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The special birds of Cape York Peninsula

Contact Call | Volume 11 Number 3 | September 2022

BirdLife Northern Queensland committee member and master wildlife photographer Martin Willis gave a stunning presentation to a packed house at the Malanda Hotel on the 28 July. An estimated 90-100 people enjoyed spectacular images and video footage of some very special birds from a number of sites within Cape York Peninsula. Despite the cold weather, there was a warm and friendly feeling within the group of members and supporters in the audience. A young researcher from Austria, here to study Victoria’s Riflebird, won the prize for furthest travelled visitor despite there being others from Melbourne and Perth!

Martin started the presentation with some excellent details about why Cape York Peninsula is so important and valuable as both a complex natural environment and an outstanding birding destination. But the key focus was the many species of birds only available in Australia within Cape York Peninsula. Included were all the iconic species such as the Golden-shouldered Parrot at Artemis Station, the Eclectus Parrot from Iron Range and the outstanding Palm Cockatoo from the northern parts of the Peninsula (both east and west).

Palm Cockatoo

As with many bird stories today, the beauty of the species is often accompanied by recognition of their tragic conservation circumstances. Martin drew attention to the parlous situation of the Golden-shouldered Parrot (tiny population and restricted current area of occupation) but pointed to the excellent work being undertaken at Artemis Station to identify the conservation issues and to improve the habitat for these fascinating ant-bed parrots. BirdLife Northern Queensland branch members have supported this research work and there is hope that the hard work on the ground will lead to success. Unfortunately, only two of the nests being monitored successfully fledged young this year.

Wildlife photographer Martin Willis presenting to a packed house at the Malanda Hotel

The imposing Palm Cockatoo, our largest Australian parrot, was featured in many images and a fantastic piece of video footage. The special breeding requirements (tree hollows, in a vertical standing tree trunk, old features but vulnerable to fire and clearing) formed the basis of some excellent images, including some of the drumming by the male as he courts his mate. The calls and plumage are magnificent, and we were treated to examples of these features.

One of the “much-wanted” species is the Papuan (Red-bellied) Pitta, a bird that typically migrates to New Guinea during the dry season and is only present at Iron Range during the wet season, a time when roads are usually closed. Despite that, birders fly into Lockhart River airstrip and spend time trying to find and photograph this elusive species. But the effort can be well-rewarded with views of the spectacular plumage and fascinating behaviour. There are many other wonderful species in the rainforests of Iron Range, including the Frill-necked Monarch, Black-winged Monarch, Magnificent Riflebird and the elusive Trumpet Manucode (the last two being Birds of Paradise).

Papuan (Red-bellied) Pitta

Others included were the Green-backed, White-streaked and Tawny-breasted Honeyeaters; the Northern Scrub-robin, the White-faced Robin and the Yellow-legged Flycatcher. A special treat was a series of images of the Yellow-billed Kingfisher bringing different prey to a nest site.

Martin pointed out the essential role of bird hides in achieving his images. For most species, a lot of effort goes into preparation and the careful location of portable bird hides (at feeding sites, or watering points) so that the birds follow normal behaviour and allow wonderfully natural images. The audience was very appreciative of the thoughtfully prepared presentation with its gorgeous photos.

Yellow-billed Kingfisher

Tablelands Co-Coordinator Sam Willis pointed out that other presentations are now in the pipeline and that the Branch was keen to continue these evenings, available to the public free of charge. The local Tablelands newspaper (Express) has agreed to help publicise the talks and they will also be advertised on the BirdLife Northern Queensland website and our Facebook page.

Report by Peter Valentine and images by Martin Willis.


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