FNQ Trip Report: Down and dirty in the Wet (long email!)

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Subject: FNQ Trip Report: Down and dirty in the Wet (long email!)
From: Ed Williams <>
Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2012 20:52:32 +0000
TRIP REPORT: 9-13 March, Cairns, Kuranda, Atherton Tablelands, Georgetown, 
Julatten & Mount Lewis.

Highlights: Golden Bowerbird, Blue-faced Parrot-finch, Spinifex Pigeon, 9 
species of Kingfisher & all the Cuckooshrikes.

Tony Keene, Mike Honeyman & I recently returned from a fully-packed 4 night 
trip around North Queensland - starting and finishing up in Cairns.

Day 1 - Cairns to Kuranda:
345am start in Melbourne for me!  Mike & Tony met me at the airport at 830am in 
Cairns having flown there the night before and we immediately headed off to 
Redden Island.  Our long-shot hopes for Great-billed Heron and Beach 
stone-curlew were not be (due partly to an extremely high-tide) so we started 
off in good dipping form!  But we picked up a handful of birds in the area 
including a Sea-Eagle, Bar-shouldered Doves, and Crested & Little Terns.  
Overall however it was very quiet - the best birds for us Southerners being the 
Aussie Swiftlets.

Moving swiftly on (pun fully intended!) we took to the mangroves to the north 
of the Esplanade.  Here we picked up lots of Mangrove Robins, a pair of 
Collared Kingfishers, Barwits picking around in the grass (refugees from the 
very high tide), along with a real bonus of a Little Kingfisher flying into one 
of the Fig-trees out on the Grass.  Walking north we also saw a Buff-banded 
Rail and I picked up my first Large-billed Gerygone of the trip and there were 
many Hornbill (Helmeted) Friarbirds in the area too.

Whilst the tide was still so high we headed up to the Centenary Lakes where we 
saw Magpie Geese (including 8 goslings), a Comb-Crested Jacana and the first of 
many Torresian Imperial Pigeons.  However there really weren't many birds out 
on the lakes themselves.  We carried on through to the Flecker Botanical 
Gardens a picked up Black Butcherbirds, our first Scrubfowl for the trip, and 
flocks of Metallic Starlings and more (lots more) Torresian Imperial Pigeons.  
We also had the worlds most expensive cans of coke at the cafe at $4 a can!  
(Total rip-off, but we were hot and thirsty).

Heading then back to the Esplanade we were amazed to find that the tide had 
gone from providing no mud for any shorebirds, to now being so far back that we 
needed the scope in the heat-haze!  There were plenty of shorebirds out there 
and despite the distance, between us we picked up Whimbrel, Curlew, RN Stints, 
both Knots, Terek & Curlew Sandpipers, a couple of Sharpies, GT Tattlers and 
Red-Capped Plovers but surprisingly no Sand-plovers.  We tried further down the 
Esplanade at a grassy knoll near the southern end and we did get the 
Sand-plovers there - we only had two birds - but our luck was in and we got one 
of each species.  We were also entertained here by the very tame and active 
Varied Honeyeaters flitting around.

Next stop Cattana Wetlands to the north of Cairns.  Barely out of the car-park 
we were greeted by a family of Lovely Fairy-wrens which was an added bonus.  
Out on the lake we had plenty more Jacanas, and several pairs of Green 
Pymy-Geese.  A Yellow Oriole flew past and in the bushes there we Brown 
Honeyeaters, Chestnut-breasted Manakins, and Leaden Flycatchers among the bush 

With dusk approaching we headed up to Kuranda to check in at Cassowary House - 
and after a quick dinner at the local fish and chips we took a night drive (in 
the rain) up Black Mountain Road.  The only birds we saw were a couple of 
Owlet-Nightjars, and other wildlife included a ferocious looking Giant 
White-tailed Rat, Bandicoots and the endearing Cogger's Barred Frog. 
Day 2 - Kuranda to Georgetown
We were woken to the sound of heavy rain at 6am - but I figured that it 
wouldn't put off the crake and ventured out into the wet.  The other two wisely 
stayed put in bed (initially) whilst I sat in the grounds of Cassowary House 
getting "wetter than an otter's armpit" (to quote Tony at the time).  Of course 
there was no Crake.  Mike then got up to look for me, but instead found the 
male Cassowary and chicks and managed to find me just in time as they wandered 
up the road and out of the grounds.  I only just managed a quick view - but a 
tick is a tick!  Tony missed out but he was the only one of us who'd had 
Cassowary before.
The weather then cleared up and we ventured around the grounds and walking the 
road outside and picked up plenty of nice birds including Spectacled Monarch, 
Barred Cuckoo-shrike, Fairy Gerygone, MacLeay's and Yellow-spotted Honeyeaters, 
Forest Kingfishers, Pale-Yellow Robin and Tony had a Superb Fruit-dove fly 
past.   The highlight, however, was the Yellow-breasted Boatbill that we picked 
up just outside the grounds in a roadside tree.
By midday it was time to hit the road, and a quick stop off for a hot-dog and a 
Double-Eyed Fig-Parrot in Kuranda was followed by a drive up to Mareeba.  We 
decided to bird Tinaroo Creek road and were quickly rewarded in one spot 
picking up a flock of (migrating?) Leaden Flycatchers, several Pale-headed 
Rosellas, a mixed flocked of finches moving up the road - Mike and I only saw 
Double-barred Finch and Chestnut- Breasted Manakin but Tony also got onto some 
Black-Throated Finches too (to make up for the Cassowary).  We continued up the 
road further and whilst the birds quietened down we did get our first of many 
Needletails for the trip along with some Eastern Gray Kangaroos, Agile 
Wallabies, and a surprise Whiptail Wallaby too.
A brief stop for out-of-season Cranes at Hastie's swamp didn't produce them but 
we did get loads of Whistling Ducks (both Plumed and Wandering) along with some 
great views of the Sea-eagles.
After that we had some miles to cover so we hit the roads West and pretty much 
didn't stop until Georgetown.
Day 3 - Georgetown, Cumberland Dam and then to Julatten
This was the day I was most looking forward to - and also was the most nervous 
about as I had nagged the other two that a 400km drive out West for one 
morning's birding was worth it.  It didn't disappoint...
The 20kms before we got to the Cumberland Dam was eventful producing a pair of 
Ground Cuckooshrikes, along with one of our few Brown Falcons for the trip.  At 
the dam it was fairly quiet with just a few Green Pygmy Geese and Jacanas, but 
then a small flock of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos flew over, as did a mixed 
flock of Swifts which contained both Needletails, and to my delight, 
Fork-tailed Swifts too (finally got on to them!)  We then walked along the 
Creek where we picked up Yellow-tinted and Rufous-throated Honeyeaters, along 
with a pair of Red-winged Parrots.  Out by the small dam we had Red-backed 
Fairy-wren and Black-faced Woodswallow when I saw a Bustard walking in through 
the long grass - followed by three others.
Back by the main dam we then got onto a Paperbark Flycatcher (shorter bill, and 
smaller bird than the Restless) and a pair of Great Bowerbirds, and were also 
entertained by a Hobby going mental at a Channel-billed Cuckoo.  The cuckoo 
certainly wasn't a bird we were expecting there, but I guess they are on 
migration at the moment.
Also in the general area before we got back to Georgetown we saw Brolga, 
Red-backed Kingfisher, Banded Honeyeater, Little Friarbird, Squatter Pigeons - 
and 4 Spinifex Pigeons - two of which put on a bit of a mating show for us!!   
They are stunning little pigeons that none of the books do justice to.
Amazingly though we did not get one single Finch or Manakin - the birds that 
Cumberland Dam is famous for.  I guess they had dispersed with all the rain.
Back in Georgetown we picked up a Black-breasted Buzzard by the racecourse and 
another very tame Bustard before heading back east towards the Tablelands again.
Our next brief stop was at the Dam at Innot Hot Springs where acting on a hot 
tip from Martin Cachard we got our only Cotton Pygmy-Geese of the trip.  To be 
honest the dam was pretty grotty with some old chemical drums floating in there 
- but still worth it as we got a nice pair of the Pygmy-Geese here.
That was pretty much it until we reached Kingfisher Park, Julatten.  We just 
had time to get the BB Paradise-kingfishers before the light went.  
Spotlighting we got the local pair of nesting Barn Owls and a few rodents and 
frogs but apart from that it was pretty quiet.  The one bonus bird here was 
spotlighting an Azure Kingfisher which bought us up to 9 species of Kingfisher 
for the trip.
Day 4 - Mount Lewis and the Atherton Tablelands
Up early and a walk around the grounds of KP got us more nice views of 
Spectacled Monarch, and also our first Black-Faced Monarchs of the trip.  Then 
it was time to hit Mount Lewis Road.  Our first of the endemics was a Fernwren 
that called for a long-time before finally coming out to see us.  As we moved 
up the road we also got several troops of Chowchillas, Grey-headed Robin and 
Mountain Thornbill.  We could hear a Tooth-billed Bowerbird but it wouldn't 
show itself.  When we got to the top clearing all was quiet.  We walked down 
the road and got on to a small flock of Red-browed Finches (hoping they would 
turn into Parrot-finches but no luck).  However on the way back up the road 
Tony and Mike were ahead of me and called me over as they had got onto three of 
the finches.  
Then we took the Miners track where Tony assured us that there were Atherton 
Scrubwrens and Bower's Shrike-Thrushes in abundance last time he went.  Guess 
what?  Not one scrubwren (other than one I was sure was a large-billed) and 
whilst we could hear the Bower's S-T they sounded further off.  However, that 
all didn't matter when we heard a strange electronic buzzing sound.  "Golden 
Bowerbird" Tony and I both called out at the same time.  (Let's be honest there 
were probably a few four-letter words in there too!)  It took a while but in 
the end we got on to a pair and the male really came out and showed himself 
That is one awesome bird that none of the field guides do any justice to 
(unlike, it has to be said, the Parrot-finch!)
Coming down the mountain having got our two top targets, we enjoyed a lunch and 
beer at the Highlander, where a Graceful Honeyeater joined us for lunch and 
then we headed to Abbatoir Swamp.  The Northern Fantail was behaving exactly as 
the book said - waiting for us in the trees in the car-park.  Also there was a 
juvenile Brush-cuckoo.
The rest of the afternoon we made our way toward Mareeba.  Lake Mitchell was 
barren, and there was no sign of the White-browed Robin at Big Mitchell Creek.  
In Mount Molloy we picked up more Squatter Pigeons and Great Bowerbirds, whilst 
near Mareeba I was surprised to see 4 more Bustards in an Orchard.
Driving up the road towards the closed Mareeba Wetlands, we got a fantailed 
cuckoo and a female cicadabird along with an agressive Keelback snake (we tried 
to string it into a Taipan of course!).
Last stop of the day was back at the point where Tony has the Black-throated 
finches but to no avail - although 200+ Needletails flying very low certainly 
compensated!  We also picked up a Little Bronze-cuckoo and a Lemon-bellied 
Flycatcher to add to the list.
The evening was a washout and we added nothing new other than a Red-legged 
Pademelon in the Kingfisher Park grounds and a few frogs.
Day 5 - Cairns and home
We got up and it was pouring with rain.  We tried for the White-browed Robin 
again at Big Mitchell Creek - and could hear one - but it was a long way off in 
the tall and very wet grass.  We hoped that it would be better once we got to 
Cairns but it wasn't to be.  Still we decided to head back to Cattana wetlands 
and Tony and I decided to bird there in the pouring rain regardless.  We did 
see a large eel - which was fitting in the conditions.  Mike wisely stayed in 
the car, and when we returned wet-through we then got a Black-necked Stork (the 
only one of the trip) so mike could feel justifiably smug at remaining dry.  
Last stops at the Centenary Lakes and the Esplanade revealed nothing new before 
Mike and I had to head back to Melbourne.  We dropped Tony off in town as he 
was returning to Radelaide the next morning.
After we'd left Tony picked up the Red-necked Crake.  It must have been a great 
image - Tony, standing in the pouring rain, staring through his bins into a 
flower-bed right outside the local Mental Health Unit.
200+ species, lots of ticks all round, and three absolutely shattered Poms!


Dr Tony D. Keene
School of Chemistry and Physics
The University of Adelaide
SA 5005

Lab phone: 083134837


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