Monday, 9 July 2012

My Top Tropical Australian Birds

Having just moved back to NSW I am missing some of the familiar birds that call Far North QLD their home. I thought I would share my list of favourite FNQ birds, illustrated with photos I took over the last 4 years (some of mine were rubbish so I have sourced some from Wikipedia). These are not in any particular order, all these birds are important, not just to me but also to the fabulously diverse and spectacular ecology that exists in tropical Australia.

1. Olive-backed sunbird Nectarinia jugularis
This lovely little nectar feeding bird was a common sight in our garden at Kewarra Beach, just north of Cairns. They particularly like feeding on Heleconia nectar, and we had a small hedge of these in our garden. They build a hanging nest from string, spider web and twigs that forms a knitted cocoon with a entrance hole. The male is particularly spectacular, having a deep reflective blue throat above their bright yellow chest.
Female Olive-backed Sunbird, Crystal Cascades Holiday Park, Cairns
2. Pied Imperial or Torresian Pigeon Ducula bicolor
The deep Whoo Whoooo of this large pigeon heralded the arrival of breeding pairs along the coast. There were a number of birds that called the paperbark forest along Kewarra Beach home. I also saw them down at Airlie Beach. It was historically heavily hunted due to the fact it is large and apparently tasty! Now there are regular counts being done along the tropical coast to monitor their numbers.
Pied Imperial Pigeon, Wildlife Habitat, Port Douglas
3. Rainbow Bee-eater Merops ornatus
One of the most beautiful birds in the tropics, small flocks of these birds are quite abundant. They have a fairly distinctive call described as 'prrp prrrp'. I saw them around Kewarra Beach and around our home at Zilzie, and often heard them before seeing them.
Rainbow Bee-eaters, Catana Wetland, Cairns
4. Comb-crested Jacana Irediparra gallinacea
I had seen these fascinating birds on many documentaries before I saw one in the wild, at Catana wetlands, north of Cairns. They were much smaller than I imagined, but the red comb and large splayed toes are unmistakable. Gently walking across the large lillypads of swamps they are very shy and zip under cover of reeds and sedges when disturbed. I also saw these at the wetland towards the bottom of Blacks Beach Cove, north of Mackay.
Comb-crested Jacana (image source: Comb-crested Jacana - Wikipedia)
5. Magpie Goose Anseranas semipalmata
Around Cairns in the evening it was not unusual to see large flocks of loudly 'honking' Magpie geese in the sky. They are a large widespread bird that makes its nests in wetlands and billabongs of the north. They were particularly plentiful around the Mackay region and love the creeks through cane fields along the Mackay-Bucasia Rd.
Magpie Goose, Wildlife Habitat, Port Douglas
6. Kingfishers, Forest Todiramphus macleayii, Little Alcedo pusilla & Sacred Todiramphus sanctus
The Forest Kingfisher is a bright flash of blue on the wings and a white breast. These little kingfishers love the mangroves and paperbark swamps around the fringe of Kewarra beach. I would also see the Azure Kingfisher, who is equally beautiful and has a deep rufous chest and darker blue plumage down at the Boulders in Babinda (right at the base of Mt Bartle Frere). Sacred Kingfishers were also around Saltwater creek and Crystal Cascades in Cairns.
Sacred Kingfisher at Crystal Cascades Holiday Park, Cairns
7. Cassowary Casuarius casuarius
A relic from gondwana this bird is third largest and second heaviest in the world today. They just scream dinosaur to me, and scientists are still arguing what the bony crest, or casque, is actually for. They play a vital role in seed dispersal for several rainforest plants. The only time I saw one in the wild was after TC Yasi decimated the vegetation around Cardwell, it was wandering around the edges of a property, probably looking for food.
Southern Cassowary at Wildlife Habitat, Port Douglas
8. Peaceful Dove Geopelia placida
This very cute little dove can be seen and heard all along the coast of northern QLD. The call sounds a little like a high pitched 'doodle do'. They run around on the ground and can be seen easily along the Cairns Esplanade.
Peaceful Dove at the Esplanade, Cairns
9. Black Necked Stork (Jabiru) Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus
This is the only stork found in Australia. With striking orange legs and large beak, I often saw them flying overhead north of Cairns. There was a breeding pair at Catana wetlands and I was lucky enough to see three young ones there.
Adult and young Black Necked Stork, Wildlife Habitat, Port Douglas
10. Brolga Grus Rubicunda
One of two Australian cranes, the other being the Sarus Crane which looks quite similar. The first time I saw Brolga was in flight near Tinaroo Dam on the Atherton Tablelands. They really have a massive wingspan and are an incredible sight in flight. I also saw them in the paddocks between Kuranda and Mareeba, further south between Emu Park and Yeppoon, just south of Rockhampton and in large numbers at Hasties Swamp near Atherton.

Brolga at Hasties Swamp near Atherton, Plumed Whistling Ducks in foreground
11. Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianius
These strange birds were everywhere. The first one I spotted was up at Mareeba wetlands. After moving south to Zilzie we saw them all the time, zipping across the road with suicidal abandon! They are a substantial bird, with a long tail and an unusual deep oop-oop-oop call. They live and nest on the ground and are the only member of the Coucal family to live in Australia.
Pheasant Coucal (image source: Pheasant Coucal - Wikipedia)
12. Plumed Whistling Duck Dendrocygna eytoni
Around Mackay these sweet little ducks were everywhere. As they flew over their high whistling call was very recognisable. They seem to fill the niche that Wood Ducks occupy around the Southern Highlands. We saw them en mass at Hasties Swamp near Atherton, they were not that common along the Cairns coast, but plentiful around Mackay.
Plumed Whistling Ducks at Hasties Swamp near Atherton
13. Rajah Shelduck Tadorna radjah
A large majestic duck, mostly in pairs. A regular at the lagoon at Yorkey's Knob golf course, a pair also  visited the grass along Yeppoon Rd between the Tanby and Scenic Hwy roundabouts.
Rajah Shelducks at Yorkeys Knob Golf Course
14. Bush Stone Curlew Burhinus grallarius
Anyone who has visited northern QLD will be familiar with the call of the Curlew. It is a loud wailing call, which I was told the local indigenous people think very bad luck to imitate. They are a ground dwelling bird whose habitat has rapidly disappeared with our colonisation along the coastline. The first time I heard one was at Rollingstone Caravan Park north of Townsville. We were staying in a tent and were kept awake half the night wondering what on earth was being strangled! When we moved to Cairns we had one or two that liked our front garden, and they were a regular under the light near the stinger net at Palm Cove catching the insects that were attracted there.
Bush Stone Curlew, Wildlife Habitat, Port Douglas
15. Brown Honeyeater Lichmera indistincta
I am putting this lovely little bird in for it's song. In the early morning all along the north QLD coast you can hear this quite unassuming honeyeater twittering away. We had a pair nest in our Lillipilli hedge at Kewarra Beach, and although they are common and do not have particularly striking plumage 
the cheerful way they greet the day and say goodnight was always welcome.
Brown Honeyeater (image source: Brown Honeyeater - Wikipedia)
16. Blue Faced Honeyeater Entomyzon cyanotis
In contrast to the little Brown Honeyeater the Blue Face has found it's way into this list for it's striking blue skin found around it's eyes. They are quite a cheeky bird and inquisitive. They loved the palms around the Rollingstone Caravan Park, as well as the picnic area at Cape Hillsborough.
Blue Faced Honeyeater (image source: Blue Faced Honeyeater - Wikipedia)
 17. Orange Footed Scrub Fowl Megapodius reinwardt
These fairly secretive birds are part of the Megapode family mega meaning big and pod meaning foot. As their name betrays they have orange legs and feet and use them to scratch around in the leaf litter for tasty things. There was always one or two in the scrub at Catana wetland, but they would appear in most areas that had decent forest and good moist leaf litter.
Orange Footed Scrub Fowl (image source: Orange-footed Scrubfowl - Wikipedia)
18. Brush Turkey Alectura lathami
Most Aussies along the East Coast would have seen one of these birds at one point or another. They are also a Megapode and construct large mounds for nests. We had one living in our back yard at Zilzie, but they are very opportunistic and turn up at picnic areas. The males have a striking bright red head and yellow wattle.
Brush Turkey strutting its stuff at Lake Eacham on the Atherton Tableland
19. Pied Butcherbird Cracticus nigrogularis 
Butcher birds are related to Magpies and have a very melodious song. There were many living around Seaspray Resort in Zilzie and one often came and sat in our carport. They will respond if you whistle songs back to them. I also saw them in and around Blacks Beach Cove, particularly around the wetlands.
Pied Butcher bird in a Eucalypt at Seaspray Resort, Zilzie
20. Papuan & Tawny Frogmouth Podargus papuensis, Podargus strigoides 
Quite hard to see when they are pretending to be a log. There was a resident Papuan Frogmouth near Saltwater creek in Cairns, and we saw many Tawny Frogmouths living at Zilzie. They would sit 
under street lights and catch insects, one even took to sitting in our backyard or on the letter box!
Freddo the Tawny Frogmouth on our  letter box in Zilzie

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