Flagstaff Hill, Port Douglas, Nov 2021

[A stop on the Cairns + Atherton + Daintree, 2021 trip]

Port Douglas is a resort town about an hour north of Cairns and might not be somewhere you’d be inclined to do a lot of serious birding, what with the beaches, the resort shops and Sunday markets, golf courses, and plenty of options for boat cruises to the reef. But it does have something to offer for birders, particularly along the walking track that follows the headland on the edge of the ocean.

We first drove up Island Point Road as Trinity Bay Lookout is at the top of this street. On the way we scored excellent views of a Black Butcherbird and Spangled Drongo.

Rex Smeal Park is near the north end of Wharf Rd and is excellently located not only just a few hundred metres from the main street, but as it lies at the northernmost headland tip of Port Douglas, it catches plenty of ocean breeze. There’s toilet facilities, a playground, and plenty of space for a shady picnic (though sometimes it apparently gets quite busy).

The park was buzzing with birds when we first arrived, even though the morning was getting on (it was 10:30am). Helmeted Friarbird, Common Myna and the gorgeous Torresian Imperial Dove turned out to be the main culprits.

I admit a fascination with Common Myna even though they are a non-native (and actually very invasive species), so had to chase a pair of them for some photos and watch them calling too.

The Flagstaff Hill Walking Trail, about a kilometre in length, begins at the top (north-east) end of the park and starts off with some very tasty scenery. However it isn’t long before the track gets a little steeper and views of the water (and consequent breezes) become less frequent.

The first few hundred metres of the walk actually proved to be the best from a bird encounter point of view, with Helmeted Friarbirds in particular showing up for the party.

Several Figbirds, including the males with their yellow fronted plumage (a characteristic of this northern subspecies) were also good value for the keen photographer, and a few Crested Terns out at sea held promise of potentially more seabird species as time went on.

Alas, the lovely views of the ocean kept getting rarer, and it kept getting hotter. There is a spot along the path with a stone seat in full burning sunlight which no-one in their right mind could possibly sit on.

An Olive-Backed Sunbird, a Mistletoebird and a return appearance by a Black Butcherbird kept things a little interesting but out of the wind this walk was becoming unbearably, stiflingly hot. So much so that we decided to turn back before walking all the way round the headland. The track goes right round to Four Mile Beach, with a steep side-track up to Trinity Bay Lookout, but we didn’t see any of this part.

Back at Rex Smear Park we cooled down by sitting on some shady rocks and enjoying the sea breeze. Some lizards here made for a photographic consolation prize.

On the main street of Port Douglas we sampled some gelati and were surprised to see a Torresian Imperial Dove nesting with young chicks on a tree overhanging one of the town’s busiest intersections.

This obviously isn’t a comprehensive (or perhaps even very fair!) review of the birding on this track, but hopefully it gives you something of an idea of what to expect. Being on the edge of a busy resort town you’re not likely to find anything too outlandish here, though Lovely Fairywren has been reported (a bird we are still yet to see), and there is a good chance of spotting some desirable seabirds (Frigatebirds, for example) from the track or the lookout. Be advised to check the weather to see where the wind is coming from and consider avoiding the hotter part of the day, lest you get wiped out like we did!

I suspect most people use the more general Port Douglas eBird hotspot (which, with 270 species listed, makes it a top 10 location in Australia) when birding this track. Who knows?
Hotspot: Port Douglas–Flagstaff Hill Walking Trail (55 species)
Checklist for our visit: Nov 17 (15 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Lovely park at one end
+ Some nice Far North Queensland birds (though nothing too exotic)
+ Possibility of seeing less common seabirds from lookout and various vantage points
+ Walking distance from main streets of Port Douglas
– Fairly short track (only about 1km)
– Can get very hot
– Park gets very busy

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