Birding Down Under: North to the Daintree

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When you love the ocean but live in land-locked Colorado, you have to take advantage of every opportunity to get visit the beach. We were on our way to the Daintree Rainforest (more on that next month) but to get there we had to drive north along the coast from Cairns. Darn.

Given the touristy nature of the area, I was confused by the empty beaches. Where were the sunbathers, waders, and surfers? Why was no one snorkeling in the warm water?

buchanspointbeach-qld-australia_lah_4582Yes, there were warning signs. Crocodiles. Stingers (deadly box jellyfish). But really? Was the ocean here that dangerous? And then, walking along a very narrow strip of sand between some mangroves and the water, I met a nice older couple out for a morning constitutional. They greeted me pleasantly, then asked if I’d seen the croc. Apparently, one had been sunning right where I was standing, only a few hours ago. A man out walking his dog had almost come home empty handed. Oh my. Maybe I could look for shorebirds on a wider beach!

Every so often we passed a small seaside town. An entirely different population of birds seemed to prefer the more inhabited setting. I saw my first Magpie Geese.

A Darter chose to nest in a tree in the middle of a local golf course water hazard. Pied Imperial-Pigeons roosted on the wires.

Magpie-Larks patrolled patches of lawn, reminding me of robins back home as they pecked through the short grass. This is an interesting species—both sexes are black and white, but the pattern of their markings indicates which is which. This is a female.

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One bird I’d particularly wanted to see on this trip was a Rainbow Bee-eater. They’re found all over Australia, but so far I hadn’t seen a single one. Then I realized that some of the birds on the overhead wires weren’t the ever-present swallows, doves, or Figbirds. So that’s where I should have been looking!

Not all the beaches were haunted by crocodiles—or at least not that day. At one stop, I caught three species of tern roosting together at the water’s edge, and I could view them from the safety of the dry sand near the road. A variety of sandpipers raced up and down, playing tag with the waves or probing for tiny crustaceans in the puddles left behind by the receding tide.

It was such a lovely day, warm, sunny with puffy white clouds in a bright blue sky. We were tempted to linger. But the day was wearing on and we had a destination to reach. It was time to get going to the Daintree.

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