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Wingin’ It – Self Guided Birdwatching

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TNQ Writer

From Cairns to the Atherton Tablelands and beyond, discover a paradise of stunning bird species. With eleven endemics, including the magnificent Victoria’s Riflebird and the elusive Fernwren, prepare for an unforgettable birding adventure!



Starting in Cairns, the Esplanade should be first on your list! It is consistently one of the top spots for shorebirds, especially the migratory waders. From September to March, birds like Bar- and Black-tailed Godwits, Curlew Sandpipers and Common Greenshanks arrive from their breeding grounds in Alaska, Siberia and Northern China, joining the resident Whimbrels,  Pied Oystercatchers and  Eastern Curlews  probing the mud for tasty titbits. Incoming tides in the evenings are said to be the best times for the best views.

Mount Whitfield Conservation Park

Just under 20 mins north of Cairns city, you’ll find Mount Whitfield Conservation Park; the entrance is near the Botanic Gardens. Take any of the four trails and you should be treated to the sights of Australian Bush Turkeys and if you’re lucky, Orange-footed Scrubfowl. In the quieter, denser rainforest sections, listen out for noisy pittas, and from November to March, the odds are better than average to spot the enchanting Buff-Breasted Paradise Kingfisher.

Cattana Wetlands

Discover the remarkable Cattana Wetlands, just a few kilometers north of Cairns. Spanning 80 hectares of diverse landscapes, including grasslands, lakes, mudflats, and mangroves, this haven offers a chance to spot the daring Black Bittern during daylight hours. And if luck is on your side, you might even catch a glimpse of the elusive Great-Billed Heron.


Mossman Gorge & Daintree

Mossman Gorge

Head north to the magnificent Daintree and make a beeline for Mossman Gorge—a birding hotspot you simply can’t afford to miss. Strap on your binoculars and hit the Rainforest Circuit track for an unforgettable avian extravaganza. Keep those eyes peeled for two special gems that deserve a proud tick on your birding checklist—the charismatic Pied Monarch and the dazzling Yellow-breasted Boatbill. And let’s not forget the ultimate avian superstar of the rainforest—the regal Southern Cassowary.

But hold onto your hat, for Mossman Gorge has even more delights in store. Behold the enchanting Papuan Frogmouths, the melodic Spotted Catbirds, and the charming Emerald Doves, among many other captivating species that call this place home. If you’re looking to stay close to Mossman, check out the breathtaking Thala Beach Reserve near Port Douglas, where a resident birding expert is on hand to guide you free of charge if you’re a guest there. How marvellous is that?

Another majestic accommodation option is the renowned Silky Oaks Lodge. Nestled near the majestic Daintree Rainforest. This enchanting sanctuary serves as the perfect starting point for exploring this ancient wonderland.

Cow Bay

Discover avian wonders year-round at the captivating Jindalba Boardwalk in Cow Bay. Winter welcomes a chorus of Wompoo Fruit Doves, Monarchs, and Flycatchers, setting the stage for a delightful avian symphony. Spring brings the striking Pied Imperial Pigeons and the charismatic Channel-billed Cuckoos into the spotlight. And if you’ve been longing to witness the magnificent Buff-Breasted Paradise Kingfishers in action, now’s your chance—they’re here to steal the show during breeding season. Summer adds a vibrant touch with Dollar Birds and Rainbow Bee-eaters joining the bustling avian community.




Atherton Tablelands

Crater Lakes National Park

If you’d rather head south of Cairns, the wondrous Atherton Tablelands await you. Brace yourself for a birding extravaganza in this region, with an abundance of hotspots to explore. But let me divulge a little secret— Crater Lakes National Park (Lake Barrine & Lake Eacham) is where the magic truly happens, and it’s just over an  hour’s drive from Cairns.

In the summer, prepare to witness a spectacle like no other. Keep your eyes peeled for the male Victoria’s Riflebird, strutting his stuff and putting on a show for his less flamboyant mate. Watch in awe as he displays his vibrant colours on exposed branches—a sight to behold. And while you’re at it, listen closely for the whip-crack call of the Eastern Whipbird or the mysterious scratchings in the undergrowth. They just might lead you to a group of curious Chowchillas on the hunt for a tasty meal.

As you explore, cast your gaze high into the treetops and catch a glimpse of the Double-eyed Fig Parrots. They’re like tiny emerald jewels, perched amidst the foliage. And don’t be surprised if you spot the delightful Grey-headed Robins, clinging to tree trunks or playfully hopping around on the ground, searching for their next meal.

But wait, there’s more to this tropical birding paradise! Once you venture beyond the rainforest and into the open country, keep your keen eyes peeled for the elegant Brolga or the elusive Sarus Crane in the paddocks. Spot the smaller scarlet band around the head and chin of the Brolga, while the Sarus boasts this fiery mark cascading down its neck. These avian beauties will surely leave you in awe.

Eubenangee Swamp National Park

Located under 15 minutes from Babinda is the magnificent Eubenangee Swamp, an esteemed member of the prestigious Coastal Wet Tropics Important Bird Area. This hidden gem has earned its feathers thanks to BirdLife International, who recognised its crucial role in preserving the lowland tropical rainforest avian residents. Brace yourselves for a feast of over 190 feathered marvels, from waterbirds and grass birds to the kings and queens of the forest. Black-necked Storks strut their stuff, while egrets, herons, and ibis indulge in a gourmet buffet amid the marshy paradise.


Birdwatching accomodation In Atherton Tablelands

If you’re longing for a quieter escapade, fret not! The resorts in the area have got you covered. Take Rosegums Wilderness Retreat in Malanda, for instance, where organised tours await your birding pleasure. And if you find yourself at Lumholtz Lodge in Upper Barron, you’ll be surrounded by virgin rainforest, offering ample opportunity for leisurely wandering.

Now, my dear birding enthusiasts, as you embark on your tropical north adventure, remember to tread with care and be aware of your surroundings. Some areas may have no mobile phone coverage, so be prepared. Always carry water with you and treat the wildlife with the utmost respect. For further safety information, do check out the QLD Parks and Forests Website. Your well-being is paramount!

So spread your wings and get ready to be enchanted by the tropical north’s birding paradise. Adventure awaits, but be sure to bring your sense of wonder along for the ride!

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