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Best of the Wet Tropics

Tour Overview:

Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands are located within the Wet Tropics, where there is a heady selection of habitats and specialty birds. In the lowland rainforests, Southern Cassowary and Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher occur, while the local Lovely Fairywren forages along the forest edges. Above 600m, the rainforest becomes thicker in the understorey and transforms into a distinct habitat all of its own, Upland Rainforest.  This habitat on the Atherton Tablelands is home to a discrete set of specialties, including Golden and Tooth-billed Bowerbirds, Pied Monarch, Chowchilla, and Fernwren. Although the rainforests are prominent here, there are also open eucalypt savannas, where bustards prowl, and Great Bowerbirds tend to their bowers. Meanwhile, this area is also graced with wetlands, including tropical wetlands that are home to Magpie-Goose, Little Kingfisher, Comb-crested Jacana, and Radjah Shelduck, and the coastlines hold mangroves where Great-billed Heron, and Beach Thick-knee occur, while the shorelines themselves around Cairns are home to thousands of wintering waders. Offshore lies The Great Barrier Reef, which is home to thousands of tame, nesting seabirds. While searching for the key bird species, we shall also seek out some of the iconic mammals of the area, like Platypus and Lumholtz’s Tree-Kangaroo. All of these habitats will be covered on this week long tour of the Wet Tropics.

Upcoming Departures:

3 - 9 October ($AUD 5500)
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Other Tour Information:

Length: 7 Days

Starting City: Cairns

Ending City: Cairns
Pace: Moderate
Physical Difficulty: Easy
Focus: Birding, Photography
Max group size: 8 + 1 leader

Detailed Itinerary  All page references are from the Habitats of the World: a field guide for birders, naturalists and ecologists

Day 1: Arrival in Cairns

After arrival in Cairns, the tour will begin with a post-lunch meeting at 1pm so that we can head out birding around this small city. Some of the sites we may visit include Centenary Lakes, Cairns Cemetery, and The Esplanade. Targets will include waders and shorebirds along The Esplanade, such as Terek Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, godwits, sand-plovers, gulls and terns. Cairns Cemetery can be a great spot for finding common birds such as Willie-Wagtails, Rainbow Bee-eaters, Australasian Figbirds, Torresian Imperial-Pigeons, and White-breasted Woodswallows, as well as roosting Bush Thick-knees. Centenary Lakes could yield some of our first tropical species such as Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Australian Brush-Turkey, Dusky Myzomela, Brown-backed and Yellow honeyeaters, Metallic Starling, Green Oriole, and Black Butcherbird. The night will be spent in Cairns.

Day 2: The Great Barrier Reef

Before breakfast, we will check the local mangroves (pp. 89) in Cairns for Mangrove Robin, Torresian Kingfisher, Varied Honeyeater and Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove. After breakfast we head to the local docks, where we’ll board a ferry that will take us out to the Great Barrier Reef for much of the day. Our first stop will be the tiny, sandy islet (pp. 94) of Michaelmas Cay, a haven for nesting seabirds. The dominant nesting species is Brown Noddy, although we will keep a sharp eye out for the scarcer Black Noddy hiding among them. There are also numerous terns on the island, mostly Sooty and Great Crested Terns, which are also sometimes joined by other tern species like Lesser Crested, Black-naped, and the occasional Roseate too. We will keep an eye out for any frigatebirds marauding above, as both Lesser and Great frigatebirds can occur on the island, and we may even pick up a Brown or Red-footed boobies passing by. Later on, there will be an opportunity for those who wish to, to go snorkeling, or enjoy a glass-bottomed boat tour of the reef. In the afternoon, we’ll return to Cairns for some afternoon birding, and another night.

Day 3: Cairns to Daintree

Before breakfast, we will check the nearby tropical lowland rainforest (pp. 35) road for Victoria’s Riflebird, Pied Monarch, Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Helmeted Friarbirds, Macleay’s Honeyeaters, Noisy Pitta or maybe even the rare White-eared Monarch. We then visit a melaleuca swamp (pp. 59) and tropical wetland (pp. 87) for Comb-crested Jacana and Green Pygmy-Goose. After lunch we will visit some monsoon forest (pp. 45) to search for Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove. We travel northwards up the coast to the beautiful little town of Daintree. A stop along the way might produce the elusive Beach Thick-knee, and we will use the afternoon to search for Lovely Fairywrens or other birds like Channel-billed Cuckoo or Blue-winged Kookaburra.

Day 4: Daintree River Cruise to Mareeba

At dawn we take a boat cruise along the Daintree River and some of its narrow tributaries seeking birds and other wildlife. We will scour the trees for Wompoo Fruit-Doves and minuscule Double-eyed Fig-Parrots, while this can also often be the best place to find Green Orioles. The low riverside vegetation holds handsome Shining Flycatchers, and we will also keep a sharp eye out for kingfishers such as the regular Azure Kingfisher and the rare Little Kingfisher. Although massive, the remarkably inconspicuous Great-billed Heron can sometimes be found here too. Using a local guide we may also get the chance to find one of the most cryptic birds of the Daintree, the Papuan Frogmouth, which nests in the trees lining the riverbank. After two hours along the river we will return to Red Mill House for a late cooked breakfast on their veranda. After breakfast we may check a few spots nearby for any missing birds, before getting on our way to Mareeba, up on the Atherton Tableland. We will probably stop along the way to bird a few wetlands, or depending on the weather, we may even head up Mt Lewis to bird some of the high-altitude Upland Rainforest (pp. 38). Whatever we decide, there will be plenty of new birds waiting for us, and our list will continue to build.

Days 5-6: Atherton Tablelands

We will spend these two days visiting a variety of sites on the Atherton Tableland; there will be a lot of birds to pack in, so expect some long - but bird-filled - days. We will visit locations including Maryfarms for Australian Bustards and other dry country open eucalypt savanna (pp. 50) birds, Mount Lewis or the Lake Barrine area for high-altitude rainforest endemics like Chowchillas and Golden Bowerbirds, and also some of the wetlands in the area for whistling-ducks and Magpie Goose. The nights will be spent in the small town of Mareeba, a town that boasts healthy numbers of Eastern Grey Kangaroos on their local golf course!

Day 7: Mareeba to Cairns for Evening DEPARTURES

We will spend our final day on the Atherton Tableland chasing down any species we still need, before commencing the descent to Cairns. Depending on how our list is shaping up, we will spend a couple of hours around Cairns, probably visiting the Esplanade (that comes loaded with shorebirds and other wading birds) or perhaps Centenary Lakes. There are quite a few wetlands around Cairns we can visit if we still need any waterbirds, or we could search for Crimson Finches and Chestnut-breasted Munias in farmland to the city’s north.

Trip Considerations

PACE: Moderate. This tour attempts to see as many bird species as possible as well as some great mammals. Typical starts are 5:00-5:30am. There are no long drives on the tour, with most of them two hours or less. A few breakfasts may need to taken at a fast food restaurant, due to the early timing. Two boat trips are taken on this tour, one for most of the day to the Great Barrier Reef, and a two-hour trip on the Daintree River.


PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. Most of the birding will be done from roads on mostly flat, well-maintained trails. You can expect to walk around 3-4 kms (2-3 miles) per day on average. There are no very high-altitude sites; the highest point is about 1200m (4000 ft).


CLIMATE: Tropical and humid, with highs of around 30°C/86°F. Please note it can be considerably cooler (a few degrees) during the periods in the mountains. The tour is timed for the summer, when rains is less likely, but can occur, especially higher up, so rain gear is recommended.


ACCOMMODATION: Good throughout. All accommodations have private bathrooms, full-time hot water, and 24-hour electricity. Occasionally, it may be necessary for some people in the group to use a shared bathroom at a lodge in Kuranda. As this lodge is very small, some of the group may need to stay in a nearby hotel (with the tour leader). However, the group will be together for meals. Most lodges/hotels have wifi either in your room or at reception.

Other Information

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from night of day 1 though to night of day 6; meals from dinner on day 1 to lunch on day 7; reasonable non-alcoholic drinks during restaurant meals; safe drinking water between meals; most hotels provide a kettle and tea and coffee; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the afternoon of day 1 to the evening of day 7; transfer by taxi to the airports at the start and end of the tour; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary in a suitable vehicle driven by the tour leader; one boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef (this will be shared with other people); one private two-hour boat cruise on the Daintree River; entrance fees to all birding sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).


WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; domestic flights; excess baggage fees; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, internet, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.

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