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

To: <>
Subject: Iron Range NP & Musgrave Trip Report (Part 1 - Long)
From: "Carl Weber" <>
Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2009 14:03:41 +1100
Hi Tim,

Enjoyed your report.  Is the Smugglers' tree still good for Eclectus parrot.
Also, when you saw all those endemics when you first arrived, what time of
day was that?

Carl Weber 

-----Original Message-----
 On Behalf Of Tim Dolby
Sent: Monday, 19 October 2009 8:57 PM
Subject: Iron Range NP & Musgrave Trip Report (Part 1 - Long)


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 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

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

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

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

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

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,

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

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

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