Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Camping at Amamoor


We camped for 3 nights at Cedar Grove, Amamoor State Forest. Amamoor has become something of a favourite, this being our fourth camp there. A Platypus showing closely at Amama picnic area on the way in was a good start.

Amamoor Creek
We had clear, cool weather with plenty of birds about. Paradise Riflebird was calling sporadically and a pair fed regularly close to our camp. Regent Bowerbird and Satin Bowerbird in small numbers occasionally came into the camping ground to feed. Russet-tailed Thrush was calling commonly but didn't show.

Paradise Riflebird

Regent Bowerbird
Red-tailed Black Cockatoos were seen twice, both times flying high overhead: a pair and a flock of 20+. Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo was common about the camping ground.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo
Other nice birds about the place that were easy to see included Fairy Gerygone, Wompoo Fruit-Dove, Crested Shrike-tit, New Holland Honeyeater (here at the northern end of its range), Azure Kingfisher and White-eared Monarch. Ebird list for Cedar Grove.

Azure Kingfisher

Crested Shrike-tit

Fairy Gerygone

New Holland Honeyeater

White-eared Monarch

Wompoo Fruit-Dove
Rose Robin was common throughout the area.

Rose Robin

Rose Robin
Heading west along Amamoor Creek Road, Jacky Winter was surprisingly common, with 15-20 seen or heard over 12km. Just west of Windy Ridge Nursery, at a spot where in April last year I had a flock of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos feeding, I found a pair of Black-chinned Honeyeaters - a rare species in south-east Queensland - in tall eucalypts by the road. Plenty of birds were here including Varied Sittella and White-naped Honeyeater. Ebird list for Windy Ridge.

Black-chinned Honeyeater

Black-chinned Honeyeater

Jacky Winter
A couple of kilometres further west, on a dry open forest ridge, a party of 4 Painted Buttonquail scurried off the road. Back at Cedar Grove, on the other side of the creek from the camping ground, a collection of fresh platelets in the vine scrub indicated the presence of Black-breasted Buttonquail. Dingoes were calling from above the camping ground, and one was seen briefly during a hike.

Painted Buttonquail

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Yandina Creek Wetland - Back from the Brink

Yandina Creek Wetland this week, with the backdrop of Mt Ninderry
With floodgates being reopened this week so the Yandina Creek Wetland on Queensland's Sunshine Coast can be restored, the future is looking bright for this important site. A campaign spanning six years has finally resulted in an excellent outcome for biodiversity in the heart of Australia's tenth largest city. Supporters of that campaign have suggested that its history be documented; this account is penned in response.

I began campaigning to protect a wetland along River Road, Yandina Creek, back in 2012. At the time I thought the wetland was restricted to a small area of privately owned land adjoining the eastern end of the road. I was struck by how this property was so rich in birdlife - birds included Black-tailed Native-hen and Australian Painted-Snipe, both very rare in south-east Queensland.

I was disturbed by the destruction of similar habitat on a neighbouring River Road property, and proposed to the Sunshine Coast Council (Sunshine Coast Regional Council at the time) that it acquire part of the area and protect it as a nature reserve. The proposal was rejected, largely on the grounds of cost.

The wetland this week from the summit of Mt Ninderry
I stumbled across the main area of wetland - two neighbouring properties totalling 200ha - by accident in 2014. The wetland is hidden by trees from Yandina-Coolum Road to the north and River Road to the south. One day I ventured beyond my usual wanderings and was flabbergasted to find a wonderland of birds. Flocks of migratory shorebirds flew about; a pair of stately Black-necked Storks strutted their stuff; scores of egrets, spoonbills, pelicans and other waterbirds graced the horizon in every direction.

The fallow farmland was owned by fourth generation sugar cane growers until it was acquired by property developers in the mid-2000s following the closure of the Nambour sugar mill. The new owners planned to convert it to cattle pasture initially. They hoped the land would eventually be rezoned from rural to allow residential or commercial development. The wetland was created artificially because farm floodgates collapsed in the late-2000s, allowing tidal water from Yandina Creek and Maroochy River to inundate the site.

A flock of Australasian Shoveler & Grey Teal fly over the wetland this week 
While I was in awe of what I dubbed Yandina Creek Wetland, the original smaller area on River Road was drained when that property's owners blocked the flow of tidal water to their land.
I prepared another submission for the Sunshine Coast Council, this time suggesting the acquisition of the two larger properties for conservation purposes. At the same time, I wrote and spoke to the federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, and to the Queensland Government, urging intervention because the cattle pasture plans threatened species protected under federal and state laws. In late-2014, I pulled together a comprehensive case for saving the wetland.

The wetland provided habitat for numerous bird species regarded as rare or difficult to find in Queensland. Good numbers of migratory shorebirds of various species frequented the site that are protected under several international treaties to which Australia is a signatory. The large population of one species, Latham's Snipe, at Yandina Creek indicated the wetland was internationally significant under Australian law.

Latham's Snipe
It was important to stress how preserving the rural landscape of the Maroochy River canelands was essential to maintaining the integrity and attraction of the Sunshine Coast both as a major tourist destination and as a desirable place to live. Protecting low-lying areas as wetland could play a crucial role in controlling floods as the region is notoriously flood-prone. A thriving wetland full of waterbirds and other wildlife could be a major ecotourism destination, boosting the Sunshine Coast economy while at the same time protecting biodiversity.

Wetland looking towards Mt Coolum this week
The battle for the wetland slowly began to gain traction, with publicity in the media and growing numbers of residents and community organisations coming on board in support of both the council acquiring the land, and federal and state intervention. The Sunshine Coast Daily and ABC Radio were especially supportive.

I gave talks to community groups; met with the landholders and the Sunshine Coast Council; organised online petitions; set up a Facebook page and mailing lists of several hundred supporters; and monitored developments at the site on my blog. I took people (among them Australian Formula One driving champion Mark Webber) into the wetland; they were invariably impressed with what they saw. Organisations that lent their support included Birds Queensland, Sunshine Coast Environment Council, Protect the Bushland Alliance and Noosa Parks Association.

Talking to Noosa Parks Association about the wetland, 2014
2015 was a torrid year. The landholders became increasingly hostile, threatening legal and police action as it became evident to them that the campaign risked derailing their development plans. Then the landholders decided to lease the land back to its original cane farmer owners, so the floodgates could be repaired and the site again planted with cane. The intention was to establish a continuing land use legally, thereby circumventing possible government intervention.

In June 2015, the Sunshine Coast Council rejected my submission to acquire the land for conservation purposes under its Environmental Levy. Although the wetland was easily the most diverse and largest of its kind in the region, the council determined it was low priority. No inspection of the site was undertaken; no studies were commissioned; and no reasons were given for the decision. The council ignored the advice of some its own environmental experts in reaching this conclusion.

The wetland was inundated when farm floodgates collapsed in the late-2000s
The following month, in July 2015, the wetland was drained after the floodgates were repaired, preventing further inflows of tidal water. Hundreds of waterbirds were on the site at the time; many were nesting. The site turned from a flourishing wetland to a bare wasteland in a couple of days. As I wrote then: “How did it come to this? The 200-hectare Yandina Creek Wetland ticked all the boxes. This wetland was without equal in terms of biodiversity in the Sunshine Coast region. It was one of the finest wetlands of its kind in the whole of Queensland, embracing a wide range of habitats including mangroves, sedges, grasslands, mudflats and deep-water pools.”

Around the same time, Commonwealth and state officers inspected the site and concluded there was no case for intervention. They argued the wetland was “human modified” and therefore not worthy of conservation. This argument ignored the fact that wetlands around the world are increasingly artificial as natural habitat diminishes; just a tiny fraction remains of the once extensive wetlands on the Sunshine Coast. Moreover, the “artificially created” Yandina Creek Wetland closely resembled what was there naturally before the area was developed for cane farms in the 1920s. Nor does wildlife frequenting these places care whether or not they are artificially created. The failure of both governments to act is further evidence of the uselessness of Commonwealth and state environmental legislation.

Cane farm development in the 1920s
Things were looking grim. But three significant things happened more or less around the same time in mid-2015, and the tide began to turn, so to speak. The Speaker of the Queensland Parliament, Peter Wellington, who held the balance of power and whose support was crucial to the survival of the minority Labor government, became involved. Wellington convinced state Environment Minister Steven Miles to visit the site and meet with some of us engaged in the campaign. This proved to be a pivotal event: the Queensland Government began to have a change of heart.

L-R Greg Roberts, Queensland Environment Minister Steven MIles, Parliamentary Speaker Peter Wellington, SCEC's Narelle McCarthy, BLA's Judith Hoyle - July 2015 
Meanwhile, BirdLife Australia, the country's biggest birding organisation, became seriously active in the campaign, promoting it to a national level and ensuring that hundreds more people lent their support. BLA Southern Queensland convenor Judith Hoyle was the driving force behind this key development.

At the same time, a substantial package I wrote as a journalist about the wetland for The Weekend Australian was splashed across the front and feature pages of the newspaper, further shaping a national profile for the cause. Photographs were a crucial weapon in the campaign. I had taken numerous images of the wetland before it was drained and the scenes of desolation after the floodgates were shut. The contrast sent a powerful message.

Then I filed complaints with Queensland Fisheries alleging the drainage works had destroyed protected marine vegetation. The lessees were required to reopen the floodgates in September 2015 and were served multiple infringement notices. The reprieve was short-lived. The floodgates were closed again three months later and the wetland drained for the second time in 2015. They have not been reopened until now.

Closed floodgates on the site
It emerged during a meeting between Judith Hoyle and Queensland Government officers in November 2015 that for the first time, the landholders were showing an interest in selling the properties, and there was a real prospect of the wetland being salvaged. The landholders had evidently reached the conclusion that the site was nothing but trouble for them and were prepared to negotiate; a commercial-in-confidence process was entered into between them and an unknown third party. BirdLife Australia and Judith beavered away in the background with efforts to persuade the Queensland Labor Government and government agencies to come to the table and ensure that this sensitive process was not derailed.

Wetland map
The identity of the third party soon emerged. Government sources say the office of Environment Minister Steven Miles was in touch with the former Labor Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Jim Soorley, the chairman of Unitywater, a statutory authority responsible for water supply and sewage treatment on the Sunshine Coast. Soorley, who as mayor did much to protect Brisbane's wetlands, tells me he became interested in the site after reading a BirdLife Australia article. He contacted the Unitywater chief executive, George Theo, and requested that Unitywater investigate whether nutrient capture and offsets were feasible on the land. Soorley says it was only after the positive outcome of scientific studies was confirmed with the Queensland Environment Department that negotiations with the land-owners commenced.

Waterbirds at the wetland before it was drained in 2015
The plan was for Unitywater to reopen the floodgates so the wetland would be replenished. Tidal water entering the wetland would carry with it nutrients from the Maroochy River which come from a range of different land uses. The wetland will remove some of the nutrients and Unitywater can use this to offset nutrients released after treating the community’s sewage at a nearby treatment plant.
The landholders sold the properties to Unitywater for $4 million in August 2016. Finally, all those efforts over so long by so many had paid off. The wetland was to be restored and protected.

At Unitywater's request, the news was not made public at the time of the acquisitiion. In January 2017 I put together a pictorial account of of the 150+ bird species recorded from Yandina Creek Wetland. Then in February 2017, I revealed the excellent news of the in an article which featured prominently in The Weekend Australian, and on my blog.

Yandina Creek
Unitywater entered into agreements with BirdLife Australia and the University of the Sunshine Coast to undertake studies of birds and fisheries habitat before and after the floodgates were reopened and the wetland replenished. The Yandina Creek Wetland was offically opened at a ceremony in November 2017 but is not yet open to the public.

It is a matter of regret that this otherwise edifying saga culminated in something of a sour note. The opening ceremony was clearly a significant milestone. Yet I was not invited or told of it until after the event. BirdLife Southern Queensland was there, but BLA Sunshine Coast and the volunteers surveying the wetland were not invited. Neither were the owners of properties adjoining the wetland who backed the conservation campaign. With the exception of the Sunshine Coast Environment Council, community groups that played important roles in the effort were absent. In his address to the function, Jim Soorley effectively claimed full ownership of the outcome, making no reference to the long-running campaign or the efforts of others.

On the plus side, Soorley gave a public assurance that the wetland will be opened eventually to the public. In making this pledge, Soorley debunked claims made publicly by one resident, a vocal opponent of the wetland campaign, that she had been repeatedly assured by Unitywater there would be no public access to the site. Unitywater deserves plaudits also for engaging BirdLife Australia and others to survey the wetland; BLA has successfully completed a series of pre-flooding bird surveys.

BirdLife Australia survey underway at the wetland
Four floodgates along the wetland's northern edge on Yandina Creek were reopened this week. Three floodgates in the south-east corner of the site remain closed. The result is that the northern half of the wetland has been replenished while the southern half remains dry. A Unitywater spokesperson says: “We will assess if additional gates can be opened. Our priority is to ensure none of our actions adversely affect neighbouring properties and the opening of any tidal gates needs to be well considered. Our key purpose for this site is to generate nutrient and vegetation offsets. While the opening of tidal gates is an opportunity to also improve biodiversity on the site, this is not our primary intention.”

Southern half of the wetland this week - still dry as some floodgates remain shut
In September 2016 I found another area of wetland at West Coolum, 1.5 kilometres east of Yandina Creek. This 90-hectare site has similarly been inundated by tidal water following the breakdown of floodgates on former cane farmland. The area does not appear to be as rich in birdlife as Yandina Creek but nonetheless has potential. The land is owned by the Sunshine Coast Council and zoned “open space sport environment”.

Coolum West Wetland
I wrote to the council asking that the site I've dubbed Coolum West Wetland be rezoned and protected as wetland. The council replied that it is assessing the environmental value of the land, which is separated from the Yandina Creek Wetland by the 440-hectare Coolum Creek Reserve. All three sites – Coolum Creek Reserve, Yandina Creek Wetland and West Coolum – may be protected as a contiguous 740-hectare bushland and wetland reserve in the heart of the Sunshine Coast.
Now that would be one for the birds.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Powerful Owl, Musk Lorikeet about Sunshine Coast & Bribie Island

Powerful Owl male (L) female (R)

A pair of Powerful Owls has turned up at Beerwah on the Sunshine Coast. The agitated behaviour of both birds indicates they have begun nesting. The owls are in a reserve of open forest with a dense understory along Upper Coochin Creek. Thanks to my Facebook friend Chow Chilla, who discovered the birds and asked that the site remain under wraps, and to Matt Wright for helping me get on top of this pair. The birds were calling frequently in the area in recent days. One was seen to fly over houses after sunset, suggesting they may be feeding in suburbia as well as in the fragmented forest patches about Beerwah.

Powerful Owl male
Powerful Owl is a rare bird in the Sunshine Coast region. I've heard or seen them several times in the Conondale and Jimna ranges – at Charlie Moreland Park, Booloumba Creek and Peach Trees camping ground, among other places – but sparingly over many years. Friends have recorded them several times in their garden at Buderim and there is supposedly a territory near Gympie. Barry Traill last week had one calling in his garden at Maleny. Other locals reported Powerful Owls recently in the Blackall Range foothills between Maleny and Landsborough. Another Powerful Owl was taken into care recently after being hit by a motor vehicle in Moffat Beach.

POSTSCRIPT: 9/5/2018
A Powerful Owl was found road-killed last weekend on Steve Irwin Way, just 1 km from the roosting site. I checked out the site today and there was no sign of any owls, confirming fears that the dead bird was one of this pair, with the survivor probably having left the area.
POSTSCRIPT: 20/5/2018
Local residents have heard a single bird calling at the site, suggesting that the survivor is the female and sitting on eggs in a hollow. Unless she attracts a new mate the nesting attempt will fail.

Powerful Owl male
Powerful Owl male
Also of interest locally is an influx of Musk Lorikeets on Bribie Island. Between 50 and 70 were feeding in bloodwoods at Buckleys Hole when I visited and they have been seen regularly at several sites on the island. They've also been about Brisbane so it appears there's a significant movement of the species into South-East Queensland, where it is normally a rare visitor, from the southern states; this may be due to poor flowering seasons further south.

Musk Lorikeets

Musk Lorikeets
A somewhat distant pair of Grey Goshawks at North Arm was nice.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Camping at Yandilla, Conondale Range

Masked Owl

Good birds at Yandilla Farmstay, the adjoining Conondale National Park and the nearby Kilcoy Abattoir ponds included Masked Owl, Red-browed Treecreeper, Glossy Black Cockatoo, Painted Buttonquail, Plum-headed Finch and Black-tailed Native-hen.

Conondale National Park (southern end)
We camped for 3 nights at Yandilla Farmstay at the northern end of Mt Kilcoy Road. A bit of the history and further information about the place can be found here. It's a pleasant spot with running creeks nestled in the southern foothills of the Conondale Range. A walking trail leads upstream a short way from the property into Conondale National Park. Facilities are basic, with warmish showers available late-afternoon after a tank fire is lit by the property owner (who, it should be warned, is extremely talkative!)

Camping at Yandilla

Kilcoy Creek, Yandilla
Late one afternoon a pair of Glossy Black Cockatoos came down to the camp to drink; they are seen here regularly.

Glossy Black Cockatoo
Other nice birds about the property included Eastern Barn Owl (calling), Dusky Woodswallow and White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike.

White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike
A Wedge-tailed Eagle soared overhead and a pair of Bush Stone-Curlews near the homestead was nice. [Yandilla elist].

Bush Stone-Curlew

Wedge-tailed Eagle
During my wanderings around the property I spotted a group of introduced Red Deer. Red-necked and Swamp wallabies were also about.

Red Deer
From the farmstay (you need to open a couple of gates going in or out) it is 1 km to the end of Mt Kilcoy Road. Then a vehicular track in quite good condition heads steeply up into Conondale National Park. It passes through dry sclerophyll forest, where I located a party of Painted Buttonquail on a level stretch of the track; the male is in these images.

Painted Buttonquail

Painted Buttonquail
I stopped 4km from the park entrance at the first substantial fork in the road. Crimson Rosellas seemed to be fairly common here in the wet sclerophyll forest that dominated at this higher altitude.

Crimson Rosella
Then I heard a Red-browed Treecreeper, a species I had seen just once in the region since moving to the Sunshine Coast in 2009. I tracked the bird down to a grey gum it was feeding in. I've suggested previously that this species and others in the region have declined in recent decades, possible due to climate change. Red-browed Treecreeper in the 1970s was regularly encountered in the Blackall and Conondale ranges but the bird has disappeared from favoured haunts. So to find it here was an unexpected treat.

Red-browed Treecreeper
I ventured back up the range at night with owling on my mind, and was thrilled to find a beautiful female Masked Owl by the track about half-way up. [Elist Conondale NP].

Masked Owl
In the same spot was a Yellow-bellied Glider; always a pleasure to see this endearing marsupial, especially so close.

Yellow-bellied Glider

Yellow-bellied Glider
On the way back from (and on the way to) Yandilla Farmstay, we dropped by the Kilcoy abattoir dams on Winya Road. Yellow-rumped Thornbill is a scarce species in the Sunshine Coast hinterland but is regular here. Royal and Yellow-billed Spoonbills were on the dams.

Royal Spoonbill & Yellow-billed Spoonbill

Yellow-rumped Thornbill
A party of 10 Australasian Shovelers was present. Also of interest were a flock of 15 Plum-headed Finches, and 2 Black-tailed Native-hens which showed briefly.

Australasian Shoveler 
Completely unexpected was a Great Crested Grebe which flew overhead; this bird is not often seen in flight. [Winya Rd elist].

Great Crested Grebe