Ton up on a brief Cairns wildlife adventure

At the start of the year I set a goal of trying to see 100 mammal species in Australia for the year. By December I had crawled my way to 89 and with work busy and a hectic schedule it was looking unlikely that I would make it. I managed to find a small window and booked flights to Cairns for a few nights up on the Atherton Tablelands where a suite of a number of new types possum and other local mammal specialties should get me there with a bit of luck. I flew out of Melbourne Saturday morning and landed in Cairns just after lunch. My headtorch had gone walkabout so I had to head into the CBD for a replacement where it is almost impossible to miss the several camps of Spectacled Flying-fox. There was a shortage of head torches but I eventually found one and headed off to the Botanic Gardens where Spotted Whistling Ducks had been reported recently. They were not there but good numbers of Radjah Shelduck and a Black Bittern were nice for a Southerner and got the bird list kick started. From here I headed up the coast getting Agile Wallaby on the northern outskirts before stopping briefly at Rex Lookout but the tide was too high to go exploring for bats in the crevices below. It was then onto Julatten and one of my favourite birdwatching areas in Kingfisher Park and Mount Lewis. I had never been here towards the wet season so very quickly picked up my first new bird of the trip in Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher, a spectacular bird that migrates from New Guinea to nest during the wet season. It proved common on the ground of Kingfisher Park. A quick wander round the grounds to get my ear in then I got prepared for a long evening of spotlighting.

Litoria infrafrenata

Litoria infrafrenata

I had an excellent meal at the Highlander Tavern watching swiftlets wheel overhead and a Bush-hen call from the vegetation below before heading up Mount Lewis. It was starting to rain and there were good numbers of frogs out including Litoria infrafrenata, jungguy and serrata. About halfway up a Papuan Frogmouth was disturbed from its roadside perch. Up at the clearing on top of the mountain the cloud had come right in and the wind was up so observation was difficult. With a bit of effort I was able to find four Daintree River Ring-tailed Possum and a single Green Ring-tailed Possum which were both new for me. Conditions were not really improving so I worked my way back down the mountain seeing a couple of Northern Long-nosed Bandicoots on the way.

Daintree River RIng-tailed Possum

Daintree River RIng-tailed Possum

Green Ring-tailed Possum

Green Ring-tailed Possum

I spent the next few hours spotlighting in and around Kingfisher Park doing quite well. I started with Fawn-footed Melomys and Bush Rat at the feeders and Northern Brown Bandicoot nearby before finding a couple of Eastern Blossom Bats in the orchard which are easily observed under red light. Red-legged Pademelon and both bandicoots were readily encountered as I walked around and around the grounds. Eventually I found a nice Striped Possum in the canopy which was quite noisy as it moved around – I had seen this species last time I was here and was happy to see again although it was too high for photos. The highlight of the night (and possibly the trip) was a Diadem Leaf-nosed Bat which I found hunting from a perch near the toilets. It hated white light but would sit quite happily under red-light allowing for binocular observation. It would wiggle its head in a circle before leaving the perch to hunt and returning – a very cool animal. I was staying in the bunkhouse which I had to myself eventually retiring sometime after midnight.

Litoria serrata

Litoria serrata

Northern leaf-tailed Gecko

Northern leaf-tailed Gecko

I woke early and headed up Mount Lewis with a couple of birds in my sights. Andrew from KF Park had told me the small cutting half way up the mountain was currently good for Blue-faced parrot-finch and so it proved with one seen almost as soon as I left the car. It immediately flew so I sat down to wait. Within five minutes a good half dozen of the birds came in to feed on the seeding grasses giving great binocular views. A much wanted tick and every bit as impressive as they look in the books. Further up the mountain I parked at the main clearing and took the forest walk. There were plenty of nice birds including wet tropic endemics like Fernwren, Mountain Thornbill and the Riflebird. Further up Tooth-billed Bowerbird and heaps of Chowchilla were good to reconnect with. I eventually wandered past the dam and perhaps 500 meters further on I had an exquisite male Golden Bowerbird land so close to me that my camera could not focus. It sat and regarded me for perhaps 15 seconds before flying away. This was another lifer for me and now my new favourite Australian bird! I was quite stoked as I headed back to the car with three amazing iconic new birds in less than 24 hours.

From here I headed south and after a breakfast coffee ended up at Granite Gorge near Mareeba. I paid my ten dollars and duly ended up sitting getting a lap dance from a Mareeba Rock-wallaby. I was quite torn as many of the animals appear in poor health and such a setup would probably be banned in Victoria. Still it was very interesting to study them up close and when an adult male hopped on my lap I got an appreciation of just how small and light they are and how easily many of our rock-wallabies could be smashed by foxes. I really don’t know what should be done about this place but I have heard they are at least being fed macropod pellets now rather than random human food so perhaps a step in the right direction. I do know it is one I want to sanitize on my list in the future. I was now sitting on 99 mammals for the year so headed to Mareeba Wetlands where the lovely staff showed me the Large-footed Myotis roosting in the cafe building. There were perhaps twenty of them huddled in several locations which gave me my 100th mammal of the year. I celebrated with a nice pot of tea! Perhaps not the same as a Boxing Day hundred at the MCG but I was pretty chuffed with myself.

Mareeba Rock-wallaby

Mareeba Rock-wallaby

Large-footed Myotis

Large-footed Myotis

From here I drove north and checked many culverts and drains from Mt Molloy to Mt Carbine and beyond but aside from sore knees found nothing much aside from a couple of geckos and frogs. Andrew and Carol (who are excellent and free with their knowledge) had told me about a roost flyout of Little Bent-winged Bat near Kingfisher Park so I sat out in the park in the passing showers and waited for dusk. Perhaps ten minutes before dark bats began to pour from a small spout in one of the large eucalypts and I was able to get excellent views under red light as many of the bats flew out and latched on to branches nearby. Straight after dark it began to rain heavily and did not really let up all evening. I did go out and get wet and saw some great frogs and eventually an awesome Giant White-tailed Rat which was checking out a fruiting tree. Eventually I decided to cut my losses and went to bed early (midnight) knowing I would have a late night tomorrow.

makes my knees sore to look at

makes my knees sore to look at

Mixophyes coggeri

Mixophyes coggeri

It was still raining so I must admit I slept in a bit before heading south. After coffee (of course) I checked out Tolga Scrub but the flying-fox roost was currently empty. At Nerada Tea Plantation the staff took one look at my binoculars and knew I was there for the tree-kangaroos. They were not in their usual spots and it started to rain heavily so I relaxed with a nice pot of the local brew until it cleared. Out near the carpark in the drizzle I found two Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo which gave good views as they chilled and did their daytime thing. My only other view of this species was years ago on Mount Lewis as one crossed the road so it was great to get relaxed viewing.

Lumholtz's Tree-kangaroo

Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo

I visited many of the usual southern tablelands birding spots but it was very dry and quiet and eventually Herberton to add Little Red Flying-fox to the year list before heading to Chambers Wildlife Lodge near Lake Eacham to check in. I grilled them for sites for my remaining targets and was pleased to learn that Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum sometimes visit the grounds. They also have a feed station setup which nightly gets visited by Sugar Glider and apparently recently a Striped Possum mum and bub. After a quick walk around the grounds I headed out to mount Hypipamee for spotlighting on dusk. Here I had an excellent night with around a dozen Lemuroid Ring-tailed Possum – a weird looking possum as well as plenty of great frogs and a screaming tyto. The possum was new for me but was somewhat tinged by a tiny long-tailed grey mammal which I had briefly in the spotlight. Possibly a long-tailed pygmy-possum or a tree mouse but one that definitely got away.

Lemuroid RIng-tailed Possum

Lemuroid RIng-tailed Possum

Back at Chambers I tried a couple of local spots for Herbert River Ringtail before sitting down and watching the feed station hoping for some Striped Possum photos. The Stripies did not come in this night but I had excellent views and photo opportunities for Sugar Gliders as the glided in. Once the lights went out here I went out spotlighting and eventually sometime after midnight I managed a Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum in what appeared to be someone’s front yard. I had excellent binocular views but unfortunately had left my camera back in my room so tried to take a picture with the iPhone – see below….. On the way back to bed I was kicking Northern Long-nosed Bandicoots out of the way.

Sugar Glider

Sugar Glider

Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum..... Honest!!!

Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum….. Honest!!!

It was raining heavily again in the morning so I cruised back to Cairns and onto a plane home – too short a trip but an excellent one with 17 new mammals for the year list and three new birds as well as excellent frogs. I really need to go back and photograph things with more time as well as clean up all the mammals I still need up that way. Thanks to Sim and Lucas for letting me go (and putting up with me this year) and Rohan Clarke for igniting the beast and getting us both on a non big year mammal medium year!

Summary of mammals seen below:

Short-beaked Echidna – One on side of road as I was descending Gilles into Cairns
Northern Brown Bandicoot – A couple at Kingfisher Park and one beside the road near Wongabell State Forest
Northern Long-nosed Bandicoot – Easy to see at Kingfisher Park and Chambers Lodge, also on Mt Lewis
Striped Possum – One seen on the first night in the canopy at Kingfisher Park. Apparently a mother and baby have been coming in at Chambers Lodge late most nights but not when I was there.
Sugar Glider – Quite a few came in to the feeding station at Chambers Lodge and were quite tame. Easy to spotlight in the surrounding forest too
Lemuroid Ring-tailed Possum – About a dozen seen from the carpark at Mt Hypipamee up to and along the main road a way and at the road works clearing about 3km up the road.
Daintree River Ring-tailed Possum – Four seen within 500m of the clearing on Mt Lewis including a mum and bub
Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum – thought I was going to dip but finally got one in someone’s driveway near Lake Eacham after midnight
Green Ring-tailed Possum – One spotlit on Mt Lewis and one seen during the day at Curtain Fig
Common Brush-tailed Possum – One during the day at Granite Gorge and several at Mt Hypipamee
Musky Rat-kangaroo – One only on Mt Lewis!
Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo – Two seen near the carpark at Nerada Tea Plantation. Staff are very helpful and the tea good.
Mareeba Rock-wallaby – I had a lap dance at Granite Gorge from a rock-wallaby – these animals are not in a good state – very sad. One I would like to sanitize on my list next visit.
Red-legged Pademelon – Common at Kingfisher Park, Mt Lewis and Southern Tablelands.
Eastern Grey Kangaroo – Two just north of Mareeba on side of the road
Agile Wallaby – Common from the outskirts of Cairns
Fawn-footed Melomys – Common and easily seen at Kingfisher Park. One spotlit at Chambers Lodge
Giant White-tailed Rat – One seen on second night at Kingfisher Park in the rain. Impressive animal.
Bush Rat – Common and easily seen at Kingfisher Park
Eastern Blossum-bat – Several in Orchard area at Kingfisher Park – easy to get good views under red light
Spectacled Flying-fox – Hard to miss as you drive into Cairns. Odd animals encountered while spotlighting each night
Little Red Flying-fox – Camp at Tolga Scrub seems abandoned. Big colony at Herberton
Diadem leaf-nosed Bat – Cracker of an animal and probably the highlight of the trip. I was able to watch the bat hunting from a perch under red light at Kingfisher Park. It would move its head in a circular motion before flying off and back to perch.
Little Bent-winged Bat – I watched the flyout of a roost of 50+ of these bats in Geraughty Park next to Kingfisher Park. Red light again helpful as they would fly out and often land in the surrounding trees. Andrew and Carol can point you to the right tree.
Large-footed Myotis – Easily seen in the visitors centre at Mareeba Wetlands – just ask the staff. Also found under a couple of bridges in the Yungaburra area.
Feral Cat – One seen on Mt Lewis and one at Mt Hypipamee
Also saw a long-tailed, small grey mammal with pale blue eyeshine run up a tree at Mt Hypipamee – one that got away. Plenty of bats got away too – with many different types seen while spotlighting. I had almost no luck at all checking culverts, bridges and picnic shelters for roosts this trip.

2 thoughts on “Ton up on a brief Cairns wildlife adventure

  1. Christine Simons

    Fascinating.I first came across birders on Birds Australia trips ticking of numbers of species.Like much of what we humans do,I find extremely funny.However,you ,and the other searchers certainly see some wonderful creatures.It is good to know there is still quite a selection of interesting Australian animals and birds still to be seen if someone searches them out.I also really liked the people I met who do this.

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