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, 17 February 2015

Feral Cat Kills Critically Endangered Night Parrot

Night Parrot
In an alarming development, an endangered Night Parrot in a small, recently discovered population of the endangered species in western Queensland has been killed by a feral cat.  The finding of the remains of a cat-killed night parrot in an area of arid spinifex country south-west of Winton raises fresh questions about whether sufficient management practices are in place in the remote region to protect the Night Parrots.

1850s specimen of Night Parrot
According to Queensland Government sources, professional shooters have been hired by a private conservation company to patrol the area at night with spotlights, shooting feral cats on sight. The program is funded by a donation from mining company Fortescue Metals; the involvement of the company relates to the reported discovery of Night Parrots in a mineral exploration area in Western Australia in 2005.

Spinifex habitat north-east of Night Parrot site in western Queensland
However, government agencies have been kept in the dark about the whereabouts of the Night Parrots in Queensland. The sites where the birds occur are on a privately leased grazing property. No moves have been made to offer the property for sale to governments, with private enterprise being the preferred management option for John Young, who discovered the birds there. The Queensland Government is of course the primary agency charged with safeguarding endangered wildlife in the state, and has legal responsibilities to do so.

John Young
The cat-killed parrot was found at a site close to where John Young photographed a Night Parrot for the first time in May 2013 in what has been hailed as the most significant natural history discovery of recent times, revealed by The Australian newspaper. Since then, John and scientist Stephen Murphy have continued research in the region, finding the parrot at several other localities in the region. John will give more details about the feral cat issue, including how the parrot evidently came to be killed, at a talk in Melbourne on March 1. John is understood to have found the carcass, which he believed to be a female bird.

John Young's Night Parrot
Feral cats are considered to be a key factor in the demise of this once widespread species, which has been recorded on just handful of occasions over the past century. In 1892, it was reported that "numerous" parrots had been killed by cats in the vicinity of the Old Telegraph Station near Alice Springs. Some observers have noted increases in feral cat populations following a succession of good seasons in parts of inland Australia. The region south-west of Winton where the parrots occur has been drought-afflicted for several years.

Feral Cat
Not only the Night Parrot but the Bilby and other endangered desert mammals have somehow survived predation from feral cats and foxes to date in parts of south-west Queensland. The reasons for this are uncertain. 

Sunday, 15 February 2015

A Birder's Tribute to Trevor Quested

I was having a beer with Trevor Quested and friends at the Yandina Hotel, near our Sunshine Coast home, sometime in November 2011. Trevor mentioned that he had been feeling oddly unwell at times - as he had during an earlier visit - but that doctors did not seem to know what was wrong. I thought he was maybe being overly concerned, but just a month later came the cruel diagnosis - motor neuron disease.

In an email that Trevor and his wife Annie sent to friends at the time, he said he was "gobsmacked" by the news, and it appeared he was already going downhill fast: holding his binoculars steady and typing were becoming harder. His specialists did not expect him to be around a year later - he was told he would not see Christmas 2012. Trevor commented that he was fortunate to have such a loving and supporting wife in Annie.

Annie, Trevor & Glenn - May 2012.
Fortunately the specialists were wrong. Trevor battled on for three years and two months post-diagnosis before passing away peacefully at his Bundaberg home in the early evening of Wednesday February 11, 2015, aged 66. During a number of visits to the Questeds' home over that time, I never ceased to be impressed with the dignity and courage that Trevor and Annie demonstrated in dealing with this despicable affliction. Trevor was of course angry at first; he had ended his working life not that long before the diagnosis,and was looking forward to many years of birding, camping and other retirement indulgences.

Over time, however, he came to accept the inevitability of his lot and made the most of it in what were clearly very trying circumstances, for both him and Annie. Luckily the Questeds had their lovely shaded verandah and spacious gardens, with birds and kangaroos invariably in attendance. To the end, it was unfailingly a delight to Trevor to watch the goings-on in his special corner of the world.

I recall getting a phone call from Trevor last October, after Glenn and I had returned from a 4-month camping trip around Australia. His breathing was considerably laboured by then, but he had insisted on calling to thank me for posting a photo album from the trip on Facebook. Trevor had invited Eric Zillmann around to look at the photographs with him; he said it was like revisiting many of the places he had seen over his years of birding trips. That gesture, no small feat given his condition, was typical. During a visit a month or so later - and not so long ago now - Trevor was in surprisingly good spirits. He looked forward to visits from birding mates, especially if they brought new photographs to show him. We planned to visit again this week, as Trevor's final journey was not expected for a little while longer.

Trevor with Eric Zillmann - July 2011
Eric Zillmann is a Bundaberg birding legend and I knew him many years ago. I was delighted when Trevor reintroduced us during a visit to Bundaberg in July 2011. Eric is the only person alive to have seen the now-extinct Paradise Parrot in the wild. He captivated us with his vivid recollections of that historic time (see here for more on the parrot). Eric was one of many local birders who became close friends with Trevor. Trevor worked diligently to promote the local birding group and publish a newsletter that was as informative as it was professionally produced. That contribution was recognised by the construction in his honour of the Trevor Quested Bird Observation Platform in Bundaberg.

Commemoration of birding platform built in Trevor's honour - Pic by Chris Barnes
Trevor's enthusiasm for all things avian was infectious. I recall showing him his first Black-breasted Buttonquail at Yarraman, some time in the mid-1990s; he was so excited I thought he was going to hyperventilate. I first got to know him the early-1980s, when a few of us Brisbane birders would travel regularly from Brisbane to Sydney for monthly pelagic trips out of Rose Bay. I was struck by what an amiable companion he invariably was on those excursions, no matter how unpleasant the conditions.

In Akegara National Park, Rwanda - December 1989. Trevor is on the right, back. 
That companionship - and his boundless enthusiasm for not just birds but all wild creatures - was memorable during a 1989 trip I and other friends did with Trevor and his then wife Cilla to Rwanda, Kenya and what was then Zaire. Some of our shared experiences will not easily escape the memory: we were mock-charged by a gorilla; our boat was attacked by a hippopotamus; and our first Shoebill left us, as Trevor would say, comprehensively gobsmacked.

Even during illness, his enthusiasm did not wane. In October 2012, Trevor and Eric took us to see a Square-tailed Kite nest near Bundaberg. At the time, Trevor got about with the help of a wheelie walker. As soon as he was out of the car, he raced off through the bush with his walker, covering the distance of several hundred metres in a scarily short time. He was exhausted when he got there but keen as mustard to show me the nest.

At the Square-tailed Kite nest - October 2012
Trevor was renowned for his generosity of spirit and time. Apart from being an excellent birder, he was a gifted photographer, and technologically was way ahead of many of his peers, including this one. He positively relished sharing his knowledge and experience with friends. When I decided to take an interest in bird calls and playback, Trevor spent hours helping me to set up equipment; to become acquainted with i-tunes and much more; and to catalogue a large collection of bird songs. It was the kind of selfless thing that he just enjoyed doing.

I later helped him set up a blog (it is here) that was going to be his newest venture. Apart from an initial short post, however, he didn't get around to expand it before falling ill a few months later. Trevor continued to indulge his love of social media and technology during his illness, however. He mastered the use of an i-pad to reduce the effort of typing, and even when use of his fingers had been reduced to a reluctant single digit, he keenly recorded numerous Likes on Facebook posts.

With Trevor & Lucy - October 2014 
Trevor told friends shortly before his passing that he was ready to go. He was fortunate that he was able to avoid a prolonged stay in a nursing home, thanks to Annie's care. And however ill, he was always lucid, recalling in great and surprising detail his various and many birding exploits. For the birding community, his friends and family - and especially Annie, who was by his side at the end - the loss of Trevor Quested will be felt keenly for a very long time.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Hervey Bay: Wood Sandpiper, Shining Flycatcher, Brown Songlark & Bats Galore

Sooty Oystercatcher
Wood Sandpiper, Brown Songlark, Shining Flycatcher, Black Bittern and a huge colony of Little Red Flying-Foxws were the highlights of a 4-day campout at Hervey Bay. We camped at the nicely positioned Pialba Beachfront Tourist Park in windy but fine conditions.

Garnett's Lagoon and John Knight
I hooked up with John Knight to visit Garnett's Lagoon near River Head, just south of Hervey Bay. This wetland is on private property and access is available only through John, a mate of the property owner.
Wood Sandpiper
Garnett's has an impressive list of birds and I had long been keen to visit this spot. Among the 50 or so Sharp-tailed Sandpipers on the two lagoons was a single Wood Sandpiper.

Marsh Sandpiper
Several Marsh Sandpipers were also about.

Brown Songlark
On the paddocks nearby a sole male Brown Songlark was performing flight displays.

Shining Flycatcher
I was surprised to find a pair of Shining Flycatcher it what looked like suboptimal habitat - some scrappy-looking mangroves fringing a tidal rivulet that was a tributary of the nearby Susan River.

Black Flying-Fox
Near the camping ground at Pialba was a large colony of Black Flying-Foxes on the waterfront. The local council does a fine job of protecting this colony, in the midst of which I found a small knot of Little Red Flying-Foxes. The bats were not quite so endearing in the evenings as they fed on figs in trees overhanging our camper trailer.

Little Red Flying-Fox
Just a few kilometres away in the Hervey Bay Botanic Gardens, a massive colony of Little Red Flying-Foxes was in residence, with many tens of thousands of animals present. In both colonies I could spot a total of just a handful of Grey-headed Flying-Foxes.

Australasian Darter family

Dusky Moorhen family
Near the Botanic Gardens, on one of the Anembo Lakes, I flushed a Black Bittern along with a Nankeen Night-Heron and a Striated Heron. I found a family of Dusky Moorhens with tiny chicks in tow and a pair of boisterous young Australasian Darters were being fed by a parent. Other birds in the area included several Channel-billed Cuckoos.

Channel-billed Cuckoo

Krefft's River Turtle
Unusually tame Krefft's River Turtles were clearly used to being fed at the Botanic Gardens and Anembo Lakes.

Wonga Pigeon
I visited Mungomery's Vine Forest Reserve at Dundowran Beach but could find no sign of the Black-breasted Buttonquail reported from there, although Wonga Pigeon and Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove were common.
Nankeen Night-Heron
At the Arkarra Lagoons nearby I saw a Nankeen Night-Heron, Little Bronze Cuckoo and a pair of Magpie Geese on a nest.

Dundowran Beach

A fine Osprey was standing sentry along Dundowran Beach.

Greater Sand-Plover
Along the coast around Pt Vernon and Gatakers Bay, a few waders were around including several Greater Sand-Plovers on the sandflats, and Sooty Oystercatchers on the rocky outcrops.

Caspian Tern

Little Tern
Birds along the waterfront at Urangan included many Little and Caspian Terns.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Black Bittern, Shoveler, White-winged Tern added to Yandina Creek Wetlands List

Australian Pelican
Black Bittern, Australasian Shoveler and White-winged Tern have been added to an increasingly impressive bird list for the Yandina Creek Wetlands on the Sunshine Coast.

Black-necked Stork
During a visit to the wetlands today with Chris Corben, one of the first birds we saw was an adult Black-necked Stork; later, a male Black-necked Stork was seen flying overhead. The site appears to have this species in residence. Australian Pelican and Royal Spoonbill were in particularly large numbers. An adult Black Bittern was seen at the confluence of Yandina Creek and one of the drainage channels. A flock of 20+ White-winged Terns were feeding over the wetland. A female Australasian Shoveler was seen among the Pacific Black Ducks. A single Lewin's Rail and several Spotless Crakes were heard.

Swamp Tiger
Butterflies were in good numbers, with thousands of Swamp Tigers about.

Map of Yandina Creek Wetlands
Meanwhile, the campaign to secure the protection of the Yandina Creek Wetlands continues. Unfortunately, the landowners of two of three properties covered by the acquisition proposal - see here for details - have refused permission for a comprehensive fauna and flora survey to proceed. Birders have been banned from entering the properties. While I continue to have limited access to the edge of the wetlands through neighbouring properties that I have permission to visit, birders are asked not to attempt to trespass on these properties as there is no public access. I am continuing negotiations with landholders in the hope of progressing the conservation case for protecting this area. Thanks to Wayne Roberts for preparing the above map of the wetlands proposal, which is coloured yellow.

In a positive development, the Sunshine Coast Council has indicated that proposals to redevelop the wetlands for cattle pasture must meet council planning regulations that protect designated wetlands and native vegetation on the properties concerned. More importantly, the office of federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has informed the landholders of their obligations to ensure that any development does not put at risk the endangered species and migratory shorebirds that occur in the wetlands (see the above-mentioned link for details).

Marbled Frogmouth
Other good birds at the wetlands during another visit recently included an Eastern Grass Owl flying overhead at dusk. Later that same evening, this male Marbled Frogmouth was spotted in the Mapleton National Park in the nearby Blackall Range.

Channel-billed Cuckoo
Elsewhere, this Channel-billed Cuckoo was seen at Little Yabba Creek.

Forest Kingfisher juvenile
On the home front, a pair of Forest Kingfishers has successfully raised two youngsters in our garden at Ninderry, while a pair of Pale-headed Rosellas have become frequent visitors to the feeders.

Pale-headed Rosella

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

On Fiordland, Kakapos and the Fine Art of Cruising Around New Zealand

Dusky Sound, Fiordland
You might have been pondering the merits of indulging in an ocean cruise but never quite
taken the plunge? Well, there are worse ways to spend your time and money. I had been to New Zealand several times and on cruises before but combining the two seemed like a good idea, so we opted for a 14-day sojourn aboard the Sea Princess from January 13 to January 27 - departing from and returning to Brisbane,. That saved the bother of having to fly anywhere. Seabirds seen on the trip are discussed here with pics; this post looks at scenic attractions and the fine art of cruise vacationing.

Fiordland - Doubtful Sound
The highlight of the trip was the glorious scenery of the World Heritage-listed Fiordland National Park in the south-west of the South Island. I had visited Milford Sound twice previously but it is impossible to tire of that part of the world. On this cruise, in addition to Milford, the ship negotiated four other fiords - Dusky Sound and Breaksea Sound (in a south-north one-way diversion from the coast) and Doubtful Sound and Thompson Sound (negotiated in similar fashion further north).

With kakapo in 2002 - Codfish Island 
I was fortunate to have some memorable encounters with the kakapo - one of the world's rarest and most bizarre birds - in 2002 on Codfish Island, not far south of Fiordland (article here). On our cruise through Fiordland, we had on board a NZ Government wildlife expert who explained the significance of landmarks we passed. The flightless Kakapo was once widespread throughout New Zealand but was wiped out on the main islands by an onslaught of stoats and other feral pests. We were shown a spot high in the mountains above Milford Sound where the last of the species on the South Island was seen in the early-1980s. We sailed past Resolution Island where almost a century earlier - in the 1890s - 200 kakapos were moved from the mainland in a bid to save them from foreign predators; the effort was in vain, all the birds were slaughtered within six years of stoats reaching the island in 1900.

Secretary Island in Fiordland
We hugged the eastern shore of Secretary Island where, we were told, exotic deer had been almost eliminated, with just five animals left to dispose of. Moves by the NZ authorities to rid these islands of introduced animals - and put in place management practices to ensure they are not recolonised - is the key to saving kakapo and other threatened wildlife; the New Zealanders are world leaders in the art. We admired the moss-laden beach forests of Anchor Island in Dusky Sound, where kakapos were liberated a decade ago after stoats were eradicated.

Fiordland Coast
A couple of small boats were the only signs of humanity during our time in these more isolated southern fiords. As we left them, we soaked up the splendour of the Fiordland coast as we steamed north towards Milford Sound past an endless panorama of sandy beaches, rocky outcrops, valleys of seemingly impenetrable forest, and snow-capped mountains.

Milford Sound
Milford Sound, the only one of the 14 fiords of Fiordland that can be reached by road, was busier than those further south, as expected, but the views were no less inspiring. This area has some of the highest rainfall in the world and often bad weather prevents cruise liners from accessing the fiords, but fortune had smiled upon us.

Milford Sound
Anyone opting to embark on a cruise needs to make sure they get a room with a balcony. You can watch the ocean and sites from the comfort of a bed, or look for seabirds whenever you feel like it from comfortable balcony chairs.) The staterooms themselves are large, air-conditioned and very comfortable.

Stateroom deck
Cruise stateroom
The cruise ship offers recreational activities ranging from bingo, card tournaments and open air movies to aerobatic classes, carpet bowls and photography lessons. For our part, we didn't bother with the three pools, spa, sauna or much else other than a couple of late night live shows performed by a Freddie Mercury impersonator with a fine voice.

Dinner Time
However, the food managed to command our interest. It's THE thing about cruises. There is an abundance of food at any time of day or night in all shapes and forms. A huge buffet for breakfast, lunch of dinner necessitate a degree of willpower.

Formal Wear Night
We opted for fine dining at a regular table at the same time each evening. Some truly memorable food was enjoyed - think beef wellington, lobster, partridge, fat king prawns - and the service was excellent. Two nights were designated Formal Wear; not usually my style but when in Rome....

Top deck pool, bar and restaurant area
Ship atrium
The Sea Princess is a huge beast. It took some time to work out how to negotiate its 14 levels. Essentially, the heart of the ship is the 4-level atrium; you kind of learn how to get there and back from your room and the rest is automatic pilot after a bit. Beware of the plastic card you are issued that allows you to chalk up expenses. You are allowed to take on board just one bottle of wine per person.

We were at sea for two days after leaving Brisbane before reaching the North Island. The first port of call was New Zealand's biggest city. Auckland cut a fine figure in a blaze of lights reflected on its splendid harbour as we berthed late in the evening. You can opt for one of the cruise's expensive onshore tours at any of the six land stops, or sign up for one much more cheaply at the local tourism bureau when you get off the boat. Or you may simply wander about and do what you want, which is what we did most of the time. Generally the ship is in port for a full day, allowing plenty of time to poke around. In Auckland we visited the Maritime Museum before wandering the city streets for a bit.

Mt Maunganui at Tauranga
The next stop was Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty. Mt Maunganui was a good look here; a walking track around its base was a pleasant diversion. Native birds in the forest along the track included Tui, Grey Gerygone and Bellbird, while Variable Oystercatchers were on the beach.


Variable Oystercatcher
 New Zealand is awash with introduced birds like this Yellowhammer.
Our next stop was the key port of Napier, also on the North Island. The ship looked impressive from a lookout above the wharf.

Sea Princess at Napier
We admired the art deco homes built after the city was wiped out by an earthquake in 1931. Our bus was held up by a fatal car accident while returning to the ship. While waiting, I looked out the window and saw this woman and her dog on her veranda; I thought they looked eerily alike.

Napier- roadside street scene
We were next in the New Zealand capital, Wellington. I had been there before for work and remember it being continuously wet and windy. We were blessed here - as for the entire trip - with perfect weather; mild, wind-free and sunny. We took the cable car from the CBD to the botanic gardens. We wandered down steep suburban back streets(so San Francisco) past stately homes with views to die for before reconnecting with the city's fine harbour esplanade.

After leaving the North Island we moved on to the historic town of Akaroa, near Christchurch. We had been here before so didn't bother going ashore, but it was pleasant enough soaking in the tranquil environs of Banks Peninsula and its surrounding waters.

Akaroa, Banks Peninsula
Our final port was Port Chalmers, near Dunedin. We opted for a local tour to check out sights around town, visiting the small but impressive Lanarche Castle with its awesome view over the harbour. The coastline near Dunedin, as in much of New Zealand, was never boring.

Coast near Dunedin

Lanarche Castle Dunedin

View from Lanarche Castle to Port Chalmers
 After leaving Milford Sound, it is 3 days sailing across the Tasman Sea to return to Brisbane.

Heading Home Across the Tasman