Participants: Grahame Snell, Margaret Adamson, Dominic Chaplin, Doug Herrington, John & Lourdes Frois, Virginia Simmonds, Ivor Preston, Karen Doyle, Beth Snewin, Elna Kerswell, Graham Anderson
The annual BANQ outing to Mount Surprise and Georgetown is one of the highlights of the year. This year interstate birders travelled from as far afield as New South Wales and international visitors from as far as Northern Ireland to attend the outing.
As ever it did not disappoint with around 125 species observed. The most unusual sighting was of a pair of Yellow Chats at 40 Mile Scrub by John & Lourdes Fois. They also recorded Spotted Bowerbird here, which is an Atlas range extension.
For logistical reasons we divided into two groups. One group looked around Georgetown on the first day, then around Mt Surprise on the second. The other group did the reverse. We all met up at the Mt Surprise pub to compare notes. On the last day 40 Mile Scrub National Park was visited and a few people also went to the spectacular Minnamoolka station.
We stayed at the lovely Bedrock Village Park in Mount Surprise as we have done in previous outings. Galahs and Apostlebirds are plentiful and tame around the township.
On heading North out from the Mount Surprise birdlife rapidly decreases to very little and our interstate visitor was probably starting to wonder why we were visiting this birdless habitat. A few more Galahs and some Squatter Pigeons cheered us up and we did find a little more activity down by the river. But the main purpose of this excursion was to check out the old deserted airstrip. On the two previous BANQ visits we have recorded Banded Lapwings here. However this time the airstrip seemed deserted save for one Australian Pipit. Disappointed we drove a little further north seeing nothing more until John & Lourdes caught up with us gesticulating madly. While we had been looking at the Pipit we failed to notice the seven Banded Lapwings behind us that Lourdes spotted on the other side of the road.
At Georgetown we visited various locations, a small dam beside the road on the Newcastle Range, the 'River' just West of the Township, Cumberland Dam, Durham Dam, Georgetown Racecourse and the Georgetown Tip.
At the small Dam and also at Cumberland Dam we recorded Restless Flycatchers. Some debate followed after the trip about these Flycatchers. Birds Australia follows the Christides & Boles bird list which only accepts the Restless Flycatcher (Myiagra inquieta) species. Other authors split this species into two with the 'Paperbark Flycatcher' (Myiagra nana) occurring in the West of Australia. The dividing line is pretty much at Georgetown. It is very difficult to separate the two on sight alone but we have since learned that the call of the birds at Georgetown matches that of the 'Paperbark Flycatcher'.
At Cumberland Dam it is possible to record over 50 species in an hour and here we found at least 60 species during our visit. Here were a few Black-throated Finches and the eagle eyed Lourdes spotted one lone Masked Finch. But the most interesting finding here was of a calling Little Bronze-Cuckoo. This Cuckoo seemed to be way out of it's usual habitat which is semi rainforest areas along the coast. Grey-fronted Honeyeaters, uncommon at Georgetown were also here.
We were trying to find a Australian Bustard for Margaret and at Durham Dam one took off rapidly upon our arrival. A few new waterbirds and others were here such as Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilts, Varied Sitellas and a Brown Quail along with a few million Cow pats and a Dingo. It was rather hot out here in the middle of the day especially for a visitor from Northern Ireland.
At the Georgetown Racecourse the group on the first day recorded Black-throated Finches and Horsefield's Bronze-Cuckoo but there was no sign of these on the second day. Horsefield's Bushlarks and Rainbow Bee-eaters were common here.
No bird outing is complete without a trip to the local tip and here it was like an African Waterhole in the late evening sun with Agile Wallabies coming into drink. We finally got a good view of an Australian Bustard for Margaret.
40 Mile Scrub is always an interesting place to stop to break up the trip to Mt Surprise. There is a small walking circuit which always holds a few rainforest species not found further inland. Figbirds, White-browed Scrubwrens, Lewin's Honeyeaters and Fairy Gerygones are usually here. Some of us visited earlier in the day and didn't notice anything unusual apart from some strange calls along the track. John & Lourdes visited slightly later in the day. They found that the strange noises came from a Spotted Bowerbird. There are no Atlas records for this species here.
Then even more amazingly they found a male and female Yellow Chat along the track. This is certainly a good range extension for this rare bird. On future trips we must arrange some sort of radio contact between our vehicles.
On the last day we all went our separate ways and four of us went on an exploratory trip to Minnamoolka Station. This Station is about 70 km South of Mount Garnet. To get there you travel through largely birdless habitat until reaching the oasis of Minnamoolka Station. The feature of this station is their 3000 acre lily lagoon. We knew we were doing well when the first sighting was a herd of ten emus just inside the front gate. Approaching the lagoon we soon realised that it was full of thousands of waterbirds. All wetland species from Northern Queensland were here in abundance with birds stretching as far as the eye could see across the lagoon
Our kind hosts Lisa & Thomas Atkinson provided tea and scones before we went down to view the lagoon at closer range. In the trees behind us over 100 Nankeen Night-Herons were roosting restlessly. A White-bellied Sea-Eagle patrolled the lagoon sending up hundreds of ducks and flocks of Cotton Pygmy-Geese. On every available perch were Darters and Cormorants with Glossy Ibis working the shoreline with Whiskered and Gull-billed Terns patrolling above the lilies.
Conditions were obviously ideal here for the waterbirds. It was amazing to learn that the whole lagoon had been dry for seven years during the drought. We could have just sat there all day, but unfortunately after too short a time we had to head home. Hopefully we can have another BANQ visit next year and spend more time in this magical location.
Images © and text by Dominic Chaplin .