View Full Version : Bird Photography in Cairns

Tony Whitehead
06-07-2008, 05:03 AM
I am planning a trip to Cairns in July. Haven't been there for about 10 years and am wondering if anyone has any advice about good photography spots. Thanks for any help.

Dean Ingwersen
06-10-2008, 06:55 PM
G'day Tony,

It pretty much mirrors where the best birding spots are in the area. I did a flying visit last year for a couple of days and photographed at these locations:

Cairns esplanade mudflats - good for waders (though few present this time of year), egrets and herons. Mangrove Robin can be found in the mangroves at the northern end of the esplanade...though I had no luck!:(
Cairns esplanade trees - regular birds here include Peaceful Dove, Varied Honeyeater, Yellow Honeyeater, Metallic Starling and Figbird. I also managed to find Double-eyed Fig-Parrots working a nest hollow opposite one of the cafes! (pic attached)
Centenary Lakes and Botanic Gardens - Forest and Little Kingfisher, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, and Black Butcherbird.If you head out of Cairns the canefields can be good too, though be careful as its mostly private property. I found Crimson Finch, Chestnut-breasted Mannikin, Spangled Drongo and others among the canes in one spot, and Pheasant Coucal can be found hanging off the sides of the cane in some spots.

Further north and into the hills a must-visit spot is Kingfisher Park (http://www.birdwatchers.com.au/). A ridiculous amount of rainforest species within the gardens, with visits to the feeders by Catbird, Graceful and Yellow-spotted Honeyeater (and heaps others). Also have heaps of species in the grounds. They do tours of a nearby oval too where you can see either Sooty Owl (used to be Lesser Sooty before it was lumped) or Masked Owl. And nearby Mt. Lewis has all of the high-altitude rainforest species, like Fernwren, Mountain Thornbill and Chowchilla. Tooth-billed and Golden Bowerbird present up there too...but again I had no luck with them! Keith and Lindsay at Kingfisher are great hosts and will happily provide you with info on other spots to go too (Keith is a top birdo and also takes great photos too!).

Good luck and have a great time. Look forward to seeing some of the results.

Cheers, Dean

Tony Whitehead
06-11-2008, 03:44 AM
Thanks Dean, excellent info

frank harrison
06-11-2008, 07:29 AM
Hi Tony

I'm a zoologist/wildlife photographer & live in Cairns; returned to live here 3 years ago after 10 years in Townsville & a few years overseas.

Alas in the interim the city has exploded exponentially with cancerous concrete high-rise & massive developments on all its nearby beaches. It has rendered a wonderful place effectively sterile from our point of view. Indeed, Joni Mitchells song 'Big Yellow Taxi' fits our city perfectly!

That said there are still good photo opportunities but you have to work for them & Dean has given you some decent tips for the tablelands. A winter phenomenon to shoot there (near Atherton) is the parachuting of hundreds of Sarus Cranes at sunset into Bromfield crater.

A top stay is Chambers Rainforest Apartments, good for rainforest species plus they have wildlife shows at night where they lure in pademelons (rainforest wallabies) sugar gliders & whatever else may be around.

The Cairns esplanade now has a high boardwalk which you are not allowed to leave thus you are looking down on the birds. Also the numbers have plummeted in the last couple of years. The fig parrot tree Dean mentioned was criminally torn down by the council recently but you can access the beach near the hospital however & on a good day may get Beach Stone-curlew.

If you give me a better idea of your intinery I may be able to help further.
Frank Harrison

Ian McHenry
06-11-2008, 03:57 PM
Hi Tony
I subscribe to the Birding-Aus group and there has recently been some info on Cairns birding.
Here is url if you're interested.
Cheers: Ian Mc

Dean Ingwersen
06-12-2008, 01:09 AM
Hi Tony

The Cairns esplanade now has a high boardwalk which you are not allowed to leave thus you are looking down on the birds. Also the numbers have plummeted in the last couple of years. The fig parrot tree Dean mentioned was criminally torn down by the council recently but you can access the beach near the hospital however & on a good day may get Beach Stone-curlew.

That is really sad news Frank. As soon as I pointed my camera at the tree I had a constant stream of people come over and ask what I was doing. Most were totally mesmerised by the close view of a bird like that working a hollow. Opportunity gone now!

One other thing I forgot to mention for Ian was a Daintree cruise with Chris Dahlberg. We struck awful weather (for photography) last year and I didn't take more than 10 photos, but he quite often sees Great-billed Heron amongst other things. Tell him what you're after and he'll do a good job of trying to find it for you...he certainly looked everywhere for the heron for me!! Check out http://daintreerivertours.com.au/.

frank harrison
06-15-2008, 08:51 AM
Yes Dean, it was quite a shock. I always took visting birders & photographers down to the tree & have many times enjoyed talking to amazed bystanders like you mention. Being a local, I was always going to photograph it "next week" & when I eventually did go tooled up, I stood looking into a hole in the ground.

You suggestion re Chris Dahlberg is a fine suggestion, hes a good friend of mine & we did a tv show together some years ago focussing on the Great-billed Heron. (in a savage electrical storm, not knowing if we would get home before being barbequed)!

It is wise to book ahead as he often gets filled up & even if the photo-gods do not smile upon you Chris will still give you a most memorable environmental experience. His secret is to use a small, roofless boat with a silent electric motor to explore the side creeks, not like the tourist crammed boats that roar up & down the main river channel. July should give excellent views of crocodiles also.

Another good excursion, a full day trip, is out to Michaelmas Cay, a sand island on the Gt Barrier Reef with several thousand mixed nesting sea birds (noddies, sooty, bridled, crested & lesser crested tern among others) many of which are within easy photographic reach. Overhead there may be Brown Booby, Greater & Least Frigatebirds.

Alas the cheaper birders boats are no more & are replaced by sophisticated & insultingly expensive catamarans. The best bet is The Passions of Paradise, at about $100 including all snorkelling gear, food, coffee etc its some $80 cheaper than the others. (Although you wont get a guy serenading you on guitar with a bow tie.....thank god). It is also a racing built cat & you should get an exhilarating sail back home with the afternoon trade winds. Again try to book ahead.

All for now, keep safe,

frank harrison
07-21-2008, 03:28 AM
Hi Tony
It was a delight to bump into yourself & your lovely family on the Cairns foreshore.
I'm glad my advice was of considerable help to you.
If you are now back home, please share with us the 'good oil' re your trip.
I look forwards to your images appearing at a later date.
Keep safe mate & if you ever come this way again, give me plenty of notice & Ill endeavour to arrange something special for you.
Frank & Di Harrison

Tony Whitehead
07-24-2008, 03:19 AM
Thanks Frank, the advice from the forum really enabled me to enjoy a fantastic trip to Cairns. It is always difficult to combine a family holiday with serious birding and especially bird photography but my daughter shares my illness and early starts left enough time for other family activities. Chris Dahlberg's trip was a real highlight ( I ended up travelling up 3 mornings until we struck some decent light - but each trip was brilliant) - he is a really nice and generous guy. It was great to bump into you - I was planning to call you by phone just to say thanks for the advice and offer of help but it was nicer to see you in person. Give us a shout if you are over the ditch. I have returned to bedlam at work and am in the throes of working to a deadline on a stage show so my birds are being delayed. Will have some posts up shortly

frank harrison
08-27-2008, 11:17 PM
Hello Tony
Glad things went so swimmingly, its so hard to strike that happy medium twixt a photographic sojourn & a family holiday.
I have just returned from working in the outback, a superb secret spot Im happy to share with good friends only. So, the next time you are over.

I have just been to your web site & was delighted by what I saw. Your image of a Little Kingfisher was the best I have ever seen of this species.
Where did you snap the blue faced honeyeater & cuckoo shrike?

re Kingfisher Park, it is good news that they will let folks on a time constraint in for a nominal fee & I'll tip off kindred spirits. (or was it a discrete one off in return for your wife's beauty?). What was the charge? Send it to me via my email address if prefered sonofvictor@gmail.com

Also, would you have any objection if I send your trip PDF to the local camera club to appear on their web site?

You probably wont hear from me for a while, as recently both my hard drive & the back up failed simultaneously.
I eventually retrieved the images but sans written data. Now I have re enter thousands of catalogue details, keyword etc. A pretty mind numbing experience if like me you strive to spend as little time on a computer as possible.

Keep safe ol' son, & remember to wash your hands at work.
Regards Frank & Di Harrison

Tony Whitehead
05-10-2014, 12:54 AM
The location of this popular free PDF that I published after my trip has been updated. You can find it now at this link http://www.tonywhitehead.com/wildlight/web-links/my-articles/bird-photography-in-cairns-free/

Ian McHenry
05-10-2014, 01:26 AM
Thanks Tony. Great to see the birds of FNQ in your PDF.
After my last trip over there got a great reference book "Birds of Queensland's Wet Tropics And Great Barrier Reef" By Lloyd Nielsen
Cheers: Ian Mc

Tony Whitehead
05-10-2014, 02:01 AM
Cheers Ian, I'll have to look out for that book next time.

frank harrison
05-18-2014, 04:10 PM
Hi Tony, Ian et al.

Alas that excellent volume is long out of print.
I saw an Amazon listed one for about $125 a year or two ago! But Im sure there must be better prices around somewhere.

Much has changed since the book was on the shelves & Lloyd is a good friend of mine. He has a book available called Birding Australia which might be worth a look but with a diluted Cairns area of course.
His web site is

If you arrive these days, for a source of current "good oil" find the bench under a big tree near the RSL, where the heavy guns are. After 4pm most afternoons local birders, biologists, characters & snappers congregate there for an hour or two discussing the state of the world. We are very friendly, love to talk to visitors, & are known locally as The 4 O'clock club. The location is called:- The Tree of Knowledge or The Bench of Bull*^#! Tale your choice! If I am with them probably the latter is true. :bg3:
Just look for the seedy looking types with binoculars & telescopes who will be able to fill you in an the latest what is where, best trips etc.

Of course Tony on your next visit, if Im around you can loan my copy of Lloyds Birds of Queensland's Wet Tropics And Great Barrier Reef, mind you I may require your wife as hostage till I get it back! :w3

Hope you & your family are happy & well.

Ian McHenry
05-18-2014, 05:17 PM
Hi Tony & Frank
Just did a bit of googling and came up with this url about Aussie Birds books. Seems like some worthwhile bird location info there.
Cheers: Ian Mc

frank harrison
05-28-2014, 12:26 AM
Good work Ian!
Thats a cracking link which I have already bookmarked.

re My mention of the 4 O'clock club earlier.
I should have made it clear to those not au fait with the layout of Cairns, that the bench is located on the esplanade foreshore.

It grieves me to reveal that the early Daintree River cruises are no more, sadly Chris (The Original & Best) Dahlberg has retired. Good luck to him, the man was a true legend, not a leg-end. :bg3:

However the good news is that there are now 2 similar boat tours to pick from!

Chris sold the business to Murray Hunt @ http://daintreerivertours.com.au/

Murray is a zoologist so perhaps has the edge on eco/birding matters.

The second boat is skippered by Ian "Sauce" Worcester @ http://www.daintreeriverwildwatch.com.au/HOME.3.0.html
Sauce is a keen photographer himself so may have the edge here.

The important thing is that whoever you go with, they are both excellent guides who will provide a memorable trip. Plus where in the past, if Chris was fully booked that was your lot, now you have a fall back option.

Even better, if you are like my rich mate Tony & can afford multiple trips, you can try, compare & contrast both tours.

Cheers Chums! :wave: