Sunday, 30 April 2017

Down Under Part Five: Birding Queensland 4 and New South Wales

From the Tablelands we headed southeast to Townsville and on to Magnetic Island to look (successfully) for Koalas. A few new birds added to the list, notably Bush Stone-curlew, which were common on the island, especially once it got dark.

Magnetic Island. Viewed from the Forts Walk, near where we saw Koalas.

Pied Cormorant, Magnetic Island

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo - nesting in a broken-off palm in Townsville.

Back on the mainland, we drove up to Etty Bay, pausing briefly at Tyto Wetlands, where we added Green Pygmy Goose to the trip list. We had got a tip-off that Etty Bay (just south of Innisfail) was a good bet for Southern Cassowary, and sure enough as we drove in, Addie suddenly shouted "there's one!" and sure enough, one of these incredible, prehistoric-looking ratites was casually strolling along the edge of the beach!

Etty Bay. A little cove backed by a campsite and surrounded by rainforest. The local Cassowary pair seem to walk a circuit and so every hour or so, they wander along the beach, oblivious to any people that happen to be hanging out. Birding was good in and around Etty Bay, with Rose-crowned Fruit-doves noticeable.

Rose-crowned Fruit-doves
After a brief visit to Cairns, we headed north up to Port Douglas where we went out on the Daintree River. We managed two of our main three targets, Little Kingfisher and Great-billed Heron, but missed Papuan Frogmouth.  We saw one big Saltwater Crocodile sunbathing in the morning sun, and added a bonus bird in the form of a Pied Monarch. A number of other good birds were seen including Grey Goshawk, Radjah Shelduck, Wompoo Fruit-dove, Shining Flycatcher and Azure Kingfisher.

Great-billed Heron- the last time I saw one of these shy and rare herons was on Flores in 1997, Azure Kingfisher and male Shining Flycatcher.  I would really recommend Murray Hunt, the Daintree Boatman, who knows the birds and other wildlife.

Back in Black

Three visits to the local patch since I've been back from Australia. Not a lot doing on Thursday evening, although I was surprised by the amount of wintering wildfowl still present at YWT Wheldrake Ings. At least seven Pintail were among well over a hundred Wigeon and probably 150 Teal, along with six Pink-footed Geese. A Peregrine was hunting over the marshes, adding to the wintery feel. My first Blackcaps, Sedge Warblers, House Martins and Whitethroats of the year had other ideas though!

The Pool. Greening up.

Yesterday, headed down to Wheldrake Ings again during the afternoon and one of the first birds I picked up from Tower Hide was a Wood Sandpiper, walking about in the wet grassland out front. After a few minutes, it took off and calling repeatedly, flew towards Bank Island. A great start! I walked round to Swantail, where ten Whimbrel dropped in mid afternoon, and a Hobby hunted over the pool, picking off insects. One of the Whimbrel was colour-ringed; I will see if this individual is known. A Marsh Harrier went through, flushing the Whimbrel briefly, and putting up two Snipe out of the marsh. A Red Kite hunted over the Low Grounds and Reed Warblers sang from the recently restored reedbed.

Whimbrel. A Spring Wheldrake speciality, but usually seen at dusk, so nice to see this group in good light.

Today, the freshening southeasterly wind was full of promise, so I headed east to Flamborough early. The wind was too fresh on the coast, sadly, and after a walk round Old Fall, all I saw was a first summer Mediterranean Gull that cruised past along the cliffs, and a Yellow Wagtail flying west. Lee found a male Redstart near where I parked, so I headed back there and after a few moments got good views as it dived out of the hedge to pick insects from the ploughed field. Lee and Andy seemed fairly disconsolate, so with a heavy passage of terns and waders going on inland, I decided to turn tail and head back to the LDV.

Went clockwise round the LDV. The refuge looked good from East Cottingwith, but was devoid of birds. Aughton was virtually dry apart from the scrape which held a solitary Redshank. North Duffield Carrs proved to be better, with three Greenshank cavorting around on the remaining patches of flood water. I headed to Bank Island to stake out the large patch of water there, and after half an hour a tern suddenly appeared. It looked promising for Arctic, so I switched to my scope and sure enough it was. It circled the flood for a moment then headed off high over the Low Grounds towards Wheldrake. Shortly, a message came that there was a Black Tern at Hes East! Back in the car and off I went. The Black Tern was still present on arrival ten minutes later, in the company of a group of Sterna terns. In the bright light I was fooled in to thinking they were Arctics and announced this to Jan and Mike who were present. Most headed down to the raft where they rested. I got my scope on them and was still convinced some were Arctics - at least they should be - but with better views I realised that remarkably, they were all Commons.There were 16 in all. I did see one bird briefly that could have been an Arctic, with long tail streamers and very silvery upperwings, but I didn't pin it down. The Black Tern showed really well, hawking up and down until about 12.05 when it went and joined the terns on the raft. Really cool that York got in on the big movement. It makes me wonder how many Common Terns were involved along with the Arctics as only the latter were reported.

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.