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24-Days in Far Northern Qld Bird WatchingAuthor: Carl from Pahrump (More Trip Reviews by Carl from Pahrump)
Date of Trip: November 2006
The best time to go to the Cairns Esplanade (Boardwalk) to watch the waders is at high tide. We saw large flocks of birds like Bar-tailed Godwits and Eastern Curlews, Lesser Crested Terns, Pacific Swallows, Great Knots, Red-necked Stints, Caspian Terns and a Varied Honeyeater.
The Garden Restaurant at the Flecker Botanic Gardens in downtown Cairns has great food. One wall of the restaurant is made of Lobster-claw plants. My wife ordered the chicken wrapped in filo served on a garden salad with bean sprouts and a spicy lime dressing. I ordered chicken and Macadamia Nut salad with vinegar & oil dressing.
Our best Dn in Cairns was at the Garden Room Restaurant -- a nuveau Thai restaurant. We had Turkish bread with dukkah, olive oil and Balsamic Vinegar (Turkish bread was like sour dough bread but with more air bubbles in the dough). We had Morton Bay Bugs with peppercorn & avocado, Jasmine rice, and stir-fried garden vegetables including Bok Choy for the entree (in Australia an Entree was half the size of a Main dish). The Bugs were huge and came in the shell, but were easy to shuck-out. We had the dessert platter -- chocolate fudge cake, sticky rice, coconut-lime tart, coconut pancake with jam, and ice cream. It was the best sticky rice we ever had.
On Oct 27 Terry (our host at the B&B) took us to Bone's Horse Farm (owned by a friend of his) on the Barron River in his Ute Truck. We stood on the bed of the Ute while Terry drove us around the farm and thru the Rye Grass fields. There were heaps of colorful Red-backed Fairywrens, Golden-headed Cisticola and Crimson Finches jumping around on the tops of the tall grasses, along with a few Nutmeg Mannikin, Yellow-bellied Sunbirds, and Yellow Honeyeaters. We saw several shiny-brown and black Pheasant Coucal glide across the fields and land in trees. Our best bird was the White-cheeked Honeyeater -- yellow from beak to tail and olive-green on the back.
The Cairns Casino has a Buffet Lunch. The Casino is non-smoking, and the food is Beautiful!!!
On Oct 29 we boarded the Seastar in downtown Cairns at 7:30am. The first 2.5 hours were spent enroute to Michaelmas Cay (pronounced Mickel-Mass Kay) -- an unspoiled natural coral island/sand bar that was renowned as a rookery for sea birds. Along the way we saw small several Brown Boobys. We had an absolutely perfect day for the trip -- no wind, no clouds, no wave action, and only 37 people on the boat. The water temperature was a beautiful 75F.
We arrived at Michaelmas Cay at 10:30am. The first thing you see was thousands of birds flying erratically and squawking, creating a mild roar. There were birds everywhere -- the shoreline was shoulder to shoulder with sea birds. Every square inch of the cay seems to be occupied. Birds were constantly coming and going, with a great flurry of wings.
Most of the small cay is a national park reserved for the birds. There is a small roped-off section of the beach for day-trippers. The rope serves as a convenient resting place for many hundreds of Noddys. The Noddys have learned that the day-trippers were not a threat - you can get as close as you like. The other birds stay a comfortable distance (say 10 feet) behind the rope.
We came ashore in small rubber rafts. It took a long time for our eyes to adjust to the bright sun reflecting off the pure-white sand beach. There were so many birds! We decided to start with the birds on the rope in front of us. They turned out to be some of the 20,000 rare Black Noddys that reside here year round. Back in the mass confusion higher-up on the cay, we found their larger and more common cousins - the Common Noddys. The Noddy's were almost identical in overall appearance. Seeing them in close proximity helped us use size to tell them apart. This was one of the few places you can see them together.
We noticed heaps of terns bunched-up together. We ID'ed them as Sooty Terns and Bridled Terns. They look almost identical, but at this close range we could see the distinguishing features. There were thousands of each. We even found one Black-napped Tern -- white head and black mask.
We noticed a pair of Frigatebird roosting on a piece of beached driftwood. They had an unmistakable bill -- long and straight with an abrupt hook on the end. We couldn't tell if it was the Greater or Lesser Frigatebird, but our boat captain said they were the Lesser Frigatebird.
We arrived at Hastings Reef on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef about 1pm. The water was 6 to 25 feet deep where we snorkeled
This part of the reef has masses of hard coral formations and a few soft corals. The first thing that hit us was the cobalt-blue staghorn coral. We had never seen this color in the water before. There were plate corals, table coral, fields of elk horn coral, and mammoth brain corals.
There were at least a 100 Giant Clams on the bottom. It takes 100's of years for clams to reach this size. The smaller ones were quite sensitive to your presence, and flinch their green mouth when they "feel" you nearby. The large ones don't take notice of snorkelers.
There were thousands of reef fish. They ranged from tiny and brilliantly colored, to every size and shape and color combination imaginable. We also saw some game fish hiding-out under rock ledges.
We headed back at 2:45pm and arrived at port at 5:30pm. There are faster boats that go to the reef, but we figure we saved $200A by spending a few extra hours admiring the ocean.
A lot of things in life don't live up to their hype, but the Great Barrier Reef is something that everyone should experience at least once. Don't leave Earth without going there!!! If you can't swim -- LEARN HOW. It's that great! Anyway, you can always use a snorkel-lifejacket to boost your confidence in the water. There is no excuse for not going -- NONE.
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