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Birds of the Esplanade, Cairns

Birds of the Esplanade, Cairns, Tropical Queensland

tern catching fish

tern catching fish

It wasn’t a great start to my one free morning in Cairns earlier this month: The coral reef was out there with its swirling, colourful pageant of fish I wouldn’t have time to see. Tropical rainforest and the chance of wild cassowaries would also have to wait for another trip. I could still stroll along the esplanade, famous for its birds…

I could stroll along the esplanade, famous for its birds, but the sky was grey and rain was starting to fall. I decided to go anyway .

The first birds flying toewards me looked like seagulls until I noticed the black on their  their heads.  They were terns, and for several minutes swooped  back and forth over the shallow sea, every now and then dipping  into the water to catch small fish. Visibility wasn’t great, but I’m pretty sure they were gull-billed terns (see the strong, dark bill in the photo), which could help explain why i thought they were gulls at first. This species is more associated with inland waters but does visit coasts as well, and is found on every continent.

Indian mynahs (introduced long ago to Australia) and silver gulls were common enough on the sand and rocky platform, and I saw  the occasional pair of masked  lapwings, all of which are common  in southern Queensland. Then I noticed a long down-curtved bill on a pale brown bird: my first whimbrel – not very common down south – for many years. In fact my last sighting had also been right here, from the Cairns Esplanade



I was not expecting to see kingfishers, but suddenly there were two sacred kingfishers, which I associate more with woodlands than coastal mudflats, flitting across the water and landing on rocks and stumps

sacred kingfisher

sacred kingfisher

Further out, a few common sandpipers were probing for invertebrates in the mud

common sandpipers

common sandpipers

A bit of a diversion from birds: I came across a wonderful (but obviously temporary) sand sculpture – I was later told it was done by Swiss visitors

sand sculpture, Esplanade, Cairns

sand sculpture, Esplanade, Cairns

Back to birds, a conpicuous flock of pelicans awaited.  They had probably been feeding during the night (pelicans often do) as they didn’t seem interested in anything other than sleeping or preening.

pelicans, Esplanade, Cairns

pelicans, Esplanade, Cairns

My final two sightings for the morning were both young birds. The first thus had me confused for a moment, and I wondered if it was a reef heron before deciding it was a white-faced heron without much white on the face (because it was not fully adult). The other was a nankeen night heron, not yet as pretty as it will be when mature, but still a lovely bird

young white-faced heron

young white-faced heron


young night heron

young night heron

Definitely more satisfying than spending the morning in a hotel room or cafe (I did enjoy a nice hot chocolate afterwards)

Birds on the Araucaria property


Birds on the Araucaria property, Scenic Rim, Queensland

I’ve just been looking back over our records of the birds we have been seeing over the past few years on the Araucaria property and the adjacent Andrew Drynan Reserve campground (where guests on our camping option stay)

Here’s a summary, more or less in order of frequency of sightings

Lewin's Honeyeater

Lewin's Honeyeater feeding on nectar from a bottlebrush flower

Very common (seen almost every day):

Torresian crow
Lewin’s honeyeater
eastern whipbird
Australian magpie
barn owl
grey butcherbird
noisy miner
red-backed fairy-wren
pied currawong
welcome swallow
Brown cuckoodove

Brown cuckoodove

Common (at least seasonally):

striated pardalote
rainbow lorikeet
brown cuckoodove
white-throated gerygone
sulphur-crested cockatoo
bar-shouldered dove
pheasant coucal
channel-billed cuckoo
brush cuckoo
spangled drongo
common koel
willy wagtail
olive-backed oriole
eastern yellow robin
scaly-breasted lorikeet
white-faced heron

white-faced heron in tree near creek

Reasonably common (at least seasonally)

grey fantail
black duck
white-faced heron
topknot pigeon
masked lapwing
little pied cormorant
grey shrikethrush
white-throated honeyeater
white-browed scrubwren
pied butcherbird
pale-headed rosella
blackfaced cuckooshrike
brown thornbill
azure kingfisher
wood duck
variegated fairywren
varied triller
rufous whistler
golden whistler
fantailed cuckoo
eastern rosella

osprey watching topknot pigeons on Araucaria property

Occasionally seen or heard:

yellow-faced honeyeater
wonga pigeon
wedge-tailed eagle
superb fairywren
scarlet honeyeater
sacred kingfisher
red-browed finch
forest kingfisher
fairy martin
dusky moorhen
crested pigeon
brown quail
yellow-eyed cuckoo-shrike
rose-crowned fruitdove
regent bowerbird
pale-vented bush hen
Pacific baza
noisy pitta
noisy friarbird
little corella
little black cormorant
leaden flycatcher
large-billed scrubwren
crimson rosella
crested skriketit
brush turkey
blue-faced honeyeater
black-faced monarch
blackbreased button-quail
buff-banded rail
glossy black cockatoo
jacky winter
little shrike-thrush
nankeen night heron
rainbow bee-eater
tawny frogmouth
white.belllied sea eagle
yellow-tailed black cockatoo

Frogs in the Araucaria pond

Frogs at home at Running Creek, Scenic Rim, southeast Queensland

Dainty green treefrog

Dainty green treefrog

We’ve been hearing and seeing a few frogs lately, on warm wet evenings (although some of the evenings have been surprisingly cool for a Queensland summer).

Clicking froglets (Crinia signifera) have been very vocal, and we’ve heard a variety of others, including spotted and striped marsh frogs, tusked frogs, the green tree frog and the great barred frogs.

This little beauty is the dainty green treefrog, Litoria gracilenta, on a Dianella (native flax lily) next to the small pond near our wildlife ecology centre.

Another bat stuck in a cocos palm

We had another call today to rescue a bat caught in a cocos palm.  These palms are really bad news for wildlife – it would be good to see them all replaced with bangalow or other native wildlife-friendly palms.

Once again the bat freed himself while we attempted to reach him, but this time with his leg bleeding, so we can only hope the wound was not too serious.

Amateur naturalists contribute to science

A couple of years ago, Wildlife Tourism Australia ran a workshop in Beaudesert on the role of the amateur naturalist in science and conservation

There has been an interesting example recently in England, with  a gardener showing that garden snails appear to have a formerly undetected  ‘homing instinct.’

School childrfen are now being encouraged to join in the study to confirm this – and see the BBC article ‘Snails have a homing instinct.’