Saturday, 15 February 2014

FNQ Trip October 2013 - Part 4: Michaelmas Cay and Trip Home

On the morning of 11th October, I caught the bus to the Cairns Jetty to board Seastar – a smaller vessel which conduct tours to Michaelmas Cay and Hastings Reef. The vessel holds about 35 people and is the first to arrive at Michaelmas Cay, much better than dealing with 100’s of people on other vessels. Given I had an open wound, I was unable to go swimming, so just had to rely on the birds.

Arriving at the Cay at approximately 9:30am, I ticked off 6 species in as many seconds – Great Frigatebird, Sooty Tern (hundreds), Common Noddy (hundreds), Black Noddy (only a few hidden amongst the Common Noddy), Brown Booby and somewhat embarrassing, Lesser Crested Tern which seems to be absent down my way. Also present were Bridled Tern on the buoys off the Cay, Lesser Frigatebird and Crested Tern. I dipped on Masked Bobby, Red-footed Booby and any others that occasionally are around the Cay such as Pomarine Jaegar, White-tailed Tropicbird, Southern Giant Petrel etc. But 6 ticks in quick succession was enough for me – I was up to 36 – just one more bird needed to hit the 300 on the life list!

Approaching Michaelmas Cay
Breeding Colony on Michaelmas Cay

Brown (Common) Noddy (Anous stolidus) on egg
 A full resolution video of the birds at the Cay can be viewed at:

The next morning, the tide was miles out along the Esplanade, so no more checks to see if any new waders were turning up. I hung around Cairns for lunch before departing to Mission Beach for my next night’s stay – dropping into Etty Bay along the way. I quickly ducked into the turf farm south of Cairns to see if Little Curlew or any other interesting birds were present. There was nothing, not a solitary bird. The plan, if it were to go to script, would be to tick off Southern Cassowary at Etty Bay and therefore use Mission Beach to relax and recuperate without worrying about running around trying to find a Cassowary.

Along the way I stopped off at Mount Bartle Frere just north of Innisfail – the highest Mountain in Queensland. Arriving at Etty Bay Road just before 1pm, I can remember uttering the words “please God let me find a Cassowary”. Literally a few seconds later, I rounded a corner and there on the side of the road was an adult Southern Cassowary – number 37 for the trip and my 300th bird on the life list. The bird simply went about its business as around 4 cars were parked on the side of the road taking its photo. The bird casually scratched around before walking up the road – oblivious to the fact that there were 3 cars waiting for it to get off the road. After never trying to see the Cassowary in the wild, it was great to find the bird so easily – one of the highlights of the trip and a great way to bring up the 300, even if the time of day didn’t allow for a good photograph.

Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius)
There was a huge Surf Life Saving carnival at Etty Bay, so I didn’t stick around and drove to Hibiscus Lodge – a B&B in Mission Beach which would be my accommodation for the night. The owners are lovely people, the accommodation very nice and Cassowaries wonder through their garden most mornings, especially an 11-month old bird (at the time of my visit), called Peanut. The bird was called Peanut as it was first seen when it was 24 hours old, when “Dad”, one of the local males responsible for raising many clutches of chicks, brought the chick for a visit. The bird was just a small, fluffy thing which due to its small size and colour got the name Peanut. That afternoon I just relaxed and went on a quick bushwalk which yielded nothing of interest.

The next morning after a beautiful breakfast, the owners of the B&B took me next door to meet their neighbours who are wildlife carers. I got to cuddle some joeys that they were looking after, as well as check out a Papuan Frogmouth nest in their backyard. Still too high up for any decent photos, but still nice to see. While we were talking, Peanut – the 11 month old juvenile cassowary decided to make a visit, walking up to the fence to check us out before having a drink out of a drinking trough the property owners leave out and wondering off into the bushes. I got to see Peanut again about 20 minutes later when he visited the B&B, walking right up to the house porch, about 2m away from where I was standing. A nice way to end my stay at Mission Beach.

The next day it was off to Townsville for a night’s stay in order to break up the 5.5-6hr drive back to Proserpine. I quickly called into Ingham to tick off Black-faced Woodswallow at the Cemetery – a bird I didn’t bother going after when I was in Ingham at the start of the trip. No new birds to report that day.

On Monday 14th October, it was time to leave Townsville for the 3hr drive back home. I didn’t expect to see another bird, but a gentleman at the Ingham workshops told me to visit Horseshoe Lagoon after I told him about dipping on White-browed Crake in Ingham. Arriving at the Lagoon’s bird hide just before midday, I saw the rear end of a bird dart into the reeds. Definitely a crake, but I didn’t get a good enough look to ID. I thought that was the last I would see of it. I waited quietly in the hide for 10 minutes before the bird ventured out into the open – as I suspected, a White-browed Crake! Bird 302 and the last new bird for the trip (I saw Australian Hobby later on thinking it was a lifer, but found out later I had seen it elsewhere but forgot).

White-browed Crake (Porzana cinerea)
Arriving back home in the afternoon, the adrenaline from the trip wore off and I went downhill with my leg infection and required 2 nights in hospital. A price worth paying in order to see 39 new species of bird and boost the life list from 263 to 302. I would have liked to have been more able-bodied during the trip, but seeing 39 new species in 11 days is not too bad with one leg. Now to get to 400 – that’s just a dream for the time being!

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