Loads of Zoos and Loads of Birding in Kuranda


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Oceania » Australia » Queensland » Kuranda
June 25th 2016
Published: July 9th 2017
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The next day started with a sunrise bird walk where I saw the Rufous Fantails, Wompoo Pigeons, and Figbirds from the previous day but little else, followed by a very nice breakfast provided by Cassowary House with a good selection of tropical fruit that I enjoyed very much. Though the best thing about breakfast were the birds that joined us for it. Food was left out for the birds, and the first thing I saw there was my second highest priority species from Cassowary House – a Victoria’s Riflebird. Actually there were three riflebirds around, an adult male and female and a juvenile male that was starting to grow adult plumage. They were not shy at all, coming down to the feeder for a few seconds then back into the nearby trees sitting in nice view to watch. Though with the dark rainforest environment all of the pictures of the male that I took that morning came out blurry. As well as the riflebirds there was a single Helmeted Friarbird, however the Cassowary House people referred to it as a Hornbill Friarbird split from Helmeted Friarbird. I reserve judgement about that split until I have seen both, but I’m not convinced. There were also several species of honeyeater flying in and out of four different species – Dusky, Graceful, Macleay’s and Yellow-spotted. The other species that was around, and the most numerous one, were the Brush Turkeys and there were loads of them sitting in the trees and grabbing food off the bird feeders and the food that was put onto the ground for other things. The Cassowary House people weren’t very fond of the Brush Turkeys and had a water gun to try and discourage them. There were two further things of interest seen at breakfast, both on the ground below the veranda where breakfast was had, which were an Emerald Dove and a Musky Rat-kangaroo coming for food.

And after breakfast we went on a morning bird walk that we had booked for $30 each which isn’t particularly cheap for the advertised one hour, however it actually lasted for considerably longer than one hour. The bird walk was with the main bird person, Phil Gregory, who also does birding tours all around the world and is a bird taxonomist who contributes to IOC checklist so a very experienced birder and general bird person. He also had a big bookcase filled with different bird books many of which he contributed towards including the full series of Handbook of Birds of the World to which he contributed towards several chapters. Now that’s awesome.

Anyway, we started the bird walk just in the trees right by the house and he was able to identify all the bird calls so we could focus in on the interesting ones and we knew what we were looking for. The first things we saw were Graceful and Yellow-spotted Honeyeaters that Phil was able to identify very easily by their calls. This was followed by a Pied Monarch that showed excellently going up and down a tree and apparently they usually don’t show as well as that and can be quite difficult to find. We then continued up the driveway leading to the main road which had a flurry of new birds as we walked up to the main road. This included two lifers – Grey Whistler and Little Shrike-thrush – as well as Yellow-breasted Boatbill and Pale-yellow Robin. The Pale-yellow Robins here were a different subspecies to the ones in Lamington National Park, and Phil pointed out the buffish markings around the eyes that differentiate them. Now that the robins had been pointed out to me, I noticed that they were very common all around Cassowary House. One other birder on the morning bird walk with us had been staying in Cassowary House for a few days but not done any guided walks before this, and many of the birds that Phil managed to spot were things that he hadn’t managed to find for himself.

We then continued out of the driveway and onto the main road through the rainforest where Phil was able to point out many bird calls but in most cases we couldn’t find the birds themselves with the exception of a Brown Cuckoo-dove sitting in a high tree. We were walking down the road discussing birds of course and not seeing a huge amount when Phil got a phone call from the house to say the cassowaries had arrived. "Feel free to run," he said, "but slow down when you get up to the house so you don’t startle them or run into them". So run I did, I certainly was not going to miss the cassowaries. I slowed down to a fast walk when I reached the driveway and down the driveway back near to the house was a Cassowary through some trees. The others soon arrived and I was told that this cassowary was a female who had recently started showing up at the house. It wasn’t part of their regular and established pair and was very unpredictable, apparently some American birders nearly got killed a few days ago when they continued taking pictures of a charging cassowary! Luckily it was a mock charge. While I was watching at a respectful distance, it stayed around those trees for a while before wandering off. Just after that cassowary had wandered off though, the established pair of cassowaries arrived, walked across the road in front of us, and went around the back of the house to feed on fruit that is left out for them. We went through onto the veranda where we could watch them eat the fruit that had been thrown to them.

Very close, but still safe from their huge claws . When they’d eaten and drunk from a large put filled with water, they wandered off into the forest where, despite being enormous and colourful, they vanished.

Though the one hour of the bird walk had long finished, we had another walk up the road a bit, but it seemed that the bird activity had died down and everything was fairly quiet so we went back to the house and decided what we should do for the day. The town of Kuranda has several animal collections, and my aunt was keen to do some souvenir and gift shopping there so we decided to spend the afternoon in Kuranda. Phil said he was heading to Kuranda around 11:30 anyway (it was about 11:15 then) so he would drop us off and could pick us up in the afternoon. So we kindly accepted and headed off for some zooing in Kuranda.

It was a very short drive there, and in one of the houses Phil pointed out two Bush Stone-curlews sitting in a garden. He then dropped us off in the centre of town and said he could pick us up around four or four thirty and would call beforehand. The nearest zoo to us was the Australian Venom Zoo, so where better place to start then to head there first.


Australian Venom Zoo Review

The entrance to the Venom Zoo is just through a garage door and you wouldn’t know that there was a zoo there if it wasn’t for some signs and a man with a Woma Python standing outside. My aunt asked him if the Woma Python was native to the rainforests around here and he said he thought it was… not a good start.

The zoo is divided into two sections, a lower basement area which visitors just look around by themselves and an upper area that is done with a guide, so we looked around the lower area first because the guide to show us around the upper area wasn’t ready yet. The big basement area was huge in terms of height with a feel like a hangar, but the actual floor area was small.
It had a slightly neglected feel to it but had a certain charm to a very home made feel, almost like some reptile keeper’s shed with random newspaper cut outs about the place and a memorial wall for Steve Irwin as well as a signed picture of the National Geographic TV presenter Dr. Brady Barr, with his signature under the words, "the Australian Venom Zoo is awesome!!!!". There was also a film about spiders being projected onto a wall, with the sound track of the film and the dim lighting obviously trying to make the place seem scary but it had a slightly odd feel. I’m not really sure what I think of it or how to describe it, but I quite liked it… I think?

There was a long staircase that went around a bit to get to the basement (I am calling it that for want of a better term) where there were various bits of random decorations like rocks, an Australian flag and some aboriginal art. There were live animals down here too of course with the main attraction being a row of enclosures with highly venomous snakes, namely Inland Taipan, Eastern Brown Snake, King Brown Snake, Coastal Taipan, and Northern Death Adder. Behind these enclosures were some more tanks stacked up, a couple of which had scrappy bits of paper on them signing what they were but most didn’t with all sorts of herps in them. Some appeared empty but had substrate and other bits and pieces in them so I suspect they had animals that I couldn’t see. There were other rows of tanks around the basement that were actually visible properly from the visitor area though with a few different pythons, some lizards, and some frogs and there were also signs about what the Venom Zoo does in harvesting venom to make anti-venoms and also captive breeding for the pet trade.

We then went back up to the top area to be shown around the tanks up there. There was a fish tank with a few rainbowfish and one of the staff then showed us each of the tanks with smaller snakes and some frogs. He then came up to a row of tanks for tarantulas and chose a couple to bring out and show us, and he did the same with the row of tanks for scorpions and there was an ultraviolet light so it was awesome to see the scorpions glow under it. There were lots of different signs and bits and pieces around the tanks to look at and the person giving the tour knew a lot about the venomous and poisonous animals of Australia and gave lots of information about them. At the end of the little tour around the tanks the man stood to the side of the door to let the people who had just done the tour out. I ignored that to have another look at some of the tanks and take a few more pictures. I’d paid the entrance fee so was jolly well going to look at everything properly.

So the Australian Venom Zoo is certainly really interesting. If you look at the reviews on Trip Advisor you may get the feeling that it’s a bit rubbish and not worth a visit but I would disagree. Yes, it’s quite expensive to go in, yes, most of the enclosures are just little pet shop style tanks, yes, there’s lots of random ‘rubbish’ dotted around (which I actually like), yes, there’s almost no signage, and yes, there isn’t a huge amount there. But having said that, it is inexplicably really awesome! And I liked its uniqueness a lot.

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After the Australian Venom Zoo, we decided to have lunch and at lunch it was decided that afterwards my aunt would go and spend a few hours shopping while I looked at the other zoos. There are four further zoos in Kuranda bringing the total to five in total. One of them though, BatReach, a rescue centre for bats and other native wildlife, is only open on certain days and was closed that day so I couldn’t visit. I did walk past though just to peek through the fence and I could see a couple of large aviaries but nothing properly. The other three zoos are Birdworld, the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, and Kuranda Koala Gardens which are all right next to each other and have a combined ‘Kuranda Wildlife Experience’ ticket which costs around $50. So I got the ticket and started with the zoo closest to me.


Birdworld Kuranda Review

Birdworld is, to put it simply, just one large aviary. Upon entry visitors are given a sheet identifying the free-flying birds (pictures of which can be seen in a comment here and here) and the person at the entrance described it as a self-guided tour. You enter at a higher part of the aviary where there is an area of decking with parrot toys and things for parrots to climb on, and boxes of bird food so many of the tamer birds, mainly parrots, congregate around here. Visitors are also able to feed the birds in this area. There is also a view from the decking looking down over the rest of the aviary which is on a lower level with some very large trees also viewable from here. Also on the upper area was an area with plants and raised perches for the parrots, as well as a little pond and another decked area with a small cage for some finches that must have had to be separated from the rest for some reason.


Most of the aviary was at a lower level which included a large pond for the several waterbird species and some turtles as well as trees with nest boxes and large areas of vegetation with paths going around them. Also at the bottom of the aviary is an enclosure for cassowaries which was a fairly standard enclosure, if a bit small. The cassowary enclosure was of course contained within the main aviary area so the free-flying species could also use it and there were many Buff-banded Rails there.

So that’s pretty much it for Birdworld Kuranda, quite a nice aviary with lots of birds flying around. Though there were a few rather odd looking parrot mutations in there.

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After visiting Birdworld, I headed around the corner to the next zoo on the list, the Kuranda Koala Gardens.


Kuranda Koala Gardens Review

The Koala Gardens is a small zoo with native Australian animals, trying to give a general selection of all the typical ABC native zoo animals.


There is a very large enclosure with Freshwater Crocodiles at the entrance with a ridiculous number of crocodiles and then there is a pathway going in a loop around the zoo. The species list isn’t particularly long, but they have all the standard things like a wallaby walkthrough, wombats, a turtle pond, a selection of snakes and lizards including a particularly pretty Darwin Carpet Python, and of course the Koalas and there is also a holding/cuddling a Koala experience/photo thing, though it seemed that the Koala spent all its time in the arms of the person trying to get you to pay to hold it rather than its exhibit, which can't have been particularly good for the Koala.

There are a few smaller mammals too like Red-legged Pademelons in the wallaby walkthrough, and Long-nosed Potoroos that share the Koala enclosure but most interesting for me were two glider enclosures, one with Squirrel Gliders that I had already seen several times in previous zoos, and one with a Mahogany Gliderthat I was pleased to see because I missed it at David Fleay.

Also worth mentioning is a small historical display about the history of the area, and there was another animal exhibit under construction which was going to be a walk-through snake enclosure that looked like it could be quite interesting. And I think that’s all there is to say about the place, it’s not very large but it’s not bad. Most of the enclosures were alright, there was a reasonably good selection of species for its size, so I would overall say it’s not bad.

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The final zoo that I would be visiting that day was the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary. I had left that until last because it was the one I was least interested in, in case had to rush, but I still had plenty of time left so I could do it at my leisure.


Australian Butterfly Sanctuary Review

There was a very grand entrance leading up to it which was, as you could guess with a butterfly house, was just a large greenhouse (map here) which had various ponds and bits of vegetation around with lots of informational signs and of course a variety of butterflies flying around (species list on this sign). In my opinion the prettiest and most interesting butterflies in there were the Cairns Birdwings but there was a variety of interesting butterflies around as well as various plants, many of which were signed.



As well as the main butterfly house, there were a couple of other things viewable. There were enclosures with the caterpillars of each of the butterfly and moth species and also, as with most butterfly houses, a butterfly hatching box type thing, but this was a particularly large one. There were also windows viewing into a laboratory area and there was a little nursery growing the food plants of the different butterfly species. Also at the exit was a mini museum with cases of butterflies arranged geographically as well as displays arranged in artistic patterns, such as a wave of monarchs. So I thought it was quite a good butterfly house as far as butterfly houses go.

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So after the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, I met up with my aunt again at the shops and we still had about forty five minutes before being picked up. She wasn’t actually done with the shopping anyway so we walked around some more shops for a bit. At this point I particularly wished that BatReach was open because I’d definitely have time to do it and make it a five zoo day but that couldn’t be helped. We were soon picked up and taken back to Cassowary House and I, of course, had a walk around to look for birds. There were still a few species that I particularly wanted to see, namely Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Spotted Catbird, and Chowchilla. While we were in the car driving back I asked Phil for suggestions on where to see them and he said I had a reasonable chance of seeing them and he suggested some places. He also said that down at the creek at Cassowary House there was the possibility of Forest, Little, and Azure Kingfishers and maybe even Platypus. Phil also pointed out a marshy, muddy spot near the house where I had a reasonably good chance of finding a Red-necked Crake and I of course spent some time waiting there but it didn’t show up. I did see plenty of interesting birds though like honeyeaters, figbirds, Pale-yellow Robins, and others that I also saw that morning so it was still enjoyable. I did actually hear two of the main birds I was looking for, both the scrubfowl and catbird, and I'm pretty sure I heard the crake as well.

After dinner, I went for some spotlighting. I was told that the only possum regularly occurring was Striped Possum and those were quite rarely seen, but there were other mammals around like Blossom Bats, Red-legged Pademelons, and Bandicoots amongst others, as well as Lesser Sooty-owls. We walked up and down the driveway and also up and down the road but I didn’t see a huge amount apart from some huge spiders. I did hear a distinctive whistle from a Lesser Sooty-owl and startled something fairly large in the bushes by the driveway which I think was a bandicoot, but there was no other vertebrate action that night, and no more new birds after the additions from the morning. I was very pleased with the birds I had seen though, especially the riflebird and cassowary, and I enjoyed the zoos of Kuranda.

New birds seen:

Victoria's Riflebird
Emerald Dove
Yellow-spotted Honeyeater
Graceful Honeyeater
Pied Monarch
Varied Triller
Grey Whistler
Little Shrike-thrush
Southern Cassowary

Note: because I am of course restricted to six pictures per post and I’ve covered a lot here, please click through the to the galleries and hyperlinks to see more. I was tempted to split each zoo review off into separate posts, but I wanted to keep everything together in day by day posts as I have been doing, and each review isn’t very long anyway.

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