Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Inskip Point, finally

Through no conscious choice, I had managed not to visit one of my main target sites for the year: Inskip Point. There are a number of species that are on the fringes of my search area, and Inskip Point has four of them, all rare and most extremely difficult to find. These birds are: Fairy Gerygone (at the southernmost extent of their range), Ground Parrot, Southern Emu-wren and Brush Bronzewing (all at the nothernmost extent, but not found elsewhere in SEQ). Throw into this mix a resident pair of Beach Stone-curlews and the easiest place in the world to find Black-breasted Button-quail and you have a must-visit site for a big year like mine.

On Wednesday this week I ducked out for the day with Andrew Stafford to finally do some justice to this birding location. We started extremely well, with a Grey Goshawk on the streetlights as we drove up the highway past Nambour. Our first stop for the day was at the Thomas and Thomas site for Ground Parrots in Cooloola National Park. I thought we were being extremely hopeful here, but we were looking for Ground Parrot, Southern Emu-wren, and Brush Bronzewing, all of which had been seen here recently. We had a fantastic morning at this site, with good views of a host of woodland birds, including Andrew's first White-cheeked Honeyeaters and Forest Kingfisher for the year.

In the heath we were extremely fortunate and flushed a Ground Parrot basically from our feet. This is a new bird for me, and #651 for Australia. I had such great views I didn't even need my binoculars to see the black streaking in the plumage. Sadly the bird flew off into the heath, so our sighting was only very brief. Later on we flushed a second bird which gave more distant but longer views. We did hear what we are sure was Southern Emu-wrens, but were unable to get close to them as the heath was completely sodden, with water flowing across the ground in most places. We did manage to find some Wallum Rocket Frogs and Wallum Froglets, which were a highlight of the morning for me, though nothing quite compares to the thrill of seeing a new bird.

From our success in the heath we moved to the sandy peninsula of Inskip Point. Within about ten minutes of arrival we were watching a pair of Black-breasted Button-quail scratching their circular platelets into the middle of the walking track. Honestly, it's ridiculous that such a shy bird could be so easy in just one place in their entire range. However, I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so down they went as bird #311 for the year. One of the main reasons for doing this trip was the Sanderling reported from a few days earlier by Steve Murray, a bird I had for the year but Andrew didn't. We saw a handful of shorebirds out on one of the sandbars and, while dubious of the chances of them being Sanderling, we grabbed my scope out of the car and trekked back to have a look. And beyond all reason, the first bird I put my scope on was a Sanderling. I may have said a few bad words in my hurry to get Andrew onto the bird, but I needn't have worried, as there was not one, but five Sanderlings out on the sandbar, in various stages of colouring up for migration. Who knows if they will stay or go, as five is a very small number of sandpipers for a migration flock. Maybe they will overwinter in the area? Along the track on the way back to the car we also had crippling views of a pair of Beach Stone-curlews, which had finally deigned to make an appearance. They were on the landward side of the peninsula, tucked away in the mangroves, though Andrew picked one up in flight initially. While we were disappointed at missing Fairy Gerygone, which really should have been easy on the day, and Southern Emu-wren, which we must have only been metres from seeing at one point, we just can't be sad at how the day turned out! A lifer for me, four yearbirds all up (seven for Andrew), and a couple of new species of frogs, it is hard to ask for anything more than that from a site which is a three hour drive from my front door.

Total birds to date: 312

Photo 1: Wallum Rocket Frog, Litoria freycineti, Cooloola NP
Photo 2: Wallum Froglet, Crinia tinnula, Cooloola NP
Photo 3: Female Black-breasted Button-quail, Inskip Point
Photo 4: Pair of Beach Stone-curlews, Inskip Point

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lake Broadwater redux

So the last few months have been a bit crazy, and not a lot of birding has been done (well not by me anyway). In the interval between my last post and this one, I've launched a website ( in conjunction with Simon Mustoe, done a week's consulting work at Alpha, started working part time at Mountain Design, and continued with a bunch of other non-bird related activities. However, I did find the time to sneak out once at the end of April to check out Lake Broadwater again with my partner in crime, Andrew Stafford. You may recall the lake was bone dry on our first visit, but wow, what a change!

This time when we reached the lake, it was absolutely full to the brim. Walking around the edges we flushed many hundreds of frogs, mostly Ornate Burrowing Frogs, but also quite a few Cycloranas (probably novaehollandiae) and some Desert Tree Frogs. On the lake we had hundreds of waterbirds, and a pair of Australian Hobbies foraging for dragonflies over the water. We had come out to look for a pair of Freckled Ducks reported from the area recently, and while we had high hopes on arrival, we failed to find them. We did find every other species of duck you could hope to see in the area though, including about six Blue-billed Ducks, a Musk Duck, and even a Chestnut Teal looking a bit lost.

Moving on from the water we had a quick jaunt through the woodland walk to the south of the lake. Sadly, despite a lot of activity we had no woodland birds that were new for the year. We did flush a pair of Boobook Owls, a bird it was only a matter of time before we saw. In about twenty minutes we saw nearly everything we saw in the previous visit, better and more easily so there was some consolation there. For me it was especially nice to get good views of the Chestnut-rumped Thornbills as they were exceedingly difficult for me to get onto last visit.

From Lake Broadwater we decided to get a bit crazy and drive down to Inglewood to find Squatter Pigeons for Andrew. I had them a few weeks earlier over Easter, but I didn't mind going back to look for them again, hoping to luck onto something good in the meantime. It turned out to be a good hunch, as on the way through Cecil Plains we flushed a couple of small doves off the road. I had initially called them as Peaceful Doves, but Andrew wasn't convinced to we returned to check. This was extremely fortunate as there were three Diamond Doves in the tree beside the road! Diamond Doves are not unheard of in SEQ, but they are quite rare and were not on my list of birds I thought I would get. Needless to say we were both quite excited by the find.

By the time we reached Inglewood it was getting fairly late. We ducked into town to have a quick go for Spotted Bowerbirds, but again they were conspicuously absent. I think I've given up on this site after three visits and will make a special trip to the western edge of Sundown National Park for them now. Heading back to Mosquito Creek Rd we cruised slowly looking for dark pigeons. Andrew was a little skeptical of our chances, as it was nearly sunset now, but this was bang on the time I found my first one, so I was hopeful. In the end I was right, and we had crippling views of a pair of Squatter Pigeons on the road and wandering past the car in the last light of day. We even got to observe the behavior they must have been named for as the birds "squatted" down into the grass. They looked for all the world like pigeon-shaped rocks when they did that, it was a fascinating thing to watch.

With one of our two targets for the day seen, and a nice consolation for missing the Freckled Ducks, we headed back to Brisbane in the dark.

Total birds to date: 308

Photo 1: A poor record shot of a Diamond Dove, near Cecil Plains
Photo 2: A Squatter Pigeon on the road, Mosquito Creek Rd
Photo 3: Squatter Pigeons with one "squatting", Mosquito Creek Rd

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Port of Brisbane shorebird count: Sanderling

Another photo-less blog entry, because I managed to get in a shorebird count at the Port of Brisbane before work. Normally I would have expected a new bird to be something like Red Knot, which I fully expect to turn up at some point this year. I confess I was really hoping for a Dowitcher, but that bird has probably flown for this half of the year. I'll have to wait til October to try for both these species again. However, among the beautiful breeding plumaged Pacific Golden Plovers and Sand Plovers, I managed to spot one bird I really didn't think I'd get this year: a Sanderling. These birds are highly uncommon in SEQ for two reasons - one, they are only here in very small numbers, and two, their habitat is open oceanic beaches, which are both hard to get to, and mostly fairly flogged by pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the region. Meaning actually tracking down a Sanderling here is a non-trivial task. Finding one at random in a place that has been surveyed for 20 years is, apparently, a better way to go. In fact, my bird was only the second record ever for the site. Fortunately I wasn't the only birder to get a look at the bird, which was being spectacularly difficult by walking through complex terrain and staying hundreds of metres away. After a morning of fleeting glimpses and frustrating views, we finally managed to see it in the open and get a good look at the bird, or at least good enough to see how much paler and larger it was than the surrounding stints, which was enough for a positive ID.

So anyway, I was pretty amazed to see one, and even more relieved to have another of the unlikely birds for the year ticked off. One step closer to 350!

Total birds to date: 306

Cotton Pygmy Geese

After being lucky enough to finally get Forest Kingfisher for the year, it was good to hear from Andrew that on the same day he had found Cotton Pygmy Geese near Woodford, and they might still be there. So I made a run up there with my mother. We had two goals - find the geese, and look for Richmond Birdwing butterflies at Mt Mee. Heading out to Mt Mee, we got their about an hour before sunset - making me a bit nervous we wouldn't make both of our targets. As we walked around the area looking for butterflies I had basically given up when all of a sudden a large butterfly cruised by over the road. "There's one!" I yelled out and sure enough a female Richmond Birdwing spent the next few minutes gliding around the canopy around near the road and carpark. Yes I'm being deliberately a bit vague, as this critically endangered butterfly must be a target for collectors and I'd rather exact directions not be stored on the Internet forevermore. Suffice to say a midday visit to some of the better rainforest habitat in the area could produce some good luck!

The Pygmy Geese were looking less likely as we made a dash for Woodford. We got to the pond Andrew had the Geese on days before just as the sun went down. I spent a frantic five minutes looking around the edges of the pond, checking every bird, and finally, I despondently headed for the car. At which point my mother found the pair and pointed them out to me. Somewhat embarrassing for me, but honestly, I was just happy to have this uncommon species in the bag for the year!

Species to date: 305

A big Easter: the final chapter

I'll compress the last three days into one post, mostly because the Sundown NP trip was quite disappointing. The following day from Girraween I wanted to check out something else the ranger had mentioned - there were Southern Emu-Wrens in Girraween just like my grandmother had told me, and though they hadn't been seen since 2002, the ranger gave me the last known location for them and directions for how to get there. So I drove around to Bald Rock NP, on the NSW side of the border. I was taken by surprise at the $7 entry fee, but fortunately had enough cash on me to cover it. I hiked off down the border track, mostly seeing interesting butterflies and reptiles, with the occasional dirt common bird on the way. I finally made it to the heath area around lunchtime, the complete wrong time to look for Emu-Wrens. I had a thorough walk through the area - the heath is all pretty new, with fire having wiped it out back in 2002, so as long as not all the bird perished in the fire, there is a good chance they are still there. It is a big enough area to support a small population, and there are apparently other heath areas in that part of the park to check too. I will have to organise an expedition there sometime to establish if they are still there. On the way back to the car I had Crested Shrike-Tits foraging down low, always a good bird to see, even though I had some the day before.

The next day was spent entirely at Sundown NP, but in the north end. We looked for Turquoise Parrots all day with no luck - there is some significant irony in the fact that the supposedly easy species is the one I missed AGAIN, and the two very difficult ones were, in the end, fairly easy. I did manage to find Speckled Warblers and Inland Thornbills in the woodlands near Beehive Mine, and heard what I think was a Little Bronze-Cuckoo calling, as well as a definite Superb Lyrebird near Red Rock Gorge, which was a big surprise to me but are known from the area apparently. On the way out of the park we had a Fan-tailed Cuckoo giving great views calling from by the road, and I had four Wedge-tailed Eagles cruise over, one that didn't have a tail!

The next day I woke up at 3:30am and couldn't get back to sleep, so I headed off in the dark hoping for owls on my way back to Coolmunda. I was planning to look for Spotted Bowerbirds at Inglewood and have another crack at Mosquito Creek Rd and Durakai. My long drive in the dark produced only two night birds, one Tawny Frogmouth, and one unknown that was probably also a Frogmouth. By dawn I was on Mosquito Creek Rd, nearly at the state forest section. I had more Speckled Warblers around the car as the forest got light enough to see, and I moved back slowly along the road looking for anything interesting. As the sun came over the horizon I got my wish. I stopped to look at a kangaroo bouncing through the field. It stopped near the rising sun, and as I panned across, there on the other side was an Emu standing proud in the grass! A coat of arms sunrise! Emu was another bird that is common elsewhere in the country but very difficult locally, possibly even moreso than Squatter Pigeon, which is at least resident in the area, though rare. This was to be my second-last new bird for the trip.

Inglewood was beautiful in the morning light, but though I searched for a good two hours, had no luck on Spotted Bowerbirds. I did find more Plum-headed Finches, making me wonder once again how it took me so long to see my first ones! Coolmunda Dam was a complete waste of time, with a few pelicans and NO DUCKS! Obviously someone forgot to tell the waterbirds I was coming, but this is the worst I have ever seen the dam for birds. Still plenty of water, but possibly too much fringing vegetation for comfort.

Durakai was a hub of activity, though it was more of the same birds from day one. A Scarlet Honeyeater immature male was interesting, and briefly evoked the possibility of female Black Honeyeater til I saw the hint of red. I desperately searched for Regent or Black-chinned Honeyeaters, but sadly no luck. I had one last throw of the dice to make for new birds on the way home.

I went back to Brisbane via Toowoomba instead of Cunningham's Gap, and visited a friend of mine, Mick Atzini in the Upper Lockyer area. We had a good walk along his creekline, where last week there was an Oriental Cuckoo, and several weeks ago he had Red Goshawk fly past. Sadly, we had no such luck, but driving in to his place, I did, finally, get a Forest Kingfisher. I thought "cool" and thought no more of it, as this is a common species in coastal QLD. When I told Mick he got pretty excited - turns out it's the first record he knows of from the area for 15 years! My final new bird of the trip, and it turns out to be a vagrant! Mick took me to some interesting places, including one that used to be reliable for Red-chested Button-Quail (10 years ago!) that I'll have to check out towards the end of the year.

I slowly made my way home after a huge day, and a huge trip. I'm pretty chuffed with myself - Squatter Pigeon, Superb Lyrebird, Southern Whiteface and Emu are all very hard birds on the local scale, and Scarlet Robin and Pallid Cuckoo are must-get migrants that I was a little worried about, though I did expect to get both for the year.

Total birds to date: 304

Photo 1: Emu at Mosquito Creek Rd, near Inglewood
Photo 2: Plum-headed Finch preening, Inglewood

A big Easter: Girraween (#300!)

The next morning I woke bright and early to pick up a bird I'm almost ashamed to have on my year list: Common Blackbird. I had some good gen that there is a small population of them along Quart-Pot Creek running through the centre of Stanthorpe. I walked the entire length of the creek with no luck until I reached the far western end and came across a very English looking garden by the creek. I peered over the fence and sure enough a Blackbird flew off a path in the garden into the trees. A bit more waiting and I saw a few more birds playing around in the bushes. On a subsequent visit a few days later, I managed great views of a male foraging in leaf litter. The embarrassment at specifically looking for this bird is that not only is it a feral, but I've advocated for their removal from SEQ a few times, so to go looking for them makes me squirm a little inside. But hey, they are here under their own steam, and can be legitimately ticked so they were bird #296.

From Stanthorpe I headed out to Old Wallangara Rd for a second bite of the cherry. This area was very good to Andrew and I earlier in the year, with birds like Diamond Firetail and Hooded Robin, but I thought maybe it had a little more to give, and boy was I right! On arrival at the site I had a flurry of birds moving around the area, starting with a group of Hooded Robins chasing each other from tree to powerline to fence to ground to tree again. Diamond Firetails were common and vocal, with Double-barred Finches also making an appearance. A pair of Southern Whitefaces suddenly appeared, a great new bird for the year, and they foraged for the rest of the morning in the same area, giving great views.

At this point I would like to point out a rule I've followed since being a guide at Broome. That rule is always put your binoculars on a bird, even if you're sure it's one you've already looked at. Today this paid off bigtime, as I put a robin in my bins I was sure was one of the Hooded Robins, and it turned out to be a male Scarlet Robin - a very early winter migrant to the area. While I was confident of getting these in June, actually having it on the list is a relief as it's one I couldn't afford to miss. High over the fields some Wedge-tailed Eagles cruised by, and White-plumed and Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters played in the nearby trees. Suddenly another surprise - two cuckoos started calling. The first, in clear view in the fields, was a Pallid Cuckoo - a late stayer. The second, a Fan-tailed Cuckoo that I had to go searching for, an early winter arrival. I can't say I've had these two species calling together before, but both were new for the year and finally raised my total to #300 for the year!

My time at Old Wallangara Rd was over, but there was one more surprise left for the day. My goal on this weekend was quite simple: Turquoise Parrot, Squatter Pigeon, Superb Lyrebird. One easy bird (the parrot) and two very hard ones. The Squatter Pigeon had already come my way the previous day, and I'd missed the parrot in the morning when I hoped to get it, but I had all afternoon to try and track down a Lyrebird. I'd been gathering gen over the previous few months to try and work out how I would see one on the QLD side of the border, a difficult feat most people agreed. The best advice I could get was "ask a park ranger", so armed with this intent I had lunch at the picnic grounds in Girraween and waited for the ranger station to open for the day. The news wasn't great - nothing calling, no real sites to check out. As an afterthought, I was told to check the Underground Creek track near Dr Roberts Waterhole. I figured I had an afternoon to kill so I may as well at least try. Walking through the forest I saw lots of interesting birds - Striated and Brown Thornbills were common, and New Holland and White-eared Honeyeaters were making a racket. A single call had me hunting for a possible Western Gerygone, but I couldn't find it and wasn't 100% sure that it wasn't a White-throated, so I eventually moved on.

Walking along the track I reached the Underground Creek site without finding anything else of note. On the way back I noticed a section of leaf litter that had been thoroughly worked over. Thinking that was promising for Lyrebird I hung around there for a little while. While I was waiting, I heard a Grey Shrike-Thrush calling in the distance. Except, it wasn't really doing it right, with lots of gaps between calls, and a few other things that didn't really sound quite kosher. So I thought hey, why not check, it *could* be a Lyrebird. So I walked up the little gully the call was coming from, and as I got closer, I started to hear some different calls interspersed amongst the Shrike-Thrush - Crimson Rosella, Satin Bowerbird, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo and others, all classic Lyrebird mimicry fodder. I started to get pretty excited at this point, but I was presented with a conundrum. The rules of my year say I have to see the bird, and this one was calling from dense low scrub. There was basically no way I could manage to get close without scaring the bird off. As I started on my chosen course, expecting failure, a Lyrebird ran through the undergrowth to a point just metres in front of me, raised its tail, and began to dance and sing. It was electric! I had seen Lyrebirds perform before, and had better views of the show (this bird was quite obscured by bushes, though I could see its tail quite clearly), but I have never been so close to a Lyrebird performing, and I could hear every little click and whirr, chirp and squeak the bird made. I sat frozen for ten minutes while the bird performed. Another male was singing nearby, and what might have been a female or another young male foraged for food nearby. The whole experience was just magical, one of those moments that stay with you forever.

After it was all over I headed back to the picnic area and made my way down Junction Track hoping for a lucky sighting of Chestnut-rumped Heathwren, but no such luck. No matter, I'd made it to 300 birds for the year, knocked off a major and very difficult target, and had a memorable experience to boot! What a day!

Total birds to date: 302

Photo 1: Southern Whiteface pair, Old Wallangara Rd
Photo 2: Hooded Robin male, Old Wallangara Rd
Photo 3: Hooded Robin pair, Old Wallangara Rd
Photo 4: Scarlet Robin male, Old Wallangara Rd
Photo 5: Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Old Wallangara Rd
Photo 6: Superb Lyrebird

A big Easter: Brisbane to Inglewood

So I spent a good deal of Easter this year birding (no real surprise there), and I had a fantastic run of luck while doing it. As the areas I visited are wildly different, and spread over several days, I'm splitting the blog post for Easter into three sections.

On the first day of Easter (the Thursday for me, it's great being your own boss!), I headed off after lunch towards Stanthorpe, sort of. The sort of is that I intended to make a run via Durakai and Coolmunda Dam on my way, which is a diversion of over 100km. Still, the birding at those places is great, and I still needed a few things from the area. Of interest on the way was a White-bellied Sea Eagle just before Aratula, feeding on something (possibly a turtle?) at a little wetland on the roadside. I also stopped at a dam on the right of the highway just outside of Warwick on the way to Durakai, as Andrew Stafford relates he once had an Australian Shelduck there, but sadly, no mega-rarities on the day I was there. At Durakai, things were very quiet. I had several groups of Speckled Warblers making their way around the little dam at the far end of the forest, and lots of dry woodland specialists like Brown Treecreeper and Little Lorikeet milling around, but nothing really great in the area.

Moving on, I arrived at Mosquito Creek Rd (marked as Mosquito Rd in Google Maps) near Coolmunda just before sunset. In that special golden light you get at the end of the day I drove down this dirt road for a magical twenty minutes as an array of rare and interesting birds flew by. My first big bird on the road was a single Squatter Pigeon. Now this is the exact bird I was there to see, but at first I wrote it off as a dark Common Bronzewing. But something tickled my brain and said I should go back and check it. It flushed off the side of the road and sure enough, it was a Squatter Pigeon - my first ever for the SEQ region and a big one for the year list. In the Brigalows lining the road a few Yellow-throated Miners competed for space with Noisy Miners, one of those fringe areas where both species occur together. From there I headed further down the road as flocks of Red-rumped Parrots and Bluebonnets moved along the road verges in front of me. In all, I had over 50 Bluebonnets, and extraordinary total given their supposed rarity in the region. The grassland in this part of the area is at present quite amazing - waist high and lush, I was sure I was going to find Emu, Bustard and all manner of other things out in the fields. Sadly, this wasn't to be on this visit, however I did find some large flocks of finches, including over 20 Plum-headed Finches, and a small number of Zebra Finches associating with them. White-winged Fairy-Wrens and Singing Bushlarks were also quite common in the area.

In all this was a very special afternoon, and though I had to make a dash for Stanthorpe to get there in time for dinner, I was very happy with the day.

Total birds to date: 295