Cape York

Subject: Cape York
From: Lloyd Nielsen <>
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2007 11:03:36 -0800

As someone who is very familiar with Cape York Peninsula (I have been visiting for close to 20 years, live at the base of the Peninsula and have assisted Klaus with his annual Bird Week at Bamaga in January for a number of years), I agree 100% with Michael's wise words. It is unwise to attempt to travel up the Peninsula (no further north than Lakeland Downs) from December on. You may get there OK but there is a good chance your vehicle (or the vehicle you hire) might be stranded for months - also you yourself would most likely have to be rescued! In recent years, there have been late wet seasons and some quite dry wet seasons and people have been driving up and back which has led to complacency. This wet season, the Laura River (at Laura at the base of the Peninsula) has been metres over the bridge for several months. Local people when needing to travel up the Cape in December watch the weather closely and if the road is still open, drive non-stop as fast as possible. Places like Lakefield NP are closed over the wet season and there are heavy fines for entering through this period.

About 12 years ago not long after I had moved to the area, I had my own near-disaster experience. It was mid-December, just north of Cooktown on a road leading between Cooktown and Lakelfield NP. I missed being stranded between two rivers by minutes, through complacency (I actually had a Red Goshawk sitting 30 metres from me for 40 minutes - best view I have ever had - and was reluctant to leave). I beat the floodwaters by about 30 minutes - it was quite fine where I was but there had been storms on the headwaters overnight. Had I not beaten the floodwaters, my vehicle would have been stranded between those rivers for close to 5 months. The other frightening thing was that there were no stations or human habitation between those rivers and I would have had to wait for rescue after the alarm went up that I was missing. Swimming across those flooded rivers at that time would have been inviting a quick trip to another world! Even now when I look back I cannot believe how lucky I was.

Ron Stannard, the previous manager of Kingfisher Park lived at Bamaga for many years and frequently travelled the road. His advice to visitors was never try to attempt to go up there after the end of November. Tropical storms normally start about that time (the start of the wet season). The road is mostly unsealed and most streams/gullies do not have bridges over them - road crossings go right down into the stream beds and up the other side. It is common to have a metre or more of water running in the streams and gullies from those storms (about 5 metres in my case!)

At one Bird Week a couple of years ago during the first week of January, some Melbourne television people arrived in Bamaga in large 4WD vehicles covered completely in mud. They had got through to about 60 km S of Bamaga where they hit boggy roads. They got through to Bamaga after a pretty harrowing few hours but there was no way they could drive back. Luckily they were able to get the vehicles back to Cairns on the weekly barge service (the barge does not run every day!) They were a group of worried people and did not enjoy their extended stay in Bamaga as some had commitments back home. In addition, if you are travelling through by road to Bamaga, there is a ferry across the Jardine River. I am not sure of recent requirements but it was unmanned through much of the wet season (road closed) and you had to make prior arrangements to get someone to crank it up so that you could cross.

Looking at your bird list, I think you have a few safe options. (Driving up in December is definitely not one of them!)

With a few species, you have a better chance in the Wet Tropics around Cairns, Daintree and the Atherton Tableland e.g. Great-billed Heron, Grass Owl, Blue-faced Parrot-Finch, Black-throated Finch. The safest and wisest move would be to spend a few days around this area then do one of Klaus's tours (Kirrama Wildlife Tours) - either his Iron Range tour late in the year, or his Bird Week at Bamaga in early January (fly in). Unless there is heavy flooding in the northern Wet Tropics, you will be able to move around OK in this area where it is rare for roads to be cut through December. If you do both his tours i.e. in various years, you would be fairly certain to get all of the species.

If travelling by yourselves (fly in), once you are at Bamaga, you are pretty right - on many days through the wet season, you can drive right to the tip (4WD). Iron Range is a different kettle of fish however. If you fly in, you have problems with accommodation and transport. The airport is quite a few km (10 from memory) from the rainforest. Also bear in mind that it is extremely hot up there at this time of year - even sleeping at night can be difficult. Klaus's trips are designed around air-conditioning and comfort. Another important consideration too is that Klaus knows where to find all those species - some can be tricky.

Iron Range will give you Eclectus Parrot, Red-cheeked Parrot and Green-backed Honeyeater which are absent from the Bamaga/Lockerbie areas. There is a fourth species absent from Bamaga/Lockerbie which people overlook - the Double-eyed Fig-Parrot (Marshall's form). However, at a Bamaga Bird Week you will also get Pale White-eye, Mangrove Golden Whistler, Red-headed Honeyeater, Mangrove Robin (boat trip to the islands included in the tour). There is also an option to travel across to Boigu Island (against the PNG coast) to get some of the PNG species on Australian territory.

You mentioned Chestnut-backed Button-quail - I presume you mean Buff-breasted Button-quail. You might be super lucky and get it at Iron Range but I would not hold my breath over this one anywhere. We have been trying to study it around Mt Molloy for many years but it is an extremely difficult species, sometimes putting in a rare appearance and then usually disappearing overnight. People who have seen this bird should consider it next to a Night Parrot sighting!

Lloyd Nielsen
Mt Molloy  Nth Qld


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