6 September 2017
Finally made it to Cairns, Australia after traveling over 24 hours on four separate flights, the longest just short of 15 hours, and the shortest lasting just short of three hours. And I don’t sleep well on planes. Needless to say I was a little bit cranky once we landed in Sydney. I am not enamored with the Sydney International Airport. We had to leave the international terminal and head over to the domestic terminal to catch our flight to Cairns, and the signage was something to be desired. I’ve had easier times finding my way around airports in third world countries.
We then arrived at the Cairns airport. My friend Lisa is with me as Jack didn’t want to spend time in hot, humid weather – understandable. Although it is beautiful here, it is hot and humid. He definitely would not like the weather.
We are staying the next six nights at the Kookas B&B in Cairns. And yes, there are kookaburras at the B&B. The owners feed the birds ox heart. Two Laughing Kookaburras come to the railing to be fed twice per day. They are so cute. Since we arrived at the B&B around 2:30 pm, we spent the afternoon just hanging out at the B&B and enjoyed the variety of birds that came onto the property. This is a really nice place, with great hosts, and delicious breakfasts.
Oh and Lisa is driving (thank you Lisa). She gets to learn how to drive on the left hand side of the road – and I get to tell her to stay there. Luckily there are signs everywhere that say “Keep Left”. What Australia does differently, besides drive on the wrong side of the road (ha ha ha), is instead of a yellow line to separate lanes they use white lines – which we use to separate lanes of traffic going in the same direction not the opposite direction.
Tomorrow we head to the Cairns Esplanade for waterbirds (shorebirds, waders) and then to the Cairns Botanical Gardens for songbirds and waterfowl.
7 September 2017
In the morning we birded the Cairns Esplanade. Lots of great new birds. We walked along the beach front board walk in search of shorebirds. And luckily we did find some, although all were in winter plumage making it more difficult to identify. The primary species present was the Great Knot. We also saw four Black-fronted Dotterels. These are cool birds. Most of the birds observed today are life birds.
In the afternoon we birded the Cairns Botanical Gardens and Centenary Lakes, and again had a lot of great birds. The gardens offer a little bit of rain forest within the city. In addition to the birds we did see a good sized Monitor Lizard – a first for me. There are a number of trails through the area, most of which we walked as we checked for new birds. And the lakes had plenty of waterfowl – well at least the freshwater lake. The other lake was devoid of bird life. It is a salt water lake.
8 September 2017
Today we took the Seastar Cruise to Michaelmas Cay and Hastings Reef. My purpose for the trip was to check out pelagic birds, especially those nesting on Michaelmas Cay. The rest of the people on the cruise were there to snorkel or scuba-dive among the coral reefs. I chose not to get wet, although I did get to check out the coral reefs via a glass bottom boat. Beautiful coral (but lots of dead coral too), fishes, and turtles. The day was warm, with some winds – so glad I put on my seasickness patch. Don’t think I could of done the trip without one.
As for the birds, there wasn’t the variety of species I was expecting. In fact, I only observed seven different species: Ruddy Turnstone, Greater Crested Tern, Sooty Tern, Brown Noddy, Brown Booby, Silver Gull, and Great Frigatebird. I was a little disappointed, but these were all great birds nonetheless.
Michaelmas Cay is a spit of land in the Pacific Ocean, about a 1.5 hours from Cairns. The cay was much smaller than I expected, and although we landed on the beach we were only able to access a small portion of the cay. This is good news for the birds nesting there.
When talking with others, Hastings Reef had better coral reefs than those near Michaelmas Cay. I did see some amazing corals and wildlife through the glass bottom boat tours. The company offered two different opportunities to see the corals, fishes, and turtles through the glass bottom boat, and since most people were tired from snorkeling, I was able to go on both tours. Lucky me. I think they keep the glass bottom boats anchored near the reefs, as the boats were already there when we arrived.
9 September 2017
Today we went back to the Cairns Botanical Garden and Centenary Lakes hoping to get a few more species, which we did. We were hoping to see a Black Bittern, but no such luck. We did find a Radjah Shelduck duckling that was just adorable (aren’t all ducklings). A gentleman who was feeding the birds (not recommended) said the pair used to have six ducklings just a week ago. I wonder what killed the other ducklings? We read that a Papaun Frogmouth can be found along the rainforest boardwalk, but our search came up empty. If we come back here as part of our Queensland Top to Bottom tour then maybe our guide will be able to spot the bird for our group.
After the botanical gardens we went to the Jack Barnes Mangrove Boardwalk in search of the Mangrove Robin. This bird remained elusive, but we did get to see a Collared Kingfisher. He posed quite nicely for us. There were actually two of them present, but one flushed. There wasn’t much bird activity along the boardwalk – could be because it was the middle of the afternoon and siesta time for the birds. Or maybe because it was hot, hot, hot outside.
Our final stop of the day was back to the Cairns Esplanade to check out more shorebirds. There was one shorebird that has been puzzling me since we first arrived. I got a photo this time and hope to show it to our guide for identification. Any ideas???
10 September 2017
Today we got an early start and headed to the Cattana Wetlands located north of Cairns. These are reconstructed wetlands. In all, there are five separate ponds. We had hoped to see a lot of waterfowl and waders, but we were surprised to find only a few species: Green Pygmy Goose, Comb-crested Jacana, Little Pied Cormorant, and Australasian Darter. We did get some songbird species, which was nice. And of course there were a few species we just couldn’t identify – frustrating. Hopefully we will see the species again when we are on our guided tour.
After visiting and birding the Cattana Wetlands we ventured into Yorkey’s Knob to do some birding. I had read about this place in my “Finding Australian Birds: A Field Guide to Birding Locations” by Tim Dolby and Rohan Clarke. Well don’t waste your time and effort. The lagoon they mention, which is located at the golf course, was essentially devoid of bird life. We did see some species at or near the golf course, but nothing new. We decided to cut our losses and head to the Stoney Creek Trail and do a little hiking.
The Stoney Creek Trail is part of the Barron National Park. There is a short (1 km) trail to Stoney Creek falls. The trail is very rocky, which makes it hard to bird. You have to keep looking at the ground to avoid ending up on the ground. We did see some birds however, including one that could be one of three Honeyeaters. We also heard, then saw, a large flock of Metallic Starlings high in some trees. This area is part of the rain forest, which is dense with vegetation. Makes birding here challenging, but the scenary is beautiful.
After birding we drove back to Cairns for dinner at our new favorite Thai restaurant (okay we’ve only been to one in Australia) – the Samgasat Thai Crusine on Pease Street. Yum!!!
11 September 2017
Let’s take a moment and remember all those who lost their lives as part of the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Today we went to Lake Morris/Copperlode Dam to bird. This area is only 21 km from town but the road is steep, narrow, and winding The road is also a training circuit route for bikes – we did encounter several on this narrow, winding road. I’m not sure I could have ridden a bike up that long, winding hill.
We spent about six hours birding the area and saw some great new birds including the Topknot Pigeon, Spectacled Monarch, and the Wompoo Fruit Dove. The fruit dove took some effort. We heard the bird calling in the tall leafy trees, but could not find it for over 20 minutes. Lisa finally spotted the dove and we got some great looks and adequate photographs. Have you noticed when you want to photograph a bird that many times there always seems to be leaves or branches or both in front of the bird.
Tomorrow we leave for the Iron Range where we start a 20-day bird tour with Sickelbill Safaris. The tour is called Queensland Top to Bottom. Until then …
IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD … DOWN UNDER