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.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Daintree River Birding with Murray

On Saturday afternoon my friend Murray asked me to assist him with some repairs and upgrades to his boat at Daintree village. We followed this with a test drive on the river and a bit of a look around to see what birds we could find for his guests on the following mornings 7.00 am Daintree River Boatman cruise. We went to Murray’s special spot where a Great-billed Heron was sitting on a nest. The river was flowing very strongly and we had to be careful weaving our way through hanging vines and fallen trees. We found the heron on its nest on a tree limb about 10 metres above the river. 
Great-billed Heron
After a few photos we headed back down river in search of Papuan Frogmouth. We managed to find a pair who had just arrived and were at the same roost as they had used last year. 
Papuan Frogmouth
We also found a flycatcher which on closer inspection turned out to be a Restless Flycatcher. This is the first one I have seen on the Daintree River. 
Restless Flycatcher

We also saw Azure, Forest and Sacred Kingfisher but only managed to hear the Little Kingfisher. The river was high and the tide was in, flooding all the mud banks and mangrove roots, which makes this beautiful little bird difficult to see. Just before we took the boat out of the water, we flushed what must have been the last Black Bittern of the season.

Peter and I had been invited along on Murray’s 7.00 am cruise the following morning which we gladly accepted. The Great-billed Heron obliged providing the guests with some good photo opportunities. One of the Papuan Frogmouths had moved but the other was still there. These birds will move around until a bit later in the year when they settle down to breed. We also saw Rainbow Bee-eater, Great Egret, Brown Gerygone and several pairs of Shinning Flycatcher.

As a final treat, a young Great-billed Heron posed for us right near the slipway. 
Great-billed Heron

Great-billed Heron

After Murrays guests had left we ate scrambled eggs and toast at the local cafe before finishing the morning with a spot of birding in Julatten.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

A Visit to the Rubbish Tip

A spur of the moment visit to the local tip / rubbish dump this morning proved to be a pleasant few hours of birding. The weather was overcast with light rain threatening but we went anyway. We saw two Radjah Shelduck in a muddy puddle in the sugar cane fields on the way in as well as two Nankeen Kestrel. One was being harassed by a White-breasted Woodswallow. The dam produced 3 Black-winged Stilt and a duck of domestic origin (not sure what type). We could hear Mangrove Robin calling from both sides but were unable to sight them.

Black-winged Stilt

A loader working at the green waste pile was chasing up a lot of insects. A Willie Wagtail and a flock of Welcome Swallows were taking full advantage of this and swooping in to catch as many as possible. We also saw a mixed flock of Nutmeg and Chestnut-breasted Mannikin, Olive-backed Sunbird, Spangled Drongo and what may have been a Pallid Cuckoo.

On the way out of the gate we stopped to look at some Rainbow Lorikeets feeding in a flowering Paperbark tree. There seemed to be about ten birds in the flock as well as two Mistletoe Birds.

Rainbow Lorikeet
Something disturbed them and more than thirty birds exploded from the tree! How can so many brightly coloured birds remain unseen!

We decided on a quick visit to Cooya Beach to try and find the southern form of the Masked Lapwing I saw last week but had no luck. We did see a lot of Rainbow Bee-eater and one Straw-necked Ibis.

Rainbow Bee-eater
On the way home we took a back road detour to see if there were any Fairy Martin about. We came across a small flock of about thirty all swooping through a drain pipe under the road. On closer inspection we found their bottle shaped mud nests clustered on the roof of the drain.

Fairy Martin

According to Pizzey and Knight’s Field Guide to the Birds of Australia and HANZAB, Fairy Martins do not breed as far north as here. Perhaps this merits further investigation!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

2012 The First Three Months and a Bit

What a busy few months! January started with a Big Day Out to see if we, my friend Peter and I, could bag 100 or more birds on New Year’s Day, After a quick scan of the local area around Shannonvale, we headed up to Julatten and Mt Molloy. The weather was good until just before lunch time when the rain came down. This was just after we had met Keith from Kingfisher Lodge and his neighbours Carol and Andrew who were doing much the same thing. Needless to say, the rain was not welcome and Peter and I headed home.

Later in the afternoon I was off again to reach the 100 target which was still shy by about 20 birds. I visited Cooya Beach and Newell Beach and upped the list to almost 100. I met up with my friend Murray at Newell Beach where he was showing a friend around. I told him what I was up to and he suggested we go to Daintree Village, where he keeps his bird spotting tour boat, and take it for a spin. How could I refuse!

On the way to Daintree I stopped at the Wonga Barramundi Farm and padded out my list with a few Black-winged Stilt and Radjah Shelduck which can usually be found here. Murray put the boat in near the ferry crossing and we headed down river all the way to the heads. I could now add Little Kingfisher, Azure Kingfisher, Shining Flycatcher and several terns to the list.  Thanks to Murray the list topped out at 112 birds! If I had gone up Mt Lewis as did Keith, I could have added at least 10 more birds.

During January I paid a rare visit to the Cairns Esplanade to view the shore birds. I had just bought a new camera with a 500mm zoom lens and so hope to improve, with a lot of practice, the quality of photographs included in this blog.

Bar-tailed Godwit

The highlight of January however was a visit to Michaelmas Cay to view the Red-footed Booby with the BirdLife North Queensland group. What a fantastic trip! The snorkelling was also great. It is a shame that only two of us took advantage of this great opportunity.

February went by with a blur as I took delivery of the new Toyota 4x4 for Birdwatching Tropical Australia, fought red tape and managed to get my driver authorisation and “Certificate of the Registration of a Business Name”.  Getting operator accreditation was another long winded affair. I managed to get my temporary accreditation from the Department of Transport by the end of the month. I also received a workbook and computer disc with all the information I needed to complete my full accreditation.

The new Toyota 4x4

Whilst doing all this, I still managed a few rewarding birding trips and managed to expand the bird list for 2012 to over 200 species.

During March the rain finally arrived and soaked everything. Thank goodness it also brought the temperatures down a bit. I managed to finish my workbook and sent it off to one of the Department of Transport Approved Assessors for assessment. To my delight I received a phone call just before the Easter weekend telling me everything was in order and my Accreditation Certificate would be arriving soon.  March saw another trip on the Daintree with Murray and several visits to Julatten and the surrounding areas.

Murray Hunt - Daintree River Boatman

I ended the month attending the Wave the Waders Goodbye gathering at the Cairns Esplanade. My list for the afternoon can be found here. I found the Wader ID course which took place beforehand most helpfull.

Common Greenshank

April arrived and things have begun to dry out a bit. We had great weather over the Easter Weekend and managed to squeeze in a trip up Mt Lewis on Saturday morning. Another birder who had arrived earlier reported at least 40 Blue-faced Parrot-Finch (we only saw 3) and a male and female Golden Bowerbird. We were lucky enough to see a small flock of 7 Australian King Parrot.

Last week Cooya Beach turned up a rather unusual visitor. A lone masked lapwing at the roadside looked a bit unusual. On Closer inspection it turned out to be the southern form, Vanellus miles novaehollandiae.
Masked Lapwing (southern form)
Masked Lapwing (northern form)

With most of the hard work of setting up a new business behind me, I hope to be able to keep my blog a bit more up to date.