19 September 2017
This morning we went on a river cruise on the Daintree River in search of several key birds: Great-billed Heron, Little Kingfisher, and Azure Kingfisher. We got the Azure Kingfisher. At dinner tonight we met a guy from Pennsylvania who was on another boat and they saw two of the Great-billed Herons and at least one Little Kingfisher. Our guide was not happy to hear that. We did hear the heron, but no go on any sightings. I would like to have seen the bird, but I wasn’t as disappointed as several others.
After our two-hour morning cruise along the river, we went back to our lodging – the Red Mill House and had a big breakfast. This place is a B&B. The rooms are nice, although a little small. Of course our room is covered in clothes hanging to dry – our clothes. But with all the rain – oh and I forgot to mention that while most of our cruise was under cloudy skies those skies did open up the last 15-20 minutes of the cruise – one has to dry out one’s clothing.
After breakfast we continued with our birding, making several beach stops in search of the Beach Stone Curlew. No luck – yet. I’m hopeful. We did see four Bush Stone Curlews. They were hanging out in the school yard. These birds forage at night and roost during the day.
We stopped off at the Hook-a-Barra Fish Farm (take off on Kookaburra and Barramundi – a fish) and saw a lot of great birds, including the White-headed Stilts (love those red stilt legs) and several Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. I love shorebirds, even when they aren’t in breeding plumage.
Our next stop was Carr Road, where we got to finally see the Brown Cuckoo-Dove. We have been hearing this bird for sometime, but didn’t actually see it until today. The bird likes to be high in the canopy, and this one was moving around a lot. Took a little effort to identify the bird. Some of the properties along this road are nature reserves, except for one at the end of the road (see photo). Not sure what the sign means?
We then went to lunch at the Nine Mile Store. While waiting for our lunches, Kim spotted a Noisy Pitta near the bathrooms. We then proceeded to watch the bird move about, searching for food – right out in the open. The previous experiences we’ve had with this bird it was on the forest floor foraging. Much better views today. This guy was an immature bird, so not as colorful as the adults.
Stuffed to the gills with food, we then drove to a clearing on Mt. Lewis, which is good for endemic birds of the area. We did get several endemics, including the Atherton Scrubwren, Bridled Honeyeater, and Chowchilla. Also present was the Grey Wagtail which looks very similar to the Rufous Wagtail.
On the way down the mountain, as we were crossing a bridge, our guide spotted a Red-necked Crake. Crakes are difficult to find, and this one was along the bank of the river in a little pool of water bathing. Fun to watch it bath.
Despite the rain (on the cruise and at Mt. Lewis), it was a good day of birding.
These flowers were at our accommodations: Red Mill House
20 September 2017
We left Daintree today and headed to the Northern Atherton Tablelands, and in particular the Cassowary House to see the Southern Cassowary bird. Cassowary House is owned by Sue and Phil Gregory, owners of Sicklebill Safaris – the tour company we are using. They have a cassowary family residing on their heavily wooded property located in the Wet Tropics.
When we got to Cassowary House we learned the birds had left 5 minutes ago. Figures. We’ve been having bad luck on finding key species: Golden-Shouldered Parrot, Great-billed Heron, and now the Southern Cassowary. Sue said the birds come several times during the day so we spent about two hours walking the property and adjacent roads waiting for a text that the birds had returned. We even went into town for lunch. I was thinking we would get just get our lunch and we would receive the text. Nope, didn’t happen. So on we went to the town of Mareeba, and in particular the golf course to see a large number of Eastern Gray Kangaroos – our first Kangaroo sightings. Mareeba is about 30 minutes away from Cassowary House. And you guessed it. We got the call that the birds had returned. Only problem is they could stay for as little as 5 minutes. Sue mentioned the birds come every morning around 8:00 am, so we will return on Saturday, when we head back to Cairns, to see the birds – hopefully.
After checking out the Kangaroos we headed towards the southern portion of the Atherton Tablelands, taking back roads to check out some different bird spots known by our guide. Since he lives in the area he knows good places to bird.
One such stop was the Emerald Creek Falls day-use area. Here we went looking for the Rufous Owl and our guide spotted it roosting in a tree. Luckily we got some good views of the bird.
Proceeding along towards our lodging accommodations for the next three days – Chambers Wildlife Lodge – we passed a field of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos. There must have been around 100 of the Red-tailed and over 500 of the Sulphur-crested. Amazing sight to see.
Some of the beautiful flowers at the Chambers Wildlife Lodge.
21 September 2017
We woke up and began birding right outside our lodge (Chambers Wildlife Lodge – which for us served the most delicious food on the trip). We got some great views of the Spotted Catbird (bird sounds as though a cat’s tail is being pulled), the female Victoria’s Riflebird feeding on the fruit in the trees, Silvereyes, and Golden Whistler (see photo). We walked into the woods to observe a male Victoria’s Riflebird displaying. To see this marvelous display go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7ZnO893hTs. If I had thought about it, I would have taken a video of the bird displaying on its perch. The female even came in, but I don’t think she was interested.
Another stop today was Hastie’s Swamp National Park. The land adjacent to the park is up for sale. I wish I could afford to buy it as a portion of the swamp is on this private land. There were plenty of Plumed Whistling Ducks. I was worried we wouldn’t get to see the bird, but I wasn’t disappointed. When you do get them, they are usually in large flocks (50+). The park has a bird blind so it was nice to get out of the hot sun to observe the birds, including a Forest Kingfisher who perched with its prey (looked like a small frog) on a tree limb about 20 feet from where I was sitting. I hated to leave this place. If I ever visit this part of Australia again, I will definitely come here and spend more time.
We ended the day’s birding at Mount Hypipamee National Park looking for the Golden Bowerbird. The male, a beautiful gold and brown bird, has built a nice bower and a sub-bower. However, the bird did not appear while we were present.
Our guide had heard about a Lesser Sooty Owl at Curtain Fig Tree National Park. We decided to go there after dark to see if we could spot the bird. Score!!! Not only did we spot the bird, but we got to see one of the parent’s feed a young bird. The young bird had already fledged, but was still being fed by the parent. The bird, when it went to get the regurgitated food, would hold its wings out – maybe to balance? If you ever get to the Atherton Tablelands in Australia you must stop by the Curtain Fig Tree National Park. The “curtain fig tree” is huge. My photo does not capture its essence, and when we first saw it at night with only our headlamps to see the owls, it looked even more amazing. Wow, what a tree. On the way back to our lodge, we also spotted a Barking Owl sitting on a fence post. When we stopped, it flushed to a nearby tree where we were able to get great looks of the bird. It truly was another great day to bird.
22 September 2017
The goal today: The Golden Bowerbird. To that end we headed back up to Mt. Hypipamee National Park to check out the bower and see if the bird would come in to further build on the bower or even the sub bower. We heard the bird call, but couldn’t see a yellow/brown bird. What we didn’t realize was the bird singing was actually an immature male who was not in full adult plumage – no yellow coloring except for a small amount on its shoulder. Once we found the bird, we watched it sing and slowly make its way to its bower – don’t want predators to know where the bower is located. Once at the bower, the bird began to adorn his bower with lichens, leaves, and small sticks. Our guide believes the adult male must have died and this male had taken over its bower.
From there we went in search of a Fernwren, checking out several possible locations. At one location, Steve was looking intently through his binoculars so I tried to see what he was seeing. As soon as I got on the bird it moved. According to Steve (and I believe him) it was the Fernwren. However, since I didn’t actually see the bird I wouldn’t count it as being seen. Lisa got a brief glimpse of the bird, enough to identify it, but no one else was lucky enough to see the bird. It is amazing how much time can be spent in search of a single bird you may only catch a small, quick glance of to check it off one’s list. Sometimes I ask myself “why do you go on these tours”. I think its for the chance to see the bird at all, even if only a small, quick glance. Each viewing is special.
We also visited Lake Tinneroo, which was good for waterbirds and waders. The person who told us about the Lesser Sooty Owl was out at the lake with two clients and mentioned they had spotted the Cotton Pygmy Goose, so we got good looks of this bird too.
23 September 2017
The goal today: The Southern Cassowary bird. We missed seeing this bird earlier in the week so off we went back to the Cassowary House. When we got there (after making two stops: one for a Buff-banded Rail and another for the Black Swan) we spotted the female drinking water from a bird bath. This is one big bird – the female is larger than the male. Imagine a bird over 5 feet tall, with prehistoric looking feet. We got some great looked of the bird before she wandered off. As we were getting into our van to head down into Cairns, our guide was told the male Cassowary and its young were at the feeder (yes the owners do put out fruit for the cassowary). So back to the house we went and watched the male Cassowary with his three youngsters. One of them was curious and started towards us. He probably got within 10 feet before deciding we didn’t bear any gifts. The young are so cute. Poppa Cassowary incubates the eggs and raises the young. Momma Cassowary goes off to find another male to mate with. Despite her promiscuity, there are only about 1,000 Cassowaries in the wild around Cairns.
From Cassowary House we traveled down to the Cattana Wetlands, mentioned in a previous blog. I was surprised there were even fewer birds here than when Lisa and I were here a week or so ago. For some reason I thought there would be more birds. I did come across a Keelback Snake. Luckily it is non-venomous.
Next we made several stops looking for shorebirds and the Mangrove Robin (did not find it), before heading to the Cairns Esplanade. What a great day to be there. We first stopped off at the mangroves on the north end of the Esplanade to search for the Mangrove Robin. Not only did we find one, but we found four of them. This was our last chance at finding this bird so everyone was happy. We then went to the mud flats in search of shorebirds. We had more than 10 different shorebird species, including a Terek’s Sandpiper, a new bird for me. I was a happy camper.
We went to a nearby wetland area to search for the Beach Stone Curlew and finally – success!!! Our final stop of the day was the Centenary Lakes where Lisa and I have birded before. Again, I was surprised to find fewer birds here then earlier in the month. I expected the opposite.
Tomorrow we fly (early – plane leaves at 6:00 am) to Brisbane to begin the next portion of a birding tour. We leave our guide Ben and pick up a new guide – Roger. I will miss Ben. He’s was fun to be around. I like people with a sense of humor and his was tip top.
Until then …
IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD