Jim Thomson | Birds aplenty in magnificent North Queensland

SNACK TIME: A Jakana walking across the lilies while feeding on insects.

SNACK TIME: A Jakana walking across the lilies while feeding on insects.

My final article on my recent North Queensland starts at Mt Molloy, an interesting area for birds.

The small swamp area at the back of the post office is a favourite spot of mine and usually provides many interesting birds.

From here we headed north on the Mulligan Highway towards Cooktown - a distance of about 140 kilometres. The road surface is good and so is the birdlife along the way - a number of Blue Winged Kookaburras were spotted, also numerous birds of prey.

LOVE IS IN THE AIR: Pheasant Coucals during a courtship display.

LOVE IS IN THE AIR: Pheasant Coucals during a courtship display.

But the destination was Cooktown so we continued north, to Lakeland Downs where we took a break, then continued on past a swamp area on my right. This proved a great spot for birdlife.

There was a small, lily-covered dam close to the road and beyond this a larger dam area, some of which was clear water while other parts were  covered in dead trees and lily pads, and teeming with birds.

MAGNIFICENT: A Brahminy Kite sweeps past overhead looking for unsuspecting prey.

MAGNIFICENT: A Brahminy Kite sweeps past overhead looking for unsuspecting prey.

I spotted a couple of Jakanas feeding close to the road. I had to make a very careful approach to get myself into a position to photograph them. They are amazing waders, walking from one pad to the next, feeding on insects.

Next up I concentrated on a nesting Brahminy Kite which had a nest high up in a dead tree. The male kept sweeping over the clear water hunting for fish and I spent hours photographing him. I was hoping to see him make a hit, but no such luck. Still, I managed to get some great flight shots.

I also photographed a number of the waders before we continued on to Milkwood Lodge and Cooktown.

NIGHT STALKER: A Barn Owl caught in the light on  a fence post.

NIGHT STALKER: A Barn Owl caught in the light on a fence post.

This is a great area for bird watching - honeyeaters galore, brightly coloured sunbirds prominent, butterflies in their thousands including the Cairns Birdwing, the largest of all Australian butterflies.

The lodges are built in the rainforest and you live among the animals – a magical place. In this area a great number of birds arrive in October, coming from further north.

TAKING A BREAK: A Spotted Harrier.

TAKING A BREAK: A Spotted Harrier.

Only having small car I was limited in how far I could go but I did manage to reach the upper Endeavour River. Here the Pheasant Coucal was prominent. I spotted a number of them and got one shot of what appeared to be a mating display. Flight seems to be a struggle for this bird, and most of the sightings I made were of the bird on the ground in thick vegetation.

Coucals are believed to have two broods in a season. Pheasant Coucals eat mostly frogs, insects, small birds, and sometime domestic fowls.

MOUTHFUL OF FOOD: A number of Blue-Winged Kookaburras were spotted as I headed north to Cooktown.

MOUTHFUL OF FOOD: A number of Blue-Winged Kookaburras were spotted as I headed north to Cooktown.

My trip was not confined to daylight hours, Owls were prominent throughout the Atherton and Cooktown area. I would find an area between cane fields with fences where there was no traffic at night. It proved a successful strategy. Photographing them was simple - gently move along in first gear, keeping my eye on the fence posts, when you see an owl it stands out. Move slowly into position, get as close as possible - they paid little attention to my presence - and the rest was easy.

This happened three times on the first night, mostly Barn Owls but also Barking Owls.

Then it was home for a sleep and an early start next morning.

But for my next article, I'm back home in the Hunter.

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