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.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Birds flocking back to Yandina Creek Wetland

Black-necked Stork
Six months after floodgates were reopened at the Yandina Creek Wetland on the Sunshine Coast, allowing it to be inundated with tidal water, waterbirds are returning to the site in significant numbers. The owner of the site, Unitywater, is committed to restoring the former sugar cane farmland as a wetland as part of its nutrients offset program. The wetland had been dry since floodgates were repaired and closed in 2015.

Wetland prior to floodgates reopening

Wetland today 
BirdLife Southern Queensland, through BirdLife Sunshine Coast volunteers, is conducting surveys of the wetland as part of an agreement with Unitywater. For some time after the water returned in May, few waterbirds were evident, raising fears that acid sulfate and other contaminants leaching to the surface during the dry years could take years to wash out of the site.

Glossy Ibis
However, increasing numbers of birds have returned to the wetland in recent weeks. During the latest surveys this week, numbers of some species had returned to pretty much what they were before the site was drained. Others had yet to return or were in relatively small numbers. Nonetheless, the trend appears clear: the birds are on their way back, and sooner than some of us feared. Bird images here were taken this week.

Pied Stilt
The wetland was previously the only reliable site in the Sunshine Coast region for Black-necked Stork; at least one bird would nearly always be encountered during a visit and sometimes two pairs were present. This week we had three storks together at the wetland, with a pair displaying.

Black-necked Stork

Black-necked Storks displaying
Spotless Crake is an example of a generally uncommon bird that was formerly numerous at the wetland but initially was sparsely reported after the gates reopened. This week we recorded five birds in two hours.

Spotless Crake
Black Swan had nested commonly but was slow to return, though numbers again are slowly increasing. Good numbers of ducks were present at the wetland this week, including an Australasian Shoveler. Australasian Swamphen was one of the most numerous waterbirds at the wetland and the absence of this hardy species for weeks after the gates were opened was particularly alarming; happily it is now back in substantial numbers.

Black Swan

Australasian Shoveler & Grey Teal
The wetland was a critically important habitat for Latham's Snipe with 100+ birds regularly recorded. Although there's still a long way to go, seven birds were seen during this week's surveys.

Latham's Snipe
Similarly, fair numbers of Sharp-tailed Sandpiper were back at the wetland, indicating the site is on track to resume its previous position as an important feeding ground for migratory shorebirds.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Little Grassbird is another bird to have disappeared but is returning with gusto, with about 10 birds seen and heard in flooded reeds this week. Other species regarded as scarce in south-east Queensland that were encountered included Lewin's Rail, Glossy Ibis and White-winged Triller.

White-winged Triller
Reasonable numbers of cormorants suggest that fish are finding their way back into the wetland. Species like Great Egret and Royal Spoonbill, once common at Yandina Creek, are making regular appearances in small but gradually growing numbers.

Royal Spoonbill

Great Egret
White-throated Needletail and Pacific Swift were hawking insects overhead and bushbirds such as White-breasted Woodswallow, Tawny Grassbird and Red-browed Finch were plentiful. 

White-throated Needletail
To sum things up, the future is looking bright. The southern sector of the wetland remains high and dry, however. Hopefully Unitywater will reopen the remaining floodgates before too long so the site is fully restored. Another problem is the ongoing presence of foxes and feral dogs; the carcasses of several waterbirds, including a Black-necked Stork, have been found at the site. Note there is not yet public access to the wetland; only observers participating in the BirdLife surveys are allowed entry on dates approved in advance by Unitywater. Public assurances that the site will be opened eventually to the public have been given repeatedly by Unitywater but no timeframe has been set.

White-breasted Woodswallow

Friday, 16 November 2018

Camping at Tin Can Bay November 2018

Black Bittern

An excellent haul of birds during a three-day camp-out to Tin Can Bay included Black Bittern, Radjah Shelduck, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Grey Plover, Sanderling, Eastern Ground-Parrot, Little Bronze Cuckoo and Shining Flycatcher. We camped at the Tin Can Bay Holiday Park in Trevally Street; when we were last here in 2013 we were impressed with the place. Out the back of the van we had Little Bronze Cuckoo after setting up – a good start.

Little Bronze Cuckoo
In the afternoon I visited the little-known shorebird roost at high tide at Cooloola Cove, about 1km along the foreshore north of the end of Bayside Road; look for a track through fence posts inland a short distance to the tidal flats. The first bird I saw was a Broad-billed Sandpiper on the water edge. It was joined by a smattering of Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Red-capped Plover.

Broad-billed Sandpiper with Red-necked Stints

Broad-billed Sandpiper

I walked around the end of the inlet to the main body of shorebirds on the northern shore. Here I found a single Grey Plover among large numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit, Eastern Curlew, Great Knot and Lesser Sand-Plover. A single Black-tailed Godwit was also present.

Grey Plover with Eastern Curlew

Grey Plover

Great Knot

Lesser Sand Plover
Back at the caravan park, a couple of Lewin's Rail were vocal in the swampy vegetation but failed to show. We were very surprised to see three Radjah Shelduck strutting between the caravans, obliviously tame and looking for hand-outs. Locals told us they were regular visitors to the park and had been resident around Tin Can Bay for several years, nesting on the golf course nearby. I visited the golf course and found four shelducks by the main pond. As I approached, they immediately walked towards me, anticipating a feed. There are a couple of ebird records of the species from Tin Can Bay but I was not aware they were resident - probably the only site in South-East Queensland where that is the case. Bush Stone-Curlew and Southern Boobook were calling at the caravan park at night.

Radjah Shelduck

Radjah Shelduck
Early in the morning I was off to the traditional “Thomas & Thomas” wallum heathland site in the Cooloola section of the Great Sandy World Heritage Area. I saw a couple of Common Bronzewings on the way in and later heard a Brush Bronzewing near the Rainbow Beach road turnoff from the Tin Can Bay Road. I flushed two Eastern Ground Parrot from the heath and was fortunate to snare a couple of record shots.

Eastern Ground Parrot

Eastern Ground Parrot
Lewin's Rail was again vocal here but not showing and a flock of White-throated Needletail hawked over the heath, where Tawny Grassbird was common.

Tawny Grassbird

White-throated Needletail
I moved on to Inskip Point where I quickly connected with a Beach Stone-Curlew at its usual hang-out before walking out to the point. 

Beach Stone-Curlew
Here I saw two Sanderlings busily working the shoreline in the company of a solitary Red-necked Stint and a Red-capped Plover.

Sanderling with Red-necked Stint & Red-capped Plover

The following day I took to the kayak for a 2km paddle up Snapper Creek in Tin Can Bay to a spot where I briefly saw Black Bittern five years ago. I saw five Shining Flycatchers without much trouble; they clearly are not uncommon here.

Shining Flycatcher
Then I heard a Black Bittern growling in the mangroves in response to flycatcher playback. An adult bittern flew over the channel to the mangroves opposite before flying back to its original position. I've long wanted to photograph this elusive species and the encounter was doubly satisfying because the bittern was the 300th species I'd photographed in the Sunshine Coast region this year (more on that later).

Black Bittern
We visited the wharf on Tin Can Bay's foreshore where visiting Australian Humpback Dolphin are fed every morning. Just a single male turned up during our visit. This show is rapidly becoming an international tourism drawcard; many foreign tourists were among the crowd.

Australian Humpback Dolphin

Australian Humpback Dolphin 

Monday, 12 November 2018

Sunshine Coast Pelagic November 2018

Providence Petrel

We departed Mooloolaba Marina at 6.25am on Sunday November 11, 2018 under sunny skies with an unusually cool south-easterly (for this time of year) that kept up for the rest of the day at 10-15 knots. As we headed east we encountered a few small groups of migrating Short-tailed Shearwaters heading south and several Wedge-tailed Shearwaters before coming across an unusual congregation of four Pomarine Jaegers over the Barwon Banks.

Pomarine Jaeger flock
We stopped over the shelf at 9am in 600m, 32 nautical miles offshore (26.42.645 S; 153.42.689E), where we began laying a berley trail. A mild swell of about a metre and a small chop in the sea with steady winds made for pleasant conditions. We saw our first Providence Petrel shortly before stopping and quite a few were about out there, although it is getting late in the year for this species.

Providence Petrel
We had a new berley mix with extra tuna oil and finely chopped chicken skins that float well. We soon had a good slick behind the boat which was checked out by the odd Wilson's Storm-Petrel. The birds generally however did not appear to be hungry.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel
We saw more Short-tailed and Wedge-tailed shearwaters as the morning progressed and a Sooty Tern turned up.

Short-tailed Shearwater

Sooty Tern
We had just two Tahiti Petrels for the day, a surprisingly small tally. Also of interest was the very small number of Crested Terns.

Tahiti Petrel
Another Pomarine Jaeger showed before we turned around at 12.30pm after drifting 4 nautical miles to 350m. We stopped a couple of times on the way back to try our luck. We had a couple of Brown Boobies perched atop a trawler and a single Flesh-footed Shearwater, along with more Short-tailed and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. We returned to the marina at 3.25pm.

Brown Booby
PARTICIPANTS: Paul Beer (skipper), Zoe Williams (deckhand), Greg Roberts (organiser),
Louis Backstrom, Margie Baker, Tony Baker, Jane Cooksley, Jo Culican, Robyn Duff, Cecile Espigole, Paul Fraser, Richard Fuller, John Gunning, Nikolas Haass, Christian Haass, James Hermans, Andy Jensen, Sel Kerans, James Martin, William Price, Trevor Ross, Esme Ross, Raja Stephenson, Carolyn Stewart.

SPECIES: TOTAL (Maximum at one time)

Providence Petrel 25 (4)
Tahiti Petrel 2 (1)
Short-tailed Shearwater 80 (20)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 30 (3)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 1 (1)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 12 (3)
Brown Booby 2 (2)
Pomarine Jaeger 5 (1)
Sooty Tern 1 (1)
Crested Term 2 (1)

Offshore Bottle-nosed Dolphin 3 (2)

Monday, 5 November 2018

WESTERN AUSTRALIA PART 3 – Cheynes Beach to Perth: Honey Possum , Red-eared Firetail, Rock Parrot & three mega-skulkers

After checking out Corakerup Reserve we headed west to Cheynes Beach for a 3-night stay in a chalet in the caravan park. The site is the best known hotspot for three notoriously skulky south-west WA endemics – Western Whipbird, Western Bristlebird and Noisy Scrubbird. We were fortunate to see the whipbird at Corakerup because we failed to see or hear it at all at Cheynes Beach, unlike my last visit there. The coastal scenery was outstanding as usual and the wildflowers put on probably the best display of the trip.

Cheynes Beach wildflowers

Cheynes Beach
The second of the skulkers, Western Bristlebird, is generally the easiest to see. We saw a pair well in Arpenteur Nature Reserve and heard it in three other spots.

Western Bristlebird

Western Bristlebird
We heard Noisy Scrubbird at four sites – two each in Arpenteur and the adjoining Waychinnicup National Park. The usual way to see this bird is to watch the seaside tracks that cut through its territories in the hope one will cross fleetingly. We did this in the late afternoon and saw three crossing within an hour or so, though none offered a photographic opportunity. (I saw my first Noisy Scrubbird the same way in 1979 at Two Peoples Bay, but had to wait two days for one to cross the track!)

Scrubbird vigil
The formidable King's Skink was another regular track-crosser.

Star of the trip was a Honey Possum spotted late one cool morning by Lorna feeding on eucalypt blossums about 1km from the caravan park. I'd long wanted to see this species and just the previous night had wandered about for a couple of hours, checking out numerous flowering banksia flowers without success. The possum fed quietly for about five minutes before quietly disappearing into the foliage. There was no sign of the Western Pygmy Possum that I saw so well in the caravan park during my last visit.

Honey Possum
The caravan park is an excellent place to stay, with easy walking access to all the targets.

 Around our cabin we had a pair of Red-eared Firetail in residence with fully fledged young. This species can be tricky so it was good to nail it.

Red-eared Firetail

Red-eared Firetail
Around the cabin were other good birds including Western Spinetail, White-breasted Robin and Red-winged Fairy-wren.

Western Spinebill

White-breasted Robin

Red-winged Fairy-wren female
Red-winged Fairy-wren male
Brush Bronzewing and Common Bronzewing were equally numerous in the area.

Brush Bronzewing
We found the distinctive western race of Southern Emu-wren several times in the heath.

Southern Emu-wren
After leaving Cheynes Beach we headed north, returning to Stirling Ranges National Park but this time the southern entrance. Here we finally connected with Western (Rufous) Fieldwren which we'd missed in several spots where I'd seen it previously; the bird is evidently in decline.

Western (Rufous) Fieldwren
We had an immature Swamp Harrier close to the road.

Swamp Harrier
We headed south to Albany's Middleton Beach and then west to Conspicuous Cliff, looking for Rock Parrot unsuccessfully in both places. We had beach-washed Flesh-footed Shearwaters on Middleton Beach and had seen a few off Cheynes Beach earlier. Our next destination for an overnight stay was Nornalup. We had pretty well cleaned up the south-west targets so this was a scenic visit to take in the magnificent karri/tingle forests and countless kangaroo paw and other wildflowers in full bloom.

Wildflowers near Nornalup
We decided to take the back roads north to Rocky Gully where we easily found the pastinator race of Western Corella - a potential split - just west of the town along Franklin Road.

Western Corella pastinator
Then it was on to Augusta for another overnight stay. Cape Leeuwin is flanked by the Southern Ocean to the east and the Indian Ocean to the west. The lighthouse grounds are a hotspot for Rock Parrot, the only south-west WA target we still needed. We failed in the late afternoon but sunset over the Indian Ocean was something to see.

Sunset Cape Leeuwin
Early the next morning we had Red-capped Parrot on the way to the lighthouse.

Red-capped Parrot
Then inside and outside the lighthouse grounds we found a total of 15 Rock Parrots, some of which were extremely confiding. They were busily feeding on grass seeds and many had full crops. The birds are nesting on small islands offshore currently but fly to the mainland to feed. Our parrots presumably would be returning soon to feed nestlings.

Rock Parrot

Rock Parrot 
We headed north to Bunbury and Douro Point, where a Eurasian Curlew had turned up a week earlier. The curlew has been visiting this spot for the past three summers. The track in is closed to traffic so we walked to the end of the point. It was low tide so we scanned the mudflats, finding a Eurasian Curlew with a Whimbrel in the scope distantly but the curlew flew and couldn't be relocated.

We continued on to Fremantle for the final two nights of the trip. We checked out the North Mole Lighthouse at the Swan River's entrance and saw a few Fairy Terns in breeding plumage feeding; they nest nearby in a small colony that evidently is thriving. Around Perth we visited Lakes Claremont and Herdsman, seeing plenty of ducks including several Freckled at Herdsman. We tried unsuccessfully for Australian Spotted Crake at the Baigup Wetland but Dodge and Lorna scored it the next morning after dropping me off at the airport for the flight home. Once again, thanks to Dan Mantle, Plaxy Barratt and Frank O'Connor for assistance with some sites.

Fairy Tern