Aussie Backroad Thrill

This was a backroad adventure that topped all, one afternoon in Queensland Australia.

Photographers, wildlife observers and adventurers, we seek out the backroads, carving time out of our schedules to slow down, look around, and embrace whatever comes our way.

We had been in the area of North Queensland for two weeks and had managed to keep our rental car on the “wrong” side of the road with success. Three days in the field with an expert bird guide had acquainted us with billabongs and kangaroos and all kinds of Aussie oddities.

After our time with the guide ended, Athena and I hit the backroads all on our own. We were in the Wet Tropics of Queensland, a unique and rugged tropical rainforest, about 30 miles inland from coastal Cairns.

Tropical rainforests are generally rainy and dark and dank, and this was no exception.

It was humid and we had the car windows open, driving slowly and listening to the birds that dominated the surrounding forest. Narrow lanes branched off the road in this dense thicket leading to occasional modest houses barely visible through the vines and trees.

Spotted Catbirds called incessantly–a green-backed bird who sounds like a city alley cat that’s just had its tail stepped on.

Here’s what they sound like: Spotted catbird sound.

Doves monotonously cooed, while cockatoos and parrots squawked and ate flowers, perched on vines.

All around us the forest canopy dripped with moisture and shrieked with cackles and cries.

By now we were familiar with the brush turkeys who roamed the trails, and whipbirds with piercing calls that sound like cracking whips.

Eucalyptus and giant strangler fig trees were by now familiar, too.

We were adept at spotting many strange creatures, but what we found that day on the Kuranda Forest backroad was beyond our wildest dreams.

Fortunately we were inside the car when it happened…

when the human-sized bird, the Southern Cassowary, silently emerged from the forest.

A heavy flightless bird with a long colorful neck and ostrich-like body was walking down the road toward us.

This was an adult male and it didn’t take long to see he had three chicks in tow.

Casuarius casuarius are extremely rare to find in Australia. Endangered.

We had already had a thrilling but terrifying experience with a cassowary deep in a different rainforest, days earlier. They are one of our planet’s fiercest birds. They have lethal claws on their feet and can quickly, if threatened, kick a human to death.

But this time we were in a safer position, in the car.

We knew not to stir; not to get out of the car or make any sudden movements, as it would scare off the cassowaries.

He knew we were there, but quickly assessed we were no threat.

He walked down the muddy road slowly, leading his three progeny, stopping occasionally to search for food.

Although they were chicks, they were not small. One day, if they are lucky to survive, they will grow up to be as tall as a human. But for now they were new to this planet, and still about knee-high.

We quietly whispered our triumphal exclamations and barely moved, eager to keep the cassowaries in our presence for as long as possible. The whole encounter lasted about ten blissful minutes.

We were lucky no other car, dog, or human came along to scare them away.

It was just a quiet time alone with a family of four cassowaries.

Eventually they slowly sauntered back into the forest, vanished into the mass of trees and vines.

Wherever and whenever I can, I take the backroads. You never know what you might find.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Casuarius distribution map.png
Range map. Southern Cassowary range in orange

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72 thoughts on “Aussie Backroad Thrill

  1. I’ve heard of the Cassowary, but for years I thought it was an imaginary bird: perhaps something like the flamingos in Alice in Wonderland. What an encounter! The male’s colors are extraordinary, and those chicks are cute. Their camouflage reminds me of a bittern. You’re certainly right about the pleasures of the back roads — and how lucky you were that the birds weren’t disturbed by other creatures or passing humans.

    • I am delighted to have had the fun experience of the cassowaries to share with you, Linda. Although they are not imaginary, it is definitely a surreal experience to be around a bird so big and rare. Glad you enjoyed it here today. Thank you, Linda, always a joy to hear from you.

    • It is a wonderful honor to share the flying foxes, parrots, cockatoos and cassowaries of Australia with you, Diana. One of my favorite things about Australia are the numerous kinds of parrots and their abundance. Thanks very much.

  2. Very exciting, indeed! And I loved hearing the catbird sounds. I also found a recording of the whipbird. So interesting! Thank you for taking us on this backroad journey with you!

    • I’m so glad you listened to the catbird recording, Nan, and that you found a whipbird recording, too. They are both really fun bird sounds to hear…exotic. Thanks so much for joining us on the Aussie backroads today. Dear Nan, always a pleasure when you stop by.

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the descriptions of the surroundings on the Aussie backroad, Belinda. It’s such a different way of life there that descriptions and photos helped to get the reader situated. My warmest thanks for your visit today.

  3. There was a man killed by his “pet” Cassowary a few years ago. These people who take wild animals out of the wild for their entertainment (ie: large cats) do not respect Nature.
    Looked like a great adventure Jet!

    • I’m with you, Wayne, wild animals should remain wild. And I’m glad I could share the wild cassowaries with you today, happy you stopped by and enjoyed it. Thank you.

    • I really like that photo of the emerald dove, too, Deborah. The doves in the rainforests in Australia are super, there are so very many species, and each one so special. But yes, the cassowaries were a truly remarkable experience; it was fun sharing the experience in today’s post. I’m glad you stopped by, thank you.

    • Athena and I learned early on in our wildlife observations that the more you are out in the field, the more you will see. So when we go on these trips, we are out in the field from dark to dark, and it’s really so special when we have a rare bird encounter like that one. It was fun to share it with you here today, Eliza. Thank you.

  4. What luck you had to see that cassowary and the chicks. I wonder where the mother was. I’ve heard of cassowaries before (even before your other post where you saw them), but I didn’t know about the emerald dove or catbird. Wonderful post. And I agree with you about taking the backroads.

    • We were so thrilled that the cassowaries came by that afternoon, Anneli. And I’m glad you remembered the other post I wrote about the other cassowary adventure, which was a lot more intimidating since we were on foot. In the cassowary species, the female does not care for the eggs or the chicks. Thanks so much for stopping by, and three cheers for backroads.

  5. An awesome post. Lucky you, seeing an endangered species!
    Julie
    P.S. I’ll never complain about the incessant chatter of my gray catbirds again! Mild, compared to what you heard! πŸ˜‰

    • Yes, those Australian catbird calls are crazy loud and a little alarming if you don’t know what it is. lol. I’m happy you stopped by, Julie, and enjoyed the cassowary encounter. Thank you.

  6. All the animals in Australia are so peculiar. And, most unique. You have depicted some of the them and the list is long. As always, your post is super interesting. Thanks, my friend. πŸ™‚

    • Yes, you are right, H.J., the list of unique wild animals is long in Australia. But it was great fun sharing with you an afternoon on the backroads with the cassowary. Thanks very much for your kind and warm words. G’day, matey.

  7. I enjoyed the build up to this one, and the description and photos of an amazing rainforest. That was already pretty thrilling, and I can hardly imagine the excitement of your cassowary encounter – wonderful! Seeing the little (big) chicks is almost too much! Thanks, Jet, really got a (safe) kick from these cassowaries!

    • Oh so fun to read your words today, pc. Your reference to the build-up is much appreciated, as I worked on that and am glad to know it was appreciatively received. It was one of the biggest and most thrilling wildlife surprises I have ever had, and great fun to relay to you and my blogging buddies. My warmest thanks and best wishes to you on your snowy adventure.

  8. You nailed it! “Sounds like a city alley cat that’s just had its tail stepped on.”
    ​And then… I am SO in awe of you two actually spotting flying foxes!!! I’ve just been reading about them in Merlin Tuttle’s great book: “The Secret Lives of Bats”. Color me green with envy. And then to see Cassowary chicks… you are blessed with the luck of the nature lover. I couldn’t agree more about taking the backroads… the freeways and highways are just too darned busy with people in a hurry to get somewhere other than where they are. πŸ˜‰β€‹

    • Ah so lovely to hear of your Merlin Tuttle reading, Gunta. A remarkable man who has improved our planet with his bat-loving presence. His website is very cool, too. We fell in love with flying foxes, Gunta, and saw hundreds and hundreds of them, different species too. The first time I saw them I was floating on my back in a swimming pool in Sydney at our high-rise hotel. It was dusk and I saw a dark cloud of flying creatures cruise over the hotel; and from then on I can never get enough of them. And I’m glad you enjoyed the astounding cassowary backroad adventure, it was quite a privilege and great fun to share. My warmest smiles to you, dear Gunta.

  9. What a fabulous post. Australia a country filed with amazing wildlife. I remember the Cassowary in your novel…and how much it scared me then….I can only imagine wha tit would be like to come across one in real life. Thank you Jet…..May you enjoy a lovely weekend. πŸ™‚

    • It is a great joy to this writer that you remember the cassowary in Wicked Walkabout, Janet. And wonderful to have you stop by and enjoy the cassowary backroad adventure here, too. I was thinking of you this weekend as I just finished reading “Tono-Bungay” by H.G. Wells. A delightful novel published in 1909 and steeped in London and British references. A joy to share the planet with you, Janet, thank you for your visit.

  10. Can it be any more exciting than this, Jet. Obviously, Australia is one of the best places for observing
    various species of wildlife including the incredible Cassowary! What an unusual and amazing bird.
    I certainly will give it space and keep my distance! Beautiful color, wonderful to see with chicks.
    Great post, fabulous photos of all the wildlife.

    • I am smiling from ear to ear, Eddie. Your comment was great fun. It was definitely one of the most thrilling wildlife encounters ever, and so unexpected and so perfect. Truly an honor to share it with you, dear friend. Thanks so much for starting my Saturday morning with a big smile and warm heart. Cheers to you dearest Eddie.

    • Truly a joy to hear you remember the other cassowary encounter I wrote about, Andrea. Thank you. The other one had a nest full of eggs hidden somewhere that we were apparently walking near, and fortunately this cassowary encounter was with chicks visibly by his side and we were safely inside the car. Fun stories to share, thanks so much for your warm words.

  11. Wow Jet! I was already completely mesmerized by the flying foxes and was focusing in on the photo thinking how much I would love to run across a group of bats like this and THEN to see the cassowary with his babies!! Just absolutely amazing. Your writing was excellent here as I had the sense you were saving the best for last. Excellent post Jet, I really enjoyed it and the beautiful photos as always.

    • Dear Sylvia, I enjoyed your recount of reading the Aussie cassowary post so very much. I have a big smile on my face. I am delighted you stopped by and enjoyed the writing and photos. My warmest thanks.

  12. What an absolutely stunning bird that cassowary is. Never seeing one before and I would have probably stupidly gotten out of the car to get a shot – probably even more aggressive with the offspring in tow. Thanks for sharing a truly unique experience.

    • Yes, getting out of the car and setting up with the better camera was foremost on our minds too, Brian. But fortunately we knew better and stayed still and quiet, and then the cassowary family stuck around longer. I’m glad you enjoyed the adventure here, Brian, thanks for your visit and lovely words.

  13. This gives a whole new meaning to taking the path less traveled πŸ™‚ The colors of this Southern Cassowary are so bright! I can’t imagine what it’d be like to see such an enormous bird up close and personal. And you didn’t mention it, but the copper “hat” or “crown” it has on its head is definitely … striking?

    • I am happy you enjoyed the cassowary encounter on the Australian back road, Endless Weekend. Such an incredible and unique bird, and great fun to the adventure. Thank you so much for your visit and comment.

  14. Oh, how delightful to share your Southern Cassowary adventure with us! What a beautiful bird. You introduced me to a new type of bird completely here. I am going to look them up and learn more about them. Also, thank you for the recording of the Spotted Catbird call. You nailed it! It does sound like a cat’s response to having his tail stepped on. (And I do know that sound!). Hope you are well this mid-winter.

  15. It is a true pleasure to introduce you to the cassowary, LuAnne, a rare dinosaur-like bird. I’m happy you were enticed enough to want to look them up and learn more. Also glad you had an extra minute to listen to the catbird, as that sound is so prevalent in the Australian rainforest. My warmest thanks for your visits today, LuAnne.

  16. I enjoyed the descriptions and photos of some of what you saw on your backroads trip. The cassowary is awesome and especially thrilling to see the beautiful chicks too, and how nice that they were calm and no-one else arrived to frighten them off.

    • It was really fun to share this momentous day with you, Carol, our own private visit with the cassowary family. What a quirky and extraordinary bird! Thanks so very much.

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