Bird Watching on the Atherton Tablelands

Bird watching on the Atherton Tablelands is nirvana for twitchers. It’s not just the sheer variety of birds but the numbers they flock in. Here are some of the best places to admire them:

Julatten is the hub of bird watching in Tropical North Queensland. More than 220 species of birds are found here and many of the cottages, B&Bs and lodges that dot this area report scores enjoying their gardens. You may not even have to leave your bed to start your bird count.

Julatten is on the edge of Mt Lewis National Park at the northern end of the Atherton Tablelands. It sits atop the Great Dividing Range and is a beautiful place in itself, even if you aren’t a bird spotter. The Wet Tropics endemic species that can be seen in the area include the Lesser Spotty Owl, tooth billed bowerbird, golden bowerbird, fern wren, Atherton scrub wren, mountain thornbill, bridled honey eater, Macleay’s honeyeater, chowchilla, bower’s shrike-thrush, pied monarch, Victoria’s riflebird and grey headed robin.

Chestnut-Breasted Mannikin – Image by @anylifephotography

On a good day birdwatchers can spot all 13 in Mt Lewis National Park, a reputation more impressive than Kakadu…

If you are an experienced birder you will successfully locate the birds on your own; otherwise there is plenty of help from accommodation owners in the area. Several are dedicated to bird watching.  Many of the sightings are loaded onto the eBird Australia hotspot list on a daily basis. There are also a variety of tours with expert guides to fulfil a lifelong wish to see a certain species or just help bring the abundance of avian life to your attention.

Julatten is claimed as one of the most liveable climates in the world and there are year-round reasons for bird watchers to visit. The wet season brings cooler and less humid conditions at altitude than on the coast and the migratory birds make an appearance, often in large numbers. These can include metallic starlings, satin flycatcher, buff-breasted paradise kingfisher and eastern koel.  April to September is prime blue faced parrot finch spotting time. The autumn is wonderful because everything is green after the rains; however the best bird watching months are often considered to be June to October with flowering plants a pull for many species.

As well as checking out the high-altitude species, birders can find many migratory species on the Atherton Tablelands. The wetlands and swamps that are an essential water filter for the region’s impressive eco system provide a haven all year round.

Olive-backed Sunbird – Image by @timcorinphoto

The Mareeba Wetlands is one such safe harbour – or should that be hanger. It’s an artificial waterway of eight lagoons and is home to species ranging from pelicans to cotton pigmy geese and jabiru to bustards. Migratory birds from Siberia also pay the area a visit and at Clancy’s Lagoon there’s a café as well as a boat ride on offer. Check to see if it is open before you go and early morning and evening are always the best times to see as many types of birds as possible.

Hasties Swamp on the outskirts of Atherton is a popular pit stop for birds. Magpie geese, sarus cranes and brolga join a variety of water fowl. Best to go in the wet season when the swamp is fill to the brim. There’s a very good 2-story hide set up and look for birds in the surrounding bush as well as in the swamp.