Cassowaries, Thickknees and the Great Barrier Grief

The advent of the third decade of the twenty first century has delivered overlapping health and climate crises. These have impacted on our birding and travel activities.

Covid restrictions have ruled out overseas travel, and interstate ventures are uncertain. The repeated experience of trips cancelled at the last moment means that travel planning has become a bit more of a last minute affair.

Recently, Lee and I bit the bullet and had a two week holiday in far north Queensland – a region hard hit by the loss of tourism and a nice place to be this time of year. By good fortune, we managed to get a good hire car deal – picking up Subaru Forester in Cairns and dropping it off at the Brisbane Airport for less than $1200 for 15 days.

When we are planning our itinerary and booking accomodation, some of the places we wanted to book – e.g. Cassowary House in Kuranda and Red Mill House in Daintree were booked out. When we flew to Cairns, NSW and Victoria were firmly in lockdown and SEQ was coming out of restrictions. At some of the places we stayed, we were the only guests there, and indeed, the only guests in a while. There were tales of mass cancellations. The caravan parks and the like favoured by grey nomads were doing alright (lots of refugees sitting out the pandemic in a pleasant environment), while the niche out of the way places suffered more. There was a vacancy sign out the front of Red Mill House.

One of the things that stood out on this trip was the frequency with which we saw and heard Bush Thickknees. They seemed to be everywhere in FNQ, from the centre of Yungaburra (which they shared with fig parrots), to our accommodation in Wonga and the caravan park at Mission Beach.

Our stay at Kingfisher Park (Julatten) was enjoyable as always. The house platypus put on a good display and the Papuan Frogmouths were hanging out in the bamboo patch as usual. The road up Mt Lewis was in very good condition, the Ho Chi Min Track was clear and we had nice views of a Pied Monarch at the dam. There were plenty of Chowchillas about (including a family of five) and we had nice views of a Cassowary and his (second stage) chick near the carpark. We saw another cassowary near the mangrove boardwalk near Cape Tribulation.

We quite enjoyed Murray Hunt’s early morning bird cruise on the Daintree River. We had nice views of Little and Azure Kingfishers, as well as a Great-billed Heron (the motivation behind many birders patronage of the service). It was also nice to watch sunbirds flying to a nest hanging over the next table while we enjoyed coffee and smashed avocado after the trip.

Finally we enjoyed nice views of the Golden Bowerbird at Mt Hypipamee – he was using moss to decorate his bower.

The trip out to Agincourt was far less enjoyable. Virtually all the hard coral there was dead, and finning about the devastated environment created a deep sense of solastalgia. A dead reef, like a burnt rainforest, is another in your face manifestation of climate change. While I would pick a different reef to visit next time, it was important to witness the impact of humanity’s actions on the biophysical environment.

Another sad observation was the complete absence of Ulysses Butterflies.

Other than that, it was nice getting away from the cross-border Covid incursions (we’ve learnt that a stitch in time saves ninety nine). But for the pressures of work, I would happily spend more time up there.

If you are free of travel restrictions and feel like hitting the road, the birds of FNQ are calling.

Regards, Laurie

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