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, 23 December 2016

Out and About Sunshine Coast Christmas 2016

Pale-vented Bush-hen
Pale-vented Bush-hen, Lewin's Rail, large numbers of White-throated Needletails, Shining Flycatcher and 2 sightings of Square-tailed Kite are among the birds logged this week around the Sunshine Coast. Lewin's Rail seemingly starts exhibiting breeding behaviour (especially through vocalisations) in spring, regardless of the weather, while Pale-vented Bush-hen doesn't get going until the first serious rains of the season.

Pale-vented Bush-hen
It's been an exceptionally dry spring-early summer summer this season, so a bush-hen at North Arm was the first for the season following the first semi-decent rains in several weeks. It was quite vocal and inquisitive, venturing out of rank grassland to feed in the open. Meanwhile, the Lewin's Rails that were so vocal in October at Moy Pocket were still at that site this week, but were decidedly more secretive and not at all vocal.

White-throated Needletail
A short way up the road from North Arm at Eumundi, an exceptionally large flock of White-throated Needletails (300+) were hawking over the roads and pastures.

White-throated Needletail
Another flock of about 200 was present near Cooroy, while small flocks were also present at the Noosa Botanic Gardens and near Ninderry. An estimated 500-600 birds were seen during the day.

White-throated Needletail
A Common Tern was feeding over Lake Macdonald; this species is infrequently seen over freshwater wetlands.

Common Tern
A Square-tailed Kite was quartering the trees along the North Maroochy River at North Arm. A recently fledged Brush-turkey was in scrub at Noosaville.

Australian Brush-Turkey juvenile
At a lowland rainforest site at Cooloolabin I saw a Pale-yellow Robin - my first record of this species for the area.

Pale-yellow Robin
I checked out the still-drained Yandina Creek Wetland (though hopefully not for too much longer) where a Red-bellied Black Snake had recently shed its skin.

Red-bellied Black Snake with shed skin
In the home garden at Ninderry, Eastern Koel has been especially vocal while Green Catbird is visiting regularly.

Eastern Koel 

Green Catbird
 Common Myna, once very rare in the Sunshine Coast region, is becoming increasingly numerous. I found a pair attending a eucalypt hollow on the edge of Mapleton National Park. The main concern with this species is its displacement of native birds from scarce nesting hollows in trees.

Common Myna at nest hollow
Yesterday I had a day out with Swedish birder Andreas Lundgren. We kicked off the day with a Platypus in the Mary River at Moy Pocket before moving onto Charlie Moreland Park and Little Yabba Creek. There was no sign of the Black-breasted Buttonquail seen here in October (they seem to be highly nomadic at this site). Birds included Australian Logrunner, Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove (very vocal, 20+ birds calling), Noisy Pitta, Regent Bowerbird, Paradise Riflebird and Dusky Honeyeater.

Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove
Noisy Pitta
An adult male and a juvenile female Shining Flycatcher were present in mangroves at the Maroochy Wetlands Sanctuary. This is the second time I've noted the species breeding here, but it is usually absent from the site. Maroochy Wetlands list is here.

Shining Flycatcher
 At the Coolum Industrial Estate, a Square-tailed Kite was hawking over remnant wallum woodland - the second sighting of the species this week.

Square-tailed Kite

Monday, 12 December 2016

Likely Climate Change Impacts on Birds in South-East Queensland

Satin Bowerbird
A decline in populations and the distribution of some bird species in the Sunshine Coast region and other parts of South-East Queensland over the past 30-40 years, along with increases in populations of other species, are likely to be related to climate change.

An isolated population of the Eastern Bristlebird occurred in the Conondale Range in the Sunshine Coast hinterland - the northern limit of its distribution. Discovered as recently as the 1980s, the population appears now likely to be extinct as there have been no confirmed records for several years - see here for more.

Eastern Bristlebird
The Spotted Quail-Thrush was formerly seen with regularity at sites such as Widgee, Eudlo, Wild Horse Mountain and Brooyar State Forest in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. The species is now absent from these sites, with no confirmed records in recent years, and appears to be extinct in the Sunshine Coast region. It has declined elsewhere in South-East Queensland but small populations persist in some areas, even in the outer suburbs of Brisbane.

Spotted Quail-Thrush
In the Sunshine Coast region, the Crimson Rosella was formerly common in rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest at all altitudes. It is now found only in the highest parts of the Conondale and Blackall ranges, and in much smaller numbers than previously. For instance, at Booloumba Creek and Charlie Moreland Park in the 1970s, Crimson Rosellas were common, but they are scarce at those sites today. The species remains common in the higher, cooler parts of the McPherson and Great Dividing Ranges.

Crimson Rosella
A similar story applies to the Satin Bowerbird. The population of this species in the Sunshine Coast region is concentrated these days in the highest parts of the Conondale and Blackall Ranges. The bowerbird was formerly a common winter visitor to lowland sites where it has not been seen for many years or is now a vagrant. In places such as Little Yabba and Booloumba creeks, where it was once numerous, it is now uncommon. Again, the species remains common at higher altitudes in mountains to the south.

Red-browed Treecreeper
The Red-browed Treecreeper, though always uncommon, is now decidedly rare in the region. It continues to be found occasionally in the wet sclerophyll forests of the Blackall and Conondale ranges - the northern end of its distribution - but the treecreeper is absent from many of its former haunts. I have seen just a single bird in the Blackall Range during multiple visits over the 7 years that I have been living in the region. I have searched without success for them at sites in the Conondale Range where they were once regular.

Olive Whistler
The Olive Whistler just creeps across the Queensland border, occurring in high altitude Nothofagus forest in the McPherson Range. The species was always scarce in Queensland but the bird could usually be found in the 1970s without too much effort at sites such as Mt Bithongabel. However, records have declined over the past 20-30 years and it is uncertain if the species has been definitively recorded in Queensland in recent years; it may be extinct in the state.

What these species have in common is that they are close to or at the northern end of their distribution in south-eastern Australia, although the rosella, bowerbird and quail-thrush have isolated populations in north Queensland. Observers have noted steep, parallel declines in populations of several formerly common mammal species in the region such as Boebuck, Red-legged Pademelon and Greater Glider.

Warmer temperatures and drier conditions may be related to the decline in populations of these mammals and birds. In the case of the bristlebird, inappropriate vegetation management by state authorities and predation by feral cats and foxes are likely to have been additional factors in its demise.

Fairy Gerygone
Conversely, numbers of some essentially tropical species are expanding in the Sunshine Coast region. The Fairy Gerygone was not formerly known south of Gin Gin but it is now regular and quite common in places in vine scrub in coastal dunes and in the hinterland.

The Dusky Honeyeater, another tropical species, is also more widespread today around the Sunshine Coast than it was in the 1970s. While it was formerly restricted essentially to lowland vine scrubs in and about the Conondale Range, the honeyeater is today seen in a variety of habitats across the region. It is a regular visitor to my garden at Ninderry.

Dusky Honeyeater
Similarly, numbers of other essentially tropical birds such as Pale-vented Bush-hen and White-eared Monarch appear to have increased. Both of these species were thought to be summer visitors to South-East Queensland but they are now believed to be resident.

Shining Flycatcher, another tropical bird, was once regarded as a very rare vagrant in south-east Queensland. I have found it to be not uncommon on the Sunshine Coast, where it is resident and breeds. It occurs in the Noosa, Maroochy and Mooloolah Rivers, and in the Pumicestone Passage, where I have seen as many as 10 or 11 birds in a day. It bred for the first recorded time this season south of Pumicestone Passage - at the Tinchi Tamba Wetlands on the Pine River.

Shining Flycatcher
The phenomenon is also apparent in mammals. In the 1970s, flying-fox populations in south-east Queensland were overwhelmingly comprised of Grey-headed Flying-Fox, with the tropical Black Flying-Fox a scarce visitor. These days, Grey-headed Flying-Foxes are greatly outnumbered by Black Flying-Foxes, while the distribution of the Grey-headed Flying-Fox has headed southwards.

Black Flying-Fox
 The influence of climate change on bird populations overseas is now widely acknowledged. There is no conclusive evidence that the declines and increases underway in South-East Queensland are due to climate change, but in most cases there have been no other factors in evidence - such as reduced habitat or increased predation from feral predators. Moreover, the trend reflects that in many places overseas. The concern is that some populations, such as those inhabiting the northern-most sites known for the Eastern Bristlebird and Olive Whistler, are disappearing over an alarmingly short span of time.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Birding Trip Report for Laos and Cambodia (with Penang Postscript)

Cambodian Tailorbird
November 11 – November 29, 2016

A mixed cultural and birding trip with Glenn Scherf to Cambodia and Laos, followed by a visit to Penang (see postscript to this trip report). An annotated diary follows.

November 11. We flew to Siem Reap in Cambodia.

November 12. We visited Angor Wat, Bayon (Angor Thom) and Ta Prohm – some of the impressive temple ruins of the area. Hainan Blue Flycatcher was quite common in forest gullies about the ruins. We hired a local guide and driver through our hotel for visits to the various Angor Wat complex sites.

November 13. We checked out more ruins – Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Meson, Pre Rup. We visited the Landmine Museum set up by a former Khmer Rouge soldier, Aki Rat, who has personally disabled 50,000 of the estimated 3 million land mines still present in this severely war-ravaged country.

November 14. I returned to Angor Wat for early morning birding. I had nice looks at Forest Wagtail and a brief view of what had to be a male White-throated Rock-Thrush. Forest patches around Angkor Wat and other temples have good walking tracks that are pleasantly devoid of the tourist hordes that overcrowd the ruins.

November 15. Siem Reap. Birds in a scrubby patch next to our hotel included Radde's Warbler and Grey-eyed Bulbul. For more images of birds and sites around Siem Reap see here.

November 16. We were picked up early at the hotel by birding guide Mardy Sean and the driver for a 5-day birding excursion organised through the Sam Vaesna Centre in Siem Reap. This has become an expensive operation but there is no choice if you want to visit the key site of Tmatboey in northern Cambodia, which we reached following a 3-hour drive. We stopped along the way to visit the Beng Mealea Temple and to look at a roadside Brown Prinia.

In the late afternoon we birded the open dipterocarp woodland that characterises the area and is the habitat of several species difficult to find elsewhere. We saw the first of many Rufous-winged Buzzards along with Indochinese Bushlark and Burmese Nuthatch. Just before sunset we walked to the well-known roosting trees of the endangered White-shouldered Ibis. Eight ibis flew into the tree tops to roost (somewhat distantly, as visitors are not allowed to approach closely) with a flock of 15 more flying over as we returned to the road.

White-shouldered Ibis
November 17. Mardy proved to be a competent and determined guide. We were up at 3.30am at our humble accommodation in the ecotourism lodge in the woodlands near Tmatboey village that is the base for local birding. The Sam Vaesna Centre has received international acclaim for its excellent conservation work at Tmatboey; some of the high fees charged for birding excursions are expended on community projects designed to encourage local support for environmental protection. Still, trees continue to be cut in the threatened woodlands that once covered extensive parts of northern Cambodia, and we found wildlife snare traps set.

We walked 3km in the dark to a stake-out for the second target ibis at Tmatboey - the critically endangered Giant Ibis; just 200-250 of these birds survive, all in this region. We tracked down an Oriental Scops-Owl while awaiting sunrise, with no sign of a pair of ibis that had recently been seen at a favoured roost. Our local guide explained that large animals including elephant, gaur and tiger had been present in the area but all were extinct by the early-1980s.

As the sun rose, we heard the distinctive crane-like bugling of Giant Ibis in the distance. It was another 40 minutes or so of wading through chest-high wet grass before we finally tracked down a pair of birds, with satisfactory (if a little distant) views enjoyed through Mardy's scope. Black-headed was among the many woodpeckers seen during the day, which ended with an unsuccessful search for roosting Spotted Wood-Owl. More here for bird photographs from Tmatboey.

November 18. Some more early morning birding in the woodlands before we headed off to the Mekong River town of Kratie. We stopped at some rice paddies near the town which are a well-known site for Asian Golden Weaver, but on this and other visits we failed to connect with the species. A large mist-net was set in the reeds, intended to protect crops from bird predation; it had killed 20-odd birds of various species, most of them insectivorous, posing no threat to crops.

Birds we saw in the paddies included Greater Painted-Snipe and many Pin-tailed Snipe. We were in Cambodia at the beginning of the dry season, with plenty of water still about from the wet season. It is possible this cost me the weaver and probably other species such as Pale-capped Pigeon at Tmatboey, as we could not reach some key sites in the wet conditions.

Mekong Wagtail
November 19. We took a boat ride up the Mekong River in the early morning and it did not take long to find the Mekong Wagtail, a key target that is endemic to the river. We saw at least 15 birds flying about the flooded bushes and exposed sandbanks, their behaviour indicating that breeding territories were in the process of being established. We had a pod of 8-12 delightful Irrawaddy Dolphins – an increasingly rare species due to net fishing - about the boat.

November 20. Another early morning excursion to the rice paddies ended disastrously when I slipped into a drainage canal after Mardy insisted that we walk along a tiny bung which, I had warned him, was beyond my balancing abilities. My leg was cut badly in the muddy water, predictably becoming infected in the days ahead and costing us a precious morning session of birding.

After cleaning up the leg back at the hotel we headed off on the long drive to Phnom Penh, stopping at the well-known site of Kampot for the recently discovered Cambodian Tailorbird. We failed to find it here (again, water everywhere) but finally connected with a co-operative pair at an old site for the species on the outskirts of the capital. See here for images from the Kratie area.

November 21. We visited the Killing Fields Museum outside Phnom Penh, where the Khmer Rouge slaughtered thousands of people. The visit was a deeply moving experience (see here for more).

November 22. We flew to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and our hotel by the Mekong River, where Thailand can be seen across the water and the riverside restaurants in the evening were delightful.

November 23. A relaxed day about Vientiane, visiting the Patouxay Monument and local markets.

November 24. Another day about Vientiane.

November 25. We were met early by our guide, Mr Noi, and driver for a 4-day tour organised through Vientiane-based company Green Discovery. Mr Noi is not a birding guide but knows the key sites as he has worked with the big birding tour companies; he proved to be an affable and capable guide. We headed west from the capital to Ban Nasang, a well-known breeding site for Jerdon's Bushchat, but failed to find any. This was probably because the river level was high and my (by now) badly infected leg seriously compromised my ability to search for the bird; it is also possible the bushchats had not yet returned to their nesting grounds.

In the afternoon we headed east to the fabulous limestone karsts of the Annamite Mountains and the Spring River Resort, a place of great beauty with some of the best food of the trip.

River Lapwings
November 26. The downside of Spring River is that is quite a way from the birding spots (the main birding lodge at Na Hin had been booked out) so it was an early morning departure to reach a lookout at km 34 on Highway 8 at sunrise, where unfortunately we failed to detect any Lao Lamurs, which are often seen from here sitting atop the limestone pinnacles.

We concentrated our birding between km 30 and km 33 along the road, which is flanked here by limestone karsts on both sides. We eventually tracked down the key target: 3 Bare-faced Bulbuls in a mixed flock with Grey-eyed Bulbuls in bare trees at the rock base. This species is endemic to the limestone karsts of Laos. Soon after we found a single Sooty Babbler, the second key target; the species is endemic to the Annamite Mountains of Laos and nearby Vietnam. Also here were a pair of Limestone Wren-Babblers. We walked the waterfall trail at Na Hin but saw nothing.

Laos generally was remarkably bird-free relative to other south-east Asian countries as birds are hunted heavily in this impoverished country. We noticed during our visit to the mountains that for the first time on this trip, the weather was decidedly and unexpectedly cool. In many reports I had read of stiflingly hot conditions while birding the karsts so I was ill-prepared clothes-wise for the chilly early mornings.

Bare-faced Bulbuls
November 27. We had another early morning start but this time headed east instead of west of Na Hin along Highway 8 to evergreen forest patches. We looked without success for Mountain Scops-Owl along a forest trail at km 44 before spending the morning along an overgrown, steep trail at a key site at km 48. Here we failed to find the localised Red-collared Woodpecker; many large trees in the remnant forest had been recently cut and as other groups have failed to see the species here, it may no longer be present.

We did however see Spot-necked Babbler, Indochinese Yuhina and Crow-billed Drongo. In the afternoon we took the 7km boat ride through the Kong Lot Cave near our resort – a delightful sojourn and highly recommended.

November 28. Some more morning birding along Highway 8 failed to find langurs or anything else of interest. I dipped on Limestone Leaf-Warbler - just a few Blyth's and Greenish Leaf-Warblers showed – but apparently the species is rare here. We encountered some hunters who had trapped two large forest rats in the forest, although it is supposedly protected in the Nam Kading National Park, which covers this area. Images from Laos can be seen here. Then we drove back to Vientiane.

November 29. We flew from Vientiane to Penang in Malaysia (see following postscript).

For an annotated list of birds and mammals seen in Laos and Cambodia, see the full trip report which is published here on Surfbirds.

Spotted Wood-Owl


Following the visit to Cambodia and Laos we had a week relaxing in Penang, Malaysia. I teemed up with local guide Choy Wai Mun (blog site here) for a full day's birding on December 1. We started well before dark at Bukit Pancho in an unsuccessful bid to find Blyth's and Gould's Frogmouths. We moved on to the remnant forest patch at Air Hitam Dalam, where I finally saw Spotted Wood-Owl, a bird I had dipped on several times previously, and Streak-breasted Woodpecker. Then another long overdue Asian bird, Purple-backed (Daurian) Starling was added to the list at Permatang Pauh, where this species comprised about 10 per cent of a huge feeding flock, mostly Asian Glossy Starlings, in a large fruiting fig. We looked unsuccessfully for Nordmann's Greenshank at Teluk Air Tawa but good waders in the rice paddies included Temminck's Stint, Long-toed Stint and Grey-headed Lapwing. I returned two days later to Teluk Air Tawa with Choo Eng Tan (who had visited Air Hitam Dalam with me in 2010) but still no greenshanks. See here for more on Penang.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Birding Penang: Spotted Wood-Owl At Last

Spotted Wood-Owl

Following our visit to Laos (see following post) it was on to Penang in Malaysia, one of our favourite places in south-east Asia. 

View from Georgetown hotel

Mostly here it was enjoying the hustle and bustle and great food - and the lovely view from our hotel in Georgetown across the water to Butterworth - but there were a few birds locally that were absent from my life list.

Choy Wai Mun
I hooked up for a day with local guide Choy Wai Mun, whose services I can highly recommend. We left very early in the morning to try for Gould's and Blyth's Frogmouths at Bukit Pancho, but not a peep from either unfortunately despite our best efforts.
We moved on to Air Hitam Dalam, a small area of swamp forest that I had visited a few years ago with ChooEng Tan to successfully connect with Mangrove Pitta. That species is now gone from the site, doubtlessly due to its small size and possibly predation of eggs and young by the constant stream of Long-tailed Macaques being liberated there by local authorities.

Dusky Leaf-Monkey
On the subject of monkeys, we encountered a nice group of Dusky Leaf-Monkeys.

Spotted Wood-Owl
A pair of Spotted Wood-Owls has resided in the area for many years and although I had dipped on this species here and in several other places, I had success at last when a bird was found roosting high in a tree from the suspended bridge walk. We had earlier walked past the same tree from the other direction and missed it.

Coming to grips with Spotted Wood-Owl
More success followed when a Streak-breasted Woodpecker was tracked down. This species is highly localised and one of south-east Asia's more difficult woodpeckers, although Air Hitam Dalam is a known site. As it is for Mangrove Blue-Flycatcher, and we had no trouble finding some of these little gems.

Mangrove Blue-Flycatcher
Along with a female Tickell's Blue-Flycatcher, which has teamed up with a male Mangrove Blue in the probably forlorn hope of reproducing.

Tickell's Blue-Flycatcher
Stork-billed Kingfisher was nice to see.

Stork-billed Kingfisher
We moved on an area of rice paddies and shrubs at Permatung Pauh, where a huge fruiting fig was full of birds, mainly a very large mixed flock of Asian Glossy and Purple-backed Starlings. I had dipped on the latter in the past so this was another wanted species under the belt.

Purple-backed Starling
Nordmann's Greenshank turns up annually at Teluk Air Tawa in Penang and the first birds of the season were reported just last week, but we were unable to locate them during our visit there. Among the birds present were Common Redshank and Eurasian Curlew, both of which are rare in Australia.

Eurasian Curlew
Brown-headed Gulls were also about.

Brown-headed Gulls
We returned later to the rice paddies, finding good numbers of overwintering Grey-headed Lapwings on the bungs.

Grey-headed Lapwings
On exposed mud patches were quite a few Wood Sandpipers and Long-toed Stints, along with a couple of Temminck's Stints.

Temminck's & Long-toed Stints
And a few Oriental Pratincoles.

Oriental Pratincole