Thursday, 18 May 2017

Golden-shouldered Parrot trip report

This trip report covers a recent trip to see the endangered Golden-shouldered Parrot at its nesting site. We begin our trip from Cairns at 7:00am with pick-ups from various accommodations and head north via Smithfield, Kuranda and Mareeba. A quick stop at Maryfarms nets us great sightings of the Australian Bustard and again a coffee break at McLeod River nets us the White-gaped Honeyeater.

Australian Bustard

We reach Lakeland Downs at about 11:30am where we have an early lunch then onward through Laura and onto the dirt roads of Cape York. Road kills net us great close views of Wedge-tailed Eagle, Black and Whistling Kite. Mid May still has plenty of water at the sides of the road with some ponds containing many Brolga’s, White-necked and White-faced Heron. We arrive at Musgrave Roadhouse at about 3.30pm, off load our gear into our rooms and enjoy a quick cup of tea. Then it’s off to the parrot nesting site. Golden-shouldered Parrots make their nest in chamber which they hollow out of a conical termite mound usually about a metre above ground level. Our host approaches the nest and we hear the chicks within start calling. She allows us a quick look and we see 4 chicks almost ready to fledge. At this point I must make it clear that our host documents the chick’s progress daily and manages the habitat for the parrots and insures minimal disturbance. We arrange our chairs behind some covering bushes well back from the mound and begin the wait for the parrots to come in to the nest. An hour passes and no parrots appear but in the mean time we have seen Pied and Black-backed Butcherbirds, Australian Magpie and a host of other birds. At 6:00pm we walk back to the car so as to avoid getting caught out in the dark. We return to Musgrave Roadhouse for dinner and early to bed.

Golden-shouldered Parrot

On day two we are up before dawn so as to arrive at the nest sight before the sun appears over the horizon. We settle into our chairs and watch the bush around us come to life with the early morning calls. Yellow Honeyeaters chatter noisily just above our heads seeming oblivious of our presence. We watch a Magpie with a lizard being harassed by a young Pied Butcherbird. Movement catches our eye and we see the first appearance of our target birds. They survey the nest from about 30 metres away for about 5 minutes and then leave. 15 minutes later they are back, this time much closer. They sit in the dead tree branches looking about and preening for about 20 minutes. They seem to be waiting for the butcherbirds and magpies to vacate the area before entering the nest. Sure enough, as soon as the area is clear the male alights on the mound and drops down the nest entrance. He remains here for a few minutes whilst the female continues to survey the area. He soon disappears into the hole and feeds the chicks. A short while later he is gone in a flash of green and blue. High fives all around and we head back to the vehicle for a well deserved coffee. 

Red Goshawk

We spent the rest of the morning birding the road from Musgrave in an easterly direction. Some species of note where the Bar-breasted, Banded and Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters. We visited the Red Goshawk territory but alas it was still too early in the season for the birds to be attending the nest. After a lovely lunch under a shady tree we visited an enormous Orange-footed Scrubfowl mound around which the bush was festooned with flowering Cooktown Orchids. Next stop was the Annie River fishing camp with a very rewarding walk along the edge of the mangroves. Red-headed Honeyeaters, Shining Flycatcher, Brahminy Kite and Rufous-banded Honeyeater where amongst the sightings. The remainder of the afternoon was spent searching for Zitting Cisticola of which we managed to find two. We also saw Australian Pratincole, Black-necked Stork, two Black-breasted Buzzards and plenty of Brolgas. 

Bar-breasted Honeyeater

We watched the sunset whist we ate a dinner of cold roast chicken and salads followed by fruit, cheese and crackers. As soon as it was fully dark we set out so see what we could find with our spotlight on the return journey to Musgrave Roadhouse. We saw Barn Owl, Tawny Frogmouth, Owlet Nightjar and a host of Spotted Nightjar. At a river crossing we were also rewarded with two very large estuarine crocodiles up on the bank. We were back at the roadhouse by 10pm and after a quick shower we were off to bed.

We arose quite late the next morning and had a leisurely breakfast before birding our way to the lunch stop at Palmer River. We arrived back in Cairns at about 4:00pm. More information on tours is available at

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Birding the Tip (of Cape York Peninsula)


The object of this trip was to see some of the Cape-York specials and see if a scheduled tour was viable.
We left Cairns on Friday 20th January at 2pm on the little 30 seater SAAB aircraft and arrived at Bamaga Airport just after 4pm. We drove out to Seisia  where we had hired a cabin. A quick beer on the veranda and we were right into the birding. Crested Terns and Lesser Frigatebird’s before we even left the veranda. Palm Cockatoo’s in the camp ground, purple wattled Brush Turkey, Friarbirds and all the usual suspects. We had dinner and an early night to prepare for an early morning start.
Australian Brush Turkey

Day 2

We headed out to Little and Big Wood Islands by boat. On Little Woody we quickly bagged the Pale and Yellow White-eye’s and had spectacular views of Mangrove Golden Whistler. It was pleasing to note dozens of turtle tracks up the beach and many fresh nests. We also saw several Mangrove Robin and had heart racing views of a Peregrine Falcon pursuing the nesting Torresian Imperial-Pigeons. On our return to the mainland we were engulfed by a nasty squall and had to take shelter in the lee of a small island along with Crested and Little Tern and a solitary Pied Oystercatcher. The rest of the day was spent poking around the local area.
Pale White-eye

Day 3

Our destination for the morning is the Lockerby Scrub. First up we searched for the Northern Scrub-robin of which we heard four and manage to get cracking views of one. Unfortunately it would not keep still long enough for a photo! Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher’s where calling everywhere as were the Magnificent Riflebird of which we got 2 male flybys and a good perched female. We heard at least 6 Red-bellied/Papuan Pitta’s calling and had cracking views of one male. Once again the light was atrocious for photography but I did manage a quick id shot.
Red-bellied/Papuan Pitta

Yellow-legged Flycatcher was heard and many Trumpet Manucode where seen and heard. We spent the afternoon exploring various settling ponds where we turned up 25 Spotted Whistling-duck’s, Magpie Goose, Common and Marsh Sandpiper, Glossy Ibis and others. Later that afternoon whilst again imbibing in a cold beer on the veranda of our cabin we just happened to notice two Beach Stone-curlew stroll by on the lawn.
Spotted Whistling-Duck

Day 4

We are back in the scrub chasing Yellow-legged Flycatcher in the rain. We had some fantastic photo opportunities with Palm Cockatoo and then went sightseeing along the east coast in the rain. After lunch and we focused on some rain-forest fringe for the local subspecies of the Spectacled Monarch (albiventris) whose buff markings end abruptly high on the breast and the Yellow-breasted Boatbill (faviventer) which has an olive back.
Palm Cockatoo

After dinner we went out spotlighting and where rewarded with six Marbled Frogmouth calling of which we were able to see three. Spectacular end to the day indeed!
Marbled Frogmouth

Day 5

Today is clear with no imminent rain showers and we head south in search of the Fawn-breasted Bowerbird. We began with a Black-backed Butcherbird, White-streaked Honeyeater, three species of Friarbird and more Palm Cockatoo sightings. We found the Fawn-breasted Bowerbird easily at his bower and spent the next two hours totally engrossed as he came and went with decorations for his bower.
Fawn-breasted Bowerbird

Later we went in the direction of Muttee, a former WWII radar instillation where we picked up Trumpet Manucode, Cicadabird, Grey Goshawk (white morph), White-streaked Honeyeater and more Palm Cockatoo. We once again spent the afternoon poking around the back roads and rain-forest pockets of Bamaga where we picked up the usual suspects and an Oriental Cuckoo.
Trumpet Manucode

Day 6

Once again a fine sunny morning and we revisited the Lockerby Scrub where I got fantastic views of a perched male Magnificent Riflebird but our main objective today was to reach the tip of Cape York, the most northerly point of the Australian Mainland.
Magnificent Riflebird

 This we did and had lovely views out to the multitude of island in the straits. Just as we were finishing up the sky blackened and the rain came down in torrents! It was still raining when we left Bamaga Airport at 4 in the afternoon.
Tip of Cape York

A 5 night 6 day fly-in fly-out birding trip from Cairns for late December this year and every year thereafter has now been planned! See the details at ! 

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