In Association with:
Australia – a short extension June - 2005
After arrival from Papua New Guinea, we said goodbye to Nigel and Penny and after collecting our hire vehicle we called in on Cairn’s cemetery. As soon as we drove through the gate we were greeted by the statuette figures of several Bush Thick-knees sat on the closest grave stones. As we looked, even more were seen and a final count revealed no less than 60 birds present. Peaceful Doves were also quite common here, along with the ever present Willie Wagtail. Our next stop was beside a small lake and on arrival here a group of Nutmeg Mannikins were seen feeding amongst the short grass beside the car park. Amongst them were a few smart Chestnut-breasted Mannikins and three rarely seen birds for Cairn’s – Plum-headed Finches. We got excellent views of these birds before looking at the lake which instantly produced Plumed Whistling Ducks, Hardhead, Australian Grebe, Pacific Black Duck, Grey Teal, Green Pygmy-Geese and sat on a small island were four Radjah Shelducks, another very good bird for the area. A Dusky Moorhen was also seen as was Australian Darter, Little Black Cormorant, Australian White and Straw-necked Ibis and roosting in the trees on the island was a Nankeen Night Heron. White-breasted Woodswallows flew around with Welcome Swallow and a couple of Fairy Martins.
In the trees beside our parked vehicle we saw an Olive-backed Oriole and Leaden Flycatcher before driving into town and collecting a few bottles of wine to enjoy with our meals over the next few days. There were many roadside birds which included such species as Black and Brahminy Kite, Rainbow Lorikeets, Sacred Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Magpie Lark and Masked Lapwing. Driving up into the rainforest above Cairn’s we soon arrived at our secluded lodge, Cassowary House, set amidst thick, lush forest. From the balcony of where we were to enjoy our evening meals we were soon watching Australian Brush-Turkeys, an Emerald Dove, Macleay’s Honeyeater, Spotted Catbird and a very obliging Victoria’s Riflebird. A Red-browed Finch only showed briefly before we were treated to excellent views of four juvenile Cassowary’s and then a confiding Red-necked Crake, which was later joined by a couple of Musky Rat-Kangaroo. Amongst the forest that engulfed the lodge we saw Pale-yellow Robin, Figbird, Orange-footed Scrubfowl and Rufous Fantail. Later as we were eating a sumptuous meal a 10ft Amethystine Python was spotted hanging down from a tree over where the Rat-Kangaroo where feeding, one of which it eventually tried and missed catching.
Day 2 - 2nd June
This morning we woke early for a little pre-breakfast birding in and around the lodge grounds. Macleay’s and Yellow-spotted Honeyeaters were seen but a small rodent type mammal called a Red-necked Pademelon was a little too quick to cross the track. From the lodge’s driveway we saw a Lemon-bellied Flycatcher shortly followed by Rufous Fantail, Spectacled and Pied Monarch, Grey Whistler and then out on the approach road we found and got to see a White-eared Monarch. From the breakfast table two Victoria’s Riflebirds showed off as did the Spotted Catbird, Emerald Dove, Red-necked Crake and in the tree tops both Black-faced and Barred Cuckoo-Shrikes plus a few Double-eyed Fig-Parrots.
A brief walk into the nearby forest found us Orange-footed Scrubfowl and after a bit of bush bashing we eventually got views of a calling Brown Cuckoo-Dove. We then set off for the day making our first stop along a main road where a group of mixed woodswallows consisted of both White-browed and Masked, two species that are rare in this area of Oz. After excellent views of these birds we continued on our way passing through a dry area where we made several stops which found us such species as Scarlet Honeyeater, Rufous Whistler, Striated Pardalote, Silvereyes, Laughing Kookaburra and on some weeds right beside the road we found a couple of confiding Pale-headed Rosella’s. Another stop found us several Double-barred Finches, and an excellent Squatter Pigeon walking along the road verge. A couple of tricky Red-backed Fairywrens were found amongst some dead grasses and later on perched in a dead tree we found a Peregrine. Our next destination was Hasties Swamp where the approach road got us excellent views of a Spotted Harrier plus Purple Swamphens. Stopping beside a very luxurious public hide, we were soon inside and scanning the lake in front of us. Hundreds of duck were present with Plumed Whistling Duck being the most numerous.
Amongst them sat several Pacific Black Duck, while a further search produced Hardheads, Comb-crested Jacanas, Australian Darter, Masked Lapwings and then our target species the peculiar Pink-eared Duck, plus a flock of 300 Magpie Geese. After a relaxed hour of comfortable birding we ticked off a lone Glossy Ibis and headed for Yungaburra probably spelt that wrong) for some lunch. A brief stop beside a field got us very good views of up to three Brown Falcons, both perched and flying around. Arriving at this quaint old town it looked somewhat deserted but we soon found a café and enjoyed some sandwiches and a hot drink. The town was surrounded by large trees and overgrown gardens and a slow drive around soon had us connect with White-headed Pigeon, Pied Currawong and some very attractive Australian King Parrots. Leaving the town we headed out towards some farmland. A brief stop beside a small house found us a few honeyeaters that included Black-chinned, White-throated, Lewin’s and Yellow. Beside some open fields we scoped a flock of about 50 Sarus Cranes and a thorough search amongst these sorted out 4 similar looking Brolga, noted by the different colour legs and amount of red on the head. Our next destination was a huge Curtain Fig Tree which was a bit of a tourist attraction, but also interesting for several good bird species. As we entered the trail that led to this amazing tree we spotted a Brushtail Possum feeding beside the boardwalk. Further on we found Fuscous Honeyeater, Brown and Fairy Gerygone, , Bower’s Shrike-Thrush, a very confiding Grey-headed Robin, Eastern Whipbird and out beside the car park a White-throated Treecreeper and some Crested Pigeons. In the heart of the Atherton Tablelands we continued on to another site with a good stop along the way when we found a flock of strange looking Topknot Pigeons. Once we arrived we parked and set off on a short walk, soon locating more Grey-headed Robins, Varied Triller, Mountain Thornbill and Atherton Scrubwren. Tim spotted a Tooth-billed Bowerbird but unfortunately no one else got onto it. Nearby some Crimson Rosella’s, Rainbow Lorikeets and a Pheasant Coucal were seen while our last stop of the day had us walk a track in an interesting dry forest, a habitat quite different from the rest of the day. Several excellent species were found including Scaly-breasted and Little Lorikeet, a very nice Crested Shrike-Tit, shortly followed by excellent views of a Barking Owl, but poor views of a couple of Red-tailed Black Cockatoo’s that flew behind the forest. To end the day we drove to a secluded river where on our arrival we immediately saw a Duck-billed Platypus laying on the surface of a large pool. It soon spotted us and disappeared, but given time and as the light faded we got to see it again several times. An excellent end to an amazing bird filled day.
Day 3 – 3rd June
Today was to be a rather relaxed day as we had booked ourselves onto a day trip on a boat out to Michelmas Key on the Great Barrier Reef. Our boat was one of the best and everything was superbly organised. Setting off from Cairn’s we had several hours before reaching the small sandy island. We kept vigilant as we made our way across a rather choppy sea and it wasn’t long before we saw Silver Gulls, Gull-billed and Crested Terns. Further out Brown Boobies appeared and then a single Masked Booby was spotted sat on the water. As we approached Michelmas Key a small sandy island we started to see some of the hundreds of Sooty Terns that made this their home. Amongst the Sooty Terns were plenty of Common Noddies and these birds were all easily seen from the boat and even easier from the shore which we were taken to by small boat. While some of us walked the shore and photographed the terns, others went in a submersible for an underwater excursion around the coral reef. It was a little claustrophobic but we got superb views of Giant Clams, a Green Turtle and many different fish and corals. Back on-board a very nice buffet was consumed while David went scuba diving, something he would thoroughly recommend to anyone given half the chance. Myself, Tim, Kev and Dianne then went ashore and went on a snorkel safari with one of the guides from the boat. We had a fantastic time and saw countless colourful fish, corals, clams, sea slugs and a sea cucumber. The Clown Fish were a particular favourite. After a very memorable day we set sail back to the mainland leaving a group of Lesser Frigatebirds hanging in the wind behind us. Once ashore we returned to our lodge, passing a White-bellied Sea-Eagle along the way.
Day 4 – 4th June
Today after breakfast which was enlivened by the arrival of two stunning and massive adult Cassowary’s, we had another search of the surrounding forest. Most of our time was spent trying to get everyone to see a secretive Fernwren, with which we were successful. Topknot Pigeon, Rufous Whistler and Yellow-faced Honeyeater were also found before we set off towards Mount Carbine a site we were not to reach until late afternoon. Passing through dry country we stopped beside a small lake and walked a dusty track where we saw Red-backed Fairywren, and amongst a group of Noisy Friarbirds we spotted a lone Little Friarbird. Back at the lake a Cotton Pygmy-Goose was seen while the small trees produced lots of Double-barred Finches, Striated Pardalote, Weebill, White-throated Gerygone and our target bird three Black-throated Finches, a species becoming decidedly rare. From here we continued on to a site in search of several other special birds. With flocks of noisy Rainbow Lorikeets all around we entered a wood and amongst the trees we located both Bridled and Banded Honeyeaters as well as a White-browed Robin. The highlight here took a bit of finding, but eventually we got very good views, albeit from the middle of a stream, of a perched Rufous Owl.
Moving on we drove through a small town in search of some lunch, which we eventually found. A search of a nearby parkland found us a group of Grey-crowned Babblers and some Apostlebirds, while the next town played host to Great Bowerbirds and a flock of very nice Red-winged Parrots. Heading out into farmland we struck lucky as we came across an area of scrub that was being burnt by a grass fire. Black Kites sat around in the tree tops and below in an area of burn we got superb views of an Australian Bustard a species we were on our way to search for. Carrying on to some freshly mown fields we could not believe our eyes when we counted 67 Australian Bustards mostly in just one field, an incredible sight. Leaving here a roadside stop produced a Red-backed Kingfisher sat on a telegraph wire and a Brown Falcon and perched Australian Hobby. A little further on we pulled in to overlook a huge wetland where Black Swan and White-faced Heron were spotted. Our final destination was eventually reached and beside a sleepy town near Mount Carbine we started off by ticking a group of Galah’s feeding in a playing field. Moving on to several small lakes we got out when an Australian Reed Warbler was heard and then seen. On the biggest lake we saw Wandering Whistling Ducks, Australian Pelican, Royal Spoonbill, Swamp Harrier, Australian Wood Duck and a few excellent Freckled Ducks another scarce bird. A flock of Red-tailed Black Cockatoo’s gave us very good views before it was time to leave. As we returned past the area of burnt grasses we found a Grey Goshawk and counted at least three Brown Falcons which ended another great days birding.
What an incredible four days we spent supposedly relaxing after our epic tour of Papua New Guinea. I would like to thank Phil for taking us to all the best sites around, finding some amazing birds and to his wife Sue for providing us with superb meals. I would also like to thank everyone else that enjoyed our little taste of Australian birding as much as I did.