Cape York Peninsula is a wildlife enthusiast’s dream. With many species of wildlife that are uniquely endemic to the area Cape York also has a range of species found in Arnhem Land, North East Queensland and Papua New Guinea. A dry belt extends across Cape York through the Laura basin and this geographical feature prevents rainforest species spreading north into Cape York while the rainforest prevents Cape York species from spreading south. This effectively creates a habitat for some unique and specialized species that are not found in the rest of Australia.
31 species of frog, 133 reptiles species, 321 bird species, and 72 mammal species have been recorded. The unique untamed and wild wilderness means that some species have only been discovered relatively recently. For example the Cape Melville frog was only discovered in 1997. Perhaps there are other undiscovered species still at large in Cape York?
Bird watchers will be in paradise as glimpses of the Golden Shouldered Parrot or White Streaked Honeyeater won’t be found anywhere else. Many species found in Cape York are also found in Papua New Guinea with the northern rainforests home to two Birds of Paradise – the Magnificent Riflebird and the Trumpet Manucode.
Wallabies, Kangaroos, Pademelons, Possums and Gliders can be found throughout Cape York. Sadly the Northern Quoll may now be considered extinct since the arrival of cane toads in 1994. Many of the mammal species present at the tip of Cape York are also found in Papua New Guinea. Striped Possums, Sugar Gliders and the Spotted Cuscus are memorable spottings should you be lucky enough to see them.
Cape York has many endemic bird species and hosts many migratory birds from New Guinea and as far afield as Russia.
There are birds throughout the Cape, with Rinyurru National Park providing a refuge for the wetlands species such as Magpie Geese, Brolgas and many other species of waders and forest birds. Twitchers visit Iron Range to see the Eclectus Parrot, Palm Cockatoo and Yellow Billed Kingfisher. The Tip has the Magnificent Riflebird and the Trumpet Manucode, found in the Lockerbie Scrub rainforest, and the iconic Palm Cockatoo. The Golden-shouldered Parrot and White-streaked Honeyeater, are endemic to the Cape. Cassowaries are seen in the Iron Range National Park and the Daintree rainforest.
The Cape York Bird Week, held in Bamaga in January, is timed to coincide with the arrival from PNG of the Red-bellied Pitta.
With a number of geographical regions merging in Cape York Peninsula there are incredible birdwatching opportunities for diverse species. Wet Tropics rainforest, dry woodlands, coastal wetlands, mangroves as well as the Great Barrier Reef and its islands all have an array of birds. The region is also where you can see migrant species from October to early December.
Start at Cooktown where you can cruise the Endeavour River to see black-necked storks and mangrove robins, listen to the yellow oriole and varied triller at the botanic gardens or discover barred cuckoo-shrike and peregrine falcons on the Mount Cook walking path. Head north to the Endeavour River Valley where you will find red goshawk in the riverine forest and bustards on the farms, and then Alkoomie Station for dry country species like the black-backed butcherbird.
Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park is known for its incredible array of waterbirds, while nearby Laura has dry country species such as the diamond dove and squatter pigeon.
Lakeland is where you will find sarus cranes and square-tailed kites before you observe honeyeater species at Annan River gorge.
On your return to Cooktown visit the bird hide at Keatings Lagoon which is home to Jacanas and Pygmy-geese.
Cape York is also an important nesting area for Marine Turtles, in particular Flatbacks, Horksbills, and Olive Ridleys. At the right time of the year, mature females can be seen nesting on the beaches of both East and West Coast. Unfortunately, these nest are heavily predated by Feral Pigs, and only a very few are reaching maturity at present. With such a long breeding cycle, time may be running out for them unless conservation efforts are able to reduce the predation of their nests by pigs, dogs, and people.