I have finally done a blog for our trip to Bamaga last March where we saw
the Red-bellied Pitta without too much trouble. I hope this helps for
people thinking of chasing it in 2017.
*Bamaga and the Tip.*
For a keen birder there is only one reason to go to the tip of Cape York in
the middle of the wet season. To see a Red-bellied Pitta. This Pitta is a
migratory bird from New Guinea to the tropical rain-forest down the east
coast of Cape York from the tip to Iron Range, usually arriving during the
wet season in December.
As we were going on a trip to the islands of Torres Strait Barb, Joy, Mel
and I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to see the Pitta.
All reports said it was a risky business though because the roads around
Bamaga are all dirt and February is the middle of the wet season; it was
possible we would get there and not be able to drive out of town. The wet
season can dump hundreds of millemetres of rain on Bamaga but this year the
seasons seem to be in a real mess. When we got there at the end of February
they had only had 10mm of rain where they should have had a couple of
hundred. The result was that the roads were all open and dry and we had no
trouble hunting for birds.
We flew out of Cairns on the regular Skytrans flight that has the extra
benefit in that it calls in at the small towns along the way. This time we
stopped at Arukun and Weipa before arriving at Bamaga. We had a four wheel
drive booked with Seisia Car Rental but after about half an hour at the
airport there was no sign of it. The local police were there though and
they helped as much as they could. Eventually a car arrived for a couple of
off-duty nurses who also had to rent a car and I got a ride into Seisia and
left the others stranded at the airport. At the back of the house where the
cars are rented from I started filling out the paperwork and the rental guy
drove of to get the rest of the group from the airport.
The rental car was a Toyota Troopy in the last days of its decline but it
worked well and didn't let us down. We even got a discount on the very
expensive rental because the a/c didn't work. First stop when we were all
back together was our accommodation at the Seisia Camp Ground. It was a
really good place to stay because Palm Cockatoos strutted around the street
just outside and one night a Red-bellied Pitta was heard calling behind one
of the A-frame cabins. It is also close to the wharf where we were to catch
the Ferry to Horn Island, which we had to do to meet up with the start of
the Torres Strait trip. While I am on the subject of accommodation etc the
food at the Bamaga Resort is exceptional. There is also a small bakery near
the supermarket that has very good crab meat pies and shrimp claws.
Now onto the birds. We mainly explored the road north from Bamaga to the
tip which was open and in very good condition. Our first trip was to the
tip, of course, and we got to what I believe is called Frangipani Bay. From
there it is a short walk to the actual tip and Barb, Mel and Joy headed
that way while I went to the exposed low-tide sand flats and looked at
waders. On the way back we stopped a number of times because all along the
road there are old tracks along which one can wander into the forest.
The next day we spent hunting for the pitta. By doing research before we
left we had three or four sites in the Lockerbie Scrub lined up as
potentially good areas. As it turned out we met our friends on the road and
they stopped us and said they had just seen one, right on the edge of the
road. We drove to the spot and way off in the bush we could hear a pitta
calling. It eventually came toward us and then walked parallel to the road.
Seeing the bird was one thing as it bounced from fallen branch to branch,
behind trunks, onto the ground, around rocks etc but getting a photo in the
dark forest was too much of a challenge for me and I just enjoyed the
pleasure of watching this wonderful bird.
This road through the Lockerbie Scrub bought many new species for Mel who
had not birded this far north and we put in a lot of time on it. We did
find one species that is always a challenge and that was the Yellow-billed
Kingfisher. Surprisingly two of the more common birds were the Palm
Cockatoos and the Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher. We saw the kingfisher
regularly as they flew back and forward across the road in front of the car.
South of Seisia are two small towns, Injinoo and Umagico, and half way
between them are some sewage treatment ponds and there we found a pair of
Spotted Whistling Ducks, only my second sighting of them and a special
treat. There are also ponds between Seisia and Bamaga and we checked these
too but without seeing anything special. We also drove the road south from
Bamaga to the Jardine River crossing looking, without success, for
Black-backed Butcherbird but did find White-streaked Honeyeater, which was
a nice consolation prize. The last place we checked out thoroughly was the
wrecked plane site on the way to the airport and here we found a good
number of the smaller dry-country birds.
We only had 2 1/2 days at Bamaga and on the Friday morning we went down to
the Seisia wharf and caught the ferry to Thursday Island and a second one
to Horn Island where we were all meeting. My total species list for Bamaga
was 88 and we didn't even do any night birding as we were too tired after
long days of chasing everything else. Some special birds were
Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo, Papuan Frogmouth, Lovely Fairy-wren,
White-streaked Honeyeater, Tropical Scrubwren, Black Butcherbird, Northern
Scrub-robin and the local race of Noisy Pitta. The Noisy Pitta turned out
to be the bird that gave us the hardest time. We heard them often but they
kept out of sight. It was a new bird for Mel so we followed one bird around
and around in the rainforest as it called, skulked, scuttled along the
ground, flew over our heads and generally made life hard.
For anyone considering chasing the Red-bellied Pitta at Bamaga in the wet,
it could be worth doing even during a normal wet year. The main roads in
and out of Bamaga, including down to Injinoo and Umagico, are sealed and
most birds special to the area could be located while doing short walks off
these roads. For the Red-bellied Pitta, one was heard calling from the bush
behind the A-frame cabins at the caravan park in Seisia while we were there
so even that is possible without needing to go as far as the Lockerbie
To get in and out of Bamaga in the wet one can fly with either Skytrans or
Rex from the main Cairns airport. Another option would be to fly with
QANTAS to Horn Island where there are a couple of good hotels, and then
take a ferry to Thursday Island to catch the ferry to Bamaga. This ferry
runs on a regular schedule and the Seisia car rental people will meet you
at the ferry with a car. And because Bamaga is a major tourist hub during
the dry season, catering for tens of thousands of tourists each year they
told us, they have every facility anyone could want, including crab meat
After Bamaga we joined Richard Baxter's Torres Strait trip and the blogs
for that trip are also up. Photos for Bamaga and links to the Torres Strait
trip are at my blog, below.
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