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  • Writer's pictureKaia Colestock

Day 5: Mareeba, Granite Gorge, Chillagoe

Updated: Jan 6

Today is a travel day from the rainforest through dry eucalyptus forest to our destination in arid Chillagoe, three hours west of Cairns. While eating our breakfast in Mareeba, I looked over to see a Birding EcoTours group sitting at the next table. I smiled to myself. What are the chances… Can they tell we are birders? Are we going to give ourselves away? We gave them an unspoken “nod” and a smile. Before I knew it, Elias initiated a conversation with the leader. I averted my gaze. Do they somehow know that I’ve already studied their itineraries? It felt so serendipitous. The birders were just finishing a two-week tour of Queensland and were on their last day. The lead guide came over and made recommendations on Google Maps. We ate it up like candy. He pointed out a nondescript fallow field where we could find Australian pratincole. (Whaa?) Then he sent us to Granite Gorge Nature Park for squatter pigeons. We shared in the stories of Queensland and said our goodbyes. The advice didn’t disappoint.

Australian pratincole

Coming across the first great bowerbird, we didn’t recognize it at first. In display, a lavender crest raises at the back of the head in an effort to peak the female’s interest. They build a north-south oriented bower so that early morning hours reflect the most light off of the male’s head. Sometimes he’ll add a colored object in his mouth to enhance the effect.

A quick stop in Granite Gorge Nature Park. Unfortunately, it was the hottest part of the day, but we managed a short introductory walk.

Squatter pigeons lined the road coming into the park.

Rock wallabies like to rest in the shade of the granite.

Next thing I know, a gigantic yellow lizard the size of a Dachshund ran across the road with its head held high and tail waving. Elias slammed on the brakes and I did the usual lunge for my camera when something alien appears in our view. iNaturalist enthusiasts online decided it was a black-headed monitor (Varanus tristis), a lizard which can get up to 4.5 feet and 13 lbs. They are immune to snake venom, and will eat even the most venomous species (including the inland taipan).

Paved roads became gravel, which turned to reddish dirt. Getting a taste of the inland arid regions was a sudden change from the muggy coast. We pulled into the small community of Chillagoe and settled in for the night. Galah roosted in late afternoon light near our accommodations.

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