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, 17 June 2019

Blue-winged Kookaburra on Sunshine Coast

A Blue-winged Kookaburra has turned up at Yandina Creek on the Sunshine Coast. I was alerted to the bird yesterday by Jonathan Westacott, who told me that his wife Marguerite saw what she thought was a Blue-winged Kookaburra as she drove along the Yandina-Coolum Road on Saturday afternoon. I found the bird late yesterday but had only poor, distant views as it caught and swallowed a small rat. I managed a single image before crows chased it off. That photograph (below) is classically indeterminate.

 The bird has a Laughing-like head shape with evidently a Laughing-like dark eye, and no sign of a Blue-winged's blue rump. But it has what looked like a large Blue-winged type bill, and the blue colouration on the wing was Blue-winged like; there was also no sign of the Laughing's facial stripe. I put the image up on BirdLife North Queensland last night and opinion was divided, but the possibility of a hybrid was discussed.

I returned to the area this morning and had good views of what clearly was an adult male Blue-winged Kookaburra. Which just goes to illustrate the vagaries of photographs. It was in the same spot as yesterday, and presumably where Marguerite saw it on Saturday: along the Yandina-Coolum Road, about 400m east of the River Road turnoff. It perches on the wires on the southern side of the road in that area. It's quite jittery so if people want to observe or photograph the bird, it's much better to park opposite the wires on the northern side of the road (ie, on the left heading from Yandina towards Coolum). The site adjoins paddocks used to graze cattle and sugar cane plantations. It's close to the recently completed solar farm and Yandina Creek Wetland, and just a few hundred metres from where a Common Bronzewing unexpectedly turned up last year for a few weeks.

Blue-winged Kookaburra is a very rare bird in south-east Queensland, found sparingly in pockets of tall eucalypt woodland in the Brisbane and Lockyer valleys. There are a handful of ebird reports from the Sunshine Coast region but to my knowledge, this is the first record to be confirmed by a photograph or subsequent observations. Ebird.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Four Masked Owls in one night, Black Falcon & new Fuscous Honeyeater colony

Masked Owl

Imbil State Forest, with its mosaic of open forest, Auracaria pine plantation and lowland rainforest (vine scrub) is always worth a look. I surveyed for owls along 6km of Derrier Road and side tracks heading south from Stirlings Crossing. A Platypus obliged by showing in the late afternoon at Stirlings Crossing.

I was looking for Masked, Power and Barking owls. No joy with the latter two but it was an exceptional time for Masked Owl, with four birds seen and photographed within an hour. The first was a female showing well enough in open forest before it flew to join its mate at the edge of an adjoining pine plantation.

Masked Owl (female, pair I)
Masked Owl (male, pair 1)

About 1km further on, another pair of Masked Owls were calling (not in response to playback) on what was a still, moonlit night. These birds were in a quite open area of woodland and again showed nicely. Eventually they flew into some nearby vine scrub. The differences between the females and males of both pairs were noticeable, with the first male having particularly pale underparts. In both pairs, the smaller males lacked the buffy colouration visible on the females' underparts.

Masked Owl (male, pair 2)
Masked Owl (female, pair 2)
Other birds in the state forest included Rose Robin, Azure Kingfisher, Variegated Fairywren and quite a few Russet-tailed Thrush.

Azure Kingfisher

Rose Robin

Variegated Fairywren
After visiting Borumba Dam I headed back to Imbil. One km south of town on the Brooloo Road, a Black Falcon was circling over the road. By the time I got the camera together it was moving away so I managed just a distant shot. It's my first Black Falcon for the Sunshine Coast area (and one I missed during the 2018 Big Year).

Black Falcon
A bit further on, on the northern outskirts of Brooloo, I found an unexpected colony of Fuscous Honeyeater. This species is rare in the Sunshine Coast region; the only other area where I know it to occur is Yabba Road near Jimna.

Fuscous Honeyeater
I called into a farm dam near Gheerulla on the Moy Pocket Road. Here were 6 Pink-eared Ducks, another species that's rare in the region. I first found the ducks on the dam a few weeks ago.

Pink-eared Duck

Friday, 31 May 2019

Peach Trees & Jimna State Forest, May 2019

Diamond Firetail

Peach Trees camping ground near Jimna is one of our favourite retreats and this week we had two nights there, our first visit since April 2016, when Masked Owl and Powerful Owl were seen. No owls this time and not much in the way of birds about the camping ground, with Peregrine Falcon and Crested Shrike-tit the only species of interest. Black-striped Wallaby, Red-necked Wallaby, Swamp Wallaby and Eastern Grey Kangaroo were about the camping ground.

Crested Shrike-tit

Black-striped Wallaby
Boebuck and Common Brushtail were feeding in the same fruiting white cedar, while a short spotlighting trip up the road turned up a couple of Eastern Ringtails and large male Koala.

Of special interest is an area of open woodland nearby. From the turnoff to Peach Trees near Jimna, proceed 4.5km north along the Kilcoy-Murgon Road to its junction with Yabba Road. Turn right into Yabba Road for 200m to a small dam. The site in Jimna State Forest can also be reached by driving or hiking 3.5km from the camping ground on a rougher forestry road. An extraordinary range of dry country birds occurs here. It's something of a mystery because the woodland is quite small and surrounded by the mosaic of open forest, rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest that typifies this region. Best of the woodland special birds was Diamond Firetail, here at the northern limit of its range. I saw one bird on two occasions during 3.5 hours at the site.

Diamond Firetail
Other drier country birds that are scarce east of the Great Divide in the area included Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Fuscous Honeyeater and Speckled Warbler.

Fuscous Honeyeater

Speckled Warbler

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater
Good numbers of Brown Treecreeper were about. This species does not appear to occur anywhere else in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

Brown Treecreeper
A surprising number of Rufous Songlark - about 8-10 birds – were seen. This species is thought to largely leave South-East Queensland in winter, with a small number overwintering, but clearly these birds are spending the cooler months here.

Rufous Songlark
Other nice birds included quite a few more Crested Shrike-tits, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Dusky Woodswallow and Jacky Winter.

Dusky Woodswallow

Jacky Winter

White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike
A small herd of introduced Red Deer was surprised to spot us. Ebird list.

Red Deer

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Birding Palau in Micronesia

Palau Owl

Palau is a remote island nation in the south-west Pacific that is not easy to get to but boasts the biggest number of endemic birds of all the Micronesian states and territories. It also has some of the finest coastal scenery in the world so we opted to spend a week there, interrupting a three-week trip to Taiwan. There are daily flights between Taipei and Koror, the Palau capital. I saw all 13 endemics and three other Micronesian specialties in Palau. I'd previously birded only Guam and the Marianas in Micronesia.

Ulong Island
Seeing the Palau birds requires visiting two of the famed Rock Islands – Ulong and Ngeruktabel. I saw all the endemics on those islands except the owl and nightjar. Many can also be seen easily around Koror, especially Long Island, an area of forest adjoining a waterside park on the southern edge of the town.

Rock Islands
It's not cheap visiting the Rock Islands. I organised a full day visit to Ulong Island with operator Fish N Fins for $US130 per person for three of us which included lunch and a $50 government permit fee. That was a relatively good rate. The Rock Islands are one of the world's top diving destinations, as well as offering spectacular scenery, so tourism operators in Koror are doing a roaring trade.
We were dropped off at 9.30am on Ulong Island, the scene for a season of the American television program Survivor, as our boat headed back to sea for diving. The boat was to return to join us for lunch on the island but did not do so until 2pm. That was a blessing in disguise because I did not find the coveted Palau Ground-Dove until 15 minutes before the boat's return. A single dove was scratching around in dense thickets at the far end of a relatively small area of forest that extends from the picnic tables to the end of the beach.

Palau Swiftlet
Several hours of searching up to that point were dove-free, but plenty of good birds were about. A number of Micronesian Megapodes were present; this was the only place I saw the species. It was also the only site where I saw Rusty-capped Kingfisher and Micronesian Imperial-Pigeon, although I heard the latter on Long Island.

Rusty-capped Kingfisher

Micronesian Megapode
Of major concern is the large number of black and Norwegian rats on Ulong Island, which swam there from a sinking ship in 1784. They are active during the day, boldly foraging in the open. It seems something of a miracle that they haven't wiped out the resident birds, as they did on Lord Howe and numerous other islands. The ground-dove, however, has declined sharply in recent years and is now listed as endangered. The island has long been the major site for birders looking for the species but a sighting is no longer assured.

Black Rat
Also on Ulong were Morningbird, Palau Flycatcher, Palau Bush-Warbler, Citrine White-eye, Dusky White-eye and Palau Fantail.


Dusky White-eye

Palau Fantail

Palau Flycatcher
On the way back we enjoyed motoring through the wonderful Rock Islands (video here) and stopped for a snorkelling session. Several Palau Flying-foxes were disturbed from their island roosts.

Rock Islands

Rock Islands

Palau Flying-Fox
Fish N Fins was demanding a huge fee for a half-day visit to Ngeruktabel. Although it is much closer to Koror than Ulong, the diving boats don't go there so a special charter is needed, and a new government rule requires that tourists walking the German Lighthouse Trail on the island be accompanied by a guide. I instead found a small operator who took us there for $50 a head. This is the only site where the enigmatic Giant White-eye can be seen, unless you take the time-consuming and expensive option of visiting distant Peleliu.

German Lighthouse, Ngeruktabel Island
It rained here and the white-eyes were not easy to find although they were calling. A party was eventually tracked down near the summit, a 2km walk uphill from where the boat stops. Also of interest were many relics from World War II on the island with cannons, bunkers and all manner of objects left behind by the retreating Japanese.

Giant White-eye
I saw Palau Cicadabird on Ngeruktabel and later another on Long Island, where most of the endemics were also seen. Blue-faced Parrotfinches were feeding in casuarinas in the park at Long Island.I also ran into a friendly Palau birding group there.

Palau Cicadabird

Palau birding group at Long Island

Blue-faced Parrotfinch
Palau Swiftlet and Palau Fruit-Dove were all over the place, as were Micronesian Starling and Micronesian Myzomela.

Micronesian Myzomela

Palau Fruit-Dove
I visited Ice Box Park, the sewage ponds outside Koror on Malakal Island, where I found an unexpected Pectoral Sandpiper. Yellow Bittern was seen a few times around Koror.

Pectoral Sandpiper

Yellow Bittern
Palau Owl, probably the most sought after endemic, is supposedly shy, unresponsive to playback and difficult to locate. A pair were resident in secondary growth opposite our accommodation, the Guest Lodge Palau. They called often and contrary to expectations were very responsive to playback and easy to see. I also saw Palau Nightjar here. Thanks to Rob Tizard for tips on these two. A warning though. The guest lodge is relatively inexpensive and conveniently close to town, but it's run-down. Our sheets had not been changed, the taps didn't work properly and the community kitchen was filthy.

Palau Owl
Seabirds like White Tern and Black Noddy are all about the islands, often flying over the hotel, as did small groups of Nicobar Pigeons.

White Tern

Black Noddy

Nicobar Pigeon
The only target I missed was the largely nocturnal Slaty-legged Crake, although I heard one at Ngernid near Koror. The forest trail at the Palau Pacific Resort on Arakebesang Island is supposedly a good site for the species but I was refused entry. I did manage good views of Palau Bush-Warbler here from the carpark.

Palau Bush-Warbler
We hired a car and drove around the main island of Palau, Babelduob. The local race of Buff-banded Rail, without a buff band, was common roadside. Cultural sites such as the Badrulchau Stone Monoliths were of interest. See here for trip report and list.

Buff-banded Rail

Badrulchau Stone Monoliths, Babelduob Island