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, 19 September 2016

Newly Discovered Wetland on Sunshine Coast

West Coolum Wetland
While negotiations continue in the hope of resolving the future of the Yandina Creek Wetland, it has emerged that the Sunshine Coast Council owns a substantial parcel of land with similar wetland and grassland habitat.

Google Earth image of West Coolum Wetland
I stumbled across the area, located between the Sunshine Coast Motorway and Coolum Creek Reserve, while kayaking along Coolum Creek. I walked a somewhat overgrown track extending from an old cane train bridge that crosses the creek to the motorway.

Sunshine Coast Council MyMaps of site

I discovered that there are some nice birds in the wetland. In an extensive area of mangrove fern, I heard and saw briefly an Australian Spotted Crake - a very rare species in south-east Queensland that has also been recorded at Yandina Creek. I heard about 10 Spotless Crakes, seeing two.

Spotless Crake
I also heard 8 Lewin's Rails and saw one, along with a Buff-banded Rail. Little Grassbird was quite common. A Swamp Harrier quartered the grassland.
Buff-banded Rail
In short, there is a nice suite of grassland and reed-inhabiting bird species at the site, which I'll dub West Coolum Wetland for the sake of convenience. West Coolum lacks the diversity of Yandina Creek before that wetland was drained; it seemingly has no deep water pools, mangroves or extensive areas of mudflats.

West Coolum Wetland
However, there were some areas of exposed mud and cane stubble - potentially good waterbird habitat - but by comparison with Yandina Creek, few other waterbirds about. The only shorebirds, for instance, were a single Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and a lone Latham's Snipe; Yandina Creek at this time of year should be swarming with shorebirds. (It is a matter of considerable regret that shorebirds and other waterbirds continue to be denied access to the Yandina Creek Wetland.) A list of birds seen at West Coolum can be found here.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Nonetheless, the area has potential. As in the case of Yandina Creek, broken floodgates have allowed the site to be regularly inundated by tidal water, creating a wetland habitat in an area that until the mid-2000s had been used to grow sugarcane.

West Coolum Wetland floodgates
A check of Sunshine Coast Council MyMaps shows the council owns a 90-hectare parcel of land covering the site. The land is designated either as "unallocated" or "open space sport environment". This suggests that the council plans to use part or all of the site for some kind of sports project.

During months of controversy surrounding Yandina Creek, the council did not reveal that it had this site in its possession. The council rejected proposals to acquire the Yandina Creek properties for conservation purposes, largely on the basis of cost (estimated at $4 million). The council has been asked to explain its plans for the future of the West Coolum Wetland.

Allocasuarina regrowth at Yandina Creek
Meanwhile, as the fate of Yandina Creek remains in the balance, a recent inspection of that site shows that dense regrowth of Melaleuca and Allocasuarina is flourishing in areas that were inundated tidally before the wetland was drained. This in fact is what happened to the council-owned Coolum Creek Reserve, which lies between the Yandina Creek and Coolum West wetlands. Also former cane farmland, the Coolum Creek Reserve these days harbours little variety of wildlife and few waterbirds as it is essentially a large thicket of Melaleuca and Allocasuarina regrowth.

Google Earth screenshot showing from west to east Yandina Creek Wetland (presently drained), Coolum Creek Reserve (vegetation), Coolum West Wetland

 That said, a large reserve embracing the contiguous (from west to east) Yandina Creek Wetland, Coolum Creek Reserve and Coolum West Wetland would be a substantial addition to the national environmental estate.

Parklakes Wetland
I also visited the Parklakes Wetland at Bli Bli. As has been indicated previously, the Parklakes estate developers have essentially destroyed this once excellent wetland. The wetland today had been drained yet again. Any waterbirds that may have tried to nest in the remnant of reedbed surviving past depredations would have been left high and dry.  Of some consolation was this nice Black-necked Stork in flooded caneland near Yandina.

Black-necked Stork
While on a recent visit to north Queensland, I called in on two wetlands which, like Yandina Creek and West Coolum, are established on low-lying land formerly used to grow sugar crane. Tyto Wetland near Ingham and Cattana Wetland near Cairns are among the top wetland reserves in the wet tropics region.

Cattana Wetland
Cattana Wetland
Catanna and Tyto both have great biodiversity value as wildlife reserves; they boost the regional economy as popular ecotourism destinations; and they enhance the lifestyle of local residents who are fiercely protective of the wetlands. Hopefully the Sunshine Coast will have something similar to boast about in the not-too-distant future.

Tyto Wetland

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Large-tailed Nightjar & Rainbow Beach

Large-tailed Nightjar
 Large-tailed Nightjar was the avian highlight of a three-day camping trip to Rainbow Beach, which included forays to the Cooloola section of the Great Sandy World Heritage Area and to Inskip Point.

Large-tailed Nightjar
We camped at Carlo Point outside Rainbow Bay. Three Large-tailed Nightjars were frequenting a belt of thick coastal scrub along the camping ground's northern boundary. The birds began calling soon after dusk and vocalised sporadically throughout the night.

Large-tailed Nightjar
One nightjar had 4 or 5 favoured perches, mainly atop dead twigs high in the canopy, which it visited repeatedly. I found after a while that I could easily track the bird to one of its regular perches but it was shy, usually flying off as soon as the torch was on it.

Large-tailed Nightjar
The nightjars were foraging mainly in wallum woodland immediately to the north of the belt of thick scrub, although they occasionally frequented open areas in the northern and eastern sectors of the camping ground, and in nearby mangroves.  Birds were seen on the ground a couple of times but mostly they perched in trees and bushes. Large-tailed Nightjar is a rare bird in South-East Queensland. It has been recorded on a handful of occasions in this region: at Boonooroo, Inskip Point and Teewah Creek. Other than two records from the Sunshine Coast, these are the southern most sites known for this widely distributed species,

Cooloola Coloured Sands
 Midges are bad here so be prepared. The sunsets help make up for it, as do views of the coloured sands from Rainbow Beach.

Sunset Great Sandy Strait
A pair of Bush Stone-Curlews were sitting on eggs in an open area of lawn a few metres from a busy carpark.

Bush Stone-Curlew defending nest
Collared Kingfisher and Mangrove Honeyeater are generally in mangroves but both were easy to see in the camping ground.

Collared Kingfisher
Rainbow Bee-eaters were nesting around the camping ground and commonly throughout the area. A full list of Pt Carlo birds is here.

Rainbow Bee-Eaters
A Squirrel Glider was seen at dusk from our camp.

Squirrel Glider
At Inskip Point, I saw a female Black-breasted Buttonquail briefly before she disappeared into bracken in a small area with fresh platelets about 200m before the end of the traditional site track. I checked out other spots where I'd seen birds previously but found only old platelets; possibly the population here is declining (see following post for a recent encounter near Imbil). Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove and Fairy Gerygone were among other birds present at Inskip Point. Not much at high tide at the end of the point: a smattering of Gull-billed and Caspian Terns among a big Crested Tern flock, with a few Eastern Curlews, Whimbrels and Grey-tailed Tattlers.

Caspian Terns

Noosa Plain
I saw a Common Bronzewing along Cooloola Way, a species I've not seen previously in the Cooloola region. It was a few hundred metres from where I had previously seen Brush Bronzewings.

Common Bronzewing
No sign of Ground Parrot or Southern Emu-Wren on the Noosa Plain but a pair of Lewin's Rain were calling from the sedges, and a Little Bronze Cuckoo was looking good in the wallum woodland. The plain was ablaze with the wildflowers of Spring.

Little Bronze Cuckoo
Leaden Flycatchers, the first of the summer migrants to return to South-East Queensland, were vocal and common. See here for Cooloola bird list.

Leaden Flycatcher

Friday, 9 September 2016

Black-breasted Buttonquail Looking Good

Black-breasted Buttonquail is endemic to the dry lowland rainforests of south-east Queensland. It is at or close to the top of the wishlists of visiting birders, and is one of my favourites.

I first found a population of this species in Imbil State Forest in the late-1990s. The birds have been there consistently ever since, though usually they are hard to see in the thick lantana on the edge of Hoop Pine plantations that they inhabit. On this score, I'm convinced that caution needs to be exercised in eliminating this foreign weed. With the great bulk of the bird's natural dry rainforest habitat gone, lantana appears to be playing an important role in securing the bird's future. Lantana is also used extensively by Lewin's Rail and Pale-vented Bush-hen, among others, along with numerous butterflies. The weed presumably supplies a degree of protection from feral cats and other predators.

At Imbil, the birds live side-by-side with their cogener, Painted Buttonquail, and with Brown Quail. Please don't ask for site details. It's a small area that I want to avoid being trampled. Those wanting to see this species can do so at the well-known site at Imbil Point, where the birds inhabit more open habitat and are easier to see.

I've often been to the Imbil site and not seen buttonquail. Their distinctive platelets are always evident but vary in frequency, suggesting that the population fluctuates.

 Yesterday, fresh platelets were plentiful, and excellent, prolonged views were had of 3 different female Black-breasted Buttonquail. A list of birds seen at the Imbil site can be found here.

Black-breasted Buttonquail calling
I also heard the buttonquail calling for the first time. The bird in this image can be seen calling.

Spectacled Monarch

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo
I also visited nearby Moy Pocket, where birds included Spectacled Monarch and Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo. White-eared Monarch and Dusky Honeyeater were present at both Imbil and Moy Pocket.

Red-legged Pademelon
This Red-legged Pademelon was looking smart at Mary Cairncross Park.

Wallum heath near Noosa
Two King Quail were among birds seen during a visit to an area of wallum heath near Noosa. The wildflowers are having an excellent Spring season this year.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Nestling Musings: Do Australian Bushbirds Commit Siblicide?

Little Wattlebird adult & young
We've played host to a family of Little Wattlebirds in our Sunshine Coast garden. Some interesting observations indicate nestling behaviour I had not thought likely, including possible siblicide (the killing or displacement of siblings in the nest), and how well the young bird manages to conceal itself after leaving the nest.

Little Wattlebird
The pair of wattlebirds built their nest in a hanging basket on our back porch. This was outside a bathroom window and on the main thoroughfare to our home entrance. The birds seemed unperturbed, although we tried to minimise interference by walking around the nest.

Wattlebird eggs
Two eggs were duly laid. Fingers were crossed, because last year the wattlebirds built their nest in a nearby shrub, and the single fledgling disappeared, almost certainly being taken by a kookaburra. I believe one of the reasons for the decline in many bushbird species in suburban and semi-rural areas is the unfortunates habit of people to feed kookaburras and other predatory birds. The handouts may displace some native prey but undoubtedly this boosts populations of avian predators that target nestlings.

Twin wattlebird fledglings
Both eggs hatched, but about a week later, when the youngsters were beginning to look a little robust, one disappeared from the nest. It seemed unlikely to have been taken by a predator because the predator would likely have returned for the second, or taken both at the same time. A dead nestling of some species was found a few days later on the ground about 20m away, but this youngster may have fallen from an unrelated nest. Is it possible that the surviving wattlebird nestling evicted its sibling from the nest? Siblicide is well known among nestling birds, including kookaburras and several waterbirds, but I can't find references to it in relation to Australian passerines (perching bushbirds). Siblicide is evidently a natural way of ensuring that potentially scarce food resources are utilised most efficiently to ensure the survival of healthier nestlings.

Wattlebird nestling
In any event, the survivor continued to do well.  A few days after its sibling's demise, it climbed up to the hanging basket hook. I would put it back in the nest but it kept climbing back up. In this position it was clearly exposed and in danger of being nabbed. However, it flew on stubby wings across 10m of open lawn to land in the canopy of a rainforest tree.

Adult feeding Youngster in Garden
It was striking how over the ensuing days, as the bird gradually became more mobile, it would sit motionless and silent in well-camouflaged roosts in various parts of the garden, high up in the canopy. I had thought nestlings would be begging noisily to be fed and flapping about conspicuously. But usually the only way the young wattlebird could be located was by tracking down the soft calls emitted by the parents during feeding.

Carpet Python
Also in the garden, in another indication that Spring is here, a Carpet Python found its way into the house, entangling itself in wiring behind the computer hard drive.

Wonga Pigeon
A Wonga Pigeon has come into the feeder for the first time.

Yellow-faced Honeyeater
Yellow-faced Honeyeaters have been particularly numerous this year.

White-eared Monarch
White-eared Monarch and Fairy Gerygone were both singing vigorously in creekside dry rainforest near Cooroy: a further sign of Spring.

Eastern Grass Owl near Toorbul: Pic - Matt Harvey
Following our recent successful owling foray, I was alerted to the finding of a dead Eastern Grass Owl near Toorbul, on the southern fringe of the Sunshine Coast, by the road in unusual habitat. One side of the road was introduced Pinus radiata plantation and the other side was an open grazing paddock, with no grassland of any substance in the area. Was this bird in transit?

Sooty Owl in care: Pic - Matt Harvey
Meanwhile, a Sooty Owl was taken into care after being hit by a vehicle near Peachester, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.