Iron Range NP & Musgrave Trip Report (Part 1 - Long) [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]

To: <>, <>
Subject: Iron Range NP & Musgrave Trip Report (Part 1 - Long) [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]
From: "Perkins, Harvey" <>
Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2009 13:05:19 +1100

Great trip report.

I was stunned when I read the bit about the Grey-fronted Honeyeater at

On our way back down from a banding trip to Iron Range in November 2005,
we stopped in at Windmill Creek to see the Golden-shouldered Parrots
etc. In the roadside trees there, I saw what I was sure was a
Grey-fronted Honeyeater, but it was just as we were clambering into the
vehicles to head back to Musgrave for breakfast and, frankly, no-one
else in our party either saw it or believed my ID. I had pretty
reasonable views of it foraging in the canopy and still stand by my
initial ID - it certainly looked nothing like a Yellow-tinted

Harvey Perkins


Message: 8
Date: Mon, 19 Oct 2009 20:56:32 +1100
From: "Tim Dolby" <>
Subject: Iron Range NP & Musgrave Trip Report (Part 1 -
To: <>
Content-Type: text/plain;       charset="iso-8859-1"


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 drive.

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 reque
 st 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 excellent.)

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 Pig.

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 Range.

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

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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