Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Down Under Part Four: Birding Queensland 3 - Mareeba

Spent a day out in the Mareeba area. The wetlands, well, the lake, was very attractive but entirely devoid of birds. This was due to the time of year being the end of the wet season meaning the wetland birds are spread out over a vast area. The only wildfowl we saw were on some shallow floods on the drive in. The site is run by a private lodge so you have to pay to visit and walk round the lake. There is a good cafe and toilets. It was very hot in the middle of the day when we arrived and whilst I walked round the lake the rest of the family gave up due to the heat and the fee was wasted really. We should have worked this out before paying, as visiting the cafe was free. Birding round the lake revealed some new stuff typical of drier ground. Vicky saw a big Frilled Lizard on the entrance road and we all saw a young one close to the cafe.

Frilled Lizard

From here we went to Granite Gorge just west of Mareeba. A scenic place partly run as a zoo and campsite. For a few dollars you can explore the area, see the Mareeba Rock Wallabies and check out a few birds.

Blue-winged Kookaburra. Our only sighting of this cool bird was on the approach track to Mareeba Wetlands.
 Double-barred Finches were common but I failed to find any Black-throated Finches.

Pink-eared Ducks (and a Chestnut Teal). These are seriously cool ducks, with a weird leathery flap under the bill tip.
 Red-winged Parrot
Red-backed Fairy-wren. Poor photo of a common bird around the lake, but hard to get close to the males! A stonking little bird.

Squatter Pigeon. Not an easy bird, so great to see a couple of confiding individuals at Granite Gorge.

Down Under Part Three: Birding Queenland 2 - Atherton Tablelands

We spent three days in the Crater Lakes NP in the vicinity of Yungaburra and Lake Eacham, staying at Chambers Wildlife Lodges. Chambers was a fantastic location with lodges right in the rainforest. They had a nocturnal mammal viewpoint where honey was smeared on trees nightly to attract Gliders and Possums. It was a short walk through lovely rainforest to Lake Eacham and a short drive to the Curtain Fig and Yunguburra.

Chambers Rainforest Lodges. This is the pool and sundeck by the reception area. The lodges were in the forest to the right of this view.

The impressive Curtain Fig.

Birding was fantastic though tough at times as many species were not calling due to it being autumn. Consequently, some birds such as Tooth-billed Bowerbird which are apparently easy in spring had become nigh on impossible to track down and others had moved on like Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfishers. Nevertheless, some birds were still vocal, noticeably the superb Eastern Whipbird, whose regular call continually astonished me due to its power and brilliance. Chowchillas were heard a number of times, sometimes quite close but proved elusive. Alan helped me track down some good wet tropics endemics, including Bridled and MacLeay's Honeyeaters and Bower's Shrike-thrush. Two others, Victoria's Riflebird and Grey-headed Robin, were fairly common around the area. One of the highlights was chucking a bit of chopped apple out on our deck, which attracted common stuff such as Lewin's Honeyeaters and Brush Turkeys but also Victoria's Riflebird, Spotted Catbird and Black Butcherbird. Nice!

Barred Cuckooshrike feeding on figs outside the Yungaburra highschool. This tree was full of Metallic Starlings and Figbirds, along with a few Cuckooshrikes and Blue-faced Honeyeaters. Best of all - and thanks to Alan for the tip - was a single Double-eyed Fig-Parrot, like a tiny vivid green, blue and red bullet. A cracker! Nearby, a Pacific Baza gave awesome prolonged views as it hunted over the village.

Double-eyed Fig-Parrot - endemic subspecies. Photo courtesy of Tracksforfree.

 Black Butcherbird - seen from the balcony at Chambers.

Brown Cuckoo-dove. Common in the Lake Eacham area.

Lewin's Honeyeater. The most regularly seen and heard honeyeater in the Lake Eacham area.

Figbird. Very common and usually in flocks with Metallic Starlings on fruiting trees.

Pale Yellow Robin. Commonly seen in the rainforest around Lake Eacham.

Grey-headed Robin. A wet tropics endemic and reasonably common in Crater Lakes NP.

Very pleased to regularly see Victoria's Riflebird, my first Bird of Paradise. Sadly the males were not displaying, but were still strikingly handsome with bright yellow mouths and iridescent blue tails, crowns and neck patches.

Spectacled Monarch, at the Curtain Fig. This species and Black-faced were seen commonly around Crater Lakes NP. Sadly the wet tropics endemic Pied Monarch eluded us, but we fortunately caught up with a couple at Daintree later in the trip.

The only bowerbirds I saw were Spotted Catbirds. They were fairly common around Crater Lakes NP and occasionally visited the balcony at Chambers.

Orange-thighed Tree Frog (I think). At Chambers.

Down Under Part Two: Birding Queensland 1 - Cairns

Birding in Australia is ace. For the British birder, very little is familiar and some of the commonest and most conspicuous species are big, colourful and noisy. It can feel like birding in a zoo! There is good info on the internet and some good books available which can help you get the best out of a trip. As usual, I juggled birding around a family holiday, so we failed to visit some good sites, and some easy birds were missed. However, in a couple of weeks, we were lucky enough to see about 200 species, including some restricted-range endemics, and some truly iconic species. I am grateful for the guidance given by Alan Gillanders who took me out in the rainforest around Yungaburra for a morning's birding and to Philip Precey of Wildlife Travel and Andy Walker of Birding Ecotours for some advice before the trip.

We flew into Cairns from London Heathrow, with the excellent Emirates airline. A brief stop in Perth gave us our first handful of Aussie birds, with Willy Wagtail (above) taking pride of place as first bird of the trip, and a large roost of Rainbow Lorikeets illuminating our wait for our connection.

Cairns offers great birding, both along the esplanade where fringing mudflats teem with waders and fruiting trees attract a variety of birds, and nearby with a number of good birding spots. Waders were relatively sparse on the front at Cairns, although a good selection of birds present, including Curlew, Terek and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Great Knots, Eastern Curlew, Whimbrels, Bar-tailed Godwits, Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Red-capped Plovers, Red-necked Stints and Grey-tailed Tattlers. A solitary Austrlian Pelican lingered and Eastern Ospreys fished offshore. Nothing exceptional was seen in the trees along the esplanade, though it was a gentle introduction to Queensland's commoner species. A good passage of Pacific Swifts (c1500) was noticeable on 2nd April ahead of a thundery downpour.

Australian Pelican, Masked Lapwing, Terek Sandpiper (phonebinned!).

The only other site visited in the Cairns area was Cattana Wetlands. It was late afternoon, so very quiet and the only bird of note was Comb-crested Jacana, several of which were doing their thing, lily trotting.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Down Under Part One: Monotremendous!

The mammals of Australia are remarkable, in many cases unique, charismatic and often incredibly rare, with tiny world ranges. We found about 20 species, some by the wayside, but others through purposeful searches, or site visits. We are indebted to Alan Gillanders who took us out at night to Mount Hypipamee, to search for some rare gliders and possums. Alan also gave us some site info for other mammals, which was really helpful. Do check him out if on the Tablelands. Our main misses were Lumholtz's Tree Kangaroos which should have been around the Curtain Fig area, but we just couldn't get lucky. We also failed to bump into any Echidnas and never made it south to Kangaroo Valley to see Wombats. Otherwise, it was ace - see below!

Platypus, Ornithorthynchus anatinus
Definitely one of the best mammals I have ever seen, and a clear highlight of the trip. One of these unique monotremes seen actively feeding in Peterson's Creek, upstream of the roadbridge on the southwest side of Yungaburra, on the Atherton Tablelands. There is a Platypus viewpoint and car park next to the road on the village side of the bridge but we didn't see one from there. We saw the dude mid-afternoon, by crossing over the bridge dropping down a track and then following it downstream along the bank.


Northern Brown Bandicoot, Isoodon macrourus
A few seen on the roadsides, track edges in the Crater Lakes NP, Queensland.

Koala, Phascolarctos cinereus
Two gorgeously cute Koalas found in trackside trees on the Forts Walk, Magnetic Island. A definite favourite with the kids.


Coppery Brushtail Possum, Trichosurus johnstonii
One seen well at Longlands Gap, near Mount Hypipamee.

Long-tailed Pygmy Possum, Cercartetus caudatus
We would never have seen this mite without Alan's thermal imaging scope, as it was tiny, and with no eyeshine. It happily fed on nectar/pollen from this flower, unconcerned by our presence. At Longlands Gap.

Striped Possum, Dactylopsila trivirgata
Fantastic views of this individual two nights running at Chambers Lodge, Lake Eacham, as it came into feed on honey. Notice the elongated fourth finger, used for extracting grubs from rotten wood, a bit like an Aye-aye.

Yellow-bellied Glider, Petaurus australis
Fantastic views of one sugaring on a Red Stringybark at Wondecla.


Lemuroid Ringtail Possum, Hemibelideus lemuroides
Four of these lemur-like possums seen, in two pairs, at Longlands Gap.

Green Ringtail Possum, Pseudochirops archeri
A couple seen along the roadside at Longlands Gap.

Herbert River Ringtail Possum, Pseudochirops herbetensis
A lovely, boldly-marked possum, seen well at Longlands Gap.

Musky Rat Kangaroo, Hypsiprymnodon moschatus
Several, including a road casualty seen around Crater Lakes NP, in or on the edge of the rainforest. One of the few rainforest marsupials to be seen around in the daytime.

Rufous Bettong, Aepyprymnus rufescens
A pair seen from the truck on a track through woodland near Mount Hypipamee.

Agile Wallaby, Macropus agilis
One seen on a road verge just outside of Etty Bay.

Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Macropus giganteus
Thanks to a tip-off from Alan, we went to Mareeba Golf Course, where after a short walk, we found a mob of about 30 Eastern Grey Kangaroos, some of which had joeys. They allowed close approach. If visiting this site, make sure you seek permission from the clubhouse. They charge a small fee to go on to the course.


Allied Rock Wallaby, Petrogale brachyotis
c20 on rocks around near Arcadia, Magnetic Island.


Mareeba Rock Wallaby, Petrogale mareeba
Plenty around the rocks at Granite Gorge, near Mareeba, including some that approached to be hand-fed.

Red-legged Pademelon, Thylogale stigmatica
Several seen around the rainforest at Chambers, but none photographed unfortunately.

Spectacled Flying-fox, Pteropus conspicillatus
A large roost near Port Douglas over the road on the way into town. This large fruitbat was probably the species seen in north Queensland most evenings.


Grey-headed Flying-fox, Pteropus poliocephalus
A large roost seen in Warriewood Wetlands in north Sydney, plus a colossal roost of tens of thousands in Centennial Park, south Sydney.


Bottlenose Dolphin, Tursiops truncatus
A small and very acrobatic pod presumed to be this species off the esplanade at Cairns, seen from the hospital ward window - which is another story!