Cooktown …

There was a time when every Australian child knew that Captain Cook discovered Australia. Not exactly true, of course, but quite possibly more than today’s school children know about the early days of the European influx that led to our modern society.

Jimmy

James Cook was born at Marton in Yorkshire in 1728. He was a bright lad of humble origins. The family moved to Great Ayton where his father became a farm manager. His father’s employer paid for young Jimmy to go to school.

Cook’s career at sea began in the merchant navy as an apprentice on a coal carrier. He studied diligently those subjects that he would need to take charge of his own ship, mathematics, navigation and astronomy, and at the end of his three year apprenticeship passed his exams. Three years later he was promoted to mate. Soon after that he passed up the chance to take command of a collier to join the Royal Navy.

That was a move that saw him starting at the bottom all over again. In 1755 Able Seaman Cook joined HMS Eagle. By 1757 Cook was master of The Pembroke. This was a time of war. The Seven Years War (1755 – 1764) has as good a claim to being a world war as any subsequent war. It pitted Britain against France with virtually all of Europe aligned with one side or the other and dragging in their colonies notably Canada.

It was during this war that General Wolfe surprised and defeated the French on the Plains of Abraham outside Quebec City, a pivotal moment in Canadian history. To put the troops in position to launch the attack it was necessary to navigate up the tricky St Lawrence River. A three month siege preceded the battle during which time Cook on The Pembroke surveyed and mapped the river. And it was Cook that led the troop carrying flotilla into place.

Cook went on to survey and map the Newfoundland Coast.

By the conclusion of the war Cook’s talent as a map maker combined with his obvious competence put him in good stead with The Admiralty. Meanwhile the Royal Society was urging a voyage of exploration in the direction of the much anticipated Terra Australis (necessary to balance the great land mass of the Northern Hemisphere and keep the globe from toppling off its axis). They proposed that Alexander Dalrymple, a noted geographer, be in command. The First Lord of the Admiralty’s response was that he’d rather cut a hand off than have a civilian in charge of a navy ship. Cook was acceptable to both these august bodies.

First step was Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus. Which was duly observed on a clear night on June 3rd 1769. After which our James opened a sealed envelope revealing the rest of his super secret instructions, essentially search the Pacific.

Early October saw him arrive in New Zealand, the first European visit since being discovered by Abel Tasman in 1642. Cook mapped the entire coastline, discovering in the process that the North and South Islands are separated by what is now known as Cook Strait. One of his few errors was not recognising that Stuart Island is similarly separated from South Island.

Having completed his task in New Zealand Cook had a problem. He could discover nothing by heading north west and returning home via The Cape of Good Hope. It was late autumn, his ship was not fit to take a southerly route to round Cape Horn. He outlined his thinking in his Journal and determined …

… upon Leaving this Coast to steer to the Westward until we fall in with the East Coast of New Holland, and then to follow the direction of that Coast to the Northward

Europeans had been bumping into the north and west coasts of Australia aka New Holland since 1606 (Janszoon on The Duyfken). For almost all the rest of the century the Dutch pretty much had a monopoly on the place accumulating quite a list of discoveries. It was 1699 before the poms got involved, William Dampier exploring the west coast and collecting the first botanical specimens to reach the scientific establishment.

The north east extremity of Australia is Torres Strait. That was put on the map in 1606 by Luis Váez de Torres who wrote of “very large islands, and more to the south“. The south east extremity was put on the map by Tasman in 1642. Cook set out to join the dots.

Landfall was well south on the coast on Friday 20th April. Cook named it Point Hicks after the his Lieutenant (a Stepney lad and therefore a cockney like me). Proceeding north Cook discovered Botany Bay and Port Jackson, subsequently the place where Sydney was founded, (according to Melbournians the largest of Cook’s mistakes). Then even further north to the Great Barrier Reef and after bumping into that off Cape Tribulation to the mouth of Endeavour River where he repaired his ship.

The repairs took seven weeks. While they were in progress the scientists went collecting. One of the most important things they brought back was a word garnered from the local aboriginal people, gangurru, which we spell a little differently these days.

This is the place where Cooktown now stands, which is where you can find the statue shown above.

It is a small tropical town, only recently discovered by tourists and not overly commercialised. It is a delightful place to visit just as it is but for me it ranks as one of the most significant historical sites that we have.

Adventures at Shipton’s Flat …

The wet tropics are famous for being wet. Even here, though, there are drier times and wetter times. The wet season had not yet arrived. Lewis and Charlie were working hard to keep their cattle fed. Lewis was cutting grass along the road and fetching it home to hand feed some of the more pampered animals while Charlie was walking others all over the district, an old Aussie tradition referred to as using the long paddock.

At the end of a hard days work Charlie was more than happy to take us spotlighting. Our targets were any of a number of possum species that are found only in that particular neck of the woods. So off we went, on foot and off trail. After about 45 minutes we were examining some very promising scratch marks around the lower parts of some tree trunks when the back of my right hand came in contact with the leaves of a Dendrocnide moroidies.

Stinging Tree

They are more popularly known as the Stinging Tree or Gympie Bush. Note the heart shaped leaves covered in fine hairs. This illustration was shamelessly filched from KrackersWorld. The plant is a pioneer that loves to grow in disturbed places such as alongside tracks. Small plants are as unpleasant as the larger ones maybe more so.

The pain was immediate, intense and persistent. Within half an hour the lymph nodes in my armpit were sore and swollen. The pain overnight prevented much in the way of sleep. Charlie was most apologetic … initially. This soon gave way to war stories about the numerous occasions on which he had been stung and what I could look forward to because this is no passing inconvenience. For any where up to 18 months hot, cold, getting wet or knocking the affected part causes pain. It is now five weeks since that momentary contact. The flow of cold air over my hand on the steering wheel is enough to cause severe pain.

Interestingly, although the pain is reminiscent of a burn there is no visible injury to the tissues.

Back at camp Charlie poured vinegar over my hand. This was as good an approximation of the recommended treatment as we could manage. Better would have been the application of a solution of 10-15% hydrochloric acid in water, followed by waxing the area to remove the stinging hairs.

If you’re heading to this region it is well worth knowing what these plants look like. They are often quite insect eaten when they look like <this>. The Cape Tribulation Research Station page is an excellent source of further information. Kids are particularly vulnerable. Long pants, closed shoes and dire warnings about wandering off the track are all useful preventative measures.

The following day it was Lewis’s turn to give up his time. He took us birding and then we switched our attention to a very special mammal. Both the brothers have an encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world around them. Their conversation is peppered with the scientific names of the plants, frogs, birds and lizards. They know every bird call, when each plant will flower and what will visit them when they do. After showing us a goodly collection of Honeyeaters and calling up a Barking Owl we set off in search of Bennett’s Tree Kangaroo. It took some finding but we got it. We had about an hour of hard going over steep and trackless terrain in hot weather. Then we had to retrace our steps. On the way there I was buoyed by the chase, on the way back all I could think of was a long cool drink. Unlike the Lumholz Tree Kangaroo on Mount Hypipamee this guy did not present himself in the open for a photo session, but just to prove it was really there …

Bennett's T K

Honest, look carefully, it’s right in the middle.

The Bloomfield Track …

We left Sauce Worcester at the Daintree Village jetty with smiles on our faces and retraced our tyre prints to the Daintree Ferry. The next leg of our journey would be on the notorious Bloomfield Track.

Bloomfield Track

The ferry is a cable barge affair that takes a maximum of 27 vehicles, the wait generally takes longer than the crossing especially in the high tourist season. A two way crossing currently costs $25 for a car.

It wasn’t particularly busy when we reached the pay box. The not at all unattractive and possibly a little bored lady on duty gave us a cold reading.

“G’day”, said  the ticket psychic casting her eye over the Prado and camper trailer armour-plated with mud from the Paluma range.

“Hi”,

“You’ll be wanting a one way ticket … ?”

“Yes please …” and I was about to ask how the track was holding up,

“Yeah, no” she said, “You guys’ll have no trouble”.

Across the ferry you run straight into the perfect collision of rainforest with commercial reality, a tropical paradise subdivided into 5 acre blocks … but you can buy great ice-cream. Drive carefully Cassowaries have little road sense. All of this is soon behind you. From Cape Tribulation on it’s the real deal.

The Bloomfield Track was bulldozed through the rainforest in 1984 against fierce opposition from the conservation lobby. The state government were on a mission to develop the local economy. As is typical of the way we do things here in Oz the federal government followed up by nominating the area for world heritage listing. This was achieved against fierce opposition from the state government, logging is now forbidden.

Now, on a good day, you can drive your 4WD from Daintree to Cooktown in a leisurely few hours. Your alternative is the far longer inland route via Mt. Molloy and Lakeland on the sealed Mulligan Highway. On a bad day you can get stuck, check road conditions at the link in the paragraph above before setting out.

The first tourist to get into a scrape at Cape Tribulation was Jimmy Cook on June 10th 1770. The nearby Endeavour Reef is named after his ship, the Cape is named to reflect his appreciation of the pristine wilderness.

A Google search for the track will leave the uninitiated totally confused. Should you drive it or not. Take courage, my friend, do it. What could possibly go wrong?

It crosses the Donovan and Cowie ranges and is steep in places. Most of the significant river crossings now have bridges but your tyres will get wet, they will cope. If the track is open and your vehicle is 4WD you’ll wonder what the fuss was about and if you get stuck stay with the vehicle there’ll be someone along soon. Tell them that I said they would help you.

Quite where we would stay at the other end of the track had not been determined in advance. But we had a strategy. Our first stop would be the Lion’s Den, we didn’t take the dog.

Lions Den

No Dogs

As a student the biologist you see walking a reasonably straight line out of the hotel took a vacation job at a tourist lodge a little north of here on Cape York. When it finished the young man was introduced to some folks in Cooktown with similar interests in the natural world. The introduction was nice and formal … “Tell them Joe sent you”. So he did, it was the start of a chain of similar introductions. Ultimately he found himself being delivered by the mail lady to a farm at Shipton’s Flat. No one knew he was coming or who he was. Brothers Lewis and Charlie made him welcome, gave him a place to stay and fed him. They took time out from the daily grind to show him around and when the mail lady came the following week he bade farewell.

The farm is off grid, the exact address forgotten, the phone number lost. Only one thing to do, head for the pub. The barmaids were extremely good looking and were dressed very appropriately for the tropics. The guy on the stool next to us had the remarkable knack of ordering a drink that had to be retrieved from beneath the bar immediately in front of us and was from the property right next to Lewis and Charlie. Such blessings, beer, cleavage, information.

When we got to the farm we were made welcome. Mark reminded them of the circumstances of his previous visit but they had made a much greater impression on him than he had on them. They did remember the mail lady who it seems had moved to the remote south some years before, the remote south being anywhere further than Cairns. We were invited into the house for tea and biscuits. It was a typical Queenslander house, raised on stilts to catch the breeze. It was built of rainforest timber that would now cost a king’s ransom. No internet, no air conditioning, in fact no electricity, they used bottled gas to cook and run the refrigerator. On the wall was a beautiful photograph of a stream running through a rainforest. Mark had taken the photo on the Bloomfield Track and sent it to them to thank them for their hospitality.

 

 

Daintree River …

One of my favorite memories from previous trips to the wet tropics is birding with Chris Dahlberg. On seeing some interesting bird he would say “Come with me …”, and of course we would, we were after all confined to a small boat. Chris has moved on to another phase of his life but one can still take an early morning cruise on the Daintree River with Sauce Worcester at the helm.

It is essential to book in advance, cruises leave from the jetty right in the Daintree village. In theory cruises last for two hours but Mr Worcester is very generous with his time. He takes you up stream and down and pokes around in the little creeks. Some much sought-after birds like Little Kingfisher, Black Bittern and Great-billed Heron are quite often seen on the cruise and Sauce is pretty good at getting you in the right place for a photo. You will finish the trip with a good list.

Here is a Black Butcherbird, not radiantly attractive to look at and of less than endearing manners, it is an aggressive nest predator, but it does have a lovely voice.

Black Butcherbird

The Azure Kingfisher, on the other hand has better manners and is delightful to look at. Its voice is a rather depressing and monotonous kek …

Azure Kingfisher

And this guy is rarely heard and something of a struggle to see …

 Papuan Frogmouth

It’s in there somewhere. It is a Papuan Frogmouth, they feed at night. Unlike owls their feet are weak, they capture prey ranging from large insects to small mammals by seizing them in their beaks. During the day they do a very good impersonation of a branch. This one is sitting on a nest, a flimsy construction of sticks. It’s the male that sits during the day, the sexes alternate at night.

One often sees some very impressive crocodiles on the cruise but November is not a good time for them. It is mating season, none are sitting out lazing the day away, the large males are patrolling their territories and everything else is hiding from them.

Parting of the ways …

We greeted the new day with heavy hearts, the lovely Gayle would be leaving us today.

Bird watching would not be totally neglected but our most important tasks today would be to get her to the airport on time and to resupply for the next leg of the trip. An early morning stroll in the Barron Gorge National Park was more sombre than usual.

Between us and Cairns Airport was the Cattana Wetlands and there was just enough time to do them justice. From Speewah it is a fairly steep descent to the coastal strip at Smithfield  just north of Cairns. Right at the roundabout then left at the next one takes you towards Yorkeys Knob. Third road on the left is Dunne Road and will take you to the gate, avoid the temptation to take Cattana Road it will not take you to the gate.

There are a number of ponds, a boardwalk, picnic facilities and even a bird hide or two. It’s not been open to the public for very long but the recently planted trees are big enough now to give a reasonably natural feel to the place.

A male Green Pygmy Goose was reasonably approachable …

Green Pygmy Goose

as was this even more attractive Comb-crested Jacana …

Comb-crested Jacana

We disturbed a Lace Monitor along one of the tracks which promptly ran up a tree. They always head for the other side of the trunk, you can sometimes get a photo by staying still and having a companion go around to the other side although by the time you’ve done that it may be way up high …

Lace Monitor

… and while you’re looking in the trees, look out for these …

Ant Plant

They are Myrmecophytes or Ant Plants. There is quite a diverse array of them, this particular type, in the family Rubiacaea, provides a dwelling place in that bulbous base that ants inhabit. The technical term for such structures is domatia. In return the ants keep leaf eating insects away. You can see from the photo that these are growing on another tree and have rather palatial domatial swellings. They are  therefore tuberous epiphytic rubiaceous myrmecophytes, any of which might come in handy at your next trivia night.

By the time I’d finished explaining all this to Gayle she was quite ready to hop on the plane.

And so to the Smithfield Shopping Mall to resupply … at Dan Murphy’s bottle shop.

Tableland …

Our second day on the Atherton Tableland and a lot of ground to cover.

First stop was Lake Barrine where we walked the circuit. Then a short drive to Lake Eacham where once again we walked the circuit.

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 …

Grey-headed Robin

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 …

Green Ringtail

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 …

Mareeba Rock Wallaby

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.

 

Atherton Tableland …

An early start from Etty Beach and we were soon on our way up onto the tableland. This is the premier bird watching destination in Australia but one the party had visited quite a few times before. We had allowed ourselves two days here and we intended to wring the absolute maximum out of our stay.

We drove up via South Johnstone and Millaa Millaa and made our first birding stop at Hypipamee National Park. We were quickly rewarded with Fernwren and Mountain Thornbill but after that birds were fairly slow to surrender and some of the regular suspects didn’t turn up at all. But if we were surprised at that we were even more surprised by Mark’s discovery of a Lumholtz Tree Kangaroo wide awake in the mid morning …

 

L T K

Our destination for the night was Malanda, specifically chosen so that we could spotlight for this extraordinary creature, the best way to find this always elusive animal. They feed on leaves of rainforest trees in which they are agile and competent climbers aided by impressive claws and the ability to use their hind legs independently. When they come to the ground they bound along in the same fashion as other kangaroos. Generally they spend the daylight hours curled up in dense foliage sound asleep.

Hypipamee is also called The Crater in honour of its striking geological feature, a diatreme created, so they say, when gas exploded beneath a granite surface layer blasting a pipe to the surface. The pipe is 70 metres in diameter and contains a lake. It is 58 metres from rim to the water level and the water is another 70 metres deep. It would appear from the viewing platform that visitors have made a significant effort to fill it in with thrown objects. If it weren’t for the 400 metre walk from the carpark it would now be full of fridges, TVs and old mattresses. The walls are shear but somehow a population of Saw-shell Turtles has made its home there. I suspect though that their descendants will not be making any contribution to the wider gene pool.

From there we made our way up Highway 1 towards Atherton. The next stop was the Wongabel Forest walk. Much of the tableland would have been forest but most has been cleared for agriculture. For some inexplicable reason the patch that the walk is in was reforested. It must have seemed a quite revolutionary idea at the time. Many of the trees are labelled, it makes for a very pleasant and informative walk.

A complete contrast awaited us at Hastie’s Swamp where we quickly notched up a list of water birds along with a few migratory waders. We had lunch there. A majestic White-bellied Sea Eagle also dropped by for lunch causing considerable unrest among the residents. From there to Malanda we looked out for Brolga and Sarus Cranes, there are often quite large flocks to be seen in the surrounding fields but on that occasion we were not successful.

For a commercial caravan site Malanda is a very pleasant place to camp. There is plenty of room and easy walking access to the Johnstone River and the Malanda Falls Conservation Park. There is a new and rather splendid visitor centre in the conservation park. We took tea in the company of Red-legged Pademelons and two of Australia’s Megapodes, the Brush Turkey and the Orange-footed Scrubfowl. These are mound building birds. They lay their eggs in their mound where the vegetable matter they have incorporated composts providing all the necessary heat for incubation. The youngsters hatch, dig their way out and are immediately able to fend for themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wet …

Most of Australia is very dry

Australia Rainfall

If it’s brown, yellow or the lightest green on the map then average annual rainfall is less than 400mm (less than 16 inches). That’s most of the country. Rainfall is highest near the coast, on the mountains and in the far north. In the southern half of the continent rainfall in winter exceeds that in summer. In the north summer rainfall predominates.

We pick up our journey at Alligator creek just south of Townsville. Even at the scale of the map it’s possible to see that from there heading north is a journey into a part of Australia that is way wetter than the average.

The wet tropics stretches up the Great Dividing Range  from Townsville in the south to Cooktown in the north. The highest point along the way is Mount Bartle Frere at 1,622 metres and not far away is Bellenden Ker (1,593m), This part of the region enjoys 8 metres of rainfall per year. The mountain range has been dissected by at least nine significant rivers leading to plenty of opportunity for local evolution and the region as a whole is cut off from other wet areas by the surrounding dry country. This is a formula for high levels of endemism in flora and fauna.

Wet Tropics

Driving up from the south the first chance to get amongst it is at Paluma 90km from Townsville. It’s a steep drive up from the coast. Your first stop has to be the Ivy Cottage tea rooms! Take scones on the balcony overlooking the forest, fight the birds off  your food with one hand whilst taking photos of them with the other.

Ivy Cottage

Macleay's Honeyeater

 

Victoria's Riflebird

 

Rainbow Lorikeet

I recommend the cheesecake.

When we tore ourselves away from there we had to work a little harder for our birds but not too far away we found the maypole bower of the Golden Bowerbird.

Maypole

The male constructs and maintains this remarkable edifice, decorating it with lichen throughout the breeding season. Females visit to inspect his work, if impressed they mate with him. He plays no further role in the raising of his offspring. He was keeping a watchful eye on his bower when we were there.

Golden Bowerbird

Our next objective was Wallaman Falls. We could have retraced our steps to the coast turned north and run up the escarpment again but we opted to take the road less travelled on the inland side of the range via Home Valley and Fox Mountain. This was a fairly rough track mainly through dry eucalypt woodland. Wallaman Falls has the longest drop of any Australian waterfall.

Wallaman Falls

Not exactly Niagara especially at the end of the dry in this El Niño year. What we really wanted to see here was a Cassowary which would have been a tick for Mark. No luck. So on to our camp site for the night, at Etty Beach near Innisfail.

Why camp at a caravan park when there is so much national park in the neighbourhood?

Cassowary

That’s Dad with the chicks and this is a reliable place to see them.

Townsville …

With the Eungella Honeyeater ticked off, the next step of the journey was to pick up young Mark at Townsville Airport.

Once again, our campsite was chosen for its convenient location and not given the attention it deserved. Alligator Creek is 25km south of Townsville in the Mount Elliot section of Bowling Green Bay National Park. The park covers just under 58,000 hectares ranging from mangroves on the coast to rainforest on the mountain tops. It includes some significant wetlands. It is home to some very interesting creatures including the Estuarine Crocodile although it might be better to encounter an Allied Rock Wallaby or a  Rufous Bettong. An overnight stay just doesn’t do it justice. Camping needs to be booked online. Facilities include showers and toilets and a picnic shelter or two, very pleasant.

As we arrived we discovered that there is a gate some ways from the camp site that is closed from 6.30 pm until 6am. We were picking Mark up at 7.30 pm. This raised two obvious considerations. Firstly the car would have to be out of the area prior to 6.30. Secondly, Mark’s camping gear and food were in the vehicle and weighed a ton and therefore a moral dilemma. Should I take his gear out in the camp site and bask in the awareness of my great kindness or would it be more amusing to watch him carry it?

We set up tent. I took out Mark’s gear. And then we explored. One of the highlights was a pair of White-browed Robins occupying a territory near the campsite …

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then into town we went, the flight was on time and we were soon back at the gate. It was wide open, presumably the closure occurs only at busy times. On this occasion we were the only campers in the place.

 

Eungella …

It’s nice, from time to time, to come across a bird that you haven’t seen before. When you first start birdwatching that is a frequent occurrence, even at the local park. As your list grows you eventually reach a stage where you can pick a few target species and join the dots to draw up an itinerary. This particular trip had just two avian dots. The first was the Eungella Honeyeater. It was once lumped with the Bridled Honeyeater but is isolated from it geographically and sufficiently different to earn a promotion. It is found only in the hills inland of MacKay in Queensland. Part of its range is protected in the Eungella National Park (which the locals pronounce Young-gella).

From Gundabooka to Eungella is a mere 1400 km, we broke the drive at Tambo, spending the night at Stubby Bend, no charge, no need to book, no facilities whatever. An acceptable bush campsite overlooking a billabong.

In Eungella we stayed at the Broken River camp site which needs to be booked online in advance. I suspect that school holidays would be best avoided.  It is a very pleasant spot and a rather more luxurious camp site than I’m used to. The creek is one of the most reliable places for Platypus I have ever visited. We stayed three nights and saw a few every morning and evening.

Platpus

Over the eons Australia’s climate has changed, rainforest has expanded and contracted. There are three quite distinct refugia which have given rise to three distinct groups of rainforest birds. The most southerly straddles the NSW Queensland border and among other things is home to the Paradise Riflebird. Moving north one finds the Atherton Tablelands, inland of Cairns, home of Victoria’s Riflebird and at the tip of the country on Cape York you can find the Magnificent Riflebird. Eungella is a less famous fourth. Whilst it can only claim the Honeyeater in the way of endemic birds the level of endemicity is far higher in its flora.

We arrived in the evening and made do with Platypus watching the first day. The morning couldn’t come soon enough. We were armed with some information to help us in our search. In the wet season, and November qualifies as being wet enough, the Honeyeater is a denizen of the rain forest, and is associated especially with climbing pandanus. In the dry it moves into drier forest and is more difficult to find.

Freycinetta excelsa

The first spot we tried had changed beyond recognition from the description we had. At the second we were soon successful. So here is the good oil …

From the little township of Eungella take Dalrymple Road, follow it to the very end. The last road you pass will be Fredericksons Road. For most of the way you will have rainforest on one side and dairy farms on the other. Soon after Fredericksons road you will have rainforest on both sides of the road. Look for the pandanus and listen out for the very distinctive scratchy call. They are easy enough to find but they don’t stay still to have their photo taken.

Another spot said to be successful is a little way up Diggings Road which is between Eungella township and Broken River camp site. The habitat looks good but we didn’t find the Honeyeater here. We had to make do with a Noisy Pitta as consolation.

We celebrated in style with a pleasant evening meal at the Broken River Mountain Resort. They feed the possums from the balcony and offer a spotlighting walk on Tuesday and Thursday evening. So we capped off the day with a good look at Long-nosed Bandicoot and Feather-tailed Glider. Who could ask for anything more?

There are many other great birds to find in the national park and not too far away there is Finch Hatton Gorge, excellent for a morning walk, and Eungella Dam, great for waterbirds even in the heat of the day. A top destination.