birding-aus Iron Range trip musings

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Subject: birding-aus Iron Range trip musings
From: Phil Gregory <>
Date: Fri, 05 Nov 1999 22:36:17 +1000
Iron Range October 99
Keith and Doug Cowton and I made a 4 night stay at Iron Range from October 16-19. We were very lucky with the weather which was dry, windy, overcast and relatively cool, and we had a good time tracking down the birds.
Based on my New Guinea experiences, it was interesting to note the distinct aussie accents many of the birds possessed. Yellow-billed Kingfisher sounds much the same, but Eclectus Parrot, Palm Cockatoo and Red-cheeked Parrots all sound quite different.
I was particularly interested in the Frilled Monarch here, as the sexes are almost identical, quite unlike the New Guinea birds, and I note that Slater lists it as Arses lorealis, a different species to the NG birds (and thanks to John Liddy for pointing this out to me). Given the speciation patterns in Pied-type monarchs in the region generally, this seems perhaps very plausible. The vocalizations I heard sounded very much like Frilled, but sonagram comparison would be nice.

I was also amazed at how distinct the Magnificent Riflebird is here, the calls are quite unlike any I know from New Guinea. I had expected it to be similar to the wolf whistles of the western form , but it was very different. We also noted a very curious display of this species, with a male bird flying like a great moth with very slow wing beats about 2m above the forest floor, watched by another male and a female plumaged bird. You could still here the taffeta-like rustling, but the flight was unlike anything I'd seen before, reminding me of a Woodcock roding!
I also thought the males had a distinct tuft at the base of the bill, again unlike New Guinea birds. I am now eager to hear the calls of the populations to north and south of Iron Range, which differ again.

Trumpet Manucode were not very vocal, but the calls I did hear were again distinct to NG ones. We had nice views of some at a fruiting tree at Gordon Creek. Spotted Catbird were not calling, and I only heard the quiet "zic" contact call throughout our stay, they seem as shy here as the New Guinea ones. Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo were also silent at this time, another surprise.

The biggest single shock was however the Northern Scrub-robin, I found it hard to believe I was looking at the same species as in New Guinea. In NG it is a very shy forest floor skulker, with very distinctive slow mournful whistled calls. The birds here were calling totally unlike the New Guinea ones and showed no interest in playback of those calls. When I eventually got onto one it was perched up in mid stratum about 8m off the ground, and was much more colourful than the northern birds, with a far more distinct face pattern and wing spotting. I have to wonder whether this is a different species, it seemed about as different from the NG ones as is the Southern Scrub-robin. Has anyone looked at and compared these populations recently?

The only Iron Range special we did not see was the Red-bellied Pitta, a few overwintered this year but none were calling at this time. A single Black-winged Monarch at Gordon Creek was a nice find as we'd expected this to be still away.

Palm Cockatoos were in dry forest here, not rainforest as in PNG, and the dump at Portland Roads was a good site for them. We found Red-cheeked Parrots curiously scarce, in NG this is a common and noisy lowland forest bird but here we only had flyovers at a few sites. Eclectus were also sparse compared to some parts of PNG.
We found Green-backed Honeyeater at Claudie River, easily overlooked as a Fairy Gerygone on a brief view, and a pair of Yellow-legged Flycatcher had a youngster with them along the Coen Road. Marbled Frogmouths were noisy at night in the vine thickets, sounding very much like the plumed birds around Lamington, and we had great views of both this and Papuan Frogmouth one night. We picked up Fawn-breasted Bowerbird at Portland Roads, and Black-backed Butcherbird outside the park on the way to the highway south.
White-streaked Honeyeater were feeding at red flowered trees by Claudie River, and gave very nice views. Tawny-breasted Honeyeaters were quite common, as were White-faced Robins, and I was impressed by the long pink legs of the Tropical Scrubwrens, a smart little bird that was much nicer looking and more distinctive than I'd anticipated.

The ponds at Weipa remain free of Spotted Whistling -Duck, but a couple of Chestnut Teal were a surprise, as were a flock of Pink-eared Ducks. Another nice bonus was a Wandering Tattler with a flock of Grey-tailed at Chili Beach.
All good Atlas stuff of course, it's just that up here and indeed around Kuranda there are an awful lot of write-ins for each sheet, they were clearly designed by Mexicans! ( joking guys....)
Happy birding
Phil Gregory

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