Wet Tropics of Northern Queensland, Australia
Part 7: Daintree
The Great-billed Heron is a shy and reclusive species found throughout the coastal regions of the tropical north of Australia and one of the best chances of seeing one is to take a boat-trip down the Daintree River. If considering doing this, I would highly recommend booking one of the early morning bird-watching cruises with Ian "Sauce" Worcester (www.daintreeriverwildwatch.com.au). He not only knows the best spots for finding the elusive species, but is also very good at getting you into the best possible position, with the best angle of light for photographing them...something not very many boat tour operators have an appreciation of!
Standing at over a metre tall, the Great-billed Heron is the largest heron in Australia and is totally unmistakable if you see one. On the morning that I joined the cruise, we were quite lucky in finding a male who was not only displaying but was also quite happy to remain in full view for the 20 minutes or so that we watched him.
During the cruise we also saw Black Bitterns on at least 5 occasions, although these were all too distant for getting decent photos.
Other species encountered included Radjah Shelduck, Azure Kingfisher and a male Papuan Frogmouth sitting on his nest.
Azure Kingfisher (Ceyx azureus)
male Papuan Frogmouth (Podargus papuensis) sitting on his nest
Back on dry land, the large Metallic Starling colony on the roadside close to the boat ramp is a good place to spend a few hours photographing these sociable, but noisy and argumentative, birds.
They are quite hard to find in rainforest areas but, with a bit of effort, I was able to track down a couple of small family groups of Lovely Fairywrens near the village water tower. Unusually for fairywrens, the female of this species is even more beautiful than the male so it was very disappointing that I failed to get a decent shot of a female. Another one to try for again next year...
Wonga Beach, about 20km south of Daintree, is a good place to go if you want to see Beach Stone-curlews, although finding them can be heavily dependant on how busy the beach is. I was very lucky the day I visited this year as there was a pair of them directly opposite the beach access path. If I had turned up 10 minutes later, I would probably have had a much harder time locating them as a couple of dogwalkers came along and the stone-curlews retreated into the dense undergrowth at the edge of the beach.
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