About Me

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Canberra-based naturalist, conservationist, educator since 1980. I’m passionate about the natural world (especially the southern hemisphere), and trying to understand it and to share such understandings. To that aim I’ve written several books (most recently 'Birds in Their Habitats' and 'Australian Bird Names; origins and meanings'), run tours all over Australia, and for the last decade to South America, done a lot of ABC radio work, chaired a government environmental advisory committee and taught many adult education classes – and of course presented this blog, since 2012. I am the recipient of the Australian Natural History Medallion, the Australian Plants Award and most recently a Medal of the Order of Australia for ‘services to conservation and the environment’. I live happily in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise surrounded by a dense native garden and lots of birds.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Kingfisher Park; a tropical birders' icon

As I've said before, if I devote a post to a commercial natural history establishment you can be sure that's it's one that I believe well warrants your attention, both for what they offer and for their commitment to the environment. 
Welcome to Kingfisher Park!
(Though I'd have invested in an apostrophe; just saying...)
Kingfisher Park, on the tablelands north of Mareeba, inland of Cairns on the tropical east coast of Queensland, is certainly one such. Not that any Australian birder will need to be told about it, but anyone who cares about nature would also benefit from a stay there; you can camp, or stay in basic bunkhouse accommodation or in comfortable and spacious but simple self-contained rooms. I've done all three and can recommend them all, depending on your circumstance and preferences. On our most recent visit, in the summer wet season, we stayed in one of the six rooms, which open off a verandah that looks across a small clearing into the rainforest.
The verandah; our room was the one second from the left.

An easy place to while away time watching birds on the feeder or in the bath under the bushes,
or just going about their business in the forest.

Part of the very agreeable view from the verandah.
We chose this time to go in the wet, because this is a very bountiful time of year, and some animals can be
enjoyed now that are harder to see, or even absent, at other times of year. (There's no bad time to go though!)
It was also a celebration for us of the beginning of a new stage of our life.
Immediately adjacent to the little settlement of Julatten, the 4.5 hectare property comprises an old orchard plus limited clearing around the accommodation - the rest is remnant rainforest. 
A section of the orchard, another clearing in the rainforest, and a very productive one for birders.
Canefields press in on two sides, and at one stage there was a real danger that the property would be subsumed into them, but neighbours bought it to save it, and it has been run for conservation and to provide accommodation for nature appreciation ever since. The current owners, Carol and Andrew Iles, have been associated with the park as neighbours and professional wildlife guides for 20 years; they purchased it in 2015.

A hanging seed feeder at the edge of the clearing provides activity all day, depending on what natural seed is also locally available at the time.
The feeder can be seen hanging at the edge of the forest,
just above the ever-present and domineering Australian Brushturkey Alectura lathami in the photo.

Red-browed Finches Neochmia temporalis; common along the entire east and south-east Australian
coast and hinterland, but always a delight.

Chestnut-breasted Manikins Lonchura castaneothorax, found across northern Australia and in New Guinea.

The feeder is not really designed for a bird the size of a Bar-shouldered Dove Geopelia humeralis,
but this didn't noticeably deter them!

And of course the inevitable spillage attracted attention too; here Bar-shouldered Dove,
Red-browed Finches and Pacific Emerald Dove Chalcophaps longirostris.

Pacific Emerald Dove.

Australian Brushturkey (and Bar-shouldered Dove).
Nearby the small bird bath in the shelter of bushes also attracts a steady stream of customers in the warm afternoons. 
Metallic Starling Aplonis metallica, our only native starling and an impressive one;
its main range is New Guinea and islands to the west and east, just reaching north Queensland.

Yellow-spotted Honeyeater Meliphaga notata; locally common, this one is restricted to north Queensland.

Macleay's Honeyeater Xanthotis macleayanus - a quick vigorous splash...

... and an equally vigorous shake dry.

And one of the stars of Kingfisher Park, the Red-necked Crake Rallina tricolor, is not especially rare
(particularly in New Guinea) but secretive and hard to see - this is one of your best chances.
Margaret Atwood took the title character's name for Oryx and Crake from watching this species,
and I'm pretty certain she was staying at Kingfisher Park at the time.
(And this is another candidate to illustrate the "when is a really terrible photo acceptable" discussion,
which was one of the first blogs posts I ever did.
It was getting pretty dark by now, and the bird was another vigorous bather.)
An alternative activity for the warm afternoons was lying out in the sun, perhaps to divest themselves of parasites (the birds I mean, not us). 
Bar-shouldered Dove, exposing its underwing to the sun.

Macleay's Honeyeater spread out.
Actually that's the third photo I've shown you of this honeyeater without you seeing what it really looks like. It's one of the commonest birds around the accommodation.

Macleay's Honeyeater is endemic to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area
(between Cooktown and just north of Townsville). It was named for William John Macleay,
nephew of Alexander, an entomologist who was instrumental in founding the Australian Museum.
WJ was first President of the Entomological Society of NSW, the first specialist scientific society in Australia.
He was also first President of its successor, the Linnean Society of NSW.
One of the reasons we came in summer was the eponymous kingfisher, the gorgeous Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher Tanysiptera sylvia, which breeds in north Queensland at that time, then migrates to New Guinea. (It's more complex than that actually, as another New Guinea population is sedentary and breeds there. Given that they seem not to overlap, perhaps this is a new species in the making. But how did this situation arise?)
Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher, a truly exquisite bird. Several pairs nest on the property,
in excavations in ground-level termite mounds.
Many other birds can readily be seen on the property, both around the accommodation and in and around the orchard.
 Dusky Honeyeater Myzomela obscura, on a grevillea (probably a cultivar of G. pteridifolia).
The bird is a richer copper shade than this dull light photo suggests.

Lemon-bellied Flycatcher Microeca flavigaster, a characterful little bird which is actually a robin (same genus
as Jacky Winter). Nonetheless I can't yet come at the odd neologism (at least in Australia) of 'flyrobin' for
some of the genus, including this one.

Little Shrike-thrush Colluricincla megarhyncha. This relatively diminutive shrike-thrush has a huge
and very melodious voice.

Orange-footed Scrubfowl Megapodius reinwardt, also small for its group (the megapodes, or mound-builders),
but also with a huge production, in its case the enormous incubation mound of composting material in which
the eggs incubate.

Orange-footed Scrubfowl chick, recently hatched.
They must dig their way to the surface and be immediately self-sufficient in everything.

Yellow-breasted Boatbill Machaerirhynchus flaviventer; long regarded as a monarch flycatcher,
this species and its New Guinea sole congener are now recognised as comprising a family of their own.

The exquisite nest of a Spectacled Monarch Symposiachrus trivirgatus, near the accommodation; however carefully
we tried not to disturb her, she always slipped away long before we got close.
This is what she looks like, though this is a body double!

There were other animals around of course, though sadly we failed totally on frogs and reptiles; here are a few, but it must be said that this time the birds dominated.
Fawn-footed Melomys Melomys cervinipes, an engaging little member of the 'Old Australian Endemic' rodents,
whose ancestors arrived a few million years ago as we approached Asia. It liked sweet corn very much.
(But we didn't provide it!)
Young Red-legged Pademelon Thylogale stigmatica, which probably
really should have still been with mum.

Creatonotos gangis, a moth in the family Erebidae. Unfortunately it wasn't showing its striking
red body, and certainly not its remarkable extrudable and inflatable hairy appendages
for spreading its courtship pheromones.

When we were there, the Varied Eggflies Hypolimnas bolina were everywhere in the grassy areas,
looking for suitable foodplants for their eggs.
I've probably not done full justice to this wonderful little gem, but hopefully you're interested enough to try it next time you're up that way - both you and Kingfisher Park deserve it!

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