Fraser Island: Birds of paradise

By Jim Eagles

A blue-faced honey-eater on Fraser Island. Photo / Jim Eagles
A blue-faced honey-eater on Fraser Island. Photo / Jim Eagles

At how many hotels or resorts, do you suppose, does the general manager turn out to lead the early morning guided bird walk?

But at 6.30am on our first day at Kingfisher Bay Resort, on Queensland's Fraser Island, there awaiting us is the boss, Ivor Davies, wearing a khaki ranger shirt, broad-brimmed Akubra hat, shorts and boots, with binoculars in hand and a satchel of well-thumbed bird books over his shoulder.

And on our second day there he is again, this time making the bird walk as a participant under the guidance of ranger Jill, toting a fancy camera and eager for sightings.

Even though he's been running this resort for 14 years he still gets hugely excited about a beautiful little red-backed fairy wren we come across during the course of walking round the grounds.

"These are the best shots I've ever got of one of these," he says, clicking away excitedly with his camera.

"Come over here and you'll get a better angle."

This island, the largest sand island in the world, is without doubt a fantastic place for anyone who likes birds. Officially it is claimed there are 354 species here. But Ivor prefers to name that number as "about 360" because, as he says, "there are a lot of birds that aren't actually resident here but which turn up from time to time."

Was it, I wonder, once the photogenic wren has flown away, the presence of so many beautiful birds that brought him here?

"No, it was the other way around really," he says.

"I came to Fraser Island because I wanted to manage this resort and I brought with me a mild interest in birding. It's being here that has caused the interest in birding to become a passion and also led to the enthusiasm for photography."

It's easy to understand how that could happen because spectacular birds are everywhere.

There's a swallow nest in the reception area, and honeyeaters and shrikes fly in and out of the building, often stealing food off the tables, having apparently learned how to open the doors by flying past the motion sensors.

On our bird walk with Ivor we had only to wander out of reception to the swimming pool to spot Lewin's honeyeaters, dusky honeyeaters, varied trillers and - my favourites - the stunning blue-faced honeyeaters feeding on the surrounding shrubs.

Around the resort's lagoons were rainbow bee-eaters, that lovely black and red wren, a grey shrike-thrush and a black-faced cuckoo shrike, white-cheeked honeyeaters, perky little willie wagtails, bar-shouldered doves, a cluster of noisy sulphur-created cockatoos, elegant white heron and a little wattlebird which, according to Ivor, "is a new arrival having never been seen on the island until three weeks ago".

Down at the beach we saw a white-faced heron perched at the top of a tree and a magnificent white-bellied sea eagle riding the winds - much to Ivor's delight because he had a Mrs Heron and a Mr Eagles in his group - plus an osprey, a torresian crow, lots of welcome swallows, the eastern yellow robin and the red-breasted rufous whistler.

I could go on - though further lists of birds would probably be tedious - but you get the message. My favourite spot, which I wandered down to several times, was a patch of grass trees whose stems were covered with seeds, attracting swarms of birds, especially the colourful honeyeaters, so the place was constantly alive with flashes of blue, yellow, green and white.

Of course there's lots of other wildlife on Fraser Island besides birds. In a just couple of days I saw humpback whales breaching off Indian Head and a mother and calf with an attendant male making their spectacular way down the coast only 200m off 75 Mile Beach; three dingoes in different parts of the island; a 1.8m carpet python crossing the road; manta rays and turtles; bats; golden trapdoor spiders; a fisherman pulling 1m-long beachworms out of the sand to use for bait; a big goanna; and some tantalising bandicoot tracks in the sand.

But it's the birds that dominate.

On a 4WD tour of the island, with ranger Gen, different varieties appeared all the time.

A couple of times she stopped the vehicle so we could see brilliantly coloured emerald doves, admire a flock of yellow-tailed black cockatoos - quite unusual on Fraser Island, apparently - listen to the amazing whistling crack produced by a pair of whipbirds or marvel at the sight of a great sea eagle being attacked by a tiny swallow.

At one of the island's camping grounds we watched, entranced, as a kookaburra took a prolonged shower - must have been a teenage female kookaburra - under a malfunctioning sprinkler.

Up at the viewing point for Stone Tool Sand Blow - a huge area of sandhills named because of the Aboriginal artefacts found there - there were five kinds of honeyeater playing in the bushes.

Along 75 Mile Beach we saw seabirds galore, many of them familiar from New Zealand, but also natty little red-capped plovers, masked lapwings, majestic whistling kites, silver gulls and elegant crested terns.

And when we got back, Ivor was waiting, anxious to hear what we had seen.

"A whole flock of yellow-tailed black cockatoos? That's very unusual. I wish I'd seen them. What sort of photos did you get?"

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand has regular flights to Brisbane.

From Brisbane you can get to Hervey Bay's Urangan Boat Harbour - departure point for the Kingfisher Bay ferry - by train, plane, bus or rental car (numerous companies operate from Brisbane Airport).

Where to stay: Try Kingfisher Bay Resort or you can contact Go Holidays on 0800 46 46 46.

Further information: For more about visiting Queensland see queenslandholidays.com.au.

Jim Eagles visited Fraser Island as guest of Kingfisher Bay Resort, Air NZ and Tourism Queensland.

- NZ Herald

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