Cape York Peninsula Birding Pt 2 [not short]

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Cape York Peninsula Birding Pt 2 [not short]
From: knightl <>
Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2003 23:24:51 +1000
I saw a buff-banded rail splashing about at the Brisbane Botanical
Gardens at lunch time while Mattie Hayden was on his way to a world
record score at the WACA [go you good thing]. This was a reminder that I should get on with my descriptions of Cape York Peninsula. Carrying on from my last post on CYP, the Iron Range was the next spot on our
travels after Weipa.

The Iron Range is a  birding icon, and home to a range of ecosystem
types – there are impressive heathlands that would not be out of place in SW WA, woodlands, low altitude rainforests, mangroves and paperbark wetlands. I was quite impressed with the heath at Tozer Gap – there were lots of plants in flower, including pitcher plants and tiny ground orchids. One day if I get back there, I would like to climb Mt Tozer
as the summit views would be excellent and the route up fairly

The interesting thing about the Iron range is that most of the
landscape you actually travel over is pretty flat.  Sure, there are
peaks about, but neither you nor your car does a lot of climbing. The creeks in the rainforest, for example, are very flat and meander more
than a pig’s intestine.

Speaking of pigs, they are the ecological bane of the peninsula (the
ranger at Lakefield mentioned that they shot about 3000 from a chopper a year or two ago). I only flushed one herd of pigs [about 30 in the group], but they do horrendous damage to the banks of the waterways – in some places there would be over 100 square metres of continuously plowed soil. The soil in the rainforest is pretty loamy, so the creeks carry a fair sediment load.

Ultimately, while there is plenty of fresh water in the park, you don’t particularly want to drink it. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to take a
water filter if you are going to camp in the park for a while.

The interesting thing about the Iron Range is that just about everyone who goes there [it takes a couple of hours to get there from the main
drag] drives straight through to Chilli Beach, and the windswept
camping amongst the coconut palms. There is a theory that people will travel for hours to visit a place with toilets [there are two at Chilli Beach] and people’s behaviour at the Iron Range is consistent with
that.  Chilli Beach is OK, but there are much better beaches on the

Chilli Beach is not bad from a birding perspective – there is a graded track [there are very few of these on the peninsula] leading out to a
paperbark swamp [and associated honeyeaters], and there is plenty of
wader / shorebird habitat [particularly round a rocky high-tide island complete with mangroves]. There were plenty of stints and sandplovers etc and a possible wandering tattler. There was the compulsory sea eagle, a few crested terns and Dave reckoned that a brown booby landed on his shoulder and pecked his ear while he was fiddling with his tripod [I didn’t see it, so can’t comment]. There were a couple of whitebreasted woodswallows perched on the mangroves, a few varied
honeyeaters [sounding very much like singing honeyeaters], and from
memory, beeeaters.  Round the campsite, there were of course, the
ubiquitous turkeys and scrubfowls.

As Sean Dooley noted last year, just about every campsite on the
peninsula has a turkey warden. The ones at Gordon Ck and Cooks Hut are very bold and will hoe into anything they can get their beaks into.
The scrubfowls, on the other hand are an absolute delight.  They look
like something out of the Flintstones and they have a wonderfully
evocative call [as do bush thickknees]. One of the joys of camping in the forest at the Iron Range [we had the place to ourselves both nights we were at Cooks Hut] is listening to the scrubfowl horning, the nightjars chopping and the frogmouths cackling while lying back under a mossie net. Dusk and dawn were the only times the noisy pittas broke
their silence, and the dawn chorus would include the wompoos, rose
crowns, PIs, catbirds and riflebirds. The scrubfowls did a reasonable job of filling the harmonic role of the lyrebirds, but unfortunately
there was no fill-in for the whipbirds [you do get used to having
whipbirds in the rainforest when you live in SEQ].

I suspect most birdwatchers do most of their twitching from the road
[we saw a tour group doing their walk along the road with the bus
following].  To be fair, you can see quite a few birds from the road,
and it is pretty much the only track in the rainforest [the exception
is the old road cutting through from the west claudie river to the
‘rainforest camp’].  From the road and campsites, I saw a male
magnificent riflebird in a kurrajong tree, white-faced robins, tropical scrubwrens, tawny-breasted honeyeaters, drongos, metallic starlings,
wompoos, double-eyed fig parrots, figbirds, orioles, little
shrikethrushes, pi pigeons, palm cockatoos, and a male eclectus parrot.

Eclectus parrots are the charismatic species that probably draw a lot
of twitchers to the Iron Range.  We found two pairs hanging around
their nest trees [you can pick a nest tree by the fact that it has
suspicious looking hollows, and by the dead give-away of the fishing
line running up the trunk]. You tend to hear the parrots more than you see them [they have a clear parrot-like clarion call mixed in with some screeching]. They are also a bit shy, and don’t like you looking at them [even when you are pointing a camera at 100 metres] – they will intentionally move out of sight if they see you watching them.

One pair had an interesting pattern of bugling, the female would enter the nest hollow, the male would perch at the lip, then the male would
fly off, followed by the female.  They would then periodically call
before returning 15-30 mins later and going through the cycle again. I managed to photograph the male of that pair, and the female of the
other pair.

We met a tour group wandering along a track and when asked, mentioned
that there was a pair of eclectus parrots nearby – half the group
promptly peeled away and stayed with us.  We had odd glimpses of the
female, but she was playing hard to see.  After the group left, I
circled around till I could get a clear line-of-sight into the canopy
of the nest tree and discovered the female quietly sitting at the end
of a branch [where she thought she couldn’t be seen].  I managed to get
half a dozen shots before I called Dave over, and of course with two
people looking at her, she flew off.

The bottom line is that an eclectus parrot nest hole is one of the few spots you could profitably engage in a bit of digiscoping in the
rainforest on CYP.

Notwithstanding some comments that others have made, the rainforest is reasonably open, and it is possible to do some enjoyable bushwalking – particularly along the creek lines. These were good places to see
frilled and spectacled monarchs, shining flycatchers, riflebirds and
black butcherbirds [there are a lot of black birds on CYP and every
time I thought I had found a manucode at the Iron Range, it turned out to be a black butcherbird]. We also flushed a half-sized cassowary as we were returning along Scrubby Ck.

Overall, we came across very few stinging trees and problematic patches of wait-a-while – mind you, the spikes on the wait-a-while up there can do a bit of damage if you aren’t careful when you get hooked up. You also need to keep an eye out for aggressive tree ants [there are a few different species that don’t like to be disturbed] so you can’t go casually leaning against trees. I don’t remember seeing any snakes in the park.

A lot of birders base themselves at Portlands House – a guest house at a narrow cove at the end of the road, past Chilli Beach. There are
about a dozen houses at Portlands Rd and the fishermen transfer their
catches to a transport ship offshore.  There isn’t a lot of beach
frontage, so it isn’t a shorebird paradise, but there are plenty of
sunbirds etc poking about.  The frigatebirds were floating overhead,
and a flock of white-rumped swiftlets put in an appearance [you see
them at various points around the place].  From memory, there were some
fairy warblers around the place and I managed to photograph a mangrove warbler poking around its gynormous hanging nest.

Picking up from a previous thread, the best “toilet birds” at the Iron
Range were a frilled monarch and an emerald ground dove at Cook’s Hut.

When we got back to the main drag, we popped down to the Archer River
Roadhouse to pick up petrol and to hoe into their world famous Archer
River Burgers [it’s impossible for anyone without a hinged jaw to get their mouth around a ARB]. While it is a fair drive from the Iron Range to celebrate your eclectus sightings at the ARR, the burgers are much better there than anything you’ll pick up at Trevor Ford’s
favourite hangout on Bribie Island.

Regards, Laurie.

[to be continued]

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