Sunday, 27 November 2011

Cooya Beach to Georgetown

The weather is really starting to warm up now and birding trips to Julatten and the Tablelands are a welcome relief from the humidity of the coast. Over the last few weeks we have visited sites as far afield as Georgetown.

Several trips have included the Mareeba area and Lake Mitchell which has been very productive of late. We sighted a Grey Wagtail, a rare visitor to Northern Australia. They breed in Europe and Asia and then migrate to Africa, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Malaysia from November to April. In Non-breeding plumage the Grey Wagtail looks very similar to the Yellow Wagtail. The Grey Wagtail has pinkish colour legs and a longer tail then the Yellow. The small lagoons and dams around Mareeba are good for water birds at this time of year. We are seeing Pacific Black Duck, Hardhead, Australian Wood Duck, Green and Cotton Pygmy Goose, Grey Teal, Magpie Goose, Cormorant, Darter, Black Swan, Jacana and many others.

At Lake Mitchell we flushed a small Button-quail. It was too fast for us to positively identify but could have been a Red-chested Button-quail which have been seen here recently or even a Buff-Breasted Button-quail which is quite rare. Unfortunately all efforts to locate the bird again failed. Snipe are also plentiful at this time of year with a lot of sightings of Latham’s Snipe. Some are of the opinion that these are Swinhoe’s Snipe but in my opinion, you can’t tell the difference unless you have the bird in your hands. I suppose the debate will continue until some serious research is done.

Julatten. After weeks of hearing the calls and no sightings, the Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher has finally put in an appearance. The Metallic Starlings are now well into their nest building and Channel-billed Cuckoo are plentiful. Snakes are also on the move with a two-and-a-half metre long Taipan spotted at Abattoir Swamp. White-throated Needletail have also put in an appearance. Last week at Kuranda, we had some great views of these birds doing some low level flying.

We had good sightings of Black-necked Stork and Buff-banded Rails in the Cooya Beach area, as well as Mangrove Robin and Varied Honeyeater. Waders are also plentiful on the mud flats at low tide. A short visit to the area two weeks ago produced 41 species along the mangroves, mud flats and cane fields.

Golden Bowerbird's Bower
Our Georgetown trip started with a visit to Hastie’s Swamp near Atherton. We had 44 species within half-an-hour! The list included White-browed Scrubwren, seen along the road side, and two White-bellied Sea-eagles. The Eagles seemed to be taking delight in putting the Whistling-Ducks to flight in their thousands. We had a brief stop at Longlands Gap State Forest to see the Golden Bowerbird at its bower. We also spotted a Tooth-billed Bowerbird calling from above his “bower”, a cleared area decorated with fresh upturned leaves. Also seen were Mountain Thornbill, Atherton Scrubwren and Bridled Honeyeater.

Golden Bowerbird
Next stop was Warruma Swamp at Mt Garnet. Of note here were Great and Pied Cormorant, Brolga and Blue-winged Kookaburra. Mt Surprise was good for Red-winged Parrot, Channel-billed Cuckoo and Squatter Pigeon.
Warruma Swamp

At Georgetown our first stop was at the rubbish tip which is always good for Australian Bustard. We also saw Nankeen Night Heron, Diamond Dove, and Galah. A walk around the racecourse produced Horsfield’s Bushlark, Rufous Songlark, White-throated Gerygone and White-winged Triller.

We arrived at the Cumberland Dam, about 20km beyond Georgetown, at about 3.30pm. While taking a break under the trees with a cup of tea, we were visited by Rufous-throated Honeyeater, Yellow-tinted Honeyeater, Paperbark Flycatcher and several Pale-headed Rosella. The best views of the dam are from the top of the earth wall, sitting in a camp chair under a tree. You can find our list of birds here. A walk along the back of the wall produced a small flock of Zebra Finch and some Double-barred Finch.  Our plan was to be back at the dam at first light. Heavy rain, however, put paid to that and we headed back to the coast re-visiting some of our stops of the previous day.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Morning Trip To Julatten And Mt Lewis - 5 Nov 2011

A warm morning with high cloud. Destination Julatten. We arrive at our first site at 6.30am. The sun is just touching the tree tops as we walk along the track. Scaly-breasted and Rainbow Lorikeets are feeding on the Melaleuca blooms and a Whistling Kite circles above. Two Dollarbirds recently arrived from Papua New Guinea sit at the top of a dead tree enjoying the morning warmth and Emerald Doves forage along the rainforest margins. Honeyeaters are abundant here and we see Dusky, Yellow, Brown-backed, Graceful, Yellow-spotted and Macleay’s. Macleay’s Honeyeater is found from Cooktown to Paluma and on the Atherton Tablelands. It is Endemic to the Wet Tropics. A Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo is sighted and easily identified by the broken breast-bars and the eyebrow.

Moving on to our next site we are surprised by seventeen plus Little Lorikeets, unusual for Julatten. Honeyeaters are also plentiful here. We also see several Pale-headed Rosella. Next stop is Geraghty Park for a quick cup of tea before heading up Mt Lewis.  Here we see Little Shrike-thrush, Spectacled Monarch, Pale-yellow Robin, Grey-headed Robin and Red-browed Finch. A small flock of Topknot Pigeon fly overhead and the trees are full of Metallic Starlings.
See the full Julatten list here.

The road up Mt Lewis is still in reasonably good condition making the 10km drive through the rain forest a pleasure. All along the road we see Grey-headed Robin and make a stop to view some Wompoo Fruit-Doves. We arrive at our destination and are welcomed with good views of two Mountain Thornbills.
The air up here is cool and refreshing. Our first sighting along the track is a Grey Fantail. Next we spent a few minutes watching two Bridled Honeyeaters building a nest. We were then lured on by the sound of a Golden Bowerbird calling. Searching off the track we found a male Victoria’s Riflebird and a Spotted Catbird. We also found the display court of a Tooth-billed Bowerbird. This was about two metres in diameter and cleared of everything excepting several fresh native ginger leaves placed shiny side down. We never did find the Golden Bowerbird.

Back on the path we saw Fernwren, Yellow-throated Scrub-wren and Large-billed Scrub-wren.  We had several good sightings of Bower’s Shrike-thrush in full song.
The first group of Chowchilla were found just before reaching the dam. They were being carefully watched by a Rufous Fantail and Spectacled Monarch as they busily scratched through the leaf litter. These would quickly dart in and grab any stray morsel missed by the Chowchilla.
At the dam we spotted a Water Dragon sunning on its customary log. The resident Platypus was unfortunately nowhere to be seen. Two more groups of Chowchilla were seen on the return trip to the vehicle.

Full Mt Lewis list here.

After a cup of tea we drove down to the Julatten Barramundi farm to round off the morning with some Pacific Black Duck, Hardhead, Ibis and a Little Pied Cormorant.

Friday, 23 September 2011

A Day In Julatten 14 September

After a few cool nights it’s starting to warm up again down at the coast. Julatten is still nice and cool so I set off up the Rex Range at about 8am. First stop was Gerety Park next door to Kingfisher Lodge. A walk around the oval produces some Macleay’s Honeyeater, an over flight of Topknot Pigeon, Grey Headed Whistler, Lemon Bellied Flycatcher, Cattle Egret and Metallic Starlings. Still no sign of nest building from the migrants unless they have chosen a new tree this season. There were a lot of Scaly Breasted Lorikeet about, far outnumbering the Rainbow Breasted Lorikeet.
At about 9am I started the drive up Mt Lewis to the clearing.  The road is in great condition this year. With all the rain last dry season the road got very rough. Cyclone Yasi didn’t help either, closing the road for several weeks. At the clearing it was cold enough to put on my warm jacket!  The walk along the track to the dam started off really well. Only a few steps in I spotted the first of 9 Fernwren. There was also an abundance of Grey-Headed Robin, Yellow-throated Scrub Wren, Grey Fantail and Mountain Thorn Bill. I only saw 1 Bridled Honeyeater and not one Chowchilla. Both these birds are usually fairly easy to see along the track. Retracing my steps back to the vehicle, I was confronted by 2 male Eastern Whipbirds having a major altercation in the pathway. The cause, no doubt, was the female perched nearby watching. Their running about and chasing went on for a good few minutes before they noticed me and fled into the undergrowth! A short walk along the road found my Chowchilla happily raking through the leaf litter.

Back down the mountain and on to Mt Malloy. A quick stop at a site on private property near Sides Rd turned up Blue-faced Parrot-finches. These little birds are stunning when seen in full sunlight. Also seen where Pied Monarch, Yellow-breasted Boatbill and Northern Fantail.
On to Mt Malloy. After a quick stop at the caf and my hunger under control after a pie and soft drink, I visited the local Great Bower Bird. He was sitting in his tree purring away above a most impressive bower. He has quite a collection going, white snail shells and stones, a few green items and a lot of pink stuff including a 6cm ruler and pink water pistol! Just up the road a pair of Bush-stone Curlew were doing there “you can’t see me if I stand still” thing next to a flowering Bottle-brush bush covered in Dusky Honeyeaters.
Back in Julatten I visited a few of the dams. The 2 pairs of Cotton Pygmy-goose are still present at McDougal Rd along with Green Pygmy-goose, Pacific Black Duck, Little Pied Cormorant, Little Black Cormorant and Hardhead. No Jacana or Magpie Goose though. Also seen where Red-backed Fairy-wren, Emerald Dove, Torresian Pied-Pigeon, Rainbow Bee-eater, Varied Triller and Mistletoebird amongst others. Full list is at Eremaea Birds
At the bottom of the range on my way home I stopped to watch a large flock of Cattle Egrets interacting with a sugar cane harvester. The birds were lined up along the row of cane being cut waiting for the harvester to pass. They would then dive in and grab any insects disturbed. They did not follow the harvester but waited in position for it to return on the next row. Is this the new breed of steel cattle?

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Goodbye Winter - Hello Spring

The weather is warming and the humidity is climbing. Pied Imperial-Pigeons and Metallic Starlings have arrived as have the Brown-backed Honeyeaters.

A visit to Lake Mitchell on Tuesday 30th August was most rewarding. We saw the first Glossy Ibis of the season, Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo, White-throated Gerygone and White-winged Triller in addition to the usual water birds. Also sighted where 8 Australian Pelican. These birds have been a bit thin on the ground so far this season. A walk along the causeway also rewarded us with a pair of Australian Reed-Warbler and a flock of Double-barred Finch

We moved on to Mareeba at about 11am in search of a reported Black Bittern at the Bicentennial Lakes but had no luck finding it. We did however find some Scaly-breasted Lorikeet. Back down to the coast.

An early evening visit to Cooya Beach on the low tide was rewarded by 5 Australian Pied Oystercatcher, Eastern Curlew, a flock of Pied Imperial-Pigeons and an Osprey flying its last catch of the day back to its nest.

While working at Cooya Beach on Friday 2nd I spotted a Banded Lapwing on vacant land at the corner of Cooya Beach Road and Bonnie Doon Road. This bird usually occurs much further South. However, a single bird was also seen last year at about the same time in the same area and also about 2 kilometers away at the Mossman Golf Course.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Daintree River to Mt Lewis

Up before dawn on Saturday morning and off to Daintree Village to join Murray on his 7am birding boat cruise. Passing Rocky Point the sun is just a red ball peeping over the horizon. The Daintree river is shrouded in mist as we cast off. Our first sighting is a dead tree poking out of the mist covered in Cattle Egrets with a Little Pied Cormorant perched right at the top. As the mist begins to clear we head for a spot where Great Billed Heron have recently been seen. No luck. We see an Azure Kingfisher and Shining Flycatcher. These Flycatchers seem quite common here. Small flocks of Metallic Starlings and Topknot Pigeons fly overhead as the sun finally starts to warm us.

A flash of blue and white as a Little Kingfisher crosses the River. We move slowly closer for a better view and some photo's. We ended up seeing 10 of these birds! Up in the branches of an overhanging tree Murray points out a Papuan Frogmouth. Eyes closed and beak pointing to the sky pretending to be a dead branch. 4 of these birds where seen. Still no Great Billed Heron.

We also saw Macleay's Honeyeater, Double-eyed Fig-parrot, Whompo Fruit-dove, Little Egret and Osprey. Our total number of species for the boat trip was 38.

On the way home I stopped to see what was at the Barramundi Farm near Wonga Beach. Many Black-winged Stilt, Great Egret, pacific Black Duck, Black Fronted Dotterel, Sacred Kingfisher, Gull-billed Turn, and Brahminy Kite. Total number of species was 14 all in a 10 minute stop.

Up bright and early again on Sunday morning and off to Julatten. An hour at one of my regular stops yielded 3 Cotton Pygmy-goose, Darter, Pacific Black Duck and Australian Grebe. Also seen where Golden-headed Cisticola, Topknot Pigeon and Spectacled Monarch. Total 27 species.
Cotton Pygmy-goose on far left center.
(Awful photo - use imagination!)

Next stop Mt Lewis. The drive up the track was enjoyable as always with many Grey-headed Robin flitting across the road in front of my truck. The clearing at the 10km mark was cold and semi overcast and very quiet. I started off down the track to the dam at about 9.30am. After a few meters I stop in the gloom and listened. Nothing. Oh well, a quiet day then. I listened some more and sure enough there was a rustle of leaves nearby. Peering into the gloom I made out a Bower's Shrike-thrush bludgeoning a grub to death on a branch. Soon I also made out a Mountain Thornbill and Atherton Scrubwren.

Futher down the path all was still very quiet. A soft pattering of debris falling to the path alerted me to the presence of something in the tree above. Scanning with my binoculars I caught a movement of brown. A Brown Cuckoo-dove. There to the left, a flash of black. Slowly the bird moved into a good viewing position. A male Victoria Riflebird with his irredesant blue-green throat-shield!

Working slowly along the track listening for rustles in the leaves I was also able to locate 2 groups of Chowchilla both of which were accompanied Yellow-throated Scrubwren. Finally I heard a Spotted Catbird calling and was able to track it down. Also seen where Large-billed Scrubwren, Pale-yellow Robin, Grey Fantail, Bridled Honeyeater, Shining Bronze-cuckoo and a tiny Musky Rat-kangaroo. A total of 18 species. Not bad for variety and a very quiet morning!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

On a quick cycle around Shanonvale today I found the first Pied Imperial-pigeons of the season near the South Mossman River causeway. More Metalic Starlings are arriving everyday. Also seen was a Pacific Baza and a Pied Monarch

On a later visit to Newell Beach with my birding friend Peter, we found a flock of about 40 Red-tailed Black-cockatoo feeding on the seeds of Beach Almond along the Esplanade. We also saw Silver Gull, Caspian Tern, Crested Tern, Eastern Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, and Pied Oysercatcher. Along the mangroves were Large-billed Gerygone, Sacred Kingfisher, Mistletoe Bird and Leaden Flycatcher.

The find of the morning was however a small flock of Lovely Fairywren. The total list of species for the morning was 45.

A visit to the Atherton Tablelands 9 & 10 August

I left Shannonvale at about 2pm and headed up the Rex Range to Lake Tinaroo. After passing through Mareeba hundreds of Red-Tailed Black-Cockatoo were seen along the side of the road. On the approach road to the lake after passing through Kairi I spotted a Red-backed Kingfisher perched on the power lines - the first I've seen in a long while. At the campsite a quick scout along the waters edge before setting up camp revealed Pacific Black Duck, Black-fronted Dotterel, Little Pied Cormorant, Magpie Goose, Purple Swamphen, Dusky Moorhen, Bush Stone-curlew and Australian Wood Duck.

On a later walk along the forest track I saw White-cheeked Honeyeater, Brush Turkey, Pale-yellow Robin, Spectacled Monarch, Large-billed Scrubwren and Grey Fantail amongst others. After dark a spotlighting walk revealed nothing at all.

It was icy cold when waking up before first light to head off to Hasties Swamp. A quick coffee from the McDonald's drive thru in Atherton soon took the chill out of my bones.

The first thing I saw at Hasties were hundreds of Sarus Crane taking off from their night roost. From the hide I could see Purple Swamphen, Pacific Black Duck, Darter, more Sarus Crane, Little Pied Cormorant, Australian Grebe, Magpie Goose, Grey Teal and Plumed Whistling-duck (There were so many I gave up counting when I reached 500!)
A walk along the road is always rewarding and this morning revealed Australian Reed-warbler, Tawny Grassbird, Grey Fantail, Bridled, White-cheeked and Lewen's Honeyeater, Little Shrike-thrush, White-browed Scrubwren, Nankeen Kestreland, Golden-headed Cisticola and more.

On to Wongabel State Forest. Here all the birds seemed to be in a small flowering tree in the center of the parking area. Golden Whistler, Brown Gerygone, Brown Treecreeper, Grey Fantail, Yellow-breasted Boatbill and Eastern Spinebill. Overhead I saw a Wedge-tailed Eagle and a low flying Grey Goshawk.

On to Mt Hypipamee. Once again the parking area and the first 50m of the walking track proved to have the best birds. In the trees above the picnic table where I was making tea I saw another Grey Goshawk. Also on the grass were Grey-headed Robin, Grey Fantail, Brush Turkey, and Lewen's Honeyeater. Along the track I found Large-billed Scrubwren, Atherton Scrubwren and Brown Gerygone. Alas, the Golden Bowerbird's reported from this site still elude me.

Next I headed for East Evelyn Rd from where I had heard some Satin Bowerbird's had been seen the day before. They were not to be found. Lunch was had at the Miillaa Millaa lookout where I was joined by another birder and two Pied Curawong begging for scraps which it appeared they were carrying off to their nest. A familiar call led us to a nearby patch of scrub where we found several Mountain Thornbill.

Well, time to head home. A quick stop along the road at Lake Mitchell turned up two Brolga. It seems that these birds are slowly being replaced by the Sarus Crane. The total species list for this laid back trip was 93.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

A few hours bird watching this morning took me down to Cooya Beach. Poking around the mangroves turned up Collared and Sacred Kingfisher, Mangrove Robin and a Broad-billed Flycatcher. Further back from the beach I found Double-eyed Fig-parrot, Emerald Dove and to my surprise a Rose-crowned Fruit-dove and a small flock of Red-tailed Black-cockatoo flying overhead. Also seen in the area were Reef Heron, Cattle Egret, Great Egret, White Faced Heron, Little Egret and Little Pied Cormorant.

Further down the Highway towards Port Douglas, in a spot near the mangroves, I found a flock of seven Lovely Fairy-wren. Also in the area I found Sea Eagle, Black and Whistling Kite, Brown Goshawk and Torresian Crow.

The find of the day however, was two Beach Stone-curlew.
(Appologies for the poor quality photo!)

The total number of species for three well spent hours was 49.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

A short 1 hour cycle around my local area in Shannonvale this morning turned up 37 species despite the cool drizzly conditions.

A small flock of Metallic Starlings, the first of the season, was spotted at the causeway over the South Mossman River. Three species of cuckoo were sighted - Brush Cuckoo, Fan-tailed Cuckoo and Little Bronze-Cuckoo. Fairy and Tree Martins  were seen in numbers swooping for insects over a recently harvested sugar cane field. Several flocks of Top-knot Pigeons were also observed flying overhead. The thick rainforest edge along the road side yielded Rufous Fan-tail, Double-eyed Fig-parrots, Wompo Fruit-doves, Brown Cuckoo-doves and Fairy Martins amongst others.

A most satisfying morning before the rain came down!