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, 31 August 2012

Wandering Tattler - Late to Leave, Early to Return

Today at Alexandra Headland on the Sunshine Coast I had two Wandering Tattlers in breeding plumage, including the bird above. I reported in April the presence of 6 Wandering Tattlers at this site in breeding plumage. Those birds remained in the area until mid-May before leaving for their Northern Hemisphere breeding grounds. At least one and possibly two Wandering Tattlers overwintered at Alexandra Headland and while I did not see those birds, others reported that those or that birds were in non-breeding plumage.

Presumably, therefore, these birds have just returned from their breeding season in the north. This is the second of the pair at the headland today. So it seems these tattlers may have been absent for what would seem to be a very short time of about three-and-a-half three months. I had thought previously that the Wandering Tattler, one of our rarer migratory waders, may be one of the last of that group to leave Australia and one of the first to return.

Eastern Reef-Egret showed well today at Alexandra Headland.

As did Sooty Oystercatcher

Elsewhere, a pair of Great Crested Grebes has turned up on Lake Poona. These birds have been absent from the Sunshine Coast area for the past 12-18 months, presumably having been attracted inland by floodwaters. Like the Pelicans after a bumper breeding season inland, they are on their way back to the coast.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Identification of male Golden Whistler and Mangrove Golden Whistler

Some observers have had difficulty identifying male Mangrove Golden Whistlers from Golden Whistlers in areas where the two species overlap, such as in parts of coastal Queensland.; the females are much easier to distinguish. I've had the opportunity recently to closely observe male Mangrove Golden Whistlers in Queensland and Western Australia and it seems that three features safely distinguish them from Golden Whistlers. It can't be assumed that any golden-type whistler in Queensland is Mangrove Golden; I've had both species in mangroves in central coastal Queensland.
In my view the best feature is that the wings of Mangrove Golden appear much greyer due to the broad grey edges to the wing feathers. This is apparent in the bird above, which was photographed in Broome. Also apparent in this bird is the broad golden neck collar, a second feature separating the species from Golden but one that is not so readily apparent.

This is a Golden Whistler photographed near Yandina on the Sunshine Coast. Here, the wings clearly appear blacker than those of Mangrove Golden as the grey edging is narrower. The golden neck collar in this bird is also appreciably more narrow than in Mangrove Golden. The third identification feature is the tail colour, which is jet black in Mangrove Golden and partly grey in Golden. In the Golden Whistler above, the grey upper tail can be seen, although partly obscured by vegetation.. Again, this feature is not always obvious.

In this Mangrove Golden Whistler photographed at Corio Bay in Queensland, the all-black tail can clearly be seen. Again, the wings appear much greyer than Golden.

Another snap of Golden Whistler from the Sunshine Coast, again demonstrating blacker wing feathers. A fourth feature given in reference books is the richer yellow-orange colouration generally of Mangrove Golden Whistler. I think that any such differences are subtle and were not apparent to me in the field.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Black Kite Invasion and Eastern Grass Owl on Sunshine Coast

Black Kite is one of the rarer raptors in south-east Queensland, becoming much more numerous west and north of the region. I was surprised therefore to come across about 20 birds while birding today with Jim Sneddon in the Bli Bli area of the Sunshine Coast. I've not seen the species in the three years that I've been living on the Sunshine Coast. Some of the kites were roosting together in Maleleuca tree-tops, as in the image above.

The kites included this adult with the bird behind it seemingly in immature plumage. The birds were feeding around an area of grassland which had recently been burned.

The kites were watched as they flew from the burned grassland to other fires in the surrounding cane farms up to a couple of kilometres away. The presence of fire is the only explanation for the birds turning up here, but how they detected the fires is a mystery.

The Black Kites were associating with unusually large numbers of Whistling Kites, with as many as 12 Whistling Kites in the air at once. Other raptors seen included Spotted Harrier and quite a few Black-shouldered Kites.

In the evening we enjoyed fine views of a pair of Eastern Grass Owls in grassland in the area at a site where I had not previously seen them. This brings to eight the number of sites where I have seen Eastern Grass Owl on the Sunshine Coast. One of the birds we saw - presumably the larger, darker female - is in the image above, by Jim Sneddon.

Here is another image by Rob Hutchinson, probably of a paler male bird. 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Camping at Rainbow Beach

Nicely-plumaged Common Terns, Shining Flycatchers and multiple Black-breasted Button-quail were the highlights of a four-day camping trip to Rainbow Beach. We elected to stay in the private camping-ground at Pt Carlos, on Tin Can Bay, instead of the more rustic bush-camping at Inskip Point.

Common Tern is scarce in winter in south-east Queensland and it was interesting to find three birds with bright red legs at the end of Inskip Point. These birds belong to the subspecies longipennis and are about 12 months old, having completed their primary moult.

Caspian Tern was among the other terns present.

I spent a morning in the kayak around high tide off Bullock's Point, a few kilometres short of Inskip Point. In the mangroves here were a pair of Shining Flycatchers, the male above,

and the female.

This Collared Kingfisher showed nicely in the mangroves. I reported in the following blog post my sightings and pictures of Black-breasted Button-quail.

From the Pt Carlos camping-ground we had nice water views over Tin Can Bay, with spectacular sunsets enjoyed from our camping site.

We drove into the Bymien picnic area in Cooloola and walked to Lake Poona, which was as full as I've ever seen it after a couple of years of above-average rainfall.

There were some nice tracts of wallum in the vicinity of Pt Carlos. Here Glenn embarks on a morning stroll to celebrate his birthday.

The Carlos sand-blow near Rainbow Beach township, looking towards Double Island Point.

A Red-browed Finch feeds in the wallum sedge.

A Little Egret struts its stuff.

A pair of Whistling Kites was attending a nest with young at the Pt Carlos camping-ground.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Painted and Black-breasted Button-quails

I've spent some time in recent days watching Painted Button-quail and Black-breasted Button-quail in the Sunshine Coast-Cooloola region. This fine female Painted Button-quail showed in an area of dry scrub near Imbil in the Sunshine Coast hinterland where I have seen Black-breasted Button-quail in the past. I have found the two species previously in the same habitat in the vicinity of Little Yabba Creek.

The female here is engaged in a threat display, hunching its back and uttering a low purring type of call.

While watching the button-quail, a Brown Quail emerged roadside from the vegetation to feed in the open.

While this Bell Miner put in an appearance. The Bell Miner colony near Imbil is one of the most northerly known for this species.

Soon after I was further north from Imbil at Inskip Point watching Black-breasted Button-quail. The birds have been a regular feature at this site for many years. I saw 4 birds during one morning session (all females, like the one above) and 3 birds during a second morning.

The Black-breasted Button-quail at this site are relatively easy to see due to the open nature of the vegetation. This is essentially revegetated sand-dunes, and quite unlike the dry vine scrubs and rainforest edges that they usually frequent.

Nontheless, the birds can be cryptic. This female was very close to me before I saw her. She was quietly feeding by circling slowly while scratching for seeds in a platelet she had made. The presence of fresh platelets is a good indication of whether the species is present. 

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Three Species of Melithreptus Honeyeater Feeding Together

There can't be too many places where three mainland species of Melithreptus honeyeater can be found feeding together in the same trees. This morning, at Moy Pocket in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, I had Black-chinned Honeyeater (above), White-naped Honeyeater and White-throated Honeyeater feeding together.

A group of four Black-chinned Honeyeaters was feeding with the other two species in eucalypt trees adjacent to a nice patch of lowland rainforest near the Mary River. The Black-chinneds were particularly vocal but often cryptic in the foliage high up in the trees. The group kept tightly together over the couple of hours I was watching the honeyeaters. Moy Pocket has proved to be a reliable winter site for Black-chinned Honeyeater, a rare species in south-east Queensland.

White-naped Honeyeater is generally uncommon in south-east Queensland and appears to move from the mountains to lowland eucalyptus forest in winter.

They were in small numbers today, with some birds feeding within a few metres of the Black-chinneds.

White-throated Honeyeater is by far the most common Melithreptus honeyeater in south-east Queensland and there were a few this morning feeding with the other two species. The fourth mainland Melithreptus honeyeater, Brown-headed, occurs further west in southern Queensland.

Red-backed Fairy-wren is always a pleasure and the males are back in full breeding plumage, although a few retain it over winter.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Ground Parrots in Danger of Extinction on the Sunshine Coast

Ground Parrot photos by Graeme Chapman

One of the last remaining populations of the endangered Ground Parrot on mainland Australia appears to be heading inexorably towards extinction as a result of habitat mismanagement and plans for an airport runway extension on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

A once healthy population of Ground Parrot on the Sunshine Coast – with as many as 300 birds - has shrunk to fewer than 40 parrots in four scattered areas of wallum heath extending from Marcus Beach in the north to Marcoola in the south. A look at what has happened to this population in recent years and plans for the future - in particular the proposed runway extension at Sunshine Coast Airport - suggest that its survival is doubtful.

One of Australia’s truly unique birds, the Ground Parrot is one of just three nocturnal, primarily terrestrial parrots in the world – the others being the Night Parrot of Australia and the Kakapo of New Zealand. The Ground Parrot occurs in Tasmania and in a handful of scattered sites on mainland Australia. The only other population is Queensland is north of the Sunshine Coast in the Great Sandy World Heritage Area, primarily in the Teewah Creek catchment at Cooloola.

On the Sunshine  Coast as recently as a decade ago, several Grounds Parrots were in residence in an area of wallum heath at Noosaville, north of Ernie Creek Road. The presence of this endangered bird in the area was a key factor in planning for an extension of Ernie Creek Road across the wallum heath plain of this sector of Noosa National Park. The road was supposed to be sufficiently elevated so that parrots would be able to move freely between areas of heath to its north and south. If they were to fly over (instead of under) the road, roadside barriers were supposedly high enough to avoid collisions with motor vehicles.

It didn’t work. The Ground Parrots appear to be no longer in this area as I have failed to hear birds calling during two surveys. The presence of the birds is detected by their distinctive calls at dusk; this is the main method of surveying them.Presumably, the road has been a key source of the demise of Ground Parrots at Noosaville.

Another may be the proliferation of woody shrubs in the wallum heath plain here. Ground Parrots prefer open, drier heath which has been burned at intervals of about 8-12 years; regular, controlled burning appears to be essential to its survival. If heath is not burned, it is eventually choked with woody shrubs, which are not suitable habitat for the Ground Parrot. One study suggests that birds vacate heath within 15 years of its invasion by woody shrubs.

This appears to be what has happened not only at Noosaville but further south, in the Marcus Beach-Peregian Beach area, again in Noosa National Park. This is now the most northerly site of the four Ground Parrot populations surviving on the Sunshine Coast south of Noosa. Here, a decade ago, about 10 Ground Parrots were heard regularly during surveys in the area. I have listened for the parrots at three sites at dusk in recent times in the Marcus Beach-Peregian Beach area on four occasions, and have heard Ground Parrots twice, with a maximum of two birds calling. I suspect that just a couple of birds, perhaps three or four, are hanging on at this site.

Prime Ground Parrot habitat - wallum heath in the Great Sandy World Heritage Area

Again, the wallum heath in this sector of the national park is choked with woody shrubs. It does not appear to have been been burned for many years so is no longer suitable habitat for Ground Parrots. The dilemma for authorities, in terms of fire control, is that the heath is surrounded by densely populated areas in what is, after all, Australia’s tenth largest city, and one of the country’s major tourist destinations.

The second Ground Parrot population on the Sunshine Coast is further south in the Mt Emu section of Noosa National Park. Numbers are not known but birds have been recorded on both sides of Sunshine Motorway in very small numbers. Several years ago, Ground Parrots were seen flushing from the heath ahead of a fire in this area. There are perhaps 5-10 birds in this area.

The third population is in Mt Coolum National Park, and the fourth is centred around the nearby Sunshine Coast Airport at Marcoola. Both these sites are monitored by Environment Department surveys, with between one and six birds being heard at a total of eight listening stations, indicating a total likely population of 20-25 birds at the two sites.

I have heard three birds calling simultaneously from inside the southern boundary of Sunshine Coast Airport. It appears probable that the area of heath within the airport fencing is the single most important site for Ground Parrots on the Sunshine Coast.

Data on Ground Parrots on the Sunshine Coast was pulled together for the Preliminary Review of Significant Factors by environmental consultancy Ecosmart Ecology; this was part of the Sunshine Coast Airport Master Plan Project. More than 10 Ground Parrots were heard calling in and around the airport during surveys, with possibly more present in the area; Environment Department experts believe the airport population is likely to be the most stable and important on the Sunshine Coast.

The consultants say it is likely that the airport population is acting as a source for maintaining dwindling numbers at sites further north. Interestingly, management practices in the airport have succeeded in keeping woody shrubs out. Regular slashing and maintenance of heath within the airport appears likely to simulate the effects of fire, preventing woody species taking over the smaller seed and fruit producing plants favoured by the parrots.

The big problem for the Ground Parrot is a $250 million plan to extend the east-west runway at Sunshine Coast Airport. This project has been declared a state significant project and fits in nicely with recently announced plans by Liberal National Party heavyweight Clive Palmer for major new tourist development projects in the region. (Palmer has ludicrously insisted that rare birds such as the Ground Parrot can simply fly away and settle elsewhere.)

Ground Parrot habitat - wallum heath around the north-south runway at Sunshine Coast Airport 

According to the airport environmental consultants, the new runway will dissect Ground Parrot habitats in the north and south of the airport area. Apart from the shrinkage of already small areas of habitat, the birds’ ability to fly between those areas could be reduced by increased noise, light and aircraft traffic. The Sunshine Coast Airport Master Plan Project's Initial Advice Statement concedes that in relation to the Ground Parrot, the runway plan will "directly impact the availability of habitat or food source". 

In short, the runway extension could spell the end of the most important surviving population of Ground Parrot on the Sunshine Coast, and may lead to the extinction of the Sunshine Coast population of this endangered species.

One of the aims of federal environmental legislation is to ensure the survival of endangered species such as the Ground Parrot. The fate of the bird on the Sunshine Coast is a sad reflection of the failure of this legislation to meet its objectives.

There's been some local media interest in the issue. This image by Warren Lynam from the Sunshine Coast Daily.  

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Sunshine Coast August 2012 Pelagic Trip

Exceptional numbers of Providence Petrels were notable on our pelagic trip off Mooloolaba on Saturday August 4. We enjoyed perfect sea conditions but although birds were plentiful, nothing exceptional was seen. We set off shortly after 7am in our catamaran, Cat-A-Pult, with the promise of a good day: a gentle south-westerly blowing at 8 knots with a 1.5-metre swell. We ran into our first Providence Petrel 20 nautical miles out.

We had distant views of a few Humpback Whales before reaching the edge of the shelf before 9am and began leaving a berley trail of shark liver at 26.36.065S; 133.42.855E in 250 metres of water, 31 nautical miles offshore. Providence Petrels were very much in evidence while we were out on the shelf. We turned towards shore at 1pm, trying our luck with another berley trail further in at 120 metres. The wind in the late morning increased to 15-20 knots but eased off and turned south-easterly as the day progressed.

Large numbers of Providence Petrels were about the boat, giving every indication of being very hungry. They were frequently within a few metres of us as they competed aggressively for burley scraps.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel was the next most common seabird on the day. They also were continually following the boat. Despite looking hard, surprisingly no other storm-petrels were seen.

As during our June pelagic trip, a single Wedge-tailed Shearwater was about the boat off the shelf; this species is very scarce in south-east Queensland in winter.. Several Hutton's Shearwaters were the only other birds of note, with a few Fluttering Shearwaters further inshore.

A couple of mantra rays were nice to nice on the way back in. After a picture-perfect winter day, we returned to the marina at 3.45pm.

PARTICIPANTS: Paddy Diamond (skipper), Greg Roberts (organiser),
Ian Barnett,  Allen Briggs,  Mal Chicksen,  John Deitz,  Rob Dougherty,  Robyn Duff,  Wayne Kroll,  Gavin Masters,  Jim Macready,  Colin Reid,  Brian Willey.

SPECIES: Total Number (Maximum at one time):

Humpback Whale 6 (2)

Providence Petrel 130 (40)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 1 (1)
Hutton's Shearwater 6 (2)
Fluttering Shearwater 4 (2)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 30 (6)
Australasian Gannet 12 (4)
Crested Tern 10 (4)