Brampton Island June 2010

June 10, 2010 — June 15, 2010

The Wildmob trip to Brampton Island for June 2010 was a highly successful trip, with loads of great wildlife being seen, including amazing numbers of Blue Tiger butterflies, a Koala, and some pretty nice birds and butterflies.  The weather was a windy but sunny on most days, and some of the people on the trip had a great snorkel, seeing lots of reef fish, corals, and even some Green Sea Turtles!

On the conservation front, over thirty large bags of weeds were removed from the endangered Coastal Scrub habitat near the campsites, and several bags of rubbish were collected above the high tide mark to be removed on a subsequent trip.

In all the trip was a lot of fun, and all the participants were happy with what they achieved during the week.
 Day One: Setting up camp and reef walk

We arrived at Brampton mid-morning, and set up our campsite and tents fairly quickly.  After a brief lunch we headed out for our first experience on the Island - a reef walk!  For those who have never done one, reef walking isn't quite like it sounds - you aren't out there trampling coral.  Instead we were walking through sandy pools between coral outcrops on the intertidal reef.  We saw many, many different and interesting things in the afternoon.  Jacquie, our marine biologist for the trip, was great, pointing out everything and telling us what it was and why it was interesting.  We had sea cucumbers, soft and hard corals, sponges, sea anemones, fish, crabs and giant clams on our walk.  We even had an enormous blue starfish that looked too beautiful to be real!

At the end of the day we sat down for our dinner and were seranaded by the local Bush Stone-curlews as we ate.  For those unfamiliar with them, these large birds make a call that sounds like a cross between an angry ghost and a woman being murdered.  Despite this fearsome sound, they are beautiful birds and quite shy in most of the places they occur. Read more.
 Day Two: Weeding and Snorkelling
Day Two saw several of us up early to go birdwatching.  Our first morning on Brampton Island was always going to be exciting, as we didn't have much of an idea what to expect.  The rainforest and coastal scrub didn't disappoint either with great views of Wompoo Fruit-Dove, as well as some friendly Olive-backed Sunbirds putting in an appearance.  Some people also saw a Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, an Emerald Dove, and an out of season Pied Imperial Pigeon.  On our return to camp we had another surprise waiting for us - a group of 3 Wandering Tattlers on the beach taking shelter from the wind.  Since the DERM records for the island didn't have a confirmed ID for any Tattlers it was great to be able to nail down for sure that Wandering Tattlers visit Brampton.

We spent our morning weeding the Coastal Scrub - an activity that produced its own highlights.  We started seeing small skinks running through the vegetation, that later in the trip we confirmed were Robust Rainbow Skinks (Carlia schmeltzi), and we were constantly surrounded by butterflies like Common Grass-yellows, Caper Gulls, and Purple Crows.

Later that day our marine biologist Jacquie led a snorkelling trip for a couple of us willing to brave the cold.  It was extremely worthwhile, with lots of reef fish and coral to see, a Black-tip Reef Shark, and even a couple of Green Sea Turtles putting on an appearance.  In warmer months the snorkelling will be fantastic!

We finished the day in camp listening to the Bush Stone-curlews and Boobook Owls calling into the night. Read more.
 Day Three: Morning walk, Weeding, Hike to Western Point
Day Three of out trip saw us again out looking for birds in the morning, though not much more was added to the list.  We did get a look at a few birds we had only heard calling the day before, like Rufous Fantail and Spectacled Monarch, and it is always nice to get a visual confirmation of things you are identifying on call.

Today instead of weeding we mixed things up a bit by going for a walk along the western edge of the island looking for plastics and other rubbish that had washed up with the tide.  We found quite a lot, mostly from the cyclone a few months back, and made some big piles above the high tide mark to come back for later.  A lot of the plastics and other rubbish on Brampton comes from boats, and a lot of it is from south-east Asia, brought down all the way from Cape York in the strong currents going down the coast.

Our walk up the beach also produced a couple of interesting wildlife sightings.  We found a few skinks running among the rocks on the beach - an odd place to be seeing terrestrial reptiles at all!  We later discovered these were Sublittoral Shining Skinks (Cryptoblepharus litoralis), a new species for the island list.  We also saw a large flock of Pied Currawongs feeding on the exposed intertidal reef.  This is not common behaviour for Pied Currawongs, which are traditionally a rainforest bird that eats primarily fruit, but is also known to raid nests and eat eggs and baby birds.  We are looking into this further to see if anyone else has recorded Pied Currawongs feeding on marine creatures before, but it could easily be a new behaviour for the species.

The other interesting sighting for the walk was in the hoop pine forest at the western tip of the island, where Tim O'reilly and I climbed up into the forest and found something that the island is quietly famous for - a flock of thousands of Blue Tiger butterflies!  We found several of these flocks on different parts of the island during the week, and every time it was amazing to see, one of the real highlights of the trip.

The day ended with a night time spotlight to see sharks and stingrays on the rising tide.  Those of us who were brave enough to go into the water (not me, it was very cold!) were rewarded with some good looks at some stingrays and a shovelnosed shark.  We also found a few Ghost Crabs running around like mad on the beach. Read more.
 Day Four: Rest day, Koalas, Hike to Dams
Today was a rest day, though we did begin with a walk in the morning to look for birds.  We went different directions today, and the group I was with were extremely lucky.  We managed to find a very gregarious group of wet forest birds including a juvenile White-eared Monarch, one of the more exciting birds to be found on the island.  Along with the monarch we had Golden Whistlers, Leaden Flycatches, Spectacled Monarchs and Varied Trillers all showing off in the early morning sun. 

On top of this, on the return trip we found a Koala near the western dam, one of possibly only 15 on the Island.  The Koalas of Brampton and the nearby St Bees Island are currently being studied by people from the University of Queensland.  It seems that the Koalas on these two islands are actually introduced, as in they were put here by someone.  This was apparently an attempt to save the north QLD population from extinction a while back, as the mainland population crashed rapidly.  It turns out they did go extinct on the mainland, so putting a few on the islands was a great idea.  Not only did they save the genetic line for this group of koalas, but the animals on Brampton are some of the healthiest wild Koalas you can find anywhere.

Our Koala was tagged with two yellow ear tags, and when we reported the numbers on them to the researcher from UQ he told us it was a big male they had dubbed "Sean" on a previous trip.  Bill, our illustrious trip leader had been present at the time, so he was happy to see "Sean" still faring well in the wild.

Some of us took the morning to do a bit more weeding.  Even though it was a rest day it felt good to get some more done - one step closer to saving the Beach Scrub!  It was a good morning for it, as we saw more Robust Rainbow Skinks, plus a stunning Green Tree Snake sunning itself on a log in our weeding area.  I also managed to see some great butterflies - Black-spotted Flash, Purple Oak-blue and Large Purple Line-blue, all of which were new for me, though not new for the island.

The afternoon brought another hike, this time to the two dams on the western side of the island.  We revisited "Sean" so all of us could see him (it was only those on the bird walk that saw the koala in the morning).  The walk was steep in places, but we saw a lot of birds and butterflies to keep things interesting, and the eastern dam was quite pretty in the afternoon light.

Evening once again brought us the calls of various night birds competing with the increasingly strong wind for volume.
Read more.
 Day Five: Hike around the Island, Lookouts
Today was one of the best days on the island.  Today we got to hike around the whole island, and up to the lookouts at the top!  I took the morning off from bird surveys, though Tim still went and managed to add Brown Cuckoo-Dove to the list for the island.  We left around mid morning, heading east around the walking trails and then down onto some of the beaches.  It was amazing seeing these beautiful, sheltered tropical beaches, but at the same time it was very sad to see all the rubbish washed up on the beaches here.  Because these bays are difficult to get to, it's quite unusual for people to manage to get in there to clear rubbish.  On this particular trip we didn't clear rubbish from here, but on many of the Wild Mob Brampton trips they do.  Bill also told us how recently on this side of the island (the exact location is a secret) the local rangers discovered a population of endangered Coastal Sheathtail Bats.

A bit further along the island and we came across another huge pocket of Blue Tiger butterflies, with a whole bunch of Purple Crows and Bordered Rustics flying around with them.  Again, this is really one of the highlights of Brampton Island, it is hard to truly do justice with words or images to the spectacle of hundreds or even thousands of bright blue butterflies fluttering around your head and hanging from every available tree in the area.

We skirted the resort, keeping an eye out for the resident Kangaroos, which we couldn't find on this trip, and for any lizards that might be around.  Up the hill at the lookout the damage done by Cyclone Ilui because quite apparent.  Even two months on many of the trees haven't recovered, and the canopy is so thin its hard to imaging many of the shyer birds and animals being able to survive.  Still, the lower areas of the island are thriving, and this is hardly the first cyclone to pass through the area, so the resilience of the animals and habitats is clearly up to the task.

The view from the two lookouts at the top of the island is magical.  From the northern lookout you can see the Whitsunday Islands stretching into the distance, with Hamilton Island a distant shadow on the horizon.  From the western lookout you can see back to the mainland, but also down onto the bay where Wild Cat sits on the sand, and to our camp.  You can also see the full extent of the endangered Coastal Scrub habitat we are working to save from weeds - a great visual reminder of the goals of our trips to Brampton.

The clouds were closing in so we decided not to stay for sunset on this trip - on other trips when the weather is good we stay at the lookouts to watch the spectacular tropical sunsets from the best vantage point on the island.  On this particular day we headed back to the camp in daylight instead.  We finished the best day on the island with a celebration of what was to be our final night of the trip. Read more.
 Day Six: Packing up
Our final day on the island was marred by a rapidly worsening weather front coming through.  We had a morning bird walk which produced very little of interest before returning to camp to find out we were leaving before it became too rough to make the trip.

We quickly packed up the camp and managed to beat the rising tide onto the boat with all our gear.  It was a great effort, particularly on the part of the volunteers.  The trip back was pretty rough, but we had a great captain and were quite safe the whole way back.  It was a good thing we left when we did as the afternoon and following day were a lot rougher.

As a final farewell to Brampton Island on the trip back we had an honour guard of Crested Terns as we left, plus a raft of Brown Boobies greeting us at the far end of the trip as we returned to the marina at Mackay.

In all it was a fantastic adventure, with some great wildlife, hiking and snorkelling, good food and company, and a chance to do some real good for the conservation of an endangered habitat in a national park on Brampton Island. Read more.

Locations visited

Brampton Island Campsite

Wildlife

Mammals 1 species
Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) 1 Koala named "Shaun" by UQ researchers, as identified by numbers on the ear tags.
Marine Invertebrates 1 species
Blue Sea Star (Linckia laevigata) 1
Butterflies 25 species
Blue Tiger (Tirumala hamata) 6
Purple Crow (Euploea tulliolus) 6
Common Grass-blue (Zizina labradus) 6
Yellow Albatross (Appias paulina) 6
Meadow Argus (Junonia villida) 6
Common Evening-brown (Melanitis leda) 6
Common Grass-yellow, Large Grass-yellow (Eurema hecabe) 6
Varied Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina) 6
Dingy Bush-brown (Mycalesis perseus) 5
Large Citrus Butterfly, Orchard Butterfly, Orchard Swallowtail (Papilio aegeus) 5
Caper Gull (Cepora perimale) 4
Bordered Rustic (Cupha prosope) 4
Marsh Tiger (Danaus affinis) 3
Common Crow (Euploea core) 3
Northern Jezabel, Scarlet Jezebel (Delias argenthona) 2
Small Grass-yellow (Eurema smilax) 2
Purple Oak-blue (Arhopala centaurus) 2
Large Purple Line-blue (Nacaduba berenice) 2
Black-spotted Flash (Hypolycaena phorbas) 2
Small Dusky-blue (Candalides erinus) 1
Northern Ringlet, Orange-streaked Ringlet (Hypocysta irius) 1
Lemon Migrant (Catopsilia pomona) 1
Greasy Swallowtail (Cressida cressida) 1
White-banded Line-blue (Nacaduba kurava) 1
Bright Oak-blue (Arhopala madytus) 1
Seabirds 2 species
Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae) 22
Greater Crested Tern (Thalasseus bergii) 3
Land Birds 46 species
Pied Currawong (Strepera graculina) 155 Feeding on exposed intertidal reef, seen to be picking up food items.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) 72 Heard only; Heard only
Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) 44
Leaden Flycatcher (Myiagra rubecula) 36
Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus) 32 Heard only; Heard only; Heard only
Spectacled Monarch (Symposiachrus trivirgatus) 31 Heard only; A big group of Monarchs moving through the rainforest patch on the far side of the island, including several juveniles.
Torresian Crow (Corvus orru) 31
Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) 28
Orange-footed Scrubfowl (Megapodius reinwardt) 24 Heard only
Pacific Reef Heron (Egretta sacra) 23
Dusky Myzomela (Myzomela obscura) 18 Heard only
Eastern Osprey (Pandion cristatus) 17 Building a nest in a nearby Hoop Pine
White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) 14 A 2nd year immature bird plus 2 adults.
White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae) 11
Pied Oystercatcher (Haematopus longirostris) 11
Varied Triller (Lalage leucomela) 10 Heard only; Heard only
Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) 10
Spangled Drongo (Dicrurus bracteatus) 10 Heard only
Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum) 9 Heard only; Heard only; Heard only
Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena) 8
Bar-shouldered Dove (Geopelia humeralis) 6 Heard only
Sooty Oystercatcher (Haematopus fuliginosus) 6
Beach Stone-curlew (Esacus magnirostris) 6
Rufous Fantail (Rhipidura rufifrons) 6 Heard only; Heard only
Wompoo Fruit Dove (Ptilinopus magnificus) 5
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) 5 Heard only
Southern Boobook (Ninox boobook) 4 Heard only; Heard only; Heard only; Heard only
Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax) 4
Bush Stone-curlew (Burhinus grallarius) 4 Heard only
Australian Golden Whistler (Pachycephala pectoralis) 4
Tree Martin (Petrochelidon nigricans) 3
Noisy Pitta (Pitta versicolor) 3
Wandering Tattler (Tringa incana) 3 Non-breeding, identified by call
Collared Sparrowhawk (Accipiter cirrocephalus) 3 Heard only
Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) 2
Rose-crowned Fruit Dove (Ptilinopus regina) 2 Heard only
Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) 2
Common Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica) 2 Heard only
White-eared Monarch (Carterornis leucotis) 1 Juvenile bird
Slender-billed Cuckoo-Dove (Macropygia amboinensis) 1
Striated Heron (Butorides striata) 1
Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) 1 Heard only
Pheasant Coucal (Centropus phasianinus) 1 Heard only
Nankeen Kestrel (Falco cenchroides) 1
Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca) 1
Pied Imperial Pigeon (Ducula bicolor) 1 Observed by a non-birder, but description sufficient for ID
Dragonflies 6 species
Orthetrum sabina 5
Common Glider (Trapezostigma loewii) 4
Blue Skimmer (Orthetrum caledonicum) 2
Neurothemis stigmatizans 1
Orthetrum serapia 1
Wandering Percher (Diplacodes bipunctata) 1
Marine Reptiles 1 species
Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) 1
Terrestrial Reptiles 4 species
Common Tree Snake (Dendrelaphis punctulatus) 3
Supralittoral Shinning-skink (Cryptoblepharus litoralis) 3
Robust Rainbow-skink (Carlia schmeltzii) 1
Excitable Delma (Delma tincta) 1

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