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 September 2014

Around Oz Part 36 - Victoria's Mallee: Hattah-Kulkyne National Park

Malleefowl
Following our visit to Adelaide (see previous post) we moved eastwards across the South Australian border to Hattah-Kulkyne National Park in north-west Victoria. I had been to Hattah several times but not to our destination this time for a three-night stay – Lake Mournpull camping ground.

Mallee - Hattah-Kulkyne 
Due to Murray River flooding for environmental management, most major roads in Hattah (and the main camping ground at Lake Hattah) were closed so we had to get there via the somewhat rickety Konardin Track. It was fortunate that the store owner in the roadside hamlet of Hattah knew this, because there was nothing on Victorian National Parks websites to indicate it.

Flooded River Red Gum
The camping ground is nicely laid out around the shores of Lake Mournpull, now extensively flooded. The cost here, however, of $30 a night for an unpowered site with no facilities but a pit toilet is manifestly excessive by interstate standards.

Great Crested Grebe
The first afternoon I hiked a bit of the Mournpull Track. Displaying pairs of Great Crested Grebe were in the water about the campsite and Yellow (Crimson) Rosellas were common.
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Yellow Rosella
Other birds noted included Nankeen Night-Heron, Pink Cockatoo, Mulga Parrot, Inland Thornbill, Chesnut-rumped Thornbill, Splendid Fairy-wren, Red-capped Robin, Southern Whiteface, White-eared Honeyeater and White-browed Babbler.  There were lots of frogs calling, although the nights were cold.

Splended Fairy-wren

Mulga Parrot male
Mulga Parrot female

Pink Cockatoo
The first morning we hiked the Warepil Lookout circuit together and I repeated the walk later in the morning. Fresh tracks from Malleefowl were seen but no birds. Birds about included Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Striped Honeyeater, Spotted (Yellow-rumped) Pardalote, White-winged Triller, Pallid Cuckoo and Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo.

Spotted (Yellow-rumped) Pardalote
In the afternoon I walked a few kilometres up the Konardin Track; extras for the local list included Jacky Winter, Hooded Robin and Brown Treecreeper. We are again plagued by heavy winds during the day which severely limits the ability to find stuff.

Malleefowl tracks
On the second morning I left early for a 16-km hike, heading west up the Konardin Track to Nowingi Track, then south to the Old Calder Highway and back to the camp ground via Warepil Lookout. Along Konardin I found fresh Malleefowl tracks which had crossed my boot prints from the afternoon before. Then along Nowingi Track I had a Malleefowl scratching about just 20m from me. It did not seem too perturbed by my presence as I watched it for about 20 minutes; this was the same area where I had previously seen Mallee Emu-wren. I've seen Malleefowl 3 or 4 times previously but this was my closest encounter.

Malleefowl

Malleefowl

Malleefowl
I also a single Chesnut Quail-Thrush, at the junction of Nowingi and the Old Calder. Other birds for the local list today include White-fronted Honeyeater and Little Crow, while Emu and a nice flock of Regent Parrots were about the camp ground. Hattah is renowned for its variety of parrots.

Regent Parrot

Regent Parrot
White-eared Honeyeater
The sole quail-thrush and malleefowl aside, I’ve not seen or heard other terrestrial specialties of the region on this trip - Southern Scrub-Robin, Mallee Emu-wren, Striated Grasswren, Shy Heath-wren. Although mid-September, it is cold and birds generally are quiet; it could be that they are still in winter behaviour mode. However, I would have expected more encounters; I’ve seen these species on previous visits to Hattah. It has been suggested that grasswrens and other small terrestrial birds in South Australia have suffered as a result of an explosion of feral cat numbers in recent years - due to a series of good weather seasons in southern inland Australia.
Cat paw imprint - Hattah
It has also been suggested that cat numbers have increased in south-west Western Australia due to the success of fox control programs in reserves such as Dryandra; the assumption is that foxes are efficient predators of kittens. This may be why the endangered Brush-tailed Bettong and Numbat have declined in recent years at Dryandra and elsewhere after initially doing well in response to the fox control measures.

Certainly I saw plenty of fresh cat paw marks on the trails at Hattah, as indeed I did at Dryandra and other reserves we visited recently in South Australia and Western Australia.

On the last morning I walked part of the Mournpull Track, encountering an excellent pair of Gilbert's Whistlers; this is another species I would have expected to see more of.

Gilbert's Whistler

Gilbert's Whistler


Monday, 15 September 2014

Around Oz Part 35 - Southern Flinders Ranges, Adelaide





Mt Remarkable National Park, Southern Flinders Ranges
Following our visit to Whyalla (see previous post) we moved on through Port Augusta to Mt Remarkable National Park in the southern Flinders Ranges for a one-night stay in the Mambray Creek camping ground. Again, a very nice camp setting with huge stately eucalypts amid shrub-covered gorges.

River Red Gums - Mambray Creek camping ground, Mt Remarkable National Park
Plenty of Emus about the park; a male with 4 young bluff charged me. We saw our first Crimson (Adelaide) Rosellas, Eastern Spinebills and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters of the trip. Other birds about the camp included Australian Owlet-Nightjar, Pallid Cuckoo andWhite-browed Babbler.

Hut build by shepherd early-1870s, southern Flinders Ranges
We hiked the Sugargum Lookout trail in the morning and were most impressed with a hut built by a shepherd in the early-1870s which is still standing strong.

Anita & Greg
We moved on south to Adelaide to spend a few days with our friend Anita Smyth, who lives in the lovely Adelaide Hills.

Crimson (Adelaide) Rosella
One of the birds seen from Anita's verandah was Crimson (Adelaide) Rosella.

Little Raven
A wander about the forests of the hills in Belair National Park and elsewhere in the area turned up quite a few Musk Lorikeets (including one bird at a nesting hollow), Eastern Rosella and Little Raven.

Musk Lorikeet

Musk Lorikeet
We checked out some of the cultural sites around Adelaide - the interior of the State Library in the city was most impressive and the old precincts around Port Adelaide were interesting. We spent a morning checking out some wetlands and salt marshes north of Adelaide - St Kilda, White Road Wetlands and Greenfields Wetlands. We saw 200+ Black-tailed Native-hen, quite a few Hoary-headed Grebe, a few Little Grassbirds, 1 Red-kneed Dotterel and 2 Wood Sandpipers.

Black-tailed Native-hens - White Road Wetlands
Hoary-headed Grebes - Greenfields Wetlands
Wood Sandpiper - Greenfields Wetlands
Back in the Adelaide Hills at Anita's home, a female koala was nice. 

Koala - Adelaide Hills





Thursday, 11 September 2014

Around Oz Part 34 - Eyre Peninsula in South Australia: Streaky Bay, Port Lincoln, Whyalla


Southern Scrub-Robin

After exiting South Australia (see previous post) we travelled through Ceduna down the western coast of Eyre Peninsula to Streaky Bay. We had a pleasant three days here recovering from four days in a row of very long drives. Our camp is right on the water and all is very pleasant. About the town are plenty of Black-faced Cormorants.

Streaky Bay

Black-faced Cormorant
We took a casual drive along the Westwall Way Loop south of town, visiting Yanerbic Beach, Point Westwall and other spots; loads more wonderful coastal scenery.

Point Westwall near Streaky Bay
Among other things, I saw a large flock of Red-necked Stints which clearly had just returned from migration; a single Hooded Plover on the beach; and quite large numbers of Crimson Chats and White-fronted Chats, often in mixed flocks. A big concern is that my near-new Sony Cyber-shot 300 camera is playing up, refusing to focus properly on zoomed in images - I'm still grappling with that one. This chat was the best I could manage today.

Crimson Chat
After leaving Streaky Bay, we continued south along the Flinders Highway to Lincoln National Park, at the far southern end of Eyre Peninsula. This is an extensive area of coastal mallee with granite outcrops, dunes, sandy beaches and limestone cliffs. We camped for two nights at the nicely laid out Surfleet Cove Camping Ground, with our camp overlooking the waters of Port Lincoln.

Mallee - Lincoln National Park

Surfleet Cove - Lincoln National Park
Around the camp there was a male Emu with a brood of 12 small striped youngsters in tow. Only the adult emerges in the image below; his back feathers are ruffled in aggressive mode because he is annoyed by my presence. Other birds around the camp include plenty of Brown-headed and New Holland Honeyeaters and White-browed Babbler. The zoom function in my camera is totally stuffed now, so decent bird pictures of birds will need to await the arrival of my old Cybershot 200 in the mail in the days ahead.

Emu
We did the 5-km Surfleet Cove hike seeing a couple of nice Southern Scrub-Robins - these images are from Glenn's little travel camera, and took quite a bit of work to close enough. We saw Dusky Woodswallow, Brush Bronzewing and Collared Sparrowhawk.

Southern Scrub-Robin
We visited several scenic spots in the park including Fishermans Point, Cape Donington (a flock of 4 Rock Parrots here) and Taylors Landing (more Southern Scrub-Robins). We saw a group of about 10 Australian Sea-Lions offshore on Donington Island. A nice pair of Blue-breasted Fairy-wrens were in thick heath near the camp but no pic opportunities.

Fishermans Point, Lincoln National Park
On our final morning in the park we hiked to Spalding Cove and called in on Pillee Lake. Pairs of Blue-breasted Fairy-wren were found at both sites. So were Southern Scrub-Robins; I saw or heard them at 10 spots in the park. I did not see or hear Western Whipbird though I did not try hard: I had seen the local race on Kangaroo Island and saw the race nigrogularis recently at Cheyne Beach (see here).
We then drove into town for a couple of nights in the Port Lincoln Tourist Park. The winds here were ferocious, gusting up to 40 knots.

Port Lincoln
Still, Port Lincoln is a delightful town with its deepwater harbour and the backdrop of Lincoln National Park across the water; a mosaic of natural bushland parks; seaside walkways through wildflower-laden heath; and historic sandstone buildings.

After Port Lincoln we headed north to the steel town of Whyalla for two nights in the Whyalla Discovery Tourist Park. A bit expensive but we are right on the water's edge for the fourth camp in a row - very nice. We had a fierce wind storm that threatened at one point to seriously damage the canvas of our camper trailer.

Our beachside camp at Whyalla
Down the road is the Whyalla Wetlands, where the local council for some strange reason has flattened a swathe of native scrub that had separated the pools from the road. Birds here included 50+ Black-tailed Native-hens - the first for the trip - and a few Hoary-headed Grebes. Another pool a few blocks away had Musk Duck on it. I am sorely missing my camera, making do with scenery shots for a few more days.

Whyalla Beach from Hummock Hill
We visited some of the local attractions. The Mt Laura Homestead Museum was quite an impressive historic display, and I'm not much of a museum fan so that's saying something. Hummock Hill Lookout was also worth a look.

Image from historic Mt Laura Homestead, Whyalla
In a shrubby area of bluebush and samphire at the end of the caravan park, I flushed the first Stubble Quail of the trip. On the final morning I visited Whyalla Conservation Park, just north of the town, a nice reserve of myall woodland with extensive areas of bluebush and saltbush.

Whyalla Conservation Park

I searched unsuccessfully for Western Grasswren around Wild Dog Rock (in the image above) but on the way back saw one run across the track 2km from the park entrance.I enjoyed excellent close views of a pair of grasswrens. Although I was thrilled to see this species again after so long (many moons ago at Shark Bay) I sorely regretted not having my Sony camera as the pictures would have been brilliant.

Western Grasswren site, Whyalla Conservation Park
Other birds noted included Variegated Fairy-wren, Crested Bellbird, White-browed Babbler, Chesnut-rumped Thornbill, Inland Thornbill and quite a few Slender-billed Thornbills in open areas of blushbush..






Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Lady Elliot Island Article - Qantas Magazine

Green Turtle, Lady Elliot Island
Here is my travel feature published in the current edition of Qantas The Australian Way. For more images see this post and associated posts.

THE SUN SETS OVER the Great Barrier Reef as people gather on the beach fringing the large tidal lagoon on Lady Elliot Island. They are carefully scanning the small waves lapping the coral rubble along the shore. As darkness looms, they spot what they are looking for. A female green turtle emerges cautiously from the water, hauling her great bulk up the beach with flippers that appear inadequate for the task. The visitors watch silently as the turtle, as if on cue, comes to rest a few metres from them. She excavates a deep nesting hollow in the sand with her hind flippers. She has swum as far as 2500km to reach her nesting place, probably the same beach where she
hatched some 30 years earlier.

The turtle settles in to deposit 100 or so eggs in this incubation chamber. Under the supervision of trained staff, people approach closely, but quietly, to watch. Her labours over, she fills the hollow
with sand and returns to the sea. The turtle will repeat this process up to seven times during breeding season, then may not return to nest for another five to seven years. Interestingly, when her eggs hatch, the sex of the nestlings will depend on the temperature of the sand. The relatively cool sands of
Lady Elliot Island apparently favour the production of male offspring.

Manta Ray
The 42-hectare Lady Elliot Island lies at the southern tip of the world’s biggest structure composed of living organisms – the 2000-kilometre-long Great Barrier Reef. The cooler southern reef waters surrounding the coral cay, and its distance from the coast - Bundaberg is 80 kilometres to the west – ensure that Lady Elliot is not blighted by coral bleaching, crown-of-thorn starfish invasions, or pollution from mainland erosion and chemical run-off.

The island’s coral reefs and waters are among the most pristine in the world. Lady Elliot has the highest protection classification in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, so wildlife is not hunted or fished. The island has all the ingredients to justify its rapidly growing reputation as one of Australia’s premier ecotourism destinations.

The abundance of life on and around this tiny atoll makes a strong impression on visitors. Tens of thousands of seabirds nest here and they have been unmolested for so long that they are oblivious to human interlopers in their midst. In season, every tree in the grounds of the Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort – the only accommodation on the island - is laden with the nests of smartly plumaged black noddies, a species of tern. As planes arrive with resort guests, dense clouds of brown noddies - which unlike their close relatives, nest on the ground - rise from the runway.

Garrulous bridled terns nest around the accommodation and along pathways although their nests are mere scrapes in the ground; guests learn quickly to watch where they walk. Sprightly buff-banded rails waste no time raiding unattended plates in the dining area. Stately frigatebirds soar in the skies above. Everywhere during the nesting season from October to March, seabirds are sitting protectively on eggs or busily feeding chicks at various stages of development with tiny fish and squid caught at sea.

The resort supplies earplugs to guests to help block out the eerie wailing at night of wedge-tailed shearwaters, or muttonbirds, which nest in burrows dug around their rooms. Asian workers mining guano on the island in the late-1800s believed they were hearing ghosts; the men were terrified and refused to leave their tents at night.

Leopard Shark
The destination is not everybody’s idea of bliss. One visitor described a visit to Lady Elliot Island in a review as a “holiday from hell” with “30 or more nests in every tree, birds in the bushes, under the stairs.... the stench caused by the birds was so bad it made your eyes water”. Overwhelmingly, however, visitors are enchanted by the antics and grace of the birds and their young. Complaints about the vaguely fishy odour that pervades the island as a result of the nesting are rare.

This is a destination where guests may sip a gin-and-tonic while enjoying the spectacle of a pair of rare and beautiful red-tailed tropicbirds feeding a boisterous chick from the veranda of their villa. Scuba divers and snorkelers are attracted to the crystal clear waters around the island with its wealth of colourful hard corals ranging from tree-like staghorns to slow-growing boulder and flat plate corals. Guests can stroll a few metres from their accommodation to snorkel in the shallow lagoon at high tide, or walk a few minutes to the other side of the island to deep water.

Black Noddy
 The reefs provide food and shelter to a bewildering myriad of marine life. The island is famed for its manta rays. Nothing quite prepares the snorkeler for the sight of this massive fish – one of the world’s biggest, measuring up to eight metres between wing tips – as it appears seemingly out of nowhere to glide gracefully through the water below them. The island is home to 40 manta rays
and many more visit its waters. Elegantly patterned leopard sharks patrol the seabed in search of prey. Gaudily decorated picasso triggerfish dart between coral outcrops as gawking
damselfish lurk beneath them. Beautifully coloured butterfly fish of various varieties strut their stuff. Immaculate scissor-tailed sergeants, small black-and-white fish, peer curiously into snorkel face masks.

Bridled Tern
The seabed is littered with marine animals including clams of many shapes and sizes, bright blue linkia starfish and the sea cucumbers, or bĂȘche-de-mer, which sustained a small fishing industry on the island early last century. Turtles and other marine life at most diving destinations around the world are shy and difficult to approach, but around Lady Elliot they are not afraid of people. Curious rays and turtles sometimes approach them; a snorkeler may need to hold their nerve in the imposing – albeit harmless - face of an inquisitive manta ray up close.

Humpback whales provide further appeal to the island as an ecotourism destination. Hervey Bay, a short distance south of Lady Elliot, is a major wintering ground for whales and they are frequent visitors to island waters from June to October, when they can be seen at close quarters from shore.

Lady Elliot Island was officially discovered in 1816 by Captain Thomas Stuart aboard his ship, Lady Elliot, which came to grief later on a reef of the same name in north Queensland. Lady Elliot Island itself was once known as Shipwreck Island. About 20 ships have floundered on its reefs; the rusting
engines of vessels a century old can be seen on reef flats at low tide.


Lady Elliot Island

A white-towered lighthouse built in 1873 to guide the ships of guano miners stands today as the island’s signature heritage feature. It was the first lighthouse in Australia with a timber frame and weather-proof cast iron external cladding. In just a few years, the guano miners destroyed the island’s vegetation - and with it the vast seabird colonies – with the removal of a metre of surface soil. Revegetation began with the building of the first tourist accommodation in 1969 and continues today.

The resort makes a concerted effort to reduce its environmental footprint. A hybrid power station using a bank of 128 panels has reduced carbon emissions from diesel generators by 70 per cent. Most waste is removed by boat; laundry is sent to the mainland to save water; no bottled water is sold; and the airstrip is irrigated by treated waste water.  The birds returned when their nesting places were restored. The breeding population of black noddies increased from a low of 35 pairs post-mining
to 70,000 pairs today. With growing numbers of visitors seeking out quality ecotourism destinations in Australia, that kind of avian wealth counts for something.

Snorkelling - Lady Elliot Island

LADY ELLIOT ISLAND ECO RESORT

The island has the advantage of easy accessibility to the Great Barrier Reef, with short daily flights from Brisbane (via Hervey Bay or Bundaberg) or the Gold Coast. The resort offers accommodation ranging from basic tented huts to comfortable suites costing from $165 to $339 per person per night including most meals and activities such as glass bottom boat tour, fish-feeding and
guided walks. More: http://www.ladyelliot.com.au/