Cumberland Dam and Karumba Trip Report

To: "" <>
Subject: Cumberland Dam and Karumba Trip Report
From: Tim Dolby <>
Date: Wed, 29 Oct 2014 02:59:45 +0000
Hey all,

Please see below a report of a trip Greg Oakley and I did to Cumberland Dam and 
Karumba a few years ago. You can see the full report with images at It was originally attached to a Cairns trip 
report, however I thought it sits much better on its own. For the fun of it, 
I've added quite a bit of additional info, which might be useful. Of course any 
comments most welcomed. Any corrections please send to me personally (I can 
always make changes online :) - and, again, most welcomed!

If you've been to these places, I hope it brings back some good memories. If 
you haven't, I hope it inspires you to do a trip there soon.

Thanks, Tim Dolby

One thing that's worth considering when you visit Cairns for a birding trip is 
to do an 'add-on'. One such add-on is heading north up Cape York to places such 
as the Iron Range. Another is to head to the southern sections of Cape York. 
Aside from Mt Isa, the major birding locations to visit are Cumberland Dam and, 
moving west, Karumba. This report covers these two fantastic birding spot. The 
trip takes you through Australia's Gulf Savannah, an habitat type that occupies 
about a quarter of the continent, around 2 million square kilometres!

The benefits of visiting Cumberland Dam and Karumba - apart from seeing some 
fantastic Australian landscapes - is that you get see a wide range birds not 
generally found around Cairns. To give you a taste of what I mean, at these two 
sites you may see Black-breasted Buzzard, Sarus Crane (if you've missed seeing 
them already on the Atherton Tableland), White-breasted and Mangrove Golden 
Whistler, Zitting Cisticola, Yellow White-eye, Red-headed, Rufous-throated, 
Banded and Yellow-tinted Honeyeater, Arafura and Mangrove Grey Fantail and 
Red-browed Pardalote. Not bad! And for those of us who like seeing finches, 
there's finches in abundance: you might see Star, Black-throated, Masked. 
Plum-headed, Zebra and Double-barred Finch and there's also a chance of seeing 
Pictorella Mannikin and (with a big stroke of luck) Gouldian Finch.

Driving west along the Gulf Development Road, the distance to Cumberland Dam 
from the Atherton Tableland is approximately 300 km.  From Cumberland Dam it's 
another 350 km to Karumba. So a round trip from the Cairns adds about 1300 km 
to any trip, so you'd need to allow for about 4-6 additional days. However, if 
you have time, believe me it is well worth the effort!  The Gulf Development 
Road is part of the 'Savannah Way' - its full length is 3700 km, from Cairns to 

While driving the Gulf Developmental Road look for signs of birdlife anywhere 
along the roadside. Look out for Ground Cuckoo-shrike; when I did this trip I 
saw them at a number of locations. There's a chance of seeing Little 
Woodswallow, particularly in rocky areas. Stop along any creek line and search 
for Black Bittern, the best time to see them tends to be late spring. Along the 
creek look in the larger smooth bark eucalypts for Red-browed Pardalote.

In the grassy woodlands between Mt Surprise and Georgetown looks for 
Red-backed, Forest and Sacred Kingfisher, Ground Cuckoo-shrike, Little and 
Red-chested (uncommon) Button-quail, White-throated Gerygone, and there's the 
potential see five species of Woodswallow - as mentioned Little, but also 
White-breasted, White-browed, Masked and Black-faced.

You should see quite a few kangaroo along the way, such as Eastern Grey 
Kangaroo, Common Wallaroo (Euro), Agile Wallaby, Northern Nailtail Wallaby and 
Rufous Bettong - particularly if you're traveling at night. Unfortunately many 
end up as road-kill, so be careful! This attracts the larger raptors such as 
Wedge-tailed Eagle, Spotted Harrier, and Black and Whistling Kite. You're also 
likely to see Black-breasted Buzzard - one of the main highlights for the trip 
- we saw a pair approximately 20 km west of Mt Surprise.

Undara Lava Tubes
As a one day detour, just before you get to Mt Surprise, you pass by Undara 
Volcanic National Park and the spectacular Undara Lava Tubes. These are amongst 
the largest and longest lava tubes on the planet. It's not the greatest bird 
site, but if you do head in, it's a pretty good for dry country woodland birds 
such as Squatter Pigeon, Pale-headed Rosella, Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, 
Red-winged Parrot, Peaceful and Diamond Dove, White-browed and Masked 
Woodswallow, Rainbow Bee-eater, and Australian Bustard. Black Bittern are 
occasionally seen i.e. on the Swamp Walking Track, and it can be quite good for 
swifts such as Fork-tailed Swift and White-throated Neddletail. Red Goshawk has 
also been recorded there, so keep your eyes peeled. Generally speaking, Undara 
Volcanic National Park is actually probably a better spot to see mammals than 
birds, being a good place to see Whiptail (Pretty-faced) Wallaby, Antilopine 
and Common Wallaroo, Mareeba Rock Wallaby (common at the lava tubes), and 
Rufous Bettong (common around the lodge at night), while Eastern Horseshoe Bat, 
Little-Bent Winged Bat and Brown Bent Wing Bat inhabit the Lava Tubes.


Some background notes
Cumberland is a ghost town 24 km west of Georgetown (-18.301016,143.350335). 
Formerly a gold town, its days of grandeur are long gone. For instance, in the 
late 19th century it had four hotels. Like many gold towns, once the gold was 
gone the town went bust. The last remaining resident left in the 1940s, and the 
only remaining building is a square brick chimney, built by Cornish masons, 
from the old Cumberland Battery. There are two dams, both intermittently 
covered with white water lilies. The main dam is known as Cumberland Dam. Today 
Cumberland is mostly used as a rest area for people doing the 'Big Lap', 
however it also happens to be one of Australia's top birding sites! And for 
good reason. Despite being located in the arid interior of southern Cape York, 
an amazing 171 species of bird have been recorded - and this is in an area no 
bigger than a few Australian rules football fields! This makes it one of 
Queensland’s great birding hot spots! (See a full eBird list for Cumberland Dam 

When I visited Cumberland Dam with Greg Oakley a few years ago, we deliberately 
timed our trip to coincide with the end of the dry season and the beginning of 
spring. This is the perfect time to visit - much of the water on the Cape has 
dried up, so it gave us the best shot for seeing birds coming in to drink at 
the dam. At this time of year, therefore the dam is an oasis in a vast arid 

Part of the reason Cumberland Dam is so good is because of its fantastic 
geographic location. It's located in a transition zone for many species at the 
very limit of their normal range. For instance the dam is (basically) the 
northern limit for Plum-headed Finch, the eastern limit for Pictorella 
Mannikin, Gouldian Finch, Yellow-tinted Honeyeater, Varied Lorikeet and 
Spinifex Pigeon, the western limit of Squatter Pigeon, and the southern limit 
of Masked Finch.

It's also pretty much the dividing line between the distribution of Paperbark 
Flycatcher (to the west) and Restless Flycatcher (to the east). The birds at 
Cumberland Dam tend to be Paperback Flycatcher, although you do also get 
Restless Flycatcher. So this is one of the only places in Australia where you 
potentially get both species side by side. Paperback Flycatcher are slightly 
smaller than Restless Flycatcher, and listen for the Paperback Flycatcher's 
distinctive musical toowee call. In line with being different species, 
Paperbark and Restless Flycatcher don't interbreed.

Also most of Cape York subspecies start their general distribution around 
Cumberland Dam, such as the Brown Treecreeper ('Black Treecreeper' melanota 
ssp), Pale-headed Rosella ('Blue-cheeked Rosella' adscitus ssp) and Red-browed 
Pardalote (yorki ssp), Black-throated Finch (black-rumped atropygialas ssp) and 
Masked Finch ('White-eared Finch' leucotis ssp).

Note that there's no facilities at Cumberland Dam - there's bush camping only - 
however there is accommodation at Georgetown, such as the such as Midway 
Caravan Park.

The habitat and plants
Although during the summer months southern Cape York is one of the most arid 
regions in the world, after significant rains, the vegetation in the region 
transforms. The colour of the soils is a wonderful red-ochre colour, a colour 
that features in the large and numerous scattered termite mounds. Also in terms 
of colour, one of the striking things I noticed about Cumberland Dam was the 
colour of the light at dusk and twilight, changing to become the most subtle 
pastel blues and pinks.

The habitat consists of subtropical grassland, savannah, and subtropical 
savannah, typically dominated by a tall grass layer with varying densities of 
trees, dominantly eucalyptus. The most common trees are Darwin Stringybark 
(Eucalyptus tetrodonta), River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), Coolibah (E. 
microtheca), Long-fruited Bloodwood (Corymbia polycarpa) and Northern Swamp 
Mahogany (Lophostemon grandiflorus).

Smaller trees include Gutta-percha (Excoecaria parvifolia), Soapbush Wattle 
(Acacia holosericea), Lancewood (A. shirleyi), Whitewood (Atalaya hemiglauca), 
Cochlospermum (Cochlospermum gillivraei), Red Ironwood (Erythrophleum 
chlorostachys), Sandpaper Fig (Ficus opposita), Gardenia (Gardenia vilhelmii), 
Darwin Silky Oak (Grevillea pteridifolia), Quinine Bush (Petalostigma banksii) 
and Wild Plum (Terminalia platyphylla), and there's a nice range of Melaleuca 
including Silver-crowned Paperbark (Melaleuca fluviatilis), Silver Cadjeput (M. 
argentea) and Broad-leaved Paperbark (M. viridiflora).

The birds that we saw!
We arrived at the Cumberland Dam just after dusk; during the night we heard 
Southern Boobook, Australian Owlet-nightjar and a distant Spotted Nightjar.

In the morning I awoke in my tent to a fantastic dawn chorus. The most vocal 
birds being the honeyeaters, including Yellow-tinted, Rufous-throated, Brown, 
Yellow, Banded, and Blue-faced Honeyeater, as well as Yellow-throated Miner, 
and Noisy and Little Friarbird. Fantastic. The first bird seen after getting 
out of my tent was Rufous-throated Honeyeater, which turned out to be the most 
common bird there. Nearby a Pied Butcherbird sung its wonderful piping call - 
my all-time favourite bird call - while a happy family of Grey-crowned Babbler 
claimed several trees as their own. And there was a very large Great 
Bowerbird's bower directly opposite our bush camping area 

All up we spent several days at Cumberland Dam, once on the way through to 
Karumba, and once on the way back to Cairns. In terms of seeing finches, we 
found that the most productive dam - in terms of birds coming in for their 
morning drink - was not the main dam but the smaller dam immediately to the 
west (-18.29905,143.349211) - sometimes called West Cumberland Dam. At this dam 
several mid-sized shrubs acted as a protective vantage point for the finches 
and honeyeaters to roost upon just before coming down to drink. The finches 
would land on the ground on the north-east side of the dam, feed on grass 
seeds, then fly to the shrubs in preparation for drinking. At one point we had 
six species of finch roosting in these over-hanging shrubs - Zebra, 
Double-barred, Black-throated, Masked and Plum-headed Finch and 
Chestnut-breasted Mannikin! Does it get any better than that! Well possibly! 
Greg and I had our fingers crossed in the hope of seeing Gouldian Finch or 
Pictorella Mannikin. Unfortunately, on this trip, it was not to be.

In terms of Gouldian Finch, there had actually been no sightings on Cape York 
for several years. During surveys conducted by Cairns Naturalists Club, they 
reported Gouldian Finch at the dam every year between 1974 and 1997. As far as 
I know, unfortunately they haven't been seen since. Similarly Spinifex Pigeon 
was once quite regularly, however there are now very few records.

In terms of waterbirds, the larger dam is the place to be. At this dam there 
were Green Pygmy-Geese, Magpie Geese, Hardhead, Grey Teal, Pink-eared, Pacific 
Black and Australian Wood Duck, Intermediate and Great Egret, White-faced and 
White-necked Heron, Australasian Grebe, Little Black and Little Pied Cormorant, 
Australasian Darter, Australian Pelican, Black-winged Stilt, Red-kneed and 
Black-fronted Dotterel (there's at least one at every dam or waterhole in the 
outback) and Comb-crested Jacana.  Now that's a pretty good list of waterbirds. 
Interestingly Comb-crested Jacana seems to turn up wherever there's a spare 
lily pad, even if the lily pad is located in a dam in the middle of no-where 
and the dam's only the size a tennis court.

Although we didn't see any, other waterbirds recorded at Cumberland Dam include 
Cotton Pygmy-Goose, Freckled Duck, Black Bittern and Australian Painted Snipe, 
so keep your eyes open. In summer, there's a good chance of seeing migratory 
waders such as Sharp-tailed and Marsh Sandpiper, Common Greenshank and Latham's 

One evening a dense flock of ~200 Plumed Whistling Duck landed on the north 
side of the dam, and set up camp for the night. It's a great site to see such a 
large flock of these birds, and to hear the combined cacophony of their 
twittering whistling calls. When I was a kid an alternative name for Plumed 
Whistling Duck was Whistling Tree-Duck, so it was nice to see some of them 
roosting in the trees beside the dam.

Aside from the waterbirds, there was a great variety of woodland species around 
the dam. We found Squatter Pigeon - always a target species for Cumberland Dam 
- in the bush on the eastern side of the larger dam, and several came into 
drink at the main dam in the evening. The Squatter Pigeon here have the red-eye 
ring of the Cape York ssp peninsulae. While other birds here included Brown 
Quail, Diamond and Peaceful Dove, Brown (Black) Treecreeper, Red-winged 
Fairy-wren, Striated Pardalote, White-throated Gerygone, Black-faced 
Woodswallow, Paperbark Flycatcher, Apostlebird, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike and 
Australasian Bushlark.

Woodland parrots around the dam included Pale-headed (Blue-cheeked) Rosella, 
Red-winged Parrot and  Cockatiel and Budgerigar, and there was an abundance of 
Galah, giving a theatrical performance - as they do - each night when they came 
in to drink. There was a spectacular flock of Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, 
flashing their dramatic red tail every time they took off or landed. Varied 
Lorikeet are also occasionally seen at Cumberland Dam - they have preference 
for flowering Bloodwood, particularly any with Mistletoe. This is the the 
north-east limit for this species, and they are rare here.

Raptors recorded included Whistling and Black Kite, Nankeen Kestrel, Collared 
Sparrowhawk and Australian Hobby, and Brown and Black Falcon (seem 10 km west 
of Cumberland Dam) while other birds included Australian Bustard (they came in 
each night to drink), Black-necked Stork (same as above), Blue-winged 
Kookaburra, Red-backed, Sacred and Forest Kingfisher and Australian Pratincole. 
Mammals to look for around Cumberland Dam include Red and Eastern Grey 
Kangaroo, Common Wallaroo (Euro) and Agile Wallaby and, less commonly, Northern 
Nailtail Wallaby.

To sum up, the birds at Cumberland Dam were simply spectacular. It was as close 
as you get to an Australian version of a Serengeti water hole experience - 
minus the Lions of course.

Some other good birding spots near Cumberland Dam
If you're staying around the Georgetown region for a few days, there are other 
spots that you should visit. These include the Georgetown Racecourse, Durham 
Dam, Flat Creek Station and Cobbold Gorge Nature Refuge.

Georgetown Racecourse
The Georgetown Racecourse is a another good spot for finches, most notably 
Pictorella Mannikin. A good spot to look is near the dam in the middle of the 
track (-18.299575, 143.522653), and a good time to look is mid to late 
afternoon, let's say around 4:00 pm'ish. You should also see Zebra, Masked, 
Black-throated, Double-barred Finch and Chestnut-breasted Mannikin. Other birds 
to look out for include Black-breasted Buzzard, Australian Bustard, Banded 
Lapwing,  Red-backed Kingfisher, Sqautter Pigoen, Brown Quail, Dollarbird, 
Red-winged Parrot, Pale-headed Rosella, Yellow and Rufous-throated Honeyeater, 
Australasian Bushlark, Masked, White-browned and Black-faced Woodswallow, 
Grey-crowned Babbler and Varied Sittella, to name a few.

Durham Dam
Another dam that’s worth visiting in the area is Durham Dam. Access is ~7 km 
west of Georgetown, with the located about 500 m south of the Gulf Development 
Road, here -18.289531, 143.478209. There is an access gate to the dam, but you 
can walk in. Durham Dam attracts similar birds to Cumberland Dam, and is great 
for finches, for instance Gouldian Finch have been previously seen here. It 
also has the addition of Variegated Fairy-wren, representing the very 
north-east range limit for this species (look near the small channel dams near 
the road). It's worth trying to flush the odd Button-quail or two, with a 
chance of seeing Red-chested Button-quail. The dam is also a good place for 
seeing wild Dingo.

Flat Creek Station
Flat Creek Station is a large cattle grazing property approximately 50 km from 
Georgetown (-18.523549, 143.327751). Gouldian Finch have been recorded on the 
property (with a few recent sighting), and they hold an annual finch surveys. 
The other specialty bird for the property is Spinifex Pigeon, being one of the 
few places in the region where you can reliably find then. Other woodland birds 
include Squatter Pigeon, Pale-headed Rosella, Red-winged Parrot, Red-backed 
Fairy-wren, Red-browed Pardalote, Brown (Black) Treecreeper and honeyeaters 
such as Yellow, Yellow-tinted, Rufous-throated, Brown and Blue-faced. There's a 
bird list for the Flat Creek Station available at the homestead. There's a very 
pleasant camping ground (with unpowered sites) and they also have showers with 
hot water! Bookings are essential when visiting the station (07 40 625304), web 
page - and they even have a Facebook page.

Cobbold Gorge Nature Refuge
Cobbold Gorge Nature Refuge is a 4720 hectares of sandstone escarpment and dry 
tropical savannah. A serine place, a reason to visit Cobbold Gorge is for its 
scenery as much as its birds. The landscape around the gorge is quite different 
from any other in the surrounding Georgetown area, with large expanse of deeply 
dissected sandstone on the south-west side of Robertson River. In the areas of 
sandstone Spinifex and shrubs grows in otherwise bare rock. It was once a 
relatively inaccessible area and, as a result, until recently few people knew 
of its existence. This resulted in the area remaining in a relatively natural 
state. The refuge was first established in 2009, mainly to protect a range of 
rare plant species such as the Gilbert River Ghost Gum (Corymbia glibertensis), 
Thorny Solanum (Solanum carduiforme) Hop Bush (Dodonea oxyptera), Labichea 
(Labichea brassi) and Tea Tree (Leptospermum palladium).

Quite obviously, the reserve contains a spectacular 2 km long gorge along the 
Roberson River, with a large permanent waterhole. As you can imagine this is 
the perfect conditions for birdlife. As you'd expect, it's a good place 
waterbird, for example Black Bittern regularly occur there. Other birds you 
might see include Black-breated Buzzard, Blue-winged Kookaburra, Azure 
Kingfisger, Squatter Pigeon, Red-winged Parrot, Pale-headed Rosella, Cockatiel, 
Budgerigar, Crimson Chat, Red-browed Pardolote, Brown (Black) Treecreeper, and 
honeyaters, such as Yellow, Yellow-tinted, Rufous-throated, White-throated, 
Brown and Blue-faced Honeyeater. Because it's a wildlife corridors and 
catchment linkage and contains some nice riverine bushland, it acts a bit like 
an oasis, attracting unusual birds that you may not normally see in the region 
such as Spectacled Monarch. It's the sort of place that anything could turn up. 
With permanent water there is an abundant of native fish, such as Sooty Grunter 
(Hephaestus fuliginosus), Freshwater Long Tom (Strongylura krefftii), a fish 
that looks like Garfish, and Rifle or Archer Fish (Toxotes Cuvier), a fish 
that's famous for shooting powerful jets of water from its mouth to catch its 
prey. As a result of the abundance of fish, Cobbold Gorge has a sizable 
population of Freshwater Crocodile.

To get there from Georgetown head 42 km south to Forsayth, then drive another 
43 km to Cobbold.  At the end of the road you'll find excellent camping  
facilities and semi-self-contained ensuite cabins.

Cumberland Dam to Normanton
>From Cumberland Dam we headed to Karumba, on the way passing the famous 
>Gulflander railway, a train that runs between Croydon and Normanton, or to put 
>it another way (with no disrespect intended) between nowhere and nowhere. 
>Unless you happen to live in nowhere, in which case it's a great railway 

In grasslands between Georgetown and Normanton, keep an eye open for Emu, 
Australian Bustard, Sarus Crane and Brolga, and birds of prey such as 
Black-breasted Buzzard, Spotted Harrier, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Black Kite, and 
Brown, Black and Peregrine Falcon.

Normanton to Karumba
Along here we saw a pair of Sarus Crane with young as well as large numbers of 
Brolga. Both species breed in the gulf area during the wet season, before 
heading to the Atherton Tableland during the dry. Interestingly it was along 
this road that Australia's first Sarus Crane were record in 1966. Some people 
suggest that they were present in Australia for much longer that, but were 
simply overlooked due to their similarity with Brolga, and were simply 
overlooked. Along this road we also saw Australian Bustard, Black-necked Stork, 
Glossy Ibis, and Australian Pratincole - the latter found in patches of 
grassland that had recently been burnt. Keep an eye open for Square-tailed Kite 
along this section of road.

Mutton Hole Wetlands
On the road between Karumba and Normanton you pass by the Mutton Hole Wetlands 
(9000 ha), a complex system of estuarine and freshwater wetlands. It's extends 
~30 km inland from Karumba. Part of the Southern Gulf Aggregation, during the 
wet season large areas of the wetland are covered by shallow water. Nationally 
important, it is one of the largest, most diverse and least fragmented natural 
wetland aggregations in Australia and, as a result, attracts vast numbers of 
water birds. The Mutton Hole Wetlands are a breeding, feeding, moulting and 
drought refuge for Sarus Crane, Brolga, and Plumed and Wandering Whistling 
Duck, Radjah Shelduck, Magpie Geese, Pied Heron and Black-necked Stork. 
Gouldian and Star Finch also occur at the wetland.

Between August and April it's visited by large numbers of migratory shorebirds, 
such as Marsh, Curlew, Sharp-tailed and Pectoral Sandpiper, Red and Great Knot, 
Red-necked Stint, and less common species such as Little Curlew, Oriental 
Pratincole and Oriental Plover. Surveys estimate that an average 122,000 
shorebirds visit each summer, while 23,000 birds reside there each winter.

Note that the road to Karumba is bitumen, so access should be available year 
round. However it's always worth checking the current road conditions, 
particularly during December to February, when the water levels during the wet 
can get very high.

Karumba is located on the coastline of the Arafura Sea. Put simply, Karumba is 
an absolutely fantastic place for seeing mangrove species, and is easily one of 
the best mangrove areas in Australia. While in Karumba, we camped in the 
Karumba Point Caravan Park. During the night several Barking Owl called from 
the larger trees in the caravan park, while Agile Wallaby started to appear in 
large numbers, as if from nowhere.

The habitat and plant's around Karumba
Karumba is surrounded by savannah grassland, meandering wetlands, savannah 
scrub and open woodlands, salt flats and coastal mangrove. Here's a bit of a 
rundown of the plants in those habitats.

Mangrove communities line the margins of the Norman River. These are 
predominantly Grey (or White) Mangrove (Avicennia marina ssp. eucalyptifolia), 
but also Red (or Long-style Stilt) Mangrove (Rhizophora stylosa), Rib-fruited 
Yellow Mangrove (Ceriops tagal), White-flowered Black Mangrove (Lumnitzera 
racemosa), Club Mangrove (Aegialitis annulata), Blind Your Eye Mangrove 
(Excoecaria agallocha), Cedar Mangrove (Xylocarpus moluccensis), Rib-fruited 
Orange Mangrove (Bruguiera exaristata), and Black (or River) Mangrove 
(Aegiceras corniculatum). That's a lot of mangroves, and is the perfect habitat 
for mangrove bird species, such as Mangrove and White-breasted Whistler, 
Mangrove Robin, Red-headed Honeyeater, Yellow White-eye, to name a few. 
Seagrass beds (made up of two species, mainly Halodule pinifolia, but also a 
small percentage of H. ovalis) occur around the mouth of the Norman River i.e. 
near Alligator Point and the Elbow Banks. This is the spot you'll find Dugong 
and, when the water level drops, shorebirds.

Behind the coastal fringe of mangroves you find saline clay plains. 
Periodically inundated with water, these areas are predominately un-vegetated 
except for scattered low shrubs such as Shrubby Samphire (Tecticornia 
halocnemoides), Blue Bush (Chenopodium auricomum) and Kimberley Seablite 
(Suaeda arbusculoides). There are also patchy grassy swards of Marine (or 
Coastal Rat-tail) Couch (Sporobolus virginicus) and Rice Grass (Xerochhloa 
imberbis). It's in these areas that you'll find Golden-headed and Zitting 
Cisticola (the local ssp Normani) and Tawny Grassbird.

The riparian woodlands around Karumba are dominated by broad and narrow leaved 
Melaleuca such as Silver-crowned Paperbark (Melaleuca fluviatilis), Purpurea 
Tea Tree (M. Trichostachya),  Silver Cadjeput (M. argentea), Cadjeput (M. 
leucadendra), and the Broad-leaved Paperbark (M. viridiflora). While other 
species of tree include River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), River She-oak 
(Casuarina cunninghamiana), Pandanus Palm (Pandanus spiralis), Northern Swamp 
Mahogany (Lophostemon grandiflorus). There's a range of Terminalia species such 
as Bendee (Terminalia bursarina), Yellowwood (T. Oblongata), and Durin or Pear 
Tree (T. platyphylla). Frequently the riparian woodlands includes some 
rainforest elements, where you might find Leichhardt Tree (Nauclea orientalis), 
Cathormium Tree (Cathormium umbellatum), Sweet Sandpaper Fig (Ficus opposita) 
and Cluster Fig Tree (Ficus racemosa). The dry woodlands around Karumba are 
dominated by Red Bloodwood (Corymbia erythrophloia), Gutta-percha (Excoecaria 
parvifolia), Coolabah (Eucalyptus microtheca) and Beef Oak (Grevillea striata).

Karumba's birds
>From a birdwatching perspective, when in Karumba I think there are a few 
>essential thing to do. These are listed below.

The Ferryman and the Norman River
Firstly it is essential to do a boat trip with Ferryman River Cruises. 
Generally the boat leaves at 9:00 am (during the dry) from the boat ramp in the 
centre of town - although make sure you book the night before. From the boat we 
saw Red-headed Honeyeater (they like flowering mangroves), White-breasted and 
Mangrove Golden Whistler, Mangrove Robin, Mangrove Grey and Arafura Fantail, 
Broad-billed and Paperbark Flycatcher, Little Bronze-Cuckoo, and Mangrove 
Gerygone! Now that's a bird list that rivals any of the great birding boat 
trips in Australia!

On the water and on the river banks we saw Black-necked Stork, Brahminy Kite, 
White-bellied Sea-Eagle and waders such as Terek and Common Sandpiper, 
Whimbrel, Eastern Curlew, and Greater and Lesser Sand Plover, Beach 
Stone-curlew and Little Tern! We also travelled out of the mouth of the Norman 
River, where Alligator Point and Elbow Banks were both great for waders at low 
tide. Birds seen include Lesser and Greater Sand Plover, Grey and Pacific 
Golden Plover, Curlew and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Eastern 
Curlew and Whimbrel.

Mangrove and salt flats just north of Karumba
Secondly, it's important to take a walk in the mangroves and tidal salt flats 
north of the town - access near the intersection of Norman and Carron Street 
(-17.437961, 140.857318). White-breasted Whistler, Yellow White-eye, Mangrove 
Robin and Mangrove Gerygone inhabited the head-high mangrove clumps. As with 
most mangrove birds, 'pishing' is a very effective way to attract them. Other 
birds seen here included Broad-billed and Paperbark Flycatcher, Mangrove and 
Arafura Grey Fantail, Rufous Whistler, Little Bronze-Cuckoo and honeyeaters 
such as Rufous-throated, Red-headed and Yellow (western-most limit) Honeyeater.

In the scattered salt flats grasslands between the mangroves we found Tawny 
Grassbird, Variegated Fairy-wren, Golden-headed and Zitting Cisticola (race 
Normani). Zitting Cisticola are often confused with their more common cousin 
Golden headed Cisticola - the former is distinguished by the lack of golden 
colouring on the head and rump, tends to be paler underneath, are more heavily 
streaked on top and, during breeding, have a heavy white edge to the tail 
feathers. Other places to look for Zitting Cisticola are the grasslands around 
the airport and along cemetery road.

The Sunset Tavern and the Norman River mudflats
Thirdly: you have to have a few quiet beers at the Sunset Tavern in Karumba. 
This is not only because it has a spectacular view the sun setting over the 
Arafura Sea, but it's also located in front of mudflats that attracts large 
numbers of waders! So you can drink beer and play wader-watching pub-games at 
the same time i.e. spot the Broad-billed Sandpiper. Everybody is happy!

During the dry season, 30 to 40 metres of mud-bank are be exposed along the 
Norman Rivers during low tide. Hence the large number of waders. Aside from 
Broad-billed Sandpiper, we also saw Lesser and Greater Sand Plover, Grey and 
Pacific Golden Plover, Common, Curlew and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Red-necked 
Stint, Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel and Grey-tailed Tattler. We also got the 
feeling that anything could turn up. Australia's first Spoon-billed Sandpiper 

Note: an alternative to eating at the pub is to buy a Barra Burger (yep, a 
hamburger made with Barramundi) from the local fish and chip shop. They're 
pretty damn good!

Star Finch!
Last, but definitely not least, it is important to search for Star Finch at 
small dam immediately to the north of the intersection of Karumba Point Road 
(Col Kitching Drive) and the Karumba Development Road  (-17.457325,140.860299). 
Here, in a small bush beside the dam, Greg and I saw a mixed flock of over 100 
finches. That flock included Star, Double-barred and Zebra Finch and 
Chestnut-breasted Mannikin.  Now that's a good mixed-finch flock!

If you have time, other spots worth visiting in Karumba are the grasslands near 
the airport, the areas opposite the caravan park, the area opposite the Karumba 
Health Centre (on Walker Street) and, of course, what birding trip would be 
complete without a trip to the rubbish tip - another good place to look for 
Star Finch.

Karumba's other wildlife
Just out of interest, mammals in the general area include macropods such as Red 
Kangaroo, Agile Wallaby, Common Wallaroo, and Northern Nail-tail Wallaby and 
there's a chance of seeing the spectacular Spectacled Hare-wallaby. Other 
mammals include Short-beaked Echidna, Common Water Rat and Long-haired Rat.

The coastal waters around Karumba is a good spot for sea turtles. Green, 
Loggerhead, Flatback, Hawksbill and Olive Ridley Turtle are all found in the 
Arafura Sea. While dolphins in the area include the spectacular Irrawaddy River 
Dolphin (a species that's genetically closely related to the Killer Whale) as 
well as Indo-Pacific Humpback and Bottlenose Dolphin. Dugong are regularly seen 
in aerial surveys of the Norman River, and their feeding trails travel through 
local seagrass beds.

Fruit bats include Black and Little Red Flying Fox and there are chance of 
Dagger-toothed Long-nosed Fruit Bat (now that's a good name). There's a nice 
selection of smaller bats, with a possibility of finding Large-footed Myotis, 
Hoary Wattled, Lesser Long-eared, Northern Broad-nosed, Beccari's Free-tailed, 
Dusky Leaf-nosed, Little Broad-nosed, and Yellow-bellied Sheath-tailed Bat.

Of course the saltwater tidal estuaries are the perfect habitat of Estuarine 
(Saltwater) Crocodile. Freshwater Crocodile are also found in the freshwater 
lagoons, such as the Mutton Hole Wetland, with substantial breeding area just 
upstream of Normanton. Other reptiles to look for include Merton's Water 
Monitor, Black-headed Python (a snake eating python), both Eastern Brown and 
Western Brown Snake, as well as several species of Whip and File Snake.

Amphibians are well represented: you might see Green Tree, Ornate Burrowing, 
Marbled, Dahl’s Aquatic, Desert Tree, Green Reed, Roth’s Tree, Bumpy Rocket and 
Giant Frog, Northern Spadefoot Toad and, unfortunately, the introduced Cane 

Summing up
>From Karumba, we headed back to Cumberland Dam, to break up the trip back to 
>Cairns. I know others have continued along the Savannah Way to the Mt Isa 
>region then further afield. Indeed, one day I want to drive the entire length 
>of the Savannah Way, non-stop birding from Cairns to Broome. Now that would be 
>a great trip!

The birds of the trip for me were White-breasted Whistler, Red-headed, 
Yellow-tinted and Rufous-throated Honeyeater and, of course, the finches, which 
included Star Finch. For a birdwatcher from Victoria, these species are all 
very exotic. The dawn chorus and the morning at Cumberland Dam, and the 
mangrove birds at Karumba, are two reasons why birders travel vast distances 
just to see and hear new birds. The birds at Cumberland Dam and Karumba, were 
like one of the sunsets at the Sunset Tavern in Karumba. Spectacular.


Tim Dolby

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