IRON RANGE NP & MUSGRAVE TRIP REPORT (Part 1.)
Please see below a trip report to Iron Range National Park (Sept-Oct 2009).
It's broken into 2 parts. A full reports with photographs can be found on the
interweb at http://tim-dolby.blogspot.com/ On the way up we stopped at Musgrave
Station, birding several sites nearby. On the trip we also briefly stopped at
Lakefield NP, Kingfisher Park, Mt Lewis, Mareemba Wetland and sunny downtown
Cairns. Feel free to provide any feedback. Birding highlights included
Golden-shouldered Parrot, Black-backed Butcherbird, Red Goshawk, the Iron Range
endemics, King Quail, possible Swinhoe's Snipe, Laughing Gull, Asian Dowitcher
and Broad-billed Sandpiper to name a few.
Our intrepid team of birders included me Tim Dolby, Greg Oakley, Paul Dodd and
Ruth Woodrow. Several other birding groups travelled to the Iron Range at the
same time. One group consisted of Jim Preston, John McRae, Tim Bawden and
Laurie Living, the other was made up of birders from the Melbourne-based
Twitchathon team, the Common Loudmouths. It was great fun linking up with them
at various locations along the way. Victorian birders really hit FNQ in a big
way; I don't think they quite new what hit them.
ACCESS: Musgrave Roadhouse is about 450 km Cairns from Cairns on the Peninsular
Development Rd. A further 350 km Iron Range is accessed the Peninsular
Development Rd and then onto Portland Rd 20 km north of the Archer River
Roadhouse. From the turnoff it's about 110 km to the park. The Peninsular
Development Rd is relatively straightforward, although is 4x4 and 2 spare tyres
is highly recommended. We only had 1 spare, got a flat, and until we'd got it
fixed (in Coen) we were driving around in a very precarious situation. Road
conditions in Iron Range were good, and aside from a few river crossings
(during Sept - Oct) it would have been ok to drive in with high chassis 2 wheel
CAR HIRE: for the trip we hired a Toyota Land Cruiser. We affectionately named
her 'Bessie', mainly because she was not quite what we expected. Basically
Bessie was falling apart at the hinges, with the expectation that when we
returned to Cairns she would simply collapse in a heap. For example my door
handle came off in my hand the first time I tried to open the door. Another
incident involved a flat tyre. Instead of having the appropriate wrench or
wheel brace we had a small adjustable spanner that didn't (couldn't) fit the
wheel nuts. Luckily we were able to hail down a passing 4x4 who had the
appropriate sized wheel brace. If we'd been in a more remote area we would have
been... well you know. (I've since heard that Bessie has been retired from
active car-hire service.) My recommendation is that when hiring a car for your
Iron Range trip, hire from one of the larger rental groups, check that you
understand how to change the tyre on the model of your car, if possible request
an extra spare - and I also recommend a car fridge. (It's worth noting that
when flying into the Iron Range there is 4x4 hire available at Lockhart River,
but book early.)
FOOD & DRINK: food is available in Lockhart River, although you may want to
stock up in Cairns. It's also worth taking in plenty of water. There's an
excellent cafe at Portland Rd (discussed in more detail below). It's worth
noting that strict alcohol restrictions apply at the Lockhart River community
(with a $75,000 fine). This includes the accommodation at Lockhart River
Airport. Basically Iron Range is dry, so if you have a need, buy it in Cairns.
We had a car fridge, however when enter the Lockhart River we had to secretly
stash our beer and wine by the roadside (recommended to us by the ranger, and
standard practice). The parks office is 3km down Lockhart River Rd.
ACCOMMODATION: When staying in the Iron Range I camped most nights at Gordon
Creek. Others in our group stay in a bungalow at Portland Road. (The 2nd group
stayed at huts at Lockhart River Airport, which from every indication was
WEATHER: To give you an indication of what the weather was like, although I'd
packed a sleeping bag and a sleeveless polar-fleece vest I didn't use either
for the entire trip. During our stay there was no rain, and the mean daily
temperature was about 30 degrees Celsius.
Described below is a summary of the birding sites, starting with Laura and
Musgrave, and then moving up to Iron Range. On the way back we stopped briefly
at Lakefield National Park, and then further south at Kingfisher Park, Mt Lewis
DAM NORTH OF LAURA
The first site of interest was a small dam just north of Laura. At the dam we
saw Sarus Crane and Brolga, and there was also an interesting Brown Duck / Grey
Teal hybrid which tried to confuse us into thinking it was Garganey. An
interesting looking bird, the size of a Grey Teal, it had dark lines on a
buff-face like that of a Black Duck. Also seen here were Striated Pardalote
(black-headed race uropygialis Northern Pardalote), Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo,
Silver-crowned Friarbird, Spangled Drongo and Australasian Darter.
MUSGRAVE ROADHOUSE & ARTEMIS STATION
We visited two main sites near Musgrave; one a dam near Artemis Station, the
other a nice area of open woodland east of Musgrave.
At the dam site we saw a party of 24 Golden-shouldered Parrot. They came into
drink between 6:30 - 7:30am. I'm guessing that if we'd arrived any later we
would've missed them. There was a nice selection of dry woodland birds around
the dam including Black-backed Butcherbird, Pale-headed Rosella, Red-winged
Parrot, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Grey-crowned Babbler, Red-backed
Fairy-wren, White-throated Gerygone, and Masked Finch (the Cape York
white-eared race leucotis). Honeyeaters included Dusky, Banded, Yellow,
White-throated, Bar-breasted and Blue-faced Honeyeater, Little Friarbird. I
also had brief views of honeyeater that looked like a Grey-fronted Honeyeater,
a rare bird this far north (this would be a major extension of its range). The
nearest I've seen them was Georgetown, 500km south. The more likely sp. would
be Yellow-tinted Honeyeater, with an isolated population found in this part of
Cape York. Any thoughts or other sightings?
At the 2nd site - a tall open forest bordered by lightly treed savannah - we
saw a Red Goshawk, sitting quietly, allowing excellent views. One of the
world's rarest birds of prey, there are only an estimated 30-35 pairs in the
wet tropics of Queensland. Our bird had an attractive reddish-brown body colour
with darker mottling, the head was white and streaked with darker feathers, and
had prominent long yellow legs. Stunning! Nearby we also saw Red-winged Parrot,
Channel-billed Cuckoo, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, White-throated Gerygone,
White-throated Honeyeater, and Black-backed Butcherbird.
At the Musgrave Roadhouse itself Pied Butcherbird serenaded us in the morning,
its melodious call was a great way to start a day, and we saw our only Collared
Sparrowhawk and Nankeen Night-Heron for the trip. In the area we also saw a
White-bellied Sea-Eagle feeding on carrion, a dead Agile Wallaby. We must have
been miles from any significant body of water, so seeing a sea-eagle feeding on
carrion Black Kite-like appeared unusual (although perhaps not as unusual as an
Arctic Tern feeding on worms on a road in the highlands of central Victoria).
Mammals around Musgrave included Agile Wallaby, Little Red Flying Fox and Wild
Remember that Artemis Station is private property and it goes without saying
that if you're thinking about looking for the parrot you must contact the
owners (Tom and Sue Shephard) first. The station entrance is about 24 km south
of the Musgrave. Black-backed Butcherbird was common in Artemis Station's
At Coen we stopped to fix a flat tyre. Pied Currawong somewhat surprisingly was
the main town bird, along with Blue-faced Honeyeater. The common corvid for the
area was Torresian Crow. A town with a nice feel, it had some good shops. One
shop had a pet Palm Cockatoo out the back. Upon hearing its call, just for a
moment I was jumping.
IRON RANGE NATIONAL PARK
Iron Range National Park protects the largest area of lowland rainforest in
Australia. The park also includes open eucalypt forests and some nice coastal
habitat. Of interest the dominant rainforest plant species are the Leichhardt
Tree (Nauclea orientalis), Black Bean Tree (Castanospermum australe), fig trees
such as the giant Green Fig Tree (Ficus albipila) a favoured breeding tree for
Eclectus Parrot, Cape Fig (Ficus nodosa), Sandpaper Fig (Ficus opposita) and
Swamp Fig (Ficus hispida). There are striking palms such as Bangalow Palm
(Archontophoenix cunninghamiana) and Gulubia costata, and I was particularly
attracted by the native bamboo (Arundinaria cobonii) and local pandanus
(Pandanus zea). Far less appealing was the sharp spiked Wait-a-While Vine
(Calamus australis), which caught all of us of guard at some point. It was also
nice to see flowering Illawarra Flame Tree (Brachychiton acerifolius), with a
few flowering while we were there.
On road into Iron Range small to medium bush fires burnt throughout the park,
often immediately beside the road. I never quite get used to this aspect of
northern Australia; if similar fires were burning in Victoria or NSW there
would have been a major evacuation of the area. However in FNQ and the Northern
Territory they seem barely worth mentioning.
1ST RAINFOREST WHEN ENTERING IRON RANGE NP
About 30 km after you enter the national park you cross a river and then come
to a large strip of rainforest which runs parallel to West Claudie River - it
is the first significant section of rainforest you come to when entering Iron
Despite not being mentioned in any texts or trip reports, this site proved an
excellent place for seeing the larger rainforest specialist particularly
because you have extended views across the West Claudie River and up a hillside
north of the river. On reaching this point for the first time (when you first
enter Iron Range) it was like being in a lolly shop and not knowing which one
to eat first. There was a real dilemma of which to look with so many fantastic
birds just waiting to seen! The conversation at time went something like this:
"There's a Trumpet Manucode, and there's another, dancing on that tree! There a
Magnificent Riflebird calling. Eclectus Parrot overhead, wow! Look! 3
Red-cheeked Parrots overhead! White-eared Monarch in that fig tree, there!"
And so it went on: Wompoo, Superb and Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, Spectacled
Monarch, Australian Swiftlet. There was also the odd Sulphur-crested Cockatoo,
which surprisingly were usually seen as individual birds. In Victoria you'd be
hard pressed to see Sulphur-crested Cockatoo in groups under ten, and more
likely in the hundreds.
GORDON CREEK & CAMPSITE
I camped at the larger of the two Gordon Creek campsites, an area bordered by
riverine rainforest. White-faced Robin was a campground bird, particularly in
the morning, frequently clinging sideways low down on tree-trunks like Eastern
Yellow Robin. In the afternoon the campsite area was a good place for
Yellow-legged Flycatcher. Listen for its distinctive call, a part of which has
a short 5 second trill somewhat simular to the Yellow-billed Kingfisher. The
common honeyeaters were Tawny-breasted, Graceful and Dusky Honeyeater. The
campground was also a good spot for Frilled-necked Monarch (recently split from
Frilled Monarch) - a bird which would surely qualify as one the worlds cutest
birds. Double-eyed Fig-Parrot (the northern race marshalli Marshall's Fig
Parrot) feed in a fig tree overhanging the campground. Orange-footed Scrubfowl
and Australian Brush-Turkey hassled each another for food. One particularly
male large Brush-Turkey stood out because of its distinctive large violet
tinted wattle, characteristic of the race purpureicollis found on Cape York.
The nominate sub-species found further south has a bright yellow wattle.
A walk along the Gordon Creek proved to be the best site for tracking down
Yellow-billed Kingfisher, with birds regularly calling up and down the creek.
We found a good spot was near a small turn in the creek just south-east of the
main GC campground. Yellow-billed Kingfisher can be very difficult to see as
they sit quietly high up in the rainforest. They tend to call every 5 minutes.
One trick for seeing them is to find the tree it's calling from and wait
underneath it until it flies away. They tended to not fly far, so if you're
lucky you might see where it lands. Yellow-legged Flycatcher commonly called
along Gordon Creek, but again was difficult to observe.
At night it Gordon Creek a good site for Marbled Frogmouth; one night we had
two birds calling off against each other. The call of Marbled Frogmouth is
quite humorous - one part in particularly sounds like a turkey who getting its
head chopped off, a noise created with a clap of the beak.
At Gordon Creek saw Spotted Cuscus twice: once spotlighted along the roadside
about 50 metres west of the campground, the other seen at the campsite during
the day. Obviously only semi-nocturnal, it was nice to see it feeding on leaves
and clinging tenaciously to branches while I was drinking my morning Mareeba
coffee! With its round face and big eyes Spotted Cuscus appears to be a mix
between a Sloth and a Bald-headed Uakari (the South American monkey).
CLAUDIE RIVER BRIDGE & NEARBY OPEN GRASSLANDS
The Claudie River Bridge, just before the turnoff to Lockhart River, proved a
good spot to see Frilled-necked Monarch, with a pair hanging around the east
side of the bridge. A walk into the rainforest just north of the bridge
produced our best views of Green-backed Honeyeater, as well as White-eared
Monarch and Yellow-legged Flycatcher. At one point we must have disturbed a
nest of Paper Wasps (Polistes humilis). Anyone who has done this before will
know exactly what it is like; 3 of us sustained extremely painful bites (I was
bitten on the ear, Ruth on the upper lip), sending us all into a mild state of
panic. We rushed up a nearby ridge, stumbled through Wait-a-while, which under
the circumstances seemed mild by comparison. Fortunately the pain from the
bites disappeared after about half an hour.
West of the bridge is a large open grassy area. Here we found large numbers of
Cisticola sp. Although Cisticola identification can be difficult, we were
fairly certain they were Zitting Cisticola. Interestingly most field guides
suggest that Zitting isn't found at Iron Range - I assume they are race
laveryi, recorded in southern Queensland. Eclectus Parrot, Palm Cockatoo and
small parties of Red-cheeked Parrot were observed high overhead in the
grassland areas, flying between the different areas of rainforest. There was
also nesting Brown-backed Honeyeater, Dollarbird and Grey Goshawk. In the Iron
Range both white and grey morphs of the Grey Goshawk were evenly present - by
contrast in the Otway Ranges in Victoria we only get white Grey Goshawk.
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