FL32 A Long Stay in Townsville

Mackay to Townsville, QLD

After a short stopover in Mackay, I took off from Marian Airfield on May 21st and headed to Donnington Airpark just southwest of Townsville. It was a wonderful morning flight and I took off at sunrise with a couple of local trike pilots who showed me the coast. 

The flight took me past the Whitsundays and through Proserpine, Bowen and Ayr before heading inland towards the Elliot Ranges. I landed at Donnington Airpark just before the thermals kicked off for the day and was welcomed by Christian and Erica Smith. My trike was to be hangared in a lean to shed at the Airpark, so I took the wing down to rest on the control frame so it would be more secure in the wind. 

I thought we would only be there for a couple of week at most but things didn’t turn out that way. While the weather was perfect everyday in Townsville, up north in Cairns the wet season extended well into June, which kept me on the ground for a month! This was the longest period of time I’ve been stuck in one place.

Selfie after landing at Donnington
Taking Christian for a fly
Me and Erica in the trike
Trike in the hangar at Donnington Airpark

But there are worse places to be stuck than Townsville! While in town, I did shorebird STEM incursions at two schools – Belgian Gardens State School and Woodstock State School (unfortunately, I don’t have photos from either). The students at Beligian Gardens SS had a wonderful environmental program and breed Gouldian and Black-throated Finches in their aviaries. They also had an amazing aquarium setup where they grow corals and breed fish species from the reef in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Marine Science. The kids get to take turns at taking care of the animals – something I would have LOVED in primary school!

Townsville was great for media opportunities as well. First, I was filmed for Channel 7 News at the Botanic Gardens outside Castle Rock. Then I did radio interviews on ABC North Queensland’s breakfast and drive programs.

Castle Rock in Townsville

I also had the best time catching up in the studio with Georgie Arnold from the Aviatrix Airwaves podcast. Georgie is a helicopter pilot and aims to inspire women to get involved in aviation careers. I’m usually asked to speak about shorebirds when I do interviews so it was so much fun getting to chat about flying and my own journey to becoming a pilot with Georgie as well. 

The studio is right next to Townsville airport and one of the things I enjoyed most about the interview was having to guess the aircraft carrier and destination of each flight as it flew overhead and then checking on Flight Radar 24! Thanks Georgie for a heaps fun interview 😀

You can listen to the full podcast on Spotify here.

Me and Georgie in the studio for the Aviatrix Airwaves podcast

Of course, our visit wouldn’t be complete without a bit of birdwatching and we given a very special treat! Norm from BirdLife Townsville organised for us to visit the Wongaloo Wetlands – a private property that is part of Bowling Green Bay conservation park and a Ramsar site south of Townsville. Bowling Green Bay is an internationally important site for shorebirds in Queensland and although there weren’t many migratory birds present, the sheer number of waterbirds was mind blowing! 

We had thousands of Wandering Whistling Ducks, Magpie Geese, Brolgas, Pygmy Geese, ibis, egrets and so many more. It was incredible! There are several different types of habitats on Wongaloo, which is why it’s so prolific for birdlife. 

The gate at Wongaloo Wetlands
Wandering Whistling Ducks
Swamp at Wongaloo
Black-necked Stork
Me, Norm and Grant at the entrance to Wongaloo Wetlands

Norm also took us out to Paluma, which was my first experience in the wet tropics so of course I forgot my raincoat! It was so sunny in Townsville I didn’t even think that it would be raining up in the mountains 😅

We visited Little Crystal Creek, McClelland’s Lookout, Paluma Dam and the house of one of Norm’s friends where we got amazing views of Macleay’s, Bridled and Lewin’s Honeyeaters and Spotted Catbird. Other highlights of the day included Grey-headed Robin and seeing a Golden Bowerbird bower that was almost as tall as me! So amazing to think a little bird can build such a huge structure and all for the purposes of attracting a mate! 

Me, Grant and Norm escaping the rain at Paluma
Bridled Honeyeater
Spotted Catbird
Macleay's Honeyeater

We also went birding at the Townsville Common, the Palmetum, Anderson Botanic Gardens and Tyto Wetlands in Ingham. Everywhere we went was just awesome and I got over 40 lifers (birds I’d never seen before) while in town. My favourite by far was seeing Rufous Owls in Anderson Gardens 😍

To celebrate all our new birds, Grant and I stopped at the Frosty Mango on the way home to have ice-cream 😆 Here’s a few more shots from Tyto. 

Me and Grant at Tyto Wetlands
Northern Fantail
Rufous Owl
White-browed Crake

And who should we cross paths with while in Townsville but the one and only, Costa! Costa and I had been ships in the night at Cairns and Mackay, so it was great to finally meet up again.

Although the weather wasn’t any good for flying, we were able to do a couple of livestreams to give an update on the project and also promote the new Wing Threads documentary with Chris McCormack from Remember the Wild just before the premiere at Sydney Film Festival.

You can watch the livestream replay of our catchup on Costa’s Facebook page by clicking the link below.

So of course the next big thing that happened during my time in Townsville was the premiere of the Wing Threads documentary at the Sydney Film Festival! 🥳🎈

I flew down to Sydney from Townsville to be a part of the event and got to see all 10 of the short docs that were chosen as part of the Your Planet Docs initiative. I’ve gotta say, they were all AMAZING. The quality of all of the films is so high and I can’t recommend them all enough. It was wonderful getting to meet everyone involved on the night as well.

Me and Chris at the Sydney Film Festival

Huge thanks to ABC TV, VicScreen and The Doc Society for helping us to bring this short film to life.

If you’d like to watch the Wing Threads documentary, it’s available to watch on ABC iView alongside all of the other Your Planet docs for a limited time. Just click the button below! 🎥

Once back in Townsville after the festival, I decided to make the most of my time and drove up to Cairns to do the school visits before the school holidays. I’ll cover our adventure in Cairns in the next post. That’s it from me! 😀

If you missed the livestream of flight leg 32 from Mackay (Marian) to Townsville (Donnington Airpark) QLD, you can watch the replay on YouTube here or by clicking one of the links below.

Milly Formby
Milly Formby is a zoologist, pilot, and illustrator of the children’s book, A Shorebird Flying Adventure She is currently flying her microlight around Australia in 2022/23 to share,A Shorebird Flying Adventure with primary students.
Image credits:
Book cover for A Shorebird Flying Adventure

A Shorebird Flying Adventure

Available Now

Join Milly on her microlight and discover how amazing and awesome migratory shorebirds are!

Milly Formby is a zoologist and illustrator of the children’s book A Shorebird Flying Adventure. Available now through CSIRO Publishing.

Like this post? Share the shorebird-nerdiness on social!

More posts you might like...