The Website The Birds Maps Virtual Tour
- EssaysEric Dinerstein William C. Young
FIELD NOTES FOR AUSTRALIA
November 5 - December 1, 1999
November 5, 1999
I arrived in Brisbane at about 8 a.m. after 26 hours of flying. My friend Diane was waiting at the airport. We met during Bird Week at O'Reilly's Rainforest Lodge in 1996 and have been friends ever since. This was my third birding trip to Australia since 1995. I told Diane I was not tired and we could begin to bird immediately. So by 8:45, we were looking at birds on a beautiful sunny spring morning. We birded until dinnertime, stopping only for tea and lunch. We spent the morning and early afternoon at the Boondall Wetlands, visiting the Nudgee Water Holes and Nudgee Beach Reserve and the grounds near the entertainment center. Boondall is the largest remaining wetlands habitat within Brisbane (more than 1,000 hectares). It includes intertidal mudflats, mangroves, paperbark forest, and dry eucalypt forest. In the afternoon, we birded at Harold Kelly Park and stopped at a roadside lagoon.
At the airport, the first bird I saw was, appropriately, a Welcome Swallow. The second was an Australian Magpie. We went to the Water Holes, where we found a perched Australian Hobby, whom we later saw flying. The mixture of habitats at Boondall contained a good variety of species. We saw about a half a dozen Australian Pelicans and a few Darters. Diane spotted a Striated Heron, who looked washed out and grey compared to the closely related Green Heron in the U.S. We saw flying Cattle Egrets, who looked reddish compared to the ones in the U.S. We saw a lot of White Ibises and one Royal Spoonbill, as well as quite a few Whistling and Brahminy Kites. The Brahminy Kites have a beautiful russet-and-white body and black wing tips.
We saw one fly-by Caspian Tern, and Whiskered Terns were at the wetlands. We saw Gull-billed Terns; some had a full black cap, while others had some black through the eye. We saw one Black-winged Stilt and a Marsh Sandpiper, who was light-colored and did not have a heavy bill. I saw Sulphur-crested Cockatoos at close range, but none of them separated their crests. We saw Rainbow Lorikeets and Pale-headed Rosellas. We heard a Brush Cuckoo, but did not see it. We had a fleeting look at a Pheasant Coucal and heard one a couple of times. We had good luck with kingfishers. We saw Sacred Kingfishers and heard quite a few. We saw Mangrove Kingfishers, who were larger and had a heavier bill. We saw the beautiful blue back of a Forest Kingfisher in almost perfect light. A lot of Rainbow Bee-eaters were flying around; their call sounded like a slightly slow referee's whistle.
Near our lunch spot, we looked out over the water and saw Eastern Curlews, Whimbrels, and many other waders who were too distant to identify. About ten feet away from the table where we ate lunch, we saw a young Crested Pigeon drinking milk from an adult and begging for more. In a big tree in front of our table, I saw a Striped Honeyeater, who was larger than the many Mangrove Honeyeaters in the same tree.
We went to the entertainment center at Boondall after lunch, where we saw Wandering Whistling-Ducks, Hardheads, Chestnut Teals, Pacific Black Ducks, and Australian Wood Ducks. We saw feral Mallards and some bastard ducks. Australia has a serious problem with Mallards interbreeding with and corrupting the gene pool of Pacific Black Ducks. Black ducks have two different colors of specula — some purple and some green. In looking at one of the ducks, I thought I was seeing both colors on the same speculum, but this may have resulted from how the light was hitting it. We later saw green on the wing of an Australian Wood Duck. We saw some very young Dusky Moorhens, who looked like miniature adults and had red beaks. Later in the day at a roadside lagoon, we saw an "adolescent" moorhen who had a yellow bill. The adult moorhens let out ear-curdling shrieks when we walked near where their chicks were swimming. The trees nearby had nesting cormorants — Little Pied and Little Black. We saw an adult Sacred Kingfisher with a youngster in a tree.
Dollarbirds have beautiful coloration on their wings when seen in good light. We saw one being harassed by a pair of Willie Wagtails at Harold Kelly Park. We saw Variegated Fairy-Wrens. The male had electric blue sideburns which hung unattached over his face. He also had a slash of brown on his back. The female Red-backed Fairy-Wren does not have red on her face like the female Superb and Variegated. The Brown Gerygone had a great song — like certain other gerygones, it sounded as if it couldn't sing on key. Diane said Noisy Miners have different alarm calls, depending on the threat. The spot behind the eye of the Brown Honeyeater can be difficult to see. The Rufous Whistler's song sounded like E Young, which was my father's name. The Grey Shrike-Thrush had a robust song with many variations, some of which sounded as if they ended in a question. I saw a white bar on the wing of a Grey Fantail. We saw many Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrikes and Silvereyes and heard the laughing calls of Torresian Crows. And we saw a Blue-tongued Lizard.
At a lagoon where we stopped in the late afternoon, we saw an Australasian Grebe in breeding plumage and had a fleeting glimpse of a Clamorous Reed-Warbler. We ended the day having seen almost 70 species.
Diane's friend Judith joined us early in the morning for a day of birding. We went to the Pine Mountain Road, Wivenhoe Dam Spillway, Cormorant's Rest, Hayes Inlet, and Cedar Flats. We ended the day at D'Aguilar National Park, which is part of Brisbane Forest Park on Mount Glorious. We got off to a muddled, albeit humorous, start. We missed an exit from one of the highways and went about 20 minutes out of our way. As we tried to get back to the correct route, we ended up on Blunder Road. Then as we were approaching where we wanted to go, we saw a sign that said we were on Progress Avenue.
At our first stop on the Pine Mountain Road, we saw many Double-barred Finches with their Barn-Owl faces. Their plumage had a lot of colors and patterns. We saw Yellow-rumped Thornbills, with their yellow rump, yellow breast, and light eyebrow. We saw a Striped Honeyeater with young. A lot of Red-backed Fairy-Wrens were in various places. I observed the red on the face of a female Superb Fairy-Wren. We proceeded to the Spillway, where we saw a large flock of Plumed Whistling-Ducks and heard them whistle in flight. We also saw baby Purple Swamphens — little black balls near the adults. We had nice looks at Scaly-breasted Lorikeets, who had red wing linings, unlike the Rainbow Lorikeets, whose linings are red-and-yellow. We scoped Long-billed Corellas at close range. They were probably from a feral colony of released birds. We had lunch near the dam. We saw a large number of herons. We saw a Little Egret, who had black legs and a black bill, with two plumes coming out of the back of its head. We saw a lot of Cattle Egrets. A Channel-billed Cuckoo flew by, with its long thin "walking stick" flight profile.
We drove to Cormorant's Rest. The highlight was seeing a pair of Koalas (mother and offspring) hugging each other in a tree near the parking lot. We later saw another Koala as we hiked along one of the trails. We saw Little Black Cormorants feeding in the presence of Australian Pelicans. Diane said that cormorants often do this. We saw about ten White-bellied Sea-Eagles, who had pronounced dihedrals. We once saw three soaring together. We saw Little Friarbirds fighting with young Blue-faced Honeyeaters, who appeared to have green faces. We saw a female Rufous Whistler, who is an LBJ with a streaked breast.
We had a nice look at a family of Grey-crowned Babblers, who were grooming each other. Alexander Skutch includes a section on Grey-crowned Babblers in his book Helpers at Birds' Nests. At the same spot, a Black-shouldered Kite was perched at the top of a dead tree. A wetlands area called Hayes Inlet was productive. A pair of Great-crested Grebes was building a nest on floating grass. They stretched their necks back a lot and were preening. Two Australasian Grebes were in non-breeding plumage, lacking the yellow face mark. We saw a distant Yellow-billed Spoonbill standing with two other spoonbills who were sleeping with their heads under their wings. Through my telescope, I thought I could see a trace of black on the face of one, who could have been a Royal, but we were very far away. Two or three Latham's Snipes flew around. We saw a Richard's Pipit, who showed white edges on its tail when it flew. We had a close look at Black-fronted Dotterels. We watched a great performance by some Golden-headed Cisticolas. They were very vocal, making short buzzer-like noises. The male had a golden head and the female a striped head.
We saw and heard Pheasant Coucals throughout the day and heard one Common Koel at Cedar Flats. This area allowed us to hear some of the same species who are found near O'Reilly's. We saw a Scarlet Honeyeater in a bush with red flowers. Mount Glorious has rainforest habitat similar to O'Reilly's. We saw a Brown Cuckoo-Dove; it had a lot of color variation in its brown plumage as it gulped down large tobacco berries. We found a neck-breaking Wompoo Fruit-Dove straight over our heads in bad light. It turned around on the branch, and we could make out the colors on its underside. We heard a Noisy Pitta, and I got a fleeting glimpse of its shape on the rainforest floor. Brown Gerygones were singing their drumroll song rather than their off-key song. I found a Black-faced Monarch and saw its grey bib. We heard a Paradise Riflebird but did not see it. And we saw a group of Satin Bowerbirds in bad light.
Today was mostly a travel day. Diane drove me from Brisbane to O'Reilly's so that I could attend their annual Bird Week. In Brisbane, I saw flying Scaly-breasted Lorikeets. I heard a Common Koel this morning, but never saw one. On the drive up, I saw a lot of Nankeen Kestrels on wires; when perched, they flicked their tails like American Kestrels. We stopped briefly at Canungra, where we saw Noisy Friarbirds being harassed by Noisy Miners, who seemed to harass everything. Diane stayed at O'Reilly's for lunch, and we saw people we both remembered from 1996 Bird Week. Before she left, we walked around a bit. We saw Red-necked Pademelons, one of whom was more uniformly reddish than the others.
I went back to my room to briefly unpack before hitting the trails. O'Reilly's had upgraded its rooms significantly. Construction was still in progress, and my room (27) was next to a construction site. The bedspreads had Regent Bowerbirds on them; the Regent Bowerbird is on the O'Reilly's logo. A print of an Eastern Whipbird over one bed and a Tawny Frogmouth was over the other.
I loved to walk along the rainforest trails at O'Reilly's. This was the first time I was doing so after having had the benefit of studying Dave Stewart's recordings of the birdsong of the area, so I had a much easier time identifying what was around. I encountered the three main LBJs in the area. One of the most frequently heard sounds in the rainforest is the drumroll song of the Brown Gerygone. I saw a Large-billed Scrubwren, with its dark eye and dark bill. It was stripping bark to get nesting material. And I saw a Brown Thornbill, with its streaked front. I heard a lot of Golden Whistlers, whose song had a little whipcrack at the end, but I never saw one. Likewise, I heard but did not see a Paradise Riflebird. I heard a very-close Russet-tailed Thrush singing pee-poo, but I could not find it. I had never positively identified this bird on my two previous trips to O'Reilly's. I was told that the tail is shorter than the Bassian Thrush's, and the Russet-tailed moves around more quickly.
I encountered an Australian Brush-Turkey sitting in a path, and I walked very close to him. He eventually got up, but he did not run as I passed. I watched him pecking for worms. I had forgotten how fat the Wonga Pigeons are. I saw a lot of Regent Bowerbirds. I found a bower of a Satin Bowerbird; the male was dancing nearby and making his sputtering call. Before the evening welcome reception, I walked up the Border Track and heard a Noisy Pitta, an Albert's Lyrebird, and a Paradise Riflebird. I saw two yowling Green Catbirds, and later, two brush-turkeys aggressively chasing each other.
After dinner, Glen Trelfo showed the premiere of his new video about the Albert's Lyrebird. The video had remarkable footage of one of the magical birds of the world. After the presentation, I went outside and heard a Southern Boobook and a Tawny Frogmouth.
I got up before 5 a.m. and walked on some of the rainforest paths near the guesthouse. At 5:40, I was at the entrance to the botanical gardens and heard an Albert's Lyrebird singing loudly inside. I walked toward the singing and had a great look at a male perched on a rock and then on a branch. I saw the russet back and the tail plumes. He then disappeared down the hill outside the gardens, where I continued to hear him. It was the best look I had ever had of one. About ten minutes later, I flushed a female in the gardens.
A lot of aggressive Golden Whistlers were chasing each other at the entrance to the botanical gardens. I saw an Eastern Whipbird singing, and it raised its wings to put extra oomph into the whipcrack. I have noticed that Logrunners are often found in groups. I saw quite a few Black-faced Monarchs. I saw the funnel nest of a Grey Fantail. I went to a large fig tree near the staff headquarters where I was told that a riflebird frequently displayed, but he was not there.
On an organized walk before breakfast, we saw a lot of Topknot Pigeons feeding in fruit trees just down the hill from the guesthouse. I saw a flying White-headed Pigeon and heard a lot more. Graham Pizzey said they are closely related to Rock Pigeons. We saw a group of at least four Shining Bronze-Cuckoos, whose call is like a person whistling for a dog. Diane gave me some sultanas to feed to the Regent Bowerbirds. I love to have these birds on my hands, especially so that I can see the stunning yellow-orange patch on the crowns of the breeding males.
Graham Pizzey led a short orientation session after breakfast. He showed a slide of a Wonga Pigeon and said that the speckled vent area provides camouflage at the nest. He said that in size and behavior, the Eastern Spinebill is the Australian bird most like the hummingbirds. I had always thought the Yellow-bellied Sunbird was.
We separated into groups for hikes toward Morans Falls by different routes. I chose the hike down the Wishing Tree Track, which is behind the guesthouse. The track was difficult to enter because of construction work. On the track, we saw a Grey Goshawk's nest. Some people saw a pair of goshawks nearby. At the bottom of the track, I saw a soaring Grey Goshawk. I had a fleeting look at a White-throated Treecreeper. I heard both a Rose Robin and Spotted Pardalote, but saw neither. The Eastern Yellow Robins were very tame. One flew right up to us, perhaps because a nest was nearby. Nesting for many species was late this year. Graeme Chapman found a Brown Thornbill nest that had been built in the nest of a Yellow-throated Scrubwren, whose nest looked like a hairy hanging lantern. I saw some Red-browed Finches flying at the bottom of Wishing Tree.
By lunchtime, clouds and rain set in. While the weather around O'Reilly's could change quickly, I did not think it would change quickly enough to continue by bus to Moonlight Crag and Balancing Rock for more afternoon birding. Instead, I took a bus back to the guesthouse. Graham Pizzey knew I was looking for a Russet-tailed Thrush, and he had seen them yesterday near the botanical gardens. He and his wife Sue came to my room, and we walked in the rain to look for one. As we were walking, some hikers pushed an Emerald Dove into the path in front of us. We had no luck finding thrushes. Earlier in the day, I had seen a thrush near the Border Track whom I think was a Bassian. Graeme Chapman said that the two species are almost impossible to tell apart visually.
At dinner, I sat at a table with Graham Pizzey and Dr. David Hollands, the author of a new book about Australian kingfishers and kookaburras, and the author of another book which I have at home about the owls, frogmouths and nightjars of Australia. I asked him about the small white spot that so many kingfishers have near their bill. One possible explanation is that the spot may serve a similar purpose to the false eyes on the wings of some moths. Graham also mentioned that a lot of kingfishers seem to have a white line on the back of the neck. This might have something to do with visually breaking up the color of the bird to blend in better with the surroundings and provide camouflage from predators.
After dinner, Dr. Hollands gave a slide presentation about kingfishers and kookaburras. His slides were gorgeous, and some of them looked more like art photography than nature photography, especially the shots of kingfishers in flight.
On the Morans Falls Track this morning before breakfast, I saw two thrushes. One looked smaller and lighter than the other. I saw white in the tail when it flew, which would indicate a Russet-tailed. The other one I saw very closely, but I never saw it fly or heard it call before it disappeared. I'm pretty sure I saw a Noisy Pitta fly — a flash of bright blue on the rainforest floor. Before going in to eat, I whipped out another handful of sultanas for the Regent Bowerbirds. My right hand and arm were becoming rather clawed up.
After breakfast, I got into one of the buses for a trip to the lagoons, which stopped at Canungra, Tamborine Village, Beaudesert, and Nindooinda Dam. We came back along the Duck Creek Road. On the way down the mountain, we stopped at one spot and saw many raptors. A Collared Sparrowhawk (judging from size, probably a female) was flying with a Brown Falcon. Wedge-tailed Eagles in the distance looked a bit like turkey vultures — large, dark soaring birds with dihedral wings. We had a lovely look in good sunlight at a Nankeen Kestrel, who was light underneath. At the same spot, a flock of Figbirds was feeding. In another spot, we saw a Tawny Frogmouth on a nest; she looked just like a branch. In Canungra, the Noisy Miners were still relentlessly chasing the Noisy Friarbirds. The people on one of the buses saw a Duck-billed Platypus in the creek in Canungra.
We saw quite a few waterbirds. There were 47 Plumed Whistling-Ducks, who are often found in flocks at the edges of ponds. I saw Grey Teals, who had white on their wings in flight. The Australian Wood Ducks also had a white wing pattern in flight. We saw a Hardhead, who had its eye open when its bill was under its wing. We scoped an Australasian Grebe on a nest and another with a chick on its back. A Great-crested Grebe in the same area was diving a lot. We had an amazing look at a Royal Spoonbill (one of two) with a crest of breeding plumes. I saw light shining through the slits in its bill. We saw a Dusky Moorhen with one chick. And we had good looks at the very red heads of some Comb-crested Jacanas. A highlight was seeing a Black-necked Stork at a nest. Nearby was a male stork who took a fish to some nearby grass and tried to flip it into position to eat. At the same spot, a Golden-headed Cisticola flew in like the ones I had seen on Saturday with Diane. I could recognize the buzzer-like diddle-lit song. Some Little Corellas flew by.
At Nindooinda, we saw the nests of a Striped Honeyeater and a Noisy Friarbird in the same tree. At the park where we ate lunch, we saw a Banded Dragon, who had a black eye stripe. In the same park, we had a beautiful look at a Chestnut-breasted Mannikin, who had a black band under the chestnut on its breast. The head was grey, and the bill was silver. I also saw a juvenile, with a light chestnut breast and no black band. A Clamorous Reed-Warbler was in the reeds nearby. We could see the skin under its throat feathers as it sang. It sounded like a mockingbird, singing phrases three times. We could actually see the yellow/orange inside of its mouth, which Graham Pizzey's field guide uses as a diagnostic mark for distinguishing it from the Great Reed-Warbler, whose mouth lining is salmon-colored. We saw the reed-warbler's nest, which was globular. On the ride back, we saw Red-necked Wallabies and Grey Kangaroos.
I think I finally saw a Russet-tailed Thrush. This morning, I went out at 4:50, because thrushes are most likely to sing at dawn and dusk. I didn't hear them at the Wishing Tree Track, where I had heard one on Sunday. Nor did I see or hear a thrush around the botanical gardens. But down the hill from the guesthouse, I saw a bird who appeared to have a short, russet tail, and there was no scalloping on the rump. I saw it fly, but it did not spread its tail, so I could not see if there were white edges. Inside the rainforest, I heard a Russet-tailed singing its plaintive save me (pee-poo) song. As it was singing, another thrush in the same general vicinity popped up. Unfortunately, the one I saw was not the one singing. I tried to walk a bit off the track toward the singing bird, but my walking was too noisy. I heard another Russet-tailed singing on the walk back from Python Rock this afternoon. In front of the guesthouse this afternoon, I saw what I think was a Bassian — the tail was long, and there appeared to be scalloping on the rump. I saw a similar bird from the bus as we were about to leave for Snake Ridge.
This morning, I saw a smutty White-headed Pigeon perched over the road — probably a young bird. Topknot Pigeons were still chowing down in the trees. I saw a female Rose Robin hopping near where a male was singing. An Eastern Whipbird I watched singing this morning did not raise his wings at the whipcrack like the one the other day. When I returned to the guesthouse for breakfast, I brought more sultanas for the Regent Bowerbirds. My hands and arms were now covered with scratches; the young Regents were the most aggressive. The Satin Bowerbirds jumped up to grab sultanas but would not perch on my hand. The Crimson Rosellas would grab a sultana and spend a lot of time squeezing it in their bill rather than swallowing it whole. A Rainbow Lorikeet hopped onto my hand. The leg feathers were rainbow-colored rather than solid. Someone told me that they have been introduced into New Zealand, which is causing problems.
After breakfast, I went on the walk to Snake Ridge and the Valley of Pines, led by Graeme Chapman. In this area were species who live in eucalypt forest rather than rainforest. Michael Snedic, a naturalist who works at O'Reilly's and has been working closely with Glen Trelfo, also came on the walk. Some people saw a soaring Wedge-tailed Eagle and a white-phase Grey Goshawk, but I was too far back on the path to see either. We had good looks at a group of Red-browed Treecreepers. They had heavy spotting on their flanks. The White-throated Treecreeper is found in both eucalypts and rainforest, but the Red-browed is found only in eucalypts. I heard a lot of Spotted Pardalotes and saw the yellow vent of one. Later, some people saw a pair nesting in an orchid plant, even though they usually nest in mud banks. We saw Striated Thornbills, as well as Yellow-faced, White-naped, and Scarlet Honeyeaters. I saw my first Land Mullet; it was long and black and looked very muscular.
O'Reilly's has a lot to observe all around the grounds, and you don't have to travel far to find it. I saw a pademelon on the lawn with a joey. I watched an Eastern Spinebill drinking nectar near my room, and I could see why Graham Pizzey said that they are like hummingbirds. There was a large active Satin Bowerbird bower just down the path from the back entrance to the dining room. I also visited the bower of Jock, the old Satin Bowerbird. He was still around, although Michael O'Reilly told me that Jock had lost a toe. Michael also showed me a Regent Bowerbird's bower, the first I had ever seen. It was in the bushes a few doors from my room. It was a plain avenue bower with only a few brown items.
After lunch, I went on a trip led by Glen Trelfo and Ian Gynther to Python Rock. Before the bus left, Michael Snedic said that Glen had found the nest of an Eastern Yellow Robin not far into the Border Track and asked if I would be interested in seeing it. Just as we entered the Border Track, Michael spotted a female lyrebird scratching around down the slope. Later in the afternoon, Glen showed us lyrebird scratchings in the dirt as well as lyrebird droppings (white circles with flecks of green). Glen estimated that George, the lyrebird on the Python Rock Track who stars in his new video, was at least 30 years old. We saw the main perch that had been featured in the video and one of the hides that had been used for photographing the perch. Obtaining such footage required enormous patience and countless hours sitting in cramped hides in the wee hours of the morning. We had a great look at a male Paradise Riflebird. While vocalizing, its iridescent chest was puffed out, and I saw the yellow mouth lining. As we were walking, Ian Gynther said Rufous Fantails migrate and are not at O'Reilly's year-round. The Grey Fantail is a year-round resident.
After dinner, we spotlighted for owls and frogmouths. A distant Sooty Owl responded to a tape but never came close. We also heard Masked Lapwings in the dark. A pair of Marbled Frogmouths responded to a tape. I saw one fly — a large spectral form. Some people saw one perched, but I didn't get on it. The bird makes some of my favorite sounds in the bird world, punctuated by loud bill claps. I wonder what native people thought when they heard these strange vocalizations in the dark.
Because of the long drive for our trip to see waders, breakfast was scheduled for 6:20 this morning, so there was not much time to walk around beforehand. I saw a female riflebird pecking at bark, perhaps searching for insects. I heard a pitta and a lyrebird. When I returned, I looked at the Regent Bowerbird's bower near my room. He put decorations inside the avenue rather than around it like the Satin. Some items had been added since yesterday. The bird had cleared the area around the bower so that there was bare dirt on which to display.
A highlight of Bird Week so far was a stop at Canungra Creek where we saw a Duck-billed Platypus swimming. It seemed to have quadrilateral symmetry; the tail looked like the bill, and each quarter looked about the same. It was relatively small and swam flat on the water surface as if it had been dropped there from a great height. It swam sinuously and periodically dove, resurfacing flat. Graham Pizzey said they are camouflaged to look like logs by swimming this way. On the way to Canungra, the female Tawny Frogmouth was still on her nest . We also saw a male on a branch over the road.
Our destination for the day was the Gold Coast. We drove to the Nerang River and took a boat trip to the Spit and South Stradbroke Island. We had lunch at Macintosh Park. In the afternoon, we visited the Coombabah Sewage Works (which Diane calls the "poo pits") and the Oxonford Quarries.
After our boat ride to Stradbroke, we saw Sanderlings and Red-necked Stints. The stints were like little wind-up toys with dark heads, contrasting the white heads of the Sanderlings. A Red-capped Plover was foraging among them. The same area had Curlew Sandpipers, who were in drab plumage but could be identified by their curved bill. We saw a large mixed group of Greater and Lesser Sand-Plovers. The beak of the Greater was longer (about the length of the head). The beak of the Lesser was stubby. Both looked drab. It was difficult to identify them by size unless the two species were side-by-side. We saw the crest of a Crested Tern blowing in the wind. The back was dark grey, and the yellow bill was large and curved.
Walking around Stradbroke, we saw White-cheeked Honeyeaters, who resembled the New Holland. They had yellow on their wings. We saw a pair of Rufous Whistlers, male and female. In the same area, we saw a Little Shrike-Thrush, who was brown underneath. I had a brief look at a flying Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo. We had a nice look a Leaden Flycatcher, who swung its tail from side-to-side. Further along, we saw three Beach Stone-Curlews fly over. I never saw them on the ground. They were fairly large, and an Eastern Curlew was chasing them. The Gull-billed Terns looked white underneath. On the return boat trip, we saw a Pied Cormorant — they were far less numerous than the Little Pied. We saw a reef with a flock of Bar-tailed Godwits. The same bar had Eastern Curlews. Near where we landed, we saw an Osprey with a fish. We also saw a Peregrine Falcon fly by.
Striated Herons were on the riverbank at Macintosh Park during lunch. We had close looks at Crested Pigeons near where we ate, and I saw a wash of pink on the neck. We also saw Yellow-rumped Thornbills. I saw the eyestripe, and when one dropped to the ground, I saw the spots on its crown. We did not have much time at the poo pits. It was probably just as well, because the mount on my telescope had broken, so I was a bit preoccupied with that. A lot of Australasian Grebes were swimming there. A Marsh Sandpiper walked along the edge of an impoundment. I heard a Common Koel, but as usual, it was concealed in a tree on the other side of a fence.
At Oxonford, we saw six Magpie Goose goslings, who were little brown balls. Two adults were with them, both of whom may have both been females, because males usually mate with two females who share in the raising of young. A flock of Wandering Whistling-Ducks was swimming in the same area. Ian waded around the edge of the water to try to flush rails, but none came up. A Golden-headed Cisticola sang from the top of a tree. On the drive back up the mountain, we saw some Whiptail (Pretty-faced) Wallabies, who had a black-and-white facial pattern. At dinner, I saw a Mountain Brushtail Possum and a Sugar Glider at a feeder outside a dining room window.
Before breakfast, I saw a pair of White-headed Pigeons on a branch over the road near the entrance to the Python Rock Track — probably the same spot where I saw one two days earlier. One was a young bird. Some Grey Shrike-Thrushes sang a mellifluous stuttering "oriole" song, seeming to say o-o-o-o-oriole. Not all of them did the initial stutter. This species had a varied repertoire of rich songs.
I went on the walk to Cainbable Creek with Graham Pizzey, Ian Gynther, Lloyd Nielsen, and Michael Snedic. Last year on this walk, Lloyd and others heard some Coxen's Fig-Parrots, but did not see them. Ian had done a lot of work with this very elusive bird, whom he said some people call the "Coxen's Figment of the Imagination" or the "Dead Parrots Society".
The Cainbable Walk featured a mixture of rainforest, Hoop Pines, and eucalypt forest. On the walk, I finally had a good look at a male Rose Robin. I was by myself, as the group ahead was out of range and the group behind was lagging. The robin hopped onto a branch, and I watched him for about thirty seconds. This morning before breakfast, I had a fleeting glimpse of the pink on a male. We had a few good looks at Brown Cuckoo-Doves, who may be so named because they sit like a cuckoo and have a cuckoo-like tail. I have seen few cuckoos on this trip. Today, I heard Brush and Fan-tailed Cuckoos, and I had a fleeting glimpse of a Shining Bronze-Cuckoo. A Rufous Fantail had vertical streaks on its breast. I saw one who came closer and closer until it was hopping right in front of my face — I had made no effort to squeak it in. I saw more Striated Thornbills. I tried to see Yellow Thornbills directly overhead at the top of some tall Hoop Pines, but I only heard them. The Hoop Pine is so named because the bark remains intact after the inside rots away. Some people on the Cainbable Walk saw a Spectacled Monarch, but I was too far back on the narrow rainforest path. Ian found a Grey Goshawk nest, which was large and in the open. We saw feathers sticking out the side, so it may have been an active nest.
After lunch, we had a quick glance at a fly-by raptor who may have been a Collared Sparrowhawk. We saw a flycatcher whom I think was a Leaden, because it looked greyish. However, it may have been a Satin, because light can sometimes play tricks with one's eyes. We saw a Cicadabird, who was solid grey with a black mask. Graham Pizzey said that the cicada-like trill may startle cicadas and make them easier to catch. I saw a Spotted Pardalote, who can be difficult to find, because they often stay still when they are in trees. I saw one fly in and recognized the chunky, short-tailed profile.
At dinner, a Carpet Python was curled up under a feeder just outside one of the dining room windows as two Mountain Brushtail Possums were feeding. While we were eating, Ian, who was a leader at O'Reilly's Mammal Week in 1996 which Diane attended, told me how the platypus feeds by sensing electric fields of potential prey. He said that some types of sharks can do this with such sensitivity that it is pointless for a human swimmer to think about trying to escape detection anywhere near the presence of them. We talked about some of the bird species who were not seen at Bird Week this year. I was surprised to learn that the Fork-tailed Swifts we had seen on the lagoons trip during 1996 Bird Week were very uncommon — this species has not been seen this year. Likewise, nobody had seen a Musk Duck, my favorite Australian bird.
After dinner, Graeme Chapman gave a slide presentation. He showed how to sex some cockatoos by eye color — females have pink eyes and males dark eyes. He showed slides of the enormous damage done by feral pigs digging around for food. My favorite slide was of Black-faced Woodswallows, who sleep piled every which way in a cluster — it reminded me of Picasso's painting Guernica.
This was my final day at O'Reilly's. In order to catch a flight to Cairns by six in the afternoon, I had to leave just after lunch and miss the cookout on the final evening of Bird Week. I walked along the Border Track before breakfast, content mostly to listen to the sounds of the rainforest rather than trying to see birds. After breakfast, I went for a walk on the Blue Falls Track with a group led by Graham Pizzey to look for Noisy Pittas. We didn't see any, but we heard a Wompoo Fruit-Dove. Not many fruit-doves have been seen during Bird Week this year — either Wompoos or Rose-crowned. We had good looks at two Land Mullets. I saw a pair of Large-billed Scrubwrens. Someone described the bill as resembling Pinocchio's nose that had been stuck on. I saw a female Golden Whistler, who was dull, with yellow undertail coverts. Graham said that he had seen five small parrots from his balcony this morning flying over the Wishing Tree Track. Little Lorikeets are unlikely in the rainforest, which raised the possibility that they may have been the very rare Coxen's race of the Double-eyed Fig-Parrot.
After the walk, I returned to my room to do my final packing. In addition to Diane coming to pick me up, my friend Lavina and her husband Mark (from Beenleigh) came by. I met Lavina on my 1995 visit to O'Reilly's, and we have kept in touch. At the time, she was more of a frogger, and she was guarded in displaying her enthusiasm about birds. But she has since come out of the avian closet, and she and Mark are now spending their vacations studying endangered Orange-bellied Parrots in Tasmania. They sat with me and Diane at lunch, and it was good to catch up.
I said good-bye to a lot of the people with whom I had spent the week. Among them were Gunther and Ursula, a couple who last year had been on the same Cairns to Cape York trip with John Young on which I was about to embark. Ursula and others warned me about scrub itch. It is caused by mites and can produce large itchy welts, particularly in one's soft parts. On the drive from O'Reilly's to Brisbane Airport, Diane took me to a chemist to buy tropical-strength repellant.
On the drive down, we stopped in Canungra to look for the platypus, but with no luck. We did see Dusky Moorhens and Little Pied Cormorants. Some young moorhens fed on the shoulder of one of the roads to the airport. And in an urban area, a Common Koel flew over our car and spread its tail to resemble the martial bird on the old German postage stamps. Diane and I had a drink at the airport before my plane left. It is always sad to say good-bye to friends in Australia, because they live 10,000 miles away, and I have no idea if and when I'll ever see them again.
While waiting for a shuttle bus at the Cairns airport, I saw a Bush Stone-Curlew hunting insects. It seemed to flash its wings like a mockingbird as it danced around. I went off to meet up with my friend Diana, an artist from Cooma in New South Wales. As with Diane, I had met Diana during O'Reilly's 1996 Bird Week, and we have kept in touch ever since. Diana had convinced Michael and Margaret from the Brisbane area to come along with us to Cape York. We had met them during 1996 Bird Week, and they, like me, were novices to camping. They were at Bird Week this year and had left yesterday to pack for Cape York. Only seven people registered for the Cape York trip, and four of us already knew each other. It will also help that we four already know John Young, the trip leader who was also a leader at 1996 Bird Week.
During the night, I heard more Bush Stone-Curlews wailing like banshees -- another sound that must have given chills to native people.
John Young and the Oz Tours bus came to pick up Diana and me at 7:00 a.m. We then went to pick up the Michael and Margaret, who were staying around the corner. We then picked up two other people: Dave from Victoria and Desley from Queensland. Our cook was Rick, and our driver was Scotty, who was also a very accomplished naturalist. After packing the bus, we went from Cairns along the Kuranda Range through Mareeba to Southedge (Quaid's Dam/Mitchell Dam), which was 25 kilometers north of Mareeba. We stopped at Mount Molloy on our way to our lunch stop at Lakeland Downs. Then we drove through cattle country to reach our base camp at Artemis Station for two nights. We stopped and briefly birded near the Moorhead River along the way.
At Southedge, we saw Green Pygmy-Geese, who had dark flanks. We also saw Wandering Whistling-Ducks. We saw Glossy Ibises in wonderful light, a new Australian bird for me. We saw all three sizes of egrets. The Intermediate had a shorter, straighter, and seemingly thicker neck than the Great Egret. Two Brolgas were feeding in unison.
We had a great morning for raptor-watching. At Mount Molloy, we saw the nest of a Square-tailed Kite, with a young bird who appeared ready to fledge. The young bird had a red head and breast. The male and female then flew in. This is the only Australian hawk whose folded wings extend beyond its tail. The female had a red breast and white trousers. I saw white windows on the wings of the male. In a nearby tree was a Pacific Baza on the nest. We saw the head looking out at us. Also nearby was a female Collared Sparrowhawk, perched and vocalizing. I saw a slight fork in her tail when she was perched. The Brown Goshawk had a rounder tail. As we headed back toward the bus, we saw a perched Australian Hobby, with its white breast and black executioner's hood. Near the Square-tailed Kite nest, we saw a Lemon-bellied Flycatcher. I saw the black legs and light yellow breast. During the day, we saw lots of Black Kites. We also saw a lovely Spotted Harrier, who was red underneath.
At lunch, we saw courting Dollarbirds high in the bare branches of a tree at Lakeland Downs. They pumped their heads in unison while sitting close together and vocalizing. There were a lot of Yellow Honeyeaters about. They had a very lemony breast and a slightly olive back. I had been seeing them all morning, including at the hotel. Likewise. I had seen a lot of Pied Imperial-Pigeons.
At an area near the Moorhead River, we saw a flock of Radjah Shelducks. They were beautiful black-and-white ducks with a brown ring around the breast and a washed-out pink bill. They acted skittish. We saw Wandering Whistling-Ducks in the same place, along with Brolgas feeding on the edge of the water. Nearby, we walked into a wooded area and saw the bower of a Great Bowerbird. The avenue seemed much thicker than the ones I had seen on previous trips, and the sides formed a dome. The bower had a base of sticks, with the avenue walls stuck into the base. Decorations, which included a lot of white stones, were both in and around the bower. The male tries to coax the female through the avenue and then mount her from behind. In the same area, we saw Peaceful Doves. John found a Red-backed Fairy-Wren's nest with eggs. The female was nearby. We saw a lot of White-crowned Babbler nests, which were built close together.
We saw fly-by Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos, who had longer wings and slower wingbeats than crows. We also saw fly-by Red-winged Parrots. Late in the afternoon, we saw White-throated Needletails. We saw a Blue-winged Kookaburra in a tree. The blue on the wing was prominent, and the head was lighter than the Laughing Kookaburra's. I read in the new book by Dr. Hollands that in areas where both species of kookaburras occur, the Blue-winged is dominant. We saw both Black-faced and White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrikes. The White-bellied had a black mask rather than a black face and bib. We saw Agile Wallabies by the road; they had a white stripe on their leg.
Today we birded around Artemis Station. In the afternoon, we went to a watering hole called Loumba.
At Artemis this morning, we saw the blue-cheeked race of the Pale-headed Rosella. The cheek appeared to be half white and half blue. We saw the dark-headed race of the Striated Pardalote and the yellow race of the Weebill. I saw Little Friarbirds, with their bluish faces. We found a Southern Boobook in a tree, being mobbed by Black-backed Butcherbirds. They were similar to Pied Butcherbirds, but they had white throats, while the Pied's throat is black. They also were more skittish. We saw a few of the mud bowl nests of Magpie-Larks. From the breakfast table, I saw a Great Bowerbird and got a glimpse of the pink on the back of his neck.
After breakfast, I had a telescope look at a pair of Golden-shouldered Parrots. The male's breast was a much richer turquoise than is shown in the field guides. He had a dark face, a red vent, a long tail, and a golden slash on each wing. The female was more uniformly lime-green. This is one of the two Cape York endemic species found nowhere else in either Australia or the rest of the world. Later in the day, we saw a male and female in a tree. The back of the male's head looked black. We saw a few Masked Finches at a feeding trough not far from where I scoped the parrots. They were large, mostly brown finches, with a long tail, black mask, and a yellow bill. Feeding with them were Double-barred Finches.
We saw a Brown Falcon's nest. The nestling looked a bit like ET. John said that hobbies and Brown Falcons are the only Australian raptors who nest in old crow nests. A Black-breasted Buzzard flew over, and I saw its white wing patches. We saw male and female Black-necked Storks. The Masked Lapwings here were smaller than the race in the south. We saw four Channel-billed Cuckoos fly by. When more than one of these cuckoos called at the same time, the sound resembled the bugling of a crane. John said that a Channel-billed Cuckoo will lay all her eggs in one nest and then pick up the nestlings after they have been raised by the foster parents — crows, ravens, currawongs, choughs, Collared Sparrowhawks (two records) and Magpie-Larks (one record). We saw a small group of Banded Honeyeaters, with their sharp black breastband. The Yellow-tinted Honeyeater was a new bird for me. It had a yellow face, with a black- and-yellow neck slash. It resembled the Fuscous and White-plumed Honeyeaters (who are in the same genus) I had seen on previous trips. The Black-faced Woodswallow makes a small nest; we did not see the bird. We had nice looks at a male White-winged Triller and the much plainer female. From the bus, we saw one perched Jacky Winter, as well as a few Agile Wallabies.
As we approached our lunch spot, we saw about a dozen Squatter Pigeons. They walked on the road in front of our bus without flushing. I could see the orange on the face and the white slash near the wing. At least one had iridescent purple on its wing. A Brolga bugled as it flew over the billabong where we ate lunch. We saw an adult and juvenile Nankeen Night-Heron in a tree. The juvenile resembled juvenile American night-herons. We saw and heard White-throated Gerygones. As with some of the Brown Gerygones I heard near Brisbane, the song was wonderfully off-key. I saw Brown-backed Honeyeaters, who had reddish bills but were otherwise fairly plain, with a brown back and a white breast. We saw a fly-by Yellow Oriole, who had a light band at the end of its tail.
At our lunch site, Diana and I walked a bit with Sue Shephard, who was our host at Artemis Station. I sensed from observing Sue's relaxed manner that one pretty much has to be relaxed to survive in Cape York. She said in a totally unemotional voice that last year when the river rose over the roads, she couldn't leave the area for six weeks. She acted as if this were no big deal. We asked her about crocodiles, and she said that the "salties" are far more aggressive than the "freshies". She said that once, her son had brought a couple of their dogs to the river, and the salties got one of the dogs. In the same unemotional voice, she said that at least the crocs had not gotten her son. She said that sometimes when people are fishing, the crocs will come around and wait for a fish to bite a hook and then go after the fish being reeled in.
This afternoon, Scotty found a pair of Tawny Frogmouths. One was perched in a tree in its camouflage posture. The other flushed from a nearby tree. During Bird Week, Graham Pizzey said that frogmouths, despite their size, are weak, and they are preyed upon by other birds if they show themselves during the day. In John's Wings of Silence video, he mentions that although frogmouths look like owls, who are predators, they are more closely related to nightjars, who are not. At the same spot, we saw the nest of a Black-breasted Buzzard with a nestling who had pinfeathers on its back. The nest had sticks hanging from the bottom. I saw seemingly thousands of tiny black tadpoles in a stream in the afternoon. Scotty said that they were cane toads, and because they are poisonous, nothing eats them.
When you sleep under the stars, you discover that some birds vocalize all night, including many of the cuckoos. I heard a Common Koel get attacked in mid-call by a predator and utter a dying gasp at the end.
At Artemis Station before breakfast, we saw Silver-crowned Friarbirds. I saw the silver head and the small knob on the bill. We also saw a few Common Koels this morning. We saw the opening to a Rainbow Bee-eater nest in a mud bank — a tunnel leads back to the nest. We had good looks at Blue-winged Kookaburras. The bill looked large, and there was blue on both the wing and the tail. John said that the older they get, the paler they become on the breast. After breakfast, we packed our tents and then drove through Musgrave, up over the Bamboo Range of the Great Divide and into Coen. We passed through Mungkan Kaanju National Park on our way to the Archer River. We ultimately reached our new campsite along the Wenlock River.
We had a good view of a soaring Black-breasted Buzzard. It appeared to be almost all dark, with one white primary near the tip of each wing. It had a dihedral when soaring, like a Wedge-tailed Eagle. A Brown Falcon we saw was white underneath. We saw two hobby chicks at a nest. We stopped along the road and looked at some pitcher plants, which are carnivorous. At lunch along the Archer River, we saw a Brown Goshawk being harassed by a friarbird. We saw Orchard Butterflies mating in flight. We also saw a birdwing, who had bright green wings. We saw a Two-lined Dragon — a small lizard who is also called a "ta-ta" lizard. We heard a Pheasant Coucal at lunch. Some of us put on bathing suits (which Australians call "swimmers" or "swimming costumes") and took a dip.
We saw a hole in a bank that was used as a nest for an Azure Kingfisher. We found a Large-billed Gerygone, who was brown on the back and white underneath. We heard a Fairy Gerygone. Later, we saw a Helmeted Friarbird, who was larger than the Silver-crowned, with a longer neck. We saw both Yellow-spotted and Graceful Honeyeaters. The Yellow-spotted was slightly bigger. We saw Dusky Honeyeaters, who were almost uniformly brown on the back and breast. I saw a White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike head on and saw the details of its facial pattern.
When we reached our campsite along the Wenlock River, we pitched our tents and went for another swim, because our camp had no shower. While we were in shallow water, a Palm Cockatoo flew over. It was a large, long black bird with bright red cheeks. The cheek color was nothing like the greyish-red of the two Palm Cockatoos in the National Zoo. At the same time, we saw a flyover Trumpet Manucode. The wings were round. In flight, the manucodes seemed to throw their wings forward toward their head. The brush-turkeys in this area had lavender wattles rather than yellow ones.
Tonight after dinner, a Papuan Frogmouth flew into our camp area. It looked larger and broader than the Tawny we saw yesterday. We also saw two female Southern Boobooks, who were streaked on the front. The female was larger than the male and had a lower-pitched call. John said that Ninox owls call with their mouths closed, while Tyto owls call with open mouths. Scotty found a Green Tree Frog who had a slight eyebrow and red on the thigh. The tree crickets sounded like beepers on trucks that are backing up. We saw Spectacled Flying Foxes, who had yellow on their neck.
This morning, long before sunrise, Spangled Drongos called at our campsite, making a sound like an alarm buzzer. On our walk before breakfast, we saw a Wompoo Fruit-Dove and a Trumpet Manucode. The manucode had a flat head in profile and dipped its wings when calling. Its call had two parts; the first sounded like someone clearing phlegm from his throat. As we packed our tents, we saw a Brush Cuckoo in the top of a tree. It was facing away from us, so we could not see the breast.
Our plan was to cross the Wenlock and Pasco Rivers before entering Iron Range National Park, via Tozer's Gap. On the way, we saw a Leaden Flycatcher on a nest — a small cup on a branch directly under another branch. It chased a Grey Shrike-Thrush, the race of which is browner in Cape York.
At our lunch stop at the West Claudie River, we saw a White-streaked Honeyeater, who is the other Cape York endemic, along with the Golden-shouldered Parrot. It was dark on top, white underneath, and had a streaked breast and a yellow spot behind the eye. It was high in a tree, and I never saw it in good enough light to pick up the yellow on its wings or tail. We had great looks at a Broad-billed Flycatcher, who looked sleeker than some of the similar flycatchers. It waggled its tail, but seemingly not as much as some of the other flycatchers. It was chestnut on the breast, and there was a bit of white between the chestnut and the grey of the wings. There was a slight eyering. I also saw a male Mistletoebird.
We drove to our Iron Range campsite, where we would be staying for four evenings. On the way, we saw a flock of Wandering Whistling-Ducks. They may have been a family group, because some of them looked small. As we approached our camp, we had a long look at a male and female Yellow-bellied Sunbird. The male resembled a hummingbird.
In the afternoon, we went to the "Smugglers Tree", which contained a huge Metallic Starling roost. A Grey Goshawk nest was in the tree, and the starlings sounded an alarm and flew off whenever the goshawk was around. This tree was also used as a roost by Eclectus Parrots, some of whom flew over. The males were green and the females red. The male made a variety of sounds; after some squawks, one sound was like an old-fashioned car air-horn, while another was like a Bell Miner. The call of the Magnificent Riflebird was nothing like the harsh squawks of the two other riflebirds. It sounded like a person whistling someone to come over. We heard Superb Fruit-Doves, but did not see one. The Orange-footed Scrubfowls sounded like barnyard fowls. I saw one perched in a tree. Some build mounds of great height. We saw a mound that used to be 17 feet high and 20 feet in diameter, but it is now smaller. It may be centuries old.
I saw a couple of Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfishers in trees. Their flight was swift and direct, with the long white tail trailing behind. We saw a Frilled Monarch, who had a plain white breast and an electric-blue eyering. I saw a fly-by Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, but not well. We saw White-rumped Swiftlets flying over. They were small like Chimney Swifts, with rapid wingbeats. I saw five Double-eyed Fig-Parrots (in the race marshalli) fly over our camp in the late afternoon.
During the night, I heard Marbled Frogmouths calling, and I heard the bill snaps. At breakfast, I sent the group into howls of laughter when I referred to the place where I heard the frogmouths as "somewhere across the street". Our campsite was on a dirt road which the people on our trip did not consider a street. I heard the chops of the Large-tailed Nightjar during the night. Spangled Drongos were in the trees at our camp, uttering the same pre-dawn alarm-buzzer call as at our Wenlock River camp.
On our pre-breakfast walk, we saw a flock of White-throated Needletails. I saw a fly-by Oriental Cuckoo twice. It looked like a greyish falcon, about the size of a hobby. I did not pick up any of the barring on the belly. We had a nice look at a male Varied Triller near our camp, and I saw the chestnut undertail coverts. He had a white eyeline and white on the wings. I saw a Frilled Monarch with its frill up.
We saw a lot of birds right at our camp. We had a great look at a Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo. It had a rich chestnut breast, an eyering, and a dark grey back. It sounded like a Fan-tailed and looked like a slightly melanistic Fan-tailed. John found a perched female Red-cheeked Parrot. She had a brown head and a light eye and a GIS similar to the slightly larger Mealy Parrots I saw in Costa Rica. We had Grey Whistlers around our camp; I saw the white over the eye. A Black-winged Monarch's nest hung over where we ate — John said this is often a tough bird to find. It had black wings, but no spectacles. A group of Trumpet Manucodes perched in our camp this morning. They had red eyes. I could not see any dangling throat feathers, but I saw a crest on one of the birds. We also had Silvereyes flitting around. A Yellow-billed Kingfisher perched at the top of a tree at our camp just as we were preparing to board the bus. It had a yellow bill and was very yellow in front. At times, it sounded like a cuckoo.
We returned to the Smugglers Tree and looked at the Grey Goshawk's nest. John said there were two chicks in it, but I saw only one. Further along the track, we had good looks at both male and female Eclectus Parrots. The male was green, with a yellowish bill and red wing linings. The female was red, with a blue breast and a tailband when it flew. I saw a perched White-faced Robin on the way to the Smuggler's Tree, and I saw almost every field mark except the white face. I saw the yellow breast, dark back, and white around the eye. Its face was concealed by a tree trunk. Later in the day, I had a great look at an entire bird at close range.
I saw a Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, who was large, with a facial pattern slightly resembling a Yellow-faced. It was dark underneath and mostly resembled a Macleay's. The Little Shrike-Thrushes here were browner underneath and darker on the back. We saw a White-eared Monarch, who was handsome, but not as stunning as the Frilled. We had good looks at male and female Shining Flycatchers. The male was all dark. The female had a dark head, chestnut back, and white belly. We saw a Northern Fantail, who did not behave as manically as the other fantails. The Tropical Scrubwren looked a lot like some other scrubwrens. I saw the reddish legs. We saw a Broad-margined Grass-yellow Butterfly, whom John said is quite uncommon. It is a small yellow-and-white rainforest species. We also saw Spectacled Flying Foxes hanging.
Sometimes Diana and I lagged at the back of the group with Scotty, and he showed us some remarkable features of the rainforest. On the track near the huge Orange-footed Scrubfowl mound, Scotty showed us Matchbox Beans, which were about two inches across. They came in long pods, with about six separate compartments for a bean. If you rubbed the efflorescence off of a bean, it had a surface that looked like mahogany. Scotty said these beans can retain heat and were used by native people as a remedy for arthritis. He pointed out a Green Ant nest. He grabbed it and squeezed it in his hand, poking it down with a finger as if he were a magician trying to make a handkerchief disappear. He then put the tightly squashed wad into his mouth and spat it out. He said these nests have a strong lemon taste and were used by native people to prevent colds. I tasted a little of the residue from his hand. Later, Scotty showed us a banksia flower and said that burning the center of it can repel insects.
The highlight of the day (other than Scotty spitting out the ants) was seeing a Magnificent Riflebird on a display perch. We saw and heard the male snapping his wings over his head. This species was larger than the other riflebirds and had a long, curved bill. I saw the iridescent green on his breast. The tail looked turquoise. He hopped onto the perch, and a young brown male was in front of him, raising his wings and practicing his own displays. The perches for both were vines rather than branches.
During the night, small creatures scurried across the outside of our tents. I was told they were a placental mammal called a Melomys, but I did not make much of an effort to see them.
Before breakfast, we saw Marshall's Fig-Parrots in a tree next to our camp. They were small with pointed tails, and they were not much bigger than the leaves in the tree. Because of the overcast sky and poor early morning light, I could not see much color on them. I saw a Spangled Drongo do a stall dive in flight, which is a regular behavior. The song of the Black Butcherbird almost sounded like jazz. A Leaden Flycatcher sang in a tree near our camp, along with a Yellow Oriole. We saw more Black-winged Monarchs.
Today featured the extremes of the Iron Range, both in terms of natural wonders and the weather. One of the highlights of our morning walk was seeing the bower of a Fawn-breasted Bowerbird. It was an avenue bower built on a platform of sticks. It was decorated with figs in the middle and along the walls, and more figs were arranged on the ground about a meter from each end of the avenue. The inside of the walls were painted with a mixture of saliva and berries. The top was not enclosed. A perch was near the bower either for the male to vocalize from or for an interested female to land on. Nearby, we saw a female Yellow-billed Kingfisher. I saw her black skullcap and the black mark on the back of her neck. Her head was a beautiful yellow-brown. We saw a White-browed Robin's nest containing two tiny green eggs with red specks. The nest was in the open, below eye level. We saw a perched Superb Fruit-Dove, who are very skittish.
I scoped the displaying riflebird on the same perch as yesterday. I saw each feather shaft and heard the swish when the wings were raised. He had small plumes hanging around his tail. A female was present, but the two did not mate. The morning was overcast, and John mentioned that the males don't display when the perch is in sunlight. We later saw a Yellow-legged Flycatcher, whose legs looked more orange than yellow. We saw a Grey Cuscus climbing a tree.
We saw a very young Large-tailed Nightjar chick, who still had its egg tooth. The chick looked exactly like a tiny light-colored leaf. It was so well camouflaged that if I looked away for a moment, I had trouble relocating it, even though it was close enough to touch. We later saw the adult perched after it had flown away from the chick. It had white on the outer undersides of its tail. It had a buff throat collar and spots on the flanks. In flight, it had white wing slashes like a nighthawk.
One of the birds we most wanted to see in this area was a Red-bellied Pitta. We heard one who sounded relatively close. Its call was like two loud hums, very different from the walk to work call of the Noisy Pitta. The Red-bellied tends to sit still on a high branch. After we walked into the rainforest, Dave spotted a pitta up in a tree. We could see the brown head, dark throat, bluish breast, black breastband, and red belly. Later, some people saw it drop to the rainforest floor, but I didn't. As we were walking back to the road, John was stung in the eye by a wasp and was in considerable pain.
We returned to camp around 11 a.m., just as heavy rains began. Through the afternoon and into early evening, it rained more than five inches, so we did no more birding. I took a nap both before and after lunch to try to catch up on my sleep. We still had some fly-by's at camp, including a Palm Cockatoo, Red-cheeked Parrot and Grey Goshawk. After dinner, we spotlighted unsuccessfully for a Marbled Frogmouth. The Cape York race is smaller than the race at O'Reilly's. During the night, I heard both a Marbled and a Papuan calling. When spotlighting, we saw and heard lots of frogs who were energized by the rain. They included White-lipped Tree Frogs, Northern Dwarf Frogs, and Green Tree Frogs. Some frogs emitted what sounded like a deep, throaty human laugh, while others croaked in rhythm, making the lagoon, from a distance, sound as if it were hosting a raucous party.
Even though we lost most of today to weather, we had some of the most exciting sightings of the trip, including the displaying riflebird, the nightjar chick, the bower, and the pitta. Even in an extreme situation, such as five inches of rain that flood out the toilet and cause other problems, you can survive quite well. Camping here in the middle of nowhere helps you to understand what is essential. In Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit, he portrayed hell as a place where there were no mirrors, and the only way you could see yourself was reflected in the eyes of others. At Iron Range, I didn't see myself in a mirror for days, and that didn't bother me in the least. Mirrors and a lot of other "necessities" are important only for people in urban environments where appearances have exaggerated importance.
This morning, I saw a Northern Scrub-Robin. Before breakfast, we went across the road to look for them. We heard one call, which sounded like a person giving a single whistle through the teeth. It also uttered what sounded like a hissing whistle. This species skulks along the forest floor. At one point, I saw one briefly (only its head), but we soon gave up and went to breakfast. As we began to eat, John said he heard one in the forest right behind our camp. I went with him, and I had about a two-minute look at it. John compared it to a large Rufous Fantail. In size and behavior, it was more like an Eastern Whipbird. It was rufous, and it had black wings with white spots and a vertical line through the eye.
I missed seeing the Green-backed Honeyeater. John said they usually travel in flocks with the similar looking Fairy Gerygones. I saw the movement, but never got on the bird. They forage high in trees. I had a nice look at a White-browed Robin. It was a chunky black, white, and brown bird, hopping on branches just above eye level. I saw another Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo perched at eye level and saw the eyering. I saw my first Spectacled Monarch of the trip. We had an excellent look at male and female Trumpet Manucodes, and I saw the feathers on the back of the male's neck.
In the afternoon, we went to Portland Roads and Chili Beach on the coast. In the mangroves at Portland Roads, we saw a perched Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove in a tree. I saw the grey on the neck. One who flew by looked yellowish underneath. We had good looks at Varied Honeyeaters, who were large with streaked yellow breasts. I saw a pair of Mangrove Robins and a couple of White-breasted Woodswallows. The only Fawn-breasted Bowerbirds I saw were fly-bys. Today, I saw some of the fawn color on a flying bird, but I never had a great look. John showed us a platform for a bower which did not have an avenue on it.
John and Scotty flushed a Chestnut-breasted Button-Quail while the rest of us were in the bus; Margaret was the only other person who had a glimpse of it. We could not find any Eastern Reef Egrets along the shore at Portland Roads, but we saw Crested Terns and Silver Gulls. A lot of Pied Imperial-Pigeons were nesting in the tops of distant trees. We saw some flying at Chili Beach, and because they are mostly white and sometimes dip toward the water, they can sometimes be mistaken for gulls or terns at a distance.
At Chili Beach, we saw distant birds who could have been Common Noddies and Bridled Terns, but they were too far away to identify, as were some of the other waders. We saw a Common Sandpiper, and while this species is known to teeter, it does not always do so; the one we saw was standing still. We saw a Grey-tailed Tattler; the eyeline did not extend past the eye. We saw a lovely look at a pair of Shining Flycatchers drinking from a pool. I had a brief look at a fly-by Oriental Cuckoo from the bus. We saw a Frilled Lizard by the side of the road. It looked grey rather than brownish. It froze in an upright position, and it almost looked like a frogmouth. To escape, they run on their hind legs and often climb trees. We saw a couple of Red-naped Skinks, who were a few inches long. They had red on the side of their necks rather than the nape.
At dinner, Scotty told us that while we were in the mangroves, he had seen a Death Adder, but he thought it best not to tell us at the time. He told the story of working at a resort on an island where a woman guest was swimming in a kidney-shaped pool early one morning. He heard her call for help, and she said there was a snake in the pool. At first, Scotty thought it was probably some type of harmless water snake, but when he looked, he saw it was a Death Adder. He told her to be very still, and he was able to lift the adder out of the water with a pool scoop and put it in a cooler with ice so that it could be safely released somewhere.
During the night, I heard Large-tailed Nightjars and Papuan Frogmouths calling.
I heard the Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo again early this morning. I heard a Grey Whistler, whose song sounded like a deliberate Tic Tac Toe. A female Trumpet Manucode was building a nest in a tree in our camp. John said they usually build their nests near the nest of a Black Butcherbird for protection. As we packed to leave our Iron Range camp, I saw a Royal Spoonbill fly by.
While Scotty and Rick loaded the bus, the rest of us went for a walk along the road near the camp. Diana said she was seeing some Fairy Gerygones. I remembered how John had said that Green-backed Honeyeaters often travel with them. I looked where Diana had been looking and briefly saw one of the honeyeaters perched. It had a grey cap, light throat, and yellow breast. It seemed to briefly look to the side while perched and then flew. John, who had been talking to someone near camp while all this was happening, later said that gerygones tend to move around constantly, while the Green-backed Honeyeater (who is one of the few insectivorous honeyeaters) tends to stop and look. The honeyeater's strategy may be to wait for the movement of the gerygones to stir up insects.
A bit further on, a Large-tailed Nightjar flushed from the side of the road. We saw two buff eggs with black marks. The representation of the eggs in the Slater guide incorrectly shows the eggs as a uniform cream color. There was no nest ‐ the well-camouflaged eggs were lying at the side of the road. Still further on, we saw a perched Black-shouldered Kite.
We left the Iron Range through the Pasco River to Wenlock to Archer to 28-Mile Camp, which was 28 miles south of Archer. It was at a lagoon on Wolverton Station, north of Coen. On the way, we saw our first snake of the trip ‐ a keelback or freshwater snake, who was small and non-venomous. It quickly disappeared into the water. We saw a female Leaden Flycatcher, whom I compared to the Broad-billed Flycatcher we saw a few days ago. Even though the two species are the same length, the Leaden did not look as sleek. We later saw a male and female Leaden Flycatcher who were vigorously wagging their tails. John heard a Red-backed Button-Quail, whom he said sounded like the low-pitched, even tones of the Papuan Frogmouth. We saw a Brown Falcon, who flew over our bus and perched in a nearby tree; I saw the brown leggings.
We had lunch along the Pasco River, or actually in a shallow section of the river. While there, we saw a Silver-crowned Friarbird chasing an Oriental Cuckoo. I saw some barring near the cuckoo's vent as it whizzed by. We watched a Yellow-bellied Sunbird building a nest.
As we were driving into our afternoon camp at 28-Mile, I saw a flying Black-necked Stork. As Scotty and Rick were setting up camp, John took us to a spot where we saw a pair of Palm Cockatoos at the top of a dead tree. They had large, hooked bills. The crest had multiple feathers, which looked like palm fronds. The female was perched above the male on a vertical branch. On the walk back, we saw a Brown Goshawk; we earlier had seen one at Archer. John said the tail on this one was rounded, but it looked straight to me. We saw three Lemon-bellied Flycatchers in good light. The Red-browed Finches here were much more attractive than the race to the south, having yellowish backs rather than olive. We had good views of Forest Kingfishers and I saw the two tones of blue on the back. John showed us the hole for a burrow of a spider who was large enough to kill mice.
Our camp was fairly primitive. It had no showers, and we could not safely swim in the lagoon because of the possibility of crocodiles. John showed us how to safely draw water from the lagoon.
After dinner, we heard Tawny Frogmouths near our camp. We saw both a male and a female in a spotlight. The race here was lighter colored and about two-thirds the size of the more southerly birds — this was the tiny Tawny. The female was larger than the male and had a deeper call. The call was a repeated oom like the Papuan, but it seemed faster and higher pitched. I heard it during the night at our camp.
We saw an Azure Kingfisher perched by the lagoon near our camp this morning. We packed up the bus and went from 28-Mile through Coen to Archer to Artemis past the Moorhead River to Mary Valley. We had lunch at Musgrave, which is a refueling stop for people driving north in Cape York. The people who operated the place where we ate showed us an injured Southern Boobook. It apparently was concussed and seemed blind. If you waved a hand in front of its face, there was no response. But when someone took a flash photo, the pupils contracted.
A Blue-winged Kookaburra grazed our windscreen while we were driving, giving us a great close-up look. We saw another Frilled Lizard in the road. At Red Blanket Creek, the bower of a Great Bowerbird was at the side of the road. The avenue was almost closed on top. The bower had quartz and snail shells inside and out, and parts of soda cans were interspersed. It was decorated with acacia pods both inside and around the base.
We saw more Radjah Shelducks on the same spot as previously on the Moorhead River. They have a brown speculum. We had saw some perched on dead limbs. They did not seem nearly as skittish as the ones we had seen previously. At the same spot, we saw a Bar-breasted Honeyeater. I scoped two making a nest. John said it is one of only two Australian honeyeaters (along with the Brown-headed) who builds a domed nest. We also saw Rufous-banded Honeyeaters, who had a grey head, a white breast with a rufous band, and yellow on the wing. They were drinking by flying down to the water, skimming the surface, and flying back to a tree branch. I later scoped a Forest Kingfisher.
At dusk at our camp in Mary Valley, three Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos flew in front of the almost full moon. I also watched in the fading light as Dollarbirds hawked insects the way nighthawks do. I was not aware that they fed this way, and it made me wonder whether the white spots on their wings serve a similar purpose (to startle insects) as the white on the wings of many goatsuckers. I also began to wonder about their coloration. In poor light, their plumage appears to be a muddy greyish-brown, while in good light, it is a beautiful bluish-green. That may mean that their plumage reflects greenish light rather than having greenish pigment. If these birds regularly hawk insects at dusk, it would make sense that they would have plumage that would not stand out in poor light, except for the white wing patches.
Also at dusk, thousands of Little Red Flying Foxes flew over our camp in waves. They were medium-sized rather than little. I could smell them as they flew over, but I could not hear the wingbeats. They smelled a bit like all of our clothing after our trip to the Iron Range — as Dave described it, like damp laundry that had been at the bottom of a hamper for about a week. When I went down to the river after dark, I saw flying-foxes diving down to the surface to drink. During the night, they flew over our camp. They must have been flying lower, because I could hear the wingbeats. I also heard both Tawny Frogmouths and Southern Boobooks during the night.
Today was a bit of a lost day for birding. The rigors of the trip were beginning to show. John was feeling sick with a headache and an upset stomach. Margaret woke up suffering from severe dizziness. And Diana was coming down with a cold that deepened her voice so that she sounded more like a Papuan Frogmouth than a Tawny. We had planned to visit a large flying-fox colony first thing in the morning to try to find Rufous Owls who could be lurking there. But we decided instead to drive straight to Laura so that Margaret could visit a nurse. This decision proved to be fortuitous, because on the way, the clutch on our mud-spattered bus broke. We were much better off being stuck for an afternoon in the town of Laura than at a flying-fox colony that smelled like a huge hamper of dirty laundry. We had to wait for another bus to be sent up from Cairns, which meant that we could not drive anywhere to bird until the following morning. The respite gave us a chance to rest and do laundry. Because Laura was much less humid than the Iron Range, clothes on the line actually dried, and there was a machine to wash them in. To help pass the time while my clothes were drying, I shoveled away some of the countless wallaby turds on the pathway between the tents and the loo. I also got to see some of the paintings of Percy Trezise at the Quinkan Hotel in Laura, which Diane had suggested that I see.
Before we left Mary Valley, I scoped three Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos on an antenna. The two males had dark grey bills and red under the tail. The female had a lighter bill and lighter feathering under the tail. I did not detect pronounced spotting on her plumage. From the breakfast table, we saw a group of nine perched Whistling Kites. They usually do not perch in a group, so there may have been a carcass nearby. Two Channel-billed Cuckoos flew by, as did a White-faced and a White-necked Heron. John showed us the nest of a Lemon-bellied Flycatcher. He said it is the smallest nest of any Australian bird — about the size of a half dollar. The female lays only one egg per year. The Lemon-bellied Flycatchers we saw this morning looked paler than in the field guides. The Cicadabirds sounded a bit different in Cape York, and the Pied Currawongs sounded very different. Bar-shouldered Doves looked beautiful when seen in good light; I saw a golden patch on the shoulder of one on the ground. We saw a group of butterflies on the ground, and John said that they might all be feeding on animal urine.
I scoped a pair of Red-winged Parrots (male and female) in Laura at the campground. When the male lifted his wing, his back was a brighter green than on the wing; I also saw different-colored feathers on the leggings. A lot of Galahs were at our camps at both Mary Valley and Laura. On an afternoon walk, a Peregrine Falcon circled over our heads. We saw a Banded Honeyeater. John found a Figbird nest with three eggs, and we could see through the bottom of it. Some of the nests we saw (by now for about 100 different species) seemed to have spaces between sticks, which may have had to do with keeping air circulating in hot climate or allowing rain to drain. The discarded cup nest of a Little Friarbird, which John showed us this morning, had such spaces.
The Masked Lapwing had a different call at night than during the day. This is apparently true of many birds. Scotty said that the Blue-faced Honeyeater has a morning call that sounds like a bell. The lapwing's call sounded like someone dragging a shovel across concrete.
Four Magpie Geese flew over before sunrise. They flew with their necks outstretched like swans. In flight, they had a lower-pitched honk than a swan's vocalization. Little Friarbirds were singing at our camp this morning. We saw a Masked Lapwing with at least four chicks. An adult became very agitated when a dog was near. Before the bus picked us up, we saw some processionary caterpillars on the road. There were about five in a line, each about an inch long. They were grey and hairy, and John said the hairs are painful if touched.
We drove from Laura to Kennedy Bend Water Hole in Lakefield National Park to Kalpower Crossing on the banks of the Normanby River, where we camped. We had a nice look at a female Pacific Baza from the bus. The female has brown wings, while the male has blue-grey wings. I could see a feather on the crest, and I saw banding on the breast when she flew. We saw a Sarus Crane with a group of Brolgas and saw the red further down the neck as well as the reddish legs — the Brolgas' legs were dark. Later, we observed more Sarus Cranes and saw no sign of the lighter tail feathers pictured in the Pizzey guide.
At a stop to look for crocodiles at Kennedy Bend Water Hole, we saw two more Radjah Shelducks on a riverbank, waddling down to the water for a drink. We also saw a White-gaped Honeyeater. It was about the size and color of a Lewin's, but it had a white spot near the gape rather than a yellow spot on the face. John said it is the most aggressive honeyeater in Australia, which is quite a statement considering how aggressive many of them are.
We had to stop at the ranger station in Lakefield National Park to obtain a permit to camp. While there, I saw more Intermediate Egrets, and the neck appeared thicker than a Great Egret's. We saw another flock of about 25 Radjah Shelducks. As we were leaving, we saw a Dingo prancing around. It was small and reddish and much chunkier than a fox.
We proceeded to our campsite at Kalpower. We unloaded the bus and pitched our tents. There was a large spider web and a wasp nest in the tent area. Before lunch at the river just down the hill from our tents, we found a mixed flock of passerines which had numerous honeyeaters, including Yellow, Brown, Rufous-banded, and a juvenile Rufous-throated. The latter looked like the adult minus the rufous throat patch. The throat and breast were light. The juvenile Rufous-banded, whom we did not see, looks like a washed out version of the adult. We saw a Large-billed Gerygone; it had a broken eyering, and the bill looked slightly large. We saw a Striated Heron across the river. And we saw a Sand Goanna, who appeared to be about a meter long.
The Black Kite is the Australian raptor who behaves most like a vulture. One was perched in a tree near our dining table. Also there was a Yellow Oriole nest, which we could watch while we ate. The tail of the bird stuck out over the edge. In the same trees, we saw the black-throated race of the Fairy Gerygone, which was the race we had seen further north. John said that Fairy Gerygones usually nest near wasp nests. A Brush Cuckoo sang at our Kalpower camp much of the time we were there, including during the night.
We spent the afternoon at the Nifold Plain in Lakefield National Park. We were looking primarily for finches, especially Star and Black-throated Finches. Desley spotted a flock of small birds from the bus. I saw them briefly far in the distance, but our efforts to catch up with them were unsuccessful. We could not drive to the best area for the finches, because the road was too muddy. We had to hike there, which took more than an hour each way (with stops). All that we saw were some Double-barred Finches, although John and Scotty thought they may have seen a fly-by Black-throated. We saw an adult Rufous-throated Honeyeater. In the same area, we saw male and female Rufous Whistlers and a White-throated Gerygone. We saw more Bar-breasted Honeyeaters. The bands appeared to go all the way across at the top of the breast, but not further down. The head appeared to have a black-and-white pattern.
We saw a lot of Comb-crested Jacanas and Black-necked Storks around Lakefield National Park. We saw a Grey-tailed Tattler on a rock; it had a plain grey back, had white over the eye, and occasionally bobbed its head and body. Some Diamond Doves may have been among the Peaceful Doves we flushed as we drove through the park, but we did not have time to stop. Five feral pigs ran in front of our bus. They were big and black and very fast. We saw a Frilled Lizard running on its hind legs. We saw a male and female White-bellied Sea-Eagle, with the female being larger than the male. While we watched, a juvenile flew in and displaced the female from her perch.
Tonight after dinner, we walked down the hill from our camp to look for crocodiles. Right before we went, someone had driven a vehicle down to the spot and looked with big searchlights, which probably scared most of them away. However, we saw eyeshine on two or three Estuarine Crocodiles (salties). Scotty said you can tell the size of a swimming crocodile by how far apart the eyes are. At the river, Little Red Flying Foxes were perched; they were larger than the insectivorous White-tailed Mastiff Bats who were flying around.
This morning before five, Diana and I went down to the river to look for crocodiles. Even though the sun had not risen, there was a bit too much light to allow us to use a torch to detect eyeshine. We packed our tents and headed to Old Laura Homestead to Laura to Lakeland Downs to Cooktown to Mulbabidgee (Keatings Lagoon Conservation Park) and ultimately to a place called Home Rule. From the bus, we saw two displaying Australian Bustards. Their breast sacs were hanging down, and their tails were cocked as they arrogantly strutted around. Because there were two males, the displaying was territorial rather than sexual. We stopped in Cooktown for lunch — the biggest settlement of population we had seen since leaving Cairns.
At Mulbabidgee, I scoped the feet of some magpie geese and saw the long, non-palmate toes. In the same area, Michael noticed a heron with a white neck. It was a young Pied Heron. It was like a White-necked Heron, but smaller, and with a yellow bill. It had black on the head but not the full black crown like an adult. The same area had a lot of Wandering Whistling-Ducks, but there were no Plumed Whistling-Ducks in the group. We saw a few Green Pygmy-Geese and Royal Spoonbills. An Oriental Cuckoo flew past us, and it reminded me of a Australian Hobby, who is similar in size and shape. We saw more Radjah Shelducks — I was surprised at how common they were.
Home Rule is south of Cooktown and has many of the same species I encountered during my stays at Cassowary House in Kuranda on my two previous trips to Australia. We were back in the area where brush-turkey wattles were yellow. I saw an Orange-footed Scrubfowl who kicked its leg up at an elevated log to get insects. It looked as if it were doing leg stretches. We heard a Little Kingfisher, but I was not one of the people who saw it dart past. Desley found an Azure Kingfisher perched on a log. I saw a Little Shrike-Thrush, who was greyer than the race we saw further north. John found a Barred Cuckoo-Shrike when we were on a narrow path in the rainforest. A male Varied Triller was by the river. We saw our first Spotted Catbird of the trip, who was greyer on the head than the Green Catbird.
We sat through heavy rains while we ate dinner. A major weather system had descended over North Queensland. One reason John had picked these dates for the trip was that the rainy season was just beginning, providing the best opportunity to see certain migrant species such as the Red-bellied Pitta. The danger was that the rains could cause flooding of the roads. We had left the area north of the Wenlock River just in time. We heard that some vehicles trying to drive north right after we had recrossed the river could not get through. We had come within about a day of having to be airlifted out.
Heavy rains during the night created serious weather problems for us. We were delayed for 2 1/2 hours getting out of Home Rule because Wallaby Creek had risen above the bridge over which we had to drive. There was a danger that our trailer could have acted as an anchor and yanked our bus into the fast-flowing creek during an attempted crossing. We had to occupy ourselves by the edge of the creek until the water receded. John, Scotty, and Rick tried to clear away some of the debris that had collected on the bridge. At one point, John lost his footing and went to a sitting position in the rushing water as he was hanging onto the log he was trying to free. Eventually, after the water had receded a bit (according to a rock we had placed on the bank), the leaders waded across and threw the rest of us a rope to hold as we waded through the knee-deep rushing water. For our safety, we were not in the bus as it drove across the bridge. The delay resulted in us being unable to go on our scheduled cruise of the Daintree River, which I had very much been looking forward to after seeing John's video about the area. But because of the rain that afternoon, we may not have been able to see much from the boat anyway. We stopped for lunch at Palmer River, where we saw a pair of male Common Koels. Then we drove directly to Kingfisher Park. When we arrived at the desk, the man at the desk told us that the birder Phoebe Snetsinger had been killed in a bus accident in Madagascar.
At Kingfisher Park, a pair of Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfishers often sat low on vines near where people had tea. This species, which migrates from New Guinea, nests in termite mounds on the ground, and we saw evidence at some of these mounds of recent attempts to excavate. John showed us a nest (in a termite mound in a tree) which he thought belonged to a Blue-winged Kookaburra, but a Laughing Kookaburra flew out. John said that the opening to the nest of the Blue-winged usually is a vertical rectangle, while the opening for the Laughing's tends to be a horizontal rectangle.
Australian Brush-Turkeys and Orange-footed Scrubfowl ran around the grounds. The scrubfowl leaned forward when they ran. We saw a flock of about 20 Topknot Pigeons fly over and later saw another four. The Macleay's Honeyeater was a feeder bird, with its call of a free TV. Black-faced Monarchs and Pale-yellow Robins foraged on the branches. The face shield on the robins appeared pinkish. Also, their plumage looked darker than what I remembered from previous trips, and I wondered if this had resulted from the feathers being wet from the rain, which continued unabated through the day and night. I saw a Boyd's Forest Dragon on a log, and I had a quick look at it before it fled. While looking for a Lesser Sooty Owl before dinner, we heard a Barn Owl and saw it fly.
Before breakfast, Dave, Diana, and I went to an area where John yesterday had told us that we could find Bush-Hens feeding before sunrise. We saw a couple of them; they appeared to be smaller than coots. They had a pale bill and light undertail coverts. Conditions were overcast at pre-dawn, so we could not see much color. Near our breakfast area, I saw a male Emerald Dove, who had a white slash on his shoulder. Near the patio, I saw a pair of paradise-kingfishers — one on each side of the path.
We spent the morning on Mount Lewis, which is upland rainforest at over 1,000 meters in altitude. One of the many amazing feats John performed on the trip was finding the bower of a Tooth-billed Bowerbird. We had seen and heard the bird during our walk. It was very streaked on the breast. One was mimicking, appropriately, a Bower's Shrike-Thrush. At one point, John said, "That's the call it makes only when it is near the bower". He charged up a hill in the rainforest where there was no path, and within two minutes located a bower. The feat was even more remarkable considering that the bower had no sticks and was two-dimensional. The bird had cleared a small area of dirt and laid a few upside down leaves on it. The bower had wild ginger leaves, which appeared to be about a foot long. John said Tooth-billed Bowerbirds can use about 20 different kinds of leaves; most of the leaves tend to be closer to half a foot long, so these long ginger leaves were unusual. A vine served as a perch over the bower.
The highlight of the Mount Lewis trip was seeing a male Golden Bowerbird at his bower. The bowerbird obligingly perched in the open for a long time, and we had great looks at both his front and back. The tip of his tail had a slight yellow edge, with two small black tips. These tips are not portrayed in either Pizzey or Slater. I wondered if the tips wear off over time and whether this bird may have been in very fresh plumage. His brown mask extended around to the back of his head. The bower was not like the one I had seen in 1996. Two structures were separate from the main structure, and they were like the vertical sections of the main bower. I don't remember seeing any separate structures at the 1996 bower. While the cross branch of the 1996 bower had been decorated with sticks and lichens, this cross branch appeared to be bare for use as a display perch. John said the Golden Bowerbird is the only bowerbird who lays pure white eggs.
We saw a Topknot Pigeon on a relatively small and flimsy nest; the tail stuck out way over the edge. Dave spotted a White-throated Treecreeper, the northern form whom John says might be split some day. We also saw the mouki race of the Brown Gerygone, whom John thinks also may be split. He said the two races lay different color eggs. During the trip, he said that taxonomists tend not to pay enough attention to factors such as comparisons of eggs when determining whether to lump or split species.
Scotty, Michael, and I watched a Fernwren at a nest. It is chocolate brown, with white streaks near the bill. It nests in the underside of overhanging banks, with the entrance facing toward the bank. I saw Atherton Scrubwrens hopping near the path. They looked a lot like the Large-billed Scrubwren, who is found at lower altitudes. A couple of Yellow-throated Scrubwrens were hopping around as well. We saw quite a few foraging Mountain Thornbills. The Fairy Gerygones did not have black throats like the race further north. I saw a Bridled Honeyeater, who has yellow on its bill. We heard a Grey-headed Robin but didn't see one. I saw some Chowchillas in bad light on the forest floor. We saw and heard quite a few Bower's Shrike-Thrushes; they have a dark bill, which is a fieldmark that distinguishes it from the Little. (A mnemonic is Little/lighter). We saw a Yellow-breasted Boatbill, who did not look very yellow underneath, but it had yellow undertail coverts. It may have been a female or a juvenile. We heard a Victoria's Riflebird, but never saw it.
After coming off the Mount Lewis track, I had to pick about 20 leeches off of myself. We then went to look for Blue-faced Parrot-Finches, but without success. We went down one path, but John told us to turn back, because he saw marijuana plants and someone guarding them. We then drove back to Kingfisher Park to pick up our luggage and head back to Cairns. We were lucky that while we were on Mount Lewis, the rain let up briefly to allow us to bird. We ran into more heavy rain on the drive back.
Perhaps the best bird of the trip was one for which John asked that we not reveal any information about location other than to say it was somewhere on Cape York at sometime during the trip. We saw a male Red Goshawk, perched in a tree near a nest. The nest had a goggle-eyed chick in it. Dave saw the adult fly in and land nearby, and we were able to scope the bird for as long as we wanted. The male was big and sat erect. He had white on his breast with red going up both sides. The breast had vertical black streaks. The head was light, and the face was grey, with the trace of an eyebrow. It had a slight crest, and the eyes appeared to be yellow/orange. The bill appeared to be grey and black. I saw the light wing linings when the bird was preening, and it had barring on the underside of the tail. The feet were yellow. The nest did not have sticks hanging from the bottom as was the case with Black-breasted Buzzard nests. For the trip, John ended up finding four different red goshawk nests, with only the one being active.
In looking back over the trip, I can say that John Young is the most amazing field birder I have ever encountered, and perhaps that I ever will encounter. Most birders learn about birds from the top down — they read field guides to learn what birds look like, and then they try to learn additional information about behavior and natural history. John did just the opposite and learned birding from the bottom up. He said he didn't have a good bird guide when he started, and he learned about birds by going into the bush and trying to find their nests. He says he still doesn't read many books about birds, which is understandable considering how much time he spends in the bush observing. During the trip, Diana and I developed a new word — SNEST. On many occasions, John would call out, "There's a (something)". We all would look in the nearby trees for movement and then realize that what John really meant was, "There's a (something)'S NEST". I can't think of any birder I've been with who has shown me the nests of almost half the birds we have seen on a trip. I am much more interested in learning about the behavior of birds than merely ticking off species, which is why I so value the time I was able to spend with John.
This was a travel day. Diana and I headed to her home in Cooma. The shuttle bus picked us up at 5 a.m. to take us to the Cairns Airport for a 6:25 flight. At the airport, we ran into Dave, who was waiting for a flight to Melbourne. Diana and I were flying to Sydney, where we had a four-hour layover before flying to Canberra. The juxtaposition between Sydney Airport and the wilderness in the Iron Range was extreme. In the latter, there basically was hardly anywhere to go "inside". In the airport, we were in a huge sprawling sterile enclosed terminal for which there was no access to the outside.
When we arrived in Canberra at mid-afternoon, we were met by Diana's sister Liz, who lives there. We stopped over at her house for tea. While sitting in the garden, we watched a Striated Pardalote going in and out of the vertical openings in the side of a neighbor's house. I also saw and heard a Common Blackbird, who was a new bird for the trip. Diana and I soon headed south for Cooma, which was about an hour's drive through beautiful rolling country. We saw ravens instead of crows, and the Australian Magpies were the white-backed race; the female magpies had grey on their necks. The landscape was quite a contrast from the stark tropical setting of Cape York. This cooler climate had much warmer scenery.
Diana and her mum Betty both have green thumbs. Their yard is beautifully landscaped with seemingly a couple of hundred lovely, healthy plants and trees of all sizes and varieties. In the garden, I saw my first Red Wattlebirds of the trip. Diana and I heard a Gang-gang Cockatoo near the house early this morning, but did not see it.
Diana, Betty, and I went for a drive south of Cooma toward Bega, which is on the coast. Diana's sister Sarah lived there. On the way, we stopped at Nimmitabel, Fred Piper Memorial Lookout, and Merimbula Back Lake, where we had a picnic lunch.
At Nimmitabel, we saw some waterfowl, including Hardheads, Grey Teals, Hoary-headed and Australasian Grebes, Pacific Black Ducks, and Eurasian Coots. A large bastard Mallard/domestic duck chased a lot of the smaller species who were by the water. We also saw a White-necked Heron.
After a stop at Fred Piper Lookout, we headed to Merimbula Back Lake. We saw a group of about ten Bar-tailed Godwits. I scoped them in good light at relatively close range, and I saw the barring on the tail. We saw four Superb Fairy-Wrens hopping on a path. We saw a group of three Little Wattlebirds who came close. They had heavily streaked breasts, and I saw chestnut coloring when they raised their wings.
Bell Miners were all over Merimbula — only the second time I had actually seen this species. They were green and chunky, with a yellow-orange bill. During Bird Week, Graham Pizzey said that Bell Miners chase all other birds out of their territories, including the insectivores, which results in the trees dying. If the miners are removed from such degraded areas, the trees will regenerate. We heard Eastern Whipbirds, as well as the call of a Satin Bowerbird.
After lunch, we visited with Diana's sister Sarah in Bega. Sarah's husband is a keen birder. I noticed on his bookshelf a copy of David Hollands' Eagles, Hawks and Falcons, an out-of-print book which I had never seen before. Driving from Sarah's house, we saw a Wonga Pigeon. We also saw a flock of five Peaceful Doves, as well as a Crested Pigeon on a wire. Diana thinks the Peaceful Dove says to the loo. I told her that might be a more appropriate representation for the song of the Squatter Pigeon.
We later saw two Wedge-tailed Eagles and a White-bellied Sea-Eagle in the air at the same time. We saw a Brown Falcon sitting on a pole. I saw my first Eastern Rosellas of the trip, showing their lime green rump in flight. Near Bega, we stopped at a small park and saw a male Rufous Whistler. At the same place, we saw a Clamorous Reed-Warbler and had a close look at a Purple Swamphen.
Diana drove me to Mount Kosciuszko today. It was a beautiful drive, but not especially birdy. We drove past Jindabyne Dam to Thredbo for lunch. At our lunch spot, we saw Australian Wood Ducks in flight. We saw perched and swimming Great Cormorants. Richard's Pipits were on the ground, and they have a black tail with white edges. The streaking on the breast did not appear to be pronounced. The pipits sometimes flicked their tails, but not constantly. They were more preoccupied with jumping at each other. A new bird for the trip was a Little Raven. The syllables of its call sounded shorter than in the call of the Australian Raven, and there was no long laugh at the end. When I saw some fly during lunch, I thought I saw a whitish sheen on the shoulders.
We headed to Perisher Valley and Charlotte's Pass, which afforded a view of Mount Kosciuszko. While the area was quite beautiful, the mountain itself, which is the highest point in Australia, was a bit hard to find. It is only slightly taller than some of the adjacent peaks, and if one did not look at a diagram, one could not tell which one was Mount Kosciuszko. The trail had a lot of Snow Gum trees, whose scientific name is Eucalyptus pauciflora niphophila. They had beautiful multicolored tentacles for branches. We drove home on a back road and stopped when we saw a Short-beaked Echidna snuffling ahead of us. When I walked over to look at it, it dug its claws into a clump of grass and went into its pin cushion posture.
This morning, we went for a walk in the reserve near Diana's house. We saw a flying Nankeen Kestrel. The male and female have different tail plumage; the male has a plain tail, while the female's is barred. We heard some White-throated Treecreepers. We saw an immature Olive-backed Oriole, who had a brown back (no trace of olive) and a heavily-streaked breast. We saw both Pied and Grey Currawongs. The Grey Currawong did not show white on the rump in flight. The plumage on one of the Grey Currawongs looked noticeably grey. We saw a young Lace Monitor who was about a meter long. Its back legs looked as if they had been stuffed into a pair of black ballet tights with yellow polka dots. The claws appeared quite long. Even though we were fairly near, it seemed not to be concerned about us. We had good luck with thornbills, getting close looks at both Brown and Striated. Later in the day, we saw some Yellow-rumped Thornbills near Diana's driveway.
In the afternoon, we walked along the Murrumbidgee River near Cooma. We heard Fan-tailed Cuckoos and had a good look at one. It had a golden eyering and a dark grey back. There were lots of Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters flitting about, my first for the trip. They are a large honeyeater with a bright yellow tuft behind the eye. Some of them appeared to be young birds. We saw two Willie Wagtails feeding a third — on the young one, the white over the eye stood out more than the white over the adults' eyes. Diana found a Clamorous Reed-Warbler's nest in the reeds, and I saw one of the warblers at the base of the reeds. Our most exciting find was a water rat, which is Australia's largest rodent. It seems to be about the size of a muskrat and behaved as such, swimming and diving. Its fur was golden underneath. Near the parking lot, we saw a pair of White-browed Scrubwrens.
Off Yallakool Road, we saw a Common Bronzewing, which turned out to be my final new species for the trip. We had nice looks at the colorful wing pattern. It was near a tree which is in one of Diana's paintings that is hanging in my home. Seeing the tree in real life seemed a fitting way to prepare to return home from what had been a rich and deeply rewarding journey to a magical place with wonderful people.