*Trip Report - Iron Range Oct 13-27 2013*
Dave Torr (author and organiser), Mark Buckby, Iian Denham, Len Towerzey
We have recently returned from a trip to Iron Range – thanks to all those
who have previously posted trip reports or responded to my request for
information. This was my 3rd trip there so I was not expecting any new
birds (and my expectations were met!), but Iian had been to the Atherton
Tablelands before but no further north, whereas for the other two it would
all be new.
We were warned in advance that everywhere would be very dry as there had
been a very poor wet season and this proved to be the case – creek
crossings were almost all dry and the birding was difficult, especially in
the many burnt areas on the way up to Iron Range.
Early morning flight from Melbourne to Cairns, where we picked up a
Landcruiser from 1300TruckHire and went straight to Centenary Lakes where
the highlight was a juvenile Black-necked Stork. After morning tea in the
Botanic Gardens we had a quick tour of the Cemetery (seeing the usual Bush
Stone-curlews) and then had a quick look at the Esplanade – but as we had
expected the tide was too far out for much birding. Still, our morning was
a good introduction for Len and Mark, with birds including Figbird,
Brush-turkey, Scrub-fowl, Brown-backed and Yellow Honeyeater, Bush
Stone-curlew, Raja Shelduck, Imperial Pigeons and of course the northern
race of Masked Lapwing
After stocking up with essentials and having lunch we headed to the
Tablelands, where our first call was at Chewko Rd, Mareeba. Apart from the
well-known Guineafowls (if they were good enough for John Weigel to tick
they are good enough for us!) we saw a mixed flock of Brolgas and Sarus
Cranes and good numbers of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos. We then visited Lake
Mitchell before searching in vain for White-browed Robin at Big or Little
Mitchel Creek – the area was very dry and partially burnt. Notable birds
included Channel-billed Cuckoo, Comb-crested Jacana, Great Bowerbird, Green
Pygmy-goose, Magpie Goose, Pale-headed Rosella, Plumed Whistling-duck,
Red-backed Fairy-wren and Varied Triller.
After checking in to Kingfisher Lodge (where we quickly picked up
Large-billed Scrubwren, Little Shrikethrush, Macleay’s Honeyeater, Metallic
Starling, Pacific Emerald Dove, Pale-yellow Robin, Spectacled Monarch and
Yellow-spotted Honeyeater) and having dinner at the Highlander
(recommended) we went spotlighting up Mt Lewis. We met Fred van Gesel at
the summit who had seen a Boobook not long before we arrived, but we could
not find one. Heading down the mountain we heard Lesser Sooty Owl but could
not locate it.
We spent the morning on Mt Lewis, finding nearly all the expected birds –
although we could only find a juvenile Golden Bowerbird and there were no
signs of Noisy Pitta, Barred Cuckoo-shrike or Blue-faced Parrot-finch.
After lunch (at the Highlander again) we had a brief visit to Abattoir
Swamp (where the highlight was probably a Leaden Flycatcher) and then to
Sides Rd looking in vain for Parrot-finch
We then headed up Mt Lewis again intending to spotlight for Boobook.
However the cloud came down and the thunder started, but not before we had
seen several Barred Cuckoo-shrikes and more Superb Fruit-doves. We stopped
at the spot where we had heard the Lesser Sooty Owl yesterday and one
immediately screamed at us from above the road (enabling excellent views),
whilst another called in the distance.
A longish drive today, and our first excursion onto gravel roads revealed
that our car had some handling problems on corrugations – not a good sign.
Our first stop was at Sides Rd, looking in vain for Pied Monarch in the
small patch of rainforest. The Mary Farms area yielded Bustard, Red-winged
Parrot, Pheasant Coucal, Pale-headed Rosella and Brown Quail.
A small dam off Hurricane Rd near the Macleod River (where we have been
told there were Black-throated Finches) we had Diamond Doves and
We lunched at Laura and then spent some time at the dry Morehead River,
where we found quite a few birds, including our first Blue-winged Kookaburra
Unfortunately Sue Shepherd was away from Artemis but had given us
permission to explore and look for Golden-shouldered Parrots. We had no
luck on our way north and spent dusk at the Windmill Creek dams, where the
birds included Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, Leaden Flycatcher and Little
We had allowed two nights at Musgrave Roadhouse to give ourselves plenty of
time to look for the local birds.
Back again to the 15 Mile Creek area to look for Golden-shouldered Parrots
– we walked around finding several flocks of Budgerigars and at least 15
Squatter Pigeons, but no sign of the parrot. We then drove to a point
around 21km south of Musgrave and explored a fairly bare area to the west,
finding the first of many Black-backed Butcherbirds. We crossed to the much
greener east side and soon found a pair of Golden-shouldered Parrots
sitting on a termite mound.
We decided to spend the rest of the day in the Lilyvale Rd and Annie River
areas. Our first stop was at the Lilyvale Rd junction, where we found
nothing of interest. The Lotus Bird Lodge dam had a good selection of
birds, including our first Wandering Whistling-ducks. Our next stop was the
Annie River campground where we found a female Shining Flycatcher in the
mangroves. On then to the Annie River boat ramp, flushing a couple of
Australian Pratincoles on the way. Very quiet there – a probable
Large-billed Gerygone was the only interesting bird, although there was a
Brahminy Kite in the Mangroves. On the way out we saw several interesting
birds – they looked to have the shape of a Yellow Wagtail and a grey back,
but a streaked chest. We reluctantly decided after looking at photos they
were Pipits! A frustratingly brief glimpse of a probable Goshawk on the way
out, and then we headed to Sweetwater Lake. Alas the road in was very
difficult, but a small dam on the way was very productive, with Banded,
Dusky, White-throated and Bar-breasted Honeyeaters and Masked,
Black-throated and Double-barred Finches.
Having allowed plenty of time in our schedule around Musgrave we now had
time on our hands, so in the morning we went off to the Lilyvale Rd
junction where we easily found Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters and heard – but
did not see – several Red-browed Pardalotes. On then to Sweetwater again as
only one person saw Masked Finch yesterday – and we all got to see them
this time. At the Lotus Bird lodge dam we added Pied Heron to our list, and
on the way back to Musgrave had the unusual (?) sight of 2 White-bellied
Sea-eagles feeding on a roadkill.
>From Musgrave we headed north stopping at a very productive Kendle River
(where we had a brief glimpse of what looked like a male Satin Bowerbird -
which was well out of range and was probably something else - Fairy and
Large-billed Gerygones), Stewart River (very slow) and Coen (also slow)
before arriving at Archer River – for very basic accommodation (could not
even make a hot drink in the morning as the café had not boiled any water
and there was no camp kitchen or kettles around) and the most expensive
fuel we would see – fortunately we had been warned and did not need any.
Headed off from Archer River after seeing a Royal Spoonbill fly over. Our
first stop was at Wenlock River where there was nothing new. Next was
Pascoe River - we made our way upstream for a short distance to find
We reached Iron Range late morning – in time to find Green-backed
Honeyeater, Magnificent Riflebird, Lovey Fairy-wren, Tawny-breasted
Honeyeater and Frill-necked Monarch at Cook’s Hut. We then went to Portland
Roads for lunch and to check in to Portland Roads House where we would stay
for the next 4 nights – an excellent choice and the café next door was also
very good. There were a few waders on the beach, and our first Rose-crowned
Fruit-dove visible from our balcony. We tried hard to find a calling
Collared Kingfisher in the mangroves, but had to be satisfied with a
Sacred. Varied Honeyeaters were very vocal and easily seen – one of the
group saw a Fawn Breasted Bowerbird further up the road.
Mid-afternoon we went to Lockhart River for fuel and supplies. At the
Sewage Ponds we found Red-backed Fairywren and a young Osprey. We finished
the day at Taylor’s Landing with a single Red-cheeked Parrot flying over
and a Fawn-breasted Bowerbird in a tree.
As we were loading the car for the day we saw Great Frigatebird over
Portland Roads. The morning was spent in Iron Range – mainly at Cook’s Hut,
Gordon Campground and Coen Track. Some early successes such as White-faced
Robin and Tropical Scrubwren but then it got harder – we found an male
Eclectus in a tree near Cooks (and when we passed by later in the day it
had 2 males)., There were many calls but few sightings of other species
such as Yellow-billed Kingfisher and Palm Cockatoo. We did get Forest
Kingfisher at the grasslands and a pair of Azure Kingfishers at West
Lunch was at a very windy Chilli Beach – a grey Reef Heron flew past and
then we had Lesser Frigatebird, White-bellied Sea-eagle and Osprey in the
sky along with both Sand Plovers and Pacific Golden Plover on the beach,
along with a pair of Beach Stone-curlews and Black-naped and Bridled Terns.
Back to Portland Roads at low tide –we went to sea side of the mangroves
and got Collared Kingfisher along with Mangrove Gerygone. Varied Honeyeater
and several Shining Flycatchers. In the open area north of the mangroves we
found Black Butcherbird and Lovely Fairy-wren
We spent the evening spotlighting in Iron Range – on the road to Cooks Hut
we flushed a Large-tailed Nightjar which landed at the side of the road
giving us good views. Spotlighting was hard as there was a large and noisy
party at Cooks Hut – we spotlighted along the road in vain. On the way back
we flushed more nightjars and a Barn Owl
Strong winds all night and rain in the morning. Parked at the first Gordon
Ck crossing and walked to Cook’s Hut and return. Added Boatbill and Trumpet
Manucode to our list, along with several good views of Riflebirds. We then
drove to the far end of Coen track and walked back as far as the first big
creek crossing. Again we heard the Yellow-billed Kingfisher and managed to
see Grey Whistler.
We got to Chilli Beach around 1440 and saw several Reef Egrets, a Masked
Booby and more terns. No stone curlews today.
At Portland Roads we found Fawn-breasted Bowerbird north of the Mangroves
and had a young Brown Booby close offshore
A surprise this morning as we drove to Lockahart River – about 15km out of
Portland Rds was a dead Spotted WD with no obvious injuries. Tried again
for Yellow-billed Kingfisher at Coen Track just west of Cook’s Hut –
calling but we could not track it down .We spent most of the day at
Lockhart River – Sewage works, mango dam, Quintell beach and various
rainforest patches. The only Snipe we found proved to be Lathams and there
were no Spotted Whistling-ducks, and our main addition for the day was a
Lemon bellied Flycatcher and our first female Eclectus.
At lunch we received a tip that Palm Cockatoos were to be found at the
Portland Roads rubbish tip and we managed to get our first – and only –
view late in the afternoon.
A last attempt at a few Iron Range species. At Cook’s Hut we finally heard
at least 2 Northern Scrub-robins but failed to see them. The Yellow-billed
Kingfisher was calling again but still invisible. However, a fair way
along the Coen track we did finally get the Yellow-legged FLycatcher.
One of our group was not well so we did little more birding, heading to the
health centre in Coen and then on to Musgrave for the night. After checking
in, the fit members of the team headed off for a successful hunt for a Red
On our way to Nifold we saw another Red Goshawk. Low Lake was alive with
birds including our first Little Egret. The windmill dam by the Nifold sign
(which had been told was good for finches) was dry, but on the way out from
it we got a large flock of Black-throated Finches, which had not been there
when we drove in. A few km down the road – where I saw them first in 2005 –
we had several hundred Star along with our with Red-backed Kingfisher,
Rufous-throated Honeyeater and a Common Greenshank
Nothing much on Red Lily Lagoon but White Lily had huge numbers of egrets,
spoonbills, ibis etc. On to Lakefield ranger station where we were told
there had been a recent Red-necked Phalarope sighting at White Lily, so
went back for closer look but no luck. Turned off to 12 mile Waterhole for
Crimson Finches and had a large flock of the white-bellied form in a creek
bed a few hundred meters down.
We finished at MacIvor River crossing with Spectacled and Black-winged
Monarchs, Azure Kingfisher, White-browed Robin, a nesting pair of Wompoo
Fruit-doves and a calling but invisible Brush Cuckoo.
We spent the next 2 nights in Cooktown.
A fairly quiet day in Cooktown. We explored the lower slopes of Mt Cook
early, getting Noisy Pitta and hearing Cicadabird. Despite advice from the
staff we could not find Papuan Frogmouth in the Botanic Gardens. We spent a
lot of time trying to find ways into Endeavour River NP – we had 3 GPS
which all showed slightly different roads, none of which existed!
After a siesta we went to Keating’s Lagoon and Annan River but again it was
After some recent rain and with continuing doubts about the car on
corrugated roads we decided to take the long way round to Daintree. Went to
Honey Lake near Lakeland as a result of an entry in a Cooktown bird trail
leaflet – but there was no access!
We spent a bit of time around Julatten, getting Pied, Black-faced and
Spectacled Monarchs at Sides Rd and Tawny Grassbird and Northern Fantail at
Abbatoir swamp. Lunch in Daintree and then headed north to Cape Tribulation
hoping in vain for cassowary!
In the morning we had an early Daintree cruise with Murray Hunt (Daintree
Boatman – highly recommended). We started with great views of a pair of
nesting Great-billed Herons and later better views of a juvenile. Later we
found nesting Papuan Frogmouth and Wompoo Fruit-doves. Also our first (and
only) Dollarbird of the trip
We then had a quick look for Buff-breasted Paradise-kingfisher at Stewart
Ck as we had been told they sometimes arrived early there, but we could not
find any. A similar lack of success at Wonga Beach for the Spotted
Whistling-ducks that Iian and I had seen last December. In Cairns we
visited the Cattana Wetlands and found a White-browed Crake with 2 young.
The Esplanade had only a few waders, but a good mix. In town we found a
Rufous Owl (previously reported on Eremaea). Finally we found a Mangrove
Robin in the Mangroves at the north of town.
We started the day with our first Double-eyed Fig-parrot in the hotel car
park, although we would see more later in the day. We spent the morning
doing the rounds of the usual places – Centenary Lakes (adding Striated
Heron to our trip list) and the Esplanade – before heading down to the
Edmonton area. In the afternoon we went up to Black Mountain Rd in a vain
search for Cassowary, although we did find a few of the tablelands birds
such as Chowchilla.
We found a total of 263 species, with the serious “dips” being Blue-faced
Parrot-finch, Yellow-billed Kingfisher (heard a lot), Northern Scrub-robin
(only heard once) and Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo (not a sign). Highlights
included Red Goshawk and large numbers of Star Finches. Detailed lists for
most places have been posted on Eremaea by Mark.
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