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.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Changes in status of South-East Queensland birds over 40 years – Part 1, Emu to storm-petrels

The Queensland Conservation Council in 1979 published a booklet I wrote, The Birds of South-East Queensland. It was an annotated list of birds from the state's south-east with a focus on status, distribution, habitat and environmental threats. Forty years later, in 2019, I thought it timely for a “then and now” look at how things have changed for some species listed in the publication. These posts discuss the minority of birds listed where knowledge of status and distribution has changed markedly.

South-East Queensland
The area covered by the list is south-east Queensland: east of the Great Dividing Range and north from the NSW-Queensland border to the Round Hill-Eurimbula area. References to seasonal occurrence are generalised (for instance, describing a bird as a “summer visitor” means only that it is most frequently encountered in the warmer months).

Bribie Island's Eric the Emu
Emu. Listed as “uncommon” in 1979; though regular in the north-west (for instance, the Upper Burnett), it was “scantily distributed” on the coast and declining in numbers. That decline has accelerated. In 2019, the species is very rare in coastal areas. It occurs in small numbers around Woodgate but is probably now extinct in places where it once occurred regularly such as Cooloola, Beerwah and Bribie Island. Emus had been numerous on Bribie Island, to the point where they were a nuisance in camping areas. The last surviving bird was at home in urbanised parts of the island; known to locals fondly as Eric the Emu, it was killed by a dog on Red Beach in 2015.

Sooty Albatross & Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. Both species in 1979 were described as “vagrant” with one record of Sooty Albatross and two of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross – all beach-washed. While no further records of Sooty Albatross have surfaced, several more Light-mantled Sooty Albatross have beach-washed and the species is seen rarely in offshore waters.

Northern Giant-Petrel
Southern Giant-Petrel & Northern Giant-Petrel. Southern Giant-Petrel is listed in 1979 as a “moderately common” winter visitor, based mainly on observations from Point Lookout, North Stradbroke Island. Little was known in those days about identifying giant-petrels and it is likely most birds seen were in fact Northern Giant-Petrel. Northern Giant-Petrel is listed in 1979 as a “vagrant”. Southern Giant-Petrel can best be described as a vagrant these days, with Northern Giant-Petrel considered a scarce winter visitor. Certainly no giant-petrel in the region can be now regarded as “moderately common”. Like many seabirds, their populations worldwide have been seriously depleted by the fishing industry, mainly through competition for food but also from being caught by hooks.

Providence Petrel
Providence Petrel. Described as “rare” in 1979, we now know it is a common winter visitor to offshore waters. It was known from just 5 specimens and no sightings in 1979. As with many pelagic birds, knowledge has improved dramatically with offshore trips to the continental shelf, which did not begin in the region until the 1980s. In the 1970s, however, some us had regularly searched beaches in the region, especially North Stradbroke Island, for derelict seabirds.

Tahiti Petrel
Tahiti Petrel. In 1979 it was thought to be a “vagrant”, with just two beach derelicts known and no sightings. The species is in fact a common visitor to offshore waters, especially in the warmer months.

Grey-faced Petrel
Great-winged Petrel & Grey-faced Petrel. The Great-winged Petrel was described in  1979 as "probably moderately common" on the basis of about 30 beach-washed birds. This species is now thought to be a rare visitor. However, the Grey-faced Petrel, recently split from the Great-winged Petrel (and therefore not recognised as a species in 1979) is uncommon though regularly encountered in offshore waters; many of the earlier "Great-winged" specimens were doubtlessly Grey-faced.

Gould's Petrel. Described in 1979 also as a “vagrant”, with no sightings and a total of four beach-washed specimens. The species is now regarded as an uncommon though regular summer visitor to offshore waters.

Black-winged Petrel. Another “vagrant” in 1979 known from three beach derelicts, with no sightings. It is now considered a scarce summer visitor to offshore waters.

Streaked Shearwater
Streaked Shearwater. Again considered a “vagrant” in 1979, known from three beach-washed specimens, all found on the same day. We now regard it as a scarce but regular summer visitor to inshore and offshore waters.

Fluttering Shearwater
Fluttering Shearwater. Considered a “common” winter visitor in 1979, mainly to inshore waters, it could be regarded today as uncommon, and significantly more so than the following species.

Hutton's Shearwater
Hutton's Shearwater. Described as “rare” in 1979, with just a handful of sightings, it is now considered to be a moderately common visitor at any time of the year.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel. Records were few in 1979, though it was “probably moderately common” as a passage migrant offshore. It is in fact a common visitor to offshore waters, especially as a passage migrant.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel
White-faced Storm-Petrel. A “vagrant” in 1979, known from two specimens. It is today known to be an occasional visitor to offshore waters.

Black-bellied Storm-Petrel. Another “vagrant” in 1979, again known from just two specimens. It is thought today to be an uncommon but regular winter visitor to offshore waters.

Black-bellied Storm-Petrel

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Red Goshawk nest tree pruned as research shows endangered bird flies vast distance

Red Goshawk on Cape York (Image by John Young)
Queensland Government officers studying the endangered Red Goshawk on Cape York lopped the limbs off a nesting tree while a bird was sitting on eggs to improve photographic opportunities. The claim was made as it was revealed radio-tracking has demonstrated that the Red Goshawk will fly considerable distances and across large bodies of water.

It was reported last month that the state Department of Environment and Science (DES) had effectively handed over responsibility for Red Goshawk research on Cape York to international mining giant Rio Tinto. The research involves catching nesting Red Goshawks in bow nets and fitting them with tracking devices on the company's bauxite and aluminium leases. Rio Tinto holds leases over 380,000 hectares of Cape York and is strip-mining extensive areas of tropical savannah woodland – the preferred habitat of the Red Goshawk.

Birding enthusiast David Milson says that when he lived in Weipa in 2015, he discovered the first Red Goshawk nest on Rio Tinto leases. The finding was reported to authorities and the then Department of Environment and Heritage Protection called in an arborist to lop several large limbs from the tree, where a female goshawk was sitting on eggs.

At the time, workers climbed the tree to fit two cameras to photograph and film the birds. Milson says he confronted departmental officers about what he regarded as unnecessary and risky intrusions: “I could not believe that here is this rare bird sitting on a nest, and here they are lopping off big branches all around the nest so they can get better pictures. Then they've got guys climbing up the tree to set the cameras up. It was beyond comprehension that they were doing it.”

Rio Tinto's strip-mining on Cape York
While living in Weipa, Milson learned of early results from the research program. A female fledgling that was caught and tagged was found to have flown 250 kilometres south from Weipa to the Edward River near the Aboriginal community of Pormpuraaw. The bird flew across Albatross Bay, a large expanse of water in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Signals from the transmitter stopped abruptly soon after the bird's arrival near Pormpuraaw. If confirmed by as yet unpublished data, this would be the longest recorded movement by a Red Goshawk, and likely the first instance of one flying over large expanses of water.

The DES and Rio Tinto refuse to say how many birds have been or will be caught and tagged under the program. The DES said in response to a series of questions about the program: “We've confirmed that you need to address these questions to Rio Tino, as the project leader.” Rio Tinto did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

However, the program was defended by Red Goshawk Recovery Team member Steve Debus, who has undertaken research funded by Rio Tinto in the past. In a post on chatline Birding-Aus, Debus says: “The original RAOU Red Goshawk project in the ’80s got some invaluable data on a pair of Red Goshawks that were caught and radio-tracked (female in the breeding season, 2 young fledged) and they bred in the following season after they had shed their transmitters. The Weipa study is funded by RioTinto but the work is conducted by expert raptor ecologists... notably Dr Richard Seaton. He has extensive experience radio-tracking raptors. The project is overseen by the Red Goshawk Recovery Team, and the team is privy to preliminary key data on female home range and juvenile dispersal.”

Referring to researchers losing track of birds netted under the program, and claims that goshawks could die as a result of the devices, Debus says: “Transmitters can fail or fall off, so ‘disappearance’ could be a signal issue rather than goshawk death. Raptors are quite robust... The recovery team is meeting in January, so we will undoubtedly be discussing the issues raised as well as data. The data will be published in due course. The study arose from Rio Tinto’s obligation to assess and minimise impact on a federally listed species.”

Debus dismissed critics of the research program as “trolls... going about half-cocked without knowing the facts”.

This prompted a response from North Queensland birding guide David Crawford: “It might be fine for you to accuse some of the concerned public as going off half-cocked about the latest Red Goshawk debacle… I agree that transmitters can fall off but I also believe that death is possible, if not likely, and one death or failed nesting due to disturbance is one too many.”

Debus responded by saying that the satellite transmitters fitted to goshawks would “give much better data in a proposed mining area so the researchers can identify key Red Goshawk areas and aspects of the birds’ ecology, so as to better understand and conserve them”.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Glossy Black Cockatoo under threat from Sunshine Coast nursing home

Glossy Black Cockatoos drinking at Sunrise Beach

Critical habitat for the endangered Glossy Black Cockatoo is set to be bulldozed for a new aged care facility at Sunrise Beach on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. A community group set up to protect the birds, Glossy Team Sunrise, says hundreds of food trees are threatened by a development planned by the Uniting Church's Blue Care. The area surrounding the proposal is recognised as a hotspot nationally for the cockatoo: during a 2016 survey in South-East Queensland, more than a third of  96 birds recorded were in the Noosa-Sunrise Beach area.

Glossy Team Sunrise says five hectares of habitat will be destroyed by the development – a huge complex including 98 residential aged care beds, 74 apartments and 55 living units. The facility will be built in the heart of the most important areas favoured by the Glossy Black Cockatoo. Group spokesperson Bettina Walter says about 300 Allocasuarina feed trees, which the birds are dependent on, would be removed. A high care unit and car park will be built adjacent to a creek visited by the birds for drinking. Survey stakes for the development were planted recently.

Glossy Black Cockatoos feeding at Sunrise Beach
Says Bettina: “From how we read the plans and what we understand from Blue Care, it is a clear-fell proposal… In the north [of the site] are many food trees and this will be the site of the high care unit. In the southern area are some real regular hotspots. These contain stands of old feeding trees and also younger regrowth. We could spot some glossies feeding there pretty much every time we went in. I have not found any food trees in the adjacent southern lot, that has been allocated for conservation.”

While Blue Care is expected to be required to plant Allocasuarina seedlings in nearby areas to “offset” the felled trees, these will take at least seven years to grow. The species feeds only on the cones of mature Allocasuarina trees. The development will also destroy thousands of Banksia and other trees in wallum woodland on the site.

Site of Blue Care's development plan
According to Glossy Team Sunrise, the then Sunshine Coast Regional Council in 2008 gave Blue Care permission to develop the facility. It did not happen at the time and approval was extended by the Noosa Shire Council in 2017. Says the group: “We believe the approval was given based on dated knowledge of the ecological value of the site and a traffic report long overtaken by reality. While aged care is needed in Noosa, the current high-density Blue Care design will require clear-felling of a prime habitat of the Glossy Black Cockatoo, one of Australia’s rarest cockatoos. The Glossy Black Conservancy recommends that where developments are planned, existing stands of favoured food trees should be recognised and retained.”

Protecting the local “glossies” has become a goal warmly embraced by the local community. Residents plant food trees, remove weeds, mark the most important feed trees and carefully monitor the movements and behaviour of birds.

Feed tree marked at Sunrise Beach
Adds Glossy Team Sunrise: “At a minimum, we are asking the Uniting Church (Blue Care) to show commitment to their aspirations to be a 'green church' and to retain and protect our Sunrise Glossy Black Cockatoos and wallum. We would like them to listen to a community passionate about their unique environment and to work with Team Glossy members and other experts to rethink and adapt the development. Their Eco-Mission Statement is encouraging the congregation to care for the environment as God’s creation. Well we have the perfect place to put those words into action.”

Anyone wishing to register their concerns about the plans can sign a petition here.

Glossy Black Cockatoo feeding at Sunrise Beach

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

2018 Sunshine Coast Birds Big Year

#303 Pale-vented Bush-hen
Every now and then I think it's good to take up a challenge: set oneself a goal and go for it. It may take a while to reach your target. It was many years before I finally attained my goal of seeing all 234 bird families in the world; that milestone was notched up in Panama in 2015 with the sighting of Sapayoa.

2018 Zone of Happiness
Birders often embrace a Big Year as a worthy goal. The idea is to see as many species as possible within a period of 12 months. A Big Year might be nation-wide or international, but I thought the Sunshine Coast region would do nicely for 2018. That wasn't the plan initially. Ken Cross, the leader of BirdLife Australia Sunshine Coast, had for a few years been running a competition for local birders to see who could photograph the most birds in a calendar year. Part of the goal was to encourage up and coming birders to improve their skills by identifying images posted on a Facebook page created each year for what was dubbed The Game.

#1 Brush Cuckoo
I thought initially that I'd join The Game in 2018 for a hoot, but that soon morphed into a full-on Big Year. I set a goal of photographing 300 species in the region in the calendar year.

#30 Eastern Grass Owl
The area covered for The Game is the so-called Zone of Happiness. The zone extends beyond the boundaries of the Sunshine Coast and Noosa councils: north to Inskip Point, south to Bribie Island and west to beyond Kilcoy and Amamoor, with an outlier in the Sheepstation Conservation Park south of Caboolture. My first photograph for The Game was a Russet-tailed Thrush behind Yandina. Although identifiable, I thought the image unworthy so discarded it; another seven months went by before I managed another photograph of this species! 

#31 Grey Ternlet
As it transpired, quantity not quality is the order of The Game for photographs. So long as an image is identifiable by someone in the group, that's adequate for it to pass muster; quite a few photographs on the page, including some of mine, are not as sharp as one might wish. That's fine: it's a birding indulgence first and foremost, not a photographic contest.
The winning total for The Game in 2017 was 256 species photographed by Carolyn Scott. I thought then that was an impressive effort. I've seen a total of 348 species in the Zone of Happiness, with observations stretching back to the early-1970s. Two species – Eastern Bristlebird and Emu – are now extinct in the area. Many others are vagrants or rare visitors, especially seabirds. (Birds seen on pelagic trips offshore are counted for The Game.)

#158 Shining Flycatcher
Most species in the region are common and widespread so are not difficult to photograph – the so-called low-hanging fruit. Others are numerous enough but can take a bit of work to nail down: Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove and Russet-tailed Thrush are good examples. Yet others are skulking, elusive and difficult to see, let alone photograph. Rails and owls feature prominently in the latter group.

#200 Brolga
As the early months of 2018 went by, I worked out a plan to boost the prospects of snaring the maximum possible number of birds before December 31. I had some advantages. I'd done a good deal of guiding over the years so knew of reliable sites for cryptic species such as Pale-vented Bush-hen and Black-breasted Buttonquail. I organise the Mooloolaba pelagic trips so was able to amass a reasonable collection of seabirds. On the other hand, I was going to be away from home for more than three months of 2018, so some visiting birds would inevitably be missed (as transpired with the likes of White-browed Woodswallow and Freckled Duck).

#221 Australian Owlet-Nightjar
For many targets, it was a matter of studying ebird records, Google Earth and Google Maps to gather information on distribution, habitat and access. I figured that the dry woodlands north of Gympie, for instance, might work for species that hadn't been recorded in previous years of The Game, like Speckled Warbler and Weebill. Or the paddocks and lightly wooded country around Kilcoy or west of Amamoor might harbour local rarities like Yellow-rumped Thornbill and Black-chinned Honeyeater.

#225 Pectoral Sandpiper
As the year marched on, various pieces of what I imagined to be a big jigsaw puzzle gradually fell into place. Pelagic trips offshore ensured that both summer-visiting seabirds (like Short-tailed Shearwater and Tahiti Petrel) and winter visitors (like Antarctic Prion and Providence Petrel) were in the bag. The odd rarity, notably Grey Ternlet, didn't go astray. Six pelagic trips were undertaken during the year.

#246 Red-browed Treecreeper
I managed to photograph all the region's nocturnal birds: Australian Owlet-Nightjar; two nightjars (Large-tailed and White-throated); two frogmouths (Marbled and Tawny) and six owls (Eastern Grass, Barn, Masked, Powerful, Barking and Southern Boobook). Some of the trickier waterbirds snapped included Spotless Crake, Baillon's Crake, Pale-vented Bush-hen, Australian Little Bittern and Lewin's Rail.

#247 Masked Owl 
I put in some serious driving time. I travelled twice to Bribie Island in one day because I learned after I got home from the first visit that a Radjah Shelduck had turned up at Sandstone Point, just 1km from where I was. I got the shelduck, and it didn't stay around, but I saw the species later in the year anyway at Tin Can Bay.

#250 Powerful Owl
Participating in The Game meant that I disclosed a fair number of sites held close to my chest for many years. But I learned through other participants of sites I'd not known of.

#274 Black-bellied Storm-Petrel
It helped that I went on 10 campouts of 1-3 nights in the region during the year - Charlie Moreland Park, Kenilworth Bluff, Conondale National Park, Amamoor, Yandilla, Brooyar State Forest, Rainbow Beach, Tin Can Bay, Cooloola and Noosa North Shore – as well as overnight stays on Bribie Island and in Kilcoy and Tiaro (the latter outside the zone, but to access the northern woodlands).

#285 Regent Honeyeater

I had just a single shot at quite a few birds - that is they were seen (and photographed) just once during the year: Eastern Grass Owl, Grey Ternlet, Streaked Shearwater, Marbled Frogmouth, Brush Bronzewing, Oriental Cuckoo, Baillon's Crake, Brolga, Fluttering Shearwater, Plum-headed Finch, Superb Fruit-Dove, Pectoral Sandpiper, Barn Owl, Large-tailed Nightjar, Glossy Black Cockatoo, Masked Owl, Sooty Owl, Black-breasted Buttonquail, Red-footed Booby, Red-browed Treecreeper, Shy Albatross, Yellow Thornbill, Barking Owl, Weebill, Green Pygmy-Goose, Regent Honeyeater, Lesser Crested Tern, Grey Plover, Southern Emu-wren, Sanderling, Pacific Swift, Black Bittern. As the year drew to an end, the pickings became few and far between.

#286 Lesser Crested Tern
The vagaries of birding are well illustrated by the very last bird for 2018 – Red-winged Parrot, seen on December 31. One had been seen on the outskirts of Gunalda a few days earlier. I was at the site at the crack of dawn and searched the area diligently without success for two hours. I returned mid-afternoon and there was the bird.

#293 Radjah Shelduck
As for my favourite bird of the year, I can think of a few. Photographing Southern Emu-wren and Brush Bronzewing at Cooloola was uplifting. They weren't great images but I'd not seen the emu-wren in Queensland since the 1970s, and the bronzewing just a couple of times since then. I photographed Eastern Ground Parrot a few times before eventually managing a half-decent image. Pectoral Sandpiper near Toorbul was nice, as were Masked Owl near Yandilla and Eastern Grass Owl at Bli Bli. The Regent Honeyeater at Carlos Pt was an extraordinary out-of-range record.

#300 Black Bittern
I was very happy to bag a Red-browed Treecreeper, in the southern Conondales. This species was once regularly encountered in the Conondale and Blackall ranges but numbers appear to have crashed; in the almost 10 years since I moved to the Sunshine Coast, I'd seen it just once previously. I believe it is one of a number of birds in the region to be impacted by climate change. Probably top of the pops was Black Bittern at Tin Can Bay. I've seen the species occasionally but regularly in the region, though hadn't managed to photograph it before. It was also the 300th species for the year.

#302 Lewin's Rail
I ended up with 310 species photographed in 2018. The Zone of Happiness in 2019 will be quite different from 2018 because its boundaries extend well westward, netting a suite of extra birds, so comparing 2018 with 2019 will not be comparing apples with apples. I spotted but failed to photograph three species – Black-tailed Native-hen, Swift Parrot, Budgerigar - so saw a total of 313 species for 2018 in the Sunshine Coast region. Now it's 2019, and time to move on. Let's see now. Getting my world lifelist up from 7920 to 8000 would be nice.

#310 Red-winged Parrot

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Endangered Red Goshawks netted and tagged during nesting season

Red Goshawk on Cape York (Image by John Young)

The Queensland Labor Government has handed responsibility for a controversial program that nets and tags the endangered Red Goshawk on Queensland's Cape York Peninsula to international mining giant Rio Tinto. The goshawks are caught and tagged during their nesting season.

A Red Goshawk caught near its nest near Weipa in a bow net and fitted with a GPS satellite transmitter in a harness disappeared three months later. The then Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection told north Queensland blogger Tony Nielson in February 2017 that a month after the adult female disappeared, its female fledgling was also netted and fitted with a tracking device; the movements of that bird were being tracked 12 months later.

Queensland Environment Department & Rio Tinto personnel with captured juvenile Red Goshawk
Netting and tagging can provide valuable information about the movements of migratory waders and other birds, but such programs should be conducted in moderation and with great care. An important shorebird roost at Toorbul in South-East Queensland, for instance, was deserted for a considerable time after cannon netting of the birds late last year. A critically endangered Night Parrot disappeared after being caught and fitted with a tracking device in Western Australia in August 2017; its mate vanished soon after. Authorities had made no attempt to estimate Night Parrot numbers at the site before the bird was caught.

At least four Red Goshawks have been caught and tagged on mining leases held by Rio Tinto in the Weipa-Aurukun region of Cape York. The leases span 380,000 hectares – a vast area of savannah woodland that the company boasts is 5.5 times the size of Singapore. Rio Tinto has signalled that more birds will be caught in co-operation with the Queensland Department of Environment and Science and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. The AWC owns Piccaninny Plains, a Cape York reserve described by the organisation as an “important stronghold” for the species.

Red Goshawk on Cape York (Image by John Young)
In a statement in October, Rio Tinto's Weipa Operations general manager, Daniel van der Westhuizen, said that in co-operation with the Queensland Government, the company had been able to refine its tracking and trapping techniques for the Red Goshawk over three years. The capture of birds and fitting them with transmitters had provided “invaluable information” on their movements. No details of that information have surfaced.

Rio Tinto declined to respond to a series of questions I put to the company about the program. Rio Tinto exports 33 million tonnes of bauxite a year from its Cape York leases. A Red Goshawk nest was first detected on a Rio Tinto mining lease in 2015, near Mapoon. Environmental activists have long argued that the company's strip-mining has grave environmental consequences. The Wilderness Society claimed that Rio Tinto's South of Embley bauxite mine, for instance, would have “enormous environmental impacts from total forest destruction, to fundamental disruption of hydrology, to threatening rare species”.

Rio Tinto's Cape York bauxite mining
North Queensland birding guide David Crawford says he is concerned that goshawks are being captured during the nesting season. Crawford claims he was contacted last year by somebody associated with the Red Goshawk Recovery Plan seeking information about nest sites, which he refused to provide.

Says Crawford: “To research something is one thing but to disturb such a rare bird with low populations in the middle of the breeding season is barbaric. The ethics people who authorise this behaviour need to be thoroughly looked at. How is this majestic bird going to struggle to survive with a tracker pack and a 200mm aerial sticking out between its shoulder blades? When contacted about birds and chicks they put trackers on, they say they have proof the data is there on the movement of these birds but it has never been released to the public. Is the science working or are the birds with trackers on dead?”

Another North Queensland naturalist, who asked not to be identified, says he has learned that live Rainbow Lorikeets are tethered to the ground to lure the goshawks so they can be trapped by bow nets. Bow nets are often used to catch raptors: a lure animal is secured on the ground within reach of a spring-loaded bow-shaped net that is set off as the target approaches the bait. It is possible that if the target attempted to fly as the net was sprung, it could be injured or killed.

Red-tailed Hawk caught in a bow net in the U.S.
Red Goshawks are presumably netted during the nesting season because they would be widely dispersed and difficult to catch at other times of the year. When I put a series of questions to the Department of Environment and Science about the program, a departmental spokesperson replied: “I have been informed this project is funded and lead by Rio Tinto. All questions can be directed to them.” (As mentioned above, the company refused to comment.)

Pressed on whether the state Environment Minister, Leeanne Enoch, was aware her department had handed over responsibility for managing endangered species research to a mining company, the spokeperson added: “The Red Goshawk research project is an example of a partnership to provide better understanding of a threatened species. Rio Tinto is carrying out the research project, with technical support and advice from DES. The company has a permit issued by DES and a memorandum of understanding with DES, and has obtained animal ethics approval.”

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Sunshine Coast Pelagic December 2018

Brown Booby

We departed Mooloolaba Marina at 6.30am on Wednesday December 12, 2018 under clear skies, negotiating a gentle swell as we headed east. The trip had been postponed due to rough weather from Sunday December 9. We saw a few Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and a Flesh-footed Shearwater on the way out. A small flock of Common Terns flew by as well as a Sooty Tern in relatively shallow water before we reached the shelf at 9am. We began laying a berley trail in 340 metres, 32 nautical miles offshore: 26.38.127S; 153.43.577E.

Common Tern
We drifted slowly in a south-westerly direction, trialling our latest berley mix of diced chicken skins, some fish offcuts that had been smashed up pretty thoroughly, and an abundance of tuna oil. We had a good slick with floating berley all day, but birds were few and far between. The forecast easterly of 10-15 knots did not materialise; instead we had barely a breeze the whole time we were out wide, the wind picking up a little on the way back in.

Tahiti Petrel
We had the odd Tahiti Petrel checking us out and a smattering of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters along with the odd Flesh-footed Shearwater, a single Short-tailed Shearwater and a couple of Sooty Terns. We also had a nice if somewhat distant pod of feeding Short-finned Pilot Whales. We turned around at 12.30pm to allow a bit of time to search closer to shore.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater

Short-tailed Shearwater
We threw out a bit more berley on the Barwon Banks and stopped at a couple of spots closer in. A Brown Booby flew by and small numbers of Common Tern, Little Tern and White-winged Tern were seen, along with a couple more Short-tailed Shearwaters.

White-winged Tern

PARTICIPANTS: Paul Beer (skipper), Cory Spring (deckhand), Greg Roberts (organiser), Margie Baker, Louis Backstrom, Tony Baker, Sarah Bevis, Rob Collins,  Phil Cross,  Michael Daley, Robin Duff,  Richard Fuller, Geoff Glare, Simon Husher, Mary Hynes, Bob James, Rob Kernot, Elliot Leach, James Martin, Sean Nolan, Tina Rider, Carolyn Scott, Jamie Walker.

BIRDS: Total (Max at one Time)

Tahiti Petrel 10 (2)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 70 (15)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 4 (1)
Short-tailed Shearwater 3 (1)
Brown Booby 1
Crested Tern 120 (40)
Little Tern 2 (2)
White-winged Tern 6 (4)
Common Tern 25 (8)
Sooty Tern 5 (2)

Short-finned Pilot Whale 8 (3)

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Queensland's Rainforest is Burning

Rainforest burned - Pic by Craig Illingworth
The unprecedented burning of pristine rainforest around Eungella in the central Queensland hinterland is a stark warning of climate change-related environmental challenges that lie ahead. Rainforest has been reduced to ash in and around Eungella National Park, though the full extent of the damage is not yet known.

Rainforest burned - Pic by Craig Illingworth
Unlike eucalypt forest, rainforest is extremely susceptible to fire and the habitat will struggle to regenerate. This may be the first time in Australia that a substantial area of rainforest has evidently been impacted severely by wildfire. Alarm bells should be ringing loudly.

Wildfire near Eungella 

A spate of wildfires anywhere near this scale in late-spring and the beginning of summer has never before been witnessed in subtropical Queensland. It was inconceivable that pristine rainforest in places such as Eungella National Park could succumb to fire. If Eungella can burn, no rainforest is safe.

Fighting fire on the road to Eungella
It's not just Eungella. An estimated 600,000 hectares have burned as more than 100 fires have raged across central and south-east Queensland over the past week. Towns have been evacuated. An unrelenting heatwave has seen temperature highs in many centres breaking records, day after day. A fire swept through the Cooloola section of Great Sandy National Park, threatening the heathland habitat of the Eastern Ground Parrot and other rare wildlife.

Eungella firefighter Craig Illingworth produced a series of images showing fire damage to rainforest: "The rainforest burning was a shock. Usually the rural fire guys in the valley can back burn the open country and foothills, relying on the fire stopping at the rainforest above them, but not this time."

Eungella resident Roger Sharp was one of many in the town evacuated in the face of the fire. He has lived there for 20 years. "It has just gone crazy,' Mr Sharp told the ABC. "It's something that no one has seen up there before."  Fire station officer Ross Nunn said crews battled flames more than 15 metres high around Eungella: "It's like walking into purgatory, it's ballistic out there. The heat is so intense you can't get anywhere near it; if you do get close you'd melt the truck... Normally fires burn up to rainforests and go out but it's burning right through the rainforest. I don't know if it's ever going to come back."

Eungella Chalet manager Tess Ford told the media that residents had never seen anything like these fires: “All the locals said ‘we’ll be right, it won’t burn through the rainforest’ and it is and there’s just so much forest. It’s absolutely, oh my God,” she said.

Wildfire at Deepwater, north of Bundaberg
University of Queensland fire ecologist Philip Stewart told the ABC the impact may be felt for generations; rainforest could take centuries go regenerate. Dr Stewart said: "With the drought that we're seeing and the types of weather conditions, obviously we're going to be seeing catastrophic types of impact on that vegetation. There is a very good likelihood there will be a high mortality of those species."

Rainforest in Eungella National Park
The Eungella Honeyeater is found nowhere but in the Eungella rainforests, 80km west of Mackay; it is too early to know if the bird's tiny distribution has been impacted. Rainforest is the primary tourist attraction for the town of Eungella and operators fear its destruction will undermine the local economy. Meanwhile, as Rome burns, many continue to fiddle.

Eungella Honeyeater

UPDATE 8/12/2018: New satellite data demonstrates how serious the situation has been: