Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Part 1 - Etty Bay and Australia Day

It was to the promise of spectacular endemic birds, saltwater crocodiles and ancient rainforest that me, Nicole, and her friend Ali undertook an ill-planned adventure. Now perhaps ill-planned is not the right term. You see, when your objective is birds, and the location happens to be in the tropics, no amount of planing will save you. You have to go with the flow, make on-the-spot decisions and live with the results. Its a thinkers game. Maximize the number of endemic birds with the limited amount of time and money that you have and hope you make the right choices! And in an expensive place like Australia, limited funds do become a problem if you're not frugal!

Rental Car = $600
Binoculars = $400
Bird finding guide = $40
Swimming Trunks = $5
Ball cap = $7

Birding roadtrip in Australia = Priceless!!

So off we went. Roundabouts, Macas, wallabies and the prospects of new and exciting birds blurred together as I took to the road on the left for the first time! The great-barrier reef and greyhound hopping were done (tales for another post) and it was time to head out of Cairns to the Atherton Tablelands, Marreeba, Mt Lewis and the Daintree Rainforests.

This is great! With a vehicle, the birds will fall like republican presidential candidates, hard, fast and in quick succession.

Out of the city and at the first birding stop we get......................................nothing. No Pratincoles or Little Curlews to delight us, only empty sod farms and one freshly road-killed Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Ironically, I was incapable of finding an alive Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in Australia or New Zealand despite concentrated efforts. Naturally, this bird now ranks very highly on my nemesis list which I keep in my head. For the record, this list also includes other great luminaries such as the Audubon's Oriole, the Manx Shearwater and the Sabine's Gull.

Contemplating the lack of birds (the sod farms were behind me)!

With this scintillating start we made another important choice. Our original destination was Crater National Park in the Atherton Tablelands and while Southern Cassowary range throughout the area they weren't a guaranteed thing. Consequently, having received some intel on a can't miss spot for this species we adjusted our plan. The thing is, it was quite out of the way, but with a bird like the Southern Cassowary, it's one you just can't miss.

With figurative dollar bills flying out the end of the tailpipe, we arrive at Etty Bay. This should be a cinch. Oh right, it's Australia Day and the place looks like Miami Beach during Spring Break...... just our luck. With a sheepish air, we take to the water for a swim thinking the birding gods would not be favoring us today!

Lost in thought, Nicole suddenly loses her mind and starts yapping hysterically. Sure as hell, a Cassowary is strutting down the lane toward the beach oblivious to the drunk revelers. Looks like our luck had turned. We spend the next 20 minutes or so following the bird around as it searches for fruit amongst the people and cars. We even posed for a few pics before finally making our exit and hitting the road.

Working the beach away from the party-goers.

Posing in front of the star attraction.

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