Seasonal Variations for Daintree Wildlife viewing were first written in 1999. Apart from a few climatic vagaries and the somewhat un-reliability of the  Spectacled Flying-fox camp, the table below is remarkably accurate today.
 


Cover of Bird calls of the Daintree by Harold and Audrey Crouch, Jacana photo by Chris Dahlberg. Cover of Birds of Queensland's Wet Tropics by David Stewart of Nature Sound - passerines. Cover of Birds of Queensland's Wet Tropics by David Stewart of Nature Sound - non-passerines.
"SPRING. It is vocal! So vocal that if, sound recordists come............"
 

WINTER

Daintree wildlife in winter. Nankeen Night Heron in the sun.



June, July and August.  The winter months are the pick of our comfortable weather. This may account for the heavy influx of tourists.

Despite Daintree being well inside the tropics and being at sea-level there are cold nights and most wildlife species will want to be in the sun the moment it rises. So wildlife will not only break their cover at dawn but they will sit in the best light known to man, the sun. Nocturnal species like the Nankeen Night Heron, on a winter's morning will be in the sun early, warming up, and as the sun rises further and they have had their heat they will end up in the shade. This is especially so of  Nankeen Night Herons and Papuan Frogmouths.

A highlight of the winter months is the nesting of raptors. Ospreys are commonly seen on the river and many have nests on communication towers and other high points around the region.

Reptiles are easier to find and see at this time as they too will stay in the sun for long periods. The four main reptiles seen during river cruises are Saltwater Crocodiles, Eastern Water Dragons, Green Tree-snakes and, the hardest to find, initially, Amethystine Pythons. If a python is found then it is likely to stay in that one area for weeks.

Mammals are active at night. Spectacled Flying-foxes are fairly easy to find around the village, they will usually be heard first. Bandicoots and Melomys can usually be seen by simply taking a slow ride along the sealed roads. Swamp Wallabies are rarely seen but they can be found on the same roads.

SPRING

Daintree wildlife in Spring. Shining Flycatcher on nest.



September, October and November. Of all the times to visit, Spring is it!  The season is still comfortable for humans but late spring can sometimes be hot or, cool if the rains come early. It is wildlife busy time. Busy breeding and surviving. It is vocal! So vocal that if, sound recordists come, it will be at this time. It is worth coming just for the dawn chorus with rainforest birds emitting the most amazing sounds like the human tenor voice of the Wompoo Fruit-dove, the haunting call of the Spotted Catbird and the methodical chopping of the Large-tailed Nightjar. Spectacled Flying-foxes set up their maternity camp adding to the mixture of sounds.

There is the steady stream of migrating birds starting with the Brown-backed Honeyeater and culminating with the most striking of Australia's kingfishers. The buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfishers tend to arrive late Oct or early November. They too are very vocal early morning and that makes them easier to find in their rainforest home. On rarer occasions Oriental Cuckoo's find their way to Northern Australia but are silent. If at all this is more likely in December. Bird sightings are much more predictable because the locations of nests are known and, without disturbing the birds, good views can be had with binoculars. The stormbirds arrive. Thunderstorms are frequent down the east coast of Australia at this time. Our 2 biggest cuckoos the Channel-billed and the Eastern Koel are called stormbirds.  Both the stormbirds have loud calls and there is no doubt when they are around in fact on hearing a loud raucous call look up and do not be surprised to see a string of Channel-billed Cuckoos all in a line. Sometimes on looking up at the loud raucous calls you might fluke a Helmeted Friarbird chasing a Common Koel away from the nest.

Orchids come into bloom on the edges of the rainforest. Pencil Orchids are perhaps the most common. The white blooms can often be seen growing on the larger trees by the side of the road. Daintree Village has plenty of fruit trees and worth a look for birds.

SUMMER

Daintree wildlife in summer. Croc in the water.



December, January and February. Crocodiles are much harder to see in the summer because they do not have to be out of the water. Even the tour boats may go for weeks at a time with out seeing one.
There are still terrific opportunities to see wildlife at this time. There are plenty of active nests to be seen and cuckoos are vocal. It is a hot season and at sometime in these three months the rains will come. In the hot part of summer wildlife is very quiet in the middle of the day. Good results are guaranteed with an early start. It goes from dark to light in about 15 minutes and then the temperature rises sharply so being early is crucial.

The Flying-fox camp (*see note above) can suffer the most in the heat. These big bats fan themselves to stay cool and will even leave their preferred tree-top position to go lower in the trees and closer to their predators like the Amethystine Python. The fanning wreaks a terrible cost in water and food reserves and on dusk the whole camp will descend on the river for a drink on the wing. This presents one of the most spectacular wildlife events of summer. The event does not escape the notice of the opportunistic crocodiles who, with lightning reflexes, can snatch a flying-fox on the wing when they come to drink.

It is rather extraordinary just how many experienced naturalists and birdwatchers have yet to see a Black Bittern. These secretive and shy birds concentrate on the east coast in summer and are found in the mainly fresh water areas of the larger rivers like the Daintree. Black Bitterns have been recorded as far south as Victoria but the main body is in the north. Black Bitterns at this time are more abundant than Striated Herons! The strike rate on a dawn river cruise is more than 95% and it is often more than just one individual. Rather sadly the Little Kingfisher becomes even more secretive with breeding and sightings of them decline at this time.

The scientific name for our region is the Wet Tropics and for good reason. The tropics we know about but the wet is from 3 metres(10 feet) of rain per year. Two thirds of this rain will fall in February and March. This rain is not just inconvenient. It can strand you in places you do not want to be as your holiday and it's associated costs erode both your bank balance and your hard earned free time. Some operators do not even open the door during this predictably wet time.

AUTUMN

Daintree wildlife autumn. Flooded causway.


March, April and May. Despite the rain some wildlife are quite active and the migratory bird movement is underway once again. Oddly the adult Buff-breasted Paradise-kingfishers leave before the juveniles. The dawn chorus becomes quieter. Some birds leave not only northern Australia but the Southern Hemisphere to arrive in places as far north as Siberia to do their breeding. Other species leave southern Australia after breeding to escape the coming cold and even go further north than Daintree. Still others come down from the mountains to sea-level also to escape the coming chill of the higher altitudes. Rare sea-level sightings are made of some Wet Tropics endemics like Bridled Honeyeater and Bower's Shrike-thrush  which are normally only seen in the tablelands.

The baby crocodiles hatch. The young flying-foxes are on the wing and can be easily identified by size when the camp flies out for their nocturnal feeding. The most obvious of the new arrivals are the Rainbow Bee-eaters. The valley has thousands of them and they sit out in the open for you to see. In the Daintree Valley Wonga Beach is probably the best spot. Bee-eaters use open perches like power lines to work from as they perform the most amazing aerobatics hawking insects on the wing. It is usual for them to return to the launching spot when they take an insect. Another obvious return are the egrets, ibises and spoonbills that can be seen in the fields when it is high tide in the estuary. Briefly obvious are the Dollarbirds, that are passage migrants, in Daintree. This is Australia's only roller and the least colourful of the 11 found in the old world. They too sit out on conspicuous perches. Least obvious are the fantails and flycatchers in the rainforest, in fact they would almost go un-noticed were it not for their calls.

After rain some of the thinner reptiles like the common green tree snake come out in the open to find heat. This can be a sealed bitumen road during the night or a bare branch in the sun but over water with gravity being their escape route from air-borne predators like Black Butcherbirds. Typically these snakes will be easily see during boat trips on a cold winter's morning.

 

copyright 2012 Chris Dahlberg