Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge is one of those birding destinations that leaves those about to go trembling with excitement and those merely reading about it green with envy. You have been warned!
I decided to go to KPBL after my first day in Cairns and use the place as my base with which to explore the Atherton Tableland, a high area to the west of Cairns famous for its wildlife. The camping ground is at the northern end of the Tableland, but is also convenient for the Daintree and Cape Tribulation, another good birding and wildlife area. More importantly, it is a fantastic area to watch birds in its own right. The set up ranges from fairly basic, at least for those on a budget, to fancy rooms for those with the coin, but all I needed was a bed to sleep on. Almost immediately you start seeing birds, before I had gotten a few paces away from my car I had gotten my lifer Bar-shouldered Dove, and the very next bird I saw was the site’s speciality, the Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher. A number of these migrate from New Guinea each year to nest on the grounds of the camping ground, but they can be kind of shy for a bird chosing to nest at a birding Mecca. Patience will get you good looks, and there is something very special about seeing a representative of a group so strongly associated with the almost mythic New Guinea. It wouldn’t be the only such bird with those links I’d encounter on the trip.
Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher (Tanysiptera sylvia), By Keith and Lindsay, used with permission
After dumping my bag, and getting the lowdown from Lindsea and a map, I started wandering around. The third species I saw was an Atherton endemic (of which there are a few knocking about) Macleay’s Honeyeater, a striking spotted honeyeater that was easy to watch on the bird baths near the dining area. There were also a bunch of common species such as Orange-footed Scrubfowl and Australian Brush-turkeys (both species of megapode), Red-browed Firetails and Willie Wagtails.
I spent the late afternoon mostly staking out the small stretch of river at the top end of the property, as I was told that a Platypus was very regular just before sundown, and I didn’t want to miss it. I’ve been a fan of this particular peculiar Australian mammal my entire life, and more than any bird I wanted to see it here. Not that staking out the river was a bad idea for birds; a whole bunch of birds went by or came down to drink. These included a raft of honeyeaters, including Yellow Honeyeaters, Graceful Honeyeater, Yellow-faced Honeyeaters and Black-backed Honeyeaters; as well as Black-faced Monarchs and Spectacled Monarchs, the diminutive Pale Yellow Robin and the Little Shrike Thrush, both of which were common throughout the grounds, and the Large-billed Gerygone, which had a long pendulous nest dangling over the river. There were also Metallic Starlings, which had a large colony in the grounds. This is another migrant from New Guinea, and one that can cause confusion as it is also a mimic and will imitate birds only found in New Guinea while visiting Australia. It also has a call that reminded me of the alarm call of the Saddleback, a Kiwi bird. Not sure how it learnt that one!
Graceful Honeyeater (Meliphaga gracilis)
Metallic Starling colony (Aplonis metallica)
I got my Platypus just before dark; it was much smaller than I expected but utterly enthralling as it hunted along the river bank. In my elation I bounded down the path from the river and flushed one of my other targets, a Noisy Pitta, which had been sitting in the path and was now back in the dense tropical bush. Even flushing so fantastic a bird as this didn’t hurt my mood, and I managed to get a good long look at one the next evening in the same area. Yes, Noisy Pittas are predictable here, with two nesting pairs, and, according to one guide book, almost guaranteed at KPBL. If that isn’t making you want to be there I don’t know what will. They are another New Guinea migrant – so be sure to check when you want to visit to get these astonishing migrants.
Noisy Pitta (Pitta versicolor) by Keith and Lindsay, used with permission.
Amazingly, the day wasn’t even over at this point.As the sun set I joined Lindsey and Keith and some other visitors for a night walk. Almost immediately I saw, very briefly, my only Double-eyed Fig-parrot of the trip, and heard a Leaden Flycatcher and some Blue-winged Kookaburras. We soon located two nests of Eastern Barn Owls, but were unable to find the Sooty Owls that make the site a drawn for many birders. As it got darker we found a Bush Thick-knee foraging in the grounds (their calls at night were quite something), and then began to find mammals. The highlight of the night was a Striped Possum, a large squirrel sized possum with black and white striped fur. There were also massive native White-tailed Rats and the Northern Brown Bandicoot. Most of these were easy enough to find on later dates,along with the smaller native Bush Rats, but I only saw one Striped Possum.
The Northern Brown Bandicoot (Isoodon macrourus) is a marsupial of the forest floor.
Over the next few days I used Kingfisher as my platform to explore the greater area, and I’ll talk about some of those sites in other posts. But I still spent time at the Lodge looking for other things, and I continued to pick up great birds. On the first morning I got one of the Spotted Catbirds that lived in the grounds. These are unrelated to American catbirds and are instead bowerbirds, albeit bowerbirds that don’t build bowers. Their name comes from their odd catlike call, but they more closely resemble one of the larger green barbets of Asia. There was also a reasonably regular Papuan Frogmouth, an outstanding nightbird that I also saw in the Daintree. Frogmouths resemble the American potoos, and Australia has three species, of which the Papuan is restricted to the far north of the country.
Spotted Catbird (Ailuroedus melanotis) by Keith and Lindsay, used with permission.
Papuan Frogmouth (Podargus pauensis)
Many thanks to Keith and Lindsay who where helpful, welcoming and full of information for all their visitors. Go see them soon! And thanks to them for letting me use some of their images to describe their wonderful home.
Photographing a Spotted Catbird was once described to me as being similar to “blowing up a balloon until it pops”.
You can hear it singing, but you cannot see it. As you approach, the song continues and the frustration builds as you still can’t place it. The closer you get the more impossible it seems that you cannot see the bird until suddenly it flies off and the chance is lost.
I really enjoyed reading about your experiences at the Atherton Tableland, and seeing these great photos! A few years ago I spent a week exploring the area, and the birding was the best of my life. For an American, the birds also seemed very vocal… actually noisy! We also watched patiently every morning and evening to see our first platypus in a little pond, and finally saw one little fellow on the last day. Thanks for a great post and recommendation of a good place to stay next time.
@Redgannet – Don’t want to boast, but I watched a pair foraging for five minutes with magnificent views.
@Wendy – I’m already planning my next trip too!