Local wildlife


Brush-tail Possum

We’ve had possums in our garden – and often enough in our ceiling space – as long as I can remember, but we don’t see them very often. They are, of course, nocturnal and look for quiet, shadowy places to sleep through the day.

They are Brush-tail Possums, Trichosurus vulpecular, allegedly the most common marsupial in eastern Australia. We get along with them well enough, laughing at the thumps on our roof when they jump down from the trees around the house and grumbling fairly good-naturedly when their territorial battles get too rowdy, but I know some folk don’t. The RSPCA has a page, How can I live happily with the possums on my property?, which may improve homo-trichosurian relationships. (Yes, I made that one up, but I’m sure you can work it out.)

possum in pump box

A tree-hollow would have been better

This young one made a poor choice of sleeping quarters when he (that’s a guess) selected the box which protects our bore-pump from the weather: it would normally be a rather peaceful spot but he was there on the day we watered the garden and it must have been hot and intolerably noisy. I did try to encourage him to go somewhere else but he was too scared to move. He wasn’t there next day, though!

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Cromarty Wetlands

view across lake

Cromarty Wetlands, with black duck, pelicans and others

The last thing I did before heading for Cape Hillsborough at the end of September was to join Wildlife Queensland members on their guided tour of Wongaloo, a section of the world-famous (among bird-lovers and conservationists, at least) Cromarty Wetlands.

The wetlands lie between Mount Elliot, the Haughton River and the coast, and have an average elevation (according to Mark Stoneman, our guide) of about half a metre. They are a haven for birds and other wildlife, especially in the dry season … but there’s a good write-up of the excursion on the WQ blog (here, under the very appropriate heading “Wetland Wonders”) so there’s no need for me say more.

cattle and birds

Cattle Egrets flying over weed-control cattle

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Birds in Eungella National Park

grey bird

Grey Shrike-thrush, Colluricincla harmonica, posing for his portrait on the end of the picnic table

One of the delights of my visit to Eungella National Park was the bird-watching – there were so many birds, and so many of them were new to me.

yellow-breasted bird

Eastern Yellow Robin, Eopsaltria australis, in the picnic ground

Yellow Robins were always in sight around the picnic grounds and other open spaces. They are a little smaller than the Shrike-thrush.

A few more photos of these two species – click on the thumbnails, as usual, for larger versions.

grey bird with large spider

Grey Shrike-thrush, Colluricincla harmonica, with a huntsman it had just plucked from the rafters of the picnic shelter

grey bird at picnic table

Grey Shrike-thrush raiding my plate for crumbs

grey and yellow bird

Eastern Yellow Robin in characteristic pose, perched sideways on a tree-trunk

close-up of bird with red face and yellow neck

Scrub Turkey, Alectura lathami, on my picnic table

It’s one thing to have a mynah-sized Shrike-thrush timidly approach the picnic table for a few crumbs. It’s quite another to have such a big, bulky bird as a Scrub Turkey strut into the shelter to hop onto the seat opposite me and then onto the table itself with the clear intention of making off with anything that took its fancy, but it did give me some fine close-ups.

black and white bird on log with wings spread

Little Pied Cormorant, Phalacrocorax melanoleucos, drying off after fishing in the river

blue and buff bird on log in river

Azure Kingfisher, Alcedo azurea, on the same log as the cormorant, highlighting the gorgeous bird’s diminutive stature

Yellow Robins and Kookaburras liked the trees along the river banks but these two are genuine water birds. The Azure Kingfisher, a little smaller than Forest or Sacred, was my first; Slater’s Field Guide describes the species as an “uncommon resident along creeks, rivers and mangroves” in northern and eastern Australia.

small grey bird on twig

This tiny bird (10cm, wren-size) is a Thornbill or close relation

With this little bird I move into the “unknowns” – birds not seen clearly enough for a good photo or even proper identification. There were honeyeaters in the bottlebrush trees around the camping ground, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos in the distance, a swamp-hen or one of its relations on the river, a dove or pigeon that I only saw as a silhouette against the sky, and half-sightings of birds in the rainforest gloom. One of these may have been a Pale-yellow Robin or Lemon-bellied Flycatcher; another may have been a Spectacled Monarch.

I will take this opportunity to recommend an excellent resource for amateur bird-watchers (and that does include me!), the Bird-finder on the Birds in Backyards site. Just go to http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/finder, click on a few characteristics such as approximate size, colour/s and overall shape, and the clever software will come up with a list of possibilities with thumbnail images and links to species pages. It’s particularly useful when you have no idea which family your bird may belong to, since sites like Ian Montgomery’s Birdway and field guide books like Slaters’ are organised, logically enough, by family and genus.

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Platypus watching at Broken River

I left Cape Hillsborough (previous post) after only two days to squeeze in a visit to Eungella National Park, an hour and a half inland, in the hope of seeing platypus in the wild.

The established platypus viewing area is a few kilometres past the township of Eungella, at a spot where the road crosses the Broken River. On the near side of the river there’s an eco-resort (a couple of decades old) on the right and a so-new-it’s-raw National Parks camping ground on the left. Across the bridge are picnic grounds and walking trails to both right (downstream) and left, with several viewing platforms.

The most likely time to see platypuses is early morning so I was on the move just after 5.30. Others were already on the viewing platforms under the bridge and a hundred metres upstream from it but weren’t seeing any activity, so I thought I would go further upstream along the walking track to a likely-looking pool I had seen the day before.

Once there, I sat on a boulder and waited …

trees, dark against dawn sky

Early sun touches the topmost branches of the rainforest

rocky pool in river

The quiet pool

My first glimpse of a platypus, just a swirl in the water

My first glimpse of a platypus, just a swirl in the water

After watching “my” platypus here for some time (and enjoying a visit from a wandering scrub turkey) I walked back to the bridge. There I found an audience of perhaps a dozen, rapt in the activity of one or two platypuses. From the bridge itself I was able to see the entrance to a burrow, half-hidden under nondescript plants, on the resort side of the river.

platypus under river bank foliage

Platypus (mid-left) near the entrance to its burrow

platypus from above

Looking straight down on the platypus as it swam under the bridge

Later in the morning I spoke to someone who had seen a platypus from the river bank just below the camping ground; I might say that my walk had been superfluous, except that solitude in the rainforest at dawn was a reward in itself.

My experience suggests that it is not hard to see a platypus in the wild at Broken River. What about elsewhere? I’ve seen them at Carnarvon Gorge, but that (as far as I remember) is all. However, they do occur right down the east coast from about Cooktown to the SA border (see the Platypus Care page) and they are so unobtrusive that there could be more around than we think; in fact, Wildlife Qld has a citizen-science project, PlatypusWatch, aimed at improving our knowledge.

I’m told that platypuses on Hervey’s Range were well known to local people 80 years ago, but I don’t know if they are still there. Similarly, they were common enough in Victorian country districts in the 1930s that David Fleay had no trouble finding animals for his Healesville Sanctuary but they are adversely affected by human activity and are probably uncommon in farming areas these days.

Incidentally, Fleay’s 1980 book, The Paradoxical Platypus, was republished in 2009 as I discovered by visiting the eco-resort’s dining room and browsing its small library, and is well worth reading.

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Cape Hillsborough National Park

wallabies on beach

Campers watching wallabies in the early morning

Cape Hillsborough National Park and Eungella are both just north of Mackay, which means they are a little too far from Townsville for an easy weekend trip, but both are beautiful and I decided to take advantage of four clear days to visit them last week. I came back (as my regular readers will no doubt have expected) with lots of photos and will spread them across several posts, beginning with these Cape Hillsborough landscapes.

There is a happily low-key camping ground and resort nestled in the coastal scrub behind the beach within the national park – the sort of place that Aussie parents have been taking their kids camping for the last fifty years. Bird life is abundant and Agile Wallabies (Macropus agilis) move freely around the camp-ground and picnic areas; they regularly feed on the beach at dawn, too, although I have no idea what they might be finding there.

wallabies on flat beach

Agile wallabies – what are they eating?

beach and headland

Looking along the beach on a drizzly morning to the northern headland

beach and headland

The northern headland in full daylight

forested hills

Looking inland from the beach in the golden light of late afternoon

rock wall around sand floor

Remains of aboriginal fish trap, Cape Hillsborough National Park. A stone wall links natural outcrops to enclose a large shallow pool which drains at low tide.

A short drive from the camping ground takes the visitor to the remains of an aboriginal fish trap and an indigenous food trail. A boardwalk and walking trail through the mangroves are a similar distance from the resort, on the road to Seaforth.

Also, a walking track to the north of the resort leads over the ridge to Beachcombers Cove and loops back (except at high tide!) to its starting point via the beach. And at low tide it is possible to walk out along the natural causeway, on the horizon in my first two photos, to the island at its end.

Future posts will look at some of these excursions.

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