Our second day on the Atherton Tableland and a lot of ground to cover.
These are both volcanic maars, that is they were formed by the explosion that occurred when ground water was rapidly heated by volcanic eruptions. The resulting craters both contain lakes that are at least 65 metres deep. The circuit of Lake Barrine is 5 kilometres, there is a private tea house on the shore from where you can take a cruise on the lake. Lake Eacham is a little smaller, 3 kilometres in circumference. The walking tracks are well constructed and take you through a rainforest fringe which is rich in bird life. In fact, between these two lakes and Hypipamee which we had visited the day before you can find all of the higher altitude wet tropics endemics which are … Tooth-billed Bowerbird, Golden Bowerbird, Bridled Honeyeater, Fernwren, Atherton Scrubwren, Mountain Thornbill, Grey-headed Robin, Chowchilla and Bower’s Shrike-thrush.
The Atherton Scrubwren and Bower’s Shrike-thrush are the ones that will give you the most trouble, Grey-headed Robins will have to be fought off, they are numerous and confiding …
You are almost certain to encounter Musky Rat-Kangaroos, the smallest of the kangaroos. You may confirm the diagnosis by counting their toes, they are the only kangaroos with five. If you’re lucky you may also catch up with a Green Ringtail possum …
They are on the menu for Amethystine Pythons. This one has chosen a vine to sleep on, the approach of a python would be easily detected and escape may be made in either of two directions. They are, of course, rather more exciting at night.
By the time we had finished our walks we had completed our collection of the upland endemics and were ready to go for lunch. I can think of no better place than Coffee Works in Mareeba. As well as a splendid restaurant they can also sell you locally grown coffee and many other surprising things. On our way there we encountered a large mixed flock of Brolga and Sarus Cranes. These are quite similar to look at, basically they are tall and grey with a little red decoration around the head. The practised eye will distinguish them immediately by the extent of the red, on the Brolga this is like a bandage going around its head, on the Sarus Crane it is rather more like a hood extending down the neck. Both the bandage and the hood have a hole in as though for the ears. The adult Brolga has a little dewlap the Sarus Crane does not. The Brolga is an inhabitant of northern and eastern Australia and nearby parts of New Guinea but the Sarus Crane ranges across southern Asia to India. It was first recorded in Oz in the 1950’s. So the big question is, did it find its way here around about then or had it been overlooked? According to one authority (Schodde) the Australian birds are sufficiently different to be considered a separate subspecies implying that they had been long overlooked.
As the day warms up so the bird watching cools off, the middle of the day is not the time to go looking for Rock Wallabies either. Eastern Queensland is home to nine species of Rock Wallaby, their ranges form a chain that runs from Cape York to the New South Wales Border. They are mostly indistinguishable in the field and hard to find. However if you know where you are you can make a good guess at which one you’re looking at with the aid of a map, for anything more definite than that you will need a sample of their DNA. But there is one that you can find and identify with ease.
A mere $10 will buy you admission to Granite Gorge Nature Park just 10 kilometres from Coffee Works and an extra dollar will buy a bag of wallaby food. A short briefing will get you ready to navigate the gorge and remind you not to break a leg and off you go. The wallabies are as pleased to see you as you are to see them …
We stroked one or two before tearing ourselves away and heading towards Cairns. On the way we set up our camp at Speewah then spent the late afternoon birding along Black Mountain Road, Kuranda. Here we were able to add Barred Cuckoo-shrike to the species list.
Back at Speewah, after dark, we spotlighted along the upper trails of the Barron Gorge National Park. The falling bomb call of the Sooty Owl could be heard clearly but we were unable to get a look at it. Nor was it inclined to come and see what was making, to my ears at least, an excellent copy of its call. Perhaps it was classically trained and not interested in a jazz musician’s interpretation.