PHOTOS from Eungella NP
On the way to Townsville, during our recent trip (August 2015) we camped for two nights in Eungella National Park, at the Fern Flat campsite. We were very pleasantly surprised to find that the facilities at the campsite have been upgraded, and there is now an access road so we didn't have to lug all our gear in for 500 metres. (Laura, who is younger than me, was disappointed because she liked the privacy the campsite had previously afforded!)
This national park in the highlands of the east coast of northern Queensland, west of Mackay, is probably the best place in the world to see platypus in the wild. Since they are most active in the early morning and evening, you really need to stay somewhere local to catch a glimpse. I think that many of the day visitors must go home disappointed - although there is the compensation of being able to dine at the cafe, which was (at the time we were there) selling the most wonderful cheesecake. Laura and I both broke our diets and went back for second helpings!
A man who lives near a waterway called Platypus Creek, and is accustomed to the search, told me that the best way to find a platypus is to look for ripple rings near the riverbank, and after a couple of minutes one might pop up for a breath. Usually the impetus to forage is so urgent that they dive again almost immediately and you will be left trying to guess whereabouts they will next make an appearance. But occasionally they will stay on the surface for a brief time and, if you are lucky, might even be close enough to you to enable you to catch a few photos.
Of course, those ripple rings may turn out to have been caused by an out of view, dusky moorhen, or a little pied cormorant that liked to sun itself and dry out its feathers after a dive, on old tree trunks and rocks projecting from the water. Or perhaps even a turtle. I didn't manage to take any photos of turtles on this trip, although we have seen them on previous occasions. Pete was the only one of us lucky enought to even see an azure kingfisher although Laura and I tried hard enough to find one.
Eungella might also be the best place to see the beautiful, colourful little groundbirds called noisy pittas. Often you will hear their distinctive "walk-to-work" calls before you see them. They stay in the dark undergrowth and have a stand and pause, then dash, method of hunting. They are relatively easy to photograph while they are standing still, but the low light makes action shots difficult.
While we were there we met a group of bird watchers from the Mackay club who were trying to ascertain whether the thrushes that we were seeing were "Bassian", or "Russet-tailed". These two species are almost identical. The russet-tail is more of a lowland bird, while the Bassians occur generally at higher altitudes, but in some places their distributions overlap.
Since returning home, I have been able to confirm that the thrushes that we saw at Eungella were Russet-tails. Apparently the calls of the two species are different, but that is not very helpful if you aren't familiar with them, and only have photos to go by. It seems the best way to tell the difference is whether or not the white colouring on the tips of the secondary wing coverts extends up the shaft of the feather or not. Very obscure, unless you have good photos. I think I have photos of both species now, and will write a blog post pointing out the differences.
The other bird species that we saw were the common ones, such as brush turkeys which made a nuisance of themselves around the campsite, grey shrike-thrushes, and their smaller more russet-coloured relatives, the little shrike-thrushes, yellow robins, grey fantails, white-browed scrub-wrens, red-browed firetails and brown thornbills.
Since the eucalypts were flowering in the picnic area, honeyeaters were busy in the tops of trees. Sadly, they were too far away for my camera set-up to manage well, so apologies for the quality of the photos here, but I have included them to give some indication of what they look like. They include silvereyes, scarlet honeyeaters, dusky honeyeaters (I think), and Lewin's honeyeaters. Unfortunately we didn't see the Eungella Honeyeater.
I was told by a man who lives near a creek called "Platypus Creek" that the way to detect the presence of a platypus was to look for ripples in the water near the creek banks. Sometimes you might see a few bubbles too. If you are patient you might be able to snap a photo during the brief moments when they surface for air. Unfortunately most visitors seem to arrive during the middle of the day when every normal platypus has returned to its burrow to rest!
It is such a thrill to be able to watch these wonderful animals in their native habitat.
This closeup photo of the head of a platypus shows the nostrils in the bill, unique to this species, and ears immediately behind its eyes.
Sometimes those "platypus" ripples turned out to be caused by moorhens, that were also present in the creek.
I think these are amongst the most photogenic of birds. They sit for many minutes drying their feathers between dives, moving their heads to check for possible predators.
These birds forage on the ground and this adult is holding a worm that it later fed to the juvenile in the next photo. Unfortunately I missed the moment of feeding!
From the photos here you may have trouble distinguishing this species from its cousin, the grey shrike-thrush. The little shrike-thrush is smaller and has distinct has russet colouring on its underside, and also has pinkish colouring in its beak.
A characteristic pose for individuals of this common species, which spend endless hours perched, waiting and watching!
A pair of these small noisy birds, was foraging around the logs on either side of the creek. They seem to be common everywhere we go, but are fast-moving and mainly stick to the shadows, so it is not easy to take a good photo.
I debated whether to call this elusive bird a brown honeyeater but decided in the end, that it was more likely to be a dusky honeyeater because it doesn't appear to have the white streak behind the beak or the pale spot behind its eye.