Birds and Frogs of The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area

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The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area boasts an astounding array of avian and amphibian biodiversity known for its high concentration of bird species and unique frog population. Here, one can encounter over 400 different bird species and 51 species of frogs, with an impressive number of these being endemic to the region.

Endemic Bird Species

Among the 400-plus bird species, 13 are endemic to the Wet Tropics, meaning they exist nowhere else in the world.

  1. Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius): The Southern Cassowary is a large and distinctive flightless bird, standing up to 2 meters tall and weighing as much as 58 kilograms. Its striking features include a vibrant blue face and neck, contrasted by a pair of brilliant red wattles. On top of its head, there is a prominent, horn-like casque, thought to protect the bird’s head as it moves through the dense rainforest. The Southern Cassowary plays a pivotal role in maintaining the biodiversity of the rainforest, acting as a keystone species. Due to its diet of fruits, it effectively disperses the seeds of many rainforest plants, contributing significantly to forest regeneration.
  2. Victoria’s Riflebird (Ptiloris victoriae): Victoria’s Riflebird, a member of the paradisaeidae family, is named after Queen Victoria and is an iconic resident of the Wet Tropics. The males of the species are renowned for their flamboyant mating dance, performed to impress prospective mates. During the performance, the male raises its wings, revealing a spectacular iridescent green-blue plumage, while swaying side to side and making a wide array of sounds. Females and juveniles are less brightly colored, with a brownish appearance.
  3. Tooth-billed Bowerbird (Scenopoeetes dentirostris): The Tooth-billed Bowerbird is often referred to as the “Stage-maker” due to its unique courting behavior. Unlike its bowerbird relatives who build complex structures, the male Tooth-billed Bowerbird clears a small patch on the forest floor, creating a stage-like display area. It then meticulously decorates this ‘stage’ with fallen leaves, showcasing the upper surfaces and arranging them with meticulous care, all in a bid to attract a mate.
  4. Golden Bowerbird (Amblyornis newtoniana): The Golden Bowerbird is the smallest species in the bowerbird family. Known for its architectural prowess, the male builds an intricate ‘maypole’ type bower that consists of two towers of sticks, as high as 3 meters, connected by a bridge. These structures are then adorned with various objects, particularly lichen, to attract females. Their striking golden-yellow plumage is a sight to behold, often contrasting beautifully with their mossy green surroundings.
  5. Bridled Honeyeater (Bolemoreus frenatus): The Bridled Honeyeater derives its name from the characteristic ‘bridle’ marking – a dark line that extends from its beak, through its eyes, and curves down to its neck. This medium-sized bird, featuring a grey body and a creamy white chest, is predominantly found in the Wet Tropics’ upland rainforests, where it feeds on nectar, insects, and fruits.
  6. Grey-headed Robin (Heteromyias cinereifrons): As suggested by its name, the Grey-headed Robin boasts a soft, smoky grey head and chest which gradually fades into white towards the belly. This small bird, known for its peaceful nature, thrives in the dense undergrowth of the Wet Tropics rainforests. It feeds on insects, spiders, and occasionally, small fruits.
  7. Pied Monarch (Arses kaupi): The Pied Monarch is a striking bird, boasting a predominantly black body sharply contrasted with a white belly, rump, and wing edges. Found in the lower and middle strata of the rainforests, it feeds on insects and spiders, often seen flitting from branch to branch in search of food.
  8. Lesser Sooty Owl (Tyto multipunctata): The Lesser Sooty Owl is a nocturnal bird of prey, recognized by its heart-shaped facial disc and large, black eyes. Its soft, dark plumage allows it to blend seamlessly into the night. The owl is well known for its haunting ‘bomb drop’ call, a sound that starts high and ends with an abrupt ‘whoomp’, often echoing through the rainforest at night.
  9. Mountain Thornbill (Acanthiza katherina): The Mountain Thornbill is a small songbird, featuring brown upperparts, cream underparts, and a distinct black cap. Thriving in the understorey of the Wet Tropics rainforests, it uses its sharp, pointed beak to probe for insects and spiders in the bark and leaves. Its song, a sequence of high-pitched, sweet notes, adds a melodic ambiance to its environment.
  10. Chowchilla (Orthonyx spaldingii): A ground-dwelling bird, the Chowchilla has a powerful, downward-curved bill, used to forage through leaf litter for insects and other invertebrates. It is distinguished by its striking sexual dimorphism: the larger female flaunts an elegant black-and-white plumage, while the smaller male is earthy brown. The deep, resonant call of the Chowchilla often reverberates through the rainforest, contributing to the region’s soundscape.
  11. Bower’s Shrike-thrush (Colluricincla boweri): Named after the naturalist Henry Bower, Bower’s Shrike-thrush is a robust bird with a melodious song. Sporting a grey body, rufous underparts, and a black mask, it is a common inhabitant of the Wet Tropics’ upland rainforests. It feeds on insects, spiders, and occasionally small fruits.
  12. White-browed Robin (Poecilodryas superciliosa): The White-browed Robin is a petite bird that features a striking white brow above its eyes, adding contrast to its otherwise grey-brown plumage. Preferring the dense vegetation of lowland and hill rainforests, it feeds primarily on insects and other small invertebrates.
  13. Fernwren (Oreoscopus gutturalis): The Fernwren is a tiny bird that resides in the high-altitude rainforests of the Wet Tropics. Sporting a brown body and cream-colored underparts, it is best known for its distinctive ‘ticking’ calls. It spends most of its time foraging among the ferns and leaf litter, hunting for insects and spiders. Its elusive nature makes it a prized sighting for birdwatchers.

Endemic Frog Species

The Wet Tropics also teem with an equally impressive array of amphibians, including 51 species of frogs, some of which are endemic to this region. Here are six notable examples:

  1. Australian Lace-lid (Litoria dayi): The Australian Lace-lid is a medium-sized tree frog, reaching sizes of up to 5 centimeters in length. The most remarkable feature of this frog is its uniquely lacy eyelid. When the frog closes its eyes, these eyelids create a beautiful, patterned camouflage that blends seamlessly with the surrounding foliage, helping it evade predators. This adaptation makes the frog virtually indistinguishable from a leaf. It is predominantly green and typically found in rainforests, wet sclerophyll forests, and streamside vegetation.
  2. Common Mistfrog (Litoria rheocola): In an ironic twist, the Common Mistfrog is far from common. Listed as critically endangered, it is one of the many frog species threatened by habitat loss and disease. This small species, with males reaching only about 3.5 cm in length, lives alongside streams in the wet tropical rainforests of northeastern Australia. It is most active at night, feeding on small insects and other invertebrates. Its coloration ranges from pale to dark brown, with lighter underparts.
  3. Armoured Mistfrog (Litoria lorica): The Armoured Mistfrog, so named for the hard bony plates under its skin, was believed to be extinct until its rediscovery in 2008. This small frog, reaching lengths of just 2.5 centimeters, prefers fast-flowing streams in the Wet Tropics rainforests. The bony plates, unlike those found in any other Australian frog, may have evolved to provide protection against predators.
  4. Waterfall Frog (Litoria nannotis): As its name implies, the Waterfall Frog has an affinity for water and is often found in and around waterfalls, cascades, and fast-flowing streams in the Wet Tropics region. It is a robust frog, with females reaching lengths of up to 8 centimeters. It exhibits a range of colors from green to brown, often featuring mottled patterns that provide excellent camouflage against rocky streambeds.
  1. Green-eyed Tree Frog (Litoria serrata): The Green-eyed Tree Frog is an exquisite species, recognized by its vibrant green coloration and striking golden eyes. Its back and sides are a brilliant emerald green, providing excellent camouflage in its rainforest habitat. This medium-sized frog, often found perched on broad leaves in the canopy or understory, is nocturnal and emerges at night to feed on a variety of insects.
  2. Mountain-top Tree Frog (Litoria andiirrmalin): The Mountain-top Tree Frog is a beautiful and distinctive species known for its striking marbled appearance. Its dorsal surface features a mix of green and brown patches on a cream background, reminiscent of a topographic map. This frog is a high-altitude specialist, typically found in the cool, mist-shrouded rainforests above 800 meters. Its call, a series of soft, musical whistles, is a characteristic sound in these remote montane environments.

The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area offers an unmatched opportunity to observe and appreciate the unique beauty and ecological significance of these creatures in their natural habitat, reinforcing its importance as a vital conservation area. This remarkable sanctuary for endemic species is a testament to Australia’s rich biodiversity and its commitment to conservation.

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