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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

Comments to webmaster

 
Chapter 13

Queensland South

South of Caines
About The Cassowary
Mission Beach Area
How To See A Wild Cassowary
Lacey Creek
Licula Forest
Billabong Sanctuary
Spring in Queensland
Ivy Cottage at Paluma
Townsville Commons
Eungella - Platypus
New England Plateau



Wild Cassowary

This is a wild male Cassowary photographed near the Licula Forest in Mission Beach, Australia

South of Caines
I don't think a birder could ever be ready to leave the north Queensland area. There are too many birds and too many places to bird. Some birders never leave. They find a way to make their futures here.

It is the middle of September and I am signed up for the September 25 Wollongong Pelagic. I have to push south. My last chance to see a Cassowary will be at Mission Beach and I want to give it as much time as it takes to see this bird and remember I have yet to really see a Platypus.
It rained all night in Caines and was still raining the next morning. On the way out of town I drove down the crocodile farm road to search for the Yarrabah sod farm mentioned in Thomas and Thomas. I could find nothing but cane fields along this road. John Crowhurst had mentioned the sod farm so it must still exist and he would be a good guide.

I also left the Bruce Highway at Bramston Beach Road to look for the Eubenangee Swamp National Park following directions in Wieneke. I drove all the way to Bramston Beach finding no signs. There was an unpaved road off of the main road, but in the rain I was reluctant to negotiate it. On the way back to the highway a Baillon's Crake flew in front of the car. I slowed to avoid hitting it and just missed being rear-ended by a pickup truck following too close.  Not a good start to the day.  I decided to move on to Mission Beach.

Cassowary
Birds fly, right? Except the flightless birds. Why give up front limbs for wings and then not fly. This is what makes the flightless birds so fascinating. Penguins don't fly but rather use their wings to swim. Then there are the ratites group of flightless birds. The ratites include the African Ostrich a large bird of the plains that runs, the Rheas South America, New Zealand's Kiwis, Australia's Emu and Cassowaries. The Moas of New Zealand were also Ratites but they are no longer with us.

There are three species of cassowary, one of which is found in Australia. The other two are indigenous to New Guinea and some of the adjacent islands.

The Australia Cassowary Casuarius casuarius highly endangered, hangs on in the wet tropical rainforest of Queensland and some small isolated areas of north-eastern Cape York Peninsula. Perhaps as few as 1,200 cassowaries remain in the wild and seeing one is a rare privilege. Your best chance is at Mission Beach. The same Mission Beach area so coveted by fishermen, beach goers, and banana farmers.The Cassowary is highly territorial and solitary. Mature individuals are only together during mating. The male incubates the eggs and takes care of the striped chicks after hatching. Male territories may overlap when they are taking care of chicks with one bird using an area in the morning and another coming along later. The Cassowary uses vocalizations to announce their presence and warn off intruders.The Cassowary feeds on rainforest fruits that fall to the ground from the canopy. They are highly omnivorous and even eat live mammals such as rats and mice. It is active in the daytime.

Mission Beach
Mission Beach was once an area where dense rainforest fringed beautiful, sandy beaches. Too good to leave alone. The rainforest was cut for banana plantations. The beaches developed for housing and tourist recreation. Fortunately some fragments of the rainforest are preserved inthe state forest.

This is an area of high tourist traffic. Every year a number of Cassowarys are killed on the road. In some years the number of birds killed is as high as 12 out of about 50 birds in the area. These signs warn drivers to slow down. You may see a Cassowary walking along or crossing the road. Tourists should most definitely not stop and try to feed a Cassowary. The birds need to be wary of automobiles. Do drive slowly. Of course the locals do not drive slowly so you will at least be considered a pain. At worst you may be rear ended.

I went to the South Mission Beach area and found a camp site on the beach across from Dunk Island. This is a very touristy area. The campground was crowded with very small sites. There are also  hotels in the Mission Beach area. I visited the information center in Mission Beach to see a video about the Cassowary and to buy books, and postcards. The workers at the center can tell you where to look for the birds.

Mission Beach road sign

How To See A Wild Cassowary

Just because the Cassowary is a large bird doesn't make it easy to see in the dense rainforest. The strategy for finding a Cassowary is to walk along the trails very quietly and slowly. Listen for movement in the understory. After spending an entire afternoon walking the tracks in the Lacey Creek area and having several people tell me that they had just see a Cassowary, I realized that seeing a Cassowary in the wild would depend on being in the right place for a long enough time to get lucky. If some people saw a Cassowary a few minutes ago on the trail you can count on the fact it is not there now. The best strategy is to be the first into a productive area in the morning and to keep walking.

So how do you know you are in a productive area? If a Cassowary is in the area you should see piles of Cassowary pooh like the one to the right. The Cassowary eats fruit which it must find on the ground since it can't fly. The seeds are expelled whole. The color of the pooh depends on what fruits the Cassowary has been eating. I once came upon a very fresh steaming pile. The Cassowary had probably been here and may have been very close. I saw nothing.

There is at least one tree where the fruits will no sprout unless they have passed through the intestine of the Cassowary,.  Volunteers collect the seeds from the Cassowary pooh and use them to start new seedings to help restore the forest.

Cassowary pooh

Cassowary pooh contains the seeds of the fruits the bird has eaten recently.  These seeds will sprout and add to the forest.

Lacey Creek Area
The first afternoon I searched for the Cassowary on the road from El Arish to Mission Beach. Lacey Creek State Forest is a beautiful 1.1 km circular walking track. As I started the track a couple coming out told me they had seen a Cassowary with a chick just 15 minutes before.

In the rain I walked the track in both directions. I had good looks at Little Shrike-thrush and Spectacled Monarch moving through the forest like a mixed species feeding flock in South America. You must stay on the track. The Cassowary will cross a track and even walk a short distance along a track before plunging off into the undergrowth.

The north end of the Licula Forest Track intersects the El Arish Road. This too is a beautiful track, but I noticed the Cassowary pooh piles did not look fresh.This group of seeding growing from a pile of pooh shows the importance of the Cassowary in maintaining the rainforest. There is one fruit that only seems to sprout after the seed has passed through the digestive track of the Cassowary. If the Cassowary becomes extinct, this fruiting tree may also disappear.

My first day was a total failure. I was wet, tired and had seen nothing but Cassowary pooh. That evening when I got to the campground a woman told me she had seen a Cassowary in the rainforest along the back edge of the campground. Of course I went back there but didn't see anything but Orange-footed Scrubfowl. Despite the closeness of the camp sites there were some good birds in the campground including White-breasted Woodswallow on the wires at the front gate.

Seedlings of fruit trees sprouted from Cassowary pooh

Sprouted seedlngs from Cassowary pooh

Licula Forest Track
The next morning I made my way to the south end of the Licula Forest Track off the Tully road. This is a dirt track for about 1 km into a parking area. You can park on the road and walk in, but I took a chance and drove to the parking lot gate.

The track beyond the gate was littered with fresh piles of pooh. I walked quite a distance on this track until I came to stream crossing. I heard many birds and even saw a few like Pale Yellow Robin, Little Shrike-thrush. I saw the Musky Rat Kangaroo again.At the stream crossing I turned around and started back.

Walking toward me on the track was a male Cassowary with one striped chick. I froze in place. He continued ambling toward me. The chick strayed up to 5 feet from his father. Just when I was getting worried, the father took his chick and walked off into the forest. I had seen my wild Cassowary and only another birder could understand my elation.

I walked up to where the bird left the track. I could hear him walking away from me, no way could I see him in the thick vegetation. At this time my camera was back in the car. I was very happy, but now I wanted to get a picture for this book. It was about 9:45 AM.

I spent the rest of the day walking the tracks in the Licula Forest. I even drove back to Lacey Creek and walked that track again. This time it was not raining and I could appreciate the beautiful pool that contained Jungle Perch, and eel. I went back to the Licula Forest track where I had seen the Cassowary in the morning. Two young men, one in a wheelchair had just seen a Cassowary on the Palm Track. How nice that this handicapped person had seen the bird.

The next morning I went back to the Licula Forest off the Tully Road. Along the road I saw my second Cassowary in the wild and this time I got this shot which is at the top of this page. This male also had a striped chick following him and there is a chance it is the same bird I saw the day before.This is my only photograph of a wild Cassowary. The other photographs were taken of captive birds at the Billabong Sanctuary south ofTownsville. 

Billabong Sanctuary
To see a Cassowary in the wild is a rare privilege, don't spoil it by endangering the bird. Photography usually entails extended contact with the bird and in the case of an endangered bird is just not a moral alternative.

Perfectly good pictures of captive birds can be taken. This is the male from a captive pair at the Billabong Sanctuary some 20 km south of Townsville. I spent several hours here watching the Cassowary. Once a day they feed the Cassowary bananas and other fruits. The day I was there the birds refused to eat. This may have been because two young boys walked around the far side of the pen causing the female to jump at the fence.

Captive Cassowary

The pair at the Billabong Sanctuary are nesting. Above right  is a shot of the male sitting on the eggs. The Sanctuary has managed to produce one chick in the past. Chicks reared here will be distributed to other sanctuaries to build a breeding captive population. At present there is no plan to release these birds into the wild.I wonder why an approach like that of the Little Desert Lodge captive breeding program is not considered. Perhaps it is because the Cassowary chick unlike the precocious Malleefowl chick spends up to 12 months in the care of the male. By that time it would be too acclimated to humans.

This picture gives you some idea of the size of the huge foot which makes a print up to 180 mm in diameter. Notice there are three forward pointing toes.When threaten the Cassowary will attack a human by jumping at them or kicking. Several weeks before I arrived at Mission Beach a Cassowary in the Licula Forest picnic area had become so aggressive, the Rangers closed the area. Had it not been reopened I would have missed seeing this bird in the wild.

Cassowary foot
Male Cassowary on nest

The female adds another egg to the nest.

Cassowary eggs

After laying the egg the female left the nest.  You can see that the egg in the back is a brighter green than the older eggs.  In a few hours it too will darken,.


When the female gets up the male immediately returns to incubating the eggs.

Male resumes incubating the eggs.

The male Cassowary is primarily responsible for incubating the eggs and caring for the young chicks.

With my Cassowary carefully checked off on my Australia list, I continued south on the Bruce Highway. It is spring and the birds are building nests and courting.

A colony of Metallic Starlings and their nest made a routine stop at a Shell Station in Tully memorable. These nests look very fragile, but I did see adult birds going in and out.

I took the country road to Halifax and Lucinda because I wanted to take Bill Pierce's naturalist trip to Hinchenbrook Island. Along the road I saw Jaiburu, Chestnut-breasted Mannikin, and White-breasted Woodswallow. Bill Pierce was not willing to run his trip for one person. Some times you pay a price for traveling alone.

I chanced upon the Wanders Holiday Village campground. This was a large campground built on the bank of the river. Most of the residents were permanent winter residents some of whom were getting ready to head back south now that winter is ending. This was one of the nicer campground I stumbled on in my travels. Every afternoon the residents organize a bowling game on the lawn. Everybody brings their lawn chairs and ball and they bowl for an hour or more keeping score.

Metallis Startling nest in Shell station

The manager went out of the way to show me all the bird nests he had found including that of a Bush Stone-curlew (lright) who had built her nest right in the middle of one of the sites. He had carefully roped off the area around the nest with yellow tape. .When the bird lies flat over her eggs she is well camouflaged. The male bird waits under a tree not far away. Each day the birds switch places after an elaborate ritual.


Peaceful Doves bathed on the law in the sprinkler. They seemed to lie on their back holding one wing aloft. Some of the other birds here were: Drongo, House Sparrow, Lapwing, White-breasted Woodswallow, Helmeted Friarbird, Figbird.The next morning I drove out of Lucinda through the mangrove swamp on either side of the road. Sunbirds, Pied Imperial Pigeon, Crimson Finch, Black-shouldered Kite.

Bush Stone Curlew
Sunbird Sunbird Nest Mistletoe Bird Nest

Birds and Bird Nests  from left

Sunbirds

Sunbird nest

Mistletoe Bird nest

Ivy Cottage at Paluma
I drove 18 km on a sharp, steep road up the Great Dividing Range to Paluma stopping at a picnic area on the creek where there were Topknot Pigeons in the trees above the parking lot. At the top in the town of Paluma there are some short tracks.

I went to the Ivy Cottage tea room which has a nice garden with feeders. White-cheeked Honeyeater, Eastern Whipbird, Little Shrike-thrush, Yellow-Spotted, Lewin's Honeyeaters, MacLeay's Honeyeater, Victoria's Riflebird, Rainbow Bee-eater, Bush Turkey. The owner does not like the turkeys because they break crockery and he is in a bad mood because he is having plumbing problems.He claims that they burned much of the forest to prevent forest fires and destroyed all the birds.  They did do a lot of burning along the road. If you have missed any of these birds this is a pleasant stop. Otherwise not worth the drive.

Townsville Commons
In Townsville I visited the Reef HQ aquarium. They have a large coral reef tank that was beautiful. Displays in the smaller tanks were not labeled well and I was frankly disappointed. There was a tank with stingrays with long black and white tails. AU$19.50 admission.

The Queensland Tropical Museum next door cost AU$9 and was more interesting. They have an extensive exhibit on the ship Pandora which was sent to arrest the Bounty mutineers. They never found the Bounty because of course they were on Pitcairn Island which was incorrect on British maps. They did pick up 14 men from Tahiti. The Pandora sunk in the Coral Sea off Australia. They have an excellent exhibit on coral reef and some stuff on the marine fossils from Richmond.

I spent the night in a campground at Rowe's Beach and got an early start to the Townsville Commons Conservation Area just down the road from the campground.

These extensive wetlands attract many waders and shorebirds in season. The wet season is November through April. The post wet season is May through August. The problem is that September is the end of the dry season and the water is pretty much gone. Only two small water holes are left and here I did see two Brolgas and several Lapwings. The problem with birding in Australia is that you can't be everywhere at the right time

Townsend Brolga Goanna or Lace Monitor Lizard Goana or Lace Monitor Lizard at Townsend

Above Left: Two Brolgas ;  Center and right: Early morning on this tree by the side of the road this large Goanna or Lace Monitor Lizard seems to be warming up in the early morning. This big guy is the largest lizard I have seen outside of a zoo anywhere.

Straw-necked Ibis Townsend

I saw Agile Wallabies grazing on what little grass was left. Laughing Kookaburra, White-faced Heron, Drongo, Rainbow Bee-eater, Straw-necked Ibis (left).

Golden-headed Cisticola and Tawny Grassbir
d were found in the weedy area at the end of the road. I also saw 2 Striated Pardalotes here.

Whistling Kite (right)

At the historic quarantine station where immigrants were quarantined I saw Brown Honeyeater, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike

Whistling Kite Townsend

I spent the night at a pleasant little town called Ayr. On the way out of town I stopped at the information center where they gave me a bird list and a map of places to bird around the town. I went to one of the lagoons on the map and had Pied Imperial Pigeon, Flying Foxes, and a Pheasant Coucal in breeding plumage. The elderly volunteers at the information center told me they just got funding to build a bird blind and urged me to return when it was finished. I do love Australians and I think it is wonderful they are trying to attract birders.

Eungella
The next day I continued south, driving once again up the Great Dividing Range to Eungella National Park where I camped at the Broken River Campground. This is a national park campground and not suitable for caravans. I got the last site in the primitive campground and had about quarter mile hike uphill to the toilets. This trip is improving my physical conditioning.

Broken River is probably the best spot in Australia to see the Duck-billed Platypus. I went down to the viewing platform in the early morning and was able to take this picture when it finally got light. I saw about 4 animals.

The Platypus swim with their backs out of the water, hips higher than shoulders. They surface for a few breaths and then dive using all 4 legs for locomotion. One climbed out on the opposite bank for a few minutes.

I noticed 2 large campervans staying over night in the parking lot next to the Platypus viewing platform. There is a toilet behind the restaurant across the street. So if you can't find a site at the campground you could stay here.

Duck-billed Platypus at Eungula

My camp site was great for birds. Two Noisy Pittas came right up begging for cheese. They must be used to being fed by campers. The Rangers hate it but bird feeding really increases the number of birds you see in the campground. I am far enough south to have Yellow Robin again. This was a friendly fellow who also likes cheese. Red-legged Pademelon, White-browed Scrubwren, Bush Turkey, Eastern Whipbird also visited my campsite.  All birds and animals I have seen before.

The Ranger gave me directions for finding the Eungella Honeyeater on Diggins Road. From Broken River drive back toward the Bruce Highway and turn left onto the dirt Diggins Road. It is uphill for about 500 m and then you will see a place to park on the right. Park and walk the road.

I didn't find any Honeyeaters probably because there were very few blooming plants. I did have Golden Whistler, Brown Cuckoo-shrike, Rufous Fantail, Grey Fantail, Yellow Robin. Diggins Road is a great place to bird. There was a lot of bird song and I was looking down into the forest.

After descending from the Eungella highlands, I tried to drive to Finch Hatton Gorge. This was a paved country road on which you can stop for birds. Then after about 5 km it degenerated to one lane gravel so I turned back. (Remember the insurance problem.)


Right then I saw my first and only Dollar Bird on a wire. It was most cooperative. By the way the San Diego Zoo has Dollar Birds on display. I also saw Blue-winged Kookaburra, Forest Kingfisher, Cinnamon-breasted Finch.


The next two days were pretty boring driving south with little birding. Outside Brisbane I spent the night in an unattractive campground south of Ipswich. It rained all night, but I had a Striped Honeyeater mirror fighting with my rear view mirror so it wasn't a total loss.I left Queensland with 321 species on the Australian list.

New England Plateau
In the morning I drove up to the plateau through mountains called Main Range. As I climbed I hear a whistled bird call. When I saw a sign for the Bell Bird Rest Area on the right I jumped to the conclusion I was hearing Crested Bellbirds. It turns out they were Bell Miners.

I also saw my second Echinda again crossing the road.The New England Plateau is the best farming land and pasture I have seen in Australia. It is cooler at this elevation especially at night. I spent the night in a small caravan park and have Red-wattlebirds again. I am now back in New South Wales.

In Unuyra I saw sign to "Mother of Ducks Lagoon" and followed it to the lagoon next to a golf course. To get to the bird hide I had to walk across the fairway. A sign at the hide claims Japanese Snip can be seen here. It was very windy and I was lucky to see White-faced Heron, Purple Swamphen, and Welcome Swallow. This is a promising area and I would recommend stopping for a short look.

Dangars Lagoon is in Uralla. Stop at the information center for directions and a bird list. There is a bronze statue of horseman at the information center.

Dangars Lagoon used to be a swimming lake and water carnivals were held here.The most exciting bird here was a single male Musk Duck. This was the only time I saw this bird.

After 3 days on the New England Plateau, I descended to Highway 1. I took the M7 through Sydney this time figuring out how to do it. It seems there is one right turn where the sign points to the Cumberland Highway and says nothing about the M7. Someone told me these signs were put up for the Olympics.

Fishing Australia
I spent another night in Royal National Park this time at a private campground since the park campground was closed for remodeling. At the camp site next to mine are two young men from South Africa. They are driving around Australia fishing every day and using a fishing guide as their only map.

They had left their cooking utensils on their fireplace and the knives and forks had disappeared. There was a pony wandering around the campground and we hoped he had not eaten the knives and forks. I am not sure they were convinced I had not stolen the cutlery.

The guys are heading to Queensland. I gave them my Queensland map and advice on going to Eungella to see the Platypus. You have got to get tired of fishing every day. At least one guy was a little tired of fishing and wanted to see the Duck-billed Platypus. The other claimed fishing was all he wanted to do. Fishermen are nuttier than birders.

The next day I drove back to Ferry Meadow for the pelagic. The winds are ferocious and the Wollongong Pelagic was a bust. Next I go to Tasmania.

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