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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones

Birding On My Own
Australia &
New Zealand 2002
Emmalee Tarry
Revised 2015

Trip Reports

 Table of Contents


Chapter 12

Atherton Table Lands - Caines

Cassowary House
Atherton Tableland South
Caines Esplanade
Caines Michaelmas Key
Caines Crocodile Farm

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Orchid blooming at Cassowary House

Cassowary House

Kuranda is located at the top of the Great Dividing Range at about the middle of the Atherton Plateau. Owned by Phil and Sue Gregory, the Cassowary House is a lodge catering to birders. Phil leads bird trips and was not there during my September visit. Sue is a an excellent cook and very knowledgeable about the birds that come to her feeders. I came here to see a Cassowary and again was disappointed. I am beginning to get worried about seeing this bird. Sue reports that at Mission Beach the rangers have closed the Licula Forest track because one of the Cassowaries was too aggressive. Sue only sees her Cassowary on certain days and this just wasn't one them.

My room was downstairs in the main house and had a shower and sink. The toilet was next to my room and I shared it with Sue's son.The room for one person cost AU$55 and I paid AU$32.50 for dinner and breakfast.It was worth a visit just to sit and watch the feeders and talk with Sue and to enjoy her fine cooking.

Spangled Drongo waits to visit the feeder at Cassowary House. (right

Mail From Sue - April 2003

Our male (Cassowary) did not return until November with three chicks in tow. We had got very worried about him but I imagine something happened to the first brood and he had to start all over again. Father and chicks are all well and visiting us daily on their tour through the forest. Mum drops by a couple of times a week occasionally meeting up with them but showing no maternal signs when she does. At least she is not aggressive towards the chicks, she just ignores them.

The Spotted Catbird is a very aggressive visitor to the feeders. MacLeay's Honeyeater, Helmeted Friarbird, Bush Turkey, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Yellow-spotted Honeyeater, Emerald Dove, Little Shrike-thrush, Spectacled Monarch, Silvereye, Victoria's Riflebird, Figbird.

In the evening the Red-necked Crake appeared right outside my bedroom. This bird alone was worth the visit. In some years you can see it at Kingfisher Park and it can also be seen from the boardwalk in Caines.

Several Musky Rat Kangaroos about the size of a rabbit come out at night. This is not a rodent, but a marsupial. You can tell by the way it hops. Unfortunately the Musky Rat Kangaroo is considered vulnerable. It suffers primarily from rainforest clearing and loss of habitat. 
Cassowary House
Phil and Sue Gregory
PO Box 387
Kuranda, Qld 4872
Self-contained units or full board (no camping)
(07) 4093 7318

South Atherton Tablelands

There are some excellent birding spots on the south end of the Atherton Tablelands. I made my headquarters on the south end at the large and shady Miranda Falls Caravan Park. From here I visited: Lake Eacham, Curtain Figtree at Yungabura, Broomfield Swamp, and Hastie Swamp.

This Spotted Catbird hid in the woods behind my campsite, but eagerly came down if I put out some crackers.

There was a Bush Turkey mound in the woods also. One large male defended my camp site from about 10 other birds. I suspect the mound right behind my camper belonged to him.

There are two sites at the campground where you can see Platypus after dark and at first light. The first was near my campsite. Go down the stairs to the swimming pool under the falls. Stand on the small bridge and look downstream. I had no luck at this spot.

To reach the other platypus site, drive out of the campground and turn right. You will cross a bridge. Just over the bridge and across from the Wet Tropics Center you will see a track into the woods. Walk to the viewing platform at a pool. Here you will see turtles. Go on past the platform until the track paving stops and the path starts to climb the hill. Walk left to edge of the creek and wait here until it is good and dark. I saw my first Platypus swimming across the creek about 6:10 PM. It is important to be very quiet while looking for Platypus. Usually they make ripples in the water and sometimes you can see bubbles. While waiting I saw a Wompoo Fruit-dove sitting on a swinging vine and a big lizard crawled out of the water onto a log.

Curtain Fig Tree

The Curtain Figtree is 500 year old, 50m tall with a circumference of 39m. It grows in a beautiful old growth rainforest and is surrounded by a beautiful boardwalk from which you look down at the forest floor. I saw Bush Turkeys and Brown Gerygone here. The fig tree grew up around another host tree which then fell landing at a 45 degree angle. The figtree continued to grown and send down roots which eventually formed a curtain. All the tourist buses make a quick stop at the Curtain Fig Tree so there is a constant stream of people walking around it, taking pictures and talking. An early morning visit might produce better birds, but you really have other places to be early in the morning.

Lake Eacham

Lake Eacham is a small lake surrounded by a beautiful mature rainforest. I arrived here about mid-morning and found it a bit hot. I took a walk on the track around the lake seeing Brown Cuckoo Dove and Grey Fantail. There was a White Pelican on the lake.

It was so hot, I decided to join the others and take a swim from the beach. The water was cold and clear. Just after I got out a snake swam along the beach with its head out of the water and disappeared into the weeds at the edge. A man declared it to be a very poisonous Brown Snake, but I am uncertain of his credentials. Sort of discouraged any more swimming on my part at least.

Broomfield Swamp

Got an early start from Miranda Falls and took the road to Atherton turning left on Upper Barron Road. This road is a one lane sealed road as far as Broomfield Swamp after which it becomes a one lane unsealed road. Same rules as the Barkley Highway and there was quite a bit of traffic mostly farm trucks.

I stopped at the first farm because there was a flock of Brown Quail in the grass along the road. I also saw Helmeted Friarbirds and Bar-shouldered Dove.

Five kilometer down the road look for the viewing platform for the Broomfield Swamp. The swamp in a private pasture is a bit of water in the remains of an extinct volcano. Get here early to see the Sarus Crane and Brolga.

I had 2 Sarus Cranes which are obviously different. Their tails are lighter grey and legs are pink. I had already seen Brolga in the Northern Territory so I was looking for the Sarus Crane. Actually most of these birds are Sarus Cranes. By 8:30 all the cranes had taken off to feed in the surrounding fields.

This is the view from the Broomfield Swamp viewing platform. This is definitely a scoping opportunity. The water had Magpie Geese (200), Purple Swamphen. A Laughing Kookaburra was in the trees near the platform.

After the cranes took off from the swamp I was able to relocate them in a field some distance from the road. This is the best photograph I could muster. I then drove back the way I came to avoid driving on the unsealed part of the road.

 I went to Mt. Hypipamee National Park and walked the paved track to the edge of the volcano crater located in a higher, cooler rainforest. The track gave a view into the upper story of the rainforest, but there were not many birds. It was still an interesting walk. In the parking lot Blue-faced Honeyeater, Grey-headed Robin, Lewin's Honeyeater.

On the Wongabel Botanical Walk I saw White-throated Treecreeper and Eastern Whipbird.

Hastie Swamp

Visiting Hastie Swamp requires driving on a short length of unsealed road. There is very little traffic. At the end of the road is a fine bird hide. One of the first birds I noticed here was the Yellow-billed Spoonbilll.

Black-fronted Dotterel in front of the bird hide. In the swamp there were 1000 + Plumed Whistling Ducks, Australian Grebe, Hoary-headed Grebe, Black-winged Stilt, Magpie Goose, Pink-eared Duck, Straw-necked Ibis, White Ibis.


I was finally able to tear myself away from the Atherton Tablelands and drove down the escarpment to Caines. The Atherton Tablelands were one of my favorite places in Australia. September is the beginning of summer, but it is cool at least at night on the plateau. Insects were not a problem.

In Caines I stayed at the Coconut Grove Campground on the main highway. It is rather expensive, but has everything including a large swimming pool. There is a cheaper public campground near the Botanical Gardens. I stopped by there, but it didn't look too comfortable. It is hot and muggy here and I wanted shade and a cool swimming pool.

I started September 11, 2002 at the Botanical Gardens. It took me a while to find a proper parking place and by the time I started the boardwalk it was rather late. You can see Red-necked Crake here if you are one of the first to walk the boardwalk.

Outside the gardens, a tour leader I must have seen and talked to previously greeted me with " We meet again. Today is September 11. Are you scared?"  It was 9/11/2002 exactly a year after the planes crashed into the towers in NY. 

I replied that it was only September 10 back home because of the international date line. I wasn't worried for myself, but I was thinking of folks back home. The tour guide went on to tell me " The real loose cannon is George Bush." He is referring to Bush's campaign to go after Sadam Hussein in Iraq. Australia is supposed to be with us on this, but I have picked up some hostility. I have not been watching television or reading newspapers. Once a week I try to buy a copy of the Australian version of Time Magazine to catch up on world news. Most Australian news seems to focus on sports and politics.

I walked the boardwalk to Centenary Lakes seeing mostly Orange-footed Scrub-fowl. At the lakes there are Brahminy Kites, Pacific Black Duck, Rufus Night-heron, Kookaburra, Figbird, Magpie Geese, Pied Imperial Pigeon. A young man tells me he had Red-necked Crake this morning.

It is hot and humid. I went to the Tobruck Pool and for AU$3 swam laps in a 50m pool. While I was in Caines I went to this pool several times around noon and swam a mile each time.

Caines Esplanade

I am on the esplanade in September. My timing is perfect. The migration of shorebirds from the northern hemisphere is on. I spent parts of three days on the esplanade. If I lived here I would be here every day in September.

The Esplanade is a park along the waterfront, not beach but mud flats. If it were a sandy beach it would now be solid hotels. Mud flats attract birds not tourists. You need your scope here. The strategy is to wander the length of the flats starting at the north or mangrove end on a rising tide. There are benches to sit on.

As the tide comes in, the feeding birds are pushed toward the shore. At high tide only small areas at the south end remain above water and the waders settle down to wait for the tide to turn.

Watch the mud carefully and you may locate a mudskipper. The mudskipper is a fish with goggle eyes and air sacs. They move across the mud from one pool to another using their fins.

Look at this beautiful shoreline. Wouldn't this make a wonderful resort if that were only sand and not mud? The city fathers saw the potential here. For several years this wonderful birding area was threatened with development.

A compromise was reached and construction is underway to build an artificial beach in the south most corner. It will only destroy a small part of the esplanade. If only it stops now.

Of course either north or south of the esplanade is beautiful beach. Why don't they build hotels on the beach instead of coming up with schemes to build a beach here. Actually they have built hotels on the beach. Let's hope they preserve the esplanade.


John Crowhurst

A fixture along the esplanade is John Crowhurst. John used to be the park gardener and unofficial bird guide. Now retired he comes to the esplanade every day he is able and helps tourists and birders identify the birds.

There is a kiosk in the park with pictures of the waders and an explanation of the importance of the mud flats.

Here is John in action pointing out the birds to a couple from Great Britain. John is available for other bird guiding in the Caines area.

Update 2010  John Crowhurst is deceased. He was a generous birder  who shared his hobby with others.  He will be missed.

Flotilla of Pelicans fishing in formation just off the esplanade.

Eastern Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwings, Ruddy Turnstone, Black-fronted Dotterel, Great Knot

Red-necked Stint, Red-capped Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Greenshank, Pied Oystercatcher, Curlew Sandpiper, Golden Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler

These Whimbrel are roosting at the very high tide waiting for the tide to turn to start feeding again.

Other birds seen here were: Caspian, Gull-billed Terns, White-belied Sea Eagle, Sacred Kingfisher, Osprey, Jaiburu

Michaelmas Key

Caines is known as for the Great Barrier Reef. The city offers many choices of scuba diving and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. For the trip to Michaelmas Key you can go on a big fast boat or choose the smaller birder friendly Sea Star II with Captain Ray Brooker. For AU$7, a bus picked me up at the Coconut Grove saving me the hassle of finding a parking place and worry about someone breaking into the campervan while I was gone all day.

There were 5 people aboard the Sea Star II. Most were divers. On the trip out we had 2 Pied Imperial Pigeons flying toward shore. A Brown Booby on a piling in the outer harbor. Crested Terns. You may also see Masked Booby on the island.

Michaelmas Key is a small coral island about 40 km northeast of Caines. At peak times up to 30,000 birds can be found here. It is a popular tourist destination and to protect the birds, a small area of beach is roped off for people. The rest of the small island is for nesting birds.

Captain Brooker took me and another birder in a rowboat around the other side of the island so that we could see all the birds.

Crested Terns and Lesser Crested Terns breed on Michaelmas Key. The day I was there we saw: Sooty Terns, Bridled Tern, Ruddy Turnstone, Common ( Brown) Noddy, Lesser Frigatebird, Black-naped Tern.
Caines Crocodile Farm

The crocodile farm is south of Caines. For some reason restaurants in Caines serve crocodile. Tastes just like chicken somebody told me. So eat chicken. At any rate the farm opens at 9 AM and charges AU$13 adult admission. The ponds are filled with waders and the surrounding woods can also be productive. And if you didn't see enough crocodiles at Daintree you can certainly see many here.

Waders included this Black-necked Stilt. I saw a Marsh Sandpiper here. Spotless Crake flew across my path. I didn't get a good look at this bird until I got to New Zealand.

Figbird, Sunbird, Spotted Turtledove, Royal, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Purple Swamphen, Plumed Whistling Duck, Glossy ibis, White Ibis, Darter, Little Pied Cormorant, Black Cormorant, Willy Wagtail, Welcome Swallow, Striated Heron, Black-fronted Dotterel

I picked up Chestnut-breasted Mannikins in the dry woods around the farm.

The Everglades Walk, a raised road along side the pens for the very largest crocodiles, affords views into the tops of the Mangroves just outside the farm. I had Cicada bird and Broad-billed Flycatcher along this road.

One of the strangest sights along this road were a pair of Brown-backed Honeyeaters having an altercation that was so violent both fell into the water just in front of a very large crocodile who snapped at them. They were very lucky on this day.

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