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, 19 August 2016

All Four Australian Tyto Owls in One Night (Plus Marbled Frogmouth)

Sooty Owl
An extraordinary night of owling was had last night in the company of Luke Bennett and Bob Sothman in and around the Sunshine Coast. We scored all four Australian Tyto owl species - Masked, Sooty, Eastern Grass and Eastern Barn. As well as Marbled Frogmouth, Tawny Frogmouth, Southern Boobook and Australian Owlet-Nightjar. We had a full moon. Some have suggested owls are less active on such nights; our experience was that they are about and much easier to find as they fly about.

Masked Owl
We were positioned at dusk in wet sclerophyll forest above the Booloumba Creek camping areas in the Conondale Range in the Sunshine Coast hinterland in an area where I have had both Sooty and Masked Owls previously, but not at the same time. The first Tyto of the night was a pale male Masked Owl that flew through the spotlight.

Masked Owl 
Then a typically darker female Masked Owl made an appearance, and was seen several times over the next 30 minutes or so we were here.  A Sooty Owl was heard in the same spot and it was tracked down low in the canopy. The bird was seen twice but briefly and while vocal enough, it proved to be less co-operative than its cogener.

Tawny Frogmouth
We moved further up the road and a Tawny Frogmouth appeared roadside.

Marbled Frogmouth
 Just 200 metres further on we heard a pair of Marbled Frogmouths and the female showed herself nicely. At the same time, the second Sooty Owl of the evening was heard but not seen.

Marbled Frogmouth
At a third roadside stop, a Masked Owl was heard but not seen: the third record of this species for the night. Soon after a Sooty Owl was seen well as it perched in roadside rainforest.

Sooty Owl
Then at a fourth site, we had good views of a pair of Sooty Owls close to the vehicle. One of the birds perched at what may have been a nesting hollow entrance. An Australian Owlet-Nightjar was heard here, and a Southern Boobook was also seen roadside.

Sooty Owl
All up we recorded 3 Masked Owls with 2 seen, and 5 Sooty Owls with 4 seen. On a roll, we thought we would go for 4 Tytos in one night, which may be something of a first.

So we headed over to the coastal lowlands and the sugar cane farms of the Bli Bli area. Here we quickly saw one, then two Eastern Grass Owls flying high over the grasslands. This was about 11pm, much later (early evening) or earlier (early morning) than I usually look for this species. However, a full moon meant the owls were easy to see in flight.

Eastern Grass Owl
At another roadside stop we saw another pair of Grass Owls. It is highly likely these were different birds given the distance from the first sighting, although it is remotely possible that the first pair covered a good deal of ground in a short time. Then we tracked down and flushed two fledged juvenile Grass Owls that were calling from the ground in long grass. We found a hollowed out retreat in the grass that they had been sheltering in.

Eastern Barn Owl
Really on a roll now, we went to the other side of Mt Ninderry to my regular Eastern Barn Owl site and saw a bird perched, albeit distantly, in its nesting tree. The pic here is of another bird seen at the site last year. A brilliant night of owling.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Sunshine Coast Pelagic August 2016

Black-bellied Storm-Petrel
A pod of wonderful whales and a big fish were the stars of the show for the August 13 pelagic trip off Mooloolaba on the Sunsine Coast, with nice birds including Black-bellied Storm-Petrel, Masked Booby, Kermadec Petrel and good numbers of Sooty Tern.

Providence Petrel
We departed the marina on a crisp winter morning at 6.45am with a gentle 5-8 knot E-SE breeze that varied little during the day. A Fluttering Shearwater and a Brown Booby were seen early on the way out along with small numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Australasian Gannets. We reached the shelf at 9am, stopping 32 nautical miles offshore in 360 metres - S 26, 36, 075; E 153, 43, 477 - and began laying a trail of berley.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel
Small numbers of Providence Petrels and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters soon came into the slick, to be joined before long by a couple of Wilson's Storm-Petrels. The gentle breeze in a swell of under a metre did not bode well, but an intermediate phase Kermadec Petrel livened things up. After drifting slowly for a while be decided to move 1.5km eastwards to lay another berley trail.

Sooty Tern
A second intermediate phase Kermadec Petrel appeared, but both birds of this species kept their distance. A couple of Sooty Terns showed before we noticed in the distance what appeared to be a good flock of birds.

Hutton's Shearwaters
We headed towards it, encountering a decent flock of Hutton's Shearwaters. Feeding on what appeared to be schools of fish 37 nautical miles offshore in 900 metres were good numbers of Wedge-tailed and Hutton's Shearwaters along with an unusally solid number of Sooty Terns.

Black-bellied Storm-Petrel
A Black-bellied Storm-Petrel made a welcome appearance, soon to be joined by another. Then a large Manta Ray came to the boat and hovered close by for a while. We didn't know whether it was attracted to us or the berley, but several in the group donned a snorkel (water temperature a mild 21) to get a better look at the huge fish.  

Manta Ray Watching
Manta Ray
Another Brown Booby flew by as did a single Tahiti Petrel, a scarce visitor in winter.

Black-bellied Storm-Petrel
Not long before pulling up stumps, a booby/gannet appeared on the horizon. We thought at first it was too distant to identify, but later examination of Raja's photographs indicated it was a Masked Booby. As we were preparing to head back, a pod of Short-finned Pilot Whales turned up, entertaining us for some time as adults of both sexes and juveniles, clearly curious, circled the boat.  We turned around at 1pm, returning to the marina at 3.10pm.

Short-finned Pilot Whale
PARTICIPANTS: Lachlan Tuckwell (skipper), Greg Roberts (organiser), Luke Bennett, Devon Bull, Phil Cross, Jo Culican, Erin Donaldson, Rick Franks, John Gunning, Nikolas Haass, Elliot Leach, Raja Stephenson, Ged Tranter, Jamie Walker, Chris Watts.

Short-finned Pilot Whale


SPECIES TOTAL [MAX AT ONE TIME]

Kermadec Petrel 2 (1)
Providence Petrel 12 (4)
Tahiti Petrel 1 (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 60 (20)
Hutton's Shearwater 80 (40)
Fluttering Shearwater 1 (1)
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel 2 (1)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 10 (3)
Australasian Gannet 12 (5)
Brown Booby 2 (1)
Masked Booby 1 (1)
Sooty Tern 30 (14)
Crested Tern 20 (4)
Silver Gull 2 (2)

Short-finned Pilot Whale 10 (6)
Inshore Bottle-nosed Dolphin 2 (2)
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin 1 (1)
Humpback Whale 2 (1)



Thursday, 11 August 2016

Land-Clearing in Queensland: On the Brink

Clearing on Olive Vale Station, Cape York: Wilderness Society 

The fate of vast tracts of Queensland bushland hangs in the balance as a group of Cairns-based indigenous leaders led by Noel Pearson pressures the state MP for Cook, Billy Gordon, to vote against the Palaszczuk Labor Government's new tree-clearing laws.

Gordon was the indigenous Labor candidate elected for the Cape York seat in north Queensland in the January 2015 election but was forced to resign from the party soon after when details of his criminal history were revealed. He now threatens to betray the people of Cook who thought they were voting for a Labor MP by supporting moves to scuttle the tree-clearing laws by the Liberal National Party, the state farmers' peak body AgForce, and Pearson and his acolytes in Cairns. The minority Palaszczuk Government needs Gordon's vote to pass the legislation.

The legislation expected to be voted on soon reverses the gutting by the Campbell Newman LNP Government in 2012 of the Beattie Labor Government's landmark 2004 law to control land-clearing. Since Newman's move, more than 1 million hectares of bushland have been cleared, including almost 300,000 hectares in the year to June 2015 – the equivalent of 360,000 football fields. A third of the clearing took place in catchments adjoining the Great Barrier Reef.

Cook MP Billy Gordon: Cairns Post
The quantity of greenhouse emissions resulting from the relaxed tree-clearing laws rose from 16 million tonnes in 2010 to 52 million tonnes in 2014, undoing much of the reduction in emissions achieved by the federal Government's direct action policy. On just one station on Cape York, Olive Vale, a permit was issued to bulldoze 33,000 hectares of woodland that is habitat for threatened species such as Buff-breasted Buttonquail and Red Goshawk. The consequences overall of the widespread clearing for biodiversity are grave; it is likely, for instance, that populations of many woodland birds will decline precipitously, as they have in south-eastern Australia.

The new law reverses Newman's act of environmental vandalism, which allowed landholders to make their own assessments about whether or not vegetation on their land could be cleared. Newman allowed unlimited clearing for “high value” agriculture, which can mean just about anything.

Gordon's fellow Cairns-based MP, Rob Pyne, also sits as an Independent after resigning from the ALP post-election. Pyne voted with the LNP and the two MPs from Katter's Australian Party last March to defer the government's new law so it could be considered by a parliamentary committee. The move is likely to have prompted “panic” clearing by farmers and has allowed its opponents to launch a concerted campaign against the legislation. The parliamentary committee was unable to agree on a path forward, but Pyne has indicated he will vote for the legislation when it returns to parliament soon.

Noel Pearson: Sydney Morning Herald
Leading the LNP cheer squad has been Pearson and his mates, who control various Cairns-based organisations including the Cape York Institute and the Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation. Prominent among them are Noel's brother Gerhardt Pearson and Cape York Land Council chairman Richie Ahmat. They say the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 will prevent the development of indigenous agricultural and other development projects. The Government responds that such projects will be able to proceed with environmental safeguards in place.

Noel Pearson also led the charge against the Beattie Government's wild rivers legislation, which protected the catchments of environmentally significant watercourses on Cape York and elsewhere. That law was similarly overturned by Campbell Newman's LNP Government. Pearson claimed at the time he had the unanimous support of north Queensland indigenous leaders, but in fact his stand was opposed by many including Carpentaria Land Council head Murrandoo Yanner, North Queensland Land Council chairman Terry O'Shane, and Mapoon Council chairman Peter Guavara. The LNP and Pearson's mob increasingly sing from the same songsheet.



It wasn't always thus. The founders of the Cape York Land Council in the 1970s were of a different ilk. Highly regarded indigenous leaders such as Mick Miller, the CYLC founding chairman, and boxing champion Clarry Grogan, were at one with the environmental movement in opposing large-scale, destructive development on Cape York and in championing the cause of preserving the outstanding wilderness values of the region. These leaders agreed that at the same time, provisions could be in place to allow development to improve the lot of indigenous communities, and for the active inclusion of communities in environmental management and protection. Kakadu in the Northern Territory is a fine example of how conservation can work in the interests of promoting the economic and social interests of indigenous communities.

In 1984, Mick Miller wrote and narrated a documentary film, Couldn't be Fairer, about his people. The film noted the view at the time of the Queensland Graziers Association that indigenous people should be divided into “true Aborigines” and “hybrids”. The peak farming group these days is AgForce, which has joined forces with the LNP and Pearson in promoting a disinformation campaign to undermine attempts to control land-clearing, although state government figures show that the agricultural sector did not suffer during the years that clearing controls were in place. Many environmentally aware farmers oppose the stand by AgForce.

Mick Miller
That earlier spirit of co-operation between indigenous and environmental groups culminated in the Cape York Heads of Agreement in 1996. The agreement laid the groundwork for co-operation between conservationists and indigenous communities, but how things have changed. Pearson now regards the environmental movement as the main enemy and the big developers as friends and saviours. It is not lost on observers that some Cairns-based indigenous groups have over the past couple of decades been the beneficiaries of lucrative contracts with mining companies and other developers.

Noel Pearson is an articulate exponent of what he regards as the best interests of his people, but he is also a foul-mouthed. homophobic bully. When I was a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald, I dared to write about connections between some north Queensland indigenous organisations and big mining companies. I was subjected to a 30-minute raging rant on the phone from Pearson, during which he called me a f...ing c..t or a f...ing poofter c..t no fewer than 15 times. As has been written elsewhere, there is a deeply disturbing side to this man which the public has not largely been privy to.



Small wonder that Billy Gordon is feeling the heat. When Gordon ventured the view earlier this year that he might support the new tree-clearing law, he was immediately vilified. He was described as a “blackfella who went walkabout” on his constituents. Pearson warned Gordon that passage of the legislation would mean the “death of a thousand cuts” for indigenous communities; a ludicrous proposition. However, Gordon left little doubt in an interview with The Australian last week that he intends to oppose the bill, effectively sealing its fate.

Anybody concerned about this issue can contact Billy Gordon, asking him to do the right thing by Queensland and his constituents by voting for the legislation. Email addresses: Billy.Gordon@parliament.qld.gov.au and Cook@parliament.qld.gov.au. Phone (07) 4223 1100.

It also would be helpful to contact Rob Pyne along the same lines. Rob.Pyne@parliament.qld.gov.au and Cairns@parliament.qld.gov.au Twitter @RobJPyne. Phone: (07) 4229 0110










Sunday, 7 August 2016

Nesting Glossy Black Cockatoo & Powerful Owl


Powerful Owl male
Two of our more uncommon birds, Glossy Black Cockatoo and Powerful Owl, have successfully raised chicks in the Brisbane area.

Glossy Black Cockatoo - male feeds female at nest tree
A pair of Glossy Black Cockatoos are raising a single chick on a private property on MacLeay Island in southern Moreton Bay. Thanks to Glen Ingram for the tip off about the nest, the location of which is under wraps.

Glossy Black chick at nest hollow
According to Glen, the adults return to the nesting tree - a tall Scribbly Gum Eucalyptus haemastoma - each evening between 15 and 30 minutes before sunset. The male feeds the female regurgitated Allocasuarina orks before the female flies to the nesting hollow to feed the chick, whose head is visible at the entrance by that time. The youngster and the female then disappear into the hollow.

Female Glossy Black with chick
When we were there, the female then emerged and both adults flew to a nearby Allocasuarina littoralis to feed, but Glen says she usually remains in the nest as night falls. Between one and three pairs of Glossy Black Cockatoo nest on McLeay Island each year.

Female Glossy Black with chick
They are believed to be part of a population of between 10 and 20 birds that inhabits nearby North Stradbroke Island. The cockatoos are sometimes seen flying over open water between the islands.

Bush Stone-Curlew
At Glen's home nearby, his resident Bush Stone-Curlews were in their usual fine form in the garden.

Tawny Frogmouth
Over on the mainland, a pair of Powerful Owls have again bred successfully, this time raising two youngsters at the traditional site of J.C. Slaughter Falls Reserve in the Brisbane suburb of Mt Coot-tha. Andrew Stafford joined Glenn and I for a visit to the owls. We found a Tawny Frogmouth perched near the owls' nest tree; how it survives predation by the owls is something of a mystery.

Powerful Owl female
The two adults and two chicks were all perched within easy view in exactly the same spot where I last saw Powerful Owl at this site in the mid-2000s. The size difference between the adults was apparent with the much larger male.

Powerful Owl chick
One chick was also significantly larger than the other, suggesting one of each sex; it is unlikely that the size difference was due to varying ages.

Powerful Owl chick
Powerful Owls have been present and nesting at the Mt Coot-tha site since 1987; I wrote an article about the birds for The Sydney Morning Herald back in 1990. It is quite a feat that they have managed to continue finding sufficient food not only to survive but to raise young regularly, although they do not nest every year. It is likely that they forage well into nearby suburbs in search of Common Ringtail Possums, a dietary staple. As well, flying-foxes have to some extent replaced prey such as Greater Gliders, which they presumably have eliminated locally - as they appear to have done at other sites in the Brisbane area. Yet Sugar Gliders have been on the dietary list at the same spot for more than 20 years ago; perhaps the owls have a wider area of dispersal for feeding than is thought. They have nested in several different trees but all the nesting trees have been within a few hundred metres of each other.

Pink-eared  Ducks
While in Brisbane I called in to Minnippi Parklands, where a pair of Pink-eared Ducks were of interest.

Cotton Pygmy Goose
On matters waterfowl, back on the Sunshine Coast I saw 20 Cotton Pygmy Geese on Wappa Dam. This is the largest concentration of this species that I've encountered on the coast.

Spotted Harrier
Elsewhere on the coast, Spotted Harrier continues to show nicely in the canelands near Bli Bli.

Spotted Harrier



Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Queensland Road Trip 15: Eungella & Mackay

Eungella Honeyeater

Following our visit to Paluma (see following post), we had a two-day stay at Townsville's Rowes Bay which was pretty well birding-free, although I saw a pair of Black Falcons hunting in the distance on the Town Common.

Eungella Range
We continued south to Eungulla, the isolated plateau of highland rainforest and dairy farms west of Mackay. We had booked online for a two-night stay in the Eungulla National Park's Broken River camping ground, but it was crowded out with freeloaders and day-trippers, so we squeezed our camper trailer into a tent site at the nearby Fern Flat camping ground.  
 The performance of Queensland national parks authorities in managing camping areas is woeful.


Diggings Road, Eungella
Eungella has two claims to fame. It is probably the easiest site in Australia to see Platypus, and we found them quickly in the Broken River day use area.


Platypus
It is also the only site frequented by the Eungella Honeyeater. This is a fairy scarce bird that can be difficult. I tracked one down along Diggings Road but it proved difficult to photograph in the gloomy light conditions.


Eungella Honeyeater
I trawled without success for Sooty Owls in the early morning; they are reported from Eungella but the subspecies is uncertain. The weather was lousy during our stay.


Topknot Pigeons
A flock of Topknot Pigeons made the most of a rare glimmer of sunshine. Russet-tailed Thrush was calling commonly. A list of birds seen at Eungella can be found here.

Sandfly Creek, Mackay
We headed eastwards to Mackay for a two-night stay at Blacks Beach in the city's northern suburbs, camping in the local caravan park. Mackay is where north meets south. Orange-footed Scrubfowl are about the park, close to the southern extremity of their range, while in mangroves nearby, Mangrove Honeyeater replaces its close northern relative, the Varied Honeyeater.
Mangrove Robin
I checked out the mangroves in Sandfly Creek Reserve at the mouth of the Pioneer River. Here I found a pair of Mangrove Robins, also near the southern end of their range. I heard a third robin.


Broad-billed Flycatcher male
I also found 3 Broad-billed Flycatchers in the mangroves. 


Broad-billed Flycatcher female
Like Mangrove Golden Whistler and Yellow White-eye, this species has a strange distribution, occurring in parts of central Queensland but not the north-east coast, while they are widespread across the rest of northern Australia. A list of species seen at Sandfly Creek can be found here.