TRIP REPORT: 9-13 March, Cairns, Kuranda, Atherton Tablelands, Georgetown,
Julatten & Mount Lewis.
Highlights: Golden Bowerbird, Blue-faced Parrot-finch, Spinifex Pigeon, 9
species of Kingfisher & all the Cuckooshrikes.
Tony Keene, Mike Honeyman & I recently returned from a fully-packed 4 night
trip around North Queensland - starting and finishing up in Cairns.
Day 1 - Cairns to Kuranda:
345am start in Melbourne for me! Mike & Tony met me at the airport at 830am in
Cairns having flown there the night before and we immediately headed off to
Redden Island. Our long-shot hopes for Great-billed Heron and Beach
stone-curlew were not be (due partly to an extremely high-tide) so we started
off in good dipping form! But we picked up a handful of birds in the area
including a Sea-Eagle, Bar-shouldered Doves, and Crested & Little Terns.
Overall however it was very quiet - the best birds for us Southerners being the
Moving swiftly on (pun fully intended!) we took to the mangroves to the north
of the Esplanade. Here we picked up lots of Mangrove Robins, a pair of
Collared Kingfishers, Barwits picking around in the grass (refugees from the
very high tide), along with a real bonus of a Little Kingfisher flying into one
of the Fig-trees out on the Grass. Walking north we also saw a Buff-banded
Rail and I picked up my first Large-billed Gerygone of the trip and there were
many Hornbill (Helmeted) Friarbirds in the area too.
Whilst the tide was still so high we headed up to the Centenary Lakes where we
saw Magpie Geese (including 8 goslings), a Comb-Crested Jacana and the first of
many Torresian Imperial Pigeons. However there really weren't many birds out
on the lakes themselves. We carried on through to the Flecker Botanical
Gardens a picked up Black Butcherbirds, our first Scrubfowl for the trip, and
flocks of Metallic Starlings and more (lots more) Torresian Imperial Pigeons.
We also had the worlds most expensive cans of coke at the cafe at $4 a can!
(Total rip-off, but we were hot and thirsty).
Heading then back to the Esplanade we were amazed to find that the tide had
gone from providing no mud for any shorebirds, to now being so far back that we
needed the scope in the heat-haze! There were plenty of shorebirds out there
and despite the distance, between us we picked up Whimbrel, Curlew, RN Stints,
both Knots, Terek & Curlew Sandpipers, a couple of Sharpies, GT Tattlers and
Red-Capped Plovers but surprisingly no Sand-plovers. We tried further down the
Esplanade at a grassy knoll near the southern end and we did get the
Sand-plovers there - we only had two birds - but our luck was in and we got one
of each species. We were also entertained here by the very tame and active
Varied Honeyeaters flitting around.
Next stop Cattana Wetlands to the north of Cairns. Barely out of the car-park
we were greeted by a family of Lovely Fairy-wrens which was an added bonus.
Out on the lake we had plenty more Jacanas, and several pairs of Green
Pymy-Geese. A Yellow Oriole flew past and in the bushes there we Brown
Honeyeaters, Chestnut-breasted Manakins, and Leaden Flycatchers among the bush
With dusk approaching we headed up to Kuranda to check in at Cassowary House -
and after a quick dinner at the local fish and chips we took a night drive (in
the rain) up Black Mountain Road. The only birds we saw were a couple of
Owlet-Nightjars, and other wildlife included a ferocious looking Giant
White-tailed Rat, Bandicoots and the endearing Cogger's Barred Frog.
Day 2 - Kuranda to Georgetown
We were woken to the sound of heavy rain at 6am - but I figured that it
wouldn't put off the crake and ventured out into the wet. The other two wisely
stayed put in bed (initially) whilst I sat in the grounds of Cassowary House
getting "wetter than an otter's armpit" (to quote Tony at the time). Of course
there was no Crake. Mike then got up to look for me, but instead found the
male Cassowary and chicks and managed to find me just in time as they wandered
up the road and out of the grounds. I only just managed a quick view - but a
tick is a tick! Tony missed out but he was the only one of us who'd had
The weather then cleared up and we ventured around the grounds and walking the
road outside and picked up plenty of nice birds including Spectacled Monarch,
Barred Cuckoo-shrike, Fairy Gerygone, MacLeay's and Yellow-spotted Honeyeaters,
Forest Kingfishers, Pale-Yellow Robin and Tony had a Superb Fruit-dove fly
past. The highlight, however, was the Yellow-breasted Boatbill that we picked
up just outside the grounds in a roadside tree.
By midday it was time to hit the road, and a quick stop off for a hot-dog and a
Double-Eyed Fig-Parrot in Kuranda was followed by a drive up to Mareeba. We
decided to bird Tinaroo Creek road and were quickly rewarded in one spot
picking up a flock of (migrating?) Leaden Flycatchers, several Pale-headed
Rosellas, a mixed flocked of finches moving up the road - Mike and I only saw
Double-barred Finch and Chestnut- Breasted Manakin but Tony also got onto some
Black-Throated Finches too (to make up for the Cassowary). We continued up the
road further and whilst the birds quietened down we did get our first of many
Needletails for the trip along with some Eastern Gray Kangaroos, Agile
Wallabies, and a surprise Whiptail Wallaby too.
A brief stop for out-of-season Cranes at Hastie's swamp didn't produce them but
we did get loads of Whistling Ducks (both Plumed and Wandering) along with some
great views of the Sea-eagles.
After that we had some miles to cover so we hit the roads West and pretty much
didn't stop until Georgetown.
Day 3 - Georgetown, Cumberland Dam and then to Julatten
This was the day I was most looking forward to - and also was the most nervous
about as I had nagged the other two that a 400km drive out West for one
morning's birding was worth it. It didn't disappoint...
The 20kms before we got to the Cumberland Dam was eventful producing a pair of
Ground Cuckooshrikes, along with one of our few Brown Falcons for the trip. At
the dam it was fairly quiet with just a few Green Pygmy Geese and Jacanas, but
then a small flock of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos flew over, as did a mixed
flock of Swifts which contained both Needletails, and to my delight,
Fork-tailed Swifts too (finally got on to them!) We then walked along the
Creek where we picked up Yellow-tinted and Rufous-throated Honeyeaters, along
with a pair of Red-winged Parrots. Out by the small dam we had Red-backed
Fairy-wren and Black-faced Woodswallow when I saw a Bustard walking in through
the long grass - followed by three others.
Back by the main dam we then got onto a Paperbark Flycatcher (shorter bill, and
smaller bird than the Restless) and a pair of Great Bowerbirds, and were also
entertained by a Hobby going mental at a Channel-billed Cuckoo. The cuckoo
certainly wasn't a bird we were expecting there, but I guess they are on
migration at the moment.
Also in the general area before we got back to Georgetown we saw Brolga,
Red-backed Kingfisher, Banded Honeyeater, Little Friarbird, Squatter Pigeons -
and 4 Spinifex Pigeons - two of which put on a bit of a mating show for us!!
They are stunning little pigeons that none of the books do justice to.
Amazingly though we did not get one single Finch or Manakin - the birds that
Cumberland Dam is famous for. I guess they had dispersed with all the rain.
Back in Georgetown we picked up a Black-breasted Buzzard by the racecourse and
another very tame Bustard before heading back east towards the Tablelands again.
Our next brief stop was at the Dam at Innot Hot Springs where acting on a hot
tip from Martin Cachard we got our only Cotton Pygmy-Geese of the trip. To be
honest the dam was pretty grotty with some old chemical drums floating in there
- but still worth it as we got a nice pair of the Pygmy-Geese here.
That was pretty much it until we reached Kingfisher Park, Julatten. We just
had time to get the BB Paradise-kingfishers before the light went.
Spotlighting we got the local pair of nesting Barn Owls and a few rodents and
frogs but apart from that it was pretty quiet. The one bonus bird here was
spotlighting an Azure Kingfisher which bought us up to 9 species of Kingfisher
for the trip.
Day 4 - Mount Lewis and the Atherton Tablelands
Up early and a walk around the grounds of KP got us more nice views of
Spectacled Monarch, and also our first Black-Faced Monarchs of the trip. Then
it was time to hit Mount Lewis Road. Our first of the endemics was a Fernwren
that called for a long-time before finally coming out to see us. As we moved
up the road we also got several troops of Chowchillas, Grey-headed Robin and
Mountain Thornbill. We could hear a Tooth-billed Bowerbird but it wouldn't
show itself. When we got to the top clearing all was quiet. We walked down
the road and got on to a small flock of Red-browed Finches (hoping they would
turn into Parrot-finches but no luck). However on the way back up the road
Tony and Mike were ahead of me and called me over as they had got onto three of
Then we took the Miners track where Tony assured us that there were Atherton
Scrubwrens and Bower's Shrike-Thrushes in abundance last time he went. Guess
what? Not one scrubwren (other than one I was sure was a large-billed) and
whilst we could hear the Bower's S-T they sounded further off. However, that
all didn't matter when we heard a strange electronic buzzing sound. "Golden
Bowerbird" Tony and I both called out at the same time. (Let's be honest there
were probably a few four-letter words in there too!) It took a while but in
the end we got on to a pair and the male really came out and showed himself
That is one awesome bird that none of the field guides do any justice to
(unlike, it has to be said, the Parrot-finch!)
Coming down the mountain having got our two top targets, we enjoyed a lunch and
beer at the Highlander, where a Graceful Honeyeater joined us for lunch and
then we headed to Abbatoir Swamp. The Northern Fantail was behaving exactly as
the book said - waiting for us in the trees in the car-park. Also there was a
The rest of the afternoon we made our way toward Mareeba. Lake Mitchell was
barren, and there was no sign of the White-browed Robin at Big Mitchell Creek.
In Mount Molloy we picked up more Squatter Pigeons and Great Bowerbirds, whilst
near Mareeba I was surprised to see 4 more Bustards in an Orchard.
Driving up the road towards the closed Mareeba Wetlands, we got a fantailed
cuckoo and a female cicadabird along with an agressive Keelback snake (we tried
to string it into a Taipan of course!).
Last stop of the day was back at the point where Tony has the Black-throated
finches but to no avail - although 200+ Needletails flying very low certainly
compensated! We also picked up a Little Bronze-cuckoo and a Lemon-bellied
Flycatcher to add to the list.
The evening was a washout and we added nothing new other than a Red-legged
Pademelon in the Kingfisher Park grounds and a few frogs.
Day 5 - Cairns and home
We got up and it was pouring with rain. We tried for the White-browed Robin
again at Big Mitchell Creek - and could hear one - but it was a long way off in
the tall and very wet grass. We hoped that it would be better once we got to
Cairns but it wasn't to be. Still we decided to head back to Cattana wetlands
and Tony and I decided to bird there in the pouring rain regardless. We did
see a large eel - which was fitting in the conditions. Mike wisely stayed in
the car, and when we returned wet-through we then got a Black-necked Stork (the
only one of the trip) so mike could feel justifiably smug at remaining dry.
Last stops at the Centenary Lakes and the Esplanade revealed nothing new before
Mike and I had to head back to Melbourne. We dropped Tony off in town as he
was returning to Radelaide the next morning.
After we'd left Tony picked up the Red-necked Crake. It must have been a great
image - Tony, standing in the pouring rain, staring through his bins into a
flower-bed right outside the local Mental Health Unit.
200+ species, lots of ticks all round, and three absolutely shattered Poms!
Dr Tony D. Keene
School of Chemistry and Physics
The University of Adelaide
Lab phone: 083134837
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