After visiting Darwin area and the outback in the N.T I went back to Cairns where my wife and daughter had spent the week exploring the Barrier Reef and other star attractions here. Before I went to Darwin I had actually had one evening in Cairns. A local birder called Mikey had promised to meet me at the Botanical Garden after dark. Our mission was to spot the Papuan Frogmouth, which breeds in this area. Following Mikey in the jungle with flashlight was fun and amazing. We didn't see much the first part but just when the trail made a small turn, one Frogmouth was sitting on a vine just over the trail. Imagine we had to walk under it and bow our heads not to touch it and it remained. This photo was taken with my cellphone. Later on we saw one more and also some local and rare bats. He also gave me some directions for other birds which I will describe later in this part. Thank you Mikey.
We stayed one more day in Cairns and at the splendid Esplanade you can see many nice birds. The muddy beach is full of different birds connected to water and the gardens next to is full of Honeyeaters and other good stuff. This Bar-tailed Godwit confused me a lot at first as I resembled a Dowitcher at distance. Breeding plumage and a dirty bill fooled me off at first.
Next to the Esplanade I found this Varied Honeyeater next to this Figbird. On the lawn at the same spot these Masked Lapwings.
Mikey had also told me about a pair of Rufous Owls that were roosting close by. On my first attempt I didn't see them but the second was more successful.
At the northern end of the Esplanade is one of the best spot for Mangrove Robin and when you know the spot you have a good chance to see one. At the lawn next to it was this colorful Straw-necked Ibis.
Next day we took off north towards the jungle. But first a stop north of town where Mikey told was the best spot for my last Fairy Wren. If I managed to see the Lovely Fairy Wren, all of these marvelous group possible in Australia would be on my list. What a mission. I was quite nervous as they are not easy to find when they move around constantly. However, Mikey had given me a spot where he sees them from time to time. I played my recorder and in they came!! 3 of them with one stunning male. Too quick in their moves before they got bored of me I managed to get one good photo of a female. My Fairy Wren-list of Australia was complete.
Time to leave for the rainforest and Cape Tribulation which is just a couple of hours driving north of Cairns. Her you enter crocodile country and you can easily spot some by taking a boat trip at Daintree River. We didn't as we have seen quite a few before. Nature is quite different and the beaches just goes on for miles and miles. Not the typical tourism beach with sun-umbrellas, restaurants etc. No swimming because of potential crocodiles. Just walk and walk and be part of pure nature.
This area is a true spot to see the Southern Cassowary. It's a huge bird and related in some way to the Ostrich family. With 3 toes and the middle sharp as a spear, you should take some care and not approach too close. I saw 3 different birds at two separate locations. This one was crossing the road as we drove by.
There are a lot of other adventures to do here and a popular one is to take night walks in the rainforest. You see lots of insects dragon lizards and spiders. This one was quite large and a nice view in the darkness of the forest.
Walking along the beach does not give that many birds but these two, Easter Reef Egret (Grey morph) and a female Olive-backed Sunbird were kind enough to let me approach.
We stayed in this area for 2 nights and it's highly recommended to go here if you ever visit Cairns. From here we drove back south. About half way towards Cairns you take right inland and up the mountainous slopes. Up here is a completely different nature and some of the birds are endemic to this tiny area. It's a combination of remaining rainforest and much drier country. First 3 nights we stayed at Chamber's Wildlife Lodge. This lodge is in the middle of the "jungle" that in remaining from vulcano activity back in time. At the forest clearing I had this magnificent Victoria's Riflebird and the silent but curious Pale Yellow Robin (race nana). The riflebird is a part of the Bird's of Paradise family which most people relate to New Guinea.
Some other jewels of the deep forest is this Chowchilla (male). Almost like a Pitta in behavior they can be quite vocal. Seeing in when it silently walks on the rainforest floor is an other thing. I was patient and eventually rewarded. The special Catbird is an other one. Wait til you hear it the first time, you will not believe it's a bird. A very clever name for this bird.
Chamber's Wildlife Lodge is (world) famous for the possibility to watch some very special night animals. At a platform you can sit and wait for these animals to show up during late evening/ early nights. The Sugar Glider and the Striped Possum would be very hard to spot by just moving in the jungle by night as they usually stay high up in the canopy.
The Atherton Tablelands is also one of the absolute best places to spot a wild Platypus. In the small village called Yungaburra, there are a healthy population in the river. They have hides where you can sit or if you want you can walk silently along the river in hope to be lucky. This one really showed well. Swimming and diving just a few meters from us for several minutes. A good one!!
Kangaroos are great to watch. They look so funny when they move and I think even native Australians find them irresistible. At Mareeba Golf Corse there are a big group gathering every day. The management allows you to rent a buggy so you can approach in good manor. First a mother with a grown up Joey and then a proud? male. Just look at his position.
If you think you have heard it all, there's still one major attraction here. Maybe the easiest way to spot Tree-kangaroos is also not far from here. At a tea estate close by, there is an isolated population of Lumholtz's Tree-kangaroo. They believe this group was cut off back in time when clearing were made and as the patches of forest remaining are so small there is a high chance of spotting them. We saw 4. One mother with 2 Joeys and a male. (Good luck finding these guys in the rainforest where they usually live)
Some birds are easier than others to get decent photos of. This Yellow-breasted Boatbill, which was new on my list was a very speedy and restless bird that never was still for for than maximum one second. These lazy Bush Curlews are the total opposite. Just standing there motionless (wonder what they are waiting for?)
One afternoon we visited a bat hospital! Yes correct, a lady who is now retired has built up this place. They take care of these misunderstood animals. So important for balance in nature and really threatened, she is doing a great work. You will have a "tour" when she explains and show some different species. You now that they hang up side down but did you know they turn (for us) to the right position when the need to "use the toilet". Quite fun actually. First a Tube-nosed Bat (don't remember the species though) and a gorgeous Spectacled Fruit Bat.
In the garden of the bat hospital, there was some action with some great honeyeaters. First the striking Macleay's. Next two a Bridled and a Lewin's.
Our last night was at Granite Gorge. Though not far from the green fields and forest in Atherton this is dry landscape resembling the Outback. Granite rocks with marks of dinosaurs and home to the endemic Mareeba Rock Wallaby. This small kangaroo has become used to humans and you can easily approach them as some people also feed them with nuts. They are very cute and in a way irresistible.
Next to our cabin there were a few dry land birds like this Pied Butcherbird and the Yellow Honeyeater.
At other places the Squatter Pigeon can be hard to see but here it is easy, as a big group live at the camp grounds.
On the way back towards Cairns and the airport I had to stop three times on the road because of snakes. Two of the were already dead. One Carpet Python and what most likely seemed to be an Eastern Brown Snake. The third one was this Carpet Python which was still alive and just warming up from the heat of the road.
This great country has so many fantastic animals, people and views that it's impossible not to love it!
July 19 I went to Australia for the 5th time. As a pert of the trip I wanted to meet my old friend Graham Palmer and his wife Liz. These fantastic people have been so generous to my family back in time and seeing them again was great. Graham is suffering from severe Parkinson's but he refuse to give up his birding. Flying in from Cairns, where I had left my wife and daughter they met me at Darwin airport. Without hesitation we started do drive south and made a short stop at Pine Creek and found this lovely Great Bowerbird preparing its bower. Close by a group of Black Fruit Bats made me smile. These gorgeous animals never stops fascinating me. We continued to Katherine for a nights sleep.
Next morning we began driving early, eager to reach Timber Creek as soon as possible. However, one of my main target birds for this trip, the Red-kneed Dotterel was not far away, at the Katherine wastewater treatment plant. Unfortunately, the gates were closed so I could only witness them through the fence at quite a distant (no use for photos). In the bush, next to it we saw a flock of the stunning Red-shouldered Parrot.
Feeling great to see the red soil and Australian outback, we continued to drive south-west. Next stop was Victoria River Crossing Roadhouse where we had a quick lunch, filled up more petrol and saw some good birds. On the other side of the creek I got some new Honeyeaters on my list but only came close enough for photos to this Australian Kestrel and White-faced Heron.
Continuing towards Timber Creek we made a few more stops looking at spots marked at E-bird. Not so much was seen but close to the town a group of Black-faced Woodswallows showed well.
Finally, we arrived to the small but quite famous (for birders) little town and checked in at our cabins. I took Graham for a walk in his wheelchair and we saw some of the more common birds here, Brown Honeyeater, White-gaped Honeyeater, Brown Goshawk, Little Corella and the cute Long-tailed Finch.
After a good birding day, sunset finally sets the complete feeling of Australian outback.
Super-target birds for this trip was the Purple-crowned Fairy-wren and the elusive Gouldian Finch. Taking the car by my own as Graham needed to rest I drove out of town to Bradshaw Bridge where the Fairy-wren had been observed. Using my playback, three immediately came in. I had trouble getting focus on these very swift and restless birds trying at the same time to use the speaker. One gorgeous male were among them and one of my most memorable birds for a long time. Not a photo to be proud of but a memory of this event. At the same time I got my first Star Finches.
Back to town I picked Graham and Liz up and we drove to Policeman's Point. This is a stunning place to spend sunset and even if we didn't see any Gouldian's, we had nice views of Black-necked Stork, Paperbark Flycatcher and Double-barred Finch.
Time to go back, we stopped at the Escarpment Walk, next to the Victoria River Roadhouse. Not wanting to let Graham and Liz wait too long, I made the walk in high speed which made me sweat a lot. But worth it no doubt. First I didn't see much but as I moved to the northern side of the flat area at the top I stated to spot many birds. The best highlight was 5 White-quilled Rock-Pigeons. Quite shy, I still managed to get a pick on the edge before it took off. A group of Little Woodswallows also gave me some attention. On the way down something special happened to me. As I started my walk down a big Falcon came out just in front of me 10-15 meters and took speed out from the rock. A Grey Falcon, a very rare bird was on my list. So great to see it also from above at the start.
We returned to Pine Creek, for an other target and lifer for Graham. Around 5 p.m a flock of Hooded Parrots usually show up at the water sprinkler next to Lazy Lizard Motel, where we stayed. Felt great to make Graham get an other lifer sitting in his wheelchair. First the male and secondly a female. This is a rare and difficult bird to see and on many birders wish list. However, if you are at the right spot even rare birds can be easy.
Here also some nice Blue-faced Honeyeaters, Little Friarbird, Yellow Oriole, a few tiny Peaceful Doves and a family of the ever entertaining Grey-crowned Babblers.
Before we took off for Darwin we made a morning visit to the Water Treatment area in Pine Creek. In the dry Outback, these tiny pools attract lots of birds. New bird on my list was the Plumed Whistling-duck. I had hoped to get better views of the Red-kneed Dotterel but no one was present. A group of Black-fronted Dotterels are still a blessing sight. The gates were closed here too but the area is much smaller than the one in Katherine so photos were possible anyway.
On the way towards Darwin we took a detour to the famous Fogg Dam, a wetland area southeast of Darwin on the way to Kakadu N.P. Fogg Dam is a mix of open wetlands and seasonal rainforest. This makes it a spot with many species. The obvious and stunning Rainbow Bee-eater is usually easy to find.
In the forest area, you can find the finest juvel of them all, the Rainbow Pitta. I knew it should be possible and hearing it is usually pretty easy. We we were lucky to have one bird come in decently close to us and in dark forest and 30 meters away it's not easy to get a good photo. I saw this bird in 1997 in Kakadu but this was still a glorious moment to remember. What a cracker!
Other great bird in the forest interior were Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Arafura Fantail, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, and the very small Green-backed Gerygone.
In the open it was easy to spot different types of herons like this Pied Heron and this Sulphur-crested Cockatoo.
The last day before I went back to Cairns I went with a Birding Pal, John Rawsthorne, who had promised to take me to the mangrove and look for some hard birds in this habitat. I don't have a photo of the White-breasted Whistler but it was great fun to walk bare-footed with him in the tidal mangrove and eventually see a stunning male.
Birds seen and which I managed to get photos of were; Red-headed Honeyeater, Northern Fantail, a proud White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike and the local Yellow White-eye.
In the afternoon Graham; Liz and I went to the coast for some birding and a very nice dinner at sunset. Among the waders seen were this lovely Red-capped Plover and a mixed flock of Great Knots and a few Knots and Ruddy Turnstones.
The Gull-billed Tern in Australia is now a split and is now called Australian Tern (though true Gull-billed could probably show up!). Other birds seen at the beach were these relaxing Masked Lapwings, and hungry (white morph) Eastern Reef Egret and Silver Gull.
I end this blog part with a classic photo of the great entertaining and socializing group of White-breasted Wood-Swallows. I have seen this before but it always a happy moment. They just love to warm up together.
Love you Oz, can't wait to go back!!