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.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

A White-eared Monarch and Tawny Frogmouth Day

Having heard of a sighting of a White-eared Monarch in Julatten a few days previously, I decided to go and have a look. Accompanied by my friend Murray, we arrived at the site shortly after 8.30 am. We sat in the vehicle and listened to a recording of the call of the White-eared Monarch a few times as we were both unfamiliar with it. After locking up the vehicle we set off along the dirt road. Almost the first birds we saw, was a small flock of Lovely Fairy-wrens. Try as I might to get a photo of a male in full plumage this was the best shot I could manage.
Lovely Fairy-wren (female)
There were quite a few Grey Fantail and Rainbow Bee-eater about. We also saw Rufous Fantail, Red-browed Finch, Little Shrike-thrush, Silvereye and a Spotted (now Green) Catbird. After about half an hour searching along the road, Murray heard the White-eared Monarch calling. Now the game was on to actually see the bird. These little critters like to forage high in the outer canopy and can be very difficult to see in thick rainforest. We eventually managed to spot one and then another. Goal achieved! Photography at the angle, height and density of foliage for this new photographer however proved impossible. The male Riflebird in the area showed up as usual but would not stay in the same place long enough for a good photo. I will just have to wait for breeding season when he starts to display.

We moved on to Devil Devil Creek to search for honeyeaters. We were rewarded with Yellow Spotted, Graceful, Dusky, Lewin’s, Macleay’s, Brown and Scarlet Honeyeater. We moved on to Mary Farms in search of Australian Bustard. Just on the point of giving up and leaving two birds popped up from the long grass and gave us some great views.
Australian Bustard
Next stop was Mt Carbine. We took a drive through the bush to look at the old mine dam but were disappointed at the lack of bird life on the water. A mining company is processing all the old mining tailings to extract Wolfram (I think?). They have set up a noisy pump at the water’s edge which has scared the birds off. All we saw was one lone Darter and a Little Pied Cormorant. A great pity as this used to be a good spot for Great Crested Grebe. On our route back through the bush we did find Red-tailed Black and Sulphur Crested Cockatoo. We also saw Black-faced and White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Galah, Laughing and Blue Winged Kookaburra.

Grumbling tummy’s signalled lunch time and we headed for the Mt Carbine pub where Nick served up great steak sandwiches and ice cold beer. While discussing what to do for the rest of the day, we decided to take a drive up Mt Spurgeon Road to the McCloud River just for the fun of it. The track has become very rough after the wet season with some rather tricky spots. We stopped at a good vantage point where we could look down on Mt Carbine and the mine. 
Mt Carbine mine from the view point
While sitting here admiring the view we heard Spotted Pardalote calling and were lucky enough to have them pass right by where we were sitting. Where was my camera? In the vehicle of course! I noticed Murray scrounging around at the base of the rock I was sitting on. After a few minutes he popped up with a plastic bottle. This apparently was a “geo-cache”(?). People hide things all over the world and put the co-ordinates on the internet and then others go looking for them, fill in the logbook in the bottle and then say on the internet that they have found them.
When we reached the McCloud River, which is in a National Park, we found a bunch of rednecks in 4x4 utility vehicles camping on the bank of the river with their pig dogs. We did not hang around long as the noise from their stereo was deafening!  What is the point of going to a quiet spot like this and listening to loud music?
Back down the track we visited the Mt Carbine caravan park to have a look at the Tawny Frogmouth usually roosting in the trees near the reception area. It did not disappoint and I managed to get a few good photos. 
Tawny Frogmouth

There were so many Apostlebirds around the place it looked as if there had been an invasion!  Tired and happy with the day’s adventure we headed home.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Three Days On The Atherton Tablelands

Friday 20th April saw me off to the Atherton Tablelands. With the BirdLife NQ AGM on Saturday at Yungaburra, the chance for a few days birding was too good to miss. A booking was made at the Kookaburra Motel (with a name like that where else would one stay!) for Friday and Saturday night and I was off.
First stop was Lake Mitchell near Mareeba. I stopped at the viewing area at the roadside. The lake was very quiet, probably due to the amount of water everywhere at the end of the wet season causing most of the birds to disperse far and wide. There were however Pacific Black Duck, Great Egret, Black Swan, Darter and Magpie Goose. Australian Magpie also put in an appearance along the roadside as well as Osprey, Black Kite and Whistling Kite. The small swamp at Brady Road, just before reaching Mareeba, was little better with much the same as Lake Mitchell. There were also Straw-necked and White Ibis, Australian Grebe, Crested Pigeon, Apostlebird and a Blue-winged Kookaburra.
Crested Pigeon

Next stop was Hastie’s Swamp near Atherton. The water here was a little bit more lively. Much the same as at Lake Mitchell was seen with the addition of Dusky Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Plumed Whistling-duck and a lone Pelican fishing in the shallows. A walk along the road proved to be a better option with Grey Fantail, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike and Rufous Whistler.

The walk at Wongabel State Forest was the next stop. The Mabi type forest here is unique to the Atherton Tablelands. Most of the usable timber was removed from these forests more than 100 years ago and the rest was extensively cleared for farming. In 1903 the importance of this forest was recognised. It was declared Crown Reserve and work began on reintroduction of the red cedars. Here I saw Green Catbird (the northern sub-species previously known as the Spotted Catbird), Eastern Whipbird, Mountain Thornbill, Lewin’s Honeyeater, Grey-headed Robin and Grey Fantail.
Green (Spotted) Catbird - (not a very good picture)

Just before reaching the Curtain Fig near Yungaburra, I spotted a Wedge-tailed Eagle and a Black-shouldered Kite worth stopping for. The Curtain Fig yielded White-throated Treecreeper, Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Victoria Riflebird, Large-billed Scrub-wren and Little Shrike-thrush.
After booking in to the Kookaburra Motel I took a drive around town and down to Lake Tinaroo to see what was about. There were Australian Pipit, Black-fronted Dotterel, Purple Swamphen, Pacific Black Duck, Little Pied and Little Black Cormorant and a Great Egret all near the boat ramp. 
Australian Pipit
A nearby fruiting fig had attracted a flock of Figbirds.  On the way back into town I spotted an Eastern Yellow Robin in a hedge. 
Eastern Yellow Robin
On the opposite side of the town is a good walking track along the creek. Here, I saw Rainbow Lorikeet, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Brush Turkey and Brown Cuckoo-dove. I was lucky enough to find a mixed feeding party of birds and followed them for about half an hour. There were Spectacled Monarch, Pied Monarch, Macleay’s Honeyeater, Brown Gerygone, Fairy Gerygone, Varied Triller, Silvereye, Grey Fantail, Yellow-breasted Boatbill and Little Shrike Thrush all moving along the path in the same direction as I was walking. Also seen where Red-browed Finch, Cattle Egret and Bar-shouldered Dove. 
Fairy Gerygone
After dinner at Nick’s Swiss Restaurant I was ready for a good night’s sleep.

Day 2 began with breakfast at the road side at Broomfield Swamp while watching a Black-shouldered Kite and a Brown Falcon. There were only a few Pacific Black Duck on the water but the surrounding area produced Buff-banded Rail, Pied Butcher Bird, Australian Magpie, Pied Currawong, Torresian Crow and a flyover of Topknot Pigeon.
Black-shouldered Kite

At Mt Hypipamee National Park I met up with Townsville birders, Len and Chris Izzy. We visited two Golden Bowerbird bowers and managed to see two male birds and one female. Len said the highlight of the day must have been when one of the birds pooped on me! We were also lucky enough to see Bower’s Shrike-thrush, Fig Parrot, Eastern Whipbird and Atherton Scrubwren. This was followed up by tea and a long chat about past and up-coming birding trips in and around the Winton area.

An early lunch was eaten at Herberton followed by a walk along some of the trails around the mining information centre. These walks definitely deserve another visit early in the morning, not only for the birds, but for some futher investigation of the old mine shafts, buildings and equipment scattered around the area.
I returned to Yungaburra at about 2pm for the BirdLife AGM. We had a very interesting talk on Cassowary before the meeting and then a great slide presentation on the birds of Tasmania after dinner.

Day 3. I started the day with a quick look at the railway cutting at Yungaburra before meeting up with other Birdlife members for a day’s birding on the Tablelands at 7am. The bush was alive with birds feeding on the Grevillia and Bottlebrush as the sun was coming up. There were Scarlet Honeyeater, Macleay’s Honeyeater, Lewin’s Honeyeater, White-throated Honeyeater and for good measure, a Grey Shrike-thrush and a Green Catbird. What a great start to the day!
Scarlet Honeyeater
At the school we met up with local guide, Alan Gillanders, who would be our leader for the day. Around the streets of the town we saw White-headed Pigeon, Black-faced, Barred and White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike.
White-headed Pigeon
The Curtain Fig is much more lively in the morning than the afternoon. More BirdLife members joined us here to view the Wompoo Fruit-dove, White-headed Pigeon, Vicrotia Riflebird, Green Catbird and Yellow-breasted Boatbill.  
Wompoo Fruit-dove
Broomfield Swamp was much the same as the day before with the addition of Black Swan and Nankeen Kestrel. 

Hypipamee was much better with more birding and less talk than the day before. The Golden Bowerbird was at his bower for all to see.  Other birds seen were Bower’s Shrike-thrush, Golden Whistler, Grey Goshawk, White-throated Treecreeper, Pied Monarch and Grey-headed Robin.
Golden Bowerbird
We moved on to one of the members private properties for lunch and then to find Blue-faced Parrot-finch. We found Crimson Rosella, Eastern Spinebill, Grey Fantail and another Grey Goshawk, but no Parrot-finch. The name of the property, I think, was Possum Hollow. The owners are doing a great job of re-vegetation. We all parted ways here and headed of home. What a great three days birding with more than 130 species seen.