En route I had planned to detour to Mt Lewis for various specialities, but due to the weather back in March the road was now impassable, so we called in at the enigmatically named Abattoir Swamp just south of Mount Molloy. It was fairly quiet here with nothing of note from the hide but in the surrounding area we did pick up Brush Cuckoo and Brown Honey-eater. Continuing south we entered Mareeba and found the Golf course on the west side of town where we saw the sizable group of Grey Kangaroo, now just loafing under the shade of the trees. These turned out to be our best encounter of wild ‘roos of the trip! We now headed west of Mareeba to Granite Gorge. This was a major hit with the family with the opportunity to feed ‘wild’ Mareeba Rock Wallaby’s, fortunately there were few people about so the wallaby’s were pleased to see us! The birding here wasn’t too bad either with Noisy friarbird, White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike (3) Yellow Honey-eater, Aus Black-shouldered Kite (2) and a Horsefield’s Bronze Cuckoo. After this enjoyable stop we decided to head for our accommodation at Rose Gums, east of Yungaburra. After what felt an age we finally arrived at the jewel of our holiday. The Rose gums stilted cabins are set in your own piece of rain forest with nothing else to spoil your view and trails into the rainforest with no one around-heaven! One of my main targets here was not a bird but a marsupial, the Duck-billed Platypus. News was not good however because the locals had not seen any for several weeks, again due to the March monsoons, the rain had raised the water levels too much. Nevertheless after being on the road all day, I and my son took another drive out (on the way out we saw a flock of Chestnut-breasted Mannakin) to some known locations along Topaz Road, where on our arrival a shape appeared on the waters surface and dived again! For about the next hour we enjoyed watching 3 Duck-billed Platypus feeding in the small ponds up until dusk. Back at Rose Gums spent the evening unsuccessfully trying to lure in Lesser Sooty Owl.
Mareeba Rock Wallaby
"give me five"
May 31st- Up at dawn for a dawn chorus to beat them all! The forest was full of Chowchilla calling, with only two brief views of a couple of males. Along with Grey and Rufous Fantail, Spotted Catbird, Wompoo Fruit-dove, White-throated Treecreeper, Victoria’s Riflebird, Eastern Spinebill, male and female Satin Bowerbird, and Dusky Honey-eater new birds seen included Brown Gerygone, Pied Monarch, Tawny Grass bird, Bowers Shrike-thrush, Grey Whistler, White-headed Pigeon and a confiding Tooth-billed Bowerbird. The huge split bamboo logs in front of the main lodge had been topped up with food and were now attracting lots of Rainbow lorikeets and a few King Parrots. Back at the cabin, and after breakfast (and de-leeching myself!) I found it difficult to be drawn away from the area, but there were trees and waterfalls to be seen elsewhere apparently! The rest of the day was spent visiting the more touristy sites of the tablelands including some impressive waterfalls and the huge Curtain tree Fig, but did manage fleeting visits to Hasties Swamp where we saw lots (200) of Plumed Whistling-ducks and a Buff-banded Rail, and Bromfield swamp where we counted 14 Sarus Crane in the valley there. After dining in the evening at a Swiss(!) restaurant near Yungaburra our route home found us watching a Southern Boobook hunting along one of the roads giving excellent views.Still no Lesser sooties from the cabin.
Curtain Fig Tree
June 1st - Today we’d pre-booked a visit into the Undara larva tubes to the west of Ravenshoe. A long drive through endless eucalyptus scrub provided little in the way of wildlife with just a couple of Wedge-tailed eagles scavenging along the roads of note, and the occational wallaby. At Undara we found the experience somewhat disappointing considering the distance travelled- and were expecting to travel deeper into the lava tubes. On top of this, the fact that the buffet facilities had a limited choice of food and a strict dining time, the whole day was really something of a let down. Birding was fairly limited too, with Red-winged Parrot and Red-tailed Black Cockatoo being the most notable. We dined at the cabin tonight-bought a grilled whole chicken, some rolls, a bit of salad and some baking potatoes and a tin or two of Foster’s. Spent the evening mothing and Sooty Owling, the former more productive than the latter!
June 2nd – Early start again this morning and back on the Rose Gums nature trails, on top of the birds seen previously I birded hard for the local speciality Wrens but drew a blank, though did pick up a delightful Yellow-breasted Broadbill, a Red-browed Finch, (2) Barred-Cuckoo-Shrike, and best of all (and after a lot of research afterwards) a female Golden Bowerbird which was apparently a first for the site! After packing up (once again!) we said our goodbyes to Jon and Peta and headed for Cairns (picking up Brown Quail on the access road on the way out!) but not before stopping at the ponds to get a last glimpse of the Duck-billed Platypus, that showed well for the whole family. We took the Gillies highway route back, and though veritably scenic, we didn’t stop for any length of time. With the wife suffering from retail therapy withdrawal symptoms we headed for Cairn’s ‘beach’ (mud) front. Along with shops and restaurants here the Cairn’s Esplanade is also well known for something else-birds! A walk along the front with a low tide produced Australian Pelican(10), Great Egret(30), Little Egret(20), Black-winged Stilt(1), Caspian Tern(10), Gull-billed Tern(10), Silver Gull(40), Great Knot (10), Whimbrel(2), Bar-tailed Godwit(4), Eastern Reef Egret(dark morph), Osprey, Intermediate Egret(2), Pied Oystercatcher (2) and Royal Spoonbill. After finding our spacious, but overall disappointing accommodation we returned to Cairn’s in the evening for food and souvenir shopping with a bonus as we came away late on, as along with the Fruit bats being very obvious feeding around Cairn’s, we were parked next to a roost of 40 or so Metallic Starlings!
June 3rd - Today was a purely touristy day with a prebooked trip up to Kuranda, in the hills above Cairns, via the Mountain Steam Railway. Some spectacular veiws on the way up, we did manage to add Peregrine to the trip list. The trip back was even more stunning as we travelled on the SkyRail-a cable car suspended over the rainforest canopy for about five miles (or thats what it felt like!)
Kuranda Sky Train
June 4th- With the promise of some warm sunshine on last nights forcast, the family opted for some sunbathing and pool time today, giving me a days grace to do what ever I please! After speaking to a birder we met a couple of days ago on the Esplanade I opted to head back inland to Mareeba Wetlands. I chose an early start like any good birder would but true to reports the reserve did not open until 10:00am! I decided to bird the access road whilst waiting, which was a good move as another target bird, Blue-winged Kookuburra was present here with upto 3 seen. Also here I saw Double-barred Finch 4, a family of Red-backed Fairy-Wren 4, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, Blue-faced Honeyeater 6, White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike 5, Buff-breasted Crake2, Brown Falcon, Collared Sparrowhawk, Red-tailed Black Cockatoo3, Red-winged Parrot 4, Pale-headed Rosella 2, and Brown Honeyeater. With the gates finally open I drove down to the visitors centre on the lake shore. At first there seemed very little bird life (and especially no big black and white geese that I was really hoping to see!) but closer inspection of the vegetated areas on the open lake revealled little gems in the form of Comb-crested Jacana 5, Green Pygpy-Goose 10, Cotton Pygmy-Goose 5, Wandering Whistling-Duck 25, Plumed Whistling-Duck 1, and White-faced Heron 2. Here they also have a conservation programme involving Gouldan's Finch with an aviary where you can see these little rainbows breeding. Armed with a trail map and some local info from one of the staff I headed off into the outback and immediately came face to face with a pair of Emu that nonchalantly wandered past me giving the most cursory of glances! Following a dry creek bed, the land around was peppered with variously sized concreate hard Termite mounds. The birds were few and far between out here but I did bump in to a delightful group of Grey-crowned Babbler 6, and eventually attained descent views of my target bird here, Black-throated Finch 6. With the sun high in the sky now and temperatures rising I decided to head back towards Cairns and back to the Esplanade. With an incoming tide there were fewer birds about today but there were Whimbrel 20, and at least 8 Grey-tailed Tattler. Heading toward the Mangroves I tried a number of sites here and near the airport for Mangrove Robin but failedonly managing to pick up Varied Honeyeater, Shining Flycatcher and many Sand-fly bites (and you know when they are biting you!) Coming away from the airport an Australian Hobby was seen zooming over the road.
Wandering Whistling-Ducks with Fulvous Whistling-Duck
Emu... with no sign of Rod Hull
Concrete-hard Termite mound
Little Pied Cormorant
Little Black Cormorant
June 5th- With our flight home this afternoon not alot of commited birding done. I decided to bird the modest grounds of our accommodation on Cairns outskirts: Spectacled Monach, Grey Fantail, Dusky Honeyeater, Macleay's Honeyeater, Yellow-bellied Sunbird, Brown Gerygone, Yellow-spotted Honeyeater, Barred Cuckoo-Shrike and Figbird. Our flight included a shedualled stop into Darwin in the Northern Territories, unfortunately we couldn't exit the tiny (portacabin!) terminal, however our final aussie bird seen on take off proved to be a pair of Red-tailed Black Cockatoo.