Cairns January 2021

Woke up early on the 8th January and checked my Facebook, looking at me was a gorgeous image from my old-friend Jun Matsui. He had posted an excellent pic of ‘Nordy’, the first-recorded visit of Nordmann’s Greenshank on the east coast of Australia, found by local birder Adrian Walsh.

Jun is a Senior-guide for Sicklebill Safaris and author of the Field guide to the birds of Cairns and the tablelands

Not being able to resist it further I booked a flight ( and accommodation) to Cairns for a few days. I also thought that it might be nice to take some trips to the Great Barrier Reef, though that idea was later to be ‘scuppered’ by COVID-19 and the ‘Wet-Season’. Ironically, as a birder who prefers to find species myself, twitching-rarities normally doesn’t excite me all that much…..but this was different.

Nordmann’s (or Spotted) Greenshank (Tringa guttifer) is an ‘Endangered’ species of wader breeding on the north-east coast of Russia, it is currently thought to have a population of only 500-1000 birds, and usually spends it’s non-breeding season in SE Asia.

On arrival on Tuesday afternoon I picked-up a hire-car from the airport office and having noticed my binoculars the office-attendant reminded me that it was not permitted to drive their car on unsealed-roads (….Oh well, not looking good for my Mt Lewis trip, I thought) so made my way to the Esplanade from my nearby hotel, and it was pouring with rain. Not a sign of the ‘hoped-for’ celebrity-wader.

Arising at 04.30 am on Wednesday morning, I realised that it doesn’t get light in North Qld as early as SE Qld (…in mid-summer, anyway) but eventually made my way to the sea-front and recommenced my search. Outside ‘Muddy’s Cafe’ (the popular restaurant central on the Esplanade) I tried to photograph some very ‘accommodating’ Great Knot (Calidris tenuirostris) and Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) on the artificial sand-beach when I thought I heard someone calling my name. Two birding-friends had just arrived from Brisbane and invited me to join them at Muddy’s for coffee. Later I ‘bumped’ into 3 more birders from Melbourne that should have accompanied me to Papua New Guinea the previous year….best forget 2020.

Great Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit, Cairns Esplanade January 2021

Unfortunately no sign of the star yet, so I contacted Jun and he agreed to show me some of his local sites if I picked him up from the south-side of town.

We explored the Botanic Gardens and Cairns Cemetery, but found little beside a male of the melvillense ssp of Cicadabird calling, several Double-eyed Fig-parrot and 3 Goulds/Little Bronze-cuckoos displaying.

Common Cicadabird (Edolisoma tenuirostre melvillense)

Returning back to the Esplanade the weather was still very damp but waders were beginning to return as the tide turned.

Was a while before we finally saw our quarry, but the small crowd was finally uplifted when a single ‘greenshank’ (…albeit with yellow-shanks) appeared and started to feed in a Terek Sandpiper ‘fashion’ running around the mud chasing crabs. Fortunately on this occasion, no other ‘tringa-like’ sandpipers appeared to confuse us. Sadly the rain also returned and my pics were a bit sad, to say the least.


The following day I picked-up Jun from his home and we drove towards Atherton as I had expressed a desire to see the NQ races of Brown Treecreeper (ssp melanotus) and Varied Sittella (ssp striatus), on arrival in the rain at Wondecla State Forest (SE of Herbeton) we only managed to hear the former, but I was surprised at the abundance of another species, the so-called ‘Herbeton-race’ of Fuscous Honeyeater (Ptilotula fusca) which can resemble another northern species the Yellow-tinted Honeyeater (Ptilotula flavescens)

Ebird List

Sadly, that was all the excitement for this promising-site, but I’m hoping to return in the near-future. As the weather appeared to ‘dry-up’ a bit in the Mareeba area, I asked Jun if he could help me find a Black-throated Finch (Poephila cincta) there….unfortunately, this was to be my (at least) fifth unsuccessful visit but we did see a nice Australian Bustard (Ardeotis australis) feeding on a flowering plant just off the main road.

Australian Bustard

We returned to Cairns via Kuranda in very heavy rain, too late to check for Nordy again.

On Friday Jun kindly agreed to take me to Mt Lewis in his truck, so we made our way north to Julatten.

As we ascended Mt Lewis we noticed a Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher (Tanysiptera sylvia) cross the road exiting a termite-nest on the bank, but sadly failed to relocate it on our return.

On previous visits I had searched for and found Blue-faced Parrot finches (Erythrura trichroa) on the grassy-verges at a clearing near the top-gate but on this occasion Jun took us up a track to the west where there was a profusion of ginger-like rainforest plants (possibly Pollia?) After waiting for a reasonable-time he noticed a bird underneath this and eventually it came into the open and fed on the flower/seed-head of the plant. Eventually we saw and photographed 3 or 4 birds here but they could be quite -wary.

In the late-afternoon we headed back to the Esplanade and found that we had missed ‘crippling’ views of Nordy by less than half-an-hour, sadly the receding-tide meant that it was feeding much further out, however given the better ‘lighting-conditions’ I managed to get some reasonable shots, some with it catching a fairly large crab, unfortunately this attracted some envious Silver Gulls who chased it further out. This time there were also Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) present which gave good opportunities to compare.

Common/Nordmann’s Greenshank

Ebird List

Ebird List

Unfortunately Friday’s bright fine weather all but disappeared by the weekend and Saturday was mainly spent trying to get some last views before leaving. What was fascinating were the amount of birders which turned up in the afternoon, many from interstate. Sadly Nordy’s appearance around 4.30 pm coincided with a large downpour which made it difficult to obtain good views and pics, I had a go but mine were pretty ordinary.

Ebird List

So ended a fantastic-trip, what impressed me most was the interest of the general public, when they were wondering why all these people with binoculars and tripods were ‘hanging-around’ most birders took the time to explain to them about Nordy’s presence and most seemed genuinely fascinated. Surely this can only raise public-awareness in these troubled ‘environmental-times’?

Finally I would like to thank all those that I met there, Colin Reid, Stuart Pickering, Ged Tranter, Steve Murray, Mike Carter, Alan Stringer, David Adam, Robert Shore, Scott Baker, Bernie O’Keefe, Ken Cross, Martin Cachard, Sally Sheldon, Robert Shore, all the north Qld birders but especially Jun Matsui, John and Ali Barkla and Nordy’s finder Adrian Walsh.






13 responses to “Cairns January 2021”

  1. Denise Ravenscroft Avatar
    Denise Ravenscroft

    Wow Tom! What a fabulous record with such beautiful pics! Very far from ordinary. Thanks so much for the superb diaries you keep and share with others.

    1. aviceda Avatar

      Thanks Denise, much appreciated!

  2. Detlef Davies Avatar

    Thanks Tom, glad you had some success on this trip. Had flock of c50 Nordies in Thailand some years ago, but keen to see Blue-faced Finch one day. Your Nordy photos look good to me! Hope to head for the Top End in June.

    1. aviceda Avatar

      Thanks Detlef!

  3. Bernie Okeefe Avatar
    Bernie Okeefe

    It was so nice to catch up with you again Tom. Must say – your photos of Nordy are sensational! Great work mate

    1. aviceda Avatar

      Thanks Bernie, how did you go at Lake Eacham?

  4. Rick Avatar

    Great read, Tom. We are heading up to Cairns for a fortnight’s road trip next week. Hopefully, the Nordmann’s Greenshank may still be around but if not, there will be plenty else to see. Nice photos!

    1. aviceda Avatar

      Thanks Rick, hope Nordy is still around for you both, Al the best, Tom

  5. Jack Warner Avatar
    Jack Warner

    Great read Tom. Stay safe mate.

    1. aviceda Avatar

      Thanks Jack, where are you now?

      1. Jack Avatar

        Living in Nuneaton and working as a prison officer. Just getting into bird ringing and enjoying it.

  6. Ken Bissett Avatar
    Ken Bissett

    Very nice reading Tom, there’s always plenty of good birding around Cairns and we enjoy visiting family there even more because of that. Haven’t found Black-throated Finch around Mareeba yet but know they are there.

    1. aviceda Avatar

      Thanks Ken, intend to return in the near-future so know where to look now 😉

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