Across the Top!

July 18th 2018
Published: July 18th 2018
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My flight was at midday so there was no rush to head out, and the people at the Air BnB that I was at dropped me off at the airport too making it even easier.

At the airport, I decided to have an all day breakfast so I wouldn't be too hungry when I first arrived in Cairns at 3 PM. Breakfast is the only meal where Western food is better than Asian food. I would add 'in my opinion' to the end of that, but surely that's a fact. There is just one small terminal at Darwin for domestic and international flights and it's not a big airport. Sharing the runway though is the Air Force base which is just on the opposite side of the tarmac from the passenger terminal so that's pretty cool watching th fighter jets take off from the same place as all the commercial flights. There are lots of little planes operated by regional carrier Air North too which are always more interesting to watch than the narrowbody 737s or A320s which seems to be the only aircraft the normal Australian carriers operate on domestic routes. Air North operates some E-jets though which I rather like the look of generally.

My flight to Cairns is with Jetstar again. As I've said before and will say again, I just irrationally dislike Jetstar more than I should. Not enough to pay more for a different airline and Jetstar is the only carrier that operates Darwin to Cairns anyway. And because they're the only carrier and I had to get this exact flight to time it right with my aunt and my family, this is the one flight on this whole trip where I feel like I didn't get a good price. I think I'm paying about AU$330 for a one-way two and a half hour flight + baggage which is really shocking. For comparison my Kota Kinabalu to Singapore flight with AirAsia is only slightly shorter and cost me US$57.

I got a window seat for once which is nice for a change especially on a day flight over a cloud-free landscape.
There were some bush fires in the area around Darwin and dotted here and there all the way across the top which presumably are the controlled burns that are done regularly around here because there's so much tinder-dry grass and vegetation around that if they didn't do burn offs every now and again they would get massive fires.

The view was pretty amazing though: a very impressive mosaic of lightly wooded forests, grasslands, wetlands, rivers, and vast rocky escarpments criss-crossed by gorges as we crossed the Top End of the NT before reaching the Arafura Sea and then crossing the top of Queensland to reach the tropical rainforests of Cairns. Of course clouds started to build up over the sea and over the Wet Tropics of Cairns but it is a rainforest, clue's in the name.

The landing at Cairns was rather interesting because we had a missed approach. On the descent, suddenly, as we were getting very low in for landing, we had to rapidly pull up and climb steeply, pull the landing gear back up and then bank heavily to circle back around to the North. The captain announced that this missed approach was due to an aircraft on the runway that failed to take off and vacate the runway in time for us to land. I don't think I've ever had a missed approach before, so that was a fun experience. I'm not a nervous flyer, so it didn't worry me, but we pulled a bit of g on the steep ascent and the bank which is a feeling I find unpleasant. I’m the sort of person who absolutely hates the sensation of g forces from roller coasters and such.

My parents and brother, whom I will be travelling around Far North Queensland with for the next ten days, picked me up at the airport in their hire car. They had arrived in Cairns crack of dawn this morning after a night flight from Perth. The flight was scheduled to land a 3PM but because of the fly around and aborted landing we landed at about 3:30 and not wanting to waste what little bit of the day was left, we went straight to the botanic gardens from the airport. I have been to Cairns before on a short visit two years ago, but I like Cairns quite a bit so I’m here again and I’ll get to a few sites that I missed or didn’t have long enough at on my first visit. I also didn’t do all that much spotlighting when I was here the first time and there are a lot of mammals especially that I want to pick up. So although I’ll have big targets that will be lifers, most of the species will just be new for the trip/year especially those in sites like the Botanic Gardens that I visited last time. Great species to see though. There was one species that I really wanted from the botanic garden that I missed last time and it’s supposed to be easier to find at the gardens than pretty much anywhere else: Papuan Frogmouth. Two frogmouth species in two days, could I do it? Of course not. No frogmouths. But I’ll be back. There were heaps of Orange-footed Scrubfowls around which, funnily enough, is a common species that somehow I missed completely last time I was at the garden. I don’t need them now of course because I’ve seen heaps in Darwin where they are extremely common. Now watch me find all the Cairns rarities like pygmy-geese and whistling ducks which are really common in Darwin but which I completely missed last time I was in Cairns.

Anyway, as it got dark we went into Cairns for some dinner passing the characteristic Cairns flying foxes on the way. I was going to go spotlighting at the Botanic Gardens because there’s supposed to be a good chance at Striped Possum and I think I’ll have better luck finding frogmouths when they’re flying about rather than sitting still. I’m staying about 3kms from the gardens (but conveniently close to the esplanade for first thing in the morning birding) and my dad has agreed to drive me over to the gardens at night and pick me up when I’m done which will be nice, but having completely missed a night’s sleep with their flight from Perth this morning being at the worst possible time for sleep in much the same way as my flight into Darwin was it wasn’t possible tonight. I’ve got two more nights with them in Cairns though so I will get to spotlight the botanic gardens tomorrow night at least. And if all goes to plan I will get a fair few nights of spotlighting around Cairns and on the tablelands and such so hopefully I’ll chalk up a good possumy mammal list.

So just a couple of hours of birding in Cairns today, but today can basically be considered a travel day anyway. My favourite thing about the city itself of Cairns though, and what makes it a place I consider one of, and possibly my top, favourite city in the world is the esplanade. At least as I remember it from two years ago. I’m looking forward to seeing it again first thing in the morning.

New birds:

Noisy Friarbird

Russet-tailed Thrush

Metallic Starling

Satin Flycatcher

Welcome Swallow

Australian Swiftlet

Superb Fruit-dove

Australian Brush-turkey

Laughing Kookaburra

Yellow-spotted Honeyeater

Black Butcherbird

Rainbow Lorikeet


Little Bentwing Bat

Spectacled Flying Fox


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