FNQ – Tablelands and Cairns

Nothing like some stunning birds distracting one from having breakfast and packing up – these beautiful Olive-backed Sunbirds were having a great time feeding right next to our van.

As we couldn’t go further north in our hired campervan (or we could have but wouldn’t have been covered by any insurance), we decided to head back up to the Atherton Tablelands. After winding up another steep escarpment, we stopped at Kingfisher Lodge near Julatten, a wonderful birder’s paradise where you can either stay over or just visit for the day. We spent a few blissful (but also frustrating) hours wandering around, seeing some awesome birds (and butterflies) but getting a little tired of the low light and dense vegetation which makes rainforest photography so tricky.

We stopped a couple more times at some places that were recommended for birding – Abbatoir Swamp was not hugely scenic but quite productive; Mareeba Wetlands was mostly disappointing as apparently all the good birds had left in the prelude to Cyclone Debbie a few weeks earlier (and further south). The landscape in this area is very interesting with large anthills nested in amongst what reminded me strongly of an African savanna.

We then headed south to stay overnight at Lake Eacham, one of the stunning crater lakes (which possibly houses a freshwater crocodile). This is an awesome area to explore – fascinating forests with huge fig trees, lots of birds and other wildlife, plus delicious tea and scones at Lake Barrine! A highlight was a quick trip to Mount Hyipamee National Park where we saw an Amethystine Python in a tree (not too close, the downside of which is that I don’t have a decent image as I left my camera in the car and only had my phone).

Another slightly scary trip back down the escarpment saw us back in Cairns for a night with friends before heading home. Luckily they live close to the Botanical Gardens and Centenary Lakes so we managed to squeeze in a bit more birding and butterfly hunting.

Corellas and cockatoos

Flock of corellas at sunset
Flock of corellas at sunset

Some of the noisiest and most commonly seen parrots in Australia are the large white corellas and cockatoos – huge flocks can often be found congregating loudly near their roosting sites, like these Little Corellas at Carine Open Space. These birds all feed on the ground and seem to have adapted well to human landscapes, to the point of being pests.

In Western Australia, a feral population of the Long-billed Corella has established after aviary releases. Destructive pests in WA and their native Victoria, they damage crops and chew cabling, reticulation pipes, and even tarmac. On the East Coast, the Sulphur-crested Cockatoos can be just as destructive – I’ve seen them completely wrecking the fittings on street lights, seemingly just for fun. Certainly no-one can watch any of these birds for long and not be amused by their antics. They make great photographic subjects.

Sometimes known as the rock stars of birding, Carnaby’s Cockatoos are loud, messy and very engaging. Endemic to the south-west corner of Western Australia, they (and the closely-related Baudin’s cockatoo) are endangered, threatened by habitat destruction and competition for the limited number of nest hollows. Luckily they do seem to be adaptable with regard to their food requirements, expanding their diet to include the seeds of commercially grown pine trees (see here for a research paper on this topic). They probably still prefer their traditional diet of native plants like dryandra and hakea. As with most cockatoos, they form lifelong partnerships with their mates.

Disregarded by many Australians as a noisy pest, Galahs (also known as Pink and Greys) are a very attractive bird that visitors enjoy seeing. Another species that has benefited from our changes to the environment, they are common in most rural areas of Australia as well as in many urban areas, where they feed on our handily provided green lawns. They usually nest in tree hollows and have been know to debark trees to prevent predators climbing up the trunks. As with most birds in this group, they are noisy but lots of fun to observe.