Far North Queensland – March 2012

A week’s trip, from 25th March to 4th April 2012, was arranged at short notice to visit Julatten and the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland. The area hadn’t had much rain yet, so it was an opportunity to visit before the wet season started in earnest.  

The reason for the trip was to see the Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher which can be easily found during the wet season. This kingfisher typically arrives in November, having migrated from New Guinea, and leaves again in March after completion of breeding. We had previously had a very brief glimpse of the bird at Paluma Range National Park which was far from satisfactory.

Buff-breasted Paradise-Flycatcher

We also had some other target birds, these being the Chowchilla, Fernwren, Blue-faced Parrot-finch, Pale-vented Bush-hen and Lesser Sooty Owl.  I had previously seen the Blue-faced Parrot-finch on Lifou Island in New Caledonia and the Pale-vented Bush-hen on Halmahera Island in Indonesia but wanted to see them in Australia as well.   

There were also two other long-shots, the Spotted Whistling-Duck which had been seen at Wonga Beach last year and the Buff-breasted Button-quail which had been seen close to Lake Mitchell late last year. The BBBQ was unlikely to be seen as they apparently arrive in the area in late November and then disappear once the wet season starts and the grass becomes dense. It is also an extremely rare bird and is said to be the second most difficult bird to find in Australia after the Night Parrot.

Yvonne and I left Melbourne on Saturday morning (25th March) and flew up to Cairns on the direct Qantas flight. We had rented a RAV4 from Avis which was an excellent vehicle for the trip. We drove up to Port Douglas and then onto Kingfisher Park Lodge in Julatten for four nights. We then drove to the Atherton Tablelands and stayed at the Crater Lakes Rainforest Cottages which borders Lake Eacham National Park for a further four nights.

Kingfisher Park has comfortable accommodation and is particularly well suited for birders, having a good range of bird species which can be seen easily from the accommodation. The park is also very close to Mount Lewis which was the place to visit to see most of our target species. In addition to the birds, the reptiles and mammals are easily seen. These include Boyd’s Forest Dragon, Giant White-tailed Uromys (Rat), Northern Brown Bandicoot, Fawn-footed Melomys and Yellow-footed Antechinus. 

Spotted Catbird

Crater Lakes has lovely cottages which are positioned within a couple of metres of the rainforest and within walking distance of Lake Eacham. From the veranda of the cottages, rainforest species such as Spotted Catbird, Grey-headed Robin, Bridled Honeyeater and Macleay’s Honeyeater can all be seen close-up. Mammals seen close to the cottages included Musky Rat-Kangaroo and Red-legged Pademelon.

Red-legged Pademelon
Although it was humid for the entire trip, it was surprisingly cool up at Julatten and even more so at Lake Eacham. The downsides of wet season trips are the mosquitoes, which weren’t too bad, and the leaches which were particularly prevalent in the rain forests. One of the upsides of a wet season visit is the absence of tourists.

It did rain, which was expected for the wet season, but usually in the afternoons and evenings. The rain was usually for short periods and didn’t impact significantly on our trip. On our last night at Kingfisher Park, we had some heavy rain (over 100mm) and this cut-off many of the roads. To get to Lake Eacham we had to go back down to Port Douglas and then along the coast to Cairns and then up to Kuranda and then Atherton.

We saw hardly any water birds on the trip and many species, which would be seen in the dry season, such as the Brolga and Sarus Crane, were absent. On the other hand, many species were easily seen, such as the Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher which was in the gardens at Kingfisher Park and also on the lower parts of Mount Lewis.

On arrival at Kingfisher Park one of the first birds seen was the Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher, which was in the gardens and easily photographed. The hosts at Kingfisher Park were Keith and Lindsay Fisher who are well known to the birding community. Lindsay had arranged for us to meet up with Carol Iles a local birder who was to take us out for a couple of birding trips. That afternoon, Carol showed me around her property which is on Bushy Creek. As we walked down to the creek, we flushed a Pale-vented Bush-hen and then later on had good views of a pair of birds walking between clumps of tall grass and in the forest. We also heard at least another two birds. Nice start to the trip.

We went spotlighting with Carol that evening and saw at least four Barn Owl and two Bush Stone-curlew. Also saw a Green Ringtail Possum, Spectacled Flying Fox and two bat species, the Smaller Horseshoe Bat and Northern Broad-nosed Bat.

On Sunday we went up Mount Lewis with Carol for the morning and found the Blue-faced Parrot-finch in the seeding grasses at the main clearing. We heard many Fernwren but couldn’t see them. Chowchilla were also heard in many places and was eventually seen crossing the road and then a family group of four birds was seen well. Saw just over 40 birds on Mount Lewis and also heard the Golden Bowerbird. There was a sluggish Red-bellied Black Snake in the grass close to the road, which I had walked past and not seen.

That evening we went spotlighting with Carol and the highlight was one (possibly two) Striped Possum and a Northern Leaf-tailed Gecko.

On Monday morning, Yvonne and I left at 5:30am and headed up Mount Lewis in the dark. We stopped at various spots on the way up and got to the clearing at about 7:30am. The Blue-faced Parrot-finch were easily seen from the car as we arrived. I then spent some time in the forest and eventually located a pair of Fernwren close-up together with a female Eastern Whipbird.

Victoria's Riflebird (female)

In the afternoon, we went down to various birding spots around Newell Beach and Wonga Beach. No Spotted Whistling-Duck or Red-rumped Swallow seen but of interest was 10 Bush Stone-curlew in a garden at Wonga Beach.

Saw a pair of Red-necked Crake at Kingfisher Park at dusk.

On Tuesday we went to Mt Molloy and then onto Lake Mitchell. Had a look around the site for the BBBQ and no quail of any description were seen, heard or flushed. The grass was quite long although still sparse on the hillsides. Some nice bush birds seen including the only Pale-headed Rosella of the trip. Lake Mitchell was devoid of birdlife except for a lonely Cormorant. Stopped at Abattoir Swamp on the way back and again no water birds. The eucalypt trees were in flower so quite a few honeyeater seen, including Brown-backed, Yellow and Yellow-faced.

That evening we had heavy rain and many of the local roads were closed the next morning due to flooding. Carol let us know that Spotted Whistling-Duck had been seen in the Daintree area however we couldn’t travel up there as the roads had been flooded out.

We left Kingfisher Park in the morning and took the coastal road to Cairns and then Lake Eacham via Kuranda. The only birds of interest for the drive were a flock of Magpie Geese on the turnoff to Port Douglas.   

Took a walk around Lake Eacham in the afternoon before going to the Crater Lakes accommodation.

On Thursday we took a walk around Lake Barrine in the early morning and came across a large (4 to 5m) Amethyst or Scrub Python, the largest python found in Australia.  We were alerted to the snake by the Lewin’s Honeyeater and Victoria’s Riflebird calls.
Amethyst Python

Visited Hastie’s Swamp later in the morning, which didn’t have much in the way of water birds, and then the Curtain Fig National Park.

Curtain Fig Tree

In the evening we visited the Curtain Fig National Park again and Lake Eacham. No Sooty Owl were heard, however we had great views of a Rufous Owl at the entrance to Lake Eacham National Park.

On Friday, we travelled down to Malanda and then visited Millstream Falls National Park.
Millstream Falls

Took the Kennedy Highway out to Mount Garnet and then a dirt road between Innot Hot Springs and Herberton. Many Scaly-breasted Lorikeet seen at Millstream Falls and two flocks of Squatter Pigeon seen on the dirt road to Herberton. Started to rain heavily in the afternoon and the dirt road became a bit slippery; however the RAV4 handled the conditions well. 
Squatter Pigeon

In the evening we spotlighted the Lake Eacham area to try and track down the Lesser Sooty Owl and a single bird was heard a couple of times.

On Saturday we visited Bromfield Swamp and Mt Hypipamee National Park. After that we travelled to the Old Kaban Road and then Ravenshoe for lunch.

That evening we visited the spot at Lake Eacham where we had heard the Lesser Sooty Owl and two birds were heard calling, in addition a Southern Boobook was heard. Although the one Sooty Owl must have been close, we couldn't locate it in the rainforest. Also saw a Northern Leaf-tailed Gecko which had been found by a photographer also staying at the Crater Lakes accommodation.

On Sunday morning we drove down to Cairns via Gordonvale and briefly visited the Esplanade. Birds of interest seen there were the Great Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit in partial breeding plumage.

Had a midday direct flight back to Melbourne with a flying time of only 2 hours 40 minutes. On the way back we passed over the flooded areas of NSW and Victoria which had had some serious flooding.  At least we know now where the rain went too!

With the exception of the Sooty Owl, all our target birds were seen. This excludes the Spotted Whistling-Duck and the Buff-breasted Button-quail which were long-shots.

Overall a good trip and interesting to see the area during the wet season.

The full list of 157 birds seen on the trip, as per the IOC taxonomy, is listed below:
Australian Brushturkey [sp] (Alectura lathami)  

Orange-footed Scrubfowl [sp] (Megapodius reinwardt)  

Magpie Goose (Anseranas semipalmata) 

Plumed Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna eytoni)  

Wandering Whistling Duck [sp] (Dendrocygna arcuata)  

Maned Duck (Chenonetta jubata) 

Pacific Black Duck [sp] (Anas superciliosa)  

Hardhead [sp] (Aythya australis) 

Australasian Grebe [sp] (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae)  

Great Crested Grebe [sp] (Podiceps cristatus)  

Australian White Ibis [sp] (Threskiornis moluccus)  

Straw-necked Ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis)  

Eastern Cattle Egret (Bubulcus coromandus)  

Great Egret [sp] (Ardea alba) 

Intermediate Egret [sp] (Egretta intermedia)  

Little Black Cormorant (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris)  

Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris) 

Black Kite [sp] (Milvus migrans) 

Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus)  

White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster)  

Grey Goshawk (Accipiter novaehollandiae)  

Brown Goshawk [sp] (Accipiter fasciatus)  

Wedge-tailed Eagle [sp] (Aquila audax)  

Nankeen Kestrel [sp] (Falco cenchroides)  

Red-necked Crake (Rallina tricolor)  

Buff-banded Rail [sp] (Gallirallus philippensis)  

Pale-vented Bush-hen [sp] (Amaurornis moluccana)  

Purple Swamphen [sp] (Porphyrio porphyrio)  

Dusky Moorhen [sp] (Gallinula tenebrosa)  

Eurasian Coot [sp] (Fulica atra) 

Bush Stone-curlew (Burhinus grallarius)  

Pied Oystercatcher (Haematopus longirostris)  

Masked Lapwing [sp] (Vanellus miles)  

Latham's Snipe (Gallinago hardwickii)  

Bar-tailed Godwit [sp] (Limosa lapponica)  

Whimbrel [sp] (Numenius phaeopus) 

Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis)  

Grey-tailed Tattler (Tringa brevipes)  

Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus)  

Great Knot (Calidris tenuirostris) 

Silver Gull [sp] (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae)  

Greater Crested Tern [sp] (Thalasseus bergii)  

Little Tern [sp] (Sternula albifrons)  

White-headed Pigeon (Columba leucomela)  

Brown Cuckoo-dove [sp] (Macropygia phasianella)  

Pacific Emerald Dove [sp] (Chalcophaps longirostris)  

Crested Pigeon [sp] (Ocyphaps lophotes)  

Squatter Pigeon [sp] (Geophaps scripta)  

Peaceful Dove [sp] (Geopelia placida) 

Bar-shouldered Dove [sp] (Geopelia humeralis)  

Wompoo Fruit Dove [sp] (Ptilinopus magnificus)  

Superb Fruit Dove [sp] (Ptilinopus superbus)  

Torresian Imperial Pigeon (Ducula spilorrhoa)  

Topknot Pigeon (Lopholaimus antarcticus)  

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo [sp] (Cacatua galerita)  

Rainbow Lorikeet [sp] (Trichoglossus moluccanus)  

Scaly-breasted Lorikeet (Trichoglossus chlorolepidotus)  

Crimson Rosella [sp] (Platycercus elegans)  

Pale-headed Rosella [sp] (Platycercus adscitus)  

Australian King Parrot [sp] (Alisterus scapularis)  

Red-winged Parrot [sp] (Aprosmictus erythropterus)  

Double-eyed Fig Parrot [sp] (Cyclopsitta diophthalma)  

Pheasant Coucal [sp] (Centropus phasianinus)  

Channel-billed Cuckoo [sp] (Scythrops novaehollandiae)  

Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo [sp] (Cacomantis castaneiventris) Heard

Sooty Owl [sp] (Tyto tenebricosa)Heard

Eastern Barn Owl [sp] (Tyto delicatula)  

Rufous Owl [sp] (Ninox rufa) 

Southern Boobook [sp] (Ninox boobook) Heard

Australian Swiftlet [sp] (Aerodramus terraereginae)  

Pacific Swift [sp] (Apus pacificus) 

Oriental Dollarbird [sp] (Eurystomus orientalis)  

Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher [sp] (Tanysiptera sylvia)  

Laughing Kookaburra [sp] (Dacelo novaeguineae)  

Forest Kingfisher [sp] (Todiramphus macleayii)  

Sacred Kingfisher [sp] (Todiramphus sanctus)  

Azure Kingfisher [sp] (Ceyx azureus)  

Little Kingfisher [sp] (Ceyx pusillus)  

Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus)  

Spotted Catbird [sp] (Ailuroedus melanotis)  

Tooth-billed Bowerbird (Scenopoeetes dentirostris)  

Golden Bowerbird (Prionodura newtoniana) Heard

Great Bowerbird [sp] (Chlamydera nuchalis)  

White-throated Treecreeper [sp] (Cormobates leucophaea)  

Brown Treecreeper [sp] (Climacteris picumnus)  

Red-backed Fairywren [sp] (Malurus melanocephalus)  

Macleay's Honeyeater (Xanthotis macleayanus)  

Bridled Honeyeater (Lichenostomus frenatus)  

Yellow-faced Honeyeater [sp] (Lichenostomus chrysops)  

Varied Honeyeater [sp] (Lichenostomus versicolor)  

Yellow Honeyeater [sp] (Lichenostomus flavus)  

Fuscous Honeyeater [sp] (Lichenostomus fuscus)  

Graceful Honeyeater [sp] (Meliphaga gracilis)  

Yellow-spotted Honeyeater [sp] (Meliphaga notata)  

Lewin's Honeyeater [sp] (Meliphaga lewinii)  

Noisy Miner [sp] (Manorina melanocephala)  

Blue-faced Honeyeater [sp] (Entomyzon cyanotis)  

White-throated Honeyeater [sp] (Melithreptus albogularis)  

White-naped Honeyeater (Melithreptus lunatus)  

Hornbill Friarbird (Philemon yorki)  

Noisy Friarbird [sp] (Philemon corniculatus)  

Brown-backed Honeyeater (Ramsayornis modestus)  

Eastern Spinebill [sp] (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris)  

Dusky Myzomela [sp] (Myzomela obscura)  

Scarlet Myzomela (Myzomela sanguinolenta)  

Fernwren (Oreoscopus gutturalis) 

Atherton Scrubwren (Sericornis keri)  

Yellow-throated Scrubwren [sp] (Sericornis citreogularis)  

Large-billed Scrubwren [sp] (Sericornis magnirostra)  

Brown Gerygone [sp] (Gerygone mouki)  

Mountain Thornbill (Acanthiza katherina)  

Chowchilla [sp] (Orthonyx spaldingii)  

Eastern Whipbird [sp] (Psophodes olivaceus)  

Yellow-breasted Boatbill [sp] (Machaerirhynchus flaviventer)  

Black Butcherbird [sp] (Cracticus quoyi)  

Grey Butcherbird [sp] (Cracticus torquatus)  

Pied Butcherbird [sp] (Cracticus nigrogularis)  

Australian Magpie [sp] (Gymnorhina tibicen)  

Pied Currawong [sp] (Strepera graculina)  

White-breasted Woodswallow [sp] (Artamus leucorynchus)  

Black-faced Cuckooshrike [sp] (Coracina novaehollandiae)  

Barred Cuckooshrike [sp] (Coracina lineata)  

White-bellied Cuckooshrike [sp] (Coracina papuensis)  

Varied Triller [sp] (Lalage leucomela)  

Grey Whistler [sp] (Pachycephala simplex)  

Australian Golden Whistler [sp] (Pachycephala pectoralis)  

Rufous Whistler [sp] (Pachycephala rufiventris)  

Bower's Shrikethrush (Colluricincla boweri)  

Little Shrikethrush [sp] (Colluricincla megarhyncha)  

Australasian Figbird [sp] (Sphecotheres vieilloti)  

Spangled Drongo [sp] (Dicrurus bracteatus)  

Willie Wagtail [sp] (Rhipidura leucophrys)  

Grey Fantail [sp] (Rhipidura albiscapa)  

Rufous Fantail [sp] (Rhipidura rufifrons)  

Spectacled Monarch [sp] (Symposiachrus trivirgatus)  

Black-faced Monarch (Monarcha melanopsis)  

Pied Monarch [sp] (Arses kaupi) 

Magpie-lark [sp] (Grallina cyanoleuca)  

Leaden Flycatcher [sp] (Myiagra rubecula)  

Torresian Crow [sp] (Corvus orru) 

Victoria's Riflebird (Ptiloris victoriae)  

Grey-headed Robin (Heteromyias cinereifrons)  

Pale-yellow Robin [sp] (Tregellasia capito)  

Lemon-bellied Flyrobin [sp] (Microeca flavigaster)  

Welcome Swallow [sp] (Hirundo neoxena)  

Tree Martin [sp] (Petrochelidon nigricans)  

Golden-headed Cisticola [sp] (Cisticola exilis)  

Silvereye [sp] (Zosterops lateralis)  

Metallic Starling [sp] (Aplonis metallica)  

Common Myna [sp] (Acridotheres tristis)  

Bassian Thrush [sp] (Zoothera lunulata)  

Olive-backed Sunbird [sp] (Cinnyris jugularis)  

House Sparrow [sp] (Passer domesticus)  

Red-browed Finch [sp] (Neochmia temporalis)  

Blue-faced Parrotfinch [sp] (Erythrura trichroa)  

Chestnut-breasted Mannikin [sp] (Lonchura castaneothorax)  

Australian Pipit [sp] (Anthus australis)  

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