Far North Queensland's Wildlife Habitat calls itself the best Wildlife Park in Australia. Wow, that really is some claim, so I decided to put it to the test. My regular readers know that I'm a keen amateur photographer and I thought that the wildlife of the tropics would be perfect models.
I decided to spend just half a day there having a good look for photo opportunities. Boy, was I wrong about how much time I'd spend there! There was so much to see and do in the open and interactive environment that I went back again the following day (and again). The park offers a very generous five-day entry ticket – free for four more consecutive days following the original date of entry, and you can't ask fairer than that.
The park is divided into separate zones or habitats: Savannah, nocturnal, woodland, wetland and rainforest. You can wander through the five habitats on your own or have a guided tour. You may also enjoy Breakfast with the Birds or Lunch With The Lorikeets or a Wildlife Nocturnal Tour. And don't miss the Curlew Cafe and Bar which has its own resident birds. However you choose to explore, the staff are knowledgeable and helpful and I learnt lots of fun facts. The acreage is so extensive that I will just tell you about the birds in this article. I will write about the animals (from cuddly koalas and 'roos, to crocs and other reptiles) in a separate article.
There are several aviaries in the park with the largest one open to the sky so that the birds are not captive. There are over 75 species of birds, so I have chosen just my favourite dozen. But it was very hard to whittle the list down from all the stunning candidates. I hope you enjoy seeing these glorious creatures as much as I did.
Cassowary Wildlife Habitat has two Cassowaries, cutely called Cassie and Airlie. The cassowary is one of the largest land animals in Australia at 1.5 to 1.75 metres tall. Like the emu, it is a flightless bird. It's slightly shorter than an emu but more solidly built with massive legs. It's an icon of the wet tropics area, but unfortunately, they are endangered birds. Their most distinctive features are the gorgeous bright blue skin and the weird casque on the top of its head. They are shy and solitary but are sometimes seen on the side of roads or around camping areas. You need to be "casso-wary" as they are dangerous with long claws they use as weapons.
Tawny Frogmouth Owl I was delighted to spot three of these owls playing "statues". Woo-hoo. They are often hard to find as they sit camouflaged on tree branches, unmoving, except for their yellow eyes following you. This lovely species almost appears to frown at you with squinting eyes for interrupting its quiet contemplation. I have heard some people refer to this incorrectly as an oopik, but it is a tawny frogmouth. It's one of our best-known nocturnal birds.
Jabiru (May Cross)
Jabiru This was my first ever sighting of a jabiru, or more properly called the black-necked stork. It is very tall – over a metre with a strong black bill. But what really stuck me was its iridescent shimmering green-blue sheen Simply stunning. It was loving the wetlands area of the park and seemed happy to pose for my photos.
Bush Stone Curlew I heard what I thought to be the wailing of a child being strangled. But no, it was a bush stone curlew or "murder bird". They are big-eyed (bug-eyed?) ground-dwelling nocturnal birds. They are becoming rarer, so if you hear their murderous call at night, don't be alarmed but pleased that they are still around.
Black Cocky at the Cafe (May Cross)
Carnaby's Black Cockatoo
I was surprised to learn that the Carnaby's Black-Cockatoo is classified as endangered. This cocky is mostly grey-black, with narrow off-white fringes to the feathers, giving it a scaly appearance. It has a patch of cream-coloured feathers on the ear. It's a forest dweller and loves Banksias and nuts. You can't miss its loud screechy/wailing call.
Red-Tailed Black-Cockatoo This cocky is one cheeky chappie. I met Max the red-tailed black-cockatoo when I felt a tug on my shoelace. I looked down and saw a glossy back bird chewing on my lace. Whether he was trying to undo it or eat it, I don't know but he wasn't letting go. He rewarded me with a show of his beautiful crest and eponymous tail. He reminded me of my childhood when one of the most prized feathers to find was a scarlet tail feather from this beautiful bird species.
Colourful Eclectus Parrot (May Cross)
I had never heard of an Eclectus parrot before, but this beautiful specimen greeted me when I first entered the Wildlife Habitat. He was very friendly and noisy, and lives in a tree in the gift shop during the day. He is a magnificent rainforest bird with green feathers and an orange bill. I caught glimpses of red and blue under his wings. Beautiful plumage, a bit like the King parrot.
Our National Emblem (May Cross)
I don't really have to introduce you to old man emu; after all, he is an emblem on our Australian Coat of Arms. So, I love them and had to include them, as did the Wildlife Habitat. They are the second tallest bird in the world (after the ostrich). One interesting fact is that the feathers of an emu are double shafted, giving the birds their untidy, shaggy look.
Pied geese or magpie geese are well-known water birds of the tropics. The bold pied black-and-white or "magpie" plumage gives the goose its name. It makes a very loud honking noise. The Wildlife Habitat let me feed them with fishy little pellets, which pleased us both.
Laughing Kookaburra (May Cross)
Another Aussie icon, the kookaburra needs no introduction. Wildlife Habitat has both species of kookaburras: the Laughing Kookaburra and the Blue-winged Kookaburra. The blue-winged kookaburra is less common than the laughing jackass. It is slightly smaller, more colourful with bright blue wings, a more cacophonous laugh and has beady white eyes. Both are gorgeous to me.
Whistling Duck (May Cross)
I saw lots of Wandering Whistling Ducks, that were, well, wandering around and also swimming and diving. Their call was more like twittering to me than whistling. Their multi-coloured feathers range from chestnut to dark brown and black. They shimmered like copper in the sun.
The white-browed wood swallow is a dear little bird with a distinctive white eyebrow on its blackhead. The body is dark blue-grey, and she has a lovely pinky underbelly – like a modest (or modern) blush. Shy but oh so photogenic.