Atherton Tablelands Tour


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Oceania » Australia » Queensland » Atherton Tablelands
June 22nd 2016
Published: July 9th 2017
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In the morning I had planned to start the day with the Cairns Esplanade, but of course we got in very late the previous night and the tour booked for that day started just after seven rather than just after nine as I thought for some reason. Anyway, the previous day was all stuff that I wanted to do as was, to be honest, every other day of the entire time in Queensland, so this tour was something that my aunt wanted to do. She wanted to visit a place called Paronella Park so we booked a tour that went there as well as a few other places in the Atherton Tablelands which did of course give plenty of time to bird along the way.

So we were picked up by the tour in a largeish bus with a little under a dozen other people, all very annoying people of course, and the bus was equipped with a very annoying driver/tour guide as well who spent most of the time making unfunny jokes and talking rubbish. But it wasn’t supposed to be a wildlife tour anyway and it did allow you to do what you want at each stop, including look for wildlife, so it wasn’t bad.

We headed up into the Tablelands by the same route as on the Wait-a-while tour the previous day which was unsurprising because our first stop was the same, back at Lake Barrine. Not that I was complaining to go back to the same place though, because lake Barrine was really nice.

We were given morning tea here with rather nice scones and jam but I was of course distracted by birds. I was able to walk around a bit just in the café area and spotted a few more birds with it still being early enough for tropical birding. It wasn’t very long before I was able to add three more species to the list – Macleay’s Honeyeater, Atherton Scrubwren, and Dusky Honeyeater. I was especially pleased to find the scrubwren so I wasn’t faced with the dilemma of whether to retrospectively count the scrubwren from yesterday or not. After a short while we had a cruise on the crater lake. I was unsure whether this would be worth doing, it may have been better to spend time in the rainforest, but I decided it would be nice to do the cruise and I’m pleased I did. Out on the lake itself I spotted a Wandering Whistling Duck amongst the Eurasian Coots and Great Crested Grebes and many swallows were swooping around and two even landed on the back of the boat. Cruising around the lake slowly was pretty relaxing and we did the whole perimeter of the lake. There were lots of tilapia swimming around beneath the boat which was pretty sad since they are an introduced species and I don’t know about this lake in particular but generally are pretty bad for the environment. The scenery was absolutely stunning, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to quite a few beautiful places, and quite numerous in the trees on the edge of the lake swooping out over the water and back onto the trees were Rainbow Bee-eaters with the calls of Eastern Whipbirds coming out from the forest.

We passed a couple of cormorants, and then the boat started to pull in to a seemingly random patch of bank, but lying on the grass right on the waterside was a huge Amethystine Python that had apparently been sitting there for a few days digesting its meal.

There were also a few Water Dragons around on the lake which seemed a bit different to me to the ones in Brisbane and Gold Coast. We then pulled up to another patch of lake shore which seemed to be a more sheltered area by overhanging trees, and the boat driver chucked some meat into the water. First came a load of tilapias, followed by several Saw-shelled Turtles as well as a couple of huge eels all scrambling for the meat.

After the cruise there was a bit more time looking around, enough to check that the Papuan Frogmouth roost that was pointed out on the night tour the previous day was still empty, before we got back into the bus and headed off to the next site.

The next place we went to wasn’t far and was the Curtain Fig, the same as the one we visited at night to see the possums. It was quite nice to be able to look at the fig properly in the day, it is a strangler fig grown over one upright tree and one tree fallen over at an angle giving the distinctive shape, We didn’t have a huge amount of time here, not much more than twenty minutes to look at the fig, admire the rainforest, and head off again, but I did have time for some birding, and as well as things seen the previous day I saw a Fernwren. Another Wet Tropics endemic that I was pleased to add to the list. Apparently Saurus Cranes are sometimes seen around here on the edge of the Curtain Fig National Park but there were none that day, sadly.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the vast majority of the tour was spent driving around. Although it was slightly annoying to be driving past and through rainforest and national parks rather than stopping to look for birds, it was nice to see the views of many large forested mountains and really cool rainforest and it was also interesting to a certain extent to see the agriculture around which was mostly sugar cane fields, many being harvested, as well as bananas, papayas and tea plantations here and there. On a couple of occasions, we did stop at viewing areas, however this was frustrating because we only stopped for a minute or so. I did see a few birds while we were driving through, the overhead wires were covered in White-breasted Woodswallows huddled up and occasionally flying off, I must have seen hundreds and hundreds of them. I saw a Nankeen Kestrel hovering over a field and there was a lot of road maintenance all over the place and with one lane shut that meant the different directions of traffic had to alternate which really irritated the driver but was good for me to be able to look around (the cars were stopped for a considerable amount of time, often ten minutes or more) particularly when the car was stopped as we drove through the rainforest. At one point the car was stopped in the rainforest but at the perfect vantage point to look down a river in the open and here I saw a Pacific Baza, another unidentified bird of prey, and a White-necked Heron. Awesome. There were also a few Intermediate Egrets around in the fields which was another addition.

Back to a chronological order, after the stop at the Curtain Fig, the next stop was a place called Millaa Millaa Falls which, as you may guess, is a waterfall. This area had the opportunity for swimming for those who wanted to, which I didn’t, but it was surrounded by rainforest so I went to look around. I saw a few birds but nothing new, and I saw what I’m pretty sure was a kingfisher but didn’t get a proper look. I also saw a skink in the toilets there which I was only able to identify for sure to genus level (Carlia sp.). The main attraction here is obviously the waterfalls and they’re pretty cool, but I’ve seen lots of waterfalls before. The tour guide did show me an optical illusion where if you stare at one part of the waterfall the water seems to move up.

We didn’t spend more than fifteen to twenty minutes here before we moved on again, this time heading to Paronella Park via a lunch stop (included in the tour). Paronella Park was the main reason my aunt wanted to do this tour and it’s a rainforest parkland with some Spanish-style castles that once was a hotel/resort thing but is now trying to be a historical site despite not being very old, at least by European standards of old. But there’s nice rainforest and scenery and a big waterfall too.

So the park wasn’t bad but I wasn’t particularly interested in it. There was lots of wildlife around here though that I was interested in. The river had absolutely ridiculous numbers of Saw-shelled Turtles as well as many huge eels and tilapia, though numbers were inflated by the fact that visitors could buy food to feed them. There was also a colony of Spectacled Flying Foxes here and I was pleased to see that this colony was joined by a couple of Little Red Flying Foxes too. An old disused tunnel in the park was also very interesting because flying around in there were loads of Little Bent-wing Bats. Of course I wasn’t able to actually identify them myslef, but apparently the park had got a bat expert in to identify them because lots of visitors asked what they were.

There were a few interesting birds around, mostly stuff I had already seen, but I did add Little Friarbird to the list as well as another subspecies of Figbird after the ones in Brisbane which did look noticeably different. There was a brochure about the birds of Paronella Park but sadly I didn’t manage to find Orange-footed Scrubfowl or Wompoo Fruit-dove, both of which were advertised and would have been lifers if I had found them. There was also another skink here which I managed to identify this time as a Ragged Snake-eyed Skink. We spent a fair while at Paronella Park allowing me to bird it to my contentment before we headed off to the last stop of the tour, Babinda Boulders, passing through Australia’s wettest town on the way. We were told that when we got there we could have free time to do what we liked and for adventurous people there was a track going all the way down but was quite difficult to do if you thought you could take the challenge. The track was paved all the way, with railings in many places so you would struggle to fall into the water if you tried, and it was nearly all flat… But having said that, the Babinda Boulders are actually pretty cool. It’s a stream that goes through a gorge with sink holes and of course big boulders and rather nice scenery. The Boulders are also in a national park surrounded by rainforest which is a bonus to look out for birds and as well as lots of cool (I really need to find a new adjective, don’t I?) birds that I had already seen, I added Grey Whistler and Spectacled Monarch to the list. A nice place that I quite liked. The guide also told us legends of a ghost that lured people to swim in the water and because of the rapids and swells, this meant that many people had drowned there in the past.

So that was the final stop of the tour, but we still had quite a bit more to drive to get back to Cairns, and it was a little before sunset so the scenery was all in very nice light. And I even managed to add one final bird which was a pair of Forest Kingfishers sitting on a wire.

When we got back to Cairns it was dark, but still fairly early, so we went to find some food and a corner shop before going to bed. And flying around the streets of Cairns were many Spectacled Flying Foxes. There were loads of them leaving their roost trees and flapping about right in the city centre which was fantastic to see. We went to bed quite early that evening because I definitely wanted to be at the Esplanade for sunrise the next day.

New birds seen:

Macleay's Honeyeater
Atherton Scrubwren
Dusky Honeyeater
Wandering Whistling Duck
Fernwren
Intermediate Egret
White-necked Heron
Nankeen Kestrel
Little Friarbird
Spectacled Monarch
Grey Whistler
Forest Kingfisher


New mammals:

Little Bentwing Bat
Little Red Flying Fox


New reptiles:

Amethystine Python
Carlia sp.
Ragged Snake-eyed Skink

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