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.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Russet-tailed Thrush & Bassian Thrush in South-East Queensland

Russet-tailed Thrush
The difficulty of distinguishing Bassian Thrush from Russet-tailed Thrush in the field has led to a good deal of confusion about the respective distributional ranges of these two very similar species, especially in areas where they potentially overlap. Both occur in South-East Queensland, where considerable debate has taken place about which species occurs where.  
The evidence suggests that Bassian Thrush in South-East Queensland is primarily a bird of the higher altitudes (primarily in rainforest) of the Main Range and adjoining Great Dividing Range. The species is resident across these ranges from Lamington and Springbrook national parks in the south to the Bunya Mountains in the north. Russet-tailed Thrush occurs generally at lower altitudes; it is widespread and much more common than Bassian in the region. The two species occur together in a relatively narrow altitudinal band in a small number of sites including O'Reilly's Guest House in Lamington National Park and the Goomburra section of Main Range National Park.
Bassian Thrush
The difficulty of identifying the two species can not be under-estimated. I am among many who have at times made the wrong call, corrected only when photographs were scrutinised later. Some oft-mentioned features are of little benefit with identification in the field. For instance, Russet-tailed has a little more white in the outer tail feathers but this is very difficult to discern; the apparent absence of white in the tail of a bird is essentially meaningless. Russet-tailed has a more rusty hue to the lower upperparts (evident in the first image on this post) with Bassian having a somewhat more olive wash. This feature however is unreliable as it is difficult to nail down, especially with the bird so often being in poor light.

The best identification features seem to be the more obvious buff tips to the wing coverts of Russet-tailed Thrush, and the relatively narrow, longer bill of Russet-tailed. However, even these features are fraught, especially as juvenile Bassian Thrush can show some buff edging to the wing coverts. Call is therefore of critical importance to identifying these two thrushes; the calls are highly distinctive and are given frequently.

In the absence of definitive photographs, specimens or call recordings, I had come to the conclusion that Bassian Thrush is absent from those South-East Queensland mountain ranges which are generally lower than the Main Range and Great Dividing Range. I and others, for instance, have searched long and hard for Bassian Thrush without success in the Conondale and Blackall ranges in the Sunshine Coast hinterland

Russet-tailed Thrush
I have camped often in plenty of sites at all altitudes in this area over the past 40 years and have heard and seen only Russet-tailed.

Chris Corben, a highly regarded observer, was employed for several years by the then state Forestry Department to undertake wildlife research in the Conondale Range in the 1980s. Chris, one of the first birders to detect differences between the two taxa, was constantly on the lookout for Bassian Thrush - his base high in the mountains was amid ideal habitat - but he also failed to encounter a single bird.

However, it has emerged that Bassian Thrush is a rare visitor at least to the D'Aguilar Range north of Brisbane. Judith Hoyle lives in the rainforest atop Mt Glorious, where the altitude is similar to that of some sites where Bassian Thrush occurs regularly further afield. Judith has heard Bassian Thrush on two occasions at Mt Glorious. One bird was present for a week in April 2014 in the forest next to her home, its presence revealed by regular calling in the mornings and early evenings. A second bird was heard calling in March 2016 and on this occasion, Judith managed to record it. That call, which Judith was kind enough to send to me, is unmistakably that of a Bassian Thrush.

Bassian Thrush
Judith noted that both Bassian Thrushes were exceptionally shy compared to the Russet-taileds which are common residents about her home. It seems that Bassian Thrush is a rare autumn visitor to the mountain. Bassian Thrush and Russet-tailed Thrush both undergo a degree of altitudinal migration, with some birds moving to lower elevations with the onset of cooler weather. It seems likely that the occasional bird from the Main Range-Great Dividing Range population wanders to other areas.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Sunshine Coast Pelagic Trip August 2017

Humpback spy-hopping. Pic by Rick Franks
Prolonged, multiple and unusually close encounters with multiple Humpback Whales were the highlight of the pelagic trip off the Sunshine Coast on Sunday August 27, 2017. No particularly unusual birds were encountered due to relatively calm conditions, though winter records of Tahiti Petrel and Sooty Tern were interesting.

Humpback Whale

Hopes were high with a forecast of winds from the right direction (E-SE) at 15 knots as we departed Mooloolaba Marina at 6.35am on another clear winter day. A Sooty Oystercatcher on the rocks at the Mooloolah River mouth was unexpected. This was the second pelagic foray on our 17m boat, Crusader 1, operated by Sunshine Coast family company Sunshine Coast Afloat. The deep-hulled vessel ploughed effortlessly through a swell of up to 2m that had been whipped up by strong winds offshore in the preceding days.

Humpback Whale with calf
We spotted quite a few Humpback Whales on the way out and a couple of small groups of Hutton's Shearwaters, along with the first Wedge-tailed Shearwaters of the season. After a few stops we reached the shelf at 9.10am at 400m, 32 nautical miles offshore: 26.42.174S; 153.42.680E. We had an excellent encounter with a pod of Humpbacks in 300m and that set the pattern for the whole time we were out on the shelf, with whales frequently in sight and often venturing close to the boat. It is unusual to find Humpbacks out on the shelf and to see so many this day was quite extraordinary.

Providence Petrel
The first Providence Petrel soon appeared as began laying a berley trail and we were to have small numbers of these about while we off the shelf.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel

Wilson's  Storm-Petrel
Several Wilson's Storm-Petrels put in an appearance along with a few more Wedge-tailed Shearwaters.

Hutton's Shearwater
A single Tahiti Petrel was unexpected at this time of the year. A couple more Hutton's Shearwaters flew by.

Sooty Tern - Pic by Malcolm Graham
Two Sooty Terns were seen distantly and Crested Terns were constantly about the vessel. A Tiger Shark was seen to surface briefly.

Humpback Whale head's encrusted barnacles
The Humpback Whale encounters got better and better with the huge mammals on several occasions swimming under the vessel in clear view. These interactions culminated in a superb performance by an adult female and attendant adult male which in unison spy hopped several times, raising their massive, barnacle-encrusted heads above the water within a few metres of the boat to check us out
Humpback Whale - Pic by Rick Franks
The whales were so close that my prime 400 lens was of little use; thanks to Rick Franks for some of these images. It was as well that the whales put on a show because the forecast fresh south-easterlies did not materialise, with a gentle breeze struggling to reach 8-10knots despite the vigorous swell. After drifting 3 nautical miles eastward to 800m, we turned around at 12.45pm to head back.

Humpback Whale
We saw plenty more Humpbacks and more Hutton's Shearwaters, some not far from shore. We managed reasonable views of most shearwaters and there did not appear to be any Fluttering among them.
Offshore Bottle-nosed Dolphins
We had a nice encounter with a large pod of Offshore Bottle-nosed Dolphin, including a small juvenile.

Brown Booby
We found a Brown Booby perched on a trawler as the winds picked up quickly, sharply and belatedly.

Eastern Reef-Egret
We returned to the marina at 3.40pm, spotting an Eastern Reef Egret perched incongruously by the swimming pool of a canal home. Again, all aboard were impressed by the comfort, space and amenities of Crusader 1, along with the enthusiasm of its crew.

PARTICIPANTS: Greg Roberts (organiser), Toby Imhoff (skipper), Zoe Williams (deckhand), Chris Attewell, Duncan Cape, George Chapman, Jo Culinan, Robyn Duff, Rick Franks, Malcolm Graham, Matteo Grilli, John Gunning, Jane Hall, Mary Hynes, Russ Lamb, Davydd McDonald, John Merton, Trevor Ross, Eske Ross, Jim Sneddon, Raja Stephenson, Ged Tranter, Jamie Walker, Chris Watts, Chris Wiley.

SPECIES: Total (Maximum at one time)
Providence Petrel 25 (5)
Tahiti Petrel 1 (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 15 (3)
Hutton's Shearwater 22 (6)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 10 (2)
Brown Booby 1 (1)
Crested Tern 70 (20)
Sooty Tern 2 (2)
Pied Cormorant 2 (2)
Humpback Whale 80 (9)
Offshore Bottle-nosed Dolphin 25 (10)

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Day Time Marbled Frogmouth & ABC Coverage

Marbled Frogmouth

I found a Marbled Frogmouth at its day roost in a grove of piccabean palms in rainforest in Mapleton National Park in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. This was a different site from where I found two birds at a roost in September last year.
The two frogmouths found last year
Other birds in the rainforest included Russet-tailed Thrush, Pale-yellow Robin and Paradise Riflebird.

Pale-yellow Robin

Paradise Riflebird

Russet-tailed Thrush

Russet-tailed Thrush

I was in the Blackall Range rainforest last week with Jennifer Nichols and Bruce Atkinson from the ABC, who put together a fine piece on the Marbled Frogmouth. Audio of interviews with myself, Susie Duncan and Steven Lang can be found here. Reprinted below is an abridged transcript from the full story.
Jennifer Nichols & Bruce Atkinson

A rare native night bird once feared extinct in Australia is making a remarkable comeback in the Sunshine Coast hinterland of Queensland. It has taken the combined efforts of Sunshine Coast Council, landholders and volunteers to bring the marbled frogmouth back to the Blackall Range, where 95 per cent of its habitat was cleared for timber and farming.
For decades, no one could find the southern subspecies of the native night bird in Australia, until bird fanatic Greg Roberts rediscovered it in south-east Queensland in the 1970s. "This was one of the big mysteries in the natural history world of Australia," Mr Roberts said."We were aware that this bird was in existence because there were museum specimens, but there were no photographs; it hadn't been recorded or seen.For all intents and purposes, the bird had disappeared; many people thought it was extinct."
One night in 1976 he was bird watching in the Conondale Range when he heard the marbled frogmouth's distinctive song."I heard this amazing call from inside the rainforest. I went in and there it was. There's nothing like it. It still sends a chill up my spine. We recorded its call, we did a series of surveys and we found it in several other places, so we don't know to this day exactly why it went unreported for so long, but it was very exciting to rediscover the bird."
Before the Conondale Range was declared a national park, logging threatened one of its most important habitats in Australia.
"In the 1970s we had a pretty vigorous campaign underway to protect the Conondale Range because it was significant for a whole lot of reasons, among which was the presence there of the remarkable gastric brooding frog," Mr Roberts said. "The marbled frogmouth was found essentially at the height of that campaign so it became something of an icon — to save the Conondale Range — which of course, ultimately was successful."
Decades on, the night bird's population is building. "What we've seen in recent years is connectivity — corridors of bushland being re-established to connect areas of remnant vegetation," Mr Roberts said."It's a remarkable story that you've now got birds like the marbled frogmouth reappearing where they've not been seen for many, many years, if ever. This is a rare good news story in terms of conservation."
Susie Duncan is coordinator of Hinterland Bush Links, which is working with landholders and volunteers on weeding and bush restoration.
"The marbled frogmouths have gradually come back into the Blackall Range, into the Maleny area, and we've even seen them quite close into the town itself," she said.
"The work is supported by Sunshine Coast Council, which provides a terrific Land for Wildlife program and many other incentives for landholders to look after their land, like landholder environment grants. That work together has turned the tide of loss of some of our local and diverse wildlife."
Ms Duncan said hundreds of people had volunteered for the Hinterland Bush Links Roving Restorers program."People learn skills about how to identify weeds and manage them, [and] take that knowledge back to their own properties, so that's been great. She said the restoration had benefited other endangered species including the sooty owl and Australia's largest night bird, the powerful owl.
She praised hinterland farmers for their involvement."Farmers are very aware of what's there in their local landscape. Many of them have a great knowledge of the local birds and the local mammals and the local frogs and reptiles that they hear around them.”
The night bird is still listed as vulnerable, with just 12 pairs identified over a 13,000-hectare area of the Blackall Range.Lake Baroon Catchment Care Group secretary and author Steven Lang was excited to find a pair of marbled frogmouths in rainforest next to his Balmoral Ridge property.
"More than 100 years ago this area was pretty well all cleared and that was a valid thing. This was dairy country and people had to survive by that," Mr Lang said. "What we're seeing now is the restoration of the creeks and of the steeper slopes and as a result of that, corridors appear which allow wildlife to move around in them, which is why I think we're hearing things like the marbled frogmouth come back. For the last decade or even longer I've been very involved in riparian restoration and it just makes it all worthwhile."

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

August 2017 Bits & Pieces

Little Wattlebird & young

Winter is almost at an end and for the second year running, the resident Little Wattlebirds have raised a single youngster at what should be the wrong time the year. The birds have taken a liking to the porch hanging baskets, having nested in three different baskets. Like last year, they laid in July. The young bird successfully left the nest three weeks ago and although it appears fully grown, it continues to be fed by the parents. They are expected to soon begin nesting for the second time this year.

Little Wattlebird & young

Little Wattlebird & young

Elsewhere, Black-necked Stork has been a regular visitor to the Parklakes Wetland. This adult female was feeding when I was there, wielding its substantial bill through the water in the hope of snaring a fish or frog.
Black-necked Stork

Black-necked Stork

Spotted Harriers are building a nest near Bli Bli. A Spotted Harrier was quartering the still empty Yandina Creek Wetlands, where a Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoo was present.

Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoo

Other birds at the wetlands included Golden Whistler and Rainbow Bee-eater. Note there continues to be no public access to the main site; its southern periphery is River Road.

Golden Whistler

Rainbow Bee-eater

Less welcome at the wetlands was the sighting of two Red Foxes in different places.

Red Fox

A Square-tailed Kite was seen nearby on the Yandina-Coolum Road. A female Shining Flycatcher was in the mangroves of the Maroochy River Wetland. Fairy Gerygone is common enough in the Sunshine Coast's coastal scrubs but this one was found in the hinterland at the Buderim Forest Park's upper carpark.

Fairy Gerygone

Great Crested Grebe continues to be a regular on Wappa Dam.

Great Crested Grebe

A pair of Glossy Black Cockatoos were feeding on Allocasuarina cones at Noosaville.

Glossy Black Cockatoo

A pair of Cotton Pygmy Geese were on one of the small farm dams near Eumundi. A single Black Bittern was seen behind Lake Doonella. A Dusky Honeyeater was busy on the Grevillea flowers at Cooroibah.

Dusky Honeyeater

Leaden Flycatchers are back in force, calling commonly about the Sunshine Coast. This species is the first of the summer migrants to return.

Leaden Flycatcher

Plenty of birds are busy nesting, like these Willie Wagtails that built their nest over the water at Lake Doonella.

Willie Wagtail on nest

Away from the Sunshine Coast, I visited the Port of Brisbane shorebird roost, where the only migratory waders present were two sparring Eastern Curlews.

Eastern Curlews

At Redcliffe I saw a second-year Common Tern with two Crested Terns, one with a yellow bill and the other with a bill that was much more orange, though not orange enough to indicate Lesser Crested Tern.

Common Tern & Crested Terns

Crested Terns with yellow and orangish bills were also present together at Woorim on Bribie Island.

Crested Terns
Sunrise at Woorim