Logo of BirdLife Northern Queensland

Logo of BirdLife Northern Queensland

Outing to Cattana Wetlands, 20 May 2012.

At 7am on Sunday 20 May, the BirdLife NQ group had a lovely birdwalk at Cattana Wetlands, Smithfield, on the Cairns Northern Beaches. We had a pretty good turn out, which included some of the BirdLife NQ Commitee and members. The weather was sunny but a little too windy for my liking!



White-eared Monarch (Courtesy Martin Cachard)

But straight away next to the car park we heard Lovely Fairy-wren, but unfortunately we couldn't get onto them. They usually show themselves here at this spot pretty well, but not today!! As we headed into the wetlands proper we noted an abundance of Brown Honeyeaters, some of which were nesting. They seemed to have occupied the usual areas where the Brown-backed Honeyeaters always breed in the spring - interestingly, not many Brown-backeds were seen at the wetlands through the morning, where they are normally in very good numbers.

The next highlight was a calling White-browed Crake in the very first pond on the left of the path from the car park - unfortunately this bird didn't show either!!

The main wetlands themselves didn't support many waterbirds which is quite normal, with the numbers usually building up much later in the dry season. The usual Green Pygmy-geese, Pacific Black Ducks and Darters, Little Pied Cormorants, a few Australian Grebes and a lone Royal Spoonbill overhead, were really all that were there. A lot of Fairy Martins with a smattering of Tree Martins flew overhead with the myriad Swiflets and Welcome Swallows.

As we rounded the southern end of the main lakes we were heading into good WB Crake territory - Martin calls this "Crake Corner", where they roost and are most easily seen at any time of day. Well, we got onto a few of them, but not with any great views - it was starting off to be that kind of day!! Waiting for more crakes to show at this spot, a juvenile Rufous Whistler turned up. This is just the second season that we have had this species reported here - last year was my first record for the Cairns lowlands at this very spot!! It wasn't the same bird, as last year I also had a juvenile here, so it may just be an overlooked and more regular occurrence of them in this part of Cairns.

Finch numbers were very low with just the usual Nutmeg Mannikins in numbers and a few Chestnut-breasteds as well. Crimson Finch were not all that co-operative, but we did manage a group of 6 or 7 young birds in the canal on the west edge of the wetlands - this is a very reliable spot for Crimsons at this location as there are a number of big Pandanus trees here which this species loves.

A lone juvenile Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike showed itself in this southern part of the reserve - normally we get about 10 birds here in this section in the cooler months - they are not an easy bird on the Cairns lowlands.

Raptors were disappointing, but we did manage a sub-adult White-bellied Sea-Eagle, a lone but big female Brown Goshawk and a lone Black-shouldered Kite.

The best birding of the morning was in the area from the western end of the boardwalk and back to the western end of the car park via the track that leaves the boardwalk mid-way. We had a lone Grey Fantail which isn't all that exciting, except that this bird was either of the race 'keasti' (our local and very distinctive upland bird) or 'albiscapa' (a very rare straggler from Tasmania) - either way, it was a great get and a rarity to be either of these races! We will be attempting to narrow down the exact race to which this individual belongs due to its significance - it would be a great shame not to get this bird on the record!!

As we moved north off the boardwalk we came across a large mixed foraging flock and some confiding Double-eyed Fig-parrots feeding on (you guessed it) ... ummm... figs!! Among and adjacent to this mixed feeding flock were Little Bronze-Cuckoos (visiting southern race 'barnardi' and local resident Gould's 'russatus'), Rufous Fantails (regularly seen here), Large-billed Gerygone, Spectacled Monarch, Dusky and Yellow-spotted Honeyeaters, Leaden Flycatchers (including many juveniles) and the beautiful White-eared Monarch, which had us going for a few seconds as it looked very odd - the bird was a very young one in its juvenile plumage!! It's not often you see them in that stage of plumage and it is decidedly uncommon here on Cairns coast, even in the cooler months. They are much easier in the foothills around Cairns, but oh, what a pleasure it was to see one happily foraging at head-height and only 15 meters away!!

Words and Photos courtesy Martin Cachard