Tropical rainforests. That was why we had come to northeastern Queensland. I had romantic visions of colorful birds, stunning flowers, perhaps a python or two. Now that we were finally there, it was time to see if my fantasies had any basis in fact.
Our first excursion was to Eubanangee Swamp National Park, south of Cairns. The terrain was rolling grasslands and scrub interspersed with tracts of forest, mostly in the valleys. Cloud-shrouded mountains loomed in the distance. I figured that the edge habitat would be an excellent place to find birds, but the trails were so dark and the foliage was so dense, I was quickly frustrated. Clearly, I need to work on my “birding by ear” skills!
(Can you find the bird in this photo? Can you identify it?)
Walking back on a path between the forest and the adjacent field, I noticed a delightful assortment of brightly colored dragonflies, butterflies, and moths—so I took pictures of them instead.
The next day we drove inland, heading for the Atherton Tablelands. At first we climbed along a narrow, winding road up a steep cliff overhung with towering trees, their trunks swathed in thick vines. Again, the foliage was so dense I couldn’t see past the edge of the road. If there were birds in there (and yes, I could hear them), they were well hidden.
Reaching the top of the plateau, the scenery opened up and we were suddenly driving through flat fields of sugarcane. We passed coffee and tea plantations, banana “orchards” and huge termite mounds. I was intrigued by the termite mounds, but in spite of a close inspection, I never saw an actual termite.
Our first stop was at Hasties Swamp National Park, which offered a chance to look for ducks and other freshwater birds. As we drove in, I realized that there were dozens of Black Kites soaring overhead. Luckily, my husband is getting very good at stopping the car in a hurry!
Continuing to the lakeside, we set up in the spacious blind next to the lake. I pointed my lens out the window and was immediately bowled over by the presence of hundreds of Plumed Whistling-Ducks!
Once I had taken far too many duck photos, I turned my attention to the other birds present—Masked Lapwings, Purple Swamphens, a Black-winged Stilt. This was certainly a worthwhile stop!
Our final destination for the day was Wongabel National Park, just down the road. This small park preserved an area of endangered mabi rainforest and stands of red cedar, all replanted. Apparently, there are no original stands left, and only a handful of reforested tracts.
Once more, I was defeated by the dense, dark vegetation. It was now midday, and with few exceptions, the birds were silent, giving no clues to their whereabouts. Instead, I focused on the beauty of the forest, and enjoyed a contemplative walk through the Australian wild.
Our time in Australia was drawing to a close, but there was one more destination I had been anticipating for months, ever since we started planning this trip—the Daintree Rainforest, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Wet Tropics. Stay tuned next month….
Bird Photos: top: Lewin’s Honeyeater, Wongabel National Park; mystery bird: I have no idea!; Plumed Whistling-Ducks; Masked Lapwings, Purple Swamphen, Black-winged Stilt; Large-billed Gerygone.