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Three Weeks in Australia - Sydney and Cairns (1 Viewer)

Selsey Birder

Well-known member
With my apologies to Chowchilla, whom I know has been waiting for this report now for over two months, here is the story of three marvellous weeks “Down Under”.

Now to get the apologies out of the way early (and the confessions) there will be very few pictures as we managed to wipe the memory on the computer whilst staying at Kingfisher Park!

A damp Friday in very late October found my wife George (only Georgina when very naughty!) and I deposited at Heathrow Airport by my friend Adam “Ads” Bowley (Birdboybowley) and the start of the first holiday without any children or friends since our Honeymoon in 1988.

The itinerary was a direct flight to Sydney via a re-fuelling stopover in Bangkok (2.5 hours), four days sightseeing to be followed by 15 wonderful bird filled days centred round Cairns, but including 3 days at Kingfisher Park and 3 further days at Chambers Wildlife Lodge near Yungaburra on the Atherton Tablelands. The planning had been further augmented by contacting birdforum contributor Chowchilla (whom I shall refer to by his real name Tony throughout), an exiled Brit who works as a psychiatric nurse in Cairns. This was to prove to be inspired since he is both a most endearing person and an extremely knowledgeable birder.

Anybody else considering a visit to the area would be well advised to contact Tony (I know a number of other BF members have already done so), as he will save you hours of searching the rainforest with his knowledge of the calls.

The only birding possible en route was inside the terminal at Bangkok Airport where we saw five species in total, including the first three lifers of the trip Dusky Crag Martin (20+), Fork-tailed Swift and Darter. We were to see the two latter species again later in the holiday.

At 7am on Sunday 31st October we landed at Sydney International Airport and quickly made our way to the baggage reclaim, where we watched all of our fellow travellers collect their suitcases, now i know what you are thinking.......but you would be wrong. We booked in first at Heathrow, thus ours was the last luggage out of the hold and our first piece of good fortune.
You see the queue for Customs was huge (at least 30 minutes in length), George nipped to the toilet and whilst I was waiting a nice Customs official approached me (I know this will gall you Ads with your previous problems entering Australia) he asked me a couple of questions, handed me a stamped yellow form, and directed me to a door at the far end of the reclaim area. We walked to the exit, handed over the piece of paper and walked straight out of the terminal – Result!

A short train journey took us to Sydney Central Train Station and our base for the next 4 days the Hotel Mercure, only one problem we had arrived at 8am! Fortunately they are used to us Brits arriving on overnight flights, we left the luggage and headed for Centennial Park some 1.5 miles away (walking of course). Having never visited Australia this was going to be sensory overload and a complete tick fest for me, virtually everything I saw was a lifer.

I am not a great fan of bird reports which just become a long list of species seen, but since this part of the holiday was principally about being a typical tourist, I will just mention a few of the birds we saw that morning. Silver Gull (seen everywhere and the only member of its family seen all holiday), Noisy Miner (much more plentiful here than up north, we only saw it once in Queensland), Welcome Swallow, Magpie Lark, Masked Lapwing, Tree Martin, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (we were to see these beautiful creatures all holiday and I understand that they are sometimes considered to be a pest, but i shall never forget my first sighting of 8 just outside Centennial Park), Crested Pigeon, Australian Magpie, Common Myna, Figbird (it took me about 10 minutes to figure out what this bird was), Dusky Moorhen, Rainbow Lorikeet (noisy buggers), Little Pied Cormorant, Australian Grebe, Black Swan, Pacific Black Duck, Variegated Fairy Wren (these were only females, but we did see a male when visiting the Olympic Park – beautiful), a flock of 15 Little Corellas, Pied Currawong, Willie Wagtail, Australian Raven, Long-billed Corella (which according to my guide book was out of range, but I guess it may have been introduced from what I subsequently read) and Galah (much to my wife’s delight as a fan of Aussie Soaps).

We did then obtain an amazing travel ticket ($41 for a week) which permitted use of all Sydney buses, river ferries and zone A trains, we must have saved a fortune. We did also make it across the harbour that day to Manley, where we saw Crested Tern, Wedge-Tailed and Flesh Footed Shearwater and on the way back across the Harbour our first raptor of the trip – White-bellied Sea Eagle.

We literally collapsed into bed that night at 7.30pm local time and made up for all that lost sleep, but I had already seen 32 lifers with very little effort, would it continue to be this easy?

To be continued......
 

chowchilla

Well-known member
Off to a great start Ian! I must confess I was beginning to wonder if you'd changed your mind about the trip report. I imagine they can be immensely tedious to type up, but I've no doubt it'll be a good 'un!:t:

Oh, and thanks for the kind comments; not sure they're entirely deserved but I make the most of any complements I get considering I work in mental health and have already been called a c*nt twice today...:smoke:
 

John Cantelo

Well-known member
Foolishly I never thought about spending a week further south in Sydney prior to my recent visit to Cairns ..... something I think I'm about to regret!
 

Allen S. Moore

Well-known member
Isle of Man
Anybody else considering a visit to the area would be well advised to contact Tony (I know a number of other BF members have already done so), as he will save you hours of searching the rainforest with his knowledge of the calls.

...

I am not a great fan of bird reports which just become a long list of species seen, but since this part of the holiday was principally about being a typical tourist, I will just mention a few of the birds we saw that morning. Silver Gull (seen everywhere and the only member of its family seen all holiday), Noisy Miner (much more plentiful here than up north, we only saw it once in Queensland), Welcome Swallow, Magpie Lark, Masked Lapwing, Tree Martin, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (we were to see these beautiful creatures all holiday and I understand that they are sometimes considered to be a pest, but i shall never forget my first sighting of 8 just outside Centennial Park), Crested Pigeon, Australian Magpie, Common Myna, Figbird (it took me about 10 minutes to figure out what this bird was), Dusky Moorhen, Rainbow Lorikeet (noisy buggers), Little Pied Cormorant, Australian Grebe, Black Swan, Pacific Black Duck, Variegated Fairy Wren (these were only females, but we did see a male when visiting the Olympic Park – beautiful), a flock of 15 Little Corellas, Pied Currawong, Willie Wagtail, Australian Raven, Long-billed Corella (which according to my guide book was out of range, but I guess it may have been introduced from what I subsequently read) and Galah (much to my wife’s delight as a fan of Aussie Soaps).

We did then obtain an amazing travel ticket ($41 for a week) which permitted use of all Sydney buses, river ferries and zone A trains, we must have saved a fortune. We did also make it across the harbour that day to Manley, where we saw Crested Tern, Wedge-Tailed and Flesh Footed Shearwater and on the way back across the Harbour our first raptor of the trip – White-bellied Sea Eagle.

Ian,

Good account of your first birds in Australia. I have come to believe that the distribution maps for little and long-billed corellas don't bear any relationship to their actual range. Am I right in guessing that the shearwaters were off the ocean side of Manly, or did some "drift" into the outer part of the harbour? I was confused with figbirds myself when I first saw a female near the Centenary Lakes in Cairns in 2006. It didn't look like the same species as the males!

I had one "lifer" myself when I was in Sydney last October, chestnut teals in the Botanic Gardens.

Hallo there, Tony, too!

Allen
 

Selsey Birder

Well-known member
Ian,

Good account of your first birds in Australia. I have come to believe that the distribution maps for little and long-billed corellas don't bear any relationship to their actual range. Am I right in guessing that the shearwaters were off the ocean side of Manly, or did some "drift" into the outer part of the harbour? I was confused with figbirds myself when I first saw a female near the Centenary Lakes in Cairns in 2006. It didn't look like the same species as the males!

I had one "lifer" myself when I was in Sydney last October, chestnut teals in the Botanic Gardens.

Hallo there, Tony, too!

Allen

Hi Allen,

As you will see from the next day's report I also saw Chestnut Teal in Sydney!

All of the Shearwaters were on the Ocean side of Manly, we literally saw thousands a couple of days later, these were seen from the beach as we did not have the energy for any lengthy walking at that time!

Yes it was the female Figbirds that had me pulling what little hair I have left out.
 

Selsey Birder

Well-known member
Foolishly I never thought about spending a week further south in Sydney prior to my recent visit to Cairns ..... something I think I'm about to regret!

Hi John,

No you are not about to regret anything, there is quite a lot of potential in the area, but we did not venture away from the tourist spots on this leg of the holiday. I thoroughly enjoyed your report of Cairns and I had some similar experiences (Golden Bowerbird), but there are a few birds from that part of the world that you might be jealous of.

Ian
 

Allen S. Moore

Well-known member
Isle of Man
Hi Allen,

As you will see from the next day's report I also saw Chestnut Teal in Sydney!

All of the Shearwaters were on the Ocean side of Manly, we literally saw thousands a couple of days later, these were seen from the beach as we did not have the energy for any lengthy walking at that time!

Yes it was the female Figbirds that had me pulling what little hair I have left out.


I have to wear a big hat, too!

Up the coast at Port Macquarie another Tony (Bischoff) and I saw what we estimated at 1000 short-tailed shearwaters pass in about 30 minutes, as well as 2 humpback whales.
 
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Allen S. Moore

Well-known member
Isle of Man
Hi John,

No you are not about to regret anything, there is quite a lot of potential in the area, but we did not venture away from the tourist spots on this leg of the holiday. I thoroughly enjoyed your report of Cairns and I had some similar experiences (Golden Bowerbird), but there are a few birds from that part of the world that you might be jealous of.

Ian


Some birds in the Cairns area that John might be jealous of? Wow! Is it time for some guesses?

Allen
 

Selsey Birder

Well-known member
Some birds in the Cairns area that John might be jealous of? Wow! Is it time for some guesses?

Allen

Allen,

Guessing is always good fun, but suffice to say that Tony saw at least three lifers during our time together. I hope he will confirm this when he next logs on, but not ruin the suspense. In fact my wife found one of them!

Ian
 

Selsey Birder

Well-known member
Okay here is the next instalment......

Monday 1st November
We took a ferry upriver from Circular Quay to the Olympic Park, as we will be hosting our own next year I wanted to see what the Aussies had done with their 2000 version, we will have our work cut out to match them! As an added bonus to a birder there is a lovely nature park there and having caught the bus from the ferry station, we now proceeded to walk the two miles back from the Olympic Park via the nature walk.

Many of the previous day’s birds were also in evidence here, actually the day had started exceptionally well, as we drew the curtains on the 15th floor of the hotel and watched a White-breasted Wood Swallow drift past the window. The 45 minute ferry ride up the river had also produced in the form of Little Black Cormorant, Pied Cormorant and Nankeen Night Heron.

The water park surrounding the Olympic Park had a few pairs of Chestnut Teal and Australian Wood Duck, together with a number of Australian Pelicans. We made our way round the pools adding to the trip list with White-faced Heron and Little Raven and then found a small cafe in the grounds to grab a sandwich before setting off for the return walk to the Ferry.

The route back took us alongside a collection of pools and was surrounded by Eucalyptus trees, a new vegetation and sure enough some new birds (and my first species from the very confusing Honeyeater genus). I had spent hours at home studying the books and wondering how on earth I would tell them all apart and suddenly here was the first test – New Holland Honeyeater (thankfully a fairly straightforward one to start with), together with Red Wattlebird (stunning and I was to see another one in the middle of Manly two days later), Silvereye, Variegated Fairywren (male) and Spotted Turtle Dove.

The ponds held a large flock Bar-tailed Godwits and some Black-winged Stilts, I almost felt as if we were back in Europe for a moment there!

As we approached the ferry (only fractionally ahead of an almighty downpour) a parrot shot out of the trees and flew across the river, the most surprising bird of the day, a Turquoise Parrot.

Now John has already stated that he feels he might regret not having visited Sydney as part of his holiday, do not fret John, this was the 18th of only 19 birds that I saw in the Sydney area that did not put in an appearance whilst we were in North Queensland (and the 19th bird seen two days later is fairly common in the UK).

So two days gone, trip list on 57 and an impressive 44 lifers seen (I will update these stats occasionally as the report rambles along – I can almost hear you all snoring now!
 

Allen S. Moore

Well-known member
Isle of Man
Bated breath

Allen,

Guessing is always good fun, but suffice to say that Tony saw at least three lifers during our time together. I hope he will confirm this when he next logs on, but not ruin the suspense. In fact my wife found one of them!

Ian

Ah, the suspense is indeed building. There couldn't have been many species that Tony hadn't seen in NEQ. You mention that Georgina found one of them. I remember that the night parrot was found, albeit dead by the roadside!

Allen
 

Selsey Birder

Well-known member
I am getting into the swing of typing the report now, so here are the last two days in Sydney. My 2009 Lesvos report totalled in excess of 14,000 words, I have a horrible feeling this is going to be a lot more. Yes Tony it was the thought of all the typing which stopped me from writing the report, but John's excellent recounting of his time in December brought it all rushing back and I just had to write it all down. Anyway enough of me waffling on, here we go......

Tuesday 2nd November
A very quiet day spent around Sydney Harbour, we had hoped to be on a Pelagic today, but events conspired against us. The plan had been to join a whale watching trip (there are lots that go out from the Darling Harbour area daily for about 4 hours spent at sea). However, the best laid plans of mice and men etc...........a strong wind had appeared overnight and all the boats were going nowhere, ah well yet another reason to return in the future.

Ornithologically there was one highlight, we walked into the Botanical Gardens from Circular Quay, as we entered there was a commotion above our heads, with the Noisy Miners going ballistic. Incidentally I did experience this behaviour myself later in the day when approaching a tree which unbeknown to me held a nest, yes you guessed it I was dive bombed by an excellent potential parent.

Anyway returning to the park entrance, the cause of the Miners displeasure flew into a tree and it was huge, I had certainly never seen a cuckoo this big, it had definitely been taking steroids, a Channel-billed Cuckoo (eat your heart out Ads!). There were actually two in the area and we spent a happy fifteen minutes watching the Miners chase them from tree to tree.

Wednesday 3rd November
Our final day in the Sydney area and it was decided that the majority of the time would be spent walking around the southern half of the Manly peninsula, so crossing early on the ferry from Circular Quay we were in Manly before 8am. The plan was to walk around the coast as practically as was possible until we reached the southern tip from where the best sea watching occurs.

We walked through an area on the harbour side of the peninsula which is protected due to the Fairy Penguins which breed there in low numbers. I did scour the area in case one had decided not to fly out to sea that morning, but no such luck. As we walked away from this area and inland through a small wood we heard a noise synonymous with Australia and across the road flew a Laughing Kookaburra, only a fleeting view, but the call is so unmistakable. As we entered the nature reserve half an hour later we actually watched one on the ground for a good 5 minutes. On the walk away from the Fairy Penguin beach we had also seen another new bird, but it took me most of the day (seeing the bird on regular occasions) to figure out what it was – White-browed Scrubwren – if you have never been to Australia before the avifauna is mindblowing, virtually everything is different from anything you have seen before, well that is my excuse anyway.

We eventually reached the southern tip, I am not sure if my wife has yet forgiven me, it was a very long walk. The spectacle that greeted me as someone used to the sea watching at Selsey Bill was incredible, the number of Shearwaters passing were impressive to put it mildly. We spent an hour stood on the headland, the birds were passing very close on the ocean side as we stood high above them. I would estimate that they were passing at a rate of over 200 birds per minute and it was continuous the entire time we were there. Identification was the only problem, the underside of the wings were only visible when the birds banked steeply due to where we were stood, the only two species I could confidently identify were Wedge-tailed and Short-tailed Shearwaters. In reality I am not convinced there were any other species present, but watching on my own it was extremely difficult. The low scrub of the headland also held reasonable numbers of Yellow-Faced and Lewin’s Honeyeaters.

So the long walk back to Manly started, fortunately a circular route that now took us up the Eastern side and through an amazing vegetation of low scrub and shallow pools, which were alive with frogs (sorry I have forgotten what they were, but they certainly made an amazing noise). Here, screaming in off the open sea came the final bird (19th) which we were not to see in North Queensland and thankfully now a common site at home – Peregrine Falcon.

A well deserved snack on the beach and a huge ice cream (we are convinced we walked off any calorific content) took us back to Manly city centre and a Red Wattlebird flitting in the trees within the shopping centre. For those of you yet to visit Australia here follows a valuable lesson of a completely non-birding nature.

We decided to check out the cashpoint, we had plenty of currency but wanted to be certain we could replenish if necessary later in the holiday. In Australia they ask you an important first question when you put the card in the machine – Is the account the card belongs to “Cheque”, “Savings” or “Credit”? Now I am sure those of you who have visited will be chuckling away at this time. In my mind a current account in UK would equate to a Cheque account and a Deposit account would be a Savings account – WRONG!!!!!

After two attempts the machine advised me that my card had been refused by my provider – hmmmmm – at this point George logically suggested that we went into a bank and enquired if they knew why we were having these problems. Little chance of a solution I advised, how wrong could I be? The young guy smiled and advised us that in Australia a current account is known as a Savings account. I have no idea what a cheque account is, but the machine gave me some Aussie Dollars. I hope that at least helps one person in the future.

So ended our Sydney adventure, we were to be at Sydney Domestic Airport at 7am the next morning for a 9.15am internal flight to Cairns and the main reason I had suggested a holiday in Australia all those months ago.

Totals update – 66 species and 52 lifers

Oh boy were those numbers going to increased over the next fifteen days
 

Selsey Birder

Well-known member
Ah, the suspense is indeed building. There couldn't have been many species that Tony hadn't seen in NEQ. You mention that Georgina found one of them. I remember that the night parrot was found, albeit dead by the roadside!

Allen

Nice attempt Allen, but as I remember lifers only count if they are breathing!

Not too long to wait for the first two, because we saw them on the Saturday when the three of us spent the entire day exploring, not sure how long it will take me to get to there though!!!!!

Ian
 

Allen S. Moore

Well-known member
Isle of Man
Nice attempt Allen, but as I remember lifers only count if they are breathing!

Ian

Ah, you might have gone one better than Wayne Longmore and his team all those years ago!

You had some more great birds on the 2nd and 3rd. I did not see a channel-billed cuckoo in Sydney (or a lot of the species that you saw!), but I have seen them on Fraser Island and in and around Cairns. Indeed, on a trip on the Atherton Tableland with John Seale he told us that channel-billed cuckoos provide a good service in Sydney as they parasitise the pied currawongs which, in turn, play havoc with the small birds. A bit familiar that, though! I would admit to being a fan of pied currawongs from seeing them on Lord Howe Island, sitting in trees watching me from close range as I walked alone through the forest ...

White-browed scrubwrens are characters. When I stayed at O'Reillys, 24 hours before you arrived in Sydney, as it happened, one was hopping about at my feet on the deck outside my room.

Allen
 
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Selsey Birder

Well-known member
Thursday 4th November
We arrived safely in Cairns, ah this is what they mean by the Tropics, at least 10 degrees warmer than Sydney and a whole lot more humidity. We had arranged for a hire car and duly collected this from Avis at the Airport and headed in to the City – destination the Ridges Tradewinds Hotel on the Esplanade.

The Cairns Esplanade a name that will excite virtually any birder in the world and my room looked out over it, Tony had advised me that I would probably get a few “ticks” from the balcony and he was right. The tide was still a long way out, but a scour over the mud with the scope produced Eastern Curlew, a pair of Pied Oystercatchers and a few Great Knot and lots of dots which were simply unidentifiable, I would have to be patient and wait for the rising tide to bring them to my feet over the next three hours.

We settled in to the hotel, then at George’s suggestion (honestly it was hers!) we went out for a walk along the Esplanade towards the main part of the town – guess who spent nearly all his time looking out over the mud – yes dear I was listening to what you just said honestly – anyway there was more to be seen; Striated Heron, Red-necked Stint (100’s), Grey-tailed Tattler, Whimbrel (okay I had to throw that one in to calm you all down) and a pair of Royal Spoonbills on the shore.

However, I had a dilemma, you see the trees were also full of birds and I was suddenly very grateful for Michael Morcombe’s Complete Compact Edition of Australian Birds that fitted perfectly into my cargo pants, the only problem I had to keep getting it out to review another bird that eluded my memory. Seriously Tony was impressed by the book and I thoroughly recommend it, I also took Simpson & Day’s Birds of Australia with me and Lloyd Nielsen’s Birds of Queensland’s Wet Tropics and where to find them. I believe the latter may now be out of print, but it was invaluable. The drawings are of no great use, but the books’ layout and the local advice were excellent.

So turning my attention to the trees, what are those cute little doves George asks, whew one I know the answer to, Peaceful Doves and what was that which just rocketed through the trees a Double-eyed Fig Parrot and there are the expected Pied Imperial Pigeons, apparently the locals treat them like our Swallows ie: noting down the first returning bird each year. There were also Brown Honeyeaters (only after some locals confirmed I had correctly identified them).

Back to the shore and the tide was starting to push the birds closer, a further reminder of home in the form of the local version of Little Egret (I don’t think it’s a separate species John, but I guess it depends on whose reference list you use), oh and there are a few others that are seen at home Curlew Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit. Offshore another reminder of home as a Little Tern flies past. Again fortune smiled as the local legend John Crowhurst materialised, he must now be more than eighty years of age, he is a perfect gentleman and extremely helpful. I had also just started chatting to a guy from just south of Brisbane called Rex who was approaching 500 Australian birds and was off to Michaelmas Cay the next day – I do hope he saw his Red-footed Boobies that had been seen there recently.

A Rainbow Beeeater put in an appearance, as has been noted before this is one bird that does not match our version, a very dowdy bird in comparison to the European version. Anyway, the waders were getting even closer and flocks were gathering at our feet; I do not know why I struggled in Kenya with Lesser and Greater Sandplovers, it’s dead easy when they are that close to you, ah and there’s another I was hoping for Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (not as many as usual around this year so I am told, but still plenty). What was that bird which just flew along the shoreline? Drat it carried straight on, I could have sworn it was the Asian Dowitcher that had returned this year after a gap of 5 years since the previous sighting (ironically whilst my friend Sam Hill was here in 2005).

Five minutes later and John Crowhurst quietly mentioned that the Dowitcher was feeding amongst the Godwits 50 yards away, what an amazing bill – well that was one I was not expecting to see. Now to find my personal bête-noire of the wader world, five minutes of continuous scanning through the hundreds of Red-necked Stints and yes there it is, in fact there are two of them – Broad-billed Sandpiper and sat next to them a bird Rex was telling me 30 minutes ago he had never seen – a Pectoral Sandpiper – well that got him one nearer to 500 without ever leaving the shore for the Great Barrier Reef.

A Yellow-bellied Sunbird and a small group of Scaly-breasted Lorikeets as dusk approaches, followed by a stroll over the road back to the hotel, where a message from reception asks me to call Tony. We had been missing each other all day, a phone call later we had arranged for him to meet me in the Hotel at 5.45am for a morning of birding around the local area. We had a perfect arrangement, made many months earlier via BirdForum, Tony does not drive so I would provide the car and fuel he the local knowledge – I had landed firmly on my feet once again!

It may take me a little longer to write up the next two days, we crammed so much into them before I headed inland for 6 days in the Tablelands, by then my knowledge of Australian birds would be greatly increased.
 

chowchilla

Well-known member
Allen,

Guessing is always good fun, but suffice to say that Tony saw at least three lifers during our time together. I hope he will confirm this when he next logs on, but not ruin the suspense. In fact my wife found one of them!

Ian
Without giving the game away, two of those lifers, some may scoff at. They are not rare birds, but they are dry country birds. As I don't drive, I rarely get out of Cairns unless I can get a lift (although I can get to Kuranda on a regular bus service), so seeing the dry country at all is a very rare treat for me, and there are consequent gaps in my list which would be filled with ease by others. There's even a Wet Tropics species I haven't seen which Ian saw lots of on this trip as I simply can't get to the tablelands. My philosophy on this is that there's no rush. I'm happily identifying the local frogs from a CD I bought right now. That bird can wait. This is the tropics: people take their time around here...;)

The third lifer on the other hand...
 

Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
The suspense! A most enjoyable read. Is Turquoise Parrot expected round Sydney? I'd have thought it would be worth reporting it to the locals if you haven't already.

looking forward to more
 

Selsey Birder

Well-known member
The suspense! A most enjoyable read. Is Turquoise Parrot expected round Sydney? I'd have thought it would be worth reporting it to the locals if you haven't already.

looking forward to more

Hi Larry,

Well I am not sure what they expect, especially as the Correllas were out of range according to the maps!

Anyway I am working on Friday 5th (will it be explosive? - a UK joke), but need to act as Dad's taxi for the next two hours.

Ian
 

Selsey Birder

Well-known member
Friday 5th November
Now this was where the Tropical birding really began, I was up at 5.15am and met Tony in the hotel reception at 5.45am, as I have said before a great guy and we hit it off immediately. So where to first? Well Centennial Lakes seemed like an excellent idea, except a small diversion to a spot near to the cemetery since Tony knew where an Oriental Cuckoo regularly roosted, unfortunately there were road works there and the bird clearly did not like its sleep being disturbed. However, a quick peep into the cemetery was all that was needed to see the Bush Curlew. We had already seen Metallic Starlings en route and there was a Spangled Drongo on the wires.

On to the Lakes, which I had read about, however this was to be made so much simpler since Tony knew every bird and all the calls too. There is a danger of today becoming a bit of a list, so here are a few more from around the Lakes;- Helmeted Friarbird, Rainbow Beeeater, White-breasted Wood Swallow, Figbird, White bellied Cuckoo Shrike, Nankeen Night and Striated Heron, Great, Intermediate and Little Egret, Magpie Goose, Orange Footed Scrubfowl, Brown backed, Yellow and Brown Honeyeater, Common Koel, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Laughing Kookaburra, Long-billed Gerygone, Black Butcherbird, Australian Brush Turkey and Welcome Swallow were all present.

I have saved the prose for two of the more impressive sights, not long after we arrived Tony advised that he knew of a roosting site for a very impressive looking bird, we crossed the river and there pressed against the trunk of the tree was a Papuan Frogmouth, I returned here a few times over the fortnight and found it roosting everytime – spectacular.

Now we had been hearing a call for all of the hour we had been in the Park which Tony advised was a Collared Kingfisher, however searching up and down the river had drawn a complete blank, as we were about to leave we heard it again. Eventually we found the bird, sat at the top of the tallest tree in the area calling for all its might! We strolled back to the car (adding Mistletoebird) and headed out of the town for our next destination.

Yorkies Knob is approximately 10 miles north of Cairns and there is a small pool there which is situated next to the Golf Course, only one problem.....they have started construction work there and the waterfowl were distinctly lacking. Actually this was a problem that anybody visiting the coast in late 2010 was going to discover, due to the amount of rain that had fallen on the huge interior of Australia all of the waterbirds had decided to stay out there to breed this year. I really struggled for some species which in normal years are easy. What was at Yorkies Knob then I hear you ask; 4 Black-fronted Dotterel, Australian Grebe, Australian Wood Duck and a few Darters breeding on the Island, let’s get back in the car this is wasting valuable birding time!

Cattana Wetlands were just up the road, only recently opened and not somewhere Tony had often been, sounds like a good idea all round to me. A huge lake with a walkway all the way around, plus a small amount of remnant low level rainforest – perfect for an hour’s birding at 9am in the morning. We drove into the car park and there was a Forest Kingfisher sat on a post in the car park, good start. We strolled through the trees to the lake and virtually the first bird we saw – a juvenile White-browed Crake (pretending to be a Jacana by hopping from one lily leaf to the next) – indeed within five minutes we had discovered two adults as well.

There was an abundance of birdlife here (much better than nearby Yorkies Knob) with Little Pied and Little Black Cormorant, lots of Fairy Martins, a small group of Crimson Finch and a new water bird Green Pygmy Goose (I was never to see its cousin the Cotton Pygmy Goose, a further indication of the quantity of birds that had not returned from the hinterland).

Emboldened we headed for Redden Island, however a fundamental mistake we had not checked the tide. Whilst this promontory is great on a rising tide there is not a lot to see at high tide, quite simply all of the waders have nowhere to stand! A few terns (Caspian, Little and Crested) loafed about, but there was one excellent sighting in the form of a dark phase Eastern Reef Egret. This bird apparently put in occasional appearances at the Esplanade, indeed I was to see it there myself on my return from the Tablelands.

Now we had achieved all of this by 10.30am and I had a pass to stay out until 1pm (Tony did not start work until 3pm) so what to do over the next 2.5 hours, Tony enquired if I fancied driving up into the hills to visit the Black Mountain Road, it would take about half an hour to get there, therefore we would have over an hour to explore. Did I want to? You bet I did. Here was my first introduction to real Rainforest birding and since this was the approach road to Cassowary House maybe we might just stumble across................

Well I was fascinated by the cacophony of noise that greeted us the minute we stopped just beyond the turning to Cassowary House, Tony had seen one of those mythical birds here a couple of years ago, no harm in seeing if lightning would strike twice. I am afraid here comes another list of species;- Brown Gerygone, Dusky, Yellow-Spotted and Macleays Honeyeaters, Spotted Catbird, Little Shrikethrush, Pale Yellow Robin, Silvereye, Red-browed Firetail, Dollarbird, Spectacled Monarch and flying across the track a Brown Goshawk.

We travelled a further five miles along the road to a clearing and Tony spotted one of my “wanted” species in the foliage above, the problem.....I could not for the life of me see it, hear it – yes, see it – no. Eventually after five minutes of desperately craning my neck I got what John Cantello would aptly describe as an arse view of a female Victoria Riflebird. So I had seen my first ever bird of Paradise. Fortunately I was to have far far closer and better views later in the holiday. Time had now defeated us and we returned to Cairns making arrangements for me to collect Tony from his house at 6.30am the next morning. All three of us were off for a daytrip onto the Tablelands and a day that will remain in my memory for a long time to come. Oh and as has been mentioned before two lifers for Tony too!

I spent the afternoon again on the Esplanade, where the waders were similar to the previous day, including the Asian Dowitcher, but excluding the Pectoral Sandpiper which I understand is much rarer and was still needed by some of the locals. It was so strange to stand there chatting to them all as they reminisced about a Common Redshank that had once appeared on the Esplanande (I think it is John Crowhurst’s most wanted bird as he missed it), I had to whisper that it is probably one of the waders I see most often. We did also see Red Knot to add to yesterday’s wader list, together with an Osprey that was roosting on a boat mast in the harbour plus an Australian Hobby which sped through the trees causing untold panic amongst the regular inhabitants.

There was one more important and very pleasurable task to undertake before tomorrow’s excitement. Our eldest son’s best friend had set off a year previously to travel round the world (indeed at one point our son intended to travel with him). Luke had arrived in Cairns via South East Asia in February, but had never left and was working in the local youth hostel. Contact had been made some months previously (we have always treated Luke like a third son and he refers to us as his other parents) and together with his two friends we were treating them all to dinner that evening. We had a lovely Thai meal and arranged to meet again the following week when Luke would be 21 and another meal was arranged – our son had spent his 18th birthday on holiday with Luke and his parents three years previously so there seemed to be a perfect symmetry about it all.

A romantic stroll back along the Esplanade in the dark and Saturday was about to arrive.

To be continued – Trip List 134, Lifers 104
 
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