A day in Cairns was necessary to check whether or not we could still cope with civilisation, and look at a few birds on the Esplanade: we heard the Mangrove Robin but didn’t see it, and if the Rufous Owls were in Les Davie Park, they were hiding well. We drowned our sorrows in sashimi fish and other Japanese delicacies before heading back for the Atherton Tablelands.
Highlights were the numerous Wompoo Fruit-Doves and Victoria’s Riflebirds feeding early morning in the palm trees at Lake Barrine together with a Tooth-billed Bowerbird guarding its nest; Barred Cuckooshrikes and Double-eyed Fig-Parrots feeding on the great fig tree at Lake Eacham; three Herberton Honeyeaters at Wondecla thanks to another tip from Belinda; and a Lesser Sooty Owl at its hollow at Curtain Tree Fig thanks to Paul from Wait a While Tours in Cairns, who we met by chance on Thomas Rd. The following night, Cam and I went to Curtain Fig Tree on dusk equipped with red lights, telephoto lenses, tripods, thermals and beanies. While we were patiently waiting for the owl to come out, a bloke arrived, just looking for anything and everything that could eventuate in the dark, and seeing we were onto something, he decided to stay with us (damn). At the crucial moment the owl started emitting sounds from inside its hollow, the bloke’s point and shoot camera run out of battery. By the time he finished wrestling with his gear to fetch a spare battery, the owl appeared, and that’s when he realised that his camera didn’t have an SD card. The annoying situation was becoming comical, and I don’t know how the bloke managed to photograph the bird but he did! and we all left happy after looking at each other’s images in the carpark.
We also heard Lesser Sooty Owls every night at Bonadio Nature and RV Park which was a great base to bird the Tablelands. Even though the place was packed (until the first cold snap anyway when many of the grey nomads must then have left for warmer places to stay along the coast), the owners who visited every day created an amazing atmosphere in this park located along a wildlife corridor stuck behind the corn fields.
We also heard Spotted Catbirds, Yellow-breasted Boatbills, and Brolgas among other rainforest beauties from the camper.
Grey-headed Robin Heteromyias Cinereifrons
Barred Cuckooshrike Coracina lineata
Double-eyed Fig-Parrot Cyclopsitta diophthalma marshalli
Girraway NP, Murray Falls
To stick to nature spots to overnight, our next stop was Murray Falls in Girraway NP, south of Tully. There were not many birds but the site was great for photography and swimming.
NP, Wallaman Falls
West of Ingham, we climbed the range and saw an adult Southern Cassowary disappear in the thick vegetation shortly before arriving at Wallaman Falls. At the campsite, we found birds moving and feeding in groups of mixed species and is where we saw our first Pied Monarch of the trip. The section of road between the campsite and the top of the range was rainforest with Rose-crowned, Superb and Wompoo Fruit-Doves heard as well as Yellow-breasted Boatbills. Brush-turkeys were a real menace at the campsite. Something we learned about Brush-turkeys during our trip when looking at photographing a male ssp purpureicollis in Iron Range is that their pouch is shrunk when they are not breeding and therefore look like females.
Macleay's Honeyeater Xanthotis macleayanus
Pied Monarch Arses kaupi kaupi
Paluma Range NP, Jourama Falls
Nothing memorable when we visited towards midday except for a very cold swim.
Paluma Range NP, Big Crystal Creek
After photographing more Yellow-breasted Boatbills, another Pied Monarch and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher/Flyrobin and other birds feeding in the same flock, Cam got himself a new bird when checking pictures back at the camper in the evening: a Lovely Fairywren that we had originally called a Variegated Fairywren.
Big Crystal Creek
The village green had the most Pied Currawongs and Crimson Rosellas (nigrescens ssp) and the forest the most Chowchillas I have ever seen. While heading to the track to Witts Lookout, we were swooped by a Victoria’s Riflebird in the main street. We heard Fernwrens on the McClelands Lookout track and ended up seeing one on the Witts Lookout track feeding with Chowchillas. Cam described this bird as the hardest ever to photograph with hectic movements that couldn’t be anticipated in the low light conditions of the rainforest. If you though like us that the Fernwren is related to scrubwrens, then you might be interested to know that the Fernwren Oreoscopus gutturalis has its own genus, and is believed to be sister to Acanthizinae (gerygones, thornbills, whitefaces, Scrubtit, and Weebil) and Sericornithinae (scrubwrens, fieldwrens, mouse-warblers, Redthroat, Pilotbird, Rockwarbler, and Speckled-warbler).
Chowchilla Orthonyx spaldingii melasmenus
We went directly at the end of Chelmans Rd, Dalrymple Heights, where I had seen the Eungella Honeyeater in 2017 and 2019, and we were not disappointed as it was the dominant species in this patch. We caught up with Mary Cruickshank who was one of my French students in Maryborough, she now lives in Mackay and is involved in the Eungella Bird Week organised by Mackay branch of Birdlife Australia every year. The bird surveys will continue every year but they are now going to alternate a big and a small year with accommodation and most food provided during the big year on the village oval, and people accommodating and feeding themselves at Broken River during the small year.
St Lawrence Wetlands
We are getting very close to home now but Brolgas, the first Australian Bustards of our trip and the call of a Lewin’s Rail somewhat pumped our birding enthusiasm up a bit.
Springers Lagoon and Sullivan Rd, Gracemere
We had lunch at Springers Lagoon on Sullivan Rd which was one of Peter Tierney’s favourite birding spots. Peter passed away while we were on this trip, and this was my way of saying goodbye.
We didn’t see any Yellow Chat nor Zitting Cisticola but the Twelve Mile Rd site is beautiful.Twelve Mile Road Site