Birds of the Esplanade, Cairns, Tropical Queensland
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
Further out, a few common sandpipers were probing for invertebrates in the mud
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
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.
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
Definitely more satisfying than spending the morning in a hotel room or cafe (I did enjoy a nice hot chocolate afterwards)