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.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Drainage Works Begin at Yandina Creek Wetlands

Drainage Works Underway at Yandina Creek Wetlands
Work has begun to drain the Yandina Creek Wetlands on the Sunshine Coast, notwithstanding federal and Queensland government investigations into the potential implications of such a move under environmental protection laws. The move comes as the Sunshine Coast Council continues to consider a proposal to acquire the wetlands - regarded as nationally and, very likely, internationally significant under federal guidelines - for an environmental reserve.  The purpose of this post is to explain why drainage work has begun; the implications of the work; and what government authorities are doing about it.
Drainage Works Underway at Yandina Creek Wetlands
A decision on a proposal to acquire three properties totalling 200 hectares under the council's Environment Levy Acquisition Program will be made later this year. The properties were formerly used for sugar cane production until they were sold about a decade ago. Since then, they have been inundated by tidal water from the Maroochy River as canal floodgates fell into disrepair - a development which effectively restored an excellent example of the wetlands that were naturally widespread in the area before the development of the sugar industry last century.

Royal Spoonbill at Yandina Creek Wetlands 
The wetlands are home to a large population of waterbirds of many varieties, including endangered and threatened species, and migratory shorebirds which are protected under international treaties to which Australia is a signatory. As was reported last month (see here) the landholders of the largest property - Lot 3RP148079 - leased their land recently to the sugar cane growers who owned it originally; the growers said then that they plan to again grow cane on the land after draining it later this year, probably in September. This was a significant change of plan by the landholders, who had indicated their intention to graze cattle on the land - a move which would have required considerable land-filling and flood mitigation operations.

Yandina Creek Wetlands
The landholders were advised earlier this year by the federal  Environment Department that redevelopment of the land would potentially breach Commonwealth laws relating to protecting endangered species and migratory shorebirds. The move to lease the land for sugar cane production is presumably intended to bypass those laws because although no sugar has been grown there for many years, a "continuing use" for the property could potentially be claimed by the landholders, thereby exempting the cane growing plan.

Last week, the cane growers abruptly moved their drainage plans forward, constructing a 300-metre long wall of compacted mud and dredge spoils along the eastern boundary of Lot 3RP148079. The move is intended to prevent inundation at high tide, effectively assisting to drain the wetlands so sugar cane can again be grown. At the same time, pipes and other equipment have been moved to an area adjacent to the major floodgate on Yandina Creek that had fallen into disrepair, signalling that work may be planned to restore the floodgate to prevent further inundation of tidal water.

Yandina Creek Wetlands
It is not certain that the landholders and cane growers can avoid potential implications under the federal Environment Protection and Diversity Conservation Act. The Environment Department is investigating whether in fact the drainage works presently underway are exempt. What is certain is that neither the landholders nor the cane growers sought clearance from the department before proceeding with the drainage works.

At the same time, the new Queensland Environment Minister, Steven Miles, is examining whether the works have implications under the Nature Conservation Act for endangered and threatened species. The minister has also been asked to take urgent steps to determine if the landholdings should be designated a Wetland Protection Area - a move that would require state intervention to protect the wetlands.

Pipes and Other Equipment in Place - Yandina Creek Wetlands
Fisheries Queensland is also negotiating with the landholders to determine if the drainage works breach the provisions of the Fisheries Act. Drainage would kill a substantial area of protected mangroves at the eastern end of Lot 3RP148079.

However, while stopping all drainage works is the priority of those concerned with protecting the wetlands, regrowing the area with sugar cane is a better option than cattle pasture development.  Retaining walls can be dismantled and land can again be inundated. Restored floodgates can be removed. Even if government investigations suggest that a "continuing use" prevents intervention at this time, moves to acquire the properties for an environmental reserve would not necessarily be affected adversely. While those efforts continued, ongoing monitoring could ensure that more serious land use options (such as cattle grazing) were not pursued in future.

Google Earth View of Yandina Creek Wetlands
Meanwhile, the landholders have not made clear their long-term plans for this land. It is presently zoned rural and cannot be subdivided under local council planning rules or under the state's South-East Queensland Regional Plan. Companies owned by the landholders of the two main properties covering the wetlands are associated primarily not with cattle or farming, but with property development and investment.

Long Term Plans for the Wetlands - Another Maroochy River Canal Estate?
The landholders may be hoping that the land has a future in the long term as a canal estate or similar development if the council and Queensland Government have a change of heart. Government and council sources familiar with a long-standing debate surrounding the future of the Maroochy River canelands stress that this is highly unlikely. Importantly, the landholders have left the door open to an acquisition offer from the council.

Many of those concerned about the future of the wetlands have written to various authorities. Now is the time for those efforts to be escalated. A more detailed report on the case for protecting the wetlands can be found here.

The federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt - Greg.Hunt.MP@aph.gov.au - can be congratulated for his interest in the matter to date, but again be asked to ensure that the requirements of Commonwealth law relating to endangered species and migratory shorebirds are complied with. Mr Hunt could also be asked to order an inspection of the wetlands by departmental officers.

The Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles (environment@ministerial.qld.gov.au) - with any communication copied to his electoral office (Mount.Coot-tha@parliament.qld.gov.au) - can be asked to ensure that the provisions of the Nature Conservation Act are complied with, and to launch an immediate investigation into the potential designation of the wetlands as a Wetland Protection Area.

Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson - mail@sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au - can be again asked to approve Nomination Number 100 under the Environment Levy Plan. If cost is an issue, Lot 4RP148079 - which presently is unaffected by drainage works - contains the best wetlands and could be considered for acquisition in isolation.  

Finally, the local state MP and Speaker of the Queensland Parliament, Peter Wellington - Nicklin@parliament.qld.gov.au - can be asked to use his influence with the minority Labor Government to move to protect the wetlands.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Kayaking & Red-tailed Black Cockatoo in Sunshine Coast Hinterland

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo is a scarce bird in south-east Queensland but they are attracted to fruiting white cedar Melia azedarach in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, especially in riverside valleys in the eastern and northern slopes of the Conondale and associated ranges. During a three-day camp this week at SEQ Water's Borumba Dam campsite, Red-tailed Blacks were flying about in small numbers, feeding on cedar fruits.

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo
Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo was common as usual, on this visit feeding on the ripe pine cones of introduced Pinus radiata trees, and unusually in the same general area that the Red-tailed Blacks were present.

Yabba Creek
I spent a morning kayaking 14km down the Yabba Creek from the sixth to the first crossing along the Imbil-Bolumba Creek Road. Long, calm stretches of deep water are interspersed with stretches of up to 200m of Grade 1-2 rapids. It's a bumpy ride in places, with the kayak having to be hauled out several times to get around tree blockages or tricky-looking bits of white water. A mix of remnant lowland rainforest (vine scrub), eucalypt forest and grazing country lines this scenic watercourse. Wildlife seen included White-eared and Spectacled Monarch, good numbers (20+) of Azure Kingfishers, a Freshwater Snake and a Platypus.

Whiptail Wallaby
Other wildlife about the camping ground included good numbers of Whiptail Wallaby. The population has been resident here for many years, although the species is rare elsewhere in the Conondale Range area, and seemingly is absent from the Blackall Range.
A number of butterflies associated with vine scrubs were close to the camping ground, including the species depicted here.

Yellow Albatross

Fuscous Swallowtail

White-banded Plane
Elsewhere, a Bush Stone-Curlew was seen near home at the foot of Mt Ninderry. The birds have been heard from time to time but not seen here previously; the species generally is quite rare in the Sunshine Coast region.

Bush  Stone-Curlew
In the garden, the transformation from summer to winter is in full swing with autumn-winter visitors like Golden Whistler and Rufous Fantail turning up in small numbers. Still plenty of butterflies about, including this Orange-streaked Ringlet.

Golden Whistler

Rufous Fantail

Orange-streaked Ringlet

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Yandina Creek Wetlands: Important New Developments

Mangroves in Yandina Creek Wetland
There have been significant developments in the campaign to protect the 200-hectare Yandina Creek Wetlands on the Sunshine Coast from being drained since the publication of a report presenting the case for an application before the Sunshine Coast Council to acquire the wetlands for a reserve (see here). Although the report was updated last week, new information has come to hand.

Map of Yandina Creek Wetlands
It is useful to have a fresh look at a map of the wetlands. The bulk of the wetlands are on two properties (Lots 3 and 4 RP148079) owned separately by members of a Sunshine Coast family. As previously reported, the land was farmed for sugar cane until it was sold to the family about 10 years ago. Since then, floodgates on tidal waterways fringing the properties have fallen into disrepair, allowing the land to be inundated frequently. This has effectively restored an extensive area of the kind of wetlands that naturally were widespread on the Maroochy River floodplains before the development of the sugar cane industry many decades ago. The family has stated it is their intention to repair the floodgates to drain the wetlands so the area can be used for cattle grazing.

The wetlands are sustained by tidal water flowing through broken floodgates
The Commonwealth Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, has written to the landholders, advising them of their obligations to comply with federal law regarded the presence of an endangered species (Australian Painted-Snipe) and large numbers of migratory shorebirds on the properties. This appears to necessitate the compilation of an environmental impact study before the floodgates can be restored. At the same time, the Sunshine Coast Council has advised that early next financial year, it intends to make a decision on an application (Nomination Number 100) under its Environment Levy Land Acquisition Program to acquire the properties for a reserve.

The land was sold to the family by Scott Trevor, a doyen of the region's sugar cane industry, who resides on an adjoining property. Mr Trevor now tells supporters of efforts to protect the wetlands that he will be subleasing Lot 3 RP148079 from the family to restore sugar cane plantations. He believed that Lot 4 RP14809 would be utilised for cattle grazing, although some cattle would also be grazed on Lot 3. Significantly, Mr Trevor advised that the floodgates will be repaired later this year when drier conditions permit - probably in September - so that the wetlands can be drained. He said the substantial costs involved in repairing the floodgates would be shared between him and the landholders. Mr Trevor indicated that neither he nor the landholders were concerned about the potential implications of their plans under Commonwealth, State or council laws and regulations. However, Mr Trevor said no leasing agreement had yet been signed.

Uncertainty surrounds this development. The landholders may have legal advice indicating that continuing a technically existing use for the land (sugar cane growing) - instead of converting its primary use to grazing - may make it easier to avoid potential pitfalls in Commonwealth, state and council laws and regulations. Leasing the biggest property (Lot 3) to another title holder may make it more difficult for authorities to act. However, importantly, restoring the floodgates would appear to comprise an "action" in any event under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, triggering its provisions.


Yandina Creek Wetlands
A recent inspection from property boundaries has revealed the existence of several hectares of mangroves in the eastern sector of Lot 3. According to the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, all marine plants growing on or adjacent to tidal lands are protected under Queensland law through provisions of the Fisheries Act 1994. The destruction, damage or disturbance of marine plants without prior approval from Fisheries Queensland is prohibited. Heavy penalties apply to any unauthorised disturbances that impact on marine plants on all private and public lands. The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has been alerted to the presence of mangroves on the property and of plans to drain the area. The department has agreed to investigate the matter.

It has also been pointed out thacoastal wetlands on the east coast of Australia are underlain by estuarine sediments potentially containing acid sulfate soils. Drainage of the wetlands could lead to drainage of the groundwater and oxidation of acid sulfate soils, leading to acid discharge into Yandina Creek and the Maroochy River, potentially affecting water quality and fish habitat. Draining can also result in the development of acid scalds on the soil surface. Sunshine Coast Council maps show that much of the land in question is subject to an Acid Sulphate Soils overlay. The council has been asked to ensure that, in the event that the land is not acquired for conservation purposes, all of its planning regulations are complied with. 

Several supporters have suggested that notwithstanding Mr Hunt's intervention, legal action should be initiated in the Federal Court to ensure that the drainage plan does not proceed. It has been pointed out that the wetlands are a nationally significant site under Commonwealth law, and are potentially an internationally significant site. Any such legal action is outside the resources of supporters of the conservation plan. However, the Queensland Environmental Defenders Office has been asked to consider the matter.

The landholders have opted to end communication with supporters of the conservation plan after refusing permission for a scientific survey to proceed. The landholders appear to believe that environmentalists are responsible for vandalising fences on a nearby property that they own, and of chaining open floodgates. No evidence has been provided to support those assertions and the landholders have been assured that those interested in protecting the wetlands would deplore any such acts. The family has left open the possibility of accepting an offer to acquire the properties,  however.









  

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Richmond Birdwing on Comeback Trail

Richmond Birdwing
The Richmond Birdwing Butterfly is one of the iconic wildlife species of the rainforests of south-east Queensland and north-east NSW. Once common and widespread, the destruction of lowland rainforest reduced its numbers so substantially that the species was once thought to be in seriously in danger of extinction. Its caterpillars feed on only two species of Pararistolochia vine.

Richmond Birdwing
The butterfly's favoured vines have been planted over much of its range - including the Sunshine Coast hinterland - by community groups and it appears that the species is on the comeback trail. I watched a couple of male Richmond Birdwings today in riverine remnant lowland rainforest at North Arm in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. It is the same spot where I saw the species in September 2013. The butterflies were behaving in the same manner: flying about in large circles over a concentrated area of vegetation, though there did not appear to be anything exceptional about the plants there. They were seen feeding several times on the flowers of introduced lantana.

I've long harboured concerns about the war against lantana being waged by often those same community groups that plant the butterfly's preferred vine. The weed needs to kept in check, but I think there is little doubt it replaces some of what was lost through the decimation of lowland rainforest, which survives today only in remnant patches. Butterflies love lantana flowers. The endangered Black-breasted Buttonquail - another rarity endemic to the rainforests of north-east NSW and south-east Queensland - is often found in lantana thickets. Other cryptic birds like Lewin's Rail and Pale-vented Bush-hen nest and forage in lantana. I have seen some of these birds disappear from places where lantana has been removed. Time for a rethink perhaps.

Tailed Emporer
It has been an excellent season for butterflies generally this year, with a selection of those about the North Arm-Ninderry area seen today shown here.

Brown Ringlet
Yellow Albatross


Long-tailed Pea-Blue

Blue Tiger



Fairy Gerygone
A pair of Fairy Gerygones are in residence at the North Arm butterfly spot. Numbers of this mostly tropical species appear to be on the rise in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, though their stronghold in the region is in coastal vine scrub.

Striated Heron
Elsewhere, I flushed a Black Bittern from a small tributary of Lake Doonella, Tewantin. The bird was seen twice more but (again) refused to be photographed. More co-operative was this dark phase Striated Heron in the Yandina Creek Wetlands.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Pectoral Sandpiper, 100+ Latham's Snipe, Australian Spotted Crake, Australasian Shoveler at Yandina Creek Wetlands

Pectoral Sandpiper
I found a Pectoral Sandpiper today at the Yandina Creek Wetlands on the Sunshine Coast. The bird was associating loosely with a flock of Red-kneed Dotterels and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. Pectoral Sandpiper is a rare visitor to south-east Queensland and this is the first record of the species for the Sunshine Coast region. The bird was in poor light and distant, so the images are not as sharp as I would have liked.

Pectoral Sandpiper
About 20 Red-kneed Dotterels were present, including several juveniles. As these birds have been in the area for two years now, it is likely they have bred. A single Red-necked Avocet was also about.

Latham's Snipe

Red-necked Avocet
Of particular interest was the large number of Latham's Snipe present. I counted 85 and estimate that given the extent of habitat favoured by the birds, a total of 120-150 snipe were there. I have not seen anywhere near this large a concentration of this species previously and would be interested in knowing of any sightings of comparable numbers in Australia. It is likely that numbers are building up at Yandina Creek for the northward migration.

Australian Pelican & Black Swan
Two Australian Spotted Crakes were heard calling. This species, another rarity in south-east Queensland, has been seen at the River Road end of the wetlands by other observers but not by me. The River Road section of the wetlands is the only area that is publicly accessible, but is presently dry. I am able to gain access to the edge of the main wetlands through two properties that I have permission to enter. Please respect the wishes of the property owners not to trespass on their land.

Australasian Shoveler
A pair of Australasian Shovelers was present today among large numbers of Pacific Black Duck, Grey Teal and Chesnut Teal.

Black-necked Stork
Also of interest were two pairs of Black-necked Stork. This is an excellent site for this relatively scarce species, but I've not previously seen so many at one time there.

Varied Eggfly
Among other wildlife were plenty of butterflies, mainly Varied Eggfly and Swamp Tiger.

Efforts to persuade the Sunshine Coast Council to acquire these wetlands for a reserve continue. While the landholders are agreeable to selling, they intend to drain them for cattle pasture if an offer is not forthcoming. The discovery of Pectoral Sandpiper here and such a large number of Latham's Snipe further strengthens the conservation case. It also increases pressure on the Commonwealth Government to ensure that no development proceeds that could endanger the habitat of the large numbers of migratory waders that frequent the wetlands. The creation of a reserve would of course also allow public access to what is emerging as one of the most significant wetland sites in south-east Queensland. The case for protecting these wetlands is presented in detail here.

River Road - Flooding February 2015
During heavy rains in February, much of the area in the vicinity of the wetlands was extensively flooded, raising questions about the viability of raising cattle on this land.

Channel-billed Cuckoo juvenile
In other local picture opportunities, the juvenile Channel-billed Cuckoos have fledged and departed for greener pastures further north. This one was raised by a pair of Torresian Crows at Tewantin.

Australian Wood Duck family
A family of Australian Wood Ducks at the Maroochydore Sewage Treatment Plant.

Australian Hobby
An Australian Hobby was looking good at Paradise Waters.

Eastern Water Skink
This Eastern Water Skink was remarkably tame on the boardwalk in the Peregian Beach section of Noosa National Park.

Little Red Flying Fox

Eastern Whipbirds
It seems that Little Red Flying Foxes are presently invading coastal south-east Queensland, as they do from time to time. In the flying fox colony at Noosaville, this species greatly outnumbered the resident Black Flying Foxes, and I could not find any Grey-headed Flying Foxes.
In the home garden, Eastern Whipbirds are regularly coming to the birdbaths to bath and drink.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Turquoise Parrot and other Goodies: Old Wallangarra Road

Turquoise Parrot
The Old Wallangarra Road on the NSW-Queensland border near Girraween National Park has long been a top birding spot. I enjoyed 5 encounters with a total of 8-10 Turquoise Parrots there during a visit this week, along with a raft of other goodies including Diamond Firetail, Plum-headed Finch, White-browed Babbler and Southern Whiteface.

Turquoise Parrot

Turquoise Parrot
I saw my first Turquoise Parrot on the Old Wallangarra Road in 1973. It is encouraging that more than four decades on, this rare species is still to be found there. Much of the road is now closed, but the few kilometres south of Wyberba remains open and this stretch is never disappointing. I had 3 hours in an afternoon at this site and 3 hours the next morning, staying overnight at the nearby Ballandean Tavern. This visit was on the way home from a trip to coastal NSW (see next post). Most of the time was occupied around the intersection of the road with Hickley Lane, and along the creek a little to the south of there.

Turquoise Parrot

Turquoise Parrot female
My first encounter was a single male Turquoise Parrot flying up from the roadside in the afternoon. Then a pair flew overhead distantly. Early the next morning I watched a male feeding on the road before it was joined by 2 females. A little later I had stunning views of a single male parrot in a roadside tree which was unusually approachable. A single female was drinking at the creek an hour or so after that.

Quite a few species found reliably along the Old Wallangarra Road are scarce and difficult to see elsewhere in South-East Queensland. It is the best site in the state for Turquoise Parrot, and the eastern extremity of range for White-browed Babbler and Southern Whiteface. And this place is aesthetically something quite special as well.

Diamond Firetail

Diamond Firetail
Diamond Firetail is one of those species that is hard to come across elsewhere in Queensland. In 3 encounters during my visit, I found a single juvenile firetail; a flock of 6-7 adults; and a pair of adults.

Plum-headed Finch
I saw Plum-headed Finch twice: a flock of 6, and a pair. Red-browed Finch and Banded Finch were also about in small numbers.

White-browed Babbler

Habitat about Old Wallangarra Road
I found two parties of White-browed Babblers, another species that has been in residence here in the 40+ years I've known the place.

Southern Whiteface

Yellow-rumped Thornbill
A pair of Southern Whiteface was a treat, as this species is not quite so regular here. Yellow-rumped Thornbills were common.

Brown Treecreeper
Brown Treecreeper occurs here alongside White-throated Treecreeper.

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater
The road is a mecca for honeyeaters. There were the usual large numbers of Yellow-tufted Honeyeater.

Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater
Along with other honeyeaters that are generally scarce in South-East Queensland east of the Great Divide: Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Red Wattlebird, White-plumed Honeyeater and Fuscous Honeyeater.