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 May 2017

Freckled Duck at Lake Macdonald

Freckled Duck

This morning I found a Freckled Duck on Lake Macdonald on the Sunshine Coast. The bird was seen from the hide on Grange Road among a large flock of Hardheads. The numbers of Hardhead (estimated 500) was unusually large for the region. These images are poor because the bird was distant and it was raining and overcast.

Freckled Duck & Hardheads
Freckled Duck is a rare visitor to south-east Queensland and was not known from the Sunshine Coast until 2 birds were found in another section of Lake Macdonald at the Noosa Botanical Gardens in 2013. The species had not been recorded in the region since then.

Buff-banded Rail
A Buff-banded Rail was obliging along the path to the hide.

Wandering Whistling-Ducks
Groups of Wandering Whistling-Duck were at both Grange Road and the Noosa Botanical Gardens.

Sacred Kingfisher
Elsewhere, this Sacred Kingfisher was feeding on a crab at Pt Cartwright.

Spotted Pardalote

Striated Pardalote

Spotted Pardalote and Striated Pardalote are both active in the home garden.

Sunshine Coast Canelands Subdivisions Under Fire

Pic SCD By Warren Lynam

Media coverage today following my recent complaints about subdividing the Maroochy River canelands.

SUNSHINE COAST DAILY 19/05/2017 By Bill Hoffman

SUNSHINE Coast Council has started action against two subdivision developments on cane land north west of Bli Bli after complaints from an environmentalist battling to save key habitat for rare native bird species.

Monday, 15 May 2017

New Charter Boat for Sunshine Coast Pelagics

Crusader 1
I'm pleased to report that we will be trialling a big new boat for pelagic birding trips off Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast. We will be able to take up to 23 people in what would be the largest and most comfortable boat doing pelagic birding charters in Queensland waters. The deal I have hammered out gives us 5 hours out on the shelf during a 9-hour day trip at reasonable cost. We'll have a huge deck, plenty of seating, hand rails and roofing for protection against the elements. The deep-keeled, high speed monohull will permit a relatively smooth ride, allowing us to go out in wind speeds of up to 25 knots at least, reaching the continental shelf in as little as 2 hours.

Ship layout
Many people are aware of the difficulties we've faced in the six years since I've been operating pelagic trips off the Sunshine Coast. Quite a few folk early on opted out of further trips because they thought conditions were too cramped on board, or that there was a lack of seating, or that the absence of hand rails was unsafe. Later, we had problems with reliability when prebooked trips were cancelled, or most recently when promised supplies of berley repeatedly failed to materialise. Also, the small boat meant we could not go out if anything much in excess of 15 knots was forecast, and as it was a catamaran, it could be pretty uncomfortable out there even in a relatively mild swell.

The new boat is Crusader 1, a deep-keeled, high speed Westcoaster designed for rough weather: 55ft long, 18.5ft wide, a draft of 2.1m and weighing 21 tonnes. It is more that twice the size of the boat we used previously. The main deck has a 3m boardroom style table with 6 seating pods, each designed to seat up to 4 people, with extra seating at the back of the deck. The cabin has a 4-person dining area. The water exhaust is dry-stack so the boat is quiet and the impact of diesel fumes on passengers is minimised.

Red-footed Booby, seen on our last pelagic 
There will be access to the bow deck up front as well as the expansive rear deck. There are solid hand railings all around the deck. A sea anchor will allow us to adjust our drifting speed in accordance with movements of birds at the back of the boat. Other bits and pieces include drinking water on the main deck, a rest area for anyone who is seasick, and a separate toilet for ladies. Apart from the skipper we will have a deck hand to help disperse berley. A good supply of berley is incorporated in the deal. I've had a good look over the boat and am most impressed.

Accommodation for six people on board will allow us in time to undertake 2-3 day charters out wide to explore the Coral Sea.

However, as this is a much bigger operation, we will need bigger numbers of people to make it work. For the boat we had been using, we needed a minimum of 13. For this boat, we will need a minimum of 17. The boat can take up to 23 passengers so hopefully nobody should be on a waiting list.

We had been paying $120pp. The cost now will be between $110pp and $140pp, depending on how many people we get. We had previously paid cash on the day but now, payment will need to be in advance, refundable if you are forced to withdraw with reasonable notice.

The operators, Sunshine Coast Afloat, have won multiple tourism awards and their charters are in high demand, so they are able to offer these trips only on a Sunday - not Saturday when we have previously run charters. If forced to cancel due to weather (which would be infrequent given the boat's greater capabilities) we would postpone to the following Sunday, or the next available Sunday.

My intention is to run these trips about once every two months, but we will do a trial run to see how we go with the inaugural charter in terms of attracting sufficient numbers of people; that's the biggest challenge facing this new venture. So the inaugural trip will depart Mooloolaba Marina at 6.30am on Sunday, July 30, returning at 3.30pm. Please email me ( if you can make it. I will be overseas from early next week until early July but contactable while away by email. No payments would need to be made until after my return in July.

POSTSCRIPT 16/05/2017

I thought we might be battling to get the numbers but I've been quite stunned by the response. The 23 spots for the inaugural July 30 trip were quickly taken up and there's a waiting list already for this trip. We will see how our initial trial run goes but it bodes well for the future. All going well, I'll set down dates for the 12 months ahead after the July 30 charter.

UPDATE 17/05/2017

Due to the high level of interest in this boat we have scheduled a second charter for Sunday August 27. Please let me know if interested.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Camping at Noosa North Shore

We braved some lousy weather for a 3-day camping trip to Noosa North Shore, staying in the council-owned caravan park by the sea. We've stayed here a few times previously; this part of the world will one day be discovered by the tourism industry but in the meantime, it's a gem of a spot.

Bush Stone-Curlew
A pair of Bush Stone-Curlews were present around the camping ground.

With Pacific Black Ducks
As were the very tame Pacific Black Ducks which have been behaving this way for years.

Brahminy Kite
Brahminy Kites were also approachable.

Cooloola Coloured Sands

Cooloola Coloured Sands
We took a 45km drive in the new 4-wheel-drive Isuzu up the Cooloola coast to Double Island Point, admiring the coloured sands which thankfully survived attempts in the 1970s to destroy them by the sand miners who laid waste to so much of South-East Queensland's offshore islands.

I took the kayak out to the Noosa River estuary at high tide. I managed to drop my Leica ultravid binoculars in the salt water; luckily they are waterproof. Of interest was a Sanderling in nice fresh plumage. This species occurs occasionally further north at Inskip Point but is very scarce about the Sunshine Coast.

Sanderling & Red-capped Plover
It was hanging out with Red-capped Plovers and nearby was a small group of Double-banded Plovers. The only other waders present were a few Pacific Golden Plovers, Whimbrels and Bar-tailed Godwits.
Double-banded Plover
 I found a single Beach Stone-Curlew on the main island behind the river mouth. This area is closed to the public during the bird's nesting season and can generally be accessed only by boat. So both stone-curlews for this trip.

A few Mangrove Gerygones were on the island.

Mangrove Gerygone
The only terns seen were a couple of Gull-billed and a fair flock of Cresteds.  Ebird checklist 

Gull-billed Tern

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Caneland Subdivisions a Blow to Rare Birdlife

Spotted Harrier
Despite local and state government restrictions on land use on sugarcane farms around the Maroochy River on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, properties are being busily subdivided with the blessing of the local council. New residential developments on flood-prone land are carving up once extensive areas of grassland and cane, putting at risk populations of Eastern Grass Owl, King Quail and other rare and threatened species.

Four new residences are being built along one road in the canelands near Bli Bli, while For Sale signs are popping up throughout the Maroochy River floodplain. Large areas of former caneland have been swallowed up by plans for a new runway for Sunshine Coast Airport, and for the Maroochy River golf course at Bli Bli.

New canelands subdivision near Bli Bli 
Although the Moreton sugar mill in Nambour closed in 2003, cane continues to be grown locally and is either sold as garden mulch or transported north to the Maryborough mill. A succession of government and expert reports have recognised the need to maintain the rural nature of the landscape, to protect both biodiversity and social amenity in the rapidly growing urban footprint of south-east Queensland.

Maroochy River floodplain grassland
Work on some of the recently subdivided properties had to be suspended following recent heavy rains as vehicles and bulldozers became bogged in muddy quagmires. A 2006 report by the CSIRO, Future Use of Sunshine Coast Cane Landscapes, says 7,000ha - close to half the Maroochy River floodplain - is poorly drained and flood-prone. Most of the floodplain - 13,000ha between Yandina in the west and Marcoola on the coast - is designated under the council's Maroochy Plan as a Sustainable Cane Lands Precinct.

The precinct is intended to be protected for cane and other farmland activities due to its agricultural value. The plan says the existence of cane in these areas forms an important part of the rural character of the shire. Urban uses and the fragmentation of land holdings, other than to enhance their long-term viability or provide for supporting infrastructure, "are not considered desirable or consistent with the intent for this precinct".
New canelands subdivision, Bli Bli
The state government's South-East Queensland Regional Plan is no less firm in laying down firm restrictions on caneland development. The regional plan excludes development for urban purposes on most caneland, except areas east of the Sunshine Motorway and close to Nambour and other towns, unless there is an "overriding public interest". The plan introduces a 100ha minimum lot size for subdivision in the Regional Landscape and Rural Production Area, which supposedly precludes further subdivision.  The regional plan "will permit almost no urban development of the caneland west of the motorway and even on land east of the motorway; the applications will be subject to sequencing and environmental limitations".

New canelands subdivison near Blli Bli
All of this seems to have gone out the window. Apart from the adverse social consequences of urban sprawl, and the likely impact that caneland subdivisions will have on the region's appeal as a tourist destination, once healthy populations of avian grassland rarities and specialties in the Maroochy River floodplain are shrinking rapidly. Species at risk include Eastern Grass Owl, Red-backed Buttonquail, King Quail, Lewin's Rail and several raptors including Spotted Harrier. These birds have happily co-existed with the cane farms for generations. They habitually make use of cane crops for shelter and feeding, while residing in the many areas of grassland that are slashed intermittently but are always to be found over parts of the area.

Spotted Harrier
I returned recently from a 10-day birding trip through western Queensland and saw just a single Spotted Harrier, notwithstanding an abundance of seemingly suitable habitat. I saw 4 of these lovely rare raptors in the space of a couple of hours this week during a drive through the Maroochy River canelands. One pair which has nested annually in recent years now has two large new residential developments in its territory.

Collared Sparrowhawk

Collared Sparrowhawk
One of the areas I visited was River Road, Yandina Creek, where Collared Sparrowhawk and Striated Heron were showing.

Striated Heron
Elsewhere on the Sunshine Coast, a pair of Nankeen Night-Herons are roosting at their regular spot above the amenities block at Wappa Dam.

Nankeen Night-Heron
Large flocks of Topknot Pigeons have moved from the hinterland mountains to the lowlands, where they are feeding on fruiting introduced Camphor laurel trees.

Topknot Pigeons

Topknot Pigeons

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Glossy, Red-tailed and Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos together at Amamoor

Glossy Black Cockatoo
I've not managed previously to see all species of eastern Australia's black cockatoos in one outing, so was chuffed to finally manage to do so during a 3-day campout with Glenn at Cedar Grove in Amamoor State Forest, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo
Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos were common about the camping area and in the nearby Pinus and Araucaria plantations; nothing unusual about that.

Glossy Black Cockatoo
Then I found a single male Glossy Black Cockatoo feeding in an Allocasuarina on a ridge about 1km from camp, along the (somewhat challenging and steep) 5km walking circuit. I watched it for some time, grabbing one ork after another, always using the left leg for plucking and feeding. Some orks were devoured with relish; others were discarded after a quick taste.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo
I didn't expect the trifecta but we stumbled upon a nice flock of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos a short way up the road past the Gympie Muster camping area. They were presumably feeding on the numerous white cedars in the Amamoor Creek valley which were seeding at the time.

Azure Kingfisher

Fairy Gerygone

White-eared Monarch
Other nice birds included White-eared Monarch, Dusky Honeyeater, Azure Kingfisher and Fairy Gerygone (another genus trifecta here, with White-throated and Brown). Ebird checklist is here.

This was the first time out with our latest caravan acquisition and the new Isuzi vehicle to tow it. We had a harrowing time getting the van in and out of the big Triton shed but hopefully that can only get easier. Certainly the van was much easier to set up, roomier and more comfortable than the old camper trailer.

Amamoor - Cedar Grove
Amamoor was looking good after the decent rains of recent times.

Australian Hobby

Australian Reed-Warbler
A few other bits and pieces from about the Sunshine Coast. This hobby and reed-warbler were in the Yandina Creek Wetlands.

Little Grassbird
I went kayaking around Ewen Maddock Dam, where a few Little Grassbirds were present (ebird list).

Tawny Frogmouth
A frogmouth was out in the open up on Mt Ninderry.

Fantailed Cuckoo

Large-billed Scrubwren
A Large-billed Scrub-wren and an immature Fantailed Cuckoo, also on Mt Ninderry, while the finch was nearby at Yandina Creek.

Double-barred Finch