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24-Days in Far Northern Qld Bird Watching

Author: Carl from Pahrump
Date of Trip: November 2006

In 2006 and 2007 we spent 255 Days driving around Australia. We started in Darwin, drove south to Alice Springs, backtracked to Cairns, went down the East Coast to Rockhampton, cut over to Melbourne, went across the Nullarbor Plain to Perth, drove up the West Coast to Broome, and finished by crossing the Kimberely Region on our way back to Darwin — 24,000 miles & 6 rental cars. Along the way we stayed in 56 cities and saw 693 bird species/subspecies.

This Trip Report covers the 24-days we spent in Far North Queensland — Cairns, Daintree, Julatten, Atherton, and Mission Beach.

We saw 240 bird species based in 5 locations:

City Species Days Cairns 85 8 Daintree 125 7 Julatten 114 3 Atherton 137 4 Mission Beach 15 2 Total 240 24

The 5 areas are too far apart to bird from one central base. Moving from the outskirts of Cairns to Daintree Village to the Julatten area to Atherton to Mission Beach and back to Cairns is a good birding circuit. All the roads were good.

Lodging

Cairns was somewhat of a rest break for us on our drive around Australia. We could have seen about the same number of birds in 5 days of normal birdwatching. We stayed at the Nutmeg Grove B&B in Redlynch (www.nutmeggrove.com.au/ 16.946S 145.689E). The elegant B&B is in a rain forest valley outside Cairns. We had a suite in the main house, but no kitchen. A typical BR was fresh fruit, “Pot-Luck” on toast (mushrooms, celery, onions, potatoes, ham, a little Worchester Sauce – sautéed with cream), and sweetbread with jams. Best Br of the trip!

There is a babbling-brook behind the B&B in the rainforest. Sometimes it is hard to see the birds for the butterflies and dragonflies flitting about. However, we did see a Magnificent Riflebird — a large dark bird with a very large hooked beak and iridescent blues & greens on the throat. You can usually hear a Wompoo Fruit-Dove’s penetrating Wom-Poo, Wom-Poo, Wom-Poo, …

Daintree Village — We stayed 7-nights in at the Red Mill House (www.redmillhouse.com.au 16.250S 145.320E). This was about the right amount of time, especially considering there are three birding boat tours available in the area. We had a comfortable room but no kitchen. Fortunately, there are good restaurants nearby.

Julatten – We stayed 2 nights at the Julatten Kingfisher Park (http://www.birdwatchers.com.au/ 16.595S 145.339E). The Kingfisher Park motel units were very large and well furnished with a good kitchen – we didn’t realize they had such a good kitchen in the motel units when we were making our plans. We should have planned to stay here a week.

Atherton – We stayed 4 nights at Chamber’s Rainforest Lodge (http://rainforest-australia.com/Accommodation.htm 17.286S 145.636E) in a one bed-room unit with a kitchen. A guide here told me if he didn’t see a 100 species a day it was a bad day. Our best day here was 72 species (but we didn’t recognize most of the bird calls).

Mission Beach – We stayed 2 nights at the Mission Beach Sanctuary Resort (www.sanctuaryatmission.com 17.823S 146.098E). We had a small room with a magnificent view of the Rainforest canopy and blue Pacific – great place to “chill-out’. We only stayed 2 nights because we knew the area was still recovering from a Category V Cyclone in March 2006. We still saw one new bird for our trip.

The Sanctuary is a 50-acre wildlife reserve. The car park (17.823S 146.102E) is 600m (1800 ft) from the lodge. You call from the car park and they come in a Land Cruiser to get you. The floors throughout the Sanctuary are soft rainforest hardwoods, so you can’t wear shoes in the rooms or dining room — bare feet are OK. The Sanctuary has a great restaurant on the premises.

NOTE: If you put the Lat. Long. into Google Earth you can see the locations. Typically, there are lots of pictures.

If we were planning the trip again, I would:

Go to the Cooktown area via the Peninsula Highway (16.535S 145.139E) for 4 nights. Stay on a live-aboard dive boat for 4 to 7 nights to see the Great Barrier Reef.

Spend a week in Cairns (Redlynch), Daintree Village, Julatten and Atherton.

Stay in Mission Beach for 3 nights.

Highlights of the Region:

Victoria’s Riflebird courtship display in Cape Tribulation NP Australian Bustard courtship display on West Mary Rd near Julatten Sea Birds at Michaelmas Cay NP & Snorkeling Hastings Reef Southern Cassowary Male and 2 chicks at Cape Tribulation NP Sarus Cranes at Bromfield Crater near Atherton Cairns Birdwing Butterfly & Atlas Moth at Mission Beach Spectacled Flying Fox (Bat) counting on the Daintree River

Birding Summary

The area is very diverse in geo-habitats and bird species. Table 1 gives the parks where we went birding each day with their latitude & longitude.

Table 1 Birding Locations Date City Park Lat & Long 24-Oct Cairns Crystal Cascades in Redlynch -16.962 145.679 25-Oct Cairns Cairns Esplanade Sidewalk -16.918 145.776 25-Oct Cairns Flecker Botanic Gardens -16.899 145.748 26-Oct Cairns Crystal Cascades in Redlynch -16.962 145.679 26-Oct Cairns Cairns Overlook -16.928 145.721 26-Oct Cairns Nutmeg Grove B&B -16.946 145.689 27-Oct Cairns Bones Horse Farm -16.869 145.694 27-Oct Cairns Nutmeg Grove B&B -16.946 145.689 27-Oct Cairns Crystal Cascades in Redlynch -16.962 145.679 28-Oct Cairns Nutmeg Grove B&B -16.946 145.689 29-Oct Cairns Michaelmas Cay NP -16.606 145.974 31-Oct Daintree Captain Cook Highway -16.645 145.564 31-Oct Daintree Newell Beach -16.429 145.407 31-Oct Daintree Daintree -16.25 145.318 1-Nov Daintree Daintree River Trip -16.25 145.317 1-Nov Daintree Daintree Village -16.25 145.318 2-Nov Daintree Cape Tribulation NP -16.196 145.413 3-Nov Daintree Cape Tribulation NP -16.196 145.413 3-Nov Daintree Daintree Swamp -16.276 145.388 3-Nov Daintree Daintree Village -16.25 145.318 4-Nov Daintree Mossman River -16.434 145.404 4-Nov Daintree Mossman Gorge NP -16.47 145.327 5-Nov Daintree Dan Irby boat tour -16.263 145.337 5-Nov Daintree Daintree Swamp -16.276 145.388 6-Nov Daintree Daintree Swamp -16.276 145.388 6-Nov Daintree Mossman Gorge NP -16.47 145.327 6-Nov Daintree Newell Beach -16.429 145.407 7-Nov Julatten Mt Lewis -16.595 145.279 7-Nov Julatten Kingfisher Park -16.595 145.339 8-Nov Julatten Kingfisher Park -16.595 145.339 8-Nov Julatten Bowerbird B&B -16.676 145.331 8-Nov Julatten Abattoir Swamp -16.651 145.338 9-Nov Julatten West Mary Rd -16.561 145.189 9-Nov Julatten Mt Carbide Roadhouse -16.528 145.134 9-Nov Julatten Mt Carbide -16.535 145.125 9-Nov Julatten Lake Mitchel -16.805 145.351 9-Nov Julatten Mareeba Wetlands -16.924 145.36 10-Nov Atherton Lake Mitchel -16.805 145.351 10-Nov Atherton Curtain Fig NP -17.286 145.574 10-Nov Atherton Chamber Lodge -17.286 145.636 11-Nov Atherton Chamber Lodge -17.286 145.636 11-Nov Atherton B’field’s Crater -17.371 145.541 12-Nov Atherton Hastings Swamp NP -17.297 145.477 12-Nov Atherton Mt Hypipamee NP -17.429 145.486 12-Nov Atherton Wongabel SF -17.328 145.502 12-Nov Atherton Milaa Milaa Lookout -17.497 145.612 12-Nov Atherton Chamber Lodge -17.286 145.636 13-Nov Atherton Hastings Swamp NP -17.297 145.477 13-Nov Atherton Wongabel SF -17.328 145.502 13-Nov Atherton Lake Barrine -17.245 145.639 14-Nov Atherton Chamber Lodge -17.286 145.636 14-Nov Atherton Milla Milla Loop -17.497 145.612 14-Nov Mission Beach Sanctuary -17.823 146.098

The following Table shows the number of bird species seen at each Park:

Park Total Species Mossman River Mangrove Boat Tour with Peter Cooper 51 Kingfisher Park in Julatten 50 Chamber Rainforest Lodge in Atherton 47 Cape Tribulation NP 43 Daintree Swamp 41 Crystal Cascades outside Cairns 39 Lake Mitchell 33 Hastings Swamp NP 31 Daintree Village 30 Daintree River Trip with Chris Dahlberg 29 Wongabel SF 28 Dan Irby boat tour on Barrett Creek 27 Milla Milla Waterfall Loop 26 Bones Horse Farm on the Barron River 26 Lake Mitchel 25 Esplanade Walk in Cairns 24 Mt Lewis 22 Lake Carbide 22 Curtain Fig NP 17 Captain Cook Highway to Port Douglas 16 Mission Beach Sanctuary Resort 15 Bromfield’s Crater 14 Mossman NP 13 Abattoir Swamp 13 Nutmeg Grove B&B outside Cairns 11 Michaelmas Cay NP 10 Big Mitchell Creek 9 Flecker Botanic Gardens 8 Mossman Gorge NP 7 Lake Barrine 7 Bowerbird B&B 7 Mt Carbide Roadhouse 6 Newell Beach 5 Mareeba Wetlands 4 Cairns Overlook 4 Malanda eco Park 3 Lake Echam 3 West Mary Rd 2 Mt Hypipamee NP 2 Milaa Milaa Lookout 2 Daintree River 2 Big Mitchel Creek 2

Of the 240 bird species we saw in Far North Queensland, 55 are endemic to Australia and 12 are endemic to only Queensland. Of the 183 non-Australian Endemic bird species seen, we had only seen 12 species before in North/Central/South America; i.e. there were 171 new species for us. Overall, 95% of the birds we saw in Far North Queensland were new for us.

Of the 240 bird species we saw in Far North Queensland, 47 species were never seen again during the 255-day trip around Australia; that is:

Australian Masked-Owl Glossy Swiftlet Red-chested Buttonquail Beach Stone-curlew Gould’s Bronze-Cuckoo Red-necked Crake Black Noddy Grey Whistler Sarus Crane Black-naped Tern Laughing Kookaburra Shining Flycatcher Black-winged Monarch Lesser Frigatebird Sooty Tern Blue-eyed Fig-Parrot Lesser Sooty-Owl Southern Cassowary Blue-faced Honeyeater Little Bronze-Cuckoo Squatter Pigeon Bridled Honeyeater Little Kingfisher Tall Gray-headed Robin Bridled Tern Little Lorikeet Tropical Scrubwren Brown-backed Honeyeater Lovely Fairywren Varied Honeyeater Buff-breasted Button-quail Nutmeg Mannikin White-browed Crake Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher Olive-backed Oriole White-browed Robin Chowchilla Pacific Swallow White-eared Monarch Brown Noddy Pale-headed Rosella White-faced Robin Eclectus Parrot Papuan Frogmouth Yellow-spotted Honeyeater Frilled Monarch Pied Monarch

Of the 240 bird species we saw in Far North Queensland (FNQ), we saw 126 species in both FNQ and the NT; i.e., 114 bird species we saw in FNQ we did not see in the NT.

Areas # Bird Species % In NT & Far North Qld 126 30.43% In Far North Qld but Not NT 114 27.54% In NT but Not Far North Qld 174 42.03% Total 414 100.00%

Of the 637 bird species in all of Queensland, we saw 38% in Far North Queensland in 24 days. By the time we left Queensland in Jan 2007, we had seen 53% of their bird species. By the time we left Australia in May 2007 we had seen 67% of the 819 bird species in the country.

As we moved around the region we constantly saw new species. We started by see 85 species in the Cairns area. By the time we got to Mission Beach we only saw 1 new species. The following Table shows the new species we added to our list as we moved thru the region:

Area New Species Cairns 85 Daintree 70 Julatten 47 Atherton 37 Mission Beach 1 Total 240

Special Comments:

Cairns Area:

The Crystal Cascades NP is part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage site and close to our B&B. Jasmine trees scent the path up the deep V gorge. In addition to heaps of birds, there are butterflies and a few wild orchids along the trail. Once we saw a tree explode with small Double-eyed Fig-Parrots squawking as loud as they could. The Fig Parrots eat from the native fig trees. Later in the season when the figs start to ferment, the parrots can get dead drunk by the end of the day.

The best time to go to the Cairns Esplanade (Boardwalk) to watch the waders is at high tide. We saw large flocks of birds like Bar-tailed Godwits and Eastern Curlews, Lesser Crested Terns, Pacific Swallows, Great Knots, Red-necked Stints, Caspian Terns and a Varied Honeyeater.

The Garden Restaurant at the Flecker Botanic Gardens in downtown Cairns has great food. One wall of the restaurant is made of Lobster-claw plants. My wife ordered the chicken wrapped in filo served on a garden salad with bean sprouts and a spicy lime dressing. I ordered chicken and Macadamia Nut salad with vinegar & oil dressing.

Our best Dn in Cairns was at the Garden Room Restaurant — a nuveau Thai restaurant. We had Turkish bread with dukkah, olive oil and Balsamic Vinegar (Turkish bread was like sour dough bread but with more air bubbles in the dough). We had Morton Bay Bugs with peppercorn & avocado, Jasmine rice, and stir-fried garden vegetables including Bok Choy for the entree (in Australia an Entree was half the size of a Main dish). The Bugs were huge and came in the shell, but were easy to shuck-out. We had the dessert platter — chocolate fudge cake, sticky rice, coconut-lime tart, coconut pancake with jam, and ice cream. It was the best sticky rice we ever had.

On Oct 27 Terry (our host at the B&B) took us to Bone’s Horse Farm (owned by a friend of his) on the Barron River in his Ute Truck. We stood on the bed of the Ute while Terry drove us around the farm and thru the Rye Grass fields. There were heaps of colorful Red-backed Fairywrens, Golden-headed Cisticola and Crimson Finches jumping around on the tops of the tall grasses, along with a few Nutmeg Mannikin, Yellow-bellied Sunbirds, and Yellow Honeyeaters. We saw several shiny-brown and black Pheasant Coucal glide across the fields and land in trees. Our best bird was the White-cheeked Honeyeater — yellow from beak to tail and olive-green on the back.

The Cairns Casino has a Buffet Lunch. The Casino is non-smoking, and the food is Beautiful!!!

On Oct 29 we boarded the Seastar in downtown Cairns at 7:30am. The first 2.5 hours were spent enroute to Michaelmas Cay (pronounced Mickel-Mass Kay) — an unspoiled natural coral island/sand bar that was renowned as a rookery for sea birds. Along the way we saw small several Brown Boobys. We had an absolutely perfect day for the trip — no wind, no clouds, no wave action, and only 37 people on the boat. The water temperature was a beautiful 75F.

We arrived at Michaelmas Cay at 10:30am. The first thing you see was thousands of birds flying erratically and squawking, creating a mild roar. There were birds everywhere — the shoreline was shoulder to shoulder with sea birds. Every square inch of the cay seems to be occupied. Birds were constantly coming and going, with a great flurry of wings.

Most of the small cay is a national park reserved for the birds. There is a small roped-off section of the beach for day-trippers. The rope serves as a convenient resting place for many hundreds of Noddys. The Noddys have learned that the day-trippers were not a threat – you can get as close as you like. The other birds stay a comfortable distance (say 10 feet) behind the rope.

We came ashore in small rubber rafts. It took a long time for our eyes to adjust to the bright sun reflecting off the pure-white sand beach. There were so many birds! We decided to start with the birds on the rope in front of us. They turned out to be some of the 20,000 rare Black Noddys that reside here year round. Back in the mass confusion higher-up on the cay, we found their larger and more common cousins – the Common Noddys. The Noddy’s were almost identical in overall appearance. Seeing them in close proximity helped us use size to tell them apart. This was one of the few places you can see them together.

We noticed heaps of terns bunched-up together. We ID’ed them as Sooty Terns and Bridled Terns. They look almost identical, but at this close range we could see the distinguishing features. There were thousands of each. We even found one Black-napped Tern — white head and black mask.

We noticed a pair of Frigatebird roosting on a piece of beached driftwood. They had an unmistakable bill — long and straight with an abrupt hook on the end. We couldn’t tell if it was the Greater or Lesser Frigatebird, but our boat captain said they were the Lesser Frigatebird.

We arrived at Hastings Reef on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef about 1pm. The water was 6 to 25 feet deep where we snorkeled

This part of the reef has masses of hard coral formations and a few soft corals. The first thing that hit us was the cobalt-blue staghorn coral. We had never seen this color in the water before. There were plate corals, table coral, fields of elk horn coral, and mammoth brain corals.

There were at least a 100 Giant Clams on the bottom. It takes 100’s of years for clams to reach this size. The smaller ones were quite sensitive to your presence, and flinch their green mouth when they “feel” you nearby. The large ones don’t take notice of snorkelers.

There were thousands of reef fish. They ranged from tiny and brilliantly colored, to every size and shape and color combination imaginable. We also saw some game fish hiding-out under rock ledges.

We headed back at 2:45pm and arrived at port at 5:30pm. There are faster boats that go to the reef, but we figure we saved $200A by spending a few extra hours admiring the ocean.

A lot of things in life don’t live up to their hype, but the Great Barrier Reef is something that everyone should experience at least once. Don’t leave Earth without going there!!! If you can’t swim — LEARN HOW. It’s that great! Anyway, you can always use a snorkel-lifejacket to boost your confidence in the water. There is no excuse for not going — NONE.

Daintree Area:

On Oct 31 we left Cairns at 7:30am driving north on the Captain Cook Highway toward Port Douglas. We stopped in parts of the World Heritage Rainforest. This is the oldest continuous forest on Earth – going back 400 million years.

We drove 50 miles and arrived at Port Douglas at Noon. We had lunch at a small café in town. We had a Turkish Stack Sandwich — grilled Ricotta cheese on Turkish bread with sautéed peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, and onions with great tasting olives on the side served over salad greens with a olive oil balsamic vinegar drizzled on then topped with grated parmesan. Beautiful!

We slowly pressed on north stopping at the enormous stretches of white-sand beach along the road. At Newell Beach we saw a rare Beach Stone-curlew flying down the shoreline. There are only a thousand of them left. We arrived at the Red Mill House in Daintree Village at 2:30pm. We spent a few hours talking to the resident guide Ellen about places to go birding here. We went out with Ellen on her evening walk-about of the outskirts of town. We saw the Graceful Honeyeater, Little Shrike-Thrush, Brown-backed Honeyeater, and Macleay’s Honeyeater.

On Nov 1 we met Chris Dahlberg at the Daintree boat dock at 6am for a 2-hour bird watching cruise (http://www.daintreerivertours.com.au/). The two best birds of the trip were the Papuan Frogmouth and Black Bittern. They were both from Papuan New Guinea and come here in the Southern Spring to nest.

The Papuan Frogmouth was sitting on a nest on a horizontal tree limb (where it has nested for several years). It was almost indistinguishable from the tree.

Later we saw a pair of Black Bittern nesting over the river. The nest was small for such large birds and looked flimsy, but Chris said they could stand-up to Cyclones. This was the first sighting of a Black Bittern this season.

There are not a lot of choices for eating in Daintree Village, but fortunately, they are all good. We had lunch at the General Store. My wife had the Crock Burger (looked like deep fried fish). I had the Max Burger — 3 large hamburger patties with bacon, pineapple, tomatoes, beetroot, and lettuce. My wife got Ice Coffee that came in a Milkshake glass with a scope of ice cream and 3 inches of Dollop with chocolate sprinkled on top. I had a real Chocolate Milkshake.

In the afternoon we spotted a Gould’s Bronze-Cuckoo in the garden of the B&B. Later we piled into Ellen’s small car to go Bat counting — until my wife screamed and nearly jumped thru the roof — she had seen a snake in the car, or maybe it was a Skink. Ellen stopped but could find anything. Later a Rainbow Skink (sort of a gecko) jumped on her leg — more screaming and nashing of teeth. We finally got to the meeting place for Bat counting, but the boat driver didn’t show up — O well. No worries, there is always tomorrow.

On Nov 2 we crossed the Daintree River by ferry at 6am and headed into Cape Tribulation NP. We stopped at a beautiful lookout where you could see the rainforest meeting the ocean. In the distance was Low Isles from which 10,000 Torresian Imperial-Pigeons commute to the mainland each day to hunt.

Our next stop was the Jimdalba Boardwalk (pronounced Jim-dall-Ba). The 700-meter boardwalk passes thru dense rainforest as it meanders around the contour of the basin. We spotted a male Victoria’s Riflebird doing his courtship display — bill pointed up and wings arched overhead. Pretty soon a female came along and did the same display. Then they were flying from tree to tree displaying together. Beautiful!!!!!!!!!!

After the walk we ate the Br that Ellen had fixed for us — fruit salad, sausage, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and home made salsa. During Br my wife spotted a baby Southern Cassowary, then there were 2 babies, and then Dad appeared. The Mom is a party girl and splits after laying the eggs. The Dad raises the chicks.

The chicks were not the least bit afraid of us. They were “chicks” in name only — even though they were only a few months old they were already 3 feet high. I had to retreat from taking pictures when they got too close. The Dad stayed in the shade eating, not particularly worried about the growing number of people around watching.

We drove north to the Heritage Lodge (16.165S 145.412E). Out in the jungle Wilma spotted a Musky Rat-Kangaroo — it looked like a huge rat with rufous fur and a long tail, but is a true kangaroo.

We stopped at Thornton Beach (16.173S 145.441E). In the car park we saw a pair of Black Butcher Birds that had caught a snake. A 6-year-old girl came over and told us the Butcher Birds had got a Green Tree Snake. Then she gave my wife a seashell flower she had made. We were touched.

Our final stop was at the Marrdja Boardwalk (16.144S 145.438E). It highlights the living fossil plants of the Wet Tropic Rainforest — the survivors of the original Gondwana land super continent. The road to this point was fine for normal cars. At 5:30pm we were at the Daintree Cruise Center to try Bat counting again. This time the captain showed up. We had a nice boat ride and about15 minutes of “work”. We counted 20,800 Spectacled Flying Foxes as they lifted off at sundown.

Back at the B&B we went to the Mederiterian restaurant for dinner. We had Croc Wonton, Spring rolls, and Stuffed Prawns on a Sugar Cane stick, followed by Chinese BBQ chicken.

On Nov 3 we got to the Jimdalba Boardwalk in Cape Tribulation NP at 6:45am. We got a good look at a Pale-yellow Robin that is only found in this part of the Rainforest. We also found Cat-Whiskers plants that had turned into shrubs.

We got to the Marrdja Boardwalk just after high tide. We decided to take the walk to see how deep the water would be on the Mangroves. We heard a splash and looked-up to see a heart-thumping deep royal-blue Little Kingfisher. We drove further north to the Dubjji Boardwalk near the Village of Cape Tribulation. The highlight from this area was seeing 2 large Dragons. Not many birds, but we did find a soft drink today made by Jim Beam — “Kentucky Straight Whiskey and Cola”.

On Oct 31 we left Cairns at 7:30am driving north on the Captain Cook Highway toward Port Douglas. We stopped in parts of the World Heritage Rainforest. This is the oldest continuous forest on Earth – going back 400 million years.

We drove 50 miles and arrived at Port Douglas at Noon. We had lunch at a small café in town. We had a Turkish Stack Sandwich — grilled Ricotta cheese on Turkish bread with sautéed peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, and onions with great tasting olives on the side served over salad greens with a olive oil balsamic vinegar drizzled on then topped with grated parmesan. Beautiful!

We slowly pressed on north stopping at the enormous stretches of white-sand beach along the road. At Newell Beach we saw a rare Beach Stone-curlew flying down the shoreline. There are only a thousand of them left. We arrived at the Red Mill House in Daintree Village at 2:30pm. We spent a few hours talking to the resident guide Ellen about places to go birding here. We went out with Ellen on her evening walk-about of the outskirts of town. We saw the Graceful Honeyeater, Little Shrike-Thrush, Brown-backed Honeyeater, and Macleay’s Honeyeater.

On Nov 1 we met Chris Dahlberg at the Daintree boat dock at 6am for a 2-hour bird watching cruise (http://www.daintreerivertours.com.au/). The two best birds of the trip were the Papuan Frogmouth and Black Bittern. They were both from Papuan New Guinea and come here in the Southern Spring to nest.

The Papuan Frogmouth was sitting on a nest on a horizontal tree limb (where it has nested for several years). It was almost indistinguishable from the tree.

Later we saw a pair of Black Bittern nesting over the river. The nest was small for such large birds and looked flimsy, but Chris said they could stand-up to Cyclones. This was the first sighting of a Black Bittern this season.

There are not a lot of choices for eating in Daintree Village, but fortunately, they are all good. We had lunch at the General Store. My wife had the Crock Burger (looked like deep fried fish). I had the Max Burger — 3 large hamburger patties with bacon, pineapple, tomatoes, beetroot, and lettuce. My wife got Ice Coffee that came in a Milkshake glass with a scope of ice cream and 3 inches of Dollop with chocolate sprinkled on top. I had a real Chocolate Milkshake.

In the afternoon we spotted a Gould’s Bronze-Cuckoo in the garden of the B&B. Later we piled into Ellen’s small car to go Bat counting — until my wife screamed and nearly jumped thru the roof — she had seen a snake in the car, or maybe it was a Skink. Ellen stopped but could find anything. Later a Rainbow Skink (sort of a gecko) jumped on her leg — more screaming and nashing of teeth. We finally got to the meeting place for Bat counting, but the boat driver didn’t show up — O well. No worries, there is always tomorrow.

On Nov 2 we crossed the Daintree River by ferry at 6am and headed into Cape Tribulation NP. We stopped at a beautiful lookout where you could see the rainforest meeting the ocean. In the distance was Low Isles from which 10,000 Torresian Imperial-Pigeons commute to the mainland each day to hunt.

Our next stop was the Jimdalba Boardwalk (pronounced Jim-dall-Ba). The 700-meter boardwalk passes thru dense rainforest as it meanders around the contour of the basin. We spotted a male Victoria’s Riflebird doing his courtship display — bill pointed up and wings arched overhead. Pretty soon a female came along and did the same display. Then they were flying from tree to tree displaying together. Beautiful!!!!!!!!!!

After the walk we ate the Br that Ellen had fixed for us — fruit salad, sausage, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and home made salsa. During Br my wife spotted a baby Southern Cassowary, then there were 2 babies, and then Dad appeared. The Mom is a party girl and splits after laying the eggs. The Dad raises the chicks.

The chicks were not the least bit afraid of us. They were “chicks” in name only — even though they were only a few months old they were already 3 feet high. I had to retreat from taking pictures when they got too close. The Dad stayed in the shade eating, not particularly worried about the growing number of people around watching.

We drove north to the Heritage Lodge (16.165S 145.412E). Out in the jungle Wilma spotted a Musky Rat-Kangaroo — it looked like a huge rat with rufous fur and a long tail, but is a true kangaroo.

We stopped at Thornton Beach (16.173S 145.441E). In the car park we saw a pair of Black Butcher Birds that had caught a snake. A 6-year-old girl came over and told us the Butcher Birds had got a Green Tree Snake. Then she gave my wife a seashell flower she had made. We were touched.

Our final stop was at the Marrdja Boardwalk (16.144S 145.438E). It highlights the living fossil plants of the Wet Tropic Rainforest — the survivors of the original Gondwana land super continent. The road to this point was fine for normal cars. At 5:30pm we were at the Daintree Cruise Center to try Bat counting again. This time the captain showed up. We had a nice boat ride and about15 minutes of “work”. We counted 20,800 Spectacled Flying Foxes as they lifted off at sundown.

Back at the B&B we went to the Mederiterian restaurant for dinner. We had Croc Wonton, Spring rolls, and Stuffed Prawns on a Sugar Cane stick, followed by Chinese BBQ chicken.

On Nov 3 we got to the Jimdalba Boardwalk in Cape Tribulation NP at 6:45am. We got a good look at a Pale-yellow Robin that is only found in this part of the Rainforest. We also found Cat-Whiskers plants that had turned into shrubs.

We got to the Marrdja Boardwalk just after high tide. We decided to take the walk to see how deep the water would be on the Mangroves. We heard a splash and looked-up to see a heart-thumping deep royal-blue Little Kingfisher. We drove further north to the Dubjji Boardwalk near the Village of Cape Tribulation. The highlight from this area was seeing 2 large Dragons. Not many birds, but we did find a soft drink today made by Jim Beam — “Kentucky Straight Whiskey and Cola”.

Later in the afternoon we went swamping. This part of the Tableland has heaps of swamps and wetlands. We saw Brown-backed Honeyeaters , Spectacled Monarch, etc, and 2 Green Tree Snakes.

At Abattoir Swamp we walked the boardwalk to the Bird Hide. We scared up a White-browed Crake, and saw a Latham’s Snipe. Later we heard and then saw a Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher. I asked Dennis about the road to Cooktown. He said the Peninsular Road was a beautiful 221 Km sealed road. He said the coastal road from Cooktown south to the Village of Cape Tribulation (a.k.a. Bloomfield Track) should only be driven by 4WD vehicles because it was rough and you had to ford rivers.

On Nov 9 we were on the road at 6:10am driving north on the Peninsular Road. We stopped at lots of creek crossings and the Brooklyn Wildlife Sanctuary. We heard a multitude of birds and managed to see a juvenile Brown Falcon hugging against a telephone pole, 3 Red-chested Buttonquails darted across the trail in front of us, and heaps of Blue-winged and Laughing Kookaburras.

We checked East Mary River Road and found a male Australian Bustard in its courting display. The displaying Bustard has a rigid pose with the head held high; neck and face ballooned to double the normal size, and the front white waddle hanging to the ground. The tail was composed of three sections. The middle section was held vertically, while the two outer sections point down. People say when they get really excited they can roar like a lion.

We stopped at the Mt Carbide Roadhouse. The attendant told us the best birding in the area was in their garden — they had 27 varieties of birds. She took us outside and pointed out some of her birds. While we ate Br we saw several Eclectus Parrots and a pair of Squatter Pigeons — the male has an orange ellipse around its eye, the female has a yellow ellipse. A Pale-headed Rosella flew in and sat on a water spigot for a long time so we could observe its subtle shades of light blues and greens – absolutely gorgeous bird!

We drove over to Lake Carbide. There were stacks of Coots, Hardheads and Plumed Whistling-Ducks, with the odd Green Pygmy-geese, Pacific Black Ducks, and Australian Wood Ducks. There was a Great Egret watching over things, and a flock of Chestnut-breasted Mannikins frolicked by in the reeds. We had a great view of a Great Crested Grebe.

We saw dozens of Dollarbirds swooping down to the lake to drink. The sun shining on the wings highlighted their blue-green colors and Silver Dollar size white spot on each wing.

We drove down to the Mareeba Wetlands in the afternoon to see their Gouldian Finch breeding program. We were so impressed we stayed for the Mango-Macadamia Nut Cheesecake and coffee/tea. It was way too hot by then to even think about walking around the wetland.

We headed back to East Mary Road to try to photograph the Bustard. The male we saw this morning was gone. We did find a female Bustard on the prowl — till we scared her off. Later we found a male in another field still doing the courting display ritual.

Atherton Area

On Nov 11 we were off at 5:50am. We stopped at Mitchell Lake and Big Mitchell Creek for a couple of hours of birding and saw 33 bird species

We stopped outside Youngaburra at the Curtain Fig Tree NP. Right off we saw a Gray-headed Robin. We found a rare Green Tree Possum balled up in a tree (a local bloke with a possum book ID’ed it for us). The “green” was formed by the white, black and yellow hairs.

We ate at Nick’s Swiss-Italian Restaurant in Youngaburra. We had Veal Schnitzel and Pork Loin with stuffed zucchini (peppers, onions and tomatoes), glazed carrots, spiced pumpkin, potato au gratin, homemade sauerkraut, and Spaetzil (a baked pasta with nutmeg and Swiss cheese). The Chamber’s Rainforest Lodge was hit hard by the cyclone in March 2006, but everything was back to normal when we got there. The owner said the government gave every business $10,000 a few days after the storm was over, and $15,000 a few weeks later. As a consequence, everything kept operating. However, when you walk in the forest you see heaps of giant trees being harvested for furniture — the golden wood was especially beautiful.

We had the male Victoria’s Riflebirds and Lewis Honeyeaters come to the feeder on our balcony in the afternoon. Later we went for a walk and saw a spectacularly brilliant Yellow-throated Scrubwren, a Tawny Grassbird, a White-throated Treecreeper, some Eastern Whipbirds, a White-eared Monarch, and a Brown Gerygone (pronounced Jeer-rig-a-knee).

The Red-Legged Pademelons (type of small Rainforest Kangaroo) started gathering around 6pm for their evening feeding — free food still draws a crowd, even if its potato peels. They had to set up security before the family could feed. Eleven Pademelons came out tonight — the other 17 were on guard duty.

Later we adjourned to the Sugar Glider viewing area. The Lodge puts honey on 2 trees to attract night critters. We saw 3 Sugar Gliders (small possums that can glide from tree to tree), a long-tailed Striped Possum, and a White-tailed Uromys (a.k.a. Rat with a possum nose).

On Nov 11 we went for a 2 hr walk around the lodge grounds in the early morning. We saw the Eastern Whipbird and heard its distinctive Whip-Crack call with lots of Atherton Scrubwrens twittering in the background. We saw a Gray-headed Robin, Mountain Thornbill and Satin Bowerbird. When we got back, the Tooth-billed Bowerbird was perched outside our lodge.

We had a good afternoon birding from our balcony. A pair of Golden Whistlers started building a nest near the balcony. We had Victoria’s Riflebirds, Spotted Catbirds, Lewis Honeyeaters, Laughing Kookaburras, and Little Shrike-thrushes coming to feed.

About 4:30pm we left for Bromfield’s Crater and almost ran over a Buff-breasted Button-quail. At the Crater we saw 53 Sarus Crane and 2 Broglas. The Cranes are very tall with a huge beak. They had red heads and legs. The Broglas are about the same size and general appearance, but had gray legs and only a small red patch on the head. Also, Broglas honk, Cranes squawk.

The Sarus Cranes are extremely rare. There are only a few hundred in Australia. They were not identified till 1966. They stay in the Atherton area from June to December, and them leave for Cape York to breed. We got here just in time.

Dingoes were howling tonight at the Lodge, and scared off some of the Red-Legged Pademelons — only the dominant male and 5 females (some with Joeys) came out for feeding. The Lesser Sooty-Owl finished off the night-show with its piercing “Bomb Drop” whistle.

Back in our cabin, a Giant White-tailed Rat had discovered the bird food we left on the balcony. The rat was the size and shape of a Soccer ball with a 4 ft tail — the first 2 ft was black and the last 2 ft was white. We ended up tossing all the seeds and fruit into the bush so the rat wouldn’t have any reason to hang around our room.

On Nov 12 we were off at 6am for Hasties Swamp NP. There must had been a 1000 Purple Swamp-hens there. Later we drove around the area and stopped at several other parks.

About 4pm we went on a walk around the grounds. We found a Saw-tooth Bowerbird and listened to him calling. Two females were answering, but we couldn’t see his bower. Saw-tooth Bowerbirds are pretty lazy — their display stage was green leaves spread on bare ground, pale side up.

On Nov 13 we got to Wongabel SF at 8:20am. We walked the 2.7 Km track in just under 3 hours. The male Rufous, Gray, and Northern Fantails were out in force flashing their tails trying to attract a mate.

We found a male Virginia’s Riflebird displaying. First the male would make the loud/harsh call — sort of a “Yasser”. If a female called back, the male would raise his wings. If the female came over, the male would arch his wings over his head and begin to dance around the female with his mouth open. In this case, apparently the lining of the mouth wasn’t yellow enough, because the female flew off. But hope springs eternal, and the male kept of calling and flashing.

On the way back to the Lodge, we spotted a Cairns Birdwing Butterfly. It was breathtakingly beautiful!

After lunch, the Lewin’s Honeyeater was scarfing down the apple chunks as fast as we could put them on the veranda railing. In the afternoon we walked back the entrance road and found the bower for the Tooth-billed Bowerbird we saw yesterday. We saw the bird bringing in big green leaves to form his “circle of love”.

We went to Lake Barrine for our evening walk-about. We were amazed by the number of Great Creasted Grebes on the lake — strikingly beautiful birds. We went for a walk in the Rainforest and saw the giant Kari trees (150 ft tall). For the last 3 days there has been a group of Canadian birders here. Saturday they left at 6am and got back at 11:30pm. They were guaranteed to see 170 birds and 10 kangaroos while here — even if it killed them. I made a mental note never to sign up for a trip like that. A morning of birding followed by a relaxing afternoon is the way to go for us.

Mission Beach Area

On Nov 14 we were up for an early morning walk. Later we drove the 15 Km Waterfall Loop near Millaa Millaa. The three waterfalls were booming, which was surprising since it hasn’t been raining. There was heaps of Red Salvia and Impatience around the falls.

The Waterfalls Loop went thru lush cattle country. We saw a farmer on his 4-wheeler, with his 4 Australian Sheep Dogs, going out to get the cows. We saw many birds, including: some White-throated Needletails, Glossy Swiftlets, a Western Gerygone, and a knock-out-Beautiful Yellow-breasted Boatbill.

We came down the steep Palmerston Highway to the coast, and headed south to Mission Beach. The coast is sugar cane country. We saw lots of harvesting and had to stop to let a sugar cane train with its miniature cars go by. On the way to the Sanctuary a Southern Cassowary crossed the road in front of us. Mission Beach was “ground zero” for the Cat V Cyclone in March 2006. Susan, the co-owner of the resort, told us it took them a week to cut the hundreds of trees across their 600m road so they could get back to the resort after the storm. There were no leaves on the trees after the cyclone. Things had greened up in the last 7 months and you can hardly tell that anything unusual had happened.

We ate lunch at the Sanctuary. My wife had salad with fete cheese and sun dried tomatoes. I had Thai Fish Cakes with a garden salad and bush tomatoes (smaller than Cherry tomatoes).

For dinner we started with pumpkin and coconut soup, and Italian bread with baked pesto and cheese. The main course was 1.5-inch thick Fillet Mignon streaks with potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, onions and garlic with a fabulous gravy (they use cream in the gravies).

On Nov 15 we were up at 5:15am to see the pre-dawn pastel colors in the sky from our balcony. The sun peaked out of the ocean at 5:37am. We went out for an early morning walk. We saw heaps of Cairns Birdwing butterflies, and one female Yellow-bellied Sunbird sitting on her nest.

For lunch my wife had a veggie wrap with lettuce, tomatoes, beetroot, sprouts, avocado, pine nuts and pesto sauce. I had a Greek salad. The cyclone had definitely impacted the bird life at the Sanctuary. We only saw 15 bird species here, but enjoyed out stay.

Mid afternoon we went to the lounge for Cappuccino and Chai Latte. Someone said a Cassowary was in the garden. Everyone rushed out to see the endangered giant bird. I saw the Cassowary pick up a red tomato and swallow it whole. There are only 1000 Cassowaries left in Australia, and only 2 left around here.

At dinner we had Potato and Leek soup, and a Greek Salad with deep fried sweet potato peel. For the main course my wife had sweet potato & prawn cakes. I had Thai Fish Soup with Barramundi – it came in a half-gallon bowl. I ate the fish but only a fraction of the vegetable and noodle sauce. Beautiful Tucker!

After dinner we photographed moths around the dinning area. We found an Atlas Moth. It was bigger than my hand.

E-mail if you would like a file with the specific birds we saw each day.

Carl & Wilma Ball carlball@yahoo.com

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