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.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Powerful Owl, Musk Lorikeet about Sunshine Coast & Bribie Island

Powerful Owl male (L) female (R)

A pair of Powerful Owls has turned up at Beerwah on the Sunshine Coast. The agitated behaviour of both birds indicates they have begun nesting. The owls are in a reserve of open forest with a dense understory along a stream. Thanks to my Facebook friend Chow Chilla, who discovered the birds and asked that the site remain under wraps, and to Matt Wright for helping me get on top of this pair. The birds were calling frequently in the area in recent days. One was seen to fly over houses after sunset, suggesting they may be feeding in suburbia as well as in the fragmented forest patches about Beerwah.

Powerful Owl male
Powerful Owl is a rare bird in the Sunshine Coast region. I've heard or seen them several times in the Conondale and Jimna ranges – at Charlie Moreland Park, Booloumba Creek and Peach Trees camping ground, among other places – but sparingly over many years. Friends have recorded them several times in their garden at Buderim and there is supposedly a territory near Gympie. Barry Traill last week had one calling in his garden at Maleny. Other locals reported Powerful Owls recently in the Blackall Range foothills between Maleny and Landsborough. Another Powerful Owl was taken into care recently after being hit by a motor vehicle in Moffat Beach.

Powerful Owl male
Powerful Owl male
Also of interest locally is an influx of Musk Lorikeets on Bribie Island. Between 50 and 70 were feeding in bloodwoods at Buckleys Hole when I visited and they have been seen regularly at several sites on the island. They've also been about Brisbane so it appears there's a significant movement of the species into South-East Queensland, where it is normally a rare visitor, from the southern states; this may be due to poor flowering seasons further south.

Musk Lorikeets

Musk Lorikeets
A somewhat distant pair of Grey Goshawks at North Arm was nice.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Camping at Yandilla, Conondale Range

Masked Owl

Good birds at Yandilla Farmstay, the adjoining Conondale National Park and the nearby Kilcoy Abattoir ponds included Masked Owl, Red-browed Treecreeper, Glossy Black Cockatoo, Painted Buttonquail, Plum-headed Finch and Black-tailed Native-hen.

Conondale National Park (southern end)
We camped for 3 nights at Yandilla Farmstay at the northern end of Mt Kilcoy Road. A bit of the history and further information about the place can be found here. It's a pleasant spot with running creeks nestled in the southern foothills of the Conondale Range. A walking trail leads upstream a short way from the property into Conondale National Park. Facilities are basic, with warmish showers available late-afternoon after a tank fire is lit by the property owner (who, it should be warned, is extremely talkative!)

Camping at Yandilla

Kilcoy Creek, Yandilla
Late one afternoon a pair of Glossy Black Cockatoos came down to the camp to drink; they are seen here regularly.

Glossy Black Cockatoo
Other nice birds about the property included Eastern Barn Owl (calling), Dusky Woodswallow and White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike.

White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike
A Wedge-tailed Eagle soared overhead and a pair of Bush Stone-Curlews near the homestead was nice. [Yandilla elist].

Bush Stone-Curlew

Wedge-tailed Eagle
During my wanderings around the property I spotted a group of introduced Red Deer. Red-necked and Swamp wallabies were also about.

Red Deer
From the farmstay (you need to open a couple of gates going in or out) it is 1 km to the end of Mt Kilcoy Road. Then a vehicular track in quite good condition heads steeply up into Conondale National Park. It passes through dry sclerophyll forest, where I located a party of Painted Buttonquail on a level stretch of the track; the male is in these images.

Painted Buttonquail

Painted Buttonquail
I stopped 4km from the park entrance at the first substantial fork in the road. Crimson Rosellas seemed to be fairly common here in the wet sclerophyll forest that dominated at this higher altitude.

Crimson Rosella
Then I heard a Red-browed Treecreeper, a species I had seen just once in the region since moving to the Sunshine Coast in 2009. I tracked the bird down to a grey gum it was feeding in. I've suggested previously that this species and others in the region have declined in recent decades, possible due to climate change. Red-browed Treecreeper in the 1970s was regularly encountered in the Blackall and Conondale ranges but the bird has disappeared from favoured haunts. So to find it here was an unexpected treat.

Red-browed Treecreeper
I ventured back up the range at night with owling on my mind, and was thrilled to find a beautiful female Masked Owl by the track about half-way up. [Elist Conondale NP].

Masked Owl
In the same spot was a Yellow-bellied Glider; always a pleasure to see this endearing marsupial, especially so close.

Yellow-bellied Glider

Yellow-bellied Glider
On the way back from (and on the way to) Yandilla Farmstay, we dropped by the Kilcoy abattoir dams on Winya Road. Yellow-rumped Thornbill is a scarce species in the Sunshine Coast hinterland but is regular here. Royal and Yellow-billed Spoonbills were on the dams.

Royal Spoonbill & Yellow-billed Spoonbill

Yellow-rumped Thornbill
A party of 10 Australasian Shovelers was present. Also of interest were a flock of 15 Plum-headed Finches, and 2 Black-tailed Native-hens which showed briefly.

Australasian Shoveler 
Completely unexpected was a Great Crested Grebe which flew overhead; this bird is not often seen in flight. [Winya Rd elist].

Great Crested Grebe

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Regent Honeyeater in the spotlight

Regent Honeyeater - Capertee 
A dazzling combination of vibrant colours explodes from a cluster of pink mugga ironbark flowers. A Regent Honeyeater attacks the flowers with gusto before another honeyeater, then another appears. An estimated 10–12 honeyeaters are present, flitting between ironbarks and yellow box trees on a grassy woodland slope in Capertee National Park, on the western fringe of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area in NSW.
Regent Honeyeater adult & juvenile - Capertee
I had seen the critically endangered Regent Honeyeater just three times over close to 50 years of birding - once at Storm King Dam near the NSW-Queensland border; once at Stanmore in south-east Queensland; and once at Glenbrook, west of Sydney. To see them again at Capertee was a joy. What was particularly encouraging was that two recently fledged juveniles were among the group, so they had nested successfully in the area. In another part of the Capertee Valley the next day, I found a second group of 3-4 birds, so my life tally of encounters with this species almost doubled in two days.
Extensive clearing of its woodland habitat in south-east Australia for agriculture, combined with an explosion in populations of the aggressive Noisy Miner, has pushed this beautiful bird to the brink, with its population estimated as low as 400-500, down from about 1,500 in the 1990s. BirdLife Australia, in co-operation with other groups, is engaged in a well-targeted and energetic program to rehabilitate the habitat of the Regent Honeyeater and other declining woodland birds, while a captive breeding program is trying to boost honeyeater numbers.
Box-ironbark woodland - Gwydir River, NSW
Hundreds of people are lending a hand with tree-planting in NSW and Victoria as part of the Regent Honeyeater Project. It's one of Australia's biggest volunteer-based conservation programs, with more than 1,800 hectares of core honeyeater habitat being targeted for revegetation in north-east Victoria, Captertee Valley and the Gwydir River area, west of Armidale in NSW.
Now, it is possible the tide is turning. An annual survey organised in NSW last August by BirdLife Australia – not long before I saw the birds in Capertee - resulted in 53 sightings. This was significantly higher than surveys over the preceding five years, when an average of 10-15 birds were counted annually. Fair-sized flocks of Regent Honeyeaters were seen regularly in the Capertee and Lower Hunter valleys of NSW in particular.
Revegatation project - Gwydir River, NSW
In the Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park of Victoria, a former stronghold for the species, increasing numbers of captive bred birds appear to be surviving in the wild; 101 captive bred birds were released there in 2017, the largest of five such releases. Two birds found in March this year in Gippsland had travelled 200 kilometres since their release at Chiltern in 2017. This follows another bird released in 2015 which crossed the Great Dividing Range to South Gippsland in 2016, before returning to attempt to nest at Chiltern in 2017 – a round trip of 540 kilometres, the longest recorded movement of the species.
Captive breeding programs for endangered species do not always work, and may perversely have adverse consequences. But the Taronga Zoo-based Regent Honeyeater program could be on track following earlier challenges, when released birds evidently failed to survive.
Captive bred birds struggle to nest successfully; during the 2015 season at Chiltern, 64 per cent of nesting attempts failed to reach the egg stage. However, more than 70 per cent of released birds were alive 10 weeks after release, which BirdLife Australia's Regent Honeyeater recovery co-ordinator, Dean Ingwersen, describes as an “excellent figure by translocation/release standards”. Dean adds that the rate at which released captive birds are being seen 12 months post-release almost matches the rate of resightings of banded wild birds: “We think this is demonstrating good long-term survival of released birds.”
Regent Honeyeater, Capertee
Congregating in flocks was a hallmark of the species; the birds I saw at Storm King Dam, back in 1973, were in a flock of 15. Increasingly, however, records of the species over the ensuing decades were of single birds, pairs, or at best, small flocks. This reduction in flocking may reduce the ability of the species to defend itself again hordes of Noisy Miners, which are intolerant of other species. Field researchers have established that controlling Noisy Miner numbers in the box-ironbark woodlands favoured by Regent Honeyeaters boosts the chances of the latter nesting successfully. The flocks just might be making a comeback, with as many as 20 birds seen together in the Lower Hunter.
It is too early, however, to be popping the champaign corks. Recent increases in sightings may be due to unusually good flowering events, and the long-term picture remains uncertain at best. Populations of other woodland birds such as Grey-crowned Babbler, Hooded Robin and Black-chinned Honeyeater continue to decline. Conversely, numbers of Noisy Miners appear to be ever rising, and keeping them in check in the favoured haunts of the Regent Honeyeater is a huge logistical challenge. With the species estimated to have lost greater than 85 per cent of its habitat to the bulldozer, extensive areas of woodland continues to be cleared at unacceptable rates in Queensland and in NSW.
A sign in Capertee Valley
Dean Ingwersen points to new challenges, including the recently discovered problem of nests being predated by sugar gliders and squirrel gliders. Various research programs underway - in conjunction with captive breeding, habitat rehabilitation and other measures - hold the key to future solutions. Funding has been secured to attach satellite transmitters to five wild birds to track their movements. This is aimed at determining where the birds go to over summer, when records of Regent Honeyeater are scant. Funding has also been secured for trial interventions at nests to improve breeding success, with nest failure identified as a major impediment to the recovery of the species.
Says Dean: “The recovery team has worked tirelessly over the past couple of years to produce a robust and holistic recovery plan, and we are incorporating new research findings going forward as they arise... The whole recovery program is still a work in progress, and not surprisingly we’ve had some failures so far, but we’re trying hard to make our work as adaptive as possible.”

Regent Honeyeater - Capertee

Friday, 30 March 2018

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater colony under attack on Sunshine Coast

Palmview Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters

The only colony of the highly localised Yellow-tufted Honeyeater on the Sunshine Coast is under assault from a combination of a massive new real estate development and extensive roadworks. Thanks to Sarah Beavis and Rob Kernot for alerting me to the presence of the honeyeater colony in the Palmview Conservation Park.

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater
The reserve, directly opposite the historic Ettamogah Pub, has been hacked into by the Queensland Department of Main Roads and Transport as part of the $1 billion upgrade of the Bruce Highway. There is no point in creating national parks and other reserves if their boundaries can be altered at the stroke of a pen. Palmview is one of several conservation reserves to be carved up to make way for the highway upgrade.

Palmview Conservation Park - carved up for highway upgrade
At the same time, the huge $3 billion Harmony estate is being developed on an extensive area of low-lying land abutting the northern end of Palmview Conservation Park. The development will eventually deliver 4,800 homes for 12,000 residents on 100ha of land, spectacularly extending the urban sprawl of the southern Sunshine Coast. See here for more on the rampant destruction of rainforest and other native vegetation underway in the region. Activist Ted Fensom has been leading the way in highlighting this environmental onslaught.

Activist Ted Fensom outside Harmony real estate development
Palmview is set to become like most of the region's reserves - an island in a sea of suburbia. That's all the more reason to ensure such places are not chopped up for roadworks and other infrastructure. The colony of Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters (I saw 12-15 birds) favours thicker vegetation in the reserve at its northern end - an area that will be fronted by a sea of houses in the not too distant future. 

Palmview Conservation Park
Other birds in the reserve included this Fantailed Cuckoo (elist).

Fantailed Cuckoo
In other birdy news, I had Stubble Quail, Brown Quail and King Quail together on a cane farm near Bli Bli (ebird); Stubble Quail was a new bird for the Sunshine Coast when it turned up here in January. Good numbers of White-throated Needletail were also present here.

White-throated Needletail
  I saw a Little Bronze-Cuckoo at Finland Road, and Varied Sittella showed nicely at Moy Pocket. 

Little Bronze-Cuckoo
Varied Sittella
Quite a few Arctic Jaegers were harassing the large flocks of Common Terns and Crested Terns present at Noosa North Shore, where a White-bellied Sea-Eagle also found cause to annoy a tern. We had a pleasurable three nights camping at the caravan park there (elist

Arctic Jaeger chasing Crested Tern
White-bellied Sea-Eagle & Common Tern
This Comb-crested Jacana in flight at Wappa Dam was nice.

Comb-crested Jacana

Friday, 16 March 2018

The debacle that is the conservation status of Coxen's Fig-Parrot

While debate continues over the roll of recovery teams in managing the night parrot, the status of another imperilled parrot, Coxen's Fig-Parrot, has bizarrely been downgraded from critically endangered to endangered. This is another example of an endangered species recovery team going off the rails.

The Queensland Government's threatened species unit, which effectively doubles as the fig-parrot's recovery team, has long claimed the Coxen's Fig-Parrot occurs in four disjunct areas in south-east Queensland and north-east New South Wales, with a total population of between 50 and 250. No evidence has been offered to support these numbers; they amount to a wild guess.

The threatened species unit and the recovery team have long insisted the fig-parrot is regularly reported, but no record has been corroborated for a very long time by follow-up observations, a photograph, specimen, or sound-recording. The last corroborated sightings of the bird may have been as long ago as the late-1970s although a handful of these reports, while not confirmed by evidence or follow-up sightings, may be authentic. It's often said fig-parrots are so tiny and obscure they are easily overlooked, but they are not that difficult to locate when they are about. Plenty of good observers in this bird's range have looked long and hard without success for firm evidence of Coxen's Fig-Parrot.

The threatened species unit says now that because its estimate of the population is unchanged in recent years, the bird can no longer be regarded as critically endangered. So the parrot's status was downgraded to endangered by BirdLife International, the reason being that the bird's population "should not be considered as declining and instead could be considered stable". In the absence of evidence of a population decline, the bird does not qualify for listing under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List criteria.

Here is a comment from the threatened species unit head, Ian Gynther, to Rob Morris on Facebook: "The fact that this results in a down-listing to Endangered for a bird so seldom encountered and about which we lack so much basic knowledge is regrettable but it is, nevertheless, unavoidable based on the existing population thresholds."

In other words, unsubstantiated reports keep flowing to Gynther's team at such a rate that they have decided their estimated population of 50-250 is not declining and remains stable. Some observers are unkind enough to think this is scientific silliness writ large. This bird may in fact be extinct in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, but its conservation status is downgraded. Go figure.

In May last year I attended a talk given by two women closely associated with the threatened species unit – Rachael O'Flynn and Llana Kelly from Noosa and District Landcare – to the Noosa Parks Association on the Sunshine Coast. I listened as the pair talked about how the fig-parrots were out and about, how lucky we were to have them in our area, and how we need to plant lots of fig trees to boost their numbers. The audience was given the clear impression that Coxen's Fig-Parrot was doing quite well and had a bright future.

During question time, when I suggested to Ms O'Flynn and Ms Kelly that in fact there had been no corroborated records of the bird anywhere for decades, I was told essentially that I didn't know what I was talking about. Ms Kelly added that anyway, other wildlife will benefit from the good work being done for the fig-parrot; this may be true but is hardly relevant to the issue at hand.

Meanwhile, just like the night parrot recovery team, the threatened species unit is big on secrecy. When somebody reports a sighting of Coxen's Fig-Parrot, they are told by the threatened species unit not to share information with the birding community. No alerts are dispatched; the only people sent to check are Queensland Environment Department personnel. So the chances of corroborating the record with further sightings are seriously limited. Again, go figure.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Pectoral Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpiper & other shorebirds Toorbul-Godwin Beach area

Pectoral Sandpiper
A Pectoral Sandpiper was present today at Bishops Marsh near Toorbul. The bird was hanging around with about 12 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, one of which had pretty well-defined breast markings. The Pec however wasn't difficult to find. Full marks to Stewart Melton for spotting this bird yesterday.

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Not too many shorebirds were present at the Toorbul high tide roost nearby but the mix of species below was nice. I've noticed this season that the birds at the roost have been extremely skittish and often they are absent when the tide is particularly high, as it was today. Local birders tell me that numbers using the roost have been affected adversely by cannon-netting by bird banders. People and their dogs are a constant problem. Birders are not blameless, often approaching the birds too closely. I was there recently when contractors for the Moreton Bay Regional Council, which is supposed to safeguard the site, ignored my pleas and mowed the grassy bank just as 3000 shorebirds had settled in; the birds immediately left and had not returned an hour later.

Gull-billed Tern, White-headed Stilt, Great Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit
Other shorebirds about Toorbul, Bishops Marsh and a wetland along Freeman Road recently include Red-kneed Dotterel, good numbers of Black-tailed Godwit and Marsh Sandpiper. Brolga has been regular at Bishops Marsh.


Red-kneed Dotterel

Black-tailed Godwit

Marsh Sandpiper
Good numbers of Eastern Curlew were roosting amid mangroves at high tide some distance from the Toorbul roost.

Eastern Curlew
 Just six kilometres away from Toorbul in a straight line is Godwin Beach. This is a good spot during short windows of time before and after high tide. Last week I found three Broad-billed Sandpipers here on an incoming tide.

Broad-billed Sandpiper
Great Knots are common and this one was banded at Toorbul in 2012, so it has presumably undergone annual migrations amounting to many tens of thousands of kilometres. It would make the regular short journey to feed at Godwin Beach from its high tide roost. This could be Toorbul or on Bribie Island at Kakadu or Red Beach; the birds seem to move between the three main roosting sites quite a bit.

Great Knot
Godwin Beach is a good spot for Terek Sandpiper.

Terek Sandpiper
Bribie Island is close by and what follows is a selection of shorebirds seen over the past couple of weeks at Red Beach, Pacific Harbour and the Kakadu roost.

Greater Sand-Plover 

Bar-tailed Godwit

Lesser Sand-Plover

Pacific Golden Plover