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.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Sooty Owl, Little Bittern, Marbled Frogmouth, Rainforest Frogs on a Warm Summer Evening

Sooty Owl
Sooty Owl, Marbled Frogmouth and some delightful rainforest frogs were the highlights of an evening in Mapleton National Park in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

Australian Little Bittern
Earlier, I headed off in the late afternoon with Susie Lycett and Fiona Anderson to Parklakes at Bli Bli, where the male Australian Little Bittern that has been around for a few weeks again showed well. It was on the first lake, closest to the Yandina-Bli Bli Road, where I've not seen it before. I managed to get close to the bird while it was in a classic bittern freeze-mode, doing a better job of looking like a stick that the image suggests.

Marbled Frogmouth
 We headed up into the Blackall Range where the first of 4 Greater Gliders for the evening was spotted just after sunset. Two Sugar Gliders were also seen during the evening. Further along the road in Mapleton National Park, it didn't take much effort for a female Marbled Frogmouth to show at a favoured haunt for this species.

Australian Owlet-Nightjar
We also managed good views of an Australian Owlet-Nightjar after some effort.

Eastern Stony Creek Frog

Orange-eyed Tree Frog
Plenty of wet weather lately so great conditions for rainforest frogs. Good numbers of Eastern Stony Creek Frog (Litoria wilcoxii) were out and about, with the males brightly yellow-green and several pairs in amplexus. Nice to see quite a few Orange-eyed Tree-Frogs (Litoria chloris). Other frogs included large numbers of Great Barred River Frogs (Mixophyes fasciatus), Brown-striped Marsh-frog (Limnodynastes peronii), Eastern Sedge-Frog (Litoria fallax), Pearson's Tree-Frog (L. pearsoniana) and Peron's Tree Frog (Litoria peronii). Cane toads were surprisingly and pleasantly few in number up in the forest.

We moved further up the road and eventually tracked down a fine Sooty Owl roadside (first image in this post). This species is difficult in the Blackall Range, being easier to see in the nearby Conondale Range.

In other local critter news, pairs of both Lewin's Rail and Pale-vented Bush-hen have returned to one of their favoured haunts, at North Arm. Spotless Crakes have moved into both the small artificially created wetlands in the Coolum industrial estate.

Brush Cuckoo
In the home garden, cuckoos have been particularly conspicuous this summer, with large numbers of noisy Eastern Koels and plenty of Brush Cuckoos about.

Eastern Koel

Friday, 2 January 2015

Sunshine Coast Daily: Yandina Creek Wetlands Coverege


Yandina Creek Wetlands
.Article in sunshine coast daily regarding yandina creek wetlands
.letter from federal environment minister greg hunt
Wetlands battle heating up

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Coxen's Fig-Parrot: Does It Live?

Coxen's Fig-Parrot
Does the coxeni race of the Double-eyed Fig-Parrot - quite possibly a distinct species - still exist, or is it extinct? An intriguing sighting of a group of small, green parrots in the Sunshine Coast hinterland recently has again sparked hopes that the parrot may indeed survive. A local observer watched the birds for several minutes high in a Ficus tree in the Tuchekoi area of the Mary River Valley in early-December.

The observer, who does not want to be identified, watched the parrots feeding on figs through 10x binoculars and a 16x rifle scope (used for feral animal control) on a privately owned farm. He believed 3 or 4 birds were in the tree. The birds were described as tiny, green parrots with no visible head colouration, but bright blue wing flashes were noted on several occasions although the birds were quite distant. It is this feature which makes the observation particularly interesting. The patches of red and blue on the face of Coxen's Fig-Parrot are not nearly as obvious as they are in the northern races of Double-eyed Fig-Parrot (and are much duller than in the painting above); they could have been overlooked easily at some distance. However, the blue wing flashes - and the observer is adamant they were seen - are hard to ascribe to anything else. The sighting of the birds feeding on figs is also significant; this has been rarely reported in claimed records of Coxen's Fig-Parrot in recent times.

Fruit and leaves from parrot feeding tree
The observer says Rose-crowned Fruit-Doves were also feeding on figs in the tree. He collected and photographed the remains of small figs from the ground below where the birds were feeding. The identity of the farm property is not being revealed by the observer as it is presently subject to an intensive feral animal control program. The tree was in a patch of vine scrub in farm pasture in a stretch of the Mary River Valley where good numbers of Ficus trees remain. When I visited the general area (not the property) this morning, I saw plenty of Australasian Figbirds and a good sprinkling of other birds feeding on figs including Barred Cuckoo-shrike, Channel-billed Cuckoo and Eastern Koel.



Tree where Fig-Parrots were possibly seen
There have been no authenticated records of Coxen's Fig-Parrot for about 25 years or so. None of numerous claimed sightings over that time have been able to be confirmed by photographs or follow-up observations, leading to speculation that the bird may be extinct in its habitat of lowland rainforest in south-east Queensland and north-east NSW. This latest may well well prove to be yet another unconfirmed sighting, but Sunshine Coast birders and people visiting the region might want to keep an eye out. There are a number of unconfirmed sightings of Coxen's Fig-Parrot from the Mary River Valley region since the 1980s as well as historic records.

Paradise Riflebird
From Tuchekoi I moved on to an excellent area of lowland rainforest along Cedar Creek Road in the western foothills of the Blackall Range. Of interest here was a nicely performing Paradise Riflebird and a pair of Lewin's Rail in creekside vegetation. Plenty of Wompoo and Rose-crowned Fruit-Doves were about.


Paradise Riflebird
More common fare in open areas nearby around Belli Park included Red-browed Finch and Red-backed Fairy-wren.

Red-backed Fairy-wren

Red-browed Finch




Sunday, 14 December 2014

Yandina Creek Wetlands: The Case for Conservation

YANDINA CREEK WETLANDS - A CONSERVATION CASE

Australian Painted-Snipe: Endangered Species
INTRODUCTION

The Yandina Creek Wetlands, a short distance inland from Coolum Beach on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, has emerged as an environmental site of statewide and potentially national importance. The presence of an unusually diverse array of rare, threatened and difficult-to-find birds in the wetlands and associated grasslands provides a compelling case for their protection as a reserve.

A proposal is before the Sunshine Coast Regional Council (Nomination Number R100) to acquire three properties (Lots 3 and 4 RP148079 and 2RP107173) that cover the wetlands - totalling about 200 hectares - under the council's Environmental Levy Plan. The owners of the two biggest properties (Lots 3 and 4RP148079) have indicated their intention to drain the wetlands to recover the land for farming, probably cattle. The purpose of this report is to indicate the potential implications of any such move under federal and state environmental legislation, and under local government planning regulations, and to advance the case for conserving the area.

Yandina Creek Wetlands: Looking West to Mt Ninderry
The Yandina Creek Wetlands are on former sugar cane land that has not been farmed for 10 years. The wetlands have been created in part because they are replenished by tidal flooding from the Maroochy River through a maze of canals that criss-cross the properties; this appears to have happened because flood gates and sluices have not been maintained since sugar farming ceased. Although in part created artificially, the wetlands and grasslands have effectively replaced habitat which occurred naturally in the area before the development of cane farms. The canals and flood gates provide an excellent opportunity to now manage the wetlands as a viable habitat in the future.

BIRDLIFE

The bird list for the wetlands is impressive (see a full list of species at the end of this report). Species that are considered to be rare or uncommon in Australia that occur there include Australian Painted-Snipe, Australian Little Bittern, Eastern Grass Owl and King Quail. The area contains one of the highest densities of Eastern Grass Owl in southern Queensland, with several pairs resident.

Grey Goshawk: Near Threatened
Birds that are rare, uncommon or localised in south-east Queensland that frequent or visit the wetlands include Brolga, Black-necked Stork, Spotless Crake, Baillon's Crake, Red-necked Avocet, Red-kneed Dotterel, Bush Stone-Curlew, Large-tailed Nightjar, Red-backed Buttonquail and Black-tailed Native-hen. Several of these species have been seen in the Sunshine Coast region only at this site. The record of Large-tailed Nightjar constitutes a southern extension of range for this species.

Birds considered to be more generally scarce in Queensland seen at the Yandina Creek Wetlands include Australian Spotted Crake, Grey Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon and Spotted Harrier. The wetlands and grasslands in the area at times host a large number of birds of prey when populations of native rodents (Rattus lutreolus and Rattus tunneyi) are present.

Variety of Waterbirds at Yandina Creek Wetlands
Eleven species of migratory shore birds frequent the wetlands, with a population at times totalling several hundred: Pacific Golden Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Latham's Snipe, Curlew Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone and Black-tailed Godwit. Unusually large numbers of Marsh Sandpiper and Latham's Snipe occur there. Broad-billed Sandpiper is regarded as one of the rarer migratory shorebirds that visit Australian shores. Flocks of 100 or more Pacific Golden Plover are recorded.

AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the Australian Government is required to prevent actions that have a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance. Two such matters pertain to the Yandina Creek Wetlands: the occurrence of Australian Painted-Snipe; and the occurrence of 11 species of migratory shorebird.

The Australian Painted-Snipe has been recorded several times at the Yandina Creek Wetlands, with as many as seven birds present at one time. Areas of flooded stubble and exposed mud interspersed with extensive reed-beds provide excellent habitat for this cryptic bird. The species is listed as Endangered under the federal legislation, rendering it a matter of national environmental significance.

To ensure the conservation of migratory shorebirds, the Australian Government has fostered international co-operation through three Migratory Bird Agreements - with Japan, China and South Korea. Australia is also a signatory to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn Convention); the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands; and the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership. These international agreements commit Australia to take appropriate measures to preserve, restore and enhance the environment of migratory birds. The Commonwealth has international obligations to seek means to prevent damage to populations of migratory shorebirds.

Pacific Golden Plover: Migrtory Shorebird
The Yandina Creek Wetlands provide refuge to 11 of the 33 migratory shorebird species covered by these agreements that are regarded as a matter of national environmental significance. The wetlands are the most significant brackish water and freshwater site for migratory shorebirds (and other waterbirds) in the Sunshine Coast region and one of the most important in south-east Queensland.

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, an action that will or is likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance requires the approval of the federal Environment Minister. Any such action must undergo an environmental assessment and approval process. Penalties for taking such action without approval are substantial: a fine of up to $5.5 million and up to 7 years jail. Significant impact criteria under the act for endangered species includes any action that would modify, destroy or decrease the availability of habitat to the extent that the species is likely to decline.

The federal Environment Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment have been asked to require the undertaking of an environmental assessment and approval process before any proposal for the Yandina Creek Wetlands to be drained and developed proceeds. This assessment would attempt to determine the potential impacts on the two matters of national environmental significance pertaining to the area. Those in agreement with this course of action are invited to write to:

Hon Greg Hunt,
Minister for the Environment,
PO Box 274,
Hastings, VIC, 3915.
Greg.Hunt.MP@aph.gov.au

QUEENSLAND GOVERNMENT

The Queensland Government appears to have a responsibility to examine plans to drain and develop the Yandina Creek Wetlands under the Nature Conservation Act. The wetlands provide habitat for the above-mentioned Australian Painted Snipe, a species listed as Vulnerable under the state act, and for three species listed as Near Threatened: Lewin's Rail, Grey Goshawk and Black-necked Stork. The population of Lewin's Rail in the wetlands is relatively large, with an estimated 12-15 breeding pairs.

Broken Canal Flood Gate: Yandina Creek Wetlands
Under state legislation, the proposed management intent for Vulnerable wildlife includes action to ensure viable populations are preserved or re-established, and for effective measures to mitigate any adverse impact of activities on the wildlife. The management intent for Near Threatened wildlife includes putting into effect strategies to address any threats to the conservation of the wildlife. The management intent for both Vulnerable and Near Threatened wildlife includes action to protect the critical habitat, or the areas of major interest, for the wildlife.

The Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection has been asked to examine plans to drain and develop the Yandina Creek Wetlands to ensure that they would have no impacts on the Vulnerable and Near Threatened wildlife species that occur there. Those in agreement with this course of action are invited to write to:

Hon Andrew Powell,
Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection,
GPO Box 2454,
BRISBANE QLD 4001.

PLANNING AND SUNSHINE COAST COUNCIL

The properties covering the wetlands are zoned Regional Landscape and Rural Production under the South-East Queensland Regional Plan, so they can not be subdivided. They are zoned Rural by the Sunshine Coast Council.

The council plans for the properties include a series of overlays which potentially restrict development plans. These include three Land Subject to Biodiversity, Waterways and Wetlands overlays. Designated overlays of Native Vegetation and Wetland cover about 30 per cent of Lot 3RP148079 - the largest of the three properties. As well, about 40 per cent of 3RP is covered by a Riparian Protection Area overlay, as is approximately 10 per cent of Lot 4RP148079, and 50 per cent of Lot 2RP107173. Much of this land is also subject to an Acid Sulfate Soils overlay. The overlay maps can be accessed here..

Yandina Creek: Northern Boundary of Wetlands

The designated area covered by the overlays, especially on 3RP, includes some of the richest habitat of wetland and grassland - along with some of the densest concentrations of waterbirds - on the properties.

Council guidelines say the purpose of the Biodiversity, Waterways and Wetlands overlays is to ensure that any development protects and enhances ecologically important areas. Any development should protect known populations and supporting habitat of rare and threatened species listed under the above-mentioned state and Commonwealth laws. Any development should be located and managed to avoid or minimise adverse impacts on ecological systems.

The council's Criteria for Assessable Development says that rural use on property should not be located on land identified as being a wetland or waterway on a Biodiversity, Waterways and Wetlands overlay. The proposed draining and development of the Yandina Creek Wetlands may have impacts for the land identified by the council as wetland.

According to the council's Development Services Department, the council is not concerned about whether the wetlands are natural or human-modified. Any development that threatened designated wetlands or native vegetation areas would be in the breach of the Town Plan. A complaint can be lodged against any such development and that complaint would trigger a council investigation. However, landholders may be able to prove an Existing Use on farmland, which could exempt them from some provisions, even if the land has been fallow for several years.

The Sunshine Coast Mayor has been asked to approve the proposal to acquire the three properties at issue under the council's Environment Levy Plan (Nomination Number R100) so they may protected as a reserve. The mayor has also been asked to examine the proposed drainage and development of the Yandina Creek Wetlands to ensure that any such activity would have no impacts on areas designated as wetlands, native vegetation and riparian protection. Those in agreement with this course of action are invited to write to:

Councillor Mark Jamieson,
Mayor,
Sunshine Coast Council,
Locked Bag 72,
Sunshine Coast Mail Centre QLD 4560.

LANDHOLDERS

The largest area of land embracing the wetland – two of the three properties proposed for acquisition; Lots 3 and 4RP148079 – is owned by a Sunshine Coast family which owns other properties in the region.

A number of individuals and environmental and birding organising have expressed support for moves to protect the wetlands. The family has been asked to consider allowing a survey of the site to be undertaken by a team of visiting experts; such a survey would attempt to paint a wider picture of the fauna and flora occurring on the properties. A family spokesman says the family is considering whether to grant permission for the survey to proceed.

The family says it is their intention to develop the properties as farmland, probably for cattle, which they are running on their other property holdings in the area. However, the family has not ruled out accepting a financial offer to acquire the wetland properties for conservation purposes. The family is in agreement with those supporting protection of the wetlands for conservation plans to proceed in a spirit of mutual co-operation and respect.

The owners of the third block of land proposed for acquisition (Lot 2RP 107173) have indicated their willingness to sell. The council has previously rejected a proposal to acquire this property partly because of the expense. However, the cost would be reduced considerably if the council allowed the property to be subdivided, so the area of wetland on Lot 2 north of River Road - that abuts the above-mentioned properties - could be acquired for conservation purposes. 

SUGAR CANE FARMS AND WETLANDS

In 2003, the Moreton sugar mill in Nambour closed, removing a market for the district’s 120 cane
growers who had been harvesting cane from almost 10,000 hectares of farmland in the Sunshine Coast area. According to Future Use of Sunshine Coast Cane Landscapes, a 2006 report commissioned by SEQ Catchments from the CSIRO, most of the land – about 7,000 hectares – is flood-prone and poorly drained, limiting farming opportunities for landholders. The report says the future of the cane lands rests in part with the conversion of former cane land to wetlands for the purpose of addressing draining and flooding issues, while at the same time achieving biodiversity outcomes.
Waterfowl Flying Over Yandina Creek Wetlands
The report says: “Maintaining or restoring wetlands is an important opportunity associated with any future land use change. Improved wetland management provides significant opportunities for increased ecosystem services from the cane landscapes. Apart from retaining or enhancing the essential regulatory services for water within the floodplains, provisioning through fish habitats, nature-based educational opportunities could be expanded. There is a promising potential for re-instating wetlands or creating artificial wetlands (compatible with local conservation and land use values) for waste water polishing.” The report can be found here.

The conversion of sugar cane land to wetlands – or the reversion of farmland to its original state as wetlands - has occurred widely in Queensland and north-east NSW. For instance, Vine and Rita Papale, cane farmers in the Burdekin region of north Queensland, successfully converted part of their farm to wetlands with financial assistance from the Commonwealth after finding they were losing areas of cane to flooding.

THE FUTURE

If the Yandina Creek Wetlands are acquired as a reserve, some management issues could be addressed. The prolific growth of exotic weeds, especially groundsel, needs to be checked. A population of feral dogs is using the wetlands as a refuge; a dead Black-necked Stork was found recently in a feral dog lair. Flows from tidal canals may need adjusting at times through sluices and flood gates to ensure water supply to the wetlands is maintained. Regrowth of Melaleuca and Allocasurina trees may need to be controlled in more elevated areas.

Black-necked Stork Remains in Feral Dog Lair: Yandina Creek Wetlands
A network of old farming roads could be upgraded to walking tracks to allow public access to an area that is aesthetically pleasing - with the dramatic backdrops to the wetlands of Mt Coolum to the east and Mt Ninderry to the west – as well as biologically significant.

If the wetlands are acquired by the Sunshine Coast Regional Council, they could be added to the adjoining Coolum Creek Conservation Park, which borders Yandina Creek in the south and Coolum Creek in the north. This conservation park, although extensive, is dominated by densely vegetated Melaleuca and Allocasuarina woodland with few open wetland or grassland areas, and little habitat that is suitable for waterbirds.

Should the council decline the acquisition proposal for the wetlands, other options to purchase the properties can be explored.

Azure Kingfisher at Yandina Creek Wetlands


BIRD SPECIES LIST – YANDINA CREEK WETLANDS

Australasian Grebe
Little Pied Cormorant
Pied Cormorant
Little Black Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Australian Darter
Australian Pelican
White-faced Heron
Little Egret
White-necked Heron
Great Egret
Intermediate Egret
Cattle Egret
Striated Heron
Nankeen Night-heron
Australian Little Bittern
Black-necked Stork
Glossy Ibis
Australian White Ibis
Straw-necked Ibis
Royal Spoonbill
Yellow-billed Spoonbill
Magpie Goose
Plumed Whistling-duck
Wandering Whistling-duck
Black Swan
Australian Wood Duck
Grey Teal
Chestnut Teal
Pacific Black Duck
Hardhead
Australian Black-shouldered Kite
Black Kite
Whistling Kite
Brahminy Kite
White-bellied Sea-eagle
Swamp Harrier
Spotted Harrier
Grey Goshawk
Brown Goshawk
Collared Sparrowhawk
Osprey
Brown Falcon
Nankeen Kestrel
Australian Hobby
Peregrine Falcon
Brown Quail
King Quail
Red-backed Buttonquail
Buff-banded Rail
Lewin's Rail
Baillon's Crake
Australian Spotted Crake
Spotless Crake
Purple Swamphen
Dusky Moorhen
Eurasian Coot
Black-tailed Native-hen
Brolga
Australian Painted-snipe
Black-winged Stilt
Red-necked Avocet
Bush Stone-curlew
Pacific Golden Plover
Lesser Sand Plover
Red-kneed Dotterel
Black-fronted Dotterel
Masked Lapwing
Latham's Snipe
Black-tailed Godwit
Marsh Sandpiper
Common Greenshank
Red-necked Stint
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper
Broad-billed Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Caspian Tern
Whiskered Tern
Crested Pigeon
Bar-shouldered Dove
Pale-headed Rosella
Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoo
Galah
Rainbow Lorikeet
Brush Cuckoo
Fan-tailed Cuckoo
Eastern Koel
Channel-billed Cuckoo
Pheasant Coucal
Eastern Grass-owl
Southern Boobook
Tawny Frogmouth
Large-tailed Nightjar
White-throated Needletail
Azure Kingfisher
Laughing Kookaburra
Forest Kingfisher
Sacred Kingfisher
Rainbow Bee-eater
Dollarbird
Red-backed Fairywren
Striated Pardalote
White-browed Scrubwren
Brown Thornbill
Mangrove Gerygone
White-throated Gerygone
Scarlet Honeyeater
Brown Honeyeater
Lewin's Honeyeater
Little Friarbird
Noisy Friarbird
Noisy Miner
Eastern Yellow Robin
Golden Whistler
Rufous Whistler
Grey Shrike-thrush
Eastern Whipbird
Welcome Swallow
Tree Martin
Fairy Martin
Australasian Pipit
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike
White-winged Triller
Cicadabird
Golden-headed Cisticola
Tawny Grassbird
Little Grassbird
Australian Reed-warbler
Willie-wagtail
Grey Fantail
Rufous Fantail
Leaden Flycatcher
Mistletoebird
Silver-eye
Olive-backed Oriole
Australalsian Figbird
Spangled Drongo
Torresian Crow
White-breasted Woodswallow
Grey Butcherbird
Pied Butcherbird
Australasian Magpie
Magpie-lark
Red-browed Finch
Chestnut-breasted Mannikin