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, 22 December 2017

Aleutian Tern for Christmas

Aleutian Tern
Aleutian Tern had long been high on my wishlist. I expected to see them in Anadyr on our Russian Arctic cruise and was not happy to learn that one was hanging around the ship in the harbour before we left, but nobody bothered to announce it.

Aleutian Tern
So when Liam Murphy reported last week that he had found as many as 14 Aleutian Terns at Old Bar on the NSW Central Coast, there wasn't too much decision-making to be made. Liam's find is quite extraordinary. He found the birds at the same spot this time last year but their identity was not known until we was trawling through photographs two months ago. The species is a scarce visitor to Indonesian waters but had not been recorded in Australia previously.

Aleutian Tern
I was daunted by the prospect of a 9.5 hour drive to Old Bar. So I flew to Sydney from Sunshine Coast Airport, caught the train to Gosford and hooked up with my friend, Kathy Haydon. From there it was a 3-hour drive to Old Bar, where we arrived at 4pm, bumping into the first of quite a few twitchers to be encountered over the next couple of days.

Aleutian Tern

Aleutian Tern
We walked 1.5km north to the end of the fence that marks the Little Tern breeding area, then a short distance inland to sand bars where the terns gather. We quickly found a ground of 9 Aleutian Terns gathered together, with a tenth bird nearby. The birds were readily approachable, with a bit of knee-deep wading required, and appeared to be quite settled.

Aleutian Terns
Occasionally some of the birds would fly a short distance and regroup, sometimes in the company of Common Terns, Little Terns and Crested Terns. Often however they would roost separately from other terns.

Aleutian Tern
We booked an overnight "family cottage" in the pleasant Lani's Caravan Park, a short distance from the site; it could have slept 4 people for $120 per night. We returned early the next morning and found just 2 Aleutian Terns. They were by themselves initially before joining a larger tern flock. The flock was put to flight by an ultra-light plane and when the birds resettled, the Aleutians were nowhere to be seen. We learned from others that they did not return until late-morning. This seemed to be a pattern: 1 to 3 birds are there in the early morning before heading out to sea, with the bigger group returning towards the middle of the day. Most of the terns appear to hang about for much of the afternoon.

It was low tide on our first visit and high tide on our second. Conditions were pretty much the same, as the sand bars are separated from the sea except during very high tides. Access initially was a shorter distance from south-west of the bars but the NSW authorities requested beach access to minimise disturbance to the Little Tern colony. I checked the lay of the land from the other side of the inlet and thought it would not make any difference; the shorter route in fact is probably less disturbing to nesting birds. And walking the beach at high tide means dodging 4-wheel drive vehicles.

Common Tern
About 20 Common Terns were present. After some initial sorting it was easy to distinguish them.


A nice gathering of Sanderlings was a bonus.

Red-necked Stint
Other shorebirds included Pacific Golden Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Red-capped Plover (nesting), Grey-tailed Tattler, Red-necked Stint, Whimbrel and Eastern Curlew. This stint looked particularly interesting.

Little Terns were resplendent in breeding plumage. Elist.

The terns at Old Bar

Friday, 15 December 2017

Catching up with John Young

I caught up today for a pleasurable few hours in the Sunshine Coast hinterland with bush naturalist extraordinaire John Young.

John is something of a legend in the birding community. It is well-known that he and I have had our differences over the years, but with the benefit of hindsight, everyone acknowledges they might have done things differently in times past. We move on. Whatever our differences, I've always regarded John as arguably Australia's most skilled bush naturalist. His uncanny ability to track down birds in difficult circumstances is widely acknowledged. John is doing some excellent field work these days as a senior ecologist with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Pale-vented Bush-hen
What we've always had in common is a passionate concern for the environment and a keen interest in birds and other wildlife. Today we listened as a pair of Pale-vented Bush-hens called from flooded grassland near Wappa Dam; a third bird called across the road. One bird was seen briefly; the image here is of another bush-hen seen nearby last year.

Australasian Figbird at nest
While we chatted in the Wappa Dam picnic ground, John spotted no fewer than four nests being attended by Australasian Figbirds in the surrounding trees.

Great Crested Grebe
The resident Great Crested Grebe pair were in full breeding plumage and showing well.

Comb-crested Jacana
As were a few Comb-crested Jacanas.  Earlier today I found this White-eared Monarch in rainforest at nearby Cooloolabin.

White-eared Monarch

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Hervey Bay & Boonooroo – Dec 2017

Pacific Swift
It was time for what has become an annual camp-out in the Hervey Bay area. Waterways and wetlands were full following heavy rains recently. At Arkarra Lagoons, 3 pairs of Magpie-Goose had goslings in tow and another 6-8 pairs were on nests. Other birds included Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, Fairy Gerygone and Nankeen Night-Heron. Arkarra Lagoons ebird list.

Of interest at Pt Vernon was a flock of 70 Pacific Swifts hawking for insects along the shoreline, with a handful of White-throated Needletails in the mix.

Pacific Swift

Pacific Swift
A Rainbow Bee-Eater here made short work of a dragonfly.

Rainbow Bee-Eater
Good numbers of Greater Sand-Plover, Lesser Sand-Plover and Pacific Gold Plover were present at the high hide roosts at The Gables and nearby Gatakers Bay.

Greater Sand-Plover, Lesser Sand-Plover, Pacific Golden Plover
A mixed group of Wandering Tattler and Grey-tailed Tattler were together on the rocks at Gatakers Bay.  Pt Vernon ebird list.

Wandering Tattler
I visited Garnetts Lagoon with local birder John Knight but high water levels meant not much of interest was about, other than a couple of Brown Songlarks.   A large colony of waterbirds was nesting on a lagoon in Ann Street, Urangan, near the Hervey Bay Botanic Gardens. All 4 species of egret were nesting along with a few Little Pied Cormorants and Little Black Cormorants, and large numbers of Australian White Ibis.

Cattle Egret

Intermediate Egret & Cattle Egret

Little Egret
After moving on to Maryborough, Brown Songlarks were present also along Dimond Road, where a pair of Pale-vented Bush-hen were flushed from flooded grasslandVery high king tides (3.6m) made the going tough at the shorebird roosts of Boonooroo and Maaroom. Large numbers of Eastern Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit were present as usual but there was no sign of the Asian Dowitchers which I found during my last two visits. Boonooroo ebird list.

Bar-tailed Godwits

Eastern Curlews
A flock of 50 Marsh Sandpipers were at Maaroom.

Marsh Sandpipers
A male Shining Flycatcher was a nice find in mangroves near the jetty at Maaroom. Maaroom ebird list.

Shining Flycatcher

Shining Flycatcher

Monday, 27 November 2017

Sunshine Coast Pelagic - November 25, 2017

Cook's Petrel
A prolonged period of ideal weather conditions – E-SE winds of 10-20 knots consistently over the past couple of weeks – together with a highly successful pelagic off Southport on November 18 prompted us at short notice to head out for the second time this month. We departed Mooloolaba Marina at 6.30am with a forecast of 10-15 knots SE looking promising on what turned out to be a partially cloudy daily with occasional showers and a maximum temperature of 28C.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel
We were up against a vigorous 1.5m-2m swell on the way out, but the large size and deep hull of Crusader 1 - operated by Sunshine Coast family company Sunshine Coast Afloat helped ease the discomfort. Again, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were in alarmingly small numbers in inshore waters for reasons which remain unclear. A flock of Short-tailed Shearwaters, a single Hutton's Shearwater and a dark phase Arctic Jaeger were seen as we headed east.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel
We cut the engine just off the shelf in 220 fathoms at 9.20am – the rough ride having slowed us down a bit – 32 nautical miles offshore: 26.38738S, 153.42603E. We began laying a berley trail – thanks Rob Morris for getting the berley side of things sorted at short notice – and the first Wilson's Storm-Petrel was quickly on the scene. We had Wilson's about in some numbers for the whole time we were out wide, often very close to the boat, and it was the most common bird of the day.

Cook's Petrel
A large ray surfaced close to the boat before we saw an interesting petrel several hundred metres to the north. It was most likely a White-necked Petrel, but the bird didn't oblige by coming in closer.
An hour later we noticed two small Pterodroma petrels in the distance to the south and this time one of them followed the slick up to the boat. It was a Cook's Petrel which showed nicely if briefly at close quarters. This is a rare species in Australian waters and only the second time it has been seen in Queensland.

Cook's Petrel
The weather turned out to be pretty much as forecast. Tahiti Petrel was seen regularly. 

Tahiti Petrel
Wedge-tailed Shearwaters remained thin on the water. The occasional Short-tailed Shearwater checked out the slick, as did a single Flesh-footed Shearwater.

Short-tailed Shearwater
Completely unexpected was an immature Great Cormorant which flew in and hung around for a while, looking more than a little out of place.

Great Cormorant
A single Sooty Tern flew high overhead, as did a single Pomarine Jaeger.  A pod of Pantropical Spotted Dolphins surfaced shortly before we pulled up stumps and turned around at 12.50pm, having drifted just 1.5 nautical miles during the 3.5 hours we were off the shelf. We arrived back at the marina at 3.20pm. 

Sooty Tern
PARTICIPANTS: Richard Taylor (skipper), Zoe Williams (deckhand), Greg Roberts (organiser), Margie Baker, Tony Baker, Chris Burwell, Antonia Burwell, Felicia Chan, Wan Fang Chen, Alex Ferguson, Rick Franks, James Galea, John Gunning, James Martin, Rob Morris, Steve Murray, Gerry Richards, Carolyn Scott, Ross Sinclair, Natalie Sinclair, Jim Sneddon, Andrew Stafford, Andrew Sutherland, Ged Tranter, Paul Walbridge. E-list.

SPECIES : Total (Maximum at one time)

Cook's Petrel 1 (1),
Tahiti Petrel 30 (6),
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 35 (8),
Short-tailed Shearwater 25 (20),
Flesh-footed Shearwater 1 (1),
Hutton's Shearwater 1 (1),
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 60 (15),
Crested Tern 30 (8),
Sooty Tern 1 (1),
Arctic Jaeger 1 (1),
Pomarine Jaeger 1 (1),
Great Cormorant 1 (1).

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin 15 (6).

Monday, 20 November 2017

Yandina Creek Wetland Officially Opened

Yandina Creek Wetland
Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles and UnityWater Chairman Jim Soorley today officially opened the Yandina Creek Wetland on the Sunshine Coast.

Steven Miles & Jim Soorley opening the wetland
Here is Unity Water's Statement:
Unitywater bought the 191-hectare site last year as a green alternative to upgrading sewage treatment plants in the area.
The site is former cane farming land and as part of Unitywater’s management of the site, flood gates will be opened to restore the area to a wetland.
Minister Miles said the wetland will act as a natural filter and remove nutrients and sediments from Maroochy River.
“The wetland will remove about 5.3 tonnes of total nitrogen a year – it’s an environmental win that this can be achieved naturally,” Minister Miles said.
“The wetland plants will take up nutrients from the river and help maintain water quality.
“We are proud of Unitywater’s commitment to this site and the natural environment.”

First bird surveys of the wetland underway
BirdLife Australia members at the wetland
 Unitywater Chairman Jim Soorley said Unitywater had partnered with Birdlife Southern Queensland and the University of the Sunshine Coast to help manage the site.
“Birdlife Southern Queensland volunteers are undertaking quarterly bird surveys for the next three years,” he said.
“The first survey was completed recently and 41 different types of birds were spotted on site, with 211 spotted in total.
“We’re also undertaking a five-year study with the University of the Sunshine Coast, which will assess the fisheries habitat in the wetland and focus on fish, prawns and crabs compared with other sites.
“Our vision for the future is to open the site up to the public for bird watching and walking trails, for locals and visitors to get back to nature.
“And with the solar farm just across the road, we look forward to working with Sunshine Coast Council and the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection to create a dynamic environmental education hub here.
“Unitywater is committed to maintaining the natural state of the wetland and working with neighbours and other stakeholders for many years to come.”

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Lockyer Valley November 2017

Blue-winged Kookaburra
Among nice birds encountered during a foray into the Lockyer and Brisbane valleys were Blue-winged Kookaburra, Freckled Duck, White-winged Chough, Hoary-headed Grebe, loads of Rufous and Brown Songlarks, Red-necked Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit. I started out along Cove Road, Stanmore, where a pair of Cotton Pygmy-Geese were on one of the farm dams. Moving on to Toogoolawah, an immature Nankeen Night-Heron was flushed from a roadside ditch. Plenty of Rufous Songlarks were in the grasslands east of the town; they proved to be unusually common throughout the region.

Nankeen Night-Heron

Rufous Songlark
Atkinsons Dam was about half-full. An estimated 500 Whiskered Terns, many in breeding plumage, were feeding over the lake's shallow waters. A pair of Wandering Whistling-Ducks here is unusual for this part of the world. ebird list.

Wandering Whistling-Duck

Whiskered Tern
Seven Mile Lagoon was nicely full. Huge numbers of birds were concentrated here, mainly Eurasian Coot, Hardhead, Grey Teal, Black Swan and Pacific Black Duck. Several Brown Songlarks were displaying and they too were found in several other spots during the day ahead. At least 10 Hoary-headed Grebes could be made out in the distance along with small groups of Pink-eared Duck and a few Glossy Ibis. A Swamp Harrier was quartering the flooded grassland.

Grey Teal, Hardhead, Eurasian Coot

Swamp Harrier
Continuing west along Nangara Road I came across a party of White-winged Choughs – a scarce species in south-east Queensland including the Lockyer Valley, despite the presence of plenty of suitable habitat.

White-winged Chough
I walked most of the way around Lake Clarendon, focusing on the northern end where a concentration of fallen and dead trees makes for interesting habitat. At least 150 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers were here but no sign of the Pectoral Sandpiper seen earlier in the season. Good numbers of Red-kneed Dotterels were present.

Red-kneed Dotterel & Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Other migratory shorebirds were 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Marsh Sandpiper and 2 Red-necked Stints. Two Red-necked Avocets were there and 2 Freckled Ducks were seen distantly. Pink-eared Duck and Australasian Shoveler were present in small numbers as were all 3 grebe species – Australasian, Hoary-headed and Great Crested. ebird list.

Black-tailed Godwit & Glossy Ibis
Fairy Martins were abundant and nesting everywhere.

Fairy Martin
At Lake Galletly, 3 Pink-eared Ducks were among several hundred Magpie Geese. Pairs of Pink-eared Ducks were scattered around several farm dams in the valley.

Pink-eared Duck
Cockatiels were plentiful along the road on the way to Forest Hill.

I found a Blue-winged Kookaburra at Forest Hill in the same spot where they were seen in 2015 by Roger Jaensch, suggesting they are resident here. This species is rare in south-east Queensland; the Lockyer Valley is one of the few areas in the region where it is occasionally encountered. The species may be declining in south-east Queensland. For many years it was resident at Wivenhoe Crossing and at Lake Clarendon, but it turns up only rarely at Lake Clarendon these days and has disappeared entirely from Wivenhoe Crossing. ebird list.

Blue-winged Kookaburra
Some wetlands such as Jahnke's Lagoon and Karrasch's Dam were empty despite the heavy Spring rains that fell over south-east Queensland. Peach's Lagoon had a bit of water but not much was there other than a Little Bronze Cuckoo. A flock of 22 Red-necked Avocets was on a farm dam near Laidley.