Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Cairns Foreshore

We drove from Ingham to Cairns today with a few stops for walks but it was so hot in the middle of the day that the birds were sensibly nowhere to be seen. Apparently only mad dogs, Englishmen and Victorian tourists go out in the north Qld midday sun :-)

I have never been to Cairns before so I was really looking forward to a combination of being a tourist and doing some FNQ birding on the side. The legendary Cairns foreshore was beckoning as soon as we arrived. The scene from the apartment balcony teased us with a view of the late afternoon outgoing tide; perfect for the close-up views of waders I'd heard so much about.

Apartment view, The Esplanade, Cairns Qld

I am a frequent visitor to the Western Treatment Plant in Werribee Victoria, one of the great wader locations in Australia; I have been to Roebuck Bay in Broome where the waders number in tens to hundreds of thousands and I have been to several of the prime wader watching sites in North America but the Cairns foreshore experience blew me away. As the tide recedes, you can stand on the boardwalk viewing hundreds of wading birds that are seemingly oblivious of the masses of humanity carrying on their recreational activities just metres away.

As the light levels dropped quickly (one of the disadvantages of being so far north is the lack of twilight and the mountain range behind Cairns means the sun 'sets' earlier), I tried out the flash for some of the shots. I still need to work on the settings to make the look more natural but I am enjoying this new challenge and the flash does provide  a "white light" view of the coloration and plumage detail that is often difficult to render under natural light in low light conditions.

Highlights were several species that are either rare or difficult to find/photograph in Victoria so special treats for a southerner:

Species such as Greater Sand Plover are not rare in Victoria but take some finding and are often in out of the way locations so I was thrilled to have this as the first bird I saw right in front of the seawall.

Greater Sand Plover, Cairns Esplanade, Qld

Similarly, Eastern Curlew and Whimbrel are not rare in Victoria but they are usually a long way away and I've never been able to get within 30 metres of them due to a combination of their lengthy flight distance and my lack of willingness to wade/crawl through mud. Here they were as close as 8 metres.

Eastern Curlew, Cairns Esplanade, Qld

Their feeding behavious could be observed close-up, including going face-deep in the mud.

Eastern Curlew, Cairns Esplanade, Qld
Whimbrel, Cairns Esplanade, Qld

I like this shot because it displays the distinctive dark brown crown with the pale central dividing line

Whimbrel, Cairns Esplanade, Qld

I could go for years without seeing either of these species in Victoria:

Grey-tailed Tattler, Cairns Esplanade, Qld
Terek Sandpiper, Cairns Esplanade, Qld

and, for something completely different, not your usual mudflat species:

White-breasted Woodswallow, Esplanade, Cairns Qld


  1. Hi Phil Oh this brings back so many happy memories for me. Yes I also love the Carins esplanade. Did you meet John Seale when you were there? He and another John are on the Esplanade every day about 3pm to meet any one who is interested in birds. He also does a free walk on Tuesdays at the Botanical gardens. He also would guide you if you wanted him to around the area. If you need any details let me know.

  2. excellent post Ian, must go back to Cairns one day. Hope you get to the Daintree and Cape Trib for some quality birding

    1. Hi Wampy...watch this space for Daintree and Cape Trib...still working on the photos. Only a daytrip but had a great time.
      Cheers, Ian


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