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

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