Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cairns and Darwin - August 2014

Silver Gull
Sometime in June Gerard asked if we were interested in making up a group of 4 to Cairns.  He has already done his homework on birds, accommodation and guide so we decided to join him and Jimmy.  The trip was finalised for 3 to 15 August.  While G and J wanted to do some snorkeling we opted not to so we left 2 days later for them to get their water sport before we started our birding.  We booked our flights on Jetstar flying via Darwin with a car rental on arrival at Cairns.     

Australian Pelican and
Little Pied Commorant
Gull-billed Tern

Southern Cassowary
We left on 4th August night for our 4.5 hours flight and arrived Darwin early morning of 5th.  There was a 3.5 hours wait so we checked out some birds outside the airport terminal.  The first bird in the early morning was the Blue-faced Honeyeater which intrigued us with its call and its appearance.  Then we saw a pair of Figbirds with the male’s red-eye patch and the female looking so different were feeding on the fig tree just across the car park.  We were to see many times these 2 species in Cairns. 

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo
Brown Booby 

Sooty Tern

Arriving Cairns at 2 pm we met up with G & J at the Europe Car counter and took delivery of a 7- seater Kia Carnival, our vehicle for our next 8 days, it was roomy and served us well even when we had to load our luggage when we moved between hotels.  The first stop was the Cairns Esplande for the shore birds that came very close, then to the Botanical Gardens where G & J had visited and were shown the Papuan Frogmouth by some local birders they had met.  With at least a dozen lifers in the first few hours of touch-down, we drove to the Palms at Trinity Beach our apartment for 3 nights.   
Australasian Figbird-F

Common Noddy
Australian King Parrot-F

Bar-shouldered Dove

Black-shouldered Kite
Rainbow Lorikeet

Next morning we drove to the highlands, the Atherton Tableland stopping at the Cassowary House and were fortunate to be allowed into the grounds where the Cassowary had shown up.  Some guests were taking photographs and this huge flightless bird which was at ease with the people taking numerous shots with their cameras and i-phones.  We left the Cassowary and birded along Black Mountain Road, Kuranda area and had lunch at the Skyline village when it started to drizzle.
Helmeted Friarbird
Yellow-spotted Honeyeater

Pale-yellow Robin
Australian Wood Duck
Rainbow Bee-eater 
After lunch we continued to Tinaroo Creek and stopping whenever we see birds perched on bushes, trees or in the fields.  Our last stop near evening was at Hasties Swamp where we found a cooperative Kingfisher perched near the hide.  It was our second day and a haul of 40+ species.
Pacific Black Duck

Eastern Spinebill
Eastern Spinebill
Tooth-billed Bowerbird

White-eared Monarch 
Spectacled Monarch

On Thursday 7th, we woke early for our Great Barrier Reef cruise on Seastar which was moored at Marlin Pier just in front of the Shangri-la Hotel.  It was a 3-hour ride in rough choppy sea.  When we arrived at the Michaelmas Cay a tiny outcrop it was an incredible sight seeing so many jostling, noisy sea-birds closed-up.   There were Noddys, Gulls and Terns on the sand and lots were flying overhead.  A small boat took us over to the island while others prepare for their snorkeling around the Seastar.  The birds were not too disturbed with our presence on the small stretch of beach that visitors are permitted to stay. 

Great Bowerbird 

White-throated Treecreeper
Red-winged Parrot 

Bush Stone-curlew
Australasian Figbird
Lewin's honeyeater
 It was hot and windy but after half an hour, the crew came to caution us to return to the Seastar due to imminent rain.  Back on the vessel, we could see Frigate birds swooping overhead and there was lunch served.  After lunch we went to Hastings Reef but the tide was too high and not safe to land so it was back to Michaelmas Cay for more snorkeling and looking at corals from their glass-bottom boat.  The rain came and the return trip to shore was bumpy in the rough sea.  We got back to shore at 5pm and drove back to the hotel to clean up and then a walk to a nice dinner at the Lime Tree nearby.

Pale-headed Rosella

Spotted Catbird
Macleay's Honeyeater

Blue-faced Honeyeater
Friday 8th, we checked out of Palms and with our luggage in the back we drove up to the Atherton Tableland with an early stop at Yungaburra to look for the Platypus which we found swimming in the creek below the bridge.  We drove to a few lakes in the area and had lunch at Lake Barrine tea house when the rain came.  The tea house was built in the 1930’s and still owned by the descendants of the same family  

Yellow Honeyeater 
Northern Fantail
Shining Bronze Cuckoo

Yellow-breasted Boatbill
Scarlet Honeyeater

Australian Brushturkey
In the late afternoon we drove towards the Kingfisher’s Park at Mt Kooyong Rd, our accommodation for the next 4 nights where the only restaurant was the Highlander, where we had most of our dinners.
Yellow-faced Honeyeater

Red-backed Fairywren
Australian Bustard 
Tawny Frogmouth 

Saturday, 9th and Sunday 10th were spent birding in the Julatten area with our guide, Carol ttps:// who took us to various sites in Julatten as well as up a trail in Mount Lewis where she had found a Bower stand of the Golden Bowerbird. Downhill we had good view of a Great Bowerbird at a school ground and a Bush Stone Curlew sitting in one of the garden patches.   We saw many honeyeaters and finches at home gardens that Carol took us to but missed the Squatter Pigeon at Betty’s ranch where we visited twice.  At Mt Molloy we found a little bake shop that sells fresh bread and delicious pies that we bought for next day's breakfast. 

Blue-winged Kookaburra
Pied Currawong

Spectacled Monarch

Double-barred Finch
Rufous Whistler

Monday, 11th we continued to bird at sites in the area with a visit to the Mareeba Wetlands where a group of Emus were walking around the entrance of the ranger station .  Later in the afternoon we returned to  Mt Lewis to look for the Fernwren and the Chowchilla which was still not showing.
Red-backed Fairywren
Australian Golden Whistler
Yellow-throated Scrubwren

Crested Pigeon
Shining Flycatcher
Little Black Cormorant

Tuesday, 12th was a very early start with checking-out and loading our luggage into the car for our drive to Daintree to catch a 6.45 am river cruise with Murray Hunt we decided to hire the boat for $345 for 2.5 hours and it was a good decision as we were able to get close shots of a pair of Shinning Flycatchers and a pair of Azure Kingfishers in courting behaviour.   There was also a pair of Papuan Frogmouth closed to the river edge and a nest-building Large-billed Gerygone on a tree.  After the cruise we took our coffee break at the village restaurant and did some birding on the hill where the water-tank is located and got a female Victoria’s Riflebird.
Comb-crested Jacana
Great-billed Heron
Double-eyed Fig Parrot

Azure Kingfisher
Large-billed Gerygone
Wompoo Fruit Dove

This bird of paradise was one of the target birds of J’s but we were not able to see the jet-black male which looks so different from the female that is fairly barred and brown.  On the way back to Cairns we took the coastal route and stopped at Newell beach and found the Beach Stone Curlew and arrived late into Cairns when we checked into the Heritage Hotel for our last night before flying back to Darwin.
Nankeen Kestrel

Papuan Frogmouth
Beach Stone-curlew 

Little Shrikethrush

Wednesday, 13th was another early morning to airport to return the car and for our 2-hour flight to Darwin where we picked up a smaller car since it was only a half day for G & J before they leave the next morning for Singapore.   We drove to drop off our luggage at the Leprechaun on Stuart Highway then went to East Point to look for the pitta but it was hot and dry and very quiet except for the roar of the jet planes taking off and landing at the nearby Air Force station. We then drove to Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve 1.5 hours from Darwin city, on the highway towards Kakadu National Park.   The shore-birds were feeding closer than we had seen at other lakes and parks and there were forest species near the car park.   We stayed till dusk and drove back to the city for dinner before checking-in late into our rooms at Leprechaun.
Whistling Kite

Shining Flycatcher
Rufous Fantail 

Thursday, 14th 4.30am we drove G & J to the airport.
Later in the morning we drove to Fogg Dam again and walked 2 of the forest trails and left at lunch time and it was a relaxed afternoon at the small shopping mall at Palmerston, dinner at the city, an early night for our 4.30am drive to Darwin airport to return the car and flight home.  90% of the 166 species comprising forest, shore birds seen are lifers for us.   A tiring but birdful 10 days.