Thursday, 1 August 2013

Paluma Range National Park

From Townsville we drove about 60kms to Big Crystal Creek camping area in the Paluma Range National Park to camp for a couple of nights and make a day trip up to Paluma. The road up to Paluma, a small village at the top of the range surrounded by the park, is steep and narrow and not recommended for vans. In addition the only camping up there is some distance out at the Paluma dam.
This park is within the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and contains tropical rainforest on the mountaintops and in the lower gullies. The Southern Cassowary lives here – no surprise we didn’t see one of these shy birds on our day trip to the area.
We added eight new bird species to our trip list over the two days, bringing our trip total so far to 212 species. Six of the eight species were new for us. The new species were, Large-billed Gerygone, Graceful Honeyeater, Bridled Honeyeater, Northern Fantail, Spotted Catbird and Pale-yellow Robin. The other two species were Helmeted Friarbird and Victoria’s Riflebird.
Our campsite at Big Crystal Creek backed onto a side branch of the main creek where there was excellent wet tropics riparian vegetation and many bird species. Just siting in camp and letting the birds come to you was an effective birding tactic here. Many birds were calling and it was a real challenge to try and work out which species was responsible for which calls.
Birding in rainforest on Paluma Range.

Birding at Big Crystal Creek camp site - just wait and birds will come to you?
Two new species for us, both with beautiful calls, were discovered in this way. The first was the Northern Fantail. It has a loud and melodic call, nothing like the Grey Fantail. Its behavior is different too. It tends to sit on a perch and wait for insect prey to appear. Then it darts out to capture the prey item and returns immediately to the same perch where it consumes the food and then takes up its vigil again from the same perch.
A Northern Fantail on its shady perch on the creek, looking and waiting for insect prey to come by.

The bird has captured a small butterfly which it has almost swallowed.
Another sweet melodic call turned out to be a Large-billed Gerygone. Once identified it became apparent that this bird called a section of the creek near our campsite home. I was in the process of taking some photos of the bird on one of its trips past when it suddenly became distracted and started a tail and outstretched wings flutter in a slightly crouched pose. I have seen this action before in other species, especially robins. The bird then flew to a nearby dangling tree stem and hung from this while it looked about – clearly something was happening however at that stage I did not know what was going on. Then suddenly another bird flew in and joined the first bird on the dangling stem. The new bird assumed a position above the first where it made a display by fanning its tail and generally showing off.
This interaction, which only lasted fifteen seconds or so, was caught by the camera and is shown below in sequential order. We often see interactions between birds of the same species and between different species and wonder what is going on. It is all too easy to make anthropomorphic interpretations, which may be completely wrong. In this case however my guess is that this was a pair of birds engaged in a courtship or pair bonding session. I think the first bird, the one lower on the perch played a submissive role and was the female and the second bird was the showy male.
The first Large-billed Gerygone in creek side vegetation by our camp. Note the prominent white crescents above and below the eye.

Same bird as above. It has suddenly started a wing and tail fluttering performance in a slightly crouched pose.
The bird from the above shot has flown to a nearby dangling stem.
The first bird is now joined be a second which commences to display with a fanned tail.

The second bird, higher on the stem, continues to perform.

The lower bird remains submissive, not moving from the lower position, observing the bird above as it moves about.
Our day trip up to Paluma at the top of the range was well worthwhile. Stopping at Little Crystal Creek Falls on the way up in a beautiful patch of rain forest we saw Spotted Catbirds feeding on small fruits and in the picnic area a Pale-yellow Robin, the north Queensland race, nana.
I was lucky to get a photo of this Spotted Catbird as it was deep within a tree where it had been feeding along with another Catbird.
There was just a small hole through the foliage to use to get the shot.

The Pale-yellow Robin. Note the buff lore and eye ring, this is the north east Queensland race nana.
 Finally, two more species photographed around Big Crystal Creek camp area.
The Helmeted Friarbird - a large honeyeater with a strange head and strange call.
The Bridled Honeyeater. This is the species from which the Eungella Honeyeater was split in 1983.


  1. Looking good:) I like the idea of just waiting under the awning for the birds to come to you.
    We've just bought a van and looking forward to doing some of the same.

  2. G'day J&P,
    Another great report with some top pics! Loved that Gerygone series. Place looks wonderful.