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, 16 June 2018

From Bauple to Bribie – The Game & The Big Year

Barking Owl - Sheepstation Creek

BirdLife Australia Sunshine Coast, our local birding group, has for some time been running a game on its Facebook page organised by its leader, Ken Cross. One objective is to encourage people to photograph as many species as possible in a calendar year in the Sunshine Coast region. The area extends north to Inskip Point and Bauple; south to Bribie Island; and west to Kilcoy, the Conondale Range, the Amamoor area and Muna Creek-Miva. An outlier to the south, Sheepstation Creek Conservation Reserve near Burpengary, is also included.

I thought it would be fun to join in for the 2018 game, and it's proved quite a challenge. A bit like a big jigsaw puzzle, with all the bits slowly falling into place. A few weeks ago, what I dubbed The Game morphed into a Big Year for me, so I'm keen to see how many species in the region I can photograph this year. As of today (16/4/2018) I'm up to 279, and while it might be nice to hit 300, another 21 is a tall order, especially since I'm away for much of the second half of the year. I've seen but not managed to photograph another 4 species (King Quail, Stubble Quail, Eastern Ground Parrot, White-throated Nightjar). I've seen a total of 344 species in the Sunshine Coast region since time immemorial.

Among recent forays was a visit to Imbil State Forest at Stirling Crossing, not far west of Imbil. Little Lorikeet was added to the list here and it was nice to see Dusky Woodswallow close up.

Dusky Woodswallow

Little Lorikeet
I moved on to another part of the state forest near Brooloo, where I had a fantastic close encounter with a female Black-breasted Buttonquail. Also of interest here were more Little Lorikeets and a Black-chinned Honeyeater. The honeyeater is a rare winter visitor to the region and I'd seen it just the week before along Amamoor Creek Road.

Black-breasted Buttonquail 

Black-breasted Buttonquail
On another trip I decided to head to the northern sector of the area, where I found a group of White-winged Choughs outside Bauple.

White-winged Chough
I then had a look at the Muna Creek-Miva area a bit further west, concentrating on the excellent open woodlands along Munna Miva Road. I found Speckled Warbler along here. Nearby along Sexton Road I found two groups of Grey-crowned Babblers.

Grey-crowned Babbler

Speckled Warbler
In more open country I saw a Rufous Songlark, unexpected at this time of year.

Rufous Songlark

We camped for two nights at Charlie Moreland Park, an old favourite. Yellow Thornbill had been seen along the road in by Ian Stargazer and while I didn't expect them to be still around, a party of 6 were in the same area.

Yellow Thornbill
In the forest above the park along Sunday Creek Road I tracked down a Sooty Owl. A Russet-tailed Thrush was finally connected with at nearby Booloumba Creek camping ground. This was the first bird I photographed for The Game back in January, but I discarded those lousy images and it was another 6 months before I scored again.

Russet-tailed Thrush

Sooty Owl
I visited Sheepstation Creek to chase up a Barking Owl which Matt Wright kindly pointed me towards. This was my first sighting of the species in the region. I also found a Square-tailed Kite in the reserve.

Barking Owl

Square-tailed Kite
A Wedge-tailed Eagle (the third for The Game) was seen at Toorbul.

Wedge-tailed Eagle
I thought another trip north was in order. I saw a flock of 20 Red-tailed Black Cockatoos at Scotchy Pocket – not new for The Game because I had them at Amamoor, but nice.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo
I overnighted in the pub at Tiaro, just north of the area for The Game, and was delighted to find a Barking Owl along the Mary River - my second encounter with the species in a few days.

Barking Owl - Tiaro
I again visited the Munna Miva Road, this time connecting with a group of Weebills; this species is inexplicably scarce in the region. I also found Black-chinned Honeyeater again -the third time for The Game.


Black-chinned Honeyeater
Back on the home front at Ninderry, a Square-tailed Kite has been frequenting the garden area. 
A Gould's Long-eared Bat was hanging on a rafter under the back porch.

Square-tailed Kite

Gould's Long-eared Bat
Nearby at North Arm, an Intermediate Egret struggled to kill and swallow a rat of some kind.

Intermediate Egret with rat

Intermediate Egret with rat

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Rainforest at Amamoor threatened by mining

Subtropical rainforest along Amamoor Creek

Plans are afoot for the development of an extensive network of mines to extract manganese from some of the finest surviving stands of lowland subtropical rainforest in Queensland. The company Eclipse Metals is surveying areas of dry rainforest in Amamoor and Kandanga state forests, south-west of Gympie.

The company has mineral exploration licences over a large area of state forest managed by timber company HQ Plantation. The habitat is regarded by the Queensland Government as being of state significance for biodiversity but the Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, Anthony Lynham, is not planning to intervene to protect the rainforest.

Mineral exploration underway in Amamoor State Forest
The destruction of lowland rainforest in south-east Queensland and north-east NSW has likely caused the extinction of the Coxen's Fig-Parrot and imperilled numerous plant and animal species. Among those frequenting the Amamoor scrubs is the range-restricted Black-breasted Buttonquail, listed as Vulnerable in Queensland.

Black-breasted Buttonquail
During a visit to the lease area last week, I saw numerous marker ribbons and pegs and a network of recently traversed trails bulldozed through the rainforest. Eclipse Metals has signalled that mineral extraction could begin in 2020 following further surveying and drilling for ore sampling, for which the company has three exploration permits. The exploration area is just 2.5 kilometres from the popular Amama picnic ground on Amamoor Creek.

Mineral exploration underway in Amamoor State Forest
Eclipse Metals chairman Carl Popal denies the area is important rainforest habitat, telling The Gympie Times: “Amamoor State Forest does not constitute as rainforest. The vegetation is primarily made of European lantana bush - considered a pest; African cotton bush (the plant is poisonous and has caused deaths in cattle, sheep and poultry); and hoop pine trees which are planted by HQ plantation for future logging.” Popal adds that the company has “strictly complied with all relevant Queensland environmental authorities and has obtained permits for any and all work on-site”.

Parts of the state forest were mined for manganese between 1920 and 1960 but those mines have long been disbanded and rainforest regrowth has reclaimed much of the mined land.  Popal told the ABC late last year that early exploration led the Perth-based company to anticipate deposits of up to 167,000 tonnes of mangananese at Amamoor and other sites, with more recent surveys suggesting “multiple millions” of tonnes of high-grade ore. He added: “The actual data still has to be interpreted by geophysicists and summarised but at this stage we can say it is looking good.”

Area of exploration near Amamoor
Contrary to Popal's claims, it is obvious to an observer that the exploration area in fact is prime subtropical rainforest. Lantana and other weeds are mostly restricted to the fringes of the main access road. Numerous rainforest birds were present during my visit including Wompoo Fruit-Dove, Pale-yellow Robin Russet-tailed Thrush and Paradise Riflebird.

Wompoo Fruit-Dove
Environmental scientist and long-time admirer of the Amamoor forests, Chris Nichols, says there is little rainforest remaining in the area planned for mining, which is surrounded by hoop pine plantations. He says the exploration works could pollute the nearby Skyring Creek and Amama cascades, which flow into Amamoor Creek at a site frequented by platypus.  Nichols adds that ore trucks will damage roads and mining will have negative consequences for the area's growing ecotourism industry.

Farmers in the surrounding Mary Valley have expressed fears about the impacts of new manganese mines. “It is another threat that is definitely not welcomed," Elaine Bradley from the Mary Valley Country Harvest Cooperative told the ABC. "We are not just looking at the effect of the mining on properties here, but also the dust raised will cause a lot of problems with our farms, particularly if it is toxic dust, depending on the type of ore they are mining.” The region was the focus of a bitter, long-running environmental dispute that led to the federal Labor government vetoing the proposed Traveston Crossing Dam in 2009.
Platypus in Amamoor Creek
A former Queensland Labor environment minister, Pat Comben, made the protection of dry subtropical rainforests a high priority when the election of the Goss Government in 1989 ended decades of environmental mismanagement by Country-Nationals Party-led governments. At the time, the few areas of habitat remaining were being bulldozed for the expansion of hoop pine plantations.
Queensland Government overlay maps show the Amamoor State Forest area includes essential habitat, threatened wildlife habitat, and vegetation regarded as endangered or of concern.

Queensland Government overlay map of Amamoor State Forest area
The Gympie Times reported in March that another WA company, New Base Metals, had applied for mineral exploration rights over forested public land extending south from Widgee and Upper Glastonbury to Yabba Creek, between Imbil and Borumba Dam.

UPDATE 14/6/2018

I received this statement from the Queensland Department of Environment and Science:

"The Department of Environment and Science can confirm that Walla Mines Ltd (owned by Eclipse Metals Ltd) has an environmental authority (EA) to conduct mineral exploration in the Amamoor State Forest. The department has undertaken a recent inspection of the exploration activities in Amamoor State Forest (in April 2018) to confirm compliance with the requirements of their EA. With regards to concerns that these exploration activities “presumably will lead to a resumption of mining in the rainforest”, the department can advise that it has not received any applications to date for extractive industries at this location, and the most recent site inspection showed no evidence of extraction activities being undertaken."

A response that I have passed  on to the department is that the DES should not have issued an environmental authority for mineral exploration in such environmentally significant habitat. Of course there is not yet evidence of extraction activities. The company has said this is expected to begin in 2020.

According to the conditions of the EA, the company can not operate in a category A or B environmentally sensitive area. Activity involving machinery is banned within 1km of a category A environmentally sensitive area and within 500m of a category B environmentally sensitive area. As the mineral exploration area is in the vicinity of environmentally sensitive areas, the department will need to be on its toes.

Some of these issues appear to have risen from the former Newman Liberal-National Party Government's 2013 emasculation of protection for state forests.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Sunshine Coast Pelagic June 2018

Shy Albatross

With fresh memories of a rocky ride on our May 2018 pelagic a week ago, fingers were crossed for a smoother run as we departed Mooloolaba Marina at 6.55am on Sunday June 3 with a brisk 10-knot SW breeze blowing. The wind picked up as we headed out but it was behind us so the trip was relatively comfortable. We encountered a smattering of Crested Terns and Australasian Gannets and two fly-by Hutton's Shearwaters before spotting two Humpback Whales – the first of the season.

Humpback Whales
We were 19 nautical miles offshore in 60 metres when we spotted the first Providence Petrel of the day. Then we picked up a Shy Albatross in 115m 25 nautical miles offshore sitting on the water behind a trawler whose crew were cleaning its catch from the night before. This was the first record of the species for a Sunshine Coast pelagic and the bird was of the race cauta, a scarce visitor to south-east Queensland.

Shy Albatross

Shy Albatross
We began laying a berley trail on the edge of the continental shelf 32 nautical miles offshore in 350 metres (S26.3.1; E 153.43.4) at 9.55am. By this time we had a steady S-SW wind of 15-20 knots and a hefty swell of 2-3 metres which remained the order of the day. We soon had Providence Petrels and Wilson's Storm-Petrels coming to the slick and quite a few of both were about the boat while we out wide.

Providence Petrel

Wilson's Storm-Petrel
It wasn't long before an Antarctic Prion made an appearance and we had this species come and go several times while we were on the shelf.

Antarctic Prion

Antarctic Prion
A Grey-faced Petrel was looking good as it approached the boat – the second sighting of this species for a Sunshine Coast pelagic following last week's first. Satellite tracking of Grey-faced Petrel suggests it does not stray north of Brisbane (it is seen regularly on the Southport pelagics) and today is likely the most northerly Australian record of the species.

Grey-faced Petrel

Grey-faced Petrel
We'd been floating for a couple of hours before a Black-bellied Storm-Petrel showed up, with one or two birds about for the next hour before we turned around to head back at 1.15pm. We had drifted 4.7 nautical miles in a north-westerly direction to 150 metres.

Black-bellied Storm-Petrel

Black-bellied Storm-Petrel
On the way back we had a flock of Hutton's Shearwaters with 2 Fluttering Shearwaters among them; the image here was the best I could manage of the latter. We arrived back at the marina at 4.05pm. Elist.

Fluttering Shearwater
Greg Roberts (organiser), Toby Imhoff (skipper), Zoe Williams (deckhand),
Eric Anderson, Margie Baker, Tony Baker, Warren Bennett, Jane Cooksley, Ken Cross, Phil Cross, Rick Franks, Richard Fuller, Malcolm Graham, Geoff Glare, John Gunning, Nikolas Haass, Bob James, James Martin, Paul Marty, Steven Pratt, Allan Pratt, Liam Pratt, Trevor Ross, Esme Ross, Raja Stephenson.

SPECIES: Total (Maximum at one time)
Shy Albatross 1
Grey-faced Petrel 1
Providence Petrel 60 (8)
Antarctic Prion 6 (2)
Hutton's Shearwater 15 (12)
Fluttering Shearwater 2 (2)
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel 2 (1)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 30 (5)
Australasian Gannet 30 (6)
Silver Gull 4 (4)
Crested Tern 80 (30)

Humpback Whale 2 (2)

Monday, 28 May 2018

Sunshine Coast Pelagic May 2018

Antarctic Prion

This pelagic trip was touch and go with a strong south-easterly over the preceding days indicating a swell of 2-3m out wide. So it proved on the day, but the large size of - and facilities aboard - Crusader 1 allowed the boat to negotiate the tough conditions with a degree of relative comfort. A brisk south-easterly was blowing as we departed Mooloolaba Marina at 7am, departing a little later than usual so people would not need to find our meeting place in the dark. We battled big waves on the way out, seeing little close in other than a few Silver Gulls, Crested Terns and Australasian Gannets.

As we continued east an immature Brown Booby put in an appearance and then a Red-footed Booby showed briefly if distantly. An adult Brown Booby perched atop a trawler was spotted soon after.

Brown Booby

Red-footed Booby
We saw a Providence Petrel a bit further on so with a few people feeling crook in the unrelenting swell which slowed our progress, we tried our luck with a berley trail short of the shelf at 9.30am in 110m, 23 nautical miles offshore (26.483S; E153.324E). Winds were blowing from the south-east at 15-18 knots with gusts up to 20-22 knots. The swell refused to ease off all day.

A single Grey-faced Petrel came into the slick and approached the boat briefly. The first image below was the only one I managed but others fortunately did better. This is the first Grey-faced Petrel for the Sunshine Coast pelagics. Long expected here, the species is regular on the Southport pelagics so its absence to date is baffling. It seems that a few southern species like this one struggle to extend north beyond the Gold Coast, while tropical species like frigatebirds and boobies are more frequent in Sunshine Coast waters than offshore further south.

Grey-faced Petrel
Grey-faced Petrel - Pic by Louis Backstrom
We decided to head further out after a short while and laid a second berley trail at 10.40am 30 nautical miles offshore in 220m. Providence Petrels were soon about and stayed around the boat for most of the time we were out wide.

Providence Petrel

Providence Petrel
Wilson's Storm-Petrels soon appeared and again were regular visitors to the slick.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel
A single Antarctic Prion put in a brief appearance and an hour later, three more Antarctic Prions flew into the slick, these birds proving more co-operative. This species was unexpected, especially as early as May, and it's interesting that the generally more numerous Fairy Prion (in Queensland waters) was not seen.

Antarctic Prion

Antarctic Prion

We pulled up stumps at 1.20pm having scarcely drifted in the washing-machine conditions. Not much was seen on the way back but an Australasian Gannet coming into adult plumage close to the boat was nice. We arrived back at the marina at 3.45pm. Elist here.

Australasian Gannet
Greg Roberts (organiser), Toby Imhoff (skipper), Zoe Williams (deckhand), Louis Backstrom, Margie Baker, Tony Baker, Jan England, Richard Fuller, Malcolm Graham, John Gunning, Nikolas Haass, John Houssenloge, Mary Hynes, Sue Lee, Xiatong Ren, Rosemary Sheehan, Raja Stephenson, Carolyn Stewart, Ged Tranter, Jamie Walker, Shen Zhang.

SPECIES – Total (Total at any one time)

Grey-faced Petrel – 1
Providence Petrel – 30 (4)
Antarctic Prion – 4 (3)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel – 20 (3)
Brown Booby 2 (1)
Red-footed Booby 1
Australasian Gannet 15 (3)
Crested Tern 60 (20)
Silver Gull 20 (10)