Birds Australia North Queensland

Pied Imperial-Pigeon logo of BANQ

Long Weekend at Mt Surprise, 3-5 May 2008

Report by Greg Bortolussi

The Birds Australia Labour Day weekend officially started with a mid-Saturday afternoon muster at Bedrock Village, Mt Surprise. However, some of the more enthusiastic members arrived on Friday afternoon to set up camp and do some advance reconnaissance. Interestingly, this part of north Queensland appears to have received relatively little atlas attention, so one of the aims of the weekend was to address this matter.

Although Bedrock Village itself is endowed with a variety of birds, no stay there is complete without a walk down the railway to the Elizabeth Creek bridge which always seems to have ample birdlife. The creek walk yielded 18 species covering a variety of bird families. Although the walk south along the west bank did not uncover any more species we were rewarded on the south side of the highway with views of White-winged Trillers feeding on fat grubs in a Bloodwood. Walking back along the highway to town, a male Variegated Fairy-wren coming into adult plumage accompanied by a female was sighted. This was a new species for the bird list obtained from Mt Surprise Gems.

Seventy-five Rainbow Bee-eaters were sighted at Saturday breakfast. A Bar-shouldered Dove could be heard but was never seen. The morning presented an opportunity to check out a few sites so we headed north out of town towards the O’Brien’s Creek fossicking area. Stopping at an abandoned airstrip we headed into the paperbark woodland. A trio of Lemon-bellied Flycatchers and some White-throated Gerygones were soon encountered. As we left the woodland and headed back to the car the characteristic call of Banded Lapwings could be heard. A quick walk to the south produced a group of 5 Banded Lapwings. A total of 14 species were encountered here.

Variegated Fairy-Wren (male) (Courtesy Ian Montgomery, Birdway»)

We continued on to the fossicking area stopping at Elizabeth Creek crossing for a look around in the hope of turning up something interesting, like thornbills. We headed down the creek and returned to the vehicle via the dry woodland above the watercourse. Although we found 14 species, and in the haul almost half a dozen Straw-necked Ibis, we found nothing that we had not seen at previous stops. As we headed deeper into the fossicking area we encountered growing numbers of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos. Not far past the O’Brien’s Creek crossing we stopped to investigate some activity only to see more White-winged Trillers, Yellow, Brown, Rufous-throated Honeyeaters and a lone Mistletoebird. We were maybe a week too early for Grevillea flowering. By now it was mid-morning and things were starting to slow down. As we headed back to camp we decided to stop at the dam we saw in an old quarry. Apart from the 79 Red-tailed Black Cockatoos and the small number of Brown Honeyeaters here were 2 adult and 7 juvenile Australasian Grebes on the 1000m2 dam.

Arriving back at camp a few more people had arrived. A meeting time and place was agreed and we adjourned for lunch and a rest before our Saturday afternoon outing to Cumberland Dam. While I was having lunch a pair of juvenile Chestnut-breasted Mannikins landed high a nearby tree.

After climbing the Newcastle range we stopped at Turtle Rock but did not turn up a Spinifex Pigeon. We arrived at Cumberland dam around 16:15. One car was late because they had seen a Spotted Harrier back up the road. We immediately inspected the dam for waterbirds. Green Pygmy Geese, Hardhead, Grey Teal, Wandering and Plumed Whistling Ducks were numerous. Two other members then turned up and joined us after spending the day around Georgetown and building an impressive list for the day. Black-throated (northern race), Double-barred, Masked and Zebra Finch were recorded. Pictorellas were not sighted at the dam but were seen earlier by our two late arrivals at the racecourse. Blue-winged Kookaburra, Forest, Red-backed and Sacred Kingfishers were sighted. Just as we were getting ready to head home, Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters landed in the trees above us. Over 50 species were recorded in almost 2 hours spent at Cumberland dam.

Cumberland Dam (E Scambler)

After Sunday breakfast the whole group headed north for the abandoned airstrip north of town. As we arrived and admired the Banded Lapwings, three Bustards were sighted on the edge of the woodland. We spent one and a half hours to list more than 25 species in this dry woodland. Members of the group were treated to sightings of a range of species; Red-backed Kingfishers, Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo, Grey-crowned Babblers and Varied Sittellas. No doubt some good photos were taken. Striated Pardalotes appeared to be breeding in the banks of the rills that traversed the woodland. Towards the end of our visit a button-quail was flushed for a fleeting glimpse but despite drawn field guides at a few paces we could not reach consensus on its identity, so it remained unidentified. Maybe we should have invoked the Sean Dooley two bird rule?

With the airstrip area thoroughly searched we returned to Bedrock Village for morning tea and to collect our lunch and head for Einasleigh for lunch with the intention being that we would leapfrog along the road every 5km or so to atlas.

The first vehicles to arrive started to atlas at the Einasleigh turn-off. The next vehicle proceeded 5km down the road to start their atlas point. Although late in the morning, flocks of Black-faced Woodswallows and White-winged Trillers were spotted at the first site. The road, which is just east of the Einasleigh River, runs through a relatively uniform Ironbark and Bloodwood woodland so bird species tended to reflect this. It was unusual to stop and not hear Striated Pardalotes and Weebills. There was one exception; towards the end of the road is a large waterhole near some cattle yards. A large flock of Plumed Whistling Ducks and a few Little Black Cormorants and three Brolgas greeted us when we stopped. A lone Hardhead was spotted along with some Wood ducks further down the lagoon. Twenty-two species were recorded here.

White-browed Woodswallow (Courtesy Ian Montgomery, Birdway»)

We enjoyed lunch at the Copperfield River crossing near Einasleigh. Striated Pardalotes gathered nesting material and flew down the river. A Wedge-tailed Eagle soared overhead. The group was treated to a flock of Masked Woodswallows and a lucky few sighted White-browed Woodswallows. An observant member spotted a Peregrine Falcon on the rocky hill on the other side of the river.

On the return drive we spotted the White-necked Heron we flushed earlier from a drying roadside rock hole had returned. Stopping at a creek for an unsuccessful search for someone’s lost glasses, a large flock (120) Apostlebirds noisily made their way across the road. We headed back to Mt Surprise.

Monday saw participants break camp and head for home via various locations of interest. Nine people from as far away as Townsville and Mossman turned up for the weekend which produced over 90 species and will add more than a dozen atlas site recordings for the region. Those of you with atlas records please remember to submit them!

Einasleigh River (E Scambler)

Thankyou to Ivor and Karen who organised the weekend, and everyone who participated.