Mar 18-23, Cairns and N. Queensland
It is a three hour flight from Sydney to Cairns, but you gain an hour and so we arrived at 9:30 pm, and had our van by 11:00. Plenty of time to head for the countryside, given our five days of city life in Sydney, but cyclone warnings kept us in town for two nights. At the caravan park we were told that we could be asked to leave at a moments notice and would be directed to high ground where we might need to wait out the storm.
We walked the esplanade in search of birds, continued that effort in the Botanical Gardens and shopped for our caravan days ahead, Cairns (I hear Can from the locals) is a sleepy sea front town whose primary purpose seems to be to get people out to the Great Barrier Reef and to deliver caravans to visitors. We ate and hung out in the large covered cook shelter at our caravan park. It has a half dozen picnic tables, 4 or 5 propane “barbies”, sinks, stoves and hot water on demand. The park is heavily treed and there are always birds flitting about and squawking.
On the evening the storm was to hit (at 2:00 am) we strapped everything in and were prepared to head off, but 2:00 came and went with nary a whisper.
In the morning we headed off to the Atherton Tablelands to give the north coast a few days to stabilize. The tablelands are about 900 m above sea level and the road switch baked up through the rainforest to somewhat cooler temperatures. We stopped for walk-abouts at Kuranda and Mareeba before choosing Granite Gorge to spend the night. We now began to see birds: Tawny Frog Mouths, a Kookaburra, and a fleeting look at a blue parrot with a yellow head. But the prime attraction here is the little Wallabies that eat out of your hand and you almost trip over in the dark.
In the morning we had a nice drive heading north now on quiet roads. Our first stop was at the Kingfisher lodge and Park, unfortunately closed for another month or so. Still ,the owner directed us to some birding paths and help identify some of the birds we saw. This would be a great spot to stay. The Buff breasted Paradise Kingfisher, Australian Fig Bird and Sea Eagle among a few others. We tried another off-road venture that we were directed to but turned back.
Our prime destination for the north of Queensland was The Daintree River. We checked into a Caravan Park at Daintree Village and booked a two hour river birding outing with “Sauce” for the morning. A drive brought a few more new birds including a lovely Forest Kingfisher. When we stepped into Sauce’s flat bottom river boat at 6:30 in the morning, his only customers,he told us his nickname came from his last name; Worcester. The Daintree is a wide lazy river on the edge of Daintree National Park. It is heavily forested and has some 400 species of birds. We were able to see about 40 in our two hour outing with Sauce. Like other good guides we have had he was able to spot birds we would never see, and was able to flesh out our experience with rich background on the habitat and local colour. Among the highlights for us were three small kingfishers; the sacred, the little, the azure. The later two the only “true” Australian Kingfishers in that they feed by diving. The Great Billed Heron, a Sea Eagle and a Jabiru or Black Necked Swan are large birds and the day was topped by a Papuan Frog Mouth plastered against the branch that would have camouflaged him from any but the most experienced birder.
We headed on from Daintree Village, continuing north across the river by ferry and up to Cape Tribulation, which will likely by our furthest east and north points in Australia. On a walk in the forest we stumbled on a Southern Cassowary. We have a couple more spots where there is a chance we could see one of these rare creatures that look like they would be more at home with the dinosaurs, but we were not really expecting to see one. This was a very find birding day.
We spent the night in Mosman, and then drove into Cairns in part to get help with our car window. The people we picked the car up from couldn’t help, but on the phone we were directed to push a square button that fixed our problem. We felt pretty stupid, but the man next to us in the caravan park made two trips back to his dealer to help with a similar vehicle.
Our birding will be put on hold for a day as we have booked for an all day cruise out onto the Barrier Reef tomorrow.