My First Southern Cassowary

A Southern Cassowary on the Back Verandah of our MotelIn the year so far, up to the end of July, I have managed to see just 181 species of Australian birds, which is a long way short of my goal of 400. Given that there are only 5 months left in the year, and the 5 months from March to July saw only 59 species added to the list, I am not feeling very hopeful at all. My second goal of adding 50 new species to my life list is looking slightly more promising, especially after a big boost in July of 11, and I now have 19 for the year. This is still going to be very difficult, and I am really going to have to hope for a brilliant Spring and early Summer.

August proved to be a very good month for the mission, however, with a 5 day trip to Cairns being booked in a moment of madness.

It is a big thing for me to get into an airplane and fly somewhere. I know that it is an irrational phobia, but aren’t they all? To tell the truth, I started developing this fear around 25 years ago, when I had a series of bad anxiety attacks. Bloody annoying really, because, up until then, I didn’t mind it all. It also seems to have gotten a little worse as I have gotten older. I have actually flown over 40 times and covered more than 200,000 km, but it doesn’t seem to get any easier. Anyway, I digress, I flew to Cairns on the 11th August to try and get some images of the wildlife of the region. I really only had 4 and a half days there, but was hopeful of getting to a few good places.

The first two nights were going to be spent at Kuranda, in the ranges just 30 mins north of Cairns. I had stayed there back in 1993, and remember it fondly. My main goal was to see and photograph a Southern Cassowary, which I did not get to see in 1993, and have only seen in zoos. I was also keen to see some of the mammals and reptiles of the region.

The weather was fantastic up there (compared to where I live), 16 – 27 °C. The temperature at home, when I left, was 6 – 18 °C! That was enough to get me excited, but not until the plane had safely landed and I had retrieved my bags from the airport carousel. My baggage has been delayed on only two flights to date but, on both of those occasions, I was doing field research around 500 km from the airport, which made it difficult to just pop back and collect them when they finally turned up. On one occasion the mine site I was working at sent a helicopter to collect them for me.

The itinerary for Cairns was:
Day 1: Land (and get bags), check in to rooms and see a Southern Cassowary
Day 2: Drive from Kuranda to Daintree, via Mareeba, take a boat trip on the Daintree River (photograph Saltwater Crocodiles), see/photograph as many birds as possible, drive from Daintree to Kuranda via the coast
Day 3: Check out of accommodation, spend the morning around Kuranda, see as many birds as possible, drive into Cairns, check in to new accommodation, go to Botanic Gardens and see as many birds as possible
Day 4: Take a boat trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, see as many birds as possible and photograph the reef
Day 5: Drive up the coast to Port Douglas and see as many birds as possible
Day 6: Get up really early and fly home.

“Missy” the Southern Cassowary

Amazingly, on day one I managed to see a Southern Cassowary. Not only that, but it came right up to me, as I sat on the steps of my accommodation, and started pecking at my shoe! What a great start to the trip. [You can read more about this in my article called A Quick Cairns Getaway]. The rest of the trip was fantastic as well, and, at the end of the 5th day, I had added 42 bird species to the count, and had chalked up another 5 species for my life list. The 5 new species were Southern Cassowary (Kuranda), Gould’s Bronze-Cuckoo (Cattana Wetlands), Lovely Fairy-wren (Cattana Wetlands), Black Butcherbird (Kuranda) and Northern Fantail (Julatten). I now have 223 out of my target of 400 species for the year, and 24 new species on my life list. Time is starting to be against me, but am pleased to have only 177 and 26 species to go, respectively.

August’s New Hatchlings for my (Little) Big Year List:

Southern Cassowary (New)
Emu
Australian Brush-Turkey
Orange-footed Scrubfowl
Radjah Shelduck [with chicks – very Cute!]
Green Pygmy-goose
Emerald Dove
Wompoo Fruit-Dove
Fork-tailed Swift
Brown Booby (New)
Black-necked Stork
Yellow-billed Spoonbill
Red-necked Crake
Bush Stone-curlew
Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo
Double-eyed Fig-Parrot
Gould’s Bronze-Cuckoo (New)
Barn Owl
Rainbow Bee-eater
Spotted Catbird
Lovely Fairy-wren (New)
Dusky Honeyeater
Helmeted Friarbird
White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike
Barred Cuckoo-shrike
Yellow Oriole
White-breasted Woodswallow
Black Butcherbird (New)
Northern Fantail (New)
Leaden Flycatcher
Satin Flycatcher
Shining Flycatcher
Spectacled Monarch
Victoria’s Riflebird
Lemon-bellied Flycatcher
Metallic Starling
Olive-backed Sunbird
Zebra Finch
Double-barred Finch
Crimson Finch
Chestnut-breasted Mannikin