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 January 2014

Franklin's Gull and Barambah

Franklin's Gull
 A vagrant Franklin's Gull turning up at Barambah (or Bjelke-Petersen) Dam near Murgon, south-east Queensland, a fortnight ago seemed like a good opportunity to check this area out. I saw the Franklin's Gull, one of only a handful recorded from Australia, on each of the four days we were in the area, and on four of six visits to the dam.

Franklin's Gull
The bird was reasonably close only on the first day, when it frequented the shoreline between the two retaining walls at the southern end of the dam. For about an hour, the gull was in this area although it was regularly flushed by children. Each time it flushed, it would fly high, following the shoreline for a while before crossing the water and returning to the same part of the shore. I also saw it land on the water twice in this area. Its favourite spot appeared to be the small bay to the west of the boat ramp between the retaining walls.

Franklin's Gull
On the other three occasions that I saw the Franklin's Gull, it was on the far side of the lake perched with Silver Gulls and Caspian Terns. A scope was necessary to find it, and the best spot to view it from was the boat ramp below the camping ground where the fish cleaning platform is. It was very windy this week and even with a scope it could be challenging at times to find the gull, although it appears decidedly smaller and greyer that the other gulls and terns. The bird was found here by Doug Armstrong on January 16, so it has been present for more than two weeks.

We camped at Barambah Bush Caravan Park, a few kilometres from the dam towards Murgon. This park was bushier, birder, quieter and cheaper than the caravan park at the lake. It had some nice trails through open woodland and some dry country birds that are normally scarce in south-east Queensland such as Apostlebird, White-winged Chough and Brown Treecreeper.

Barambah Bush Caravan Park

Common Bronzewing
 Plenty of parrots and pigeons at the caravan park feeders. Red-rumped Parrot (200+ on an irrigated field between the park and the dam), Red-winged Parrot (together with Australian King-Parrot) and Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (60 at the park) were among the parrots seen in the area.

Rainbow Lorikeet & Galah

Red-rumped Parrot

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo

Sacred Kingfisher
 Other birds included Sacred Kingfisher and Weebill, with raptors including Wedge-tailed Eagle and Whistling Kite.

Wedge-tailed Eagle

Whistling Kite

Common Brushtail
 Mammals included an obliging Koala and a few pesky Common Brushtails around the camp.


Pink-eared Duck
On the way home, a pair of Pink-eared Ducks were on a farm dam near Widgee, just west of Gympie. A flock of 20 Red-tailed Black Cockatoos here was unusual.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo
Yellow Admiral
And among the butterflies - a Yellow Admiral. Full list of birds:

Friday, 24 January 2014

Asian Dowitcher, Bush-hen on Pumicestone Passage

Asian Dowitcher
This afternoon I saw an Asian Dowitcher at the high tide roost at Toorbul, on Pumicestone Passage.  I was searching through a large gathering of Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit and Great Knot when I picked the bird up. It was immediately obvious with its long, straight, black bill.

Asian Dowitcher

Asian Dowitcher
At roost, the waders largely had their heads tucked away so it was difficult to keep tabs on the dowitcher. In time, however, I was able to pick it out fairly easily even when its head was not visible. The dowitcher was almost as long-legged as the godwits, but much smaller in body size. It also appeared to be more greyish, its upperparts were more sharply defined and its eyebrow was whiter. The dowitcher largely kept on or close to the water edge.

Asian Dowitcher
Later in the afternoon, it moved about a bit and showed more readily. I ran into a couple of visiting birders from Dalby who told me the dowitcher was found yesterday by a birding group, a fact I had not been aware of.
Asian Dowitcher

Black-tailed Godwit
Here are some of the other waders that were present. Other migratory species seen were Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper (1), Grey-tailed Tattler, Lesser Sand Plover, Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Curlew-Sandpiper.

Eastern Curlew

Grey-tailed Tattler


On the way in to Toorbul, a Brolga was present on Bishop's Marsh, which had water in it after overnight rain.
Pale-vented Bush-hen
Before visiting Toorbul I called in to Coochin Creek. I saw two Pale-vented Bush-hens crossing the road just before the village.

Today was the first opportunity to road-test my new Vortex Razor 60x85mm and Manfrotto 190XB tripod. I was very impressed, especially finding a dowitcher with it. 

New scope
Green Catbird
Green Catbirds have been quite common about the garden lately and have been visiting the birdbaths.
Australian Little Bittern
At Parklakes near Bli Bli, the Australian Little Bitterns and Baillon's Crakes continue to show well.

Baillon's Crake

Friday, 17 January 2014

In Search of Lost Treasure: Is Australia's Remarkable Gastric-brooding Frog Extinct?

Southern Gastric-brooding Frog
Every now and then, I can't resist. I did it again this week. I searched rainforest streams in the Conondale Range, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, for one of Australia's truly extraordinary critters - the Southern Gastric-brooding Frog, Rheobatrachus silus. I failed to find any. However, a nagging question lingers in the minds of many. While the frog is generally believed to be extinct, may it still be out there somewhere? A succession of wet summers in recent years - following a prolonged dry period since the disappearance of Rheobatrachus in the late-1970s - fuels hopes that the Tasmanian Tiger of the herpetological world may yet live.

After all, what are the odds of this frog, with its unique breeding biology - the female raises its young within the stomach - being known to humankind in the wild for a miserly seven years?

Southern Gastric-brooding Frog
The frog was discovered by David Liem in Kondalilla National Park in the Blackall Range in 1972. Its breeding behaviour was first recorded in 1974, not by Adelaide herpetologist Michael Tyler, as is widely reported, but by a group of young people - Chris Corben, Debbie Raven, Anita Smyth and myself - who shared a house in the Brisbane suburb of Red Hill. Chris first spotted a strange bulging in the stomach wall of a female we had captive in an aquarium. I recall the moment vividly when Debbie shouted that the frog was spewing baby frogs from its mouth. Chris Corben and Glen Ingram quickly sorted out what was going on; Tyler was invited to join the party later. This breeding behaviour was so bizarre - normally gastric stomach juices would destroy eggs, tadpoles or baby frogs - that the journal Nature thought the finding was a hoax. See here for a more detailed account.

The frog was last seen in the wild in Booloumba Creek in the Conondale Range in 1979 (captive animals survived a few more years). The Southern Gastric-brooding Frog was known only from the adjoining Blackall and Conondale ranges. A close relative, the Northern Gastric-brooding Frog, was found at Eungella, in the Mackay hinterland, in the early-1980s but it has similarly disappeared. These frogs vanished along with other amphibian species in Australia and elsewhere, presumably due to atmospheric or environmental changes of some kind facilitating the spread of the deadly chytrid fungal disease.

The Southern Gastric-brooding Frog lived in higher altitude (around 450 metres) rainforest streams, but I found one in 1976 in a tributary of Booloumba Creek near the present day camping grounds at an elevation much lower than normal. The site is pictured above, and I returned there this week. The frog extinctions occurred essentially  at high altitudes so I harbour hopes that lower altitude sites such as this were spared the worst of the chytrid plague. I donned reef shoes and plastic pants for my three-hour search, upturning numerous rocks in suitable-looking pools. There were plenty of aquatic spiders, crayfish and other critters, but no frogs.

Undeterred, I moved on to one of the frog's best-known high altitude sites - a sector of  Booloumba Creek in Conondale National Park formerly known as Beauty Spot 100. This is the place (photographed yesterday in the image above) where Glen Ingram undertook a scientific study of Rheobatrachus before it disappeared. It is one of several sites where a certain Queensland Government scientist (he knows who he is) collected a large number of specimens - far more than was justified. This is also the spot, by the way, where I rediscovered the plumiferus race of the Marbled Frogmouth (see here). It almost beggars belief that notwithstanding the obvious environmental significance of this site, it was logged intensively by the Bjelke-Petersen Government in the early-1980s.

The frogs had been quite numerous here and could be readily found under rocks. I searched many of the pools where they occurred this week but again there was no sign of frogs. This remains a hauntingly beautiful spot, however: I never fail to be in awe of it.

The likely loss of Rheobatrachus was hopefully not totally in vain. The frog became the powerful figurehead for a vigorous campaign to save the Conondale Range from logging, mining and clear-felling for hoop pine plantations. In the image above, I was giving a media conference in 1977 about the frog and the need to save the Conondales; a Southern Gastric-brooding Frog is in the aquarium on the desk. The campaign to save the area was boosted significantly by the frog's disappearance amid concerns that it may have been related to development pressures.

Ultimately, the efforts of many dedicated people over a couple of decades prevailed. The core forest areas of the Conondale Range are now protected in the 35,500-hectare Conondale National Park. Mining, logging and clear-felling native forest was stopped. Yet a new threat has emerged with the pending review by the Campbell Newman-led Liberal National Party Government of national park declarations by former Labor governments (see here). Most of the Conondale National Park (the sign in the image above, near Charlie Moreland Park, is quite new) was added by the Labor administrations of Wayne Goss and Peter Beattie.

Meanwhile, I continue to quietly wonder. Are they still out there?

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Lockyer Valley: Black Falcon, Plum-headed Finch, Freckled Duck, Brown Songlark, Stubble Quail

Pink-eared Duck
Good birds encountered during another foray to the Lockyer Valley (other than the Pectoral Sandpiper reported earlier) included Black Falcon, Plum-headed Finch, Freckled Duck, Hoary-headed Grebe, Australasian Shoveler, Brown Songlark, Horsfield's Bushlark, Spotted Harrier and Stubble Quail. I kicked off the visit by stopping at the farm dam at Cove Road, Stanmore, but nothing much of interest here, or at the dams in Winya Road, Kilcoy. Heading through Esk, I stopped at a couple of dams straddling both sides of Green Swamp Road, a few kilometres north of Lake Clarendon, which have been quite good in the past. Pink-eared Duck (100+) and Australasian Shoveler (30+) were on these dams along with Hoary-headed Grebe (10, outnumbering Australasian) and Red-necked Avocet (80+).
Australasian Shoveler

Black Falcon
A Black Falcon was at Lake Clarendon, close to the spot where I found them nesting in August (see here); this bird appears to be an old adult. On the lake itself, quite a few Australasian Shovelers were seen but the large numbers of Great Crested Grebe that had been here on past visits were gone, with just a handful of birds remaining. A few Glossy Ibis were by the lake; this species was again encountered commonly throughout the valley.

Black Falcon
Glossy Ibis
At Jahnke's Lagoon, 6 or 7 Hoary-headed Grebes and 4  Freckled Ducks were present, as well as big numbers of Pink-eared Ducks. About 20 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and 5 Marsh Sandpipers were also here.

Hoary-headed Grebe

Freckled Duck
Moving on to Lake Galletly, 10 more Freckled Ducks were encountered along with large numbers of Pink-eared Ducks, but there was no sign of Blue-billed Duck. The huge Cattle Egret colony here was in full swing with well-developed chicks all over the place.

Cattle Egret

I visited the woodland at Adare near Gatton. Birds here included White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike, Jacky Winter and Fuscous Honeyeater. A Mistletoebird took a liking to its image in my car window.
I spent the night in Lockyer National Park just north of Gatton but there was little of interest here.

Plum-headed Finch
Early in the morning I found a group of 8 Plum-headed Finches just outside Helidon on Back Flagstone Creek Road. Two more Plum-headed Finches were seen 6km west of Helidon along the road. Another 20 were seen later on Cross Road, where I found them last April (see here).

Plum-headed Finch

Swamp Wallaby
A Swamp Wallaby with joey appeared along Back Flagstone Creek Road. A Spotted Harrier was also seen along here. I visited Peach's Lagoon on Ropeley Road, where 7 Freckled Ducks and a few Australasian Shovelers were seen. Then on to the Cross Road Lagoon, where the Pectoral Sandpiper referred to in yesterday's post was found. I visited Karrasch's Dam at Placid Hills where the water is fast drying out; a goodly number of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers (60+) were here.

Brown Songlark male
Seven-Mile Lagoon was dry but good birds were here nonetheless. I saw 20+ Brown Songlarks and others were calling; I've not seen so many of this species in south-east Queensland previously. Quite a few Horsfield's Bushlarks and Stubble Quail were also present in the dried out lake bed. Several more Hoary-headed Grebes were on the farm dam along Haslingden Road. It is interesting that the predominantly inland species that turned up in late-2012 - among them Pink-eared Duck, Australasian Shoveler, Freckled Duck, Glossy Ibis, Red-kneed Dotterel, Red-necked Avocet, Hoary-headed Grebe, Black Kite - are still about in good numbers.

Brown Songlark female

Rufous Songlark
Near Toogoolawah on the way home, I had Rufous Songlark and Brown Songlark calling from fence posts within 50 metres of each other.

Common Bronzewing
Common Bronzewing was again in the garden of our old holiday home near Coominya.