Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Why should you use a LOCAL GUIDE when visiting a new area?

Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater in the beautiful late afternoon light

I have just returned from a birding trip to the Alice Springs area in the Northern Territory of Australia. It was a totally new area for me and I was unfamiliar with the birds and where to find them.

Western Bowebird at Olive Pink Botanic Gardens
One of my lifers I found for myself

So I studied my field guide and checked out all the hotspots and recent sightings on eBird . Still not satisfied that I knew enough about the area I hired a guide with a vehicle. This gave me all the advantage of local knowledge and not having to drive in an unfamiliar area and look for birds!


My guide, Mark Carter, knew exactly where to find the birds and at what time of day they where lightly to be there. It saved a lot of time that would otherwise have been wasted waiting around for or missing out on a new species.

Red-capped Robin (female) quickly identified for me by my local guide - Mark Carter

The other saving was having a walking, talking, bird calling field guide whose pages I did not have to turn! And what do you know? 27 new species for my life list! If I had just poked around without a guide I would have found this hard to achieve.

Spinifexbird in its natural habitat! My local guide set me up nicely for this photo!

When visiting a new area I always use the local guides who know the best spots, have access to private property's and know the best time of day to visit. We even managed to locate a Bourke's Parrot in day light and then watch them coming in to drink after sunset. Thanks mark for a wonderful 3 days birding and the wealth of local knowledge - not only about the birds!

Bourke's Parrot. Not a perfect photo but a memorable sighting. 

By Doug Herrington of Birdwatching Tropical Australia in the Wet Tropics of Far North Queensland, Australia.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Willie Wagtails at Abattoir Swamp

Being a regular visitor to Abattoir Swamp at Julatten I noticed a pair of Willie Wagtails building a nest next to the exit on 2 January. The nest was already well advanced and the birds seemed totally unperturbed by all the comings and goings of the workers repairing the boardwalk to the bird hide.
Wrapping spider web around the nest

Both birds where coming in with pieces of bark and grass and carefully inserting them into the nest. Every now and so often one would turn up with its bill and head covered in spider webs. It would wrap these around the outside by turning around and around whilst standing in the nest.

The half completed nest

After arranging each piece of nesting material they would sit in the nest and shuffle around to shape the inside of the cup.

Shaping the inside of the nest

On another of my visits to the swamp on 14 January the pair was sitting on three eggs and still totally unperturbed by all the comings and goings. Vehicles leaving the area pass within 2 metres of the nest!

Sitting on 3 eggs

On my latest visit on the 29th January one of the eggs had hatch and the chick was loudly demanding to be fed.
Nestling loudly demanding food

Waiting quietly for food to arrive

Saturday, 21 March 2015

March with Birdwatching Tropical Australia

Cyclone Nathan finally managed to cross the coast 100km north of Cooktown on its second attempt. Here in the Port Douglas/Julatten area attempt one brought some wind and much needed rain along with several frigate birds. These could be seen in the skies above Port Douglas and Thala Beach. The second attempt brought only a few drops of rain and a light breeze as the cyclone was much further north.

Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher
Birwatching Tropical Australia has been having some good sightings of Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher in Julatten.  8 adults and 2 juveniles were seen on one of last week’s tours. Mt Lewis is as good as it always is with great sightings of Blue-faced Parrot-Finch this month.  We also saw a 2.5m long Amethystine Python along the walking track which made for a bit of excitement for our visitor from Perth!
Blue-faced Parrot-Finch

One of the ponds at Port Douglas produced an impressive 24 Pied Herons for a photographer from Melbourne and the Wandering Whistling-Ducklings and Magpie Goslings produced plenty of oh’s and ah’s from the ladies.

Wandering Whistling-Duck
The Metallic Starlings nesting at Mossman have managed to pump out a third brood of youngsters again this season.
Metallic Starling

As we look forward to the cooler dryer months of winter our shore birds and summer migrants are preparing to leave our shores. Departures should begin within the week.

Happy Birding to all!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Mount Lewis in the Summer

Recent tours to Mt Lewis have been turning up some really good birds. We usually manage to get most of the Wet Tropics Endemics and sometimes all 12. (Or 13 if you wish to include the Spotted Catbird which is also found further north on Cape York Peninsula.)

Spotted Catbird
 The Tooth-billed Bowerbirds are still very active at their respective display courts and can be heard calling all along the track.

Tooth-billed Bowerbird

We have also seen Superb and Wompoo Fruit-dove, Topknot Pigeons and Barred Cuckoo-shrike. Up to 5 flocks of Chowchilla are usually encountered along the length of the track. Both the Bridled and Lewin’s Honeyeaters are abundant and we have occasional sightings of the Eastern Spinebill.

Lewin's Honeyeater
Victoria’s Riflebird are also showing well. The hardest of the endemics to find at the moment seem to be the Golden Bowerbird and the Pied Monarch.

Pied Monarch
The recent rains have encouraged the fungi to grow and we see some really fancy looking growths

Various Fungi photographed on Mt Lewis

The  Brush Mistletoe,  Amylotheca dictyophleba, and the Climbing Guinea Flower , Hibbertia scanders, are flowering at present and add vivid splashes of colour to the usually green rainforest.

Brush Mistletoe,  Amylotheca dictyophleba
Climbing Guinea Flower , Hibbertia scanders
The Yellow-breasted Boatbill is also frequently seen along the track

Yellow-breasted Boatbill

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Dry Savannah in November

What a busy month November has been. I have had many tours with some very exciting bird encounters.  I am really enjoying the dry savannah section of my tours at the present time. This is possibly because I have managed to get two lifers for myself, including one I never expected to see in this area.  A Grey Falcon! Many thanks to John Pearson for putting me onto this bird. Unfortunately, I did not manage to get a photograph.
Early morning on the road to Mt Carbine
I did however get a photograph of my other lifer, the Little Curlew, which we came across at the rodeo grounds at Mareeba where he remained for almost a month, much to the delight of guests.
Little Curlew
Mary Farms has been fantastic for Bustards with up to 20 birds seen per visit. We have had cracking views of male birds displaying close to the road. Two guests from Red Mill House even managed to video a bird doing his boom and roar call.
Australian Bustard
Further north at Mt Carbine caravan park, breeding season is in full swing. Blue-faced Honeyeaters carrying nesting materials, Apostlebirds building their mud nest above the road and the Tawny Frogmouth rearing a beautiful fluffy chick. The Blue-winged Kookaburra's have hatched two chicks in an arboreal termite nest which are now well feathered.
Tawny Frogmouth
Since the rains began, water birds at Lake Mitchell and Brady Rd Swamp have dispersed far and wide. We have been seeing White-faced and White-necked Heron in pools of water at the side of the road and many species of duck as well as Sharp-tailed Sandpiper on muddy pools in the farm paddocks.
Australian Pratincole
Eastern Grey Kangaroo

Other interesting sightings have been a Grey Wagtail, observed for about 30 minutes, at Brady Road and several Australian Pratincole.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Birding in the Rain?

A grey and overcast morning. To bird or not to bird? It looks like rain. Oh well, let’s go anyway. Off to Port Douglas along the Captain Cook Highway. There are plenty of White-breasted Wood-swallows about and even a few Pacific Black Duck around in the muddy pools in the sugar cane paddocks. Ferrero Road may be worth a look. Last week there were three Barn Swallow about near the pond. Not today though. There are some Wandering Whistling-duck, a tree full of Little Black Cormorants and two Australasian Grebe. Well, here comes the rain. Wipers on and off we go. Glancing at a herd of cattle I notice a lone Cattle Egret still with some of his breeding plumage. A quick look down Heritage Lane turns up a bedraggled Horsfield’s Bushlark on the fence. The rain eases off to a light drizzle and then sunshine. I put the windows down and hear Golden-headed Cisticola calling and then the humid heat hits me like a wet slap in the face.
Australasian Grebe

Turning into Port Douglas Road the Purple Swamphen line the roadside to give a birdie welcome. Swing a left at the first traffic circle and visit the lakes in St Crispin’s Street. Bugger, here comes the rain again. The usual Grey Tattler has company today. A Pacific Golden Plover. The rain is really belting down now. Hang on, what was that? I back up and see a large bird on the green at the golf course. I open the window a crack and peer through the sheets of rain. A Beach Stone-curlew! On the golf course?

It’s Sunday and the markets are on so I head into town. Maybe I should take a look at the mangroves near the Marina before stopping at the markets. The rain is easing. Two Nankeen Night Heron. Worth the detour. A quick whip around the muddy markets is uneventful. I get back to the car just in time to watch a young fisherman pull in a mug crab. He has no idea of what to do with it and it eventually plops back into the water.

Ah! here comes the sun again. Pass another golf course. This time it’s two Bush Stone-curlew on the golf course. And a Magpie Goose! A stop at Warri Park and its lake full of water lilies is rewarding. More Purple Swamphens, a few Dusky Moorhens and one White-browed Crake. No – make that two! Dash back to the car to grab the camera, focus on the crake. What’s that? A two and a half meter croc! These birds are inches away from becoming a snack! Last time I was here I’m sure there were three crake...  Here comes the rain again.
Crake 'n Croc (Bottom right)

Back on the Captain Cook Highway again I think a quick visit to the local rubbish tip may be rewarding. The skip bins are swarming with Australian White Ibis. Two Pied Heron are also scavenging for a free feed. A Black-fronted Dotterel dashes across the road. Even a couple or Radjah Shelduck are enjoying the roadside puddles. Down at the settling ponds a flock of Hardhead are cruising about watched by a few Black-winged Stilt. A Collared Kingfisher shoots out of the mangroves followed by a Sacred Kingfisher. A Brahminy and a Whistling Kite float overhead. There are Chestnut-breasted Mannikin and Golden-headed Cisticola in the grass. Am I really at a rubbish tip?
Pied Heron and Australian White Ibis
Radjah Shelduck

Time to go home. Yes it is worth birding in the rain.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Birds and Dinosaurs - 4th to 8th August

Saturday 4th August, 5.30 am. Depart Mossman. After driving up the Rex Range road we were met with thick mist blanketing the road between Mt Molloy and Mareeba and had to slow to 80km per hour. The mist persisted all the way to Mt Garnet and eventually cleared just before we reached Forty Mile Scrub. This was our first stop for coffee and a late breakfast. A leisurely walk along the short trail turned up Lewen’s Honeyeater, Great Bowerbird, Australian Figbird and Fairy Gerygone

We continued on to The Lynd and made a stop at the Oasis Road House for soft drinks and sausage rolls. From this point several stops along road at dams and gravel pits mostly rewarded us with Australian Wood Duck, Plumed Whistling-duck, Green Pygmy-goose, Pacific Black Duck, Grey Teal, Australian Grebe and various Egrets. We ate a late lunch at the lookout at Porcupine Gorge National Park. The view from the lookout is stunning. From here it was only a short drive to Hughenden. We visited the little museum at the information centre and whetted our appetite for the dinosaurs to come.

Grey Teal

From Hughenden we took the road south to Winton. The windmills and dams along the first stretch of the road provide good birding in an otherwise flat landscape. We saw Spotted Bowerbird and Variegated Fairy-wren. The place was buzzing with Zebra Finch in almost every bush. The dams contained Grey Teal, Hardhead, Australasian Grebe, Australasian Darter and White-necked Heron. We heard Australian Reed-Warbler calling from the reeds and even saw a Black-tailed Native-hen trying to sneak off without being spotted. Raptors were also well represented in the area with Black-shouldered Kite, Black Kite, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Whistling Kite, Nankeen Kestrel and Brown Falcon. Also seen were at least 15 Brolga, Singing Honeyeater, Yellow-throated Miner, Black-faced Woodswallow and Cockatiel.

Australasian Grebe

We spent the night at the campsite at Corfield

Sunday 5th August. We were on the road again at 6am headed for the Winton sewerage ponds. We parked near the golf course and surprisingly there were several Crimson Chat on the fairway dodging golf balls. The ponds proved very fruitful for water birds including an Australian Spotted Crake. We also found a Little Eagle flying over the nearby sports fields.

After breakfast and coffee we drove out to the Age of Dinosaurs Centre. The tour of the preparation lab was really interesting and informative. This is the biggest fossil preparation lab in the Southern hemisphere. We watched technicians removing the rock from around fossilised bones and saw how huge chunks of fossilised dinosaur are removed from the ground, wrapped in a protective layer and transported. The second part of the tour at the main centre was also very interesting. We saw the bones of “Banjo” (Australovenator wintonensis), the largest predatory dinosaur ever discovered in Australia. The 800 m walk along the path between the labs and the centre rewarded us with good views of Yellow-rumped and Inland Thornbill. 

“Banjo” (Australovenator wintonensis)

We returned to Winton and then drove out to our campsite at Bough Shed Hole in the Blandensburg National Park. The campsite is well arranged along the edge of the waterhole. A walk along the water’s edge produced Red-browed Pardalote, Striated Pardalote, Grey-crowned Babbler, Rufous Songlark, Common Bronzewing and Black-fronted Dotterel. Just before sunset we chose a quiet spot on the opposite side of the waterhole with the sun behind us. We sat and watched as flocks of Budgerigar, Cockatiel and Red-winged Parrot came in to drink. A lone Willie Wagtail tried very hard to chase off the Budgies but there were just too many of them. 

Black-fronted Dotterel

Monday 6th August. We were up at sunrise for a bush bird walk. Moving quietly through the bush we came across two Australian Bustard which we watched for some time. A movement further away caught our eye and we saw an Emu emerge from the undergrowth. We also spent about half an hour watching a flock of Cockatiel investigate a dead tree for nesting hollows.

After breakfast we tackled the 110 km drive south to Lark Quarry Conservation Park. Here we toured the world’s only recorded evidence of a dinosaur stampede. There are over 3300 fossilised footprints on display. After the very interesting tour we walked the 3 km trail around the park in search of Hooded Robin, Grey-headed Honeyeater, White-plumed Honeyeater, Singing Honeyeater and Rufous Whistler.

We headed further south to spend the night at Opalton. We arrived at the bush camp at about 4pm. We spent about an hour before sunset exploring the area around the dam and windmill for good views of Hall’s Babbler and Variegated Fairy-wren.
That evening we joined the local opal miners for a BBQ. They were intrigued that we would travel all this way to look at some birds. One of the older gents helpfully told us where we could find Mallee Ringneck and Spinifex Pigeon the next morning. 

Spinifex Pigeon


Tuesday 7th August. We were up at first light searching for the Spinifex Pigeons which we found at the top of the runway. Next on the list was the Mallee Ringneck. We found these birds along the creek to the south of the runway. This completed our stay at Opalton and we began our journey back north. We were rewarded with numerous Emu sightings along the roadside between Opalton and Blandensberg National Park. The highlight of the morning though was at a dam and windmill at the roadside. While watching a flock of Zebra Finch in a bush above a water seep we finally found the White-winged Fairy-wrens. We had fantastic views and some good photos were taken. 

White-winged Fairy-wrens

We returned to Porcupine Gorge National Park where we camped for the night. The highlight here was the Wedge-tailed Eagles cruising on the thermals above the gorge. It was very relaxing experience to sit and watch these birds effortless flight.

Wednesday 8th August. The last day of the trip was a straight run back to Mossman with nothing more exciting than a quick stop on the Atherton Tablelands for a quick look at a Golden Bowerbird at its bower.