Sunday, June 6, 2010

Atherton Tablelands - Part 3 - The Crater and Lake Eacham

The day was disappearing fast and our visit to the Atherton Tablelands was soon to end. Deciding to only use one day in this fantastic area was hard and it was truly tempting to stick around, but other places were on the list. If we had gone exclusively for the birds we would probably have taken a day more or two, Atherton Tablelands boast a bird list claiming an impressive 327 species of which 12 are local endemics i.e. those 12 species can only(!) be seen while scouting through the tablelands.

Before leaving we had a final few great spots to visit: Firstly we would visit The Crater in Mount Hypipamee National Park and secondly, Lake Eacham - one of the two lakes constituting the Crater Lakes National Park.

The Crater is an impressive volcanic formation called a volcanic pipe - I am no expert, but the internet comes in handy :-) - pressure from gasses generated at the molten lava rock underground have at some point become so large that they literally ripped the granite bed rock above apart, forming a chimney where trough the volcano could vent. The hole is nearly perfectly cylindrical with a diameter of 61m and a dept of more than 140m, the lower ca. 80 meter of the crater has over time been filled with water forming quite an impressive pool - could be a good spot for practicing your free-diving skills(?) ;-)

A small but good walk, a couple of minuets at the crater and an equal amount of time spend at the Dinner Falls and we were of to Lake Eacham. Both Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine in the Crater lakes National Park are old burned out volcanoes that after having been filled with water have created a couple of unique tableland lakes. Arriving at Lake Eacham we were quite birded out - the intense hunt for new feathered sightings had taken its toll and quite frankly we did not really care much about the bird count anymore :-D

Instead of trying to follow every little twitter we decided to do a good solid 4km walk around the lake. We had a lovely walk lots of chatting and very few pictures - not bad at all. A couple of resident water dragons [update; Great Boyd's forest dragons - credit to Jarrod] managed to display so impressively though that I could not resist charging the flash and getting a couple of photos.

A trip like our 5 day escape to far north Queensland generates an enormous amount of brochures readily available from tourist information offices, guides and motels etc. They often end up piled in the bottom of the car making it impossible to find the one you want. Of all the glossy paperwork we received, this folder was the most helpful finding our birding ways in the highlands - so if you are going north then why not bring an electronic copy - I bet someone out there will argue that a certain recent Apple product could prove helpful in such situations :-D

Looks like I will have to hope for the Helmeted Guineafowl becoming tick'able one day ;-)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Atherton Tablelands - Part 2 - Wongabel State Forest

Wongabel State Forest was next on our list. The Mabi forest include a 2.6km botanical walk where a total of 192(!!) species of trees are named. A habitat sporting such an enormous variety of plants should be a great place for all kinds of exciting birds(?) and a quick search on the internet reveals that Wongabel State Forest should indeed be the home to great birds including quite a few that I had not seen before, who would not like to spot a Tooth-billed Bowerbird, Victoria’s Riflebird, Spotted Catbird and maybe a Yellow-breasted Boatbill - the rumor even suggested that little G. could pick up a Rufous Owl if she was lucky.

Well, if luck is measured by the above listed birds, we had absolutely non of it! None of those famous residents decided to show - we saw quite a few LBBs (little brown birds) and of all the pictures taking during our trip, the set taking in Wongabel has by far been the most difficult to go through and do the identification.

Another setback was my battery situation, which made it impossible to follow my new found technique for getting usable pictures in dark rain forests - letting that flash rip in combo with the 150mm macro nearly wide open.

The walk was not exactly demanding, only 2.6km and exceptional flat. The entire exercise felt like walking through a humongous botanical garden with absolutely fantastic dense forest. We probably spend 2 hours so we can truly claim to have given a large part of the signs a read.

Birding was incredible difficult! Lots of stuff was happening, but getting a good look or, even harder, a photo of the small birds darting around in the dense undergrowth was truly stressful. After two hours of chasing LBBs around I must admit I was happy to get out in the open again.

I still got a few "mystery birds" from Wongabel - including the two below, please feel free to chip in :-)

Finally outside we dived into another serve of exotic fruit. If you ever find yourself driving around in the Atherton Tablelands I would recommend doing some regular stops at the farm sales along the road, there are some seriously good fruit and vegetable deals to be made; 6 avocados for $1 .. that beats the local supermarket here in Sydney! Just before leaving we managed to spot a few Chestnut-breasted Mannikins feeding along the road side - good to be out of the dark forest.