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, 28 March 2015

Pectoral Sandpiper, 100+ Latham's Snipe, Australian Spotted Crake, Australasian Shoveler at Yandina Creek Wetlands

Pectoral Sandpiper
I found a Pectoral Sandpiper today at the Yandina Creek Wetlands on the Sunshine Coast. The bird was associating loosely with a flock of Red-kneed Dotterels and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. Pectoral Sandpiper is a rare visitor to south-east Queensland and this is the first record of the species for the Sunshine Coast region. The bird was in poor light and distant, so the images are not as sharp as I would have liked.

Pectoral Sandpiper
About 20 Red-kneed Dotterels were present, including several juveniles. As these birds have been in the area for two years now, it is likely they have bred. A single Red-necked Avocet was also about.

Latham's Snipe

Red-necked Avocet
Of particular interest was the large number of Latham's Snipe present. I counted 85 and estimate that given the extent of habitat favoured by the birds, a total of 120-150 snipe were there. I have not seen anywhere near this large a concentration of this species previously and would be interested in knowing of any sightings of comparable numbers in Australia. It is likely that numbers are building up at Yandina Creek for the northward migration.

Australian Pelican & Black Swan
Two Australian Spotted Crakes were heard calling. This species, another rarity in south-east Queensland, has been seen at the River Road end of the wetlands by other observers but not by me. The River Road section of the wetlands is the only area that is publicly accessible, but is presently dry. I am able to gain access to the edge of the main wetlands through two properties that I have permission to enter. Please respect the wishes of the property owners not to trespass on their land.

Australasian Shoveler
A pair of Australasian Shovelers was present today among large numbers of Pacific Black Duck, Grey Teal and Chesnut Teal.

Black-necked Stork
Also of interest were two pairs of Black-necked Stork. This is an excellent site for this relatively scarce species, but I've not previously seen so many at one time there.

Varied Eggfly
Among other wildlife were plenty of butterflies, mainly Varied Eggfly and Swamp Tiger.

Efforts to persuade the Sunshine Coast Council to acquire these wetlands for a reserve continue. While the landholders are agreeable to selling, they intend to drain them for cattle pasture if an offer is not forthcoming. The discovery of Pectoral Sandpiper here and such a large number of Latham's Snipe further strengthens the conservation case. It also increases pressure on the Commonwealth Government to ensure that no development proceeds that could endanger the habitat of the large numbers of migratory waders that frequent the wetlands. The creation of a reserve would of course also allow public access to what is emerging as one of the most significant wetland sites in south-east Queensland. The case for protecting these wetlands is presented in detail here.

River Road - Flooding February 2015
During heavy rains in February, much of the area in the vicinity of the wetlands was extensively flooded, raising questions about the viability of raising cattle on this land.

Channel-billed Cuckoo juvenile
In other local picture opportunities, the juvenile Channel-billed Cuckoos have fledged and departed for greener pastures further north. This one was raised by a pair of Torresian Crows at Tewantin.

Australian Wood Duck family
A family of Australian Wood Ducks at the Maroochydore Sewage Treatment Plant.

Australian Hobby
An Australian Hobby was looking good at Paradise Waters.

Eastern Water Skink
This Eastern Water Skink was remarkably tame on the boardwalk in the Peregian Beach section of Noosa National Park.

Little Red Flying Fox

Eastern Whipbirds
It seems that Little Red Flying Foxes are presently invading coastal south-east Queensland, as they do from time to time. In the flying fox colony at Noosaville, this species greatly outnumbered the resident Black Flying Foxes, and I could not find any Grey-headed Flying Foxes.
In the home garden, Eastern Whipbirds are regularly coming to the birdbaths to bath and drink.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Turquoise Parrot and other Goodies: Old Wallangarra Road

Turquoise Parrot
The Old Wallangarra Road on the NSW-Queensland border near Girraween National Park has long been a top birding spot. I enjoyed 5 encounters with a total of 8-10 Turquoise Parrots there during a visit this week, along with a raft of other goodies including Diamond Firetail, Plum-headed Finch, White-browed Babbler and Southern Whiteface.

Turquoise Parrot

Turquoise Parrot
I saw my first Turquoise Parrot on the Old Wallangarra Road in 1973. It is encouraging that more than four decades on, this rare species is still to be found there. Much of the road is now closed, but the few kilometres south of Wyberba remains open and this stretch is never disappointing. I had 3 hours in an afternoon at this site and 3 hours the next morning, staying overnight at the nearby Ballandean Tavern. This visit was on the way home from a trip to coastal NSW (see next post). Most of the time was occupied around the intersection of the road with Hickley Lane, and along the creek a little to the south of there.

Turquoise Parrot

Turquoise Parrot female
My first encounter was a single male Turquoise Parrot flying up from the roadside in the afternoon. Then a pair flew overhead distantly. Early the next morning I watched a male feeding on the road before it was joined by 2 females. A little later I had stunning views of a single male parrot in a roadside tree which was unusually approachable. A single female was drinking at the creek an hour or so after that.

Quite a few species found reliably along the Old Wallangarra Road are scarce and difficult to see elsewhere in South-East Queensland. It is the best site in the state for Turquoise Parrot, and the eastern extremity of range for White-browed Babbler and Southern Whiteface. And this place is aesthetically something quite special as well.

Diamond Firetail

Diamond Firetail
Diamond Firetail is one of those species that is hard to come across elsewhere in Queensland. In 3 encounters during my visit, I found a single juvenile firetail; a flock of 6-7 adults; and a pair of adults.

Plum-headed Finch
I saw Plum-headed Finch twice: a flock of 6, and a pair. Red-browed Finch and Banded Finch were also about in small numbers.

White-browed Babbler

Habitat about Old Wallangarra Road
I found two parties of White-browed Babblers, another species that has been in residence here in the 40+ years I've known the place.

Southern Whiteface

Yellow-rumped Thornbill
A pair of Southern Whiteface was a treat, as this species is not quite so regular here. Yellow-rumped Thornbills were common.

Brown Treecreeper
Brown Treecreeper occurs here alongside White-throated Treecreeper.

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater
The road is a mecca for honeyeaters. There were the usual large numbers of Yellow-tufted Honeyeater.

Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater
Along with other honeyeaters that are generally scarce in South-East Queensland east of the Great Divide: Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Red Wattlebird, White-plumed Honeyeater and Fuscous Honeyeater.     

Monday, 23 March 2015

Rock Warblers & Lyrebirds: South West Rocks to Woy Woy

Rock Warbler
Excellent encounters with Rock Warbler, Superb Lyrebird and Glossy Black Cockatoo were the highlights of a just completed trip to coastal NSW. We kicked the sojourn off with a three-night stay in the Seabreeze Hotel in the scenic Central Coast tourist town of South West Rocks. Pleasant scenery was the order of the day here, with a nice mix of habitat including coastal heathland, beaches and freshwater wetlands.
Glossy Black Cockatoo female

Arakoon Reserve & South West Rocks
We did a circuit walk through woodland and heath between Little Bay and the historic Ɓrakoon Jail, encountering Glossy Black Cockatoo on three occasions in the large stand of Allocasuarina littoralis in the Arakoon Reserve. There were a total of 8 birds: three pairs, with two pairs accompanied by begging juveniles.

Hat Head National Park
The lighthouse south of Arakoon is also worth visiting, with fine views over Hat Head National Park.

Double-banded Plover
A party of 4 Double-banded Plovers was on the beach near the hotel.

Black-necked Stork

Pink-eared Duck & Chesnut Teal
A short distance inland from the town, some nice wetlands line both sides of Boyter's Lane. Both Little Grassbird and Tawny Grassbird were present. Good numbers of ducks included a sprinkling of Pink-eared Duck and Australasian Shoveler. An adult female Black-necked Stork was unexpected. Quite a few Sharp-tailed Sandpipers were about along with several Latham's Snipe and Red-kneed Dotterels.

Superb Lyrebird

Superb Lyrebird
We moved on to Gosford for a three-night stay with our friend Kathy Haydon, where entertainment from the back veranda including some very tame Eastern Water Dragons.

Eastern Water Dragon
From here we visited Woy Woy and Brisbane Water National Park. We checked out the area around the Warrah Trig Trail and Pearl Beach area, enjoying a very nice encounter with a male Superb Lyrebird along the fire track between the lookout at the end of the Trig Trail and the delightful resort village of Pearl Beach.

Warrah Trigg Lookout
Cunningham's Skink
The lookout offered stunning views over the Hawkesbury River and sandstone cliffs, along with an engaging Cunningham's Skink (Egernia cunninghami).

Rock Warbler

Rock Warbler
Several sites were searched unsuccessfully for Rock Warbler (thanks to Cameron Ward for those tips) before finally connecting with this charismatic bird at the northern extremity of the sandstone woodland along Patonga Drive. I had 4 birds hopping about the rocks in close proximity, about 150m south of the road and close to the sea cliffs. Not having seen Rock Warbler since I lived in Sydney in the mid-1980s, it was almost as good as a tick.

Yellow Thornbill

Speckled Warbler
We headed inland along the New England Highway for our journey home, stopping in  Tamworth at the Almond Inn Motel. Birds at the nearby Oxley Lookout included Yellow Thornbill and
Specked Warbler.

Rock Warbler


Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Important News Regarding Night Parrots

Night Parrot feathers from south-west Queensland - Pic by Steve Murphy
The immediate threat of feral cats to the recently discovered population of Night Parrots in south-west Queensland has been clarified amid moves to secure the property where the parrots occur for conservation purposes.

Moves have been implemented to protect dingoes on the property in the belief that they could play a crucial role in controlling numbers of feral cats and foxes.

The Queensland Government is involved in moves to shift the focus of land use on the property from cattle grazing to conservation, and will have the ultimate say over future management strategies.

The naturalist John Young first heard Night Parrots on the property in 2008. Young released the first photographs and film footage of the Night Parrot ever taken in July 2013. At a recent talk in Melbourne, Young confirmed reports that a feral cat had been responsible for killing a female Night Parrot on the property.

Ecologist Steve Murphy has been conducting research on the parrots on the property in collaboration with Young under a program being funded by mining company Fortescue Metals Group. Funding for the current program expires at the end of 2016.

Dr Steve Murphy
Murphy and Young found 31 feathers last October and these have been reported as definitive evidence that a bird had been killed by a feral cat. However, Murphy says there is no certainty that a cat was responsible. The feathers were examined at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA in Adelaide by Associate Professor Jeremy Austin, an expert in the field of trace DNA analysis.

No cat DNA was detected during the analysis, although DNA sequencing confirmed that the feathers were indeed from a Night Parrot. DNA-based gender assignment revealed that the bird was a female.

Night Parrot
Murphy says that using automatic sound devices, he continued to detect Night Parrot calls at the site where the feathers were found. Murphy says: “With respect to the feathers, the conclusion is that no-one can say with any certainty what happened to result in a Night Parrot losing 31 feathers. It may have been a cat, or it may have been an owl or goanna, or some other predator, or even two Night Parrots fighting. I’m not even sure if whatever it was actually caused the death of a Night Parrot, given the calling that I’m still detecting at the site."

Murphy adds: "This is not to say that cats are not a problem. They exact a tremendous toll on wildlife and continue to be a significant threat to Night Parrots. But it is important to stick to the facts.”

Feral Cat at Night Parrot site with prey, probably a frog Cyclorana spp - pic by Steve Murphy
Murphy is aware of one male feral cat in the area, but its activity has been mostly confined to creek lines and other areas away from the spinifex clumps favoured by the Night Parrots. Since well before discovering the feathers, he had been trying to trap and shoot cats in and around the area, but so far without success. Sharp-shooters were employed to try to shoot cats on the property shortly after the feathers were found, but again they were unable to locate any. Shooters will return to the property soon for another search.

However, Murphy says that based on intensive, ongoing surveys using camera traps, he is aware of several dingoes that regularly hunt in and around the area inhabited by the parrots. He believes this is good because of controls that dingoes can exert on cat numbers and behaviour. No baiting on the property has been undertaken because of the risk of inadvertently killing dingoes.

Dingo at Night Parrot site - pic by Steve Murphy
Since January 2014, there has been an interim stewardship agreement with the landholder - that includes a requirement that he not carry out any form of dingo control in and around the site. The stewardship arrangement includes other clauses that are designed to protect the parrots and facilitate the research efforts.

As for the future of the site, Murphy initiated a deal that is currently being brokered that would see the land use focus on the property shift from cattle production to the permanent protection of the Night Parrot and its habitat.

Says Murphy: “We are at a delicate stage of this negotiation. The Queensland Government is involved in the discussions, and indeed will have the ultimate say over whether the conservation strategy can proceed as planned.”