Wednesday, 1 April 2015

2014 Qld tour with the Birds part 2 - Cape York Peninsula, Cooktown & Atherton Tablelands

To drive up to the Cape we armed ourselves with 2 important books full of information on all things touring  Cape York bar the current road conditions - Hema Maps "Cape York Atlas & Guide" & Ron & Viv Moon's "Cape York Travel & Adventure Guide" were used extensively for this journey.

The  730 km journey from Lakeland to Bamaga requires a well maintained 4WD.
It's another 290 km return for Weipa & 240 km return to Iron Range NP.
All up with added side trips & loads of birding sites visited, we probably drove about 2,700 kms.

The road conditions will depend on when you travel the main route to Bamaga - not the Overland Telegraph Track which is for experienced 4 WD only.
The best time to travel to Bamaga is soon after the wet season finishes & the roads are being graded.
Having said that, a couple of Endemic Birds in this large region will have flown to New Guinea & Indonesia by late May, early June.
 I've been told the best time to go birding in the Cape is November to January, but the roads will be quite corrugated & rivers & creeks may be flowing due to recent rains if the wet season has started.

It was the end of May when we started our journey along the Peninsula Development Road.
The 1st  1/2 of the Peninsula Development Road (PDR) was being graded as we drove on it.

We stopped @ Morehead River @ the free road side camp for the night.
I went birding in the afternoon & early the next morning before packing up camp.

I haven't seen a Mask Finch for several years, so I was very taken by his simple beauty as they foraged on the roadside looking for grass seeds.
These finches can only be seen across the top of Australia

The Black-backed Butcherbird was a 1st time sighting of this specie for me waiting for his next meal in the early morning light. This specie are endemic to Cape York Peninsula.

This is the Pied Butcherbird, seen nearby, but his appearance is quite different to the BB Butcherbird.

Many birders travel to the Cape for just a few special species of endemic birds......the Golden-shouldered Parrot being 1 of them.......they are confined to just 1 small section in the Cape York.
I got lucky this day when a birding guide arrived in the area with his tour group & eventually he told me where I could find a pair......his directions were very good, but there were 100's of termite which 1 was I supposed to be looking at????
I got lucky & I was facing the right direction @ the right time when a pair came in to a probable nesting site in this termite mound. I was still 30 m from them when I got several photos, but I was a very happy birder.
These birds are listed as endangered with as few as 2,000 birds /  300 breeding pairs in the Morehead River / Artemis Station region in the southern Cape York.
Sadly feral cats, wild pigs, fire burns & the Pied Butcherbird are their main enemies.

A Black Kite watched over, whilst we were taking our lunch break beside the Coen River.

2 days later we arrived in Loyalty Beach, 10 kms on the beach side north of Bamaga.
(we took nearly 4 wks to drive out of the Cape)
We stayed 8 days here to explore the area, drive to The Tip of Cape York & for my bird watching.

Although I had a list of birds & sites to find them, I was put in contact, by a friend birder here near home, with a local birder living & working in Bamaga who shared his top sites after I had given him my list.
His generosity in also taking me out on an evening of spot lighting & on his day off for forest birds was very much appreciated.
I birded by myself for a few outing guided by Xxx's mud maps.
I have to say though, I found the rainforests around Bamaga very challenging indeed.
The rainforest bush was thick & I was hearing plenty of calls that were unfamiliar to me despite my eGuide app on my phone.

Beach stone-Curlew inhabit the beach & can be found from Victorian border all the way around the coast of Australia to Exmouth region in WA. They're not a common bird.
This 1 was on the beach near our camp ground @ Loyalty Beach.

I was told of a family of roosting Papuan Frogmouth not far from the office of Loyalty Beach camp ground. Getting decent photos of them was difficult, as they sat close to & were mostly obstructed by branches of a similar colour for camouflage. This 1 is probably the female.
Male & juvenile Papuan Frogmouth

The Lovely Fairy-wren is another endemic bird to the Cape York with a range from Atherton Tableland to The tip, preferring rainforest as their habitat. This specie is similar in appearance to the Variegated Fairy - wren.

Yellow-legged Flycatchers can be found only in the northern parts of Cape York in the rainforest.
I found this fellow north of the Lockerbie scrub whilst walking along a section of road, looking upwards of course & it  curious with my presence.

I was taken to a local hotspot piece of rainforst near the Bamaga township by my new local birding friend Xxx.  My target specie was the Marbled Frogmouth. This is the most reliable site that he knows of to find the said bird & after traipsing through the rainforest scrub for 10 mins we finally found a lone male.
Marbled Frogmouth are only seen on Cape York & a few places in South East Qld.
This 1 is a different sub specie to the SEQ bird.
I had to use a flash on the camera to get decent photos though.....just a couple & we were gone.

The next day, I went out by my self to the same rainforest near Bamaga for a day time look around.
I finally got to see my 1st Palm Cockatoo, only found north of Archer River in Cape York.
Such a very striking bird & it's beak is huge. They are quite common around the township.

I then visited an area guided by Xxx's mud map to find the White - Streaked Honeyeater.
I was to find this bird in the paperbarks just before this section of still wetlands, but I couldn't get a photo of the bird though.

Another near the township is Jacky Jacky Old boat ramp. The area was active with the birds & I managed to find another endemic bird to a smaller section of Cape York.
I was to see several of these Fawn-breasted Bowerbirds.
Unfortunately this photo isn't a good 1, but it was enough to get my positive ID.

Also in the same area were plenty of Lemon-bellied Flycatchers.
They love to sit on dead twigs like this 1 & get their photograph taken :-)
These birds can be found across the top of Australia, though this 1 is a different sub specie to the other areas in the Top End.

In the nearby mangroves I found a pair of Shining flycatcher's, this 1 being the female.
She was challenging to photograph.

Back at the camp ground near our caravan, I could hear an incessant calling from a bird....begging for food from thinking was to be correct......the incessant begging from a Cuckoo.
This is an immature Brush Cuckoo, almost 3 times the size of his parents
The parents of the above bird this time were Brown-backed Honeyeaters......All cuckoos are parasitic.....they lay eggs in host birds nests & turf out the hosts own eggs & when the little eggs hatch, the poor hosts have to work 3 times as much to feed an insatiable appetite of a much larger & very fast growing bird. I always feel sorry for the victim / host couple.......

On the beach, I found a Reef Egret - dark morph, waiting for food to be exposed on the outgoing tide.

On Xxx's day off, he took me out for around 5 hrs in the morning to look for some of the birds that I'd not yet achieved to find.
Lockerbie Scrub has a couple of sections & he knew where to find this Frill-necked Monarch.
I wouldn't have dreamt to walk into the scrub looking for said bird.
I was to see this bird once more along the track in the thick rainforest near  Captain Billy's Landing further south.
Xxx also showed me the Northern Scrub-Robin in the thick rainforest, but I couldn't get a photo of it. It too is endemic to Cape York.
I learned from him not to be afraid to walk in the woods....errrr rainforest & pick my way around the trees & bushes, dodging spiders etc. I found another Northern Scrub-robin near our camp @ Cooks Hut in Iron Range NP behind the bush toilet.

Birding @ Eliot Twin Falls in the Jardine River NP only gave me 27 species, with the White-streaked Honeyeater & Fawn-breasted Bowerbird being 2 of the species seen.

We then moved onto Captain Billy's Landing - on the east coast via a 4WD  / high clearance track due to the many water crossings. This place is a drive through the very pretty Heathlands Resource Reserve which is part of Jardine River NP. There are some magnificent cliffs here overlooking the ocean, but the camp ground is not far from the beach.

Here there were quite a few dozen Roseate Terns, a new specie to my life list with a surprise :-)

100 m off shore were Terns & other ocean birds that I've been unable to ID.
Unfortunately I didn't have my spotting scope with me, but I have a feeling some of them are Frigate-birds. This is a small portion of the birds during their feeding frenzy.

I was unfortunate to not find the Southern Cassowary, that a non birder reported to me later in the day, when they came through the last remnant rain forest before descending down the cliffs to the camp ground.

I spent a couple of hours the next morning looking along the road way between water crossings where it had been seen with no success. (description of the bird was to fit Southern Cassowary)

The southern Cassowary used to inhabit the northern rainforests in the Cape, but rainforests have become fragmented & the bird used to be part of the diet of the original locals.
To my knowledge, there has been no reporting s of this bird for many years.

Along a few parts of the Northern & Southern Bypass Roads - the northern 1/2  of the road to the Cape - there are several tracts of remnant rainforest. We drove mostly through rainforest from the main road for the 27kms to Captain Billy's Landing, which is part of Heathlands Resource Reserve.
We stopped at the junction of this road for me to do some birding for a particular bird that I had been told by my colleague Xxx in Bamaga would be here.

This is a not so good photo of the White-faced Robin, another endemic specie of Cape York & found only in rainforests.

I obtained written permission to visit a cattle station  off the PDR, south of Bramwell Station.
Whilst there I added a few more birds to my photo file.
The Tawny-breasted Bowerbird was in the remnant rainforest trees along the river.

Also seen was a Grey Whistler. I had previously seen this bird much further south in the tropical  rainforests just north of  Townsville.

The Lemon-bellied Flycatcher showed well out in the open again. It's such a shame most birds don't pose for photos like this 1 did.

The Banded Honeyeater were amongst the Eucapypts near the gallery rainforest.
Banded HE's can only be found across the top 1/4 of Australia - east to west.

We came across this Australian Bustard along the private access road when returning to the PDR.

We stayed 2 nights @ Moreton Telegraph Station as I had heard it was a great place to bird & the atmosphere was relaxing as well.
This camp ground sits beside the Wenlock River on the PDR. There is a diverse range of vegetation within walking distance of our caravan.
Along the river has a  narrow band of remnant rainforest. Nearby is Eucalypt mix of various height trees. I birded a few sessions - mid to late afternoon & the next day.

I had heard the Tropical Manucode & briefly saw it flying across the canopy when visiting the Lockerbie Scrub north of Bamaga.
This bird & it's mate were eating berries in the very large fruiting fig tree on the edge of the river & camp ground.

A few Rainbow Bee-eater's showed well again with their aerials catching insects on the wing.

In the woodlands I found this Graceful Honeyeater. This bird is similar in appearance to the Yellow-spotted HE, but slightly smaller in size. Both these birds are similar to the larger Lewin's HE.
All 3 birds thankfully are easier to ID by their call.

This Wompoo Fruit-dove was feeding on a smaller Fig Tree near the camp late afternoon.

The next morning I got a few glimpses of the Magnificent Riflebird.

Out in the woodlands was this chirping Green Oriole.

Red-browed Finchs moved through the forest next to the river.

The Black-backed Butcherbird sitting on the clothes line.

Another session of watching & trying to capture a better photo of the Tropical Manucode early afternoon.

Weipa is on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula - 146 kms of more gravel road from the PDR. Actually, the road into Weipa is called the PDR, an extension of the same road coming from the south.
Weipa is popular during the Fishing Classic competition so the place gets very popular around early June. (The fishing classic had finished when we visited Weipa) The increased vehicle activity for the fishing classic degrades the newly graded roads.

I spent a morning birding the Weipa Wetlands on the north eastern outskirts of Weipa.
Sarus Cranes are a regularly seen bird here. We are in mid June & the wetland still has water, so whilst there's water the cranes may stay around.

A Male Forest Kingfisher

I spotted & was able to photograph a female & male Shining Flycatcher who were going back & forth across the gravel road to the thick scrub.

Male Shining Flycatcher.

Not far from the only & major shopping centre is an Osprey nest high in a  Eucalyptus tree.
There's a pair here with an immature chick.

A Brahminy Kite overhead with it's beautiful contrasting colours.

Black Kite are quite common in central & northern Australia.

We had a fish & chip dinner down by the beach on our last evening in Weipa to watch the setting sun & I got to see dozens of Lesser & even more Great Frigatebirds flying overhead back to roost.

After we left Weipa, we spent a night at Merluna Station, which is just off the Peninsula Development Road. This working cattle station welcomes tourists to stay in their camp ground or onsite accommodation. We stayed around the camp ground, but took a walk along a track near the nearby creek in the afternoon. Another camper saw a Spotted Cuscus along the creek, but I only saw birds.

I found this adult Shining Bronze-cuckoo sitting quietly.

A female Blue-winged Kookaburra.

I loved the striking colours of the male Figbird - northern form.

I made bookings for 2 x 2 nights into Iron Range NP. 2 nights @ Cooks Hut camp ground in the gorgeous rainforest & 2 nights @ Chilly Beach. (all NP camp sites have to be pre booked prior to arriving)
During school holidays it is essential to book ahead to get a camp spot, especially @ the popular Chilli Beach.

The road into Iron Range NP is for 4WD or sturdy high clearance vehicles.
The 100 km road is quite rough & winding around the ridges of the Great Dividing Range, although it is quite reasonably maintained as this the road to Lockhart River township.
The drive from Mt Tozer, on the western part of the very large Iron Range NP, through to Chilli Beach is approx 40 kms, mostly through rainforest, with the road pot holed.

Our 2 nights @ Cooks Hut was just beautiful staying in the rainforest.
My focus was to find the 2 birds endemic to this region - the Eclectus Parrot & Red-cheeked Parrot.
I got to see & hear both species as they flew across the narrow road gap in the rainforest late afternoon - only silhouettes seen against the closing light & no photos. The favoured tree for the Eclectus Parrot couldn't be found.

I was still impressed with the bird life around the small camp ground & along the road.
The very pretty White-faced Robin showed again.

I could hear the un mistakable call of the Northern Scrub-Robin behind the bush toilet. I had to walk into the rainforest around vines & small bushes to find the bird, but he kept his distance, so getting closer for photos was impossible. None the less, I did get to see it though :-)

We stayed 2 nights @ Chilli Beach. I got to see nothing more unusual in the rainforest near the camp ground.
We took a drive to Portland Roads - a very small community on the coast which is mainly a fishing village. There is a cafe / restaurant that is open during the dry season.
At the end of the road of the same name I could hear the un mistakable chirping of an immature bird begging for food from it's parents......another cuckoo - this 1 was a Little Bronze-cuckoo, being fed by Large-billed Gerygone's :-(

We stayed a night @ Musgrave Road house camp ground en route to Lakefield NP.
I was rather impressed with their love of Green tree frogs :-)

The Lakefield NP northern section is usually closed to all traffic & camping until early July of each year. The southern section can be accessed from the beginning of June, but drivers need to exit via Laura. (Check with the rangers @ Lakefield for access in the event the wet season is shorter or longer)
I wanted to visit Nifold Plains for birding, so I had to wait until it opened at the beginning of July.
I made our bookings in April of 2 nights for Saltwater Crossing & Kalpower 3 nights. (2 weeks school holidays are from the beginning of July)
This NP is very popular, so the earlier bookings the better.

Lakefield NP northern section road access is east of Musgrave Road house. Anyone one wanting to visit Nifold Plains for night spotting, Saltwater Crossing camp ground is not far away. If you have an off road caravan like ours, camp spot no* 1 is perfect & very large.

I was very fortunate to have 2 campers near us who are very keen birders from Victoria.
They invited me to join them for night spotting looking for the Eastern Grass Owl.
This bird was to be a new specie to my life list. The photo is quite a distance, zoomed & cropped.

We also saw Barking Owl on the road.

I am fairly sure we also saw Night-jars, but was unable to ID the birds in flight with our spotting torches.

Blue-faced Honeyeaters were getting busy with nest building near our camp spot @ Saltwater Crossing.

I visited Low Lake the next morning. Little Corellas numbered in their 100's.

A panorama of Low Lake.

This is what Nilfold Plains looks like during the day. Open flat grassy plains with termite mounds.
There were just a few pockets of trees.

On the eastern side of the open plains was a lagoon wetland. The birding here is great.
This is a Rufous-banded Honeyeater.

I also saw the Star Finch near here.

We next stayed @ Kalpower camp ground near Lakefield ranger station. (camp spot no* 4 is better if needing sun for solar panels, with 16 & 17 also being great, but we already know a regular fisherman stays in  site 16 for up to 8 wks from early June )

Birding around the camp ground was OK with this male Leaden Flycatcher near our spot. (I tried to turn him into a Satin, but I don't think his voice matched :-(

The female Leaden flycatcher was also nearby

Lakefield NP used to be an old working cattle station until 1979 when the Qld govt gazetted it a NP.
There are many historical buildings across the 5,430 sq km NP dating back to the 1870's.

Near Kalpower is Lakefield old homestead.......whilst walking around there looking at the lagoon near by, I was surprised to see a bird perched on a pole coming from the metal plough......

A Papuan Frogmouth sitting out in the sun, for who knows how long......obviously no other bush birds were disturbed by it's presence.

There are 2 large lagoons not that far from Kalpower.
 (Lakefield NP has numerous more lagoons further south of Kalpower)
White Lily Lagoon was covered in a sea of Magpie Geese ......

A panorama of the lagoon.

Red Lily Lagoon was a little disappointing.....drying Lotus plants.& no water birds that could be seen for the high Lotus plants. I think the Lotus plants flower much later in the year.

To my surprise a helicopter with spray booms was flying low on the edges of the lagoon on the far side......
I was to find out a little while later  from the rangers who were on the access road, that a common local weed was being spot sprayed.
I could see Magpie Geese & other white birds flying up from their resting points on the other side of the lagoon.

A panorama of the lagoon. I'm sure it would look quite spectacular when in flower.

We exited The Cape via Battle camp Road, another 4WD road to arrive in Cooktown & back to civilization & bitumen roads again after 5 wks of gravel roads.

I took a visit to Cooktown Botanical Gardens out to Finchs Bay. The high eucalypt trees in the gardens took a battering from cyclone Ita, a category 5 storm that devastated the region mid April.

This is the Macleay's Honeyeater that is endemic to the northern wet tropics of Townsville to Cooktown area & out to the Atherton Tableland.

Kingfisher Park birdwatching lodge is a must visit park for bird watchers for several days.
It is situated in the Mt Lewis / Julatten area - between Mossman & Mt Molloy.
My plan was to drive up to Mt Lewis to find the endemics up there.
The camp ground is an absolute delight to bird around, morning, noon or afternoon. Out the back is a patch of fruiting orchard next to the rainforest. This park alone has about 237 species of birds seen over many years by several birders. I saw 61 species for the 3 days we were there.
Early morning & afternoon are the more productive times though.

Pale Yellow Robin northern form aren't shy birds to photograph

The Grey headed Robin hopped about the grass or trees in the orchard.

Emerald Dove inhabit rainforests along the east coast of Australia & across the Top end of NT & WA.

A flowering tree in the orchard was very popular with several species of birds - esp the Macleay's Honeyeater & Magnificent Riflebird.

Female Magnificent Riflebird.

Grey Fantail northern form.

I had been advised to go spotlighting after dark look for for what should be Barn Owls in the eucalypt trees in the open grassy park next to Kingfisher Lodge.
It was full moon & I placed my little chair at a vantage point & waited for the light to go from the sky. With my spotting torch, I started to find owls flying around - 2 adult Barn Owls.
Back in the tree from which they came from I was surprised to see 2 little faces.....immatures.
The owners of Kingfisher Lodge were delighted to hear there were 2 immature Barn Owls.

More visiting around the orchard with the not so shy Noisy Pitta hopping about amongst the orchard trees.

There were quite a few Spotted Catbirds feeding on a different fruit tree.

A drive up to Mt Lewis is necessary to find a couple of endemic birds up there. This is a small section of the road up to there.
A popular place to bird up there is the Clearing & about 2 kms along a track from the clearing

This is the Bower's Shrike thrush, found in wet tropical rainforests north of Townsville to Cooktown area above 400m altitude.

I also found this male Chowchilla which is endemic to the same areas & altitude as the above bird.

Also up on Mt Lewis, I also found Fernwren foraging on the ground near the Chowchilla,
 Atherton Scrubwren,  Mountain Thornbill & Bridled Honeyeater amongst the 17 species I saw during my 2 hr visit.
Golden Bowerbirds, Tooth-billed Bowerbirds & Blue-faced Parrot-finch  can also be seen up there along with a list of over 174 birds through out the year.

The Julatten area is an important birding region. I & other birders failed to find the Blue-faced Parrot-finch that was in the area several days earlier.

After leaving Kingfisher Lodge, we drove to Mareeba. This town is on the western part of Atherton Tablelands.
I was limited to a short visit to the Mareeba Wetlands. Whilst the wetlands looked lovely, there didn't appear to be many water birds about. Apparently over 203 species of birds have been seen there & from the many kms of walking tracks around the lake collectively.

I found this Golden -headed Cisticola whilst waiting for the gates to open.

Mareeba Wetlands has a captive breeding program of  the Gouldian Finch.
There was a large breeding aviary with 3 different coloured Gouldians.
The endangered Gouldian Finch's are endemic across the top of Australia, but sadly their numbers are limited to very small pockets (if at all) on private properties NW of Mareeba.
Mareeba Wetlands hope to breed & eventually release birds to areas with the right habitat.

I saw a pair of white-bellied Sea-eagles flying over the wetlands.
Sea-eagles are unusual inland unless there are large wetlands/  lakes to sustain their continued presence.

Late 1 afternoon whilst at the camp ground in Mareeba, I heard the un mistakable call from a
Barking Owl. He was also being harassed by other common bush birds. Perched in a tree just 20 m from my caravan. Isn't he handsome :-)

We spent 4 days camped between Atherton & Yungaburra to explore the rest of the Tableland.
The open fields of crops in the rich tableland soil was a mecca for Raptors, Little Corellas, Sulphur crested Cockatoos & White & Straw-necked Ibis.
Sarus Crane & Brolgas were also common on the fields. I pitied the farmers trying to get crops established once the crop seed was sewn.
This is a Nankeen Kestrel as it hovered above 1 of the fields.

There would have to have been nearly 500 SC Cockatoos down on that field.
I counted over 200 Black Kite on or hovering over fields the day before.

Gardens took pride of place down the street next to our van park. My walk came up with some great gems such as this White-cheeked Honeyeater.
An Olive-backed Sunbird was also photographed in the bushes.

The Atherton Tableland has several hotspots to visit.....for bird watching & as a tourist.
There is plenty of remnant rainforest for the rainforest bird species. Wetland birds near the swamps & bush birds in the small tracts of Eucalypt forests.
Spots to visit included Mt Hypipamee, Cathedral & Curtain Figtree, Lake Barrine, Lake Eacham, Hasties & Bromfield Swamps, Tinnaroo Dam, several Waterfalls, Wongabel State Forest & much more incl food outlets for cheeses.
The entire Tableland region is quite spectacular & could take 2 weeks to absorb the area.

This is the Bridled Honeyeater found @ Cathedral Figtree

I found this forest Kingfisher at Hasties Swamp along with 22 other bird species late morning.
I visited Mt Hypipamee twice. On my 1st visit, I found Atherton Scrubwren, Mountain Thornbill amongst the 25 species of birds found there.
I had been told by another birder that she had seen the Golden & Toothbilled Bowerbirds the day before, so I had to go back for a 2nd visit as I didn't see it that visit.
I knew of 1 particular fruiting Figtree that was extremely popular with Satin Bowerbird, so I made a bee line for it again. The area was quiet as it was late morning. Most of the Satins from the day before were gone.
I went 10 m off the track to a small clearing on the forest floor.
To my amazement I flushed a male Golden Bowerbird & a male Magnificent Riflebird from the rainforest floor. The Golden Bower bird perched on a tree branch for a few seconds before disappearing, but the Riflebird thought he was inconspicuous sitting on a low branch in low light :-)

Just above the Mag Riflebird were 2 Tooth-billed Bowerbirds.

When leaving Atherton Tableland, I left a very happy birder after adding about 10 bird species to my life list - including Julatten / Mt Lewis area.
I believe there were plenty more species that I missed, including the Southern Cassowary that was probably along the access road going into Mt Hypipamee.

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