Australian Ornithological Services Pty Ltd
2021 Far North Queensland Birding Tour Report
1 June to 14 June 2021
Tour leaders: Philip Maher & Brett Armstrong
Logistics organiser: Patricia Maher
Localities visited included Cairns, Atherton Tableland, Julatten, Mt Lewis, the Mt Carbine area, Lakefield NP, Musgrave area, Archer River, Iron Range NP.
Memorable sightings and great company made this a tour one for the books. Who could forget our sightings of lesser sooty owl on our first night on the Tablelands? We started our spotlighting expedition in drizzling rain. We tried several localities where I had seen lesser sooties on prior visits but came up with nothing this time. So, it was with a heavy heart that we made our way back twowards our accommodation. We were nearly back when something pale came off a roadside post. We came to an abrupt halt and were soon out with cameras and binoculars at the ready. After a few minutes we had a pair of lesser sooties pretty much eating out of our hands. What a bird, surely our most impressive owl. We continued in a more elated mood. We had only gone about half a kilometre down the road when another lesser sooty came up from the roadside. We had a look at this one but did not stay too long as it was getting late and we had already done well with the previous pair.
For the most part, the birding was hard work on the Tablelands. There had been a lot of drizzly rain and cool temperatures in prior weeks, and I think the birds were a bit confused as to what season it was. We didn’t see a lot of sun on the Tablelands, and it was definitely not good weather for raptors. We completely missed grey goshawk and spotted harrier, and our only square-tailed kites were seen way up the Cape. Raptors numbers have generally been declining on the Tablelands for some years and these three species are becoming harder to see. The weather certainly didn’t help. Still, despite the inclement weather, we managed to see pretty much all the wet tropic endemics.
Mt Lewis, on the north edge of the Tablelands, was our last chance to see several wet tropic endemics. We saw no less than two adult male golden bowerbirds. One, spotted by Sandra, was close and Charuka got some great photos. Our only fernwren was seen up Mt Lewis. We also saw Atherton scrubwren, tooth-billed bowerbird and had our best looks at chowchilla and mountain thornbill. Mt Lewis saved the day.
Our final day on the Tablelands proved to be a cracker as well. We started off at Kingfisher Park where Carol put us on to an over-staying black-faced monarch. I had not seen an over-wintering black-faced monarch for many years.
By chance, I took a side road, not far from Kingfisher Park. Sandra spotted a kingfisher from the car and the chorus went up — buff-breasted paradise-kingfisher! Another overstaying species. They should have been in PNG by now. After the kingfisher was exhaustively photographed, we continued up the road a couple of hundred metres to bird some rainforest patches. Here we had our best looks at female double-eyed fig-parrot although the male eluded us. Next, we heard a call we didn’t immediately recognise. Looking up, we saw a beautiful Pacific baza circling overhead — another first for the tour. It was one of our first sunny days on the Tablelands so more conducive for raptors to be out and about.
We moved on to some scrubby rainforest back in towards Kuranda where we were meeting up with Brett our co-driver and guide for the Cape York section of the tour. Brett had picked up Sue and Kim in Cairns who were joining us for the next leg. Here we added pied and spectacled monarch and pale yellow and eastern yellow robins and Gould’s race of little bronze-cuckoo. We moved on to the Mareeba area where we scored a beautiful pair of white-browed robins, which was our only sighting for the tour.
After lunch that Trish had pre-prepared for us back at Kingfisher Park (she was in Cairns picking up supplies for the trip up the Cape), we headed down another sideroad from Kingfisher Park. Not everything went our way, but we had cracking views of chestnut-breasted cuckoo, a bird that was long thought to only occur up at Iron Range on the Cape. We had brief looks at noisy pitta but we just couldn’t get it to slow down. We were also frustrated by red-necked crake here, which called and peeked out at us a few times. Brett and I were the only ones to have the briefest of views. A very tough bird to see if they are not in the mood. Still, it had been an outstanding day so we had little to complain about.
The next day we headed for Cape York. After an early lunch in Laura, we hit Lakefield National Park.
What a park with tremendous variety of habitats. One of our target birds in Lakefield was the white-bellied crimson finch. We had already seen the black-bellied crimson finch on the northern outskirts of Cairns so it would be fun to get the two species on the one tour, which I had never managed previously. When we reached the swampy area (their preferred habitat) we soon had some fine males in view as well as lots of juveniles. I had my best views yet of this uncommon species. The day was a bit overcast and the temperature was a cooler than normal and I think this led to better views than normal as the birds were more out and about. (It was still the hottest part of the day). There were big numbers of honeyeaters about here as well and we had banded, white-throated, rufous-banded, brown-backed, yellow and yellow-tinted, all in the one spot. Most of them had had a big breeding season as there was juvenile honeyeaters all over the place. Some of them were a bit tricky to identify. I don’t think I had seen the juvenile brown-backed before. We had some fun sorting them all out. Lots of black-throated finches were about here as well and we enjoyed great views of them. A super little bird.
Other highlights through Lakefield included brolgas, jabiru (including one on a nest in a melaleuca tree) and pied heron. There were hundreds of red-tailed black cockatoos drinking by the roadside in the late afternoon.
Next morning, we set off for Artemis Station at an early hour to meet up with Sue Shepherd, the owner, to look for golden-shouldered parrots. The parrots are not doing well and have been declining for many years. Sue has had to resort to supplementing their food supply. We saw quite a few adults and juveniles about the feeder. Sue took us down the road a bit to find some in the wild. Whilst we were searching for them, a male cicadabird was seen — the only one for the tour. Sue has excellent hearing and is so tuned into the call of the parrots that she can hear them from a country mile away. Also, they often hang out with bee-eaters and cuckoo-shrikes so she was looking out for them as well. Eventually she tracked some down for us and we had great views of them feeding on the ground including a full adult male, one of the best coloured I have seen. After this we had cracking views of the white-eared form of masked finch as well as more black-throated finches, I think the first I have seen on Artemis. Our first red-browed pardalotes were seen here as well.
After lunch and a break back at Musgrave we headed back out to Lakefield NP. On the way out we pulled up at a melaleuca swamp where we had our first bar-breasted honeyeaters. Again, there were quite a few juveniles present but we also had a couple of adults. Banded honeyeaters were also present here.
We met up with Trish out in Lakefield and had a picnic dinner by the creek in the fast-fading light. A couple of barking owls were observed post dinner.
Our first spotlighting find, out on the plains, was a female red-chested buttonquail roosting in the middle of the road. We saw several nankeen night-herons feeding by the road and about eight spotted nightjars. The nightjars were wary and didn’t allow a close approach. This is probably a good thing as they are prone to getting run over on the roads out here at night. Eventually we managed to track down a couple of grass owls that were calling by the roadside. However, there was barn owls there as well and we had reasonable views of a barn owl on the road but only poor views of a grass owl in flight. The grass owls seemed much shyer than the barn owls. Several more barn owls were seen further along the road. A keelback snake was also seen on the road as well as many poisonous cane toads. On the drive back to Musgrave, a couple of tawny frogmouths were seen. We arrived back exhausted but happy.
Next morning saw us back out at Lakefield. This time we were after the elusive zitting cisticola, which is a difficult bird to see in the dry season. After some effort we managed to successfully lure them out of the tall grass and good views and photos were had. I suspect the main reason we were successful was due to the late rains, which meant the zitting cisticolas were more active than they would normally be in the dry season. Our only Horsfield’s bushlarks and Australian pratincoles were seen here as well.
Oddly enough, no spotted harriers were seen on Nifold Plain. I think this is the first time we have failed to see one here. Black-breasted buzzard, which are often here, were also a no-show.
We tried the melaleuca swamp on the plains, often awash with finches of various species. The good season had spread them far and wide this year. We did finish up seeing a reasonable number of black-throated finches as well as some masked and double-barred finches but our main quarry, the star finches, which are usually there in hundreds, eluded us. More rufous-banded honeyeaters were seen and we had our only sightings of jacky winter, rufous songlark and Horsfield’s bronze-cuckoo. After lunch, at a beautiful water lily-covered lagoon with a big variety of waterbirds, we made our way north to Archer River. We had a pleasant surprise about twenty kilometres south of Archer River when three palm cockatoos were seen flying beside the road. We gave chase and managed to get them in the telescope, perched up in a tree. This is first time I have seen them near Archer River.
It is hard to know where to start with our time at Iron Range — we had so many memorable sightings.
We had not gone far from the Lockhart River Airport on the first morning when a pair of red-cheeked parrots flew across the road and landed in the top of a tree. The male stayed there sunning itself for about half an hour. We finished up seeing this species perched up nearly every day of the tour, which was unprecedented.
As we were watching the red-cheeked parrot, a yellow-billed kingfisher called across the road and we soon had him in the telescope as well. We soon topped this when a little further along the road we had six eclectus parrots playing around in the top of a tall rainforest tree. They hung around for at least a half hour till we had exhausted ourselves watching them and taking photos. What a bird!
We started looking for bush birds in the rainforest soon after and couldn’t believe our luck when an adult black-winged monarch was spotted! We had a bird wave come through and added green-backed and tawny-breasted honeyeaters, frill-necked and spectacled monarchs, fairy gerygone and yellow-breasted boatbill. In our first morning we had almost cleaned up on the Iron Range endemics!
After lunch and a break, we ventured out again and not far from the airport, in some open forest. we added fawn-breasted bowerbird to the list.
The weather was a bit drizzly that evening so after dinner we decided to only go for a short spotlight. We added both Papuan and marbled frogmouth to the list. That was a day for the books.
Next morning saw us back out in the rainforest. The birding gods were still with us and we soon added yellow-legged flycatcher, double-eyed fig parrot (female), white-eared monarch and incredibly, another adult black- winged monarch. Another two magnificent riflebirds were seen as well as more frill-necked monarchs, a bird you can never see enough of, as well as the newly described cryptic honeyeater.
We still hadn’t seen white-faced robin, a bird that is usually fairly easily seen up here. So, we went off in search of them. We drew a blank at the first spot, but success was ours at the next stop and great views and photos were had of this cute bird. We were rapidly running out of endemics! Noisy pitta was heard but we could not lure it out.
After lunch and a siesta, we birdied along the Claudie River where we had a group of tropical scrubwrens. Some reasonable views were had but getting decent photos was another story. Shining flycatcher was added to our list. That night we tried some spotlighting near the airport and thanks to a tip off from my old mate Steve Davidson, we had good views of the very pale northern race of masked owl. What a cool bird.
Next morning, we were down to ‘no more piece a cake bird’ as Uthai, our guide in Thailand, used to say. Of the endemics we were down to northern scrub-robin, trumpet manucode and black-eared catbird, all of which we had only distantly heard so far. Plus, we needed better photos and views of a male fig parrot, tropical scrubwren and lovely fairywren.
We took on the scrub-robin first, which is usually the toughest bird to see at Iron Range. Brett came into his own here having superior hearing and eyesight to most of us. With patience we were able to track a scrub-robin down and eventually some excellent views were had by all of this most elusive of birds, skulking about on the rainforest floor. It really was quite an achievement thanks mainly to Brett. Charuka even managed a half decent photo, which also required a good deal of skill.
We were also pleased to have good looks at another pair of yellow-legged flycatchers nearby. We drove further on into the rainforest to try some areas we had not tried previously. Eventually we located an area where there was a couple of wompoo fruit-doves calling, and we had some good looks at them. I thought there could be other fruit eaters about and sure enough a manucode was heard and after some effort, great views were had of three manucodes in the top of a tree. When we found them, they didn’t want to leave — one bird sat up there for at least five minutes. More tropical scrubwrens were seen as well and better photos were had. To add to our elation, another two yellow-billed kingfishers were seen here. To round the morning out another five fawn-breasted bowerbirds were seen back near Lockhart River.
After lunch we drove into Portland Roads for dinner. On the drive to Portland Roads, we encountered another four palm cockatoos and here we had our best views and photos.
After excellent fish and chips at Out of the Blue Cafe at the end of Portland Roads, we spotlighted our way back to Lockhart River. The drizzly weather wasn’t conducive to spotlighting but we managed about half a dozen Papuan frogmouths and a couple of Cape York melomys were located with our thermal device, and finally after great effort, a spotted cuscus was located. Another great day at Iron Range.
We were finally down to our last morning at Iron Range with still the dreaded catbird to find. I really didn’t think we had much of a chance with the catbird given our experience over the past few days. I was racking my brain to try and figure out where to go as I had tried pretty much everywhere I had ever seen them previously. In the end I opted to go back to where we had seen the manucodes the previous day as it seemed one of the only localities that had any fruit-eating birds. The birding gods were kind to us again. We heard the unmistakable call of a catbird. After some effort we had some great looks and photos of a pair of catbirds. Possibly the best views I have had of this rather elusive species. A superb fruit-dove was also seen briefly in flight here, our only sighting for the tour. Brett also spotted a male double-eyed fig-parrot perched up the top of a tree in the sun. Good, if brief, views were had. We were making inroads on our target list now. Back towards Lockhart River in the vine scrub a pair of lovely fairywrens were finally encountered. They had pretty much eluded us all tour. We headed back to Lockhart River for our final lunch before driving back to Archer River. We were all well pleased with our time up here.
Some Notes on the Rainforest and Status of Birds at Iron Range, June 2021
It was good to see that the rainforest is well on the way to recovery after the cyclone a little over two years ago. The cyclone was followed by drought and bushfires, compounding the damage. Some of the areas that were flattened along the road to Lockhart River are now almost impenetrable with fallen trees.
Although the rainforest is now starting to look okay the cyclone is still having a big impact on some birds. The lack of fruit eating birds was noticeable this year. Not a single barred cuckoo-shrike was seen at Iron Range nor on the Atherton Tablelands, where it’s often fairly common. This was the first time we have missed this species on this tour. Its absence at Iron Range can be explained by the cyclone, however it is more difficult to explain their scarcity on the Tablelands. Other fruit-eating birds that were tough to find at Iron Range this year included trumpet manucode, superb fruit-dove and black-eared catbird. Even figbirds and yellow orioles were in short supply. It is many years since I have seen a cassowary at Iron Range.
On the other hand, some birds appear to have become easier to see since the cyclone. Those species included yellow-billed kingfisher, palm cockatoo, eclectus parrot and red-cheeked parrot. It is possible this was just coincidental but has occurred over two different years now (2019 and 2021). Other species such as green-backed honeyeater and fawn-breasted bowerbird seem to have increased in numbers since the cyclone but it will need another year or two to confirm if this is indeed the case.
Chestnut-breasted cuckoos where also in good numbers this year but this was probably more a factor of a good wet season and continuing late rain than anything else. These same factors were also probably responsible for our two adult black-winged monarchs. They should have migrated back in PNG by now.
The marbled frogmouths weren’t calling much this year, possibly due to the late rain. Only one bird was seen. The other bird we missed this year, for the first time ever, was large-tailed nightjar. What is going on with this species is hard to understand. When we first started running tours up to Iron Range in the early 1990s, it was a common bird. We’d see up to twenty birds at night on the road between Portland Roads and Iron Range. The late rain may have been a factor this year, but the species seems to have been declining up here for some years.
Raptors were scarce at Iron Range this year as well with no baza or grey goshawks seen, but again this was probably due to the overcast and drizzly weather we experienced up there. The grey goshawk however does seem to have declined since the 1990s.
Some of the more notable sightings of the tour:
Emu: Not a common bird on Cape York. Just a single bird was seen a little north of Laura on the Lakefield Road.
Spotted whistling-duck: Several adults and a clutch of around nine half-grown ducklings on the wetland behind Archer River Roadhouse.
Plumed whistling-duck: The largest number seen was around five hundred at Hasties Swamp on the Atherton Tableland. Some smaller mobs on various wetlands about Musgrave and Archer River.
Radjah shelduck: Not a common duck in North Queensland, about eleven birds in total,
about half on a wetland in Lakefield NP and the rest at the wetland at Archer River Roadhouse.
Jabiru: Five birds in total, one about Cairns and the rest seen while we were travelling up the Cape. An adult was seen on a nest at one of the extensive wetlands in Lakefield NP.
Glossy ibis: Just a single bird seen by some on the drive through Lakefield NP.
Pied heron: Two on a wetland in Lakefield and two at the STW ponds at Lockhart River. Not a common bird on the Cape.
Black-shouldered kite: Notable for the lack of sightings. Just five birds seen, two about Cairns and the rest on the Atherton Tableland.
Square-tailed kite: Scarce bird this year. Our only sighting was a pair seen about the wetlands in Lakefield.
Pacific baza: Only a single sighting this year. One bird seen (which was doing its distinctive call) not far from Julatten. We had a lot of drizzly weather on the Atherton Tableland and at Iron Range, which was not conducive to seeing raptors. This caused us to miss other raptors such as black-breasted buzzard, grey goshawk and spotted harrier.
Wedge-tailed eagle: Thirteen birds in total, four on the Tablelands and nine recorded while we were travelling up or back down the Cape. This is a reasonable number for this species in the north.
Brown goshawk: Eleven birds in total, one on the Atherton Tableland and the rest on Cape York. Seen on most days up the Cape where it was surprisingly common. Strangely enough we had no confirmed sightings of collared sparrowhawk.
Swamp harrier: A single bird seen on a wetland in Lakefield NP.
Australian bustard: Eleven birds in total on the drive up or down the Cape.
Red-necked crake: Always a tough bird to see, but particularly tough this year, 2 birds heard one of which was seen briefly by only two of us. Try as we might we could not entice it out.
Sarus crane: Only six birds seen this year, a pair on the Tablelands and four birds on the drive down the Cape. It was still very wet out in the Gulf Country this year which probably explains why there was so few birds on the Tablelands.
Brolga: About twenty-four birds all seen on the Cape. A couple of pairs at least had juveniles with them in the Musgrave area and in Lakefield NP.
White-browed crake: Two birds seen on a small dam on the north side of Cairns. Not an easy bird to see in North Queensland.
Bush stone-curlew: Common in parks and gardens about Cairns. This bird adapts well to human habitation if foxes are not present. Heard calling at night at Musgrave and at Iron Range.
Painted buttonquail: Adult female calling on a backroad near Mareeba but could not be enticed out.
Red-chested buttonquail: A single adult female was spotlighted on the road at night in Lakefield NP. A stunning bird.
White-headed pigeon: About twelve birds seen over two days on the Tablelands.
Common bronzewing: Just two birds seen north of Mt Carbine.
Squatter pigeon (red eyed form): Just a pair seen this year on Artemis station south of Musgrave. They were extremely quiet and allowed a very close approach.
Diamond dove: Common in the Musgrave and Lakefield area; also seen north of Archer River.
Peaceful dove: A very common bird in North Queensland. One of the few birds that was seen every day of the tour.
Wompoo fruit-dove: Not particularly common this year; about half a dozen seen on the Tablelands and a similar number up at Iron Range. A few nice looks and photos.
Superb fruit-dove: A scarce bird this year as were many fruit-eating birds. At Iron Range, this was due to the cyclone flattening much of the rainforest in 2019. It will take many years to fully recover. Not sure why fruit eating birds were scarce on the Tablelands. Just a single bird was seen in flight at Iron Range.
Rose-crowned fruit-dove: About half a dozen birds seen in a patch of rainforest down towards Portland Roads.
Pheasant coucal: Six birds in total, one on the Tablelands and the rest up Cape York.
Horsfield’s bronze-cuckoo: Just two birds seen about a melaleuca swamp in Lakefield NP. Seen most years at this locality.
Shining bronze-cuckoo: Seen or heard most days on the Tablelands.
Little bronze-cuckoo (Gould’s race): One in rainforest near Julatten and seen or heard most days at Iron Range, all of race russatus.
Chestnut-breasted cuckoo: One in rainforest near Julatten and seen or heard most days at Iron Range. The good numbers recorded at Iron Range probably reflect the late rains. Some great views and photos were had.
Fan-tailed cuckoo: Seen or heard most days on the Tablelands.
Brush cuckoo: Just a single bird seen near the Esplanade in Cairns.
Lesser sooty owl: One of the highlights of the Tablelands leg of the tour, no less than three seen in the Lake Eacham area. First a pair was seen then about half a kilometre down the road another single bird flew up from the roadside. Some great views and photos were had of this most impressive of owls.
Masked owl: Another highlight of the Iron Range leg of the tour. A masked owl was spotlighted near Lockhart River and another bird was thought to be present but was not seen. The bird was fairly shy and only perched up in a dead tree briefly. Great views were had but only a brief photo opportunity, unfortunately with its head turned the wrong way. They flew low and screeched just above our heads several times but were reluctant to land. The very pale kimberli race.
Eastern barn owl: Fairly low numbers this year only one spotlighted on the Tablelands and a few in Lakefield (one flushed during the day). May have been lured south this year by the mouse plague that has been occurring in NSW and elsewhere.
Eastern grass owl: Probably two birds calling in Lakefield NP. One seen poorly in flight. A difficult bird to get a good look at, let alone photograph. Barn owls were also present in the same area causing some confusion.
Rufous owl: Just the well-known pair seen in a park in Cairns. We used to spotlight this species in Iron Range on our first tours up there in the early 1990s but have not seen them there in recent years.
Barking owl: Three spotlighted in Lakefield plus others heard calling. Seemingly quite a few there this year.
Southern boobook: One spotlighted on the Tablelands. Others heard at Musgrave, Iron Range and Kingfisher Park, Julatten.
Marbled frogmouth: A couple heard at night in stunted rainforest near Lockhart River. One was eventually seen well and photographed thanks to Brett’s superior hearing.
Papuan frogmouth: One seen during the day from the boardwalk at Centennial Lakes in Cairns. About nine spotlighted during our time at Iron Range including one hunting insects about the cabins at Lockhart River airport.
Tawny frogmouth: Two birds spotlighted at night around Musgrave. Seemingly not a common bird on the Cape.
Spotted nightjar: Around eight spotlighted in Lakefield. Good flight views were had but they were wary on the ground, so photos were harder to get.
Large-tailed nightjar: Strangely, not a single large-tailed nightjar could be found at Iron Range this year, the first time we have ever missed it. In the 1990s up to twenty birds would be seen at night while we were driving from Portland Roads to Iron Range.
Red-backed kingfisher: A single bird seen on power lines at Lakeland.
Yellow-billed kingfisher: One seen very well on our first morning at Iron Range. Another couple heard in our time there, then two more birds seen on our last day up there. Probably more active than some years due to the late finishing wet season. Seemingly unaffected by the cyclone a couple of years back and maybe easier to see.
Azure kingfisher: Three birds seen at various creek crossings about Musgrave and on the drive into Iron Range.
Buff-breasted paradise-kingfisher: A single adult was seen in a patch of rainforest along a creek near Julatten. This was quite a find. Possibly late leaving due to the extended wet season or may be overwintering.
Rainbow bee-eater: One of the few birds to be seen on every day of the tour. Maximum count was about eighty for the day about Musgrave/ Lakefield NP.
Dollarbird: A single bird seen by only me I think, east of Musgrave. We have had over staying dollarbirds in this area previously.
Australian hobby: Notable in that only a single bird was seen for the whole tour, and then not by the whole group.
Peregrine falcon: Just a single bird seen a little north of Archer River. None seen around where they were nesting in a giant bloodwood tree east of Musgrave a couple of years back.
Palm cockatoo: Our first sighting was totally unexpected, about twenty kilometres south of Archer River. Single birds seen most days at Iron Range, with a maximum of four birds seen on our second last day. Our best sightings and photographs were had on the latter occasion.
Red-tailed black cockatoo: Some big flocks on the Cape again this year although not as big as in previous years. Presumably with this year’s better wet season they had spread out more. One flock of around three hundred birds on the road in Lakefield coming in to drink in the late afternoon was quite a sight. Another flock of about five hundred seen in crop stubble at Lakelands on the drive home. Some flocks in previous years had been well over a thousand birds.
Sulphur-crested cockatoo: Seen on every day of the tour.
Little lorikeet: Just two seen in dry eucalypt forest near Herberton.
Golden-shouldered parrot: Around twenty birds seen this year. Some at one of Sue’s feeders but she took us down the road a few kilometres and located some birds feeding in more natural conditions. Sue often finds them by watching out for bee-eaters, cuckoo-shrikes and other birds they like to feed with, which she did on this occasion. They are barely hanging on at Artemis station and if Sue wasn’t supplementary feeding them they would probably be gone by now. One of the main problems they have apart from food issues is the woodland is getting too thick which means many nests are predated by black-backed butcherbirds. There is a government funded program going on there now to thin out the trees and shrubs by hand to try and save them. Let’s hope it works.
Red-cheeked parrot: What a great time we had with this bird! On our first morning at Iron Range we had a male sitting up on a dead branch, in the early morning sun, by the road. Seen on every day of the tour. It may be just a coincidence but they seem to have become easier to see since the cyclone two years ago.
Eclectus parrot: Another bird that may have become easier to see at Iron Range since the cyclone. On our first morning we had six birds (both male and female) perched up in top of one big rainforest tree by the road. They played around there for close to an hour before finally moving off. We did not bother trying to see any more perched after that as we had seen them so well. Seen flying over every day at Iron Range.
Double-eyed fig-parrot: The race on the Tablelands was seen most days but mostly in flight. It was not until our last morning that we finally had cracking views of a female perched. The male was there somewhere but refused to be seen. We had a similar problem up at Iron Range with cracking views of a female on our second morning. It was not until our last morning that the male was finally seen. What a gem.
Noisy pitta: An elusive bird this year. A single bird was briefly seen shooting across a track on a couple of occasions near Kingfisher Park. Just a single bird was heard at Iron Range. Why they were so scarce I cannot say. Perhaps the good wet season had spread them out.
Black-eared catbird: It was looking bleak for this species as we approached our last morning at Iron Range and, at that point, had only heard one bird. I had tried all the known haunts of this species with no success. On the last morning I figured I’d ignore all the places I had seen them previously and just go where we had heard fruit-pigeons calling, with the thought there must be some fruiting trees in the vicinity that might attract other fruit eaters. This paid off eventually when we finally tracked down a pair of catbirds and had some cracking views, probably the best views I have ever had of this species, at least in recent years. Charuka took some great photos.
Tooth-billed bowerbird: An elusive bird this year. It was scarce about Lake Eacham where we normally see them, and none could be found at Mt Hypipamee. It was not until our last morning about the Tablelands that a single bird was seen up Mt Lewis ... and it did not hang around for long.
Golden bowerbird: Another bird that gave us a hard time. A single brown bird was seen briefly around Mt Hypipamee. Again, it was Mt Lewis that saved the day on our last morning when we scored two full-coloured males and had cracking views and photos.
Satin bowerbird: Not such a common bird on the Tablelands. We managed not to see any about Mt Hypipamee where there is still quite a few but saw one at Kingfisher Park where they hardly have been seen for years. It was my first ever sighting in that area I believe. Carol said there had been some in the area in the past but were rarely seen in recent years.
Fawn-breasted bowerbird. Another species that appears to have become more common (or at least easier to see) since the cyclone two years ago. A total of ten birds were seen on three of the four days we were at Iron Range. I think this could be the most birds we have ever encountered at Iron Range — some years we have struggled to see a single bird. Most of our sightings were about the airport and Lockhart River town area.
Lovely fairywren: Never an easy bird to see and they proved a little harder than normal on this occasion. We encountered just a single bird (although heard others) on the Tablelands’ leg of the tour around Julatten. Up at Iron Range we had a family group on our last morning. A beautiful bird.
Red-backed fairywren: Many sightings driving up the Cape, particularly through Lakefield NP and about Musgrave. Some cracking males seen.
Green-backed honeyeater: Seen every day we were at Iron Range. Mainly in pairs with just one single seen. Probably still breeding. Although we saw a lot, good photos were harder to get as they generally seemed a bit aloof. This species may also have become more common since the cyclone.
White-streaked honeyeater: Quite common in the heath country west of Iron Range but rather difficult to get good views and photographs as is often the case. We persevered and eventually prevailed. A delightful little honeyeater with a powerful voice. Also seen around the melaleuca swamps about Lockhart River on several occasions.
Tawny-breasted honeyeater: Two or three birds seen most days at Iron Range. Quite shy and can be difficult to get good views and photos.
Silver-crowned friarbird: Not common on the Cape on this occasion; just a half dozen or so seen north of Archer River.
Rufous-banded honeyeater: Not a common bird on the Cape; around seven birds seen in two different localities about the melaleuca swamps in Lakefield NP.
Rufous-throated honeyeater: We missed it on the drive up the Cape but connected with around twenty on the drive back down, mainly north of Coen.
Bar-breasted honeyeater: Around ten seen, many of which were juveniles — east of Musgrave and in Lakefield NP. A strange little honeyeater which is rarely common.
Brown-backed honeyeater: Another odd honeyeater (both brown-backed and bar-breasted are the only two honeyeaters to build a domed nest) but much more common than bar-breasted. Up to ten birds seen on four days of the tour, mainly Lakefield NP and north of Archer River, and a couple at Lockhart River. Quite a few juveniles seen that may be the first I’ve encountered.
Fuscus (Herberton) honeyeater: Around twenty of this honeyeater seen in dry eucalypt forest near Herberton. Appears to be intermediate between fuscus and yellow-tinted honeyeater.
Yellow-tinted honeyeater: Seen in two localities; around the melaleuca swamps in Lakefield NP and in tall eucalypt forest east of Musgrave. Moderately common at both localities.
Cryptic honeyeater: Recently split from graceful honeyeater. A couple seen every day we were at Iron Range, also on the river at Coen.
Red-browed pardalote: Seen or heard every day we were in the Musgrave area. In previous years we have seen it as far north as the Wenlock River on the road into Iron Range.
Fernwren: Always a difficult bird to get a good look at and appears to be declining on the Atherton Tableland, at least in my experience. A couple were heard, and one bird eventually seen well on Mt Lewis. Charuka, after checking his photo, said the bird was banded.
White-browed scrubwren: A stunning bird, so different than the white-browed scrubwrens further south, with a white iris and bold markings. Just a couple of pairs seen on the Tablelands.
Large-billed scrubwren: Quite a few sightings on the Tablelands. This species does occur at Mt Hypipamee, contrary to the opinion of some birders.
Tropical scrubwren: Seen on three days at Iron Range but a difficult bird to see and photograph well. On our last morning Charuka may have got some half decent shots.
Weebill: Surprisingly few birds recorded. Two birds seen in woodland in Lakefield NP, one heard north of Archer River and another near Musgrave.
Large-billed gerygone: Seen around the mangroves in Cairns. Seemingly not too common on the Cape only seen at the Coan River.
White-throated gerygone: Fairly common about Musgrave and in Lakefield NP. Couple also recorded around the Tablelands.
Fairy gerygone: Quite a common bird on the Tablelands and at Iron Range. Often in company with green-backed honeyeater at Iron Range.
Mountain thornbill: Not a common bird by any means, ~ about six in the Mt Hypipamee area and a similar number up Mt Lewis. Our best views were at Mt Lewis; not an easy bird to photograph.
Grey-crowned babbler: Just 3 birds north of Mt Carbine.
Chowchilla: Pair seen in poor light at Lake Barrine. Eventually seen well on Mt Lewis where around six birds were seen. A tough bird to photograph.
Yellow-breasted boatbill: A surprisingly difficult bird to see well this year. Due to the late wet season they may have been still breeding and were distracted and paid little attention to us. Certainly, their behaviour was different to previous years. A couple seen on the Tablelands and four sighted at Iron Range.
Black-faced woodswallow: A scarce bird on the Cape nowadays; about half a dozen seen on power lines around Lakelands.
Dusky woodswallow: Around six birds in dry eucalypt forest near Herberton. My first sighting on the Tablelands for some years.
Little woodswallow: A few seen in Lakefield NP and around six in tall forest east of Musgrave.
White-bellied cuckoo-shrike: A common bird throughout in the drier forest types seen on all but four days of the tour. Only missed on the days we spent mostly in rainforest. Interesting that in the north only the regular colour morph occurs whereas in the south we have a variety of colour morphs. Obviously, there is no crossover in the two populations.
Cicadabird: Just a single male seen this year on Artemis Station.
Bower’s shrike-thrush: A bit harder to see this year; just three single birds seen on three days on the Tablelands.
Australasian figbird: Common about Cairns and the Tablelands but numbers well down up at Iron Range. No big flocks were seen that are often present in that area. This was no doubt due to the cyclone two years ago smashing down the rainforest. Other fruit-eating birds were scarce as well; not a single barred cuckoo-shrike was seen anywhere on the tour this year, the first time this has occurred.
Olive-backed oriole: Couple about Cairns and the Tablelands; one Musgrave area and about eight about Iron Range. I don’t recall seeing so many about Iron Range previously.
Yellow oriole: Seemingly a scarce bird this year, none seen on the Atherton leg of the tour at all and only around six birds recorded on the Cape.
Northern fantail: Just a pair for the tour, not far from Kuranda. It’s extraordinary that no more were seen.
Spectacled monarch: Rather scarce this year, particularly at Iron Range. Seven about the Tablelands, just three at Iron Range.
Black-faced monarch: A single bird was seen at Kingfisher Park this year, the first overwintering bird I have seen for many years.
Black-winged monarch: Two late staying adults seen at Iron Range in two different localities, probably due to the late finishing wet season. A new bird for many and my first sighting of an adult.
White-eared monarch: Scarce this year, two on the Tablelands and two at Iron Range. The two at Iron Range came in close so nice views and photos were had.
Frill-necked monarch: Reasonable numbers of this stunning bird seen at Iron Range, with about seven birds seen over four days.
Pied monarch: Not particularly numerous this year with just five birds seen in three days on the Tablelands. Low numbers probably due to the cool drizzly weather.
Leaden flycatcher: At least seven birds seen on the Cape including at Iron Range where the species has moved into the rainforest since the cyclone two years ago.
Apostlebird: About fifty birds in several flocks north of Mt Carbine.
Trumpet manucode: We had quite a battle to see this bird this year as they have become scarce since the cyclone knocked down many of the fruiting trees. We were down to the last full day’s birding at Iron Range and had only heard a couple of distant birds. We tried some new areas as we were doing no good in the old spots. Eventually we found an area where there were a few wompoos calling and finally heard a manucode calling not too far away. After a while they came in close and we had excellent views and photos of three birds in the top of a tree.
Magnificent riflebird: We got lucky this year seeing an adult male on our first afternoon at Iron Range. Both male and female were seen on subsequent days. Others were heard each day. Numbers seemingly unaffected by the cyclone.
Jacky winter: Three birds seen around the melaleuca swamps in Lakefield NP.
White-faced robin: Just three birds seen on one day of the tour in the rainforest at Iron Range, seemingly less common than in previous years.
Eastern yellow robin: I always get a kick out of seeing this species up here as it is so much brighter yellow than birds in the south. About five birds seen in dry eucalypt forest about the Tablelands.
Yellow-legged flycatcher: Always a tough bird to see at Iron Range. We did pretty well this year seeing two pairs. They came up close as well and good views and photos were had. I suspect they were still breeding.
Northern scrub-robin: The toughest bird to see at Iron Range. We waited till our last full day to have a crack at it after we had seen most of the other endemics. With patience and Brett’s superior hearing and eyesight we managed some excellent views. Good photos were harder to get of course but Charuka, an excellent bird photographer, did manage a couple of half decent shots. A couple of other scrub-robins were heard at various times.
Rufous songlark: Just a single bird was seen in Lakefield NP.
Zitting cisticola: After some effort about 4 birds were seen on a grassy plain in Lakefield NP. A tough bird to find and identify in the dry season, the late rains undoubtedly helped in our success.
Mistletoebird: A declining species due to the affects of climate change causing drought and bushfires to wipe out the mistletoe on which it feeds. One bird heard on the Tablelands and about six birds seen and another heard mainly about Musgrave/Lakefield. One bird seen about Iron Range.
Red-browed finch: Many seen of race temporalis about the Tablelands, and at Kingfisher Park around the feeders. The good wet and probably the cyclone has led to exceptional numbers of race minor at Iron Range. Many seen daily. Certainly, the best numbers I have encountered at Iron Range.
Black-bellied crimson finch: About ten seen about the cane fields on the northern outskirts of Cairns.
White-bellied crimson finch: Around thirty seen in a swampy country in Lakefield NP. Some good views were had of the adult males this year. Many juveniles were present. Quite localised in Lakefield; it only seems to occur over about twenty to thirty kilometres of the Park were suitable swampy habitat exists.
Masked finch: About thirty birds of the white-eared race seen in total over two days; all in the Musgrave/ Lakefield and Artemis station areas. Still breeding due to the late rains so were probably still spread out. Should breed up well this year as the area was still quite green and lush.
Black-throated finch: About eight birds of the black-rumped race seen over three days. Just a few seen north of Mt Carbine where they were once common. The best numbers were about the melaleuca swamps in Lakefield NP. Some also seen on Artemis Station this year. Due to the good wet they were still spread out and breeding.
Australian pipit: A couple of the northern race with the heavily streaked breast was seen in Lakefield NP.