Cape York Peninsula
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Cape York Peninsula, north Queensland, Australia

Australia's Cape York Peninsula lies at the northern extremity of the state of Queensland.

Central Cape York Peninsula has a diverse richness of ecosystems. From west to east there are the wetlands and flat savanna of the gulfcountry, hilly forest country with scattered lagoons in the interior, the Great Dividing Range which is the Peninsula's backbone, and then rainforest on the eastern fringe of the Peninsula and along the permanent watercourses in the interior.

The Photo gallery of central Cape York has several panoramic images to give you a good idea of the range of ecosystems found in the central Peninsula.

The Uw Oykangand, Uw Olkola and Pakanh peoples are the traditional owners and occupants of much of the interior of the Cape, around the Mitchell, Alice and Coleman Rivers. Many now live in communities scattered around the Cape: Kowanyama, Pormpuraaw, Laura, Coen, Musgrave, Hope Vale and Chillagoe. But they continue a close relationship with their country, shown in the story lines which interweave the countryside and the supernatural order, totemic beliefs which connect the people with the land and its flora and fauna, and traditional subsistence strategies of hunting, trapping and gathering.

This variety of habitats allows for a rich variety of wildlife in the central Cape York Peninsula region. For example, many species characteristic of the rainforests of the east coast or of PNG as well as typical central desert species have outlier populations on the Cape.

From this page you may search a genetically-ordered list of the mammals, birds, crocodiles, snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs, fish and crustaceans native to central Cape York Peninsula, the traditional lands of the Uw Oykangand, Uw Olkola and Pakanh peoples.

Laughing kookaburra, Dacelo novaeguineae, Laura, NQ

Small grasstrees, Xanthorrhoea johnsonii in open woodland.

There is also a wealth of plants and trees found in the central Cape York Peninsula region. This country is primarily sub-humid tropical woodland, dominated by Eucalyptus and Melaleuca spp.

The region receives over 1000 mm of rain anually but it is almost entirely concentrated in the "wet season" which runs for roughly three months between mid-December and mid-April. There is deficient rainfall in the winter, called the "dry season." The soil is sandy and nutrient-poor, primarily because of the leeching effect of the high rainfall.

The flora in the region is primarily sclerophyll ("hard, stiff foliage"), meaning that it is adapted to retain moisture. Leathery leaves, short spaces between leaves and sparse foliage are examples of this adaptation. Dry sclerophyll woodland typically has a very open canopy and has a diverse understory. The Woodland tree and shrub species list is a list of the flora (trees, plants, vines, reeds, grasses, lilies) typical of the central Cape York Peninsula woodland, organised by families.

Alternately, you may search for trees and plants based on their usage in traditional industry: The uses of plants in traditional industry and subsistence

The Cape York Peninsula interior is scattered with lagoons, waterholes and swamps, and is criss-crossed by rivers and streams. Water levels decline during the dry season, with almost all of the shallower wetlands drying out completely. But during the wet season the rivers rise and overbank floodout from rivers and surface runoff from direct precipitation fill the waterholes and swamps. During this period the wetland put on a lush and showy display of waterlilies and attract large numbers of waterbirds.

Wetland birds
Bodies of water throughout the Peninsula attract wetland birds, but it is the extensive floodplain lakes in the catchment areas of the major river systems near the Gulf which attract them in their greatest numbers and variety. During the wet season these floodplains are utilised as breeding, roosting, feeding and moulting habitat by a wide range of waterbirds.

Notable species are the Australian pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus, darter Anhinga melanogaster, pied cormorant Phalacrocorax varius, little pied cormorant P. melanoleucos, great cormorant P. carbo, little black cormorant P. sulcirostris, great-billed heron Ardea sumatrana, pacific heron A. pacifica, white-faced heron A. novaehollandiae, pied heron A. pictata, intermediate egret Egretta intermedia, great egret E. alba, rufous night heron Nycticorax caledonicus, black-necked stork Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus, glossy ibis Plegadis falcinellus, sacred ibis Threskiornis aethiopica, straw-necked ibis T. spinicollis, magpie goose Anseranas semipalmata, wandering whistling-duck Dendrocygna arcuata, plumed whistling-duck D. eytoni, radjah shelduck Tadorna radjah, pacific black duck Anas superciliosa, grey teal A. gibberifrons, pink-eared duck Malacorhynchus membranaceus, hardhead Aythya australis, green pygmy goose Nettapus pulchellus, Eurasian coot Fulica atra, brolga Grus rubicundus, sarus crane G. antigone, comb-crested jacana Irediparra gallinacea, masked lapwing Vanellus miles and black-winged stilt Himantopus himantopus. Terns and waders are also common.

The area is considered to support important breeding populations of magpie goose, wandering whistling-duck, brolga, sarus crane, royal spoonbill Platalea regia, great egret, intermediate egret, little black cormorant, little pied cormorant, darter and radjah shelduck.

The area also supports important dry season populations of brolga, sarus crane, radjah shelduck and little black cormorant.

Other wetland fauna
Freshwater crocodiles Crocodylus johnstoni and saltwater crocodiles Crocodylus porosus are common in the area.

Wetland flora
Wetland plants include waterlilies such as the giant waterlily, Nymphaea gigantea and a slender yellow-flowered waterlily sp., Nymphoides hydrocharoides. Also abundant is the bulguruw or spikerush, Eleocharis spp..

Goose nest in a late wetseason swamp near Kowanyama, NQ, February 1994 [PH].

White crane standing in marsh near Pormpuraaw, NQ [PH].

e-mail: Philip Hamilton.