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, 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

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Taiwan 2019 Part 2 – Southern Taiwan, Lanyu Island & Fairy Pitta

Fairy Pitta
After our productive visit to the mountains of Dasyueshan, we moved on to the hot springs resort town of Guguan for a two-night stay on April 19. Across the suspension bridge from Hotspring Park I quickly found the local key endemic – Chestnut-bellied Tit. In the park itself, more common fare included Bronzed Drongo, Grey-chinned Minivet and Grey Treepie.

Bronzed Drongo

Chestnut-bellied Tit

Grey-chinned Minivet
Malayan Night-Heron was feeding on the lawns and one bird was sitting on a nest. This species is usually difficult but for some reason is a common sight in the parks of Taiwan. I had brief views of a pair of Taiwan Blue-Magpies as we walked around the town.

Malayan Night-Heron

We drove south of Nantou along Route 21, seeing Taiwan Bamboo-Partridge and Taiwan Hwamei roadside just before Shihkangken, north of Puli. We called in to the Dizang Temple where the distinctive endemic race of Maroon Oriole was seen. We headed along the main road east that crosses Taiwan, stopping briefly at the famed Blue Gates Trail, a birding hotspot. I'd seen all the species occurring there but Taiwan Shortwing was again spotted briefly before rain set in.

Buddhist cemetery at Dizang
Continuing east we stopped at several places at Hehuanshan, the highest road in Taiwan, in cold and misty conditions. Taiwan Rosefinch and Taiwan Bush-Warbler showed nicely in spite of the mist, while the endemic races of Alpine Accenter and Winter Wren were seen. We stayed overnight in Tienshsiang, admiring the splendid Taroko Gorge the next morning.

Taiwan Bush-Warbler

Taiwan Rosefinch

Taroko Gorge
We headed south, stopping at the Danongdafu Forest Park at Guangfu. Styan's Bulbul was abundant, if one of the less exciting Taiwan endemics. The endemic race of Ring-necked Pheasant was common and Taiwan Bamboo-Partridge was seen again – my fourth sighting of this normally cryptic species. We had a two-night stay in the pleasant coastal town of Taitung.

Ring-necked Pheasant

Styan's Bulbul
From there we took the early morning ferry to Lanyu Island for a two-night stay. The first afternoon I headed a short distance east to the Flycatcher Creek area, where all the island's special birds can be found. I ventured up the main creek bed, finding a co-operative pair of Ryukyu Scops-Owls which sometimes calls during the day; I was to hear quite a few and had brief views of others.

Ryukyu Scops-Owl
I saw a fine male Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher and a few Whistling Green-Pigeons after hearing their eerie call. The island endemic races of Brown-eared Bulbul and Lowland White-eye were plentiful.

Brown-eared Bulbul

Whistling Green-Pigeon

Lowland White-eye
That evening I returned to the area and tracked down a lovely Northern Boobook.

Northern Boobook
We had a hire car and drove around the island the next day, taking in the fine coastal scenery. A Bulwer's Petrel on the way back was of interest. We then had a third night relaxing in Taitung.

Lanyu Island

Bulwer's Petrel
We drove north to the town of Douliou for a two-night stay in search of the Fairy Pitta. It was April 26, two days before the first migrant pitta turned up last year, so I had reservations. I headed out in the afternoon to Linnei Park outside Huben. Although it was 2pm and hot, Fairy Pitta was the first bird I heard and I tracked down a nicely co-operative bird. A second bird was calling nearby and possibly a third further up the forest trail.

Fairy Pitta
The next day we had a leisurely drive around the area and were shown a roosting Collared Scops-Owl in a temple in Zushen. Very early the next morning I headed back to the pitta site to try my luck with Mountain Scops-Owl, a species I'd missed on numerous overseas visits. A bird was calling in the same spot where I saw the pitta; an unusual rufous morph owl offered fine views. A pair of Collared Scops-Owls were also calling and I saw another Collared Scops-Owl as the sun rose in a park behind a temple nearby.

Mountain Scops-Owl

Collared Scops-Owl
After leaving Douliou to head north to Taoyuan on the last leg of this trip, I followed a tip from Patrick Lee and called in at the Bade Pond Ecological Park. Here was a male Mandarin Duck in breeding plumage and another in eclipse plumage. Local birders are adamant these are wild birds as they leave the site annually to nest in mountains inland. As elsewhere, Black-crowned Night-Heron was common.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Mandarin Duck
We visited Palau for a week and returned to Taipei for a few days of sight-seeing. I photographed a Taiwan Blue-Magpie in Nangang Park, near where we were staying in Songshan.

Taiwan Blue-Magpie