Iron Range National Park & Musgrave Station

Frilled-necked Monarch (split recently from Frilled Monarch). For me, it was probably the bird of the Iron Range.

The following report describes a birding trip to the Iron Range National Park (Sept-Oct 2009). On the way up we stopped at Musgrave Station, birding several sites nearby. On the trip we also briefly stopped at Lakefield NP, Kingfisher Park, Mt Lewis, Mareemba Wetland and sunny downtown Cairns. Feel free to provide any feedback. Birding highlights included Golden-shouldered Parrot, Black-backed Butcherbird, Red Goshawk, King Quail, possible Swinhoe’s Snipe, Laughing Gull, Asian Dowitcher and Broad-billed Sandpiper and the Iron Range/northern Cape York endemics: Red-cheeked Parrot, Eclectus Parrot, Palm Cockatoo, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Northern Scrub-robin, Trumpet Manucode, Magnificent Riflebird, Green-backed Honeyeater, White-streaked Honeyeater, Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, White-faced Robin, Frilled-necked Monarch, Yellow-legged Flycatcher and Tropical Scrubwren – to name a few. Two birds we didn’t see were Red-bellied Pitta and Black-winged Monarch, as these are both summer migrants – so another trip there soon seem to be on the cards.

Our intrepid team of Iron Range birders included me Tim Dolby, Greg Oakley, Paul Dodd and Ruth Woodrow. Several other birding groups travelled to the Iron Range at the same time. One group consisted of Jim Preston, John McRae, Tim Bawden and Laurie Living, the other was made up of birders from the Melbourne-based Twitchathon team, the Common Loudmouths. It was great fun linking up with them at various locations along the way. Victorian birders really hit FNQ in a big way; I don’t think they quite new what hit them.

Bessie, our car, at the White-streaked Honeyeater site along Portland Rd.

Musgrave Roadhouse is about 450 km Cairns from Cairns on the Peninsular Development Rd. A further 350 km Iron Range is accessed the Peninsular Development Rd and then onto Portland Rd 20 km north of the Archer River Roadhouse. From the turnoff it’s about 110 km to the park. The Peninsular Development Rd is relatively straightforward, although is 4×4 and 2 spare tyres is highly recommended. We only had 1 spare, got a flat, and until we’d got it fixed (in Coen) we were driving around in a very precarious situation. Road conditions in Iron Range were good, and aside from a few river crossings (during Sept – Oct) it would have been ok to drive in with high chassis 2 wheel drive.

CAR HIRE
 
For the trip we hired a Toyota Land Cruiser. We affectionately named her ‘Bessie’, mainly because she was not quite what we expected. Basically Bessie was falling apart at the hinges, with the expectation that when we returned to Cairns she would simply collapse in a heap. For example my door handle came off in my hand the first time I tried to open the door. Another incident involved a flat tyre. Instead of having the appropriate wrench or wheel brace we had a small adjustable spanner that didn’t (couldn’t) fit the wheel nuts. Luckily we were able to hail down a passing 4×4 who had the appropriate sized wheel brace. If we’d been in a more remote area we would have been… well you know. (I’ve since heard that Bessie has been retired from active car-hire service.) My recommendation is that when hiring a car for your Iron Range trip, hire from one of the larger rental groups, check that you understand how to change the tyre on the model of your car, if possible request an extra spare – and I also recommend a car fridge. (It’s worth noting that when flying into the Iron Range there is 4×4 hire available at Lockhart River, but book early.)

From left to right: Greg Oakley, Tim Dolby (standing), Paul Dodd, and Ruth Woodrow.

FOOD AND DRINK

Food is available in Lockhart River, although you may want to stock up in Cairns. It’s also worth taking in plenty of water. There’s an excellent cafe at Portland Rd (discussed in more detail below).

It’s worth noting that strict alcohol restrictions apply at the Lockhart River community (with a $75,000 fine). This includes the accommodation at Lockhart River Airport. Basically Iron Range is dry, so if you have a need, buy it in Cairns.

We had a car fridge, however when entering the Lockhart River we had to secretly stash our beer and wine by the roadside (recommended to us by the ranger, and standard practice). The parks office is 3km down Lockhart River Rd.

The extended crew (from left to right) Tim Dolby, Ruth Woodrow, Tim Bawden (sitting), Paul Dodd, Greg Oakley, Laurie Living. John McCrae, Jim Preston

 

 

ACCOMMODATION
 
When staying in the Iron Range I camped most nights at Gordon Creek. Others in our group stay in a bungalow at Portland Road. (The 2nd group stayed in huts at Lockhart River Airport, which from every indication was excellent.)

WEATHER
 
To give you an indication of what the weather was like, although I’d packed a sleeping bag and a sleeveless polar-fleece vest I didn’t use either for the entire trip. During our stay there was no rain, and the mean daily temperature was about 30 degrees Celsius.

BIRDING SITES
 
Described below is a summary of the birding sites, starting with Laura and Musgrave, and then moving up to Iron Range. On the way back we stopped briefly at Lakefield National Park, and then further south at Kingfisher Park, Mt Lewis and Cairns.

DAM NORTH OF LAURA
 
The first site of interest was a small dam just north of Laura. At the dam we saw Sarus Crane and Brolga, and there was also an interesting Black Duck / Grey Teal hybrid which tried to confuse us into thinking it was Garganey. An interesting looking bird, the size of a Grey Teal, it had dark lines on a buff-face like that of a Black Duck. Also seen here were Striated Pardalote (black-headed subspecies uropygialis, the ‘Northern Pardalote’), Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Silver-crowned Friarbird, Spangled Drongo and Australasian Darter.

MUSGRAVE ROADHOUSE AND ARTEMIS STATION
 

Roadside rainforest, perhaps the most productive area for birding at Iron Range.

We visited two main sites near Musgrave; one a dam near Artemis Station, the other a nice area of open woodland east of Musgrave.

At the dam site we saw a party of 24 Golden-shouldered Parrot. They came into drink between 6:30 – 7:30am. I’m guessing that if we’d arrived any later we would’ve missed them. There was a fantastic selection of dry woodland birds around the dam including Black-backed Butcherbird, Pale-headed Rosella, Red-winged Parrot, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Grey-crowned Babbler, Red-backed Fairy-wren, White-throated Gerygone, and Masked Finch (the Cape York white-eared race leucotis). Honeyeaters included Dusky, Banded, Yellow, White-throated, Bar-breasted and Blue-faced Honeyeater, Little Friarbird.

I also had brief views of honeyeater which looked like a Grey-fronted Honeyeater, a rare bird this far north (this would be a major extension of its range?). The nearest I’ve seen them was Georgetown, 500 km south. The more likely species here would be Yellow-tinted Honeyeater, with an isolated population found in this part of Cape York. Any thoughts or other sightings?

Surrounded by Golden-shouldered Parrot at dawn. A brilliant feeling!

At the 2nd site – a tall open forest bordered by lightly-treed savannah – we saw a Red Goshawk, sitting quietly, allowing excellent views. One of the world’s rarest birds of prey, there are only an estimated 30-35 pairs in the wet tropics of Queensland. Our bird had an attractive reddish-brown body colour with darker mottling, the head was white and streaked with darker feathers, and had prominent long yellow legs. Stunning!

Nearby we also saw Red-winged Parrot, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, White-throated Gerygone, White-throated Honeyeater, and Black-backed Butcherbird.

Bingo! Red Goshawk, east of the Musgrave Roadhouse.

At the Musgrave Roadhouse itself Pied Butcherbird serenaded us in the morning, its melodious call was a great way to start a day, and we saw our only Collared Sparrowhawk and Nankeen Night-Heron for the trip.

In the area we also saw a White-bellied Sea-Eagle feeding on carrion, a dead Agile Wallaby. We must have been miles from any significant body of water, so seeing a sea-eagle feeding on carrion Black Kite-like appeared unusual – although perhaps not as unusual as an Arctic Tern that was seen feeding on worms on a roadsde in the highlands of central Victoria!

Mammals around Musgrave included Agile Wallaby, Little Red Flying Fox, Wild Horse and Pig.

Remember that Artemis Station is private property and it goes without saying that if you’re thinking about looking for the parrot you must contact the owners (Tom and Sue Shephard) first. Their station entrance is about 24 km south of the Musgrave. Black-backed Butcherbird was common in Artemis Station’s parking area.

Black-backed Butcherbird

COEN
 
At Coen we stopped to fix a flat tyre. I was surprised to find that the main bird in the township was Pied Currawong – this was the ‘large-billed’ subspecies magnirostris, with a distribution limited to Cape York. Nice. Blue-faced Honeyeater was also common – again this another subspecies called griseigularis, somewhat smaller that other Blue-faced Honeyeater races. The common corvid for the area was Torresian Crow.

Coen, as a township, had a really nice feel to it, amd it had some good shops. One of the shops in the town had a pet Palm Cockatoo out the back. Hearing its call for the first time made me jump! I rushed around to the back of the shop, only to find a large male Palm Cockatoo in a cage.

IRON RANGE NATIONAL PARK
 
Iron Range National Park protects the largest area of lowland rainforest in Australia. The park also includes open eucalypt forests and some nice coastal habitat.

Some Plants
Of interest the dominant rainforest plant species are Leichhardt Tree (Nauclea orientalis), Black Bean Tree (Castanospermum australe), fig trees such as the giant Green Fig Tree (Ficus albipila), a favoured breeding tree for Eclectus Parrot, Cape Fig (F. nodosa), Sandpaper Fig (F. opposita) and Swamp Fig (Ficus hispida). There are striking palms such as Bangalow Palm (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana) and Gulubia costata, and I was particularly attracted by the native bamboo (Arundinaria cobonii) and local pandanus (Pandanus zea). Far less appealing was the sharp spiked Wait-a-While Vine (Calamus australis), which caught all of us of guard at some point. It was also nice to see flowering Illawarra Flame Tree (Brachychiton acerifolius), with a few flowering while we were there.

On road into Iron Range small to medium bush fires burnt throughout the park, often immediately beside the road. I never quite get used to this aspect of northern Australia; if similar fires were burning in Victoria or NSW there would have been a major evacuation of the area. However in FNQ and the Northern Territory they seem barely worth mentioning.

Spot the Double-eyed Fig-parrot (race Marshalli)

1ST RAINFOREST WHEN ENTERING IRON RANGE

About 30 km after you enter the national park you cross a river and then come to a large strip of rainforest which runs parallel to West Claudie River – it is the first significant section of rainforest you come to when entering Iron Range.

Despite not being mentioned in any texts or trip reports, this site proved an excellent place for seeing the larger rainforest specialist particularly because you have extended views across the West Claudie River and up a hillside north of the river. On reaching this point for the first time (when you first enter Iron Range) it was like being in a lolly shop and not knowing which one to eat first.

Looking up into the first section of rainforest when entering Iron Range.

There was a real dilemma of which way to look with so many fantastic birds just waiting to seen! The conversation at time went something like this:

There’s a Trumpet Manucode, and there’s another, dancing on that tree! There, a Magnificent Riflebird, it’s calling. Eclectus Parrot overhead, wow! Look! Three Red-cheeked Parrots overhead! White-eared Monarch in that large fig tree – there!

And so it went on! Wompoo, Superb and Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, Spectacled Monarch, Australian Swiftlet.

There was also the odd Sulphur-crested Cockatoo – surprisingly usually seen as individual birds, not in flocks. In Victoria you would be hard pressed to see Sulphur-crested Cockatoo in flocks under ten, and even more likely in the hundreds.

My minimalist campsite at Gordon Creek.

GORDON CREEK AND CAMPSITE

I camped at the larger of the two Gordon Creek campsites, an area bordered by riverine rainforest. White-faced Robin was a campground bird, particularly in the morning, frequently clinging sideways low down on tree-trunks like Eastern Yellow Robin.

In the afternoon the campsite area was a good place for Yellow-legged Flycatcher – we listened for their distinctive call, a part of which has a short five second trill that is somewhat similar to the Yellow-billed Kingfisher.

Spotted Cuscus, Gordan Creek – wow, what an animal!

The common honeyeaters were Tawny-breasted, Graceful and Dusky Honeyeater. The campground was also a good spot for Frilled-necked Monarch (recently split from Frilled Monarch) – a bird which would surely qualify as one the worlds cutest birds.

Double-eyed Fig-Parrot feed in a fig tree overhanging the campground – these were the northern marshalli subspecies known as ‘Marshall’s Fig Parrot’ – while Orange-footed Scrubfowl and Australian Brush-Turkey hassled each another for food. One particularly large male Brush-Turkey stood out because of its distinctive large violet-tinted wattle, characteristic of the purpureicollis subspecies that’s found on Cape York. The nominate subspecies, found further south, by contrast has a bright-yellow wattle.

Me rainforest birding! One of the most rewarding natural experiences.

A walk along the Gordon Creek proved to be the best site for tracking down Yellow-billed Kingfisher, with birds regularly calling up and down the creek. We found a good spot was near a small turn in the creek just north-east of the main Gordan Creek campground. Yellow-billed Kingfisher can be very difficult to see as they sit quietly high up in the rainforest. They tend to call every 5 minutes. One trick for seeing them is to find the tree it’s calling from and wait underneath it until it flies away. They tended to not fly far, so if you’re lucky you might see where it lands. Yellow-legged Flycatcher commonly called along Gordon Creek, but again was difficult to observe.

At night Gordon Creek is a good site for Marbled Frogmouth; one night we had two birds calling off against each other. The call of Marbled Frogmouth is quite humorous – one part in particularly sounds like a turkey who gets its head chopped off, a noise created with a clap of the beak.

At Gordon Creek saw Spotted Cuscus twice: once spotlighted along the roadside about 50 metres west of the campground, the other seen at the campsite during the day. Obviously only semi-nocturnal, it was nice to see it feeding on leaves and clinging tenaciously to branches while I was drinking my morning Mareeba coffee! With its round face and big eyes Spotted Cuscus appears to be a mix between a Sloth and a Bald-headed Uakari (the South American monkey).

The open grassland along Portland Road.

CLAUDIE RIVER BRIDGE AND NEARBY GRASSLANDS
 
The Claudie River Bridge, just before the turnoff to Lockhart River, proved a good spot to see Frilled-necked Monarch, with a pair hanging around the east side of the bridge. A walk into the rainforest just north of the bridge produced our best views of Green-backed Honeyeater, as well as White-eared Monarch and Yellow-legged Flycatcher. At one point we must have disturbed a nest of Paper Wasp (Polistes humilis). Anyone who has done this before will know exactly what it is like; 3 of us sustained extremely painful stings (I was stung on the ear, Ruth on the upper lip), sending us all into a mild state of panic. We rushed up a nearby ridge, stumbled through Wait-a-while, which under the circumstances seemed mild by comparison. Fortunately the pain from the bites disappeared after about half an hour.

Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, Portland Rd

West of the bridge is a large open grassy area. Here we found large numbers of Cisticola sp. Although Cisticola identification can be difficult, we were fairly certain they were Zitting Cisticola. Interestingly most field guides suggest that Zitting isn’t found at Iron Range – I assume they are the laveryi ssp, recorded in southern Queensland,

Eclectus Parrot, Palm Cockatoo and small parties of Red-cheeked Parrot were observed flying high overhead in the grassland areas, flying between the different areas of rainforest. There was also nesting Brown-backed Honeyeater, Dollarbird and Grey Goshawk. In the Iron Range both white and grey morphs of the Grey Goshawk were evenly present – by contrast in the Otway Ranges in Victoria we only get white Grey Goshawk.

OPEN FOREST – WEST CLAUDIE RIVER AREA
 
A roadside area of open forest between the first and the second sections of rainforest along Portland Rd proved to be a reliable spot for White-streaked Honeyeater, darting in and out of shrubs somewhat like New Holland Honeyeater. (Also at this spot another group of birders thought they saw an early return Black-winged Monarch.)

Grassy area edge, on the west-side of the West Claude River.

OLD COEN RD TRACK AND COOKS HUT

On first arriving at Iron Range we were a little shocked to find that there was some serious road works being done to Portland Rd. The awkward thing about this (apart from the very large truck that drove too fast and took up the entire road) was that they were doing the road works immediately along side the Cooks Hut camping area, effectively curtailing birding at Cooks Hut for the entire trip! This is one of the major birding sites in Iron Range!

Despite this we were able to get access to the Old Coen Rd Track (a walking track), providing us with some of our best rainforest birding. The track is about 5 km long. We found the best birding near the entrance just west of Cooks Hut, particularly in a football field sized area between the creek bed and the Old Coen Rd Track gate and information sign. On our first morning at this site we saw many of the Iron Range specialist and endemics.

This included Chestnut-breasted and Oriental Cuckoo, Eclectus and Red-cheeked Parrot, Trumpet Manucode, Magnificent Riflebird, Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, Yellow-legged Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Frill-necked and White-eared Flycatcher, Tropical Scrubwren, Spangled Drongo, Little Shrike-thrush, Noisy Pitta, Rufous Fantail, Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, Grey Whistler and White-faced Robin. Not surprisingly dawn was easily the most productive time for birding in the rainforest. This area was particularly good for butterflies, which included Ulysses Swallowtail (a series of wonderful bright blue flashes against the rainforest), Common Aeroplane, Orchard Swallowtail, McAlpine’s Birdwing and Golden Jezebel, amongst others.

Riverine rainforest along Gordon Ck. Good site for Yellow-bellied Kingfisher and Yellow-legged Flycatcher.

We also searched the rainforest are behind the Cooks Hut toilet block and soon heard and then saw Northern Scrub-robin. At this spot we also got our best views of a Yellow-legged Flycatcher.

Warning – Achtung – Crocodiles

PORTLAND RD TOWNSHIP
The Portland Road Township is a small but welcoming town, and an excellent site for birding, particularly at low tide when the mudflats are visible. On the mudflat we saw Whimbrel, Striated Heron, Common Sandpiper and Collared Kingfisher. Throughout the day Wompoo, Rose-crowed and Superb Fruit-dove and Pied Imperial Pigeon flew across the inlet from boarding rainforest to roost in the mangroves. Seabirds included Lesser Crested Tern, Brown Booby, Common Noddy, Bridled Tern and surprisingly a couple of White-breasted Woodswallow feeding out at sea. A good spot for seabirds is the rocky breakwater just south side of Portland Rd, a good spotting for roosting, here we saw 6 Lesser Crested Tern. At night look for the eye-shine of Saltwater Crocodile, spotlighted in the water about 20 metres from the beach, explaining why swimming is not a good idea at Portland Rd. Town birds included Large-billed Gerygone, Olive-backed Sunbird and Dusky, Graceful and Yellow-spotted Honeyeater.

The Portland Road mudflats, township and mangroves behind.

Birding in the mangroves immediately north of Portland Rd was rewarding. Birds included Mangrove Robin, Shinning Flycatcher, Grey Whistler, White-throated, Varied and Dusky Honeyeater, Red-browed Finch (brighter coloured northern ssp race minor), Large-billed Gerygone, Pied Currawong, Rose-crowned and Superb Fruit-Dove. Fawn-breasted Bowerbird flew between the mangroves and over Portland Rd to the open forest on the west side for the mangrove. We also had superb views of a small party of Palm Cockatoo, seen in an area of open woodlands about 1 km north of the mangrove, providing us with classic views – raised-crested-screeching cockatoos.

Here’s a recommendation: whether staying or visiting Portland Road it’s worth eating at the Portland Road Café. We regularly ate both lunch and dinner at the café, enjoying fish and chips, prawn tempura, calamari, and for lunch prawn roles! As a mark of their quality we ate virtually none of our food supplies. While eating our dinner a bonus was listening to Large-tailed Nightjar, with its distinctive donk, donk, donk call. We also saw what I assumed were Bare-backed Fruit Bat, feeding in the gardens in the front of the café.

LOCKHART RIVER TREATMENT PLANT
We found that the best birding site at Lockhart River was the treatment plant. From the township head down Piiramo Rd towards the coast (Quintell Beach), and after about 500 metres there is a track leading left. Travel down this for another 500 metres, the treatment plant is on you right. Of note we saw up to 5 snipe, several birds of which were distinctively different from standard Latham’s Snipe. They had differing amounts of rufous colouring on the tail, a differing shape to the outer tail feathers, and vocal differences in the flight calls.

Palm Cockatoo, just west of the Portland Road township.

We are still having a look at the photos of several birds – and judging by the above distinction could possibly have been Swinhoe’s Snipe. A bonus bird at the Lockhart River treatment plant was a single King Quail, which flushed, and then totally disappeared when we tried to find it a second time. This didn’t seem possible as we saw exactly where it had landed. Other birds at the plant were Pied Heron, Glossy and Australian White Ibis, Cattle Egret, Australasian Grebe, Masked Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Leaden Flycatcher, Australian Swiftlet and White-breasted Woodswallow.

CHILLI BEACH
At Chilli Beach large numbers of Bridled Tern and Common Noddy and a few Crested and Little Tern circled Restoration Island just off the coast. At dusk Restoration Island is locally famous for the thousands of Metallic Starlings which swirl through the air before roosting on the rocks. Other birds included Pied Oystercatcher, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Pied Imperial Pigeon and Topknot Pigeon. There is also a small dam just before you get to Chilli Beach (on the east side of the road), reportedly good for Black Bittern, Azure Kingfisher and this is one of the sites that Spotted Whistling-Duck has been recorded.

Chilli Beach, with Restoration Island in the background.

At night Large-tailed Nightjar and occasional White-throated and Australian Owlet-nightjar were easily flushed along Portland Rd, particularly near the intersection to Chilli Beach. One night we recorded at least 10 Large-tailed Nightjar. It was also hard not to run over Cane Toads.

LAKEFIELD NATIONAL PARK AND LOTUS BIRD LODGE WETLAND
On the way back to Cairns we detoured into Lakefield National Park and I’m glad we did. Site visited here included Lotus Bird Lodge wetland, Low Lake and Mariner Plains.

Olive-backed Sunbird.

LOTUS BIRD LODGE WETLAND
Not far from the Musgrave Roadhouse the Lotus Bird Lodge wetland is well worth a stop. Birds included Rudjah Shelduck, Wandering Whistling-Duck, Green Pygmy-Goose, Black-necked Stork, Magpie Goose, Comb-crested Jacana, Glossy Ibis, Royal Spoonbill, Little Pied Cormorant, and our only Eastern Swamphen and Coot for trip. Drinking at the wetland were Agile Wallaby and Northern Nailtail Wallaby.

LOW LAKE
Our main stop at Lakefield was at a wonderful wetland called Low Lake. Reach via Lilyvale and then Marina Plains Rd; it’s about 60 km from Musgrave. One of the most pristine wetlands I’ve visited in Australia, it was surrounded by rushes and reeds and covered in waterlilies. Birds seen included Comb-crested Jacana, Wandering Whistling-Duck, Rudjah Shelduck, Green Pygmy-goose, Pacific Black Duck, Hoary-headed Grebe, Glossy and Australian White Ibis, Brolga, four egret sp., Great, Intermediate, Little, and Cattle. The surrounding woodlands contained Black-backed Butcherbird, Forest and Sacred Kingfisher, calling Rufous Whistler, Grey-crowned Babbler and from a tree on the eastern edge of the wetland Masked and Black-throated Finch flew down to drink. This seemed a good spot for Star Finch, has recently been recorded at Lakefield.

Worth a visit – Low Lake in Lakefield National Park: a gorgeous wetland 60 km east of Musgrave.

MARINER PLAINS
An accidental detour lead us to the Mariner Plains proved interesting – it’s located on the edge of Princess Charlotte Bay. After entering an area of tidal mangrove we were attacked by a wild swarm of killer mosquitoes! Like a scene from the movie the African Queen (the scene where Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn pull their boat into shore on the Ulanga River) we were forced to run at high speed to get away from a swarm of 100,000,000 mosquitoes.

Despite this the Mariner Plains was really fascinating area, well-worth an extended visit. It was mixture of floodplain grasslands, open-wooded mangroves forests, termite mounds and patches of the endemic palm Corypha utan. Brolga was common in the grassland area, and along the banks of the Annie River we saw our only Mangrove Gerygone for the trip. At Lakefield we also saw Emu, an adult with 3 young. I personally I reckon the Cape York Emu is taller and slimmer than southern Australian Emu, with less feather coverage. We also had nice view of the local race of the Australian Hobby (ssp murchisonianus).

Mangrove woodland, Princess Charlotte Bay, Mariner Plains near Lakefield.

KINGFISHER PARK
Stop-over’s at the wonderful Kingfisher (once on the way up, and once on the way back) produced Superb Fruit-dove and Papuan Frogmouth, roosted in the orchard, a flock of Barred Cuckoo-shrike feed in a fig tree directly above my tent, Red-necked Crake calling along Mt Malloy Rd, Dollarbird (first noted arrival for this area of Qld), Channel-billed Cuckoo, Scarlet, Dusky and Macleay’s Honeyeater.

Sooty Owl and Barn Owl called throughout the night. There seems to be an unresolved debate over whether the Tyto species at Kingfisher Park are Barn or Masked Owl. I’m tipping Barn. Mammals included Striped Possum, Northern Brown Bandicoot, Giant White-tailed Rat, Fawn-footed Melomy, Spectacled Flying Fox and Northern Broadnosed Bat, which roosted in the shower block, failing to budge even when I took a shower. The Striped Possum was seen only about 20 metres from the campsite. We were surprised to find it walking along powerlines along the Mossman – Mt Molloy Rd. Butterflies included Cairns Swallowtail and Ulysses Butterfly.

A few attempts to see Blue-faced Parrot-finch as a recently discovered lowland site (along Mt Molloy Rd) failed. My feeling is that they had just started to head up the hill (Mt Lewis), as most of the grass in the area had just finished seeding.

MT LEWIS
The standout highlight for Mt Lewis was a large male Boyd’s Forest Dragon. Like something out of the Lost World, this is an exceptionally good looking lizard. Coloured in blue hues and ochre yellows-browns and reds, it is covered in large protruding spikes. The area around the dam at the top of the rainforest walk was particularly rewarding, with close views of Fernwren, Grey Fantail (dark mountain race Keasti), Victoria’s Riflebird, Spotted Catbird, Tooth-billed Bowerbird, Bridled Honeyeater, Mountain Thornbill, and Chowchilla.

Boyd’s Forest Dragon – like something from the Lost World.

MAREEBA WETLANDS
Osprey nesting of power poles, a flock of Hardhead, 2 Pacific Baza roosting in the car park, and 40 Gouldian Finch! (In an aviary!) Between Mt Molloy and Mareeba there was Square-tailed Kite in flight and 2 Australian Bustard feed on the roadside of Peninsular Development Rd.

CAIRNS
Or group birded Cains twice, once of the way up and once before returning to Melbourne. We concentrated our effort on the Cairns Esplanade, with the bird list reading like a BARC rarity report: Laughing Gull, Asian Dowitcher, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Beach Stone-Curlew, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Grey-tailed Tattler, Greenshank, Great Knot, Collared Kingfisher, Grey Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, Gull-billed, Caspian and Crested Tern, Olive-backed Sunbird, Doubled-eyed Fig-Parrot, and Varied and Yellow Honeyeater.

Asian Dowitcher nestled between two Bar-tailed Godwit, Cairns

Finally on my last night in Cairns I stayed in the up market International Pacific Hotel – naturally! Actually it was cheaper than staying in the tin shed they call a room at the Musgrave Roadhouse. Typically, while relaxing over a few quiet beers, I kept a list of the birds seen from the 7th story balcony – it faced the Cairns Casino. (I must really get a life!). If anybody is interested (you could stop reading now) here is what I saw: Rainbow Lorikeet, Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, White-breasted Woodswallow, Common Myna, Gull-billed Tern, Crested Tern, Welcome Swallow, Australian Figbird, Yellow Oriole, Brown Honeyeater, Silver Gull, House Sparrow, Magpie Lark, Great Egret, Metallic Starling, Willy Wagtail, Little Egret, Crested Tern, Great Bowerbird, Spectacled Flying Fox, dozens of the micro Northern Free-tailed Bat (Mormopterus loriae), and finally Bush Stone-curlew in the grounds of the Cairns Casino.

A room with a view in Cairns.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Just quickly, thanks for informational assistance from Fiona Parkin, Stuart Dashper and Carl Billingham, who’d all recently visited the area. Thanks to Keith and Lindsay Fisher at Kingfisher Park, who had to put up with 8 plus mad Victorian birders who all turned up at the same time – all of whom were functioning under Victorian time, space and pace.

Also big thanks to my fellow birders from our two birding groups – Tim Dolby, Greg Oakley, Ruth Woodrow, Paul Dodd, Tim Bawden, Laurie Living, John McCrae, Jim Preston – making the trip very enjoyable.

The rainforest floor at Iron Range.

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