THE INDEPENDENT TRAVELLER'S GUIDE
The start of our new webpage on wild cockatoos, companion to "Wild Macaws". Where to see them, who will help, how much it costs when travelling independently. This page will be extended as and when we have further information.
Cockatoos are to be found in Australia and the islands to the North, ie Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Our first journey was curtailed due to event "9-11", it seemed unwise to visit the more remote (Moslem) parts of Indonesia in the immediate aftermath. For the moment, we therefore confined our attentions to Australia with stopovers in Bali and Singapore.
THE WILD COCKATOOS OF AUSTRALIA.
(Calling at Bali and Singapore.)
Palm cockatoos, Sulpur crested, Galahs, Red-tailed black, Carnabies
Our 2001 trip was to Australia to see wild cockatoos, target species, the Palm Cockatoo. In Australia this is to be found in and about the Iron Range Park, Queensland in the Northeast of the continent. Compared with our usual South America trips, this was a very cushy run. You can drink the tapwater, the cities are modern, clean and orderly (if boring for that) and of course everyone speaks English. There is an extensive rail and sealed highway system.
We flew with the Indonesian national airline, Garuda, (King of the Eagles and the mount of Rama). They were cheap, there was ample legroom, the food was OK and the cabin staff were excellent. Timekeeping however was abysymal, every flight was late by many hours.
The Australian national pastimes seem to be drinking, partying and gambling. Australians fondly imagine that they are world leaders in these pursuits, however they are in fact far behind any of the South American countries. The other national pre-occupation is the erection of notices.
This is still an essentially British society, the amiable and sensible inhabitants drive on the left, many familiar goods are on sale, the policemen however carry guns. The quality of the food is excellent (and cheap). It was a good time to visit, the Australian dollar was at an all-time low.The nearest large town to the Iron Range Park is Cairns, tourist centre of the North. There is an international airport here and a huge tourist industry, most of it pretty tacky. There's no need to be bored, I counted five hundred brochures of various "attractions" (short note) in our hotel lobby. There are scores of hotels and restaurants to suit all pockets. In my view there were three things worth seeing in and about Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef, the Iron Range Park and the Botanical Gardens (this latter is of world standard and free to boot!) "Safari" trips to most areas can be easily organised from Cairns. The extreme Northern tip of Australia in Cape York is a very popular tourist run, however the Iron Range National Park is rarely visited.
Public transport is very well organised in Cairns. Many of the "attractions" have a bus service which can be summoned by telephone. The bus driver will take you there, bring you back and even sells tickets for various attractions. The cost is very reasonable. Clearly very advanced thinking!
Everything in Australia is hyped up, which can lead to disappointment on the actual visit. (The locals believe their own hype too, which can be embarassing on ocassion.)
On no account visit any "Historic Buildings" in Queensland. They usually consist of a wooden shed with a tin roof, filled with junk I can remember from my childhood. The apogee of Queensland culture is cane toad racing. This is the only use anyone has found for this pestilent introduced amphibian. As a British toad breeder my wife enjoyed considerable success at this manly sport, to the disgust of the locals. This arose because she was quite willing to root about in a box full of them and select a lively one!
If you have any portable antiques you don't want, take them to Oz, I feel sure you can get a good price there.
If for any reason you are unable to visit the well known rainbow lorikeet feeding park at Currumbin, do not despair, nearly all of the other wildlife parks and zoos have latched on, you can do this now at virtually any of them. Many of the Queensland zoos also have excellent bird displays which include various parrots and raptors. There are also several crocodile displays, amply demonstrating the frightful speed of the esturine crocodile when it launches an attack.
We visited in the months of October/November. We had virtually no rain, the temperature approached 40°C (105°F) on some days. Quite often humidity was high. In retrospect, we would have seen more cockatoos if we had visited a month earlier.
Rarely seen in the UK, the Palm cockatoo Proboscigar Aterrimus is the biggest cockatoo in the world. There are three subspecies:- Aterrimus, Goliath and Stenolphus, Goliath being largest of all. They are all are to be found in the Eastern islands of Indonesia, (a no-go area at the moment). I did discover on the internet that goliath is to be seen in the "Bali Bird Park" in Denpasar.
The former is also present in the Northernmost tip of Australia, Cape York, more particularly in the Iron Range National Park. There are other cockatoos here, the Sulphur Crested, the Red-tailed Black as well as Galahs, Corellas and numerous lories and lorikeets. Unlike other places in the world where wild parrots are to be found, all are rigorously protected, as is the environment they live in.
The Iron Range Park is predominantly rainforest, and lies thirteen degrees South of the Equator. The tourist office will tell you that it is "virgin", however this is far from the case. During World War II an enormous airbase was constructed here in order to attack the Japanese in New Guinea, a tarmac road was hacked through the jungle to service it. This has now shrunk to a small airstrip. The remains of the road, various bridges, fuel and ammunition dumps, are still to be seen, rusting and covered in luxuriant vegetation. There are many abandoned mine shafts and mining equipment. Local folklore has it that, in the sixties, thousands of tons of explosives was detonated here by the British in order to simulate the effects of a nuclear blast. To bear out this story, there is a vast and devastated area near the Claudine River where no trees grow.
The tree canopy is neither so high or dense as in South America but is significantly different. There are no traditionally living human inhabitants or large land predators, (Dingoes preferring more open country). There is an abundance of birdlife, easy to hear but hard to spot in the tree canopy. Also the usual insect life, together with large lizards. Many of the rivers are inhabited by the very dangerous and aggressive esturine crocodile. We saw none of the infamous and deadly Australian snakes or spiders.The seas are also inhabited by the croc. together with sharks and the notorious and deadly box jellyfish.
This is the only rainforest I know of that you can drive through. Elsewhere roads are constructed through rainforests for the express purpose of their destruction. This is speedily accomplished leaving behind only devastation.
There are other National Parks in the area, the Daintree, Lakefield and the Munkan Kaanju Parks, we were able to visit them all on our leisurely journey.
After much internet to-ing and fro-ing, I could find only one Safari Firm able to make a firm promise to go there at a specific date, one
"Billy Tea Bush Safaris", (Website)
based in Cairns. This is an old and well respected firm, tours are run in Toyota Landcruisers, a trailer carries a vast range of camping gear for this is camping at it's most luxurious! Punters however are expected to pitch in and assist as necessary. We covered nearly 2000Km by road, returning to Cairns by air, the whole trip taking nearly a fortnight.
The tarmac road runs out a few miles to the North of Cairns, however the road continues in (usually) well graded dirt form. Where the road has been recently maintained, speeds of sixty or seventy miles an hour are possible. However corrugations soon appear which would speedily demolish all but the strongest of vehicles. There are several optional routes to the "tip" as it is known, we travelled mainly on the back roads most of which receive only summary maintenance.
The first road to be constructed here was the ruler straight Telegraph road. It's purpose was to service the telegraph line which linked Australia to the rest of the British Empire. Bypasses have been constructed round the more difficult parts of this track, needless to say, we didn't take them! The telegraph line is now redundant, although many of the poles remain. The insulators have been purloined as souvenirs, the crosstrees now decorate pubs and gardens.
Frequent creeks to be forded, (picture, 28K) some with intriguing names, such as:- Suicide creek, Cockatoo creek, Gunshot creek, Capsize creek, Attack creek etc. Most are perfectly easy to cross, a few are tougher. The toughest of all, the Jardine River now has a ferry. There has been several fatal crocodile attacks here in the recent past.
On the way it's possible to stay on well facilitated campsites. There are also numerous lodges and guesthouses. However at the Iron Range Park, whilst there are campsites, none have any facilities. We camped (picture, 41K) close to the site of the fabled "nuclear" explosion. Billy Tea had thought of everything down to lanterns, bush toilets and jungle showers. Our guide cum driver, one Tom Rosser, was also an expert bush cook, firewood was collected towards the end of every day and all cooking done on an open fire.
The sulphur crested cockatoo, Cacatua Galarita, we saw in all the National Parks usually in pairs or small groups. The red tailed black cockatoo, Calyptorhynchus Magnificus, , we saw mainly in the Lakefield National Park often in noisy groups of a dozen or more. Everywhere were rainbow lorikeets hurtling through the air like demented bullets.
The main target of our journey, the Palm Cockatoo, is to be found in the Iron Range Park and the Jardine River area to the North. This is an arboreal bird, they can be often heard, especially in the mornings but are very hard to spot in the tree canopy. For this reason it's best to look in areas where the canopy is less dense.
They have a distinctive call, a high piping TEE-OH-WEE. It's a very piercing sound which carries for some distance. (The magnificent rifle bird has a very similar call but at least an octave lower). One ploy to spot them is to drive about with the windows wound down, the call can be easily heard above the road noise. More cunning, we had a recording of this sound on CD. They are very territorial, if they hear it, they will immediately respond and come to investigate the "intruder". However they soon discover that there is something amiss and then they are off! In all we had seven sightings in three days, three of which were close. Our best sighting of all was to the North of the Park near the Jardine river when we got to within ten yards of one individual lured by the CD. Palm Cockatoo. (Picture, 39K).
Another great rarity in this area is the golden shouldered parrot Psephotus chrysopterygius. Headed for extinction, it's relative the paradise parrot has sadly already gone. We spent quite some time looking for them, to no avail. Our guide said he had frequently seen them. One of it's peculiarities is nesting in holes excavated in termite mounds. We did see them later in the zoos in Perth and Singapore. However the provision of termite mounds for them to nest in would seem to be beyond the bounds of practicality.
Also to be found in this area is the Eclectus. According to Forshaws "Parrots of the World" there are ten sub-species of Eclectus, the Australian variety being Eclectus Roratus Macgillivrayi. A very interesting feature of these parrots is the extreme sexual dimorphism (ie difference in colour between the sexes), the females being predominantly a very vibrant shade of red and the males being an equally bright green. A nesthole tree (picture, 27K) was known to our guide only a quarter of a mile off the road. This was a very large gum tree that seemed to be entirely hollow and had at least three nestholes. This tree was also host to thousands of starlings (and their biting parasites).
We could hear dozens of eclectus flitting about in the forest canopy with raucous calls. Once again they were extremely hard to spot, even the red females. It took an hours search with binoculars before we were able to pinpoint our first although they were only a few yards away. We subsequently saw more of them, it takes lots of practice, they blend in really well. Still, I was glad to know there were so many here even if I couldn't see them well or get close enough for photography.
We continued our journey to the very Northernmost tip of Australia and even got on the ferries to Thursday and Horn islands. It was a beautiful sea journey across the sparkling tropical sea. Papua New Guinea could be seen on the horizon, (now there's a place to see some parrots!) There's not much to see on the islands except a relic of imperial power, a fortress which still mounted some of the earliest breech loading guns made, (this against the Tsarist Russian Empire!) We returned to Cairns by a twin engined aircraft, flying low over the "Tip" of Australia for photographs, a pleasant and relaxing flight low enough to pick out the major land marks.
"Billy Tea Bush Safaris" (Website)
The cost of this safari was £846 (US$1300) per person for fourteen days including all food and the flight Horn Island /Cairns.
Cockatoos in Western Australia.
We continue our Australian Oddessy.
We had received a very kind invitation to stay on a ranch to the North of Perth from some complete strangers who had Carnabies Cockatoo nesting nearby. This is one of Australia's large black cockatoos, Calyptorhynchus funereus (There are three sub-species, this one sporting the interesting scientific name of Calyptorhynchus funereus latirostris.) This is another endangered species but for very interesting reasons.
The climate here is hot and semi arid, rainfall being about thirteen inches annually. The natural vegetation is open woodland with scrubby grassland between. However, this is now the wheatbelt of Australia, much of this has been removed.
I have been asked not to reveal the exact location of the ranch as egg and chick thieves have been working in the area. This cockatoo can also be seen in the Perth Zoo. Having a brother that lived in Perth helped to keep expenses down, (always a consideration with me!)
At the ranch which was very comfortable we duly saw several dozen of these large cockatoos. There were several nest holes for us to inspect some with eggs and chicks. An interesting feature was the call of these birds which I can best describe as being a high pitch mew very similar to a buzzard or herring gull, KEE-OO KEE-OO KEE-OO.
The first morning, we were awakened by the most incredible racket, but not Carnabies cockatoos. My wife was out of bed in the crack of a gun and outside! (Complete parrot nut!) In the dawn twighlight the trees about the farm were weighed down with many hundreds of Galahs (Picture, 39K). (Eolophus roseicapillus) and Corellas (Cacatua pastinator). As we walked among them they set off in large flocks (Picture, 39K). to forage the surrounding land. The artificially large populations of these cockatoos is sustained in part by the agricultural practices of the area and in part by the ready availability of nest holes. Many of the local eucalyptus trees are hollow due to the activities of termites, any branch which breaks off reveals an instant nest hole.
These birds are in such numbers that to farmers they are an agricultural pest, they are often shot and sometimes poisoned. The Australian government will not allow their export for pets, they are "protected" yet licences can be had for their extermination. However the damage they can do when present in such numbers is amazing. Virtually every tree we saw had dead branches due to bark stripping by the cockatoos, in some cases the entire tree had been killed.
Yet another factor is the desertification and salination of the land. There is a vast amount of groundwater, obviously accumulated rainfall. However as there is no outlet for it, the only escape is by evaporation, therefore it is salt water. In years gone by very little rain was added to the ground water reservoir, the natural vegetation absorbed rainfall. However when this vegetation was removed for the purpose of growing wheat, rainfall was then able to penetrate the ground so raising the groundwater level. When the salt water makes contact with any vegetation it dies, trees being first as they have the deepest roots. Low lying ground is worst affected where salt water springs may appear and also salt water lakes which evaporate leaving a dazzling white salt pan. These changes seem to be progressive and irreversible. Plans are being mooted to develop genetically engineered plants that are salt tolerant, whatever your views are on that subject!
The poor old trees have a tough time, attacked by the cockatoos from above and termites and salt water from below. Cattle and sheep, if present, also prevent regeneration by browsing any young trees.
So, back to Carnabies cockatoo. Every effort is being made to protect them, although their environment is at risk in the future. There are ample nest holes in the vicinity. Recent studies are leading to a growing belief that the main reason for their decline is constant harrassment by the far more numerous galahs and correllas and competition for nest holes. Although the Carnabies are by far largest of the three, their nests, chicks and eggs are subjected to attack particularly by the galahs.
Here then we have a serious imbalance in nature, as usual, caused by mans activities. The only solution would seem to be to reduce the numbers of the galahs by some humane means. The Australian goverment will not allow their export as pets. Your thoughts on the matter?
For more information on Carnabies cockatoo. (Website)
THE BLACK COCKATOOS
(Derived from Indonesian, Kakatua hiti, pronounced kaka-twa heet-eye)
Stopover in BALI and the Bali Bird Park.
THE BALI BIRD PARK
On our voyage to Australia this year we took opportunity for a stopover on the Indonesian island of Bali. At the moment a holiday on Bali is extraordinarily good value. Due to the Asian recession and Sept. 11, prices are at rock bottom. There is a notable dearth of tourists, 50% discounts can easily be negotiated for any item or service. The 9-11 event need not worry you, the inhabitants of Bali are mostly Hindu and therefore not concerned about the aerial bombardment of Moslems elsewhere. I would say there exists nowhere else a more cheerful and welcoming people.
We flew with the local airline, Garuda (King of the Eagles and mount of Vishnu). They were outstanding in every respect except timekeeping, at which they were abysmal.
If you are holidaying on the island of Bali, the bird park here should not be missed. I had also intended our Bali visit to enable research travel to the more interesting parts of Indonesia, however these parts are Moslem so this aspect is definitely on the back burner for the moment!
The bird park is twenty minutes by taxi from Denpasar, provincial capital. Until recently it was owned by a German family and was heavily involved in conservation work. Recently however it has fallen into local hands, it remains to be seen if the conservation aspect is still to be pursued. Like all things German, it has been meticulously planned and well run. As in all bird parks parrots figure prominently in the itinerary and there are some notable rarities including Palm Cockatoos (picture, 74K), at least ten of them, Eclectus Parrots (picture, 30K), around thirty of them, and many Macaws including Hyacinth and Red Fronted. There were some "trusties", including Pesquet's parrot hand tame, available for photography.
The two former were of special interest as we were travelling to Queensland, Australia to see them in the wild. However there are three sub-species of Palm Cockatoos and no less than ten of Eclectus, only one of each occurs in Australia. Some are easy to tell apart, some require expert knowledge.
There was also a wide range of other cockatoos, including Kakatua Elanorus which I hadn't seen before. Lories and lorikeets, including the rarely seen black lory were well represented.
The Balinese are big on smiling. Everwhere you go, you are greeted with a big beaming smile... Until one gets used to it, it's most disconcerting.
I have discovered in Bali the most dangerous threat to world capitalism since Karl Marx. Taxis congregate as usual outside the tourist hotels for business. I approached them on the first day prepared for the usual third world haggle. However the drivers have devised the most fiendishly cunning plan I have yet witnessed! When challenged as to the cost of a journey, a woebegone expression is adopted and the response is, "Oh give me what you like!" Whatever sum is proffered, it is received with the same beaming Balinese smile! There's no answer to this....I'm fairly sure I got ripped off....but I can't be sure.
BALI, THE DENPASAR BIRD MARKET
At the junction of Jalan Karlini and Jalan Nakula a far more reprehensible activity goes on. Here is Pasar Burung, the bird market. Here can be purchased anything from a fighting cockeral to a Goffin's cockatoo. There is also for sale a huge range of finches, tanagars and other birds I could not begin to identify. All were obviously wild caught, a dazzling array of colour and birdsong. Destined for an early and undeserved death, they are held in the most appalling conditions imaginable, crowded, filthy cages (picture 30K) in the hot tropical sun. I have seen many bird markets in third world, this is by far the biggest and the worst.
Who buys these wretched creatures I cannot imagine, their lives can only be measured in days such is the condition of most of them. I was told later that it is a religious custom to buy these birds in order to release them. Any such release would still result in their deaths, far from the environment they live in.
This apparently gains favour from the gods. If this is true, their gods should be damned if this gains favour for anyone.
I suppose however, in the not too distant past, such markets existed in the UK perpetrated by individuals to whom only profit counted.
Bali is an island almost wholly dependent on tourism for it's income. This may well be a means of putting pressure to close this filthy place down. I do not accept the excuse that this is their culture and hence "sacred". Hindus used to burn widows on their husbands funeral pyre (Suti) and strangle travellers in order to placate Kali (thugi). These practices were stopped by the colonial powers, so things can change.
Contact the Indonesian tourist office in your own country and complain.
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