Friday, April 30, 2010

Carins Esplanade - A Wader-watching Paradise

We did not have optimal weather! The panorama above should be proof of that, however, it did not matter much, since I cannot imagine it harmed the number of waders along the Cairns Esplanade. As usual the best way to see new birds is to change habitat! .. and since I have not done much around tropical mudflats in the past it proved very rewarding taking a stroll down the boardwalk in center of Cairns.

I wrote in the previous post that the boardwalk was very cleverly designed and I really mean that. It allows the visitor to get incredibly close without interfering with the action below. You cannot get onto the mudflats (and I cannot imagine why you should want to) and the birds have realized this, so they have developed a no-interest-attitude to what is going on up above on the boardwalk. This might also be partly due to the fact that the track is lifted up to a few meters above where the birds wandering around are searching for food.

Before we could even see water, we started seeing exciting birds. The trees were humming with Metallic Starlings and Varied Honeyeaters (both new to me) and you had to be careful not to step on one of the peaceful doves running around between your legs.

The southern end of the Esplanade gave excellent views of a good collection of egrets and herons. Photographically it was a bit of a challenge, an ever changing combination of rain, clouds, shadow and light made it hard, throw in the fact that we had arrived at absolute lowest tide, allowing the birds to stand furthest away from the boardwalk and you have yourself a challenge.

One of the reasons these Cairns posts have been so badly delayed is the time it has taken to actually identify what we managed to see :-D Waders are hard! - notice that I am not saying that they are harder than small birds in the deep dark Daintree rain forest - but boy is it hard when they are changing between breeding and non-breeding plumage, throw in the sexual dimorphism and I will have to admit that my Simpson & Day was just not sufficient to ID everything we saw. The Michael Morcombe book is better for waders, but there are still pictures of birds that I am not sure about so if any of you readers out there want to chip in, I can assure you that you are very welcome.

Most of the pictures in this post should however be sorted. It took a while to recognize the two Great Knots in the picture after the Terek Sandpiper down below. Also, not being super sharp with my waders, I was quite intrigued by the little colorful bird above the whimbrel, but trawling through the pictures it looks like a Red-necked Stint with a plumage somewhere between breeding and non-breeding .. I should probably have realized that much faster, since that is a frequent guest around Sydney.

The Grey-tailed Tattler was a bit of a headache as well, until I got hold of Michael Morcombe's field guide. My own book gave very few hints to how to distinguish the grey-tailed from the wandering only providing pictures of them in non-breeding coloration. Lesser Sand Plover below was much easier - a great little bird! All in all we spend a very rewarding hour or so wandering up and down the Esplanade before we started getting nervous about where we would be sleeping for the night.

Our plan had been to cover as much of Tropical North Queensland as possible and camp as we moved around, for the first day we had planned on making our way north to the Daintree river. Considering the weather we decided against the camping, it would simply be impossible to keep things dry - or to dry wet gear - in a wet tent, however, we still liked the idea of getting to Daintree River. That unfortunately also meant that we had to plan a bit ahead and sort out accommodation for the night. So despite of having super duper birding at the Cairns Esplanade we decided to fire up the rented car and push north .. weather would probably also be better up there!..???

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