Nature, culture and history
Mount Whifield Conservation Park is composed of rocks of the Barron River formation, similar to those exposed in the Barron Falls area. The two main topographic features of the park are Mount Whitfield (360m) and Lumley Hill (290m), outliers of the Whitfield Range, which is an offshoot of the larger Lamb Range.
The area is a mosaic of closed and open forest. The most common types of vegetation are vine forest with acacias and medium-low woodland dominated by eucalypts and acacias. There is also some natural open forest and grassland along the ridges with eucalypts, cycads Cycas media and grass trees Zanthorrhoea spp.
A number of rainforest and open forest birds inhabit the park. Australian brush-turkeys (Alectura lathami) belong to a group known as megapodes (big feet). Often visitors will see them moving methodically through the forest, scratching the ground in search of food. The males build large mounds of leaf litter and the females lay their eggs in them. The heat generated by the decaying vegetation incubates the eggs. The male is kept very busy checking the temperature of the mound with his sensitive beak, removing leaf litter when it is too hot and adding more if it is too cold.
Orange-footed scrubfowl Megapodius reinwardt are also mound builders. They are smaller and shyer than their cousins, the brush-turkeys, and are more often heard than seen. The young of both species emerge from their eggs fully feathered and able to fly and fend for themselves. The parents play no part in raising the young.
Lucky visitors may see buff-breasted paradise-kingfishers Tanysiptera sylvia in summer months. These beautiful kingfishers, with long, trailing, white tail feathers and brilliant scarlet beaks and feet, are migratory. They can be seen actively chasing insects, small reptiles and amphibians from early November to late March, after which they fly back to central New Guinea for the winter. The observant visitor will notice small terrestrial termite mounds near the tracks in the shaded forests. Small round holes bored into some of them are entrance tunnels to the nesting chambers of these kingfishers; two long white tail feathers, occasionally seen protruding from them, are a sure sign that nesting is taking place.
Red-legged pademelons Thylogale stigmatica are the only ground-dwelling wallabies to live in the rainforests of the Wet Tropics. These animals are active for much of the day and can often be seen in the vicinity of the bamboo stands on the Red Arrow circuit. If startled, they hop off with a loud, warning thump, which is often the first sign of their presence.
The large stand of fish pole bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea) on the Red Arrow Circuit is a native plant of China, where it is valued. This stand was originally planted by Chinese settlers in Cairns.
Mount Whitfield is totally isolated from other areas of natural vegetation. There is only limited recruitment of plants and animals to replace natural losses. This makes the park a very valuable and delicate resource.
George Augustus Elphinstone Dalrymple, leader of the 1873 Queensland North-East Coast Expedition, named Mount Whitfield after Edwin Whitfield, a Cardwell merchant who had assisted in supplying the expedition. Later, Lumley Hill was named after Charles Lumley Hill (1840–1909), Member of the Legislative Assembly for the seat of Cook and Sub-collector of Customs in Cairns.
The large stand of fishpole bamboo Phyllostachys aurea along the Red Arrow circuit is evidence of the historical association between North Queensland and China. The bamboo, which is valued in China for many purposes, was originally planted by Chinese settlers in Cairns. Also along the Red Arrow circuit are parts of a stone wall and footings which are the remnants of a World War II lookout site.
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