Wild Watch Australia

Warrigal Highland Rainforest Preserve

Warrigal Highland Rainforest Preserve  

Misty Mountains, Ravenshoe.

Warrigal Highland
The “Owl Tree” named after Rufous Owls that have nested there many times since 1998.
Blue-faced Parrot-finch -Warrigal Highland
Blue-faced Parrot-finch

In January of 1992 an area of significant climax highland rainforest was purchased in the Misty Mountains, near Ravenshoe, 100 kilometres south-west of Cairns. An additional property, which had been heavily logged some twenty years previously, but still had a number of quite different and interesting and relatively intact habitats, including tall, wet sclerophyll woodland, highland rainforest, turkey bush scrub and some grassland, was purchased nearby in September of 2004. Together they became Warrigal Highland Rainforest Preserve, owned and managed by Wild Watch Australia.

In subsequent years a network of walking trails were carefully created, using existing but overgrown ‘snig’ (logging) tracks, to allow access into the various habitats and to the many interesting and impressive natural features that can be found on the property such as the giant Red Eungella Satin Ash, Yellow Walnut, Rose Gums, the ‘Rufous Owl’ nesting trees and deep fern-lined gullies and ravines. Additional, discreet paths were also made to a number of Golden, Satin and Tooth-billed Bowerbirds bowers and courts and to Brush-turkey and Orange-footed Scrubfowl (Megapodes) nesting mounds.

Rufous Owl with Brushtail Possum

Situated at over 1,000 metres elevation the preserve is contiguous with the World Heritage listed Tully Falls National Park and a State Forest fauna sanctuary within the largest single tract of rainforest remaining in Australia.

Covering an area of almost 300 acres, the preserve comprises of three main habitat types i.e. climax higland rainforest of types 5a, 8 and 9, wet sclerophyll forest and acacia regrowth. There are also areas of turkey bush scrub, grassland, two dams, several creeks and some rocky outcrops on the property.

Strategically situated between the rainforest-clad Misty Mountains, wet sclerophyll forests and dry savannah woodlands, the preserve and surrounding area are especially rich in wildlife. With such a diversity of habitats the region is home to many rare, unique and primitive plant and animal species, many of which are endemic to the north Queensland region.

Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo

The list of species
recorded at Warrigal Highland Rainforest Preserve is impressive and includes 242 species of birds, Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo, 12 species of possums including the rare pale morph of the Lemuroid Ringtail Possum and the Long-tailed Pygmy-possum, 8 species of kangaroos, Platypus, Echidna, Long-nosed and Northern Brown Bandicoots, many native rodents including the web-footed Water Rat (Hydromys chrysogaster), Giant White-tailed Rat (Uromys caudimaculatus) Prehensile-tailed Rat (Pogonomys mollipilosus) as well as three species of Antechinus, a small, shrew-like, predatory, carnivorous marsupial  and many other species

Spotted-tailed Quolls were recorded in the early to mid-nineties but have not been seen in recent years. Fruit bats and insectivorous bats are also well represented in the preserve. In some years a colony of nomadic Little Red Flying-foxes (fruit bats) with a few Spectacled Flying–foxes have used a patch of rainforest over a creek as a temporary roost or ‘camp’ site.

Firewheel Tree (Stenocarpus sinuatus)

In 2005 over 100,000 fruit bats arrived in August and stayed for 3 months before disappearing back into the interior….! Tube-nosed Bats appear in numbers when the Lemon Aspens and Guavas are fruiting. The black and tan rainforest form of Dingo is common and is sometimes seen hunting wallabies or patrolling the walking tracks within the preserve. Their wolf-like howls can often be heard at night. The golden form of Dingo is far less common but is also seen very occassionally. All 13 species of birds endemic to the north Queensland region have been recorded at Warrigal Highland Rainforest Preserve and most are resident although there is sometimes an altitudenal migration to lower and warmer elevations during the cooler/colder winter months

In addition to animals, plants are also well represented at Warrigal. They include eleven of the worlds nineteen primitive flowering plant families and many epiphytic ferns, lianas, orchids and some rare trees.

Spectacled Flying Fox

The climax Highland Rainforest and Wet Sclerophyll Forest at Warrigal are now officially protected and classified as ‘essential and significant’ wildlife habitat on the Government’s Vegetation Management Plan. The tall Wet Sclerophyll forest in particular, is habitat for the endangered northern subspecies of the Yellow-bellied Glider, known as the Fluffy Glider, as well as Squirrel Gliders, Sugar Gliders, Feathertail Gliders, the northern sub-species of the Greater Glider, Common Ringtail Possum and the Common Brushtail Possum. It is also habitat for many species of birds. These include Eastern Shrike-tit, ‘Herberton’, White-cheeked, White-naped, Black-chinned and Golden-backed Honeyeaters, Varied Sitella, Grey Shrike-thrush, Eastern Yellow Robin, Buff-rumped Thornbills, Rufous, Masked and Lesser Sooty Owls, Painted and Red-backed Button-quail, Bush Hen, Little Lorrikeet and Common Bronzewing.

In addition Little Eagle, Square-tailed Kite, Grey Goshawk and Pacific Baza have all nested in the wet sclerophyll forest on the preserve and Red Goshawks have nested in the nearby Savannah Woodland a few kilometres distant.

Rose Gums (Eucalyptus grandis), Red Mahogany, (Eucalyptus resinifera), Turpentine (Syncarpia glomulifera), tree banksias, cypress and casuarina species predominate in the wet sclerophyll (eucalypt) forest at Warrigal

Masked Owl at Warrigal

Since 1993 over 17,000 native trees have been planted at Warrigal Highland Rainforest Preserve to restore rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest to areas that had been cleared by previous landholders, and to provide additional habitat for wildlife, especially Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo and a number of rare rainforest possums.

The restoration project has also greatly helped surpress invasive, non-native weed growth. Many of the trees planted have achieved impressive growth rates and have reached a lofty 20-30 metres in height. Many have already produced flowers and fruit and there is now much evidence of natural recruitment of rainforest species on the forest floor, as a result of seed dispersal by birds and fruit-bats attracted to the flowering and fruiting trees. The understorey in most of the rainforest plantings is now covered with many centimetres of leaf-litter and other natural debris and is now used as foraging areas by many species of birds including Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Brush Turkeys, Chowchillas, Eastern Whipbirds, Bassian Thrush, Fernwren, Yellow-throated and White-browed Scrubwrens and many other ground-dwelling species. Active nests of a number of species have also been found in the rehabilitated areas, including Grey Fantail, Superb Fruit-dove, Brown Cuckoo-dove, Wompoo Fruit-dove, Topknot Pigeon, Pied Currawong, Brown Goshawk, Pacific Baza, Mountain Thornbill, Tooth-billed Bowerbird, Eastern Whipbird, Lewin’s Honeyeater and Eastern Spinebill. Satin Bowerbirds regularly build their bowers amongst the young trees.

A Golden Bowerbirds bower at Warrigal; one of many on the Preserve.

The extensive area of climax highland rainforest at Warrigal, at over a 1,000 metres elevation is home to a number of very interesting birds including the spectacular, saffron plumaged Golden Bowerbird. Their bowers are large and usually comprise of a ‘double maypole’ or ‘twin towers’ up to two metres in height and made of sticks with a horizontal display perch joining the two towers. Bowerbirds constuct their bowers of carefully selected sticks and then decorate them with brightly coloured objects, either natural or man-made, to attract mates.

Golden Bowerbird at above bower at Warrigal

The Tooth-billed Bowerbird contructs a ‘stage or court’ and decorates it with green leaves of roughly the same size, and always with their undersides upwards…! Golden Bowerbirds decorate their bowers with copius amounts of yellow-green lichen, and the flowers of Melicope sp. and King Orchids when available. Birds traditionally use the same bowers for decades if the surrounding forest and canopy remain undisturbed. One bower at Warrigal is known to have been used by a number of different Golden Bowerbirds since at least the early 1980’s. Another ‘Jewel of the Rainforest’ is the Victoria’s Riflebird, a ‘Bird of Paradise’, noted for its elaborate, ‘bull- horned’ raised wings, courtship display.

Like the bowerbirds, male riflebirds do not mature or attain their full, iridescent adult plumage until at least 6-7 years of age; a long time for such relatively small birds…! Pictured is a male Satin Bowerbird called “Jagger”, ‘strutting his stuff’ at his bower at Warrigal Highland Rainforest Preserve. Jagger is at least 12-14 years old and has built his bower of carefully chosen sticks and then decorated it with his favourite blue ‘trophies’, comprising of mostly discarded, man-made junk, in roughly the same spot for the past 6-7 years. He has become quite a celebrity and has now been filmed by cinematographers and photographers from six different countries including France, Brazil, Korea, Japan, Italy and the UK. Some film crews have even returned for a second time…..!!

Male Satin Bowerbird “Jagger” at his bower at Warrigal.

Other species of interest are the two species of Megapodes, the Brush Turkeys and Orange-footed Scrubfowl, both of which construct huge nesting mounds (compost heaps) of sand, soil and leaf litter and then bury their eggs more than a metre inside the mounds and let heat and humidity from the decomposing material incubate their eggs. Some nesting mounds measure up to 8 metres across and 3 metres in height…! In addition we have populations of two of the world’s largest and flighless birds, the Cassowary and Emu in the region. Both species have been observerd on the preserve on a number of occassions, and at least once, both together….! Some individual Cassowaries have been known to weigh up to 190 lbs…!

Green Ringtail Possum

Mammals are also well represented and numerous at Warrigal Highland Rainforest Preserve. They are mostly nocturnal and are best observed while ‘spotlighting’. Some species are now frequently using the newly restored areas for nocturnal foraging, returning to the safety of their denning sites in tree hollows in the nearby climax rainforest, in the daytime. Species most frequently encountered include Coppery Brushtail Possum, Herbert River Ringtail Possum, Green Ringtail Possum, Long-tailed Pygmy-possum, Sugar Glider and Striped Possum.

Long-tailed Pygmy-possum

Lemuroid Possums prefer the climax rainforest and a high canopy and rarely venture into the new plantings although they have been observed some distance into the replanted areas on a number of occassions in recent years. The young trees in the restoration areas are as yet, not old enough to produce hollows and cavities which usually occur as a result of a limb or branch breaking off and rot and decay setting in and creating holes and hollows. These hollows are then used as diurnal dening sites by possums and nesting sites for parrots and other bird species. Green Ringtail Possums can frequently be found sleeping on open branches, in the daytime in the rehabilitated areas.

Male Southern Cassowary guarding hidden chicks at Warrigal

Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroos are common on the preserve and can occassionally be seen in the newly established plantings, mostly at night while spotlighting. They do however, prefer the larger and sronger branches in the climax rainforest which are better able to support their large size and weight. The very best time to see tree-kangaroos in the daytime are the cooler winter months. The animals climb to the tops of trees to warm themselves in the early morning sun after a cold and frosty night….!

Spotted Tree Monitor (Varanus scalaris)

Reptiles and amphibians are common throughout the preserve in all habitats and are most often seen in the warmer months. Eastern Water Dragons, Eastern Water Skinks and Saw-shelled Terrapins (turtles) can be found around the water courses and lagoons, sunning themselves on fallen logs and lily pads, in the spring and summer months. Frogs are numerous but only really advertise their presence in the monsoon season and then mainly at night. 
Species commonly found at Warrigal Preserve include Common Green Treefrog, Green-eyed Treefrog, Orange-thighed Treefrog, Graceful Treefrog, Eastern Dwarf Treefrog, Northern Dwarf Treefrog, Striped Rocket Frog, Tawny Rocket Frog, Australian Lace-lid, Northern Barred Frog, Striped Marsh Frog and many Microhylids. Most are seen at night while spotlighting.
Reptile species most often seen include Carpet Python, Amethystine Python, Spotted Python, Red-bellied Black Snake, Rough-scaled Snake, Keelback, Small-eyed Snake, Greater Black Whipsnake, Yellow-faced Whipsnake, Common Tree Snake, Nothern Leaf-tailed Gecko, Chameleon Gecko, Pink-tonqued Lizard, Lace Monitor, Spotted Tree-monitor, Prickly Forest Skink, Majors Skink, Nobbi Dragon and many other species.

Carpet Python

1999 our first Boyd’s Forest Dragon, an uncommon species at this elevation, ventured out of the nearby climax rainforest and established a territory in the newly established rainforest. These Agamid lizards are now most often seen in the warmer months but are vulnerable to predation by Grey Goshawks and Pied Currawongs. More recently Northern Leaf-tailed Geckos have also started to appear in the rehabilitated areas.

Boyd’s Forest Dragon

Other habitats at Warrigal Preserve include two small lagoons, fed by creeks and springs that have their source in the rainforest or in the adjoining National Park and State Forest. These lagoons and creeks are habitat for a resident population of Platypus. These are best observed either in the early morning or evening.
The lagoons and water courses also attract many birds at certain times of the year. Some stay to breed while others move on after a short stay. Nests or evidence of breeding has occurred with the following species: Azure and Little Kingfishers, Australasian Grebe, Wandering Whistling Duck, Pacific Black Duck, Dusky Moorhen, Purple Swamp Hen and Bush Hen. In recent years a number of Black Bitterns have also appeared and some have been observed carrying sticks but no nest has ever been found or any evidence of successful breeding observed.

Victoria’s Riflebird

A small patch of grassland of around 15 acres in extent provides habitat for Golden-headed Cisticola, Tawny Grassbird, Buff-banded Land Rail, King and Brown Quail, Pheasant Coucal and the occassional Australian Bustard and Emu. Maned Ducks and Bush Thick-knees are sometimes seen on the shorter, regularly mowed grass.

Pied Monarch
Pied Monarch

A number of kangaroo species have also been recorded from this area and include Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Common Wallaroo, Whiptail Wallaby, Agile Wallaby, Northern Swamp Wallaby, Red-legged Pademelon and Rufous Bettong. Echidnas are present on the preserve and can turn up anywhere and at any time.

Large-tailed Nightjar - Warrigal Highland
Large-tailed Nightjar

Exposed, weathered granite outcrops can also be found in some areas within the preserve and these scatterings of rocks are often used by White-throated and Large-tailed Nightjars as daytime roosting sites. Red-backed and Painted Button-Quail also use these outcrops as ‘drying out’ areas after prolonged and heavy rain.

Orange-thighed Tree-frog - Warrigal Highland
Orange-thighed Tree-frog

To maximize the opportunity of seeing wildlife, timing, temperature and lighting situation are critical. Platypus are crepuscular and nocturnal and the very best time to observe them is very early morning around 06:00-07:00am before the sun reaches the water and before there are too many people moving around! They are not too difficult to see and are relatively common and easy to find, providing certain procedures are observed.

 Possums and tree-kangaroos are mostly nocturnal. Tree kangaroos can also be found in some locations sleeping in favourite trees during the morning, warming themselves after a cool/cold night. They disappear in to vine thickets as the day warms up and are then impossible to find. Kangaroos are best observed either early morning or late afternoon or early evening.

Platypus pair courting - Warrigal Highland
Platypus pair courting
Pacific Baza - Warrigal Highland
Pacific Baza

The main populations of arboreal mammals occur above 900 metres elevation in the climax highland rainforests and wet sclerophyll forests of the Ravenshoe/Misty Mountains and Southern Tablelands/Cairns Highlands regions, south-west of Cairns. These areas have the greatest diversity of habitats, landforms and elevations in Australia.

Warrigal Highland Rainforest Preserve has been used as a research site by scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (C.S.I.R.O.), division of Sustainable Ecosystems/Rainforest Ecology and from James Cook University in Cairns, to study rare arboreal mammal populations. The preserve is now recognized as having one of the largest concentrations of rare rainforest ringtail possums in Australia. The Ravenshoe/Misty Mountains region offers the naturalist an unparalleled opportunity to explore the most biologically diverse region in Australia.

SatinBowerbird - Warrigal Highland