Figbird, Yellow Oriole, Brown 
Honeyeater, Silver Gull, House Sparrow, Magpie Lark, Great Egret, Metallic 
Starling, Willy Wagtail, Little Egret, Crested Tern, Great Bowerbird, 
Spectacled Flying Fox, dozens of the micro Northern Free-tailed Bat 
(Mormopterus loriae), and finally Bush Stone-curlew in the grounds of the 
Cairns Casino.

ACKNOLEDGEMENTS: just quickly, thanks for informational assistance from Fiona 
Parkin, Stuart Dashper and Carl Billingham, who had all recently visited the 
area. Thanks to Keith and Lindsay Fisher at Kingfisher Park, who had to put up 
with 8 plus mad Victorian birders all turned up at the same time. Also big 
thanks to my fellow birders (from our group and the others), making the trip 
very enjoyable. Thanks Paul and Ruth for the use of some of your photos in this 

Tim Dolby
Victoria, Australia, Oct 2009

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