You know you’re a pair of tragic-level birders when one gets the other a Christmas present consisting of a 5 day trip to far north Queensland in summer to see birds… oh well, life is tough, isn’t it? We simply do what we must.
Straight off the plane and into birding is how we do it
We were out at the excellent Cattana Wetlands site with the luggage barely off the conveyor belt. It really is a terrific spot for birds, though quite hot and mosquito-infested in places, as was the Botanic Gardens (even more so, actually). A giant thickshake or two with lunch kept things bearable.
Cairns: hot, hot, also quite hot and oh yes also very humid too
Going to Cairns in December was always going to be dicey weather-wise: the days hit 35 or 36 degrees and humidity goes through the roof. Basically you can’t survive unless (a) you were born there and it’s normal for you, or (b) you spend a lot of time in air conditioning, or (c) you are lucky enough to experience many cooling breezes. There were some forest tracks where we did approximately three minutes of birding along before aborting due to sticky conditions (no breeze) and abominable mosquitoes (they literally laugh at your insect repellant application). Fortunately one of the biggest birding hotspots in the area (and in Australia) is Cairns Esplanade, which is always a little blowy, and we explored it a couple of times.
We head to the Daintree, making an important stop for gelati at Port Dougie
The whirlwind tour continued north with a quick look at the Barron River Mouth, then driving through endless cane fields, making time for gelati at Port Douglas and a more or less random birding stop at a local park there. We trawled along Stewart Creek Rd near Daintree Village in the afternoon, then took a Daintree River cruise the next morning (Black Bitterns incoming!).
Is Julatten the Promised Land of birding? Don’t answer, you know it is!
Kingfisher Park Lodge is one of several accommodations in the Julatten area targeted at bird lovers. It has a reputation as the site to see Buff-Breasted Paradise Kingfishers (which breed on the grounds) and Red-Necked Crake (which are insanely hard to find anywhere else). We also had time to visit nearby Mt Lewis (awesome high altitude rainforest birding) and some country roads in the area. Time well spent!
The last day in which we try to bird as much of the Atherton Tablelands as humanly possible whilst somehow successfully avoiding apocalyptic rain
We had to get back to Cairns airport by 1:30pm, and with dozens of desirable birding hotspots on the Atherton Tablelands it was time to be ultra-judicious and just pick one or two and hope for the best. While anxiously checking the rain radar (think “solid blue incoming”). And anxiously checking the time (the drive down from the range back to Cairns is not exactly a straight road).
Summary: We came, we saw, we birded
‘Twas a whirlwind trip featuring visits to many cherry-picked birding sites that the Cairns/Atherton region has to offer, and although it was often hot and sticky, the bird life provided more than enough interest to overcome the uncomfortable conditions. It was fascinating to compare this trip with the previous one to the area; plenty of old favourites turned up, though often in different areas to that seen previously, and a few new birds were discovered too (notably Superb Fruit Dove). It is just rather neat that you can jump on a plane and in a few hours find a diverse range of interesting birds you’d never otherwise see.
The trip in stats
– Number of species observed: 156 (31 eBird checklists)
– Most numerous species: Torresian Imperial Pigeon (196), Rainbow Lorikeet (166), Metallic Starling (121) – though honorary mention must also go to the numerous White-Breasted Woodswallows found on nearly every power line north of Cairns
– Most elusive birds seen: Red-Necked Crake, Papuan Frogmouth, Pied Monarch, Superb Fruit Dove
– Biggest “dip” (bird not seen): Little Kingfisher
– Biggest checklist: Cattana Wetlands (37 species)
AUTHOR: ANDY GEE
BIRDERS: ANDY GEE, LUKE S