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, 3 October 2015

Panama: Cagres National Park - Pipeline Road

Brown Three-toed Sloth
With most of the group assembled in various stages of jet lag, we headed off in the early morning of the first day of the tour to Chagres National Park, a rainforest reserve not far from our hotel. We were particularly keen to see Yellow-green Tyrannulet here as we knew it would be difficult elsewhere. We were not to be disappointed, with our guide Kilo (Euclides Campos) declaring that an encounter we had with 3 birds was the best he'd experienced with this often difficult species.

Mammals showed with a Central American Agouti on the road and a Brown Three-toed Sloth in a tree above the road spotted by our driver, Francisco.  A Snowy-bellied Hummingbird was nice to see on a roadside wire.  Violet-bellied and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds were added to the hummingbird tally. Slaty-tailed, Gartered and Black-throated Trogons made it a trifecta of three trogon species found in the region.

Slaty-tailed Trogon
On a track inside the forest, a female Rosy Thrush-Tanager showed well. We then a Whooping Motmot and White-whiskered Puffbird showing simultaneously. Slate-coloured Grosbeak was nice to see. Back at the hotel, a Connecticut Warbler was skulking on ground at the edge of shrubby vegetation outside the restaurant. A pair of Bat Falcolns seem to have made their home on the hotel roof.

Slate-coloured Grosbeak
Out on the golf course in drizzling rain, a Nine-banded Armadillo foraged in the open.

Nine-banded Armadillo
While Solitary Sandpiper and Pectoral Sandpiper were out and about.

Pectoral Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper
Our second day of the trip saw us early in the morning on the famed Pipeline Road in Soberania National Park, reached after crossing the Panama Canal where huge ships are incongruously negotiating the roadside canal.

More mammals were added to the list with White-faced Cappuchin, White-tailed Deer and good views of Mantled Howler monkeys.

Mantled Howler 
Woodpeckers put on a bit of a show with Crimson-crested, Lineated and Cinnamon appearing.

Crimson-crested Woodpecker

Cinnamon Woodpecker
Antbirds are exceptionally appealing and along the Pipeline Road we saw Dusky and Spotted /Antbirtds, Fasciated and Western Slaty-Antshrike, and Checker-throated, Moustached, White-flanked and Dot-winged Antwrens.

Western Slaty-antshrike
A Black-breasted Puffbird was a nice find.

Black-breasted Puffbird
Another classic neotripical family was well-represented by Chesnut-mandibled and Keel-billed Toucans and Collared Aracari.

Collared Aracari
Trogons were also about in good numbers. We added White-tailed Trogon for a total of 4 trogon species for the trip.

White-tailed Trogon
Rufous Mourner was another nice find, as was Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon and Brownish Twistwing. We managed brief flyover views only of Russet-winged Schiffornis.

Rufous Mourner
And Purple-throated Fruitcrows put on a show. A highlight of the morning was a Streak-breasted Antpitta which showed well after a bit of coaxing.

Purple-throated Fruitcrow
Other nice birds along the Pipeline Road included Great Tinamou and Agami Heron, 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Panama: Back in the Neotropics

Gartered Trogon male
It's good to be back in the tropical rainforest of the Neotropics. Getting there is the hard bit. From leaving home on the Sunshine Coast to arriving at my Panama City hotel took all of 28 hours. But then, to open the hotel room balcony doors in the dead of night, it seemed worth the effort. A nocturnal din of frog and insect calls resounded through the forested hillside as low-lying cloud hung in the warm, damp air.

View from Radisson Summit Hotel room
Early morning and it was back on the balcony to see the sun rise through the mist over the forest as the haunting call of howler monkeys echoed in the distance. Bliss. Our 21-day Birding Panama tour includes 8 people from 6 countries - Australia, Canada, the U.S., Denmark, the U.K. and Norway. Our Panama City base is the Radisson Summit Hotel, nicely positioned in the rainforest and near the canal, some distance south of the city. I took a morning stroll through a path in the forest. Bird of the day was Gartered Trogon, with both sexes showing well.

Gartered Trogon female
Gartered Trogon male
The birds came thick and fast as I walked the rainforest trail, coming to grips again with these wonderful neotropical birds. The first antbirds of the trip were scored with close views of Fasciated Ant-shrike and Dusky Antbird.
Male Dusky Antbird
Numerous small birds flitted through the undergrowth and at mid-canopy level. I was able to make out Scrub Greenlet and Lesser Greenlet. The first migrants appeared in the form of Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow Warbler and Northern Waterthrush.

Scrub Greenlet
This is the time of year when passage migrants from North America are heading south. I saw a large flock of Mississippi Kites heading that way.

Mississippi Kites on migration
Flycatchers were in abundance. Plenty of Eastern Kingbirds were present along with Tropical Kingbirds, Social Flycatchers, Streaked Flycatchers and Great Kiskadees.

Eastern Kingbird
Tropical Peewee and Eastern Wood-Peewee were both about. I was happy to see a male Red-capped Mannikin with a couple of females, but they wouldn't be photographed. Other nice finds were Bright-rumped (Flammulated) Attila and Long-billed Gnatwren.

Tropical Peewee
Yellow-rumped Cacique added a flash of colour, as did Keel-billed Toucan and Chesnut-headed Oropendola.

Yellow-rumped Cacique
More mundane fare included loads of Clay-coloured Thrushes.

/Clay-coloured Thrush
A Cocoa Woodcreeper put in an appearance, as did Rufous-breasted Wren and Red-and-white Wren. House Wren was feeding young on the hotel lawn.

House Wren
Where Tropical Mockinbirds were also numerous, and a pair of Variable Seedeaters were sitting on a nest.

Tropical Mockingbird
A female Blue-black Grosbeak was feeding a well-grown youngster on the forest edge.

Blue-black Grosbeak
In the afternoon there was a heavy but fairly brief thunderstorm. Fingers crossed for the weather, although a bit of rain around can be good as it lowers the temperature. A few birds were out in the open in the gardens after the rain including Orange-chinned :Parakeets and Red-crowned Woodpeckers.

Orange-chinned Parakeet

Red-crowned Woodpecker

While a Wattled Jacana wondered about. Sunset was accompanied by the familiar calls of Common Pauraques. Looking forward to the days and weeks ahead.

Wattled Jacana

Friday, 25 September 2015

Yandina Creek Wetlands Unplugged

Newly replenished wetland looking east to Mt Coolum
Just when some of us were beginning to think that the fate of the Yandina Creek Wetlands was sealed, the Queensland Government has intervened so that a recently installed floodgate has been opened to allow the area to be partially refilled with water from tidal flows. The stage may now be set for the landholders to sit down with the Sunshine Coast Council, government authorities, community groups and private organisations that acquire and manage reserves to map out a plan for the future for the 200ha wetland.

One of three newly installed floodgates has been opened
The entire wetland was drained within a few days in July when three new floodgates were installed.

Signs of revival in the wetland looking west to Mt Ninderry
As was explained in The Weekend Australian and elsewhere, the federal and Queensland governments, along with the Sunshine Coast Council, stood by and did nothing to prevent the wetland - which is nationally and internationally significant according to Commonwealth guidelines - from being drained. Their rationale was that because the wetland had been created by tidal flows through broken floodgates on drainage canals on land used formerly for sugar cane production, it was not worth saving. That argument conveniently ignored the fact that the area was wetland naturally before the development of the cane industry last century in the Maroochy River lowlands.

A floodgate is being installed at a new site some distance upstream from the main gates
Federal and state laws protecting rare and endangered wildlife were ignored, although during the 12 years since cane was grown on the land, a diverse wetland rich in plants and animals had been created.

Now, however, the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has ordered that one of the three new floodgates be opened; the other two gates are expected to be opened in the near future. The department has signalled it is working towards the gradual restoration of water flow to the site. The landowners have been told to ensure that a monitoring system is in place to ensure that water quality is managed and that further impacts are reduced.
Some of the extensive area of mangroves in the wetland
Fisheries personnel are understood to have collected samples of protected plants at the site. The department is compiling a prosecution brief relating to possible offences under Section 123 of the Fisheries Act 1994 and Sections 574 and 578 of the Sustainable Planning Act 2009. All marine plants growing on or adjacent to tidal lands are protected under Queensland law. 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.

Section 123 of the Fisheries Act makes it an offence to cause a marine plant to be removed, destroyed or damaged. In some circumstances, landholders can undertake "self-assessable" drainage and other development works which may have environmental impacts.  However, anyone undertaking such work must comply with applicable codes for self-assessable development under Section 574 of the Sustainable Planning Act. Under Section 578 of the act, a person must not carry out an assessable development without a permit.

Aquatic vegetation is looking stressed in much of the wetland, which remains high and dry
The former sugar cane properties were sold in the mid-2000s to family trusts with links to Sunshine Coast property developers. The landholders insist they did not acquire the properties as a long-term investment in the hope that the land will eventually be rezoned from rural to allow for canal estate or other residential or commercial development. Earlier this year, the landholders leased the properties back to their original owners - the family of local sugar cane farmer Scott Trevor, which undertook the drainage works.

Mr Trevor had signalled his family's intention to drain the wetland so sugar crops could be re-established. Mr Trevor has insisted that no state or federal government approvals were required for the drainage works.

State authorities envisage that the land will now be managed in similar fashion to the recently rehabilitated Trinity Inlet in Cairns - see here for more. The landholders will be required to monitor the wetland as the water returns because Fisheries is concerned that arsenic and other toxic metals may have leached to the surface from acid sulfate soils during the two months that the area has been dry.

Evidence of the stress to mangroves through water deprivation
Within a few days of the floodgate being opened this week, a substantial section of the eastern end of the wetland had been partly replenished. Enough water was present for small numbers of migratory shorebirds - a flock of 10 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers - to be present; the annual presence of large numbers of shorebirds at the site was one of the major arguments in support of its protection. However, there is not yet sufficient water to lure back the substantial numbers of ducks, herons, pelicans and other waterbirds that had been frequenting the site.

Google Earth map showing floodgates
Moreover, it has been discovered that a new floodgate was being installed this week at another site several hundred metres upstream from the three main floodgates on Yandina Creek. It is not known if this new floodgate is intended to facilitate the release of water now entering the wetland from the main floodgates as a result of the intervention of Fisheries. Any such move may have the effect of negating the Fisheries order to open the main floodgates. Fisheries is now investigating the new floodgate.

Water replenishment in the eastern sector of the wetland 
A substantial area of mangroves and other tidal vegetation had been established in the wetland. Notwithstanding the positive news of this week, most of the wetland remains high and dry; aquatic vegetation including mangroves is showing evident signs of distress.

The proactive stance of the state Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is in stark contrast to that of the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, which has primary responsibility for protecting the state's environment. On the basis of a single, brief visit by officers with no experience with the site earlier this year, the department concluded that the wetland was of no significance as it had been "highly modified". Despite published evidence of rare and threatened species and many waterbirds nesting at the time the wetland was drained, the department determined (as it has done so often in relation to other environmental disputes) there were no breaches of the Nature  Conservation Act.

Nonetheless, the  new state Environment Minister, Steven Miles, has taken a personal interest in the wetland. The minister is believed to be considering options for its future.

Meanwhile, the federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, has finally revealed the outcome of two investigations he had ordered into whether the drainage works breached provisions of the Environment Protection and Diversity Act relating to protected species (the endangered Australian Painted-Snipe and critically endangered Curlew-Sandpiper occur at the wetland) and migratory shorebirds (Australia is a signatory to several international agreements requiring it to protect important shorebird habitat). In short, the minister concluded that the act had been complied with; no explanation was offered.

As for the future, offsets and partial rezoning - along with contributions from the state and federal governments - have been mentioned as potential sources of funding to acquire the properties so they can be protected and managed as a reserve. The Sunshine Coast Council, in co-operation with the Queensland Government and perhaps an agency such as the Queensland Trust for Nature or Bush Heritage  Australia, is the obvious body to be overseeing any such plan. Significantly perhaps, the council has softened its  previously declared stand of having no interest in the site.

Further inundation in the wetland's eastern sector

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Lewin's Rail, Parklakes Wetland Redevelopment, Ground Parrot Habitat Burnoff

Lewin's Rail
Spring is in the area and manifested in fine form by vocal Lewin's Rails about the Sunshine Coast. I had a pair along Finland Road, Pacific Paradise, in paperbark wetland - a habitat in which I've rarely noted this species. These birds showed well but briefly, even venturing to the road edge. One bird  moved into an area of grassland, indicating the variety of habitats frequented by the rails. The rails were twice seen in flight.

Lewin's Rail
I found a second pair of Lewin's Rail in mixed grassy swamp and lantana thickets near Eumundi, where I had heard them previously. These birds showed extremely well but only after gradually losing fear of the human interloper over a period of a couple of hours. A list of birds at the site is here.

Lewin's Rail
Lewin's Rail occurs on and around the coast in habitat ranging from grassland and creekside  vegetation to lantana thickets and wallum heath.

Restless Flycatcher
A Restless Flycatcher at North Arm took a dislike to its image in the car window.

Parklakes Wetland development
Elsewhere about the coast, the Parklakes Wetland at Bli Bli is undergoing a makeover. Several people have expressed concern about the work underway, which has removed a substantial portion of the big reed bed favoured by Australian Little Bittern and crakes. The Parklakes estate developers say the Sunshine Coast Council has insisted on changes to the vegetation regime but that the wetlands will be restored. As usual, the council doubtlessly intervened without the aid of professional advice.

Pink-eared Duck
A pair of Pink-eared Ducks is present on one of the pools at Parklakes. This species is a rare visitor to the Sunshine Coast.

A short distance away, the pair of Radjah Shelducks which turned up recently on Finland Road, Pacific Paradise (see here) is still present. I had seen a single shelduck at the site on two occasions, so this was the first time I had seen the pair.

Radjah Shelduck
Chesnut Teal
Chesnut Teal showed well here. Also along Finland Road was an Australian Hobby feeding on a quail of some kind.

Australian Hobby
Further north, the state authorities have burned off a substantial portion of the wallum heath in sections of the Noosa and Mt Coolum national parks frequented by remnant populations of Ground Parrots.  Parts of the heath had not been burned for 15-20 years; it was so tall and dense that most of the habitat was unsuitable for the parrots, which have declined sharply over the decades (see here for more). So the burn-off is necessary, if overdue.

Noosa National Park burnoff at Peregian Beach
I listened at dusk at a site near Mt Coolum which had been inhabited by Ground Parrots but failed to hear any birds; they may well have disappeared from here. I was disturbed to learn from a local birder that a dead Ground Parrot was found in the driveway entrance to a service station nearby in Marcoola last year. The bird probably was likely to have belonged to the tiny population surviving within the fence of the Sunshine Coast Airport, a population at risk of being eliminated by plans for a new runway.

Variegated Fairy-wren
A Variegated Fairy-wren showed nicely on the edge of the heath at Peregian Beach.

At the Buderim Forest Park, Green Catbirds and Rose-crowned Fruit-Doves were nicely co-operative as they fed in a fruiting tree on the edge of the northern carpark.

A male Mistletoebird was looking cheerful along River Road, Yandina Creek.