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Birding Australia’s Wet Tropics and the Top End - 5th - 19 July 2019

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Old Saturday 7th September 2019, 09:19   #26
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Next morning’s much anticipated daybreak boat trip down the Daintree river with Murray Hunt did not disappoint. We started with a Magpie Goose flying upriver while we waited and a pair of Welcome Swallows that were clearly miffed to be moved off their roost on the sunshade of a moored boat.

A Little Pied Cormorant stood sentinel on a branch in the stream as the mist swirled above the surface. We didn’t take long to find our first Estuarine Crocodile – Barrett - a dark stolid bruiser who apparently rules this particular stretch of river. He was followed shortly by our third Great-billed Heron in five days. This is one of the specialist birds of the Daintree, and we had great close views as the boat drifted slowly up to where it was sunning itself.

A pair of Shining Flycatchers bobbled about the roots of a mangrove - the midnight blue male showing nicely, while the black-capped, white-bellied, rufous-winged female lurked in the darker spaces beyond the reach of my lens, a Wonga Pigeon lurked in the crown of a riverside tree and a Pale-vented Bush Hen gave the typically babbling amaurornis call, but remained untickable, as it refused to show itself.

Drifting in towards an unremarkable stand of tall mangroves Murray nailed my top target –a wonderfully camouflaged pair of Papuan Frogmouths hunched almost invisible against a tree trunk. Apparently they remain faithful to the same spot for years, but a heavy storm had taken out their previous home, and Murray had only relocated them a couple of weeks earlier.

Nearby an Australian Darter sunned itself decoratively on a favourite snag, Sacred Kingfishers popped up at various junctures and at the entrance to the side creek that Barret the croc was born in Murray laid my longest-standing bogey bird to rest. A Large-tailed Nightjar has been roosting on the same branch above the river for a couple of years with flagrant disregard for their typical roost sites in dryer forest, and while it was thirty feet above awe still able to get pretty close. While I don't doubt the ID I don't like not knowing how to ID birds myself, so I would interested to know whether it can in fact be safely identified from this photograph.Why the twenty year gap? I have not had a sniff at this species since hearing it at Cat Tien in Vietnam at the turn of the millennium.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Saturday 7th September 2019, 09:37   #27
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Nearby an Australian Darter sunned itself decoratively on a favourite snag, Sacred Kingfishers popped up at various junctures and at the entrance to the side creek that Barret the croc was born in Murray laid my longest-standing bogey bird to rest. A Large-tailed Nightjar has been roosting on the same branch above the river for a couple of years with flagrant disregard for their typical roost sites in dryer forest, and while it was thirty feet above awe still able to get pretty close. While I don't doubt the ID I don't like not knowing how to ID birds myself, so I would interested to know whether it can in fact be safely identified from this photograph. Why the twenty year gap? I have not had a sniff at this species since hearing it at Cat Tien in Vietnam at the turn of the millennium.

Other bits and pieces included a couple of Common Tree Snakes and both Azure and Little Blue Kingfishers. We rounded off the trip with a White-bellied Sea Eagle,which drooped out of a riverside tree and failed to catch some sort of prey item (Murray suspected some kind of water snake) before giving a dazzling fly-by and perching up helpfully for photos. Then it was back for another spectacular breakfast at Red Mill House before we headed down to Cairns for a couple of non-birding days.

Cheers
Mike
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Last edited by MKinHK : Sunday 8th September 2019 at 01:40.
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Old Saturday 7th September 2019, 21:01   #28
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"...third Great-billed Heron in five days"

Hmph! :)
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Old Saturday 7th September 2019, 21:24   #29
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"...third Great-billed Heron in five days"

Hmph! :)
My thought as well.
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Old Monday 9th September 2019, 13:48   #30
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And Little Blue Kingfisher can be a tricky bird to see too. I can relate to not seeing Pale-vented Bush-hen Mike. That's one I need to go back for
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Old Monday 9th September 2019, 16:15   #31
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And Little Blue Kingfisher can be a tricky bird to see too. I can relate to not seeing Pale-vented Bush-hen Mike. That's one I need to go back for
Having failed to find this on the river trip there was one sitting on a post in the middle of the pond at Red Mill house when we got back!!!

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Old Wednesday 11th September 2019, 14:07   #32
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Many thanks for the grippage gents - a bit of instant karma from Tom in response to the grumbles of Larry, Jos and Jeff!

To be frank I was astonished to see either of the birds in Kakadu - it really wasn't on my radar.

A brief and rather unsatisfying morning mooching about Cairns Botanic Garden provided me with better views of Black Butcherbird, a couple of Radjah Shelducks on the roof of a small pavilion, a couple of Bush Stone Curlews that marched of when I tried to photograph them, a flyover Pacific Baza, a couple of showy Magpie Larks, a Little Blue Kingfisher (sorry Larry!) my first and only Yellow Honeyeater high in a melaleuca and 30-odd Metallic Starlings feeding on a fruiting tree actually sounds better than it felt at the time. I had hoped for the Bush Hen in the paperbark swamp forest boardwalk, but had to make do with the first Brush Turkey of the trip and a whole lot of quiet, especially on the ponds, where 18 Pacific Black Ducks and four Magpie Geese were the only waterfowl.

On reflection it's rather ungrateful to be so blah about Sulphur-breasted Cockatoo, flyover Varied and Rainbow Lorikeets, a couple of Double-eyed Fig Parrots, Australian Darter, Spangled Drongo, four Hornbill Friarbirds, Straw-necked and White Ibis, Australian Swiftlets, Welcome Swallow, Willie Wagtail, and Dusky Honeyeaters, especially when they're pretty much all endemics!

Cheers
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Old Wednesday 11th September 2019, 19:44   #33
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Those Magpie Larks are fantastic!
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Old Wednesday 11th September 2019, 20:16   #34
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I have seen Little Blue Kingfisher, I was just mentioning that they were tricky! It was Bush-hen that I missed in Aus.
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Old Saturday 14th September 2019, 11:30   #35
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Magpie Larks are definitely worthy of more attention!

Sorry Larry - wrong assumption.

That evening we headed up to our final spot - a lovely AirBnB cottage in the farmland up on the Atherton Tablelands at Speewah about 40 minutes out of Cairns. From here I was able to walk into the forest on the western side of the escarpment above Cairns which I did on a couple of mornings. The path connects onto a series of trails that goes through Barron Gorge and down into the city or northwards towards Kuranda. My top target here was of course the Cassowary, but also with a fine supporting cast of Tableland and FNQ endemics.

My two morning walks along the road and gently uphill into the forest produced Rainbow Lorikeets overhead, Wonga Pigeon in a tall tree near the stream, Topknot Pigeons flying over the forest, numerous Little Shrike-Babblers in the pathside scrub, Spectacled Monarch, Hornbill Friarbird and a fine Brown Cuckoo-dove feeding on a tree with spectacular sprays of sloe-black berries. Once in the forest I was on a hair trigger for any scuttling on the forest floor with all kinds of targets. The first scuttle was a Pacific Emerald Dove that edged slowly away into the gloom. This was followed by a couple of Eastern Whipbirds and best of the lot, very good views of several Chowchillas - plumply dark-bodied, a pale-ringed round eye, orange breasts on the males and white on the females - as they scuttled cheerfully about in the leaf litter.
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Old Saturday 14th September 2019, 11:48   #36
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Other goodies included 20-odd Atherton Scrubwrens a Spotted Catbird collecting nesting material, a Tooth-billed Bowerbird in a low shrub, a male Victoria's Riflebird higher in the canopy and a couple of different Pale Yellow Robins were keen to come in and check me out.

With no hint so far of a Cassowary I walked down to the beginning of the Djina-wu Track in the Speewah campsite where a pair of Laughing Kookaburras perched at the edge of the lawn, watchfully waiting for a victim. Entering the forest I was absolutely delighted to pick up a Yellow-breasted Boatbill - a shockingly yellow tail-cocking flycatcher with an exceptional broad bill white throat and narrow dark mask through the eye. My blood quickened on finding a dropping filled with marble-sized seeds - confirming that not only was I in Cassowary country, but one had been through in the last couple of hours! As I edged along the only hint I got except for more droppings of various ages was a crashing in the bushes that could easily have been a wild boar, but definitely had me wondering . . .
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Old Monday 16th September 2019, 14:49   #37
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A long drive south to the Mungalli Biodynamic Dairy produced Brown Falcon and a first Wedge-tailed Eagle close to the farm as well as excellent cheesecake, outstanding scones, cream-tastic coffee and ice-cream - just awesome!

On the way back we stopped in Lake Barrine in pursuit of . . . more scones! Unfortunately the beautiful teahouse by the shore of this crater lake had sold out, but a walk round the lake as the daylight ebbed away provided my first sight of the impressive Kauri Pine, several Eastern Whipbirds, a couple of ever-wonderful Chowchillas, a Pale Yellow Robin, and 20 Great Crested Grebes bobbling about in the middle of the lake.

The highlights were two brief views of Musky Rat Kangaroo among the roots at the water's edge, a Lewin's Honeyeater, which offered what I think is my favourite photo of the trip, and the Tablelands endemic Grey-headed Robin a chunkily charismatic robin with a broad grey coif above a tasteful blend of browns and whites below.

Any thoughts on the mystery bird in the third shot would be appreciated.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Monday 16th September 2019, 21:50   #38
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Must say Mike the shots are very atmospheric I could feel the humidity, the White-bellied Sea Eagle, Laughing Kookaburra and Little Blue Kingfisher to mention just three.... were to die for!

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Old Tuesday 17th September 2019, 19:51   #39
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Great report Mike. I'm curious about the scrubwrens though, as you mentioned you saw lots of Athertons, and I gather that they cause a lot of confusion (with Large-billed), and Athertons only occur really high up (eg none around Kingfisher Park but plenty up mount Lewis). Did you manage to work out what was going on with them?
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Old Monday 23rd September 2019, 13:41   #40
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I think you might be right Larry. Looking again at the pix the jizz is better for Long-billed. Not sure about the altitude - I was somewhere between 700 and 1000m and Pizzey and Knight gives 400m as the lowest altitude for Atherton Scrubwren.

Thanks Ken. Humidity is something I'm used to - Hong Kong is at the "curry-eating blacksmith's armpit" end of the scale, while Daintree is - mercifully - both drier and considerably more fragrant!

Moving on . . .

Next day was all about mammals, and in Australia there is none more prized that the Platypus. We learned that Peterson Creek at Yungaburra was the spot to see them and drove down, although this was not without drama as an Agile Wallaby bounded out in front of the car without giving me the least chance of missing it. Thankfully I had not been going too fast and it tumbled over and bounded away as if nothing had happened. Aussies will I'm sure tell me this is a regular occurrence, but its one I could have done without.

Peterson creek is about 10 metres wide, slow-moving and lined with large trees, but there is path that can be followed from the main highway down to the edge of Lake Eacham. We entered from the high street and shortly after crossing the suspecsion bridge and heading upstream a Platypus came beetling downstream past us - completely unconcerned by our presence!

As wonderful as the was it was not our first - which was a wonderful surprise on the Kermandie River in Geeveston in SW Tasmania back in June 2015. The Tasmanian platypi are supposed to be larger, but I honestly could not tell the difference.

This first animal was a little distant for pix, but some 15 minutes later we found another one that performed superbly, coming right up to us and floating on the surface for loads of pix - just brilliant!

That evening we had arranged to join a night tour with Patrick de Geest of Eyes on Wildlife Tours in which I hoped to see Lesser Sooty Owl, plus a range of nocturnal mammals. Before Patrick arrived we had forty minutes to kill in Yungaburra, where a Rainbow Lorikeet and Hornbill Friarbird fed happily on a magnificent red-berried plant in the warm evening light ( See post 35 second pic). The other sight that will linger long in the memory is of the crocheted bikini attached to a tree that had knarled itself into what to some inebriated Tablelander was obviously an evocatively feminine torso.

We started off at the famous Curtain Fig just south of Yungaburra, where Patrick quickly found a Lesser Sooty Owl with his night sight after it had given its terrific falling bomb whistle a couple of times. Unfortunately it flew before I could get onto it and despite our best efforts in the next 20 minutes and again on the way back to Yungaburra at the end of the evening, we dipped.

However we did have a great deal more success with mammals. This included four species of possums - Brush-tailed, Green Ring-tailed, Herbert River and Lemuroid, and the unexpectedly cute White-Tailed Giant Rat, which showed easily around the base of the curtain fig and a Red-legged Pademelon that hunched in the bushes, too timid to run away.

The big bonus was a completely unexpected Southern Boobook that flew out in front of the car in pursuit of a moth, caught it and returned to a roadside branch long enough for me to fire off a couple of rather blurry pictures of my third Ninox owl of the trip (after the Barking Owl and Rufous Owls in Darwin and Kakadu).Not quite a Lesser Sooty Owl, but pretty good compensation nonetheless. Despite the LSO not co-operating I would highly recommend Patrick - he knew his patch and the species inside out and was very good company.

Cheers,
Mike
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Old Tuesday 24th September 2019, 15:08   #41
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Thanks Ken. Humidity is something I'm used to - Hong Kong is at the "curry-eating blacksmith's armpit" end of the scale, while Daintree is - mercifully - both drier and considerably more fragrant!
Hi Mike,

Being tongue in cheek, but perhaps you should consider a visit in the first 3 months of the year when it averages over 400mm/per month instead of the 28mm of July. With much more rain of course if a cyclone goes close. It's also close to 10 degrees warmer. Those months should give you a much more homely feeling :-)

Seriously, though HK in summer can be really horrendous - much worse than here in Singapore.

BTW great report as always. Lots of good memories from multiple trips in the same locations.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Tuesday 24th September 2019, 16:05   #42
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A very fine report. If it's any consolation, Lesser Sooty Owl is sometimes lumped with Sooty, while the Southern Boobook you saw is presumably lurida, which has a restricted range and I believe has been mooted as a potential split. Of course, if you haven't seen Sooty or Southern Boobook before, the consolation is perhaps limited!
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