The Eastern Ground Parrot is generally a difficult bird to see well, and even more difficult to photograph. Most of us have had to make do with ordinary flight images as a flushed parrot flies swiftly over the heath before disappearing. At the end of the breeding season – about now – the parrots are more readily seen along roads as they appear to feed on seeding grasses along their edges. But still they are hard to nail down.
Not so this year. Multiple observers have obtained top-rate images of very close birds along the renowned pump station track at Cooloola, arguably the best site on mainland Australia to see the species. I began my sojourn just after sunrise at 5am on 25 November. Conditions were cloudy and cool. As is my custom, I walked about 1.5km of the pump station track from the forest edge and a shorter distance along King Bore Road. I flushed a total of three ground parrots and a King Quail, but all were the usual brief flight views.
After doing the walk in both directions, I decided to try it again. This time was very different, although I was simply retracing my steps. I had excellent views of four different parrots within 400 metres of each other perched and on the ground; three of them allowed extraordinary close approach, as these images show. All four were juveniles. They spent a good deal of time walking or running on the ground, often reaching up to feed on seed. They also frequently clambered through and across the heath, stopping and feeding on various seeding plants. Occasionally a bird would utter a short grating call. They clearly were well-camouflaged but these particular individuals were not hard to find, the second time around at least. The key is to walk slowly along the road, carefully checking the verges where they meet the vegetation. I watched these birds for more than an hour.
In close to 50 years of watching ground parrots, I’ve seen them very occasionally and briefly perched on bushes. I’ve not had an encounter approaching this one.
A dead Eastern Ground Parrot (above) has been found at Noosaville on the Sunshine Coast. The bird is one of just a handful of this threatened species that survives in Queensland outside of the Cooloola section of the Great Sandy World Heritage Area. The juvenile parrot, probably recently fledged, was found dead in the garden of Colin Eden in Cooyar Street.
Colin says it’s not possible to say how the Eastern Ground Parrot died. It may have been killed by a cat or hit a window while flying. Where the bird died is adjacent to an area of wallum heath - known to be frequented in the past by the species - between Ernie Creek Road and the Noosa Junction shopping centre, though recent surveys have failed to find them there. A small number of Eastern Ground Parrots – probably fewer than 20 – were thought to survive in the area of wallum heath in Noosa National Park and Mt Coolum National Park that extends from Noosa in the north to Marcoola in the south.
An additional ground parrot population of about 15 birds was hanging on in a patch of heath protected by the fence around Sunshine Coast Airport. However, that population is endangered by construction underway for the new airport runway; we don’t know if it survives today. Single birds from this population were hit by vehicles nearby in 2013 and again in 2015. Ground parrots also appear to have gone from known sites including near Mt Emu and Mt Coolum. The savage fires late last year around the Sunshine Coast presumably also had a serious impact on ground parrot populations in their wallum heath habitat (below).
Several sites could be surveyed for Eastern Ground Parrot by interested birders on the Sunshine Coast listening for their distinctive calls at dusk. There is a track crossing the heath behind the police station in Langura Street, Noosaville; this is the area where the dead bird was found recently. Heath behind Sunshine Beach State High School can be accessed from Girraween Court and Grasstree Court; I’ve heard them here several times. I’ve heard them in a couple of spots behind Marcus Beach; check Google Maps for access points to the heath. I’ve also heard them from Woodland Drive, Peregian Beach, and from outside the Sunshine Coast Airport boundary. The most likely causes for the regional decline in numbers are predation by foxes and cats, and habitat rendered unsuitable by fire or, ironically, absence of fire. Heath has been allowed in some places to grow unchecked and unburned for many years, where it is too tall and thick now for the species. It's also likely that the species needs much larger areas of heath, like Cooloola, to survive.
The latest flurry of excellent sightings from the Sunshine Coast-Cooloola region in recent weeks includes Red-backed Buttonquail, Barn Swallow, Large-tailed
Nightjar, Southern Emuwren, Lewin’s Rail and nesting Square-tailed Kite.
The Red-backed Buttonquail was first spotted by Michael Dawson at the beginning of a walking trail from Landsborough to Ewen Maddock Dam. At the time of writing, it is still being seen along about 100m of trail, without seemingly moving from this small patch.
I’ve seen this species several times around the Sunshine Coast but always in tall, wet coastal grassland. The habitat at Landsborough is a narrow strip of blady grass adjoining the trail in coastal eucalypt woodland; habitat I would not have considered ideal. The remarkable thing about this bird it that it regularly leaves the blady grass to feed on the path and its edges at all the times of the day, allowing extraordinary viewing and
photographic opportunities for such a normally cryptic species. Its platelets along both sides of the track are everywhere; image of a platelet with car keys below.
The Barn Swallow was found at Rainbow Beach by Gus Daley and again, at the time of writing, the bird is still present. It perches on overhead wires in the heart of the township, roosting with Welcome Swallows and Tree Martins. The swallow’s presence is far from predictable, however. I failed on my first attempt, and it took 3.5 hours to see it the second time around. The bird appears to be actively feeding early in the morning. It comes to roost mid-to-late morning, and may stay half an hour or a couple of minutes before flying off again. Barn Swallow is very rare in south-east Queensland; this record is evidently the fourth for the region.
From Rainbow Beach I returned home via Double Island Point, photographing a Brown Noddy there, and Teewah Beach.
Barn Swallow twitches aside, I’ve spent time in the Cooloola-Tin Can Bay area. I photographed a male Southern Emuwren at Cooloola at the same spot I photographed it in 2018. While I and others often saw the species in the area in the 1970s, records have been few and far between since then, until the last few years. It is now encountered regularly but can be difficult to track down. I saw a total of 8 Eastern Ground Parrots during two visits but no sign of Brush Bronzewing.
I took the kayak up Snapper Creek in Tin Can Bay. I heard a Black Bittern but failed to see it. I did see a nice pair of Shining Flycatchers.
Large-tailed Nightjar occurs at the southern end of its extensive range on the Sunshine Coast, where it occurs at two sites: Yandina Creek Wetland and the nearby Maroochy Wetlands Sanctuary. I had tried three times to photograph calling birds before eventually snaring a rear-end photograph at the latter site just before dawn.
A pair of Square-tailed Kites is nesting in Tewantin National Park in Tinbeerwah. The species has nested in the area several times in recent years and is known to loyally stick to nesting territories, while changing nests regularly. An adult and a juvenile in advanced plumage were around the nest during my visit. Other observers have reported an active nest in Koala Park, Nambour.
I’d heard Lewin’s Rail several times this year but managed photographs just recently after the first heavy rains of the season. A bird at Peregian Beach showed very nicely indeed.
Other good birds in the area included White-winged Triller at Parklakes. The count continues for the 2020 BirdLife Australia Sunshine Coast photographic competition. My tally stands at 305 species photographed with images of three others – Bridled Tern, Red-chested Buttonquail and King Quail – not making the grade.
Amongst the flurry of feathers has been a house move from our home of 11.5 years at Ninderry to another home in the hills on the western fringe of Nambour, overlooking the town and surrounding valleys. A white phase Grey Goshawk flew overhead on our last day at Ninderry.
It’s good to see old friends again at the new diggings, with White-headed Pigeons quickly taking their place at the relocated feeder.
A Spotted-tailed Quoll has been photographed on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast – the first confirmed record of this endangered species in the region for more than 70 years. The image above is of the quoll, captured by a Sunshine Coast Council survey camera on private property in June this year near Coolum. The extraordinary finding is only now being revealed publicly.
The Spotted-tailed Quoll was once considered reasonably common about the Sunshine Coast, especially in the hinterland around the Conondale and Blackall ranges. Its small cousin, the Northern Quoll, also occurred in the region. The rapid decline in quoll populations last century in Queensland coincided with the advance of the introduced cane toad; its toxins are deadly to many native predators. Poison in baits for wild dogs is likely to have also reduced quoll numbers.
The quoll photographed recently is believed to have been in dry rainforest thickets near the coast in the Coolum-Yaroomba area, where seemingly little suitable habitat for the species remains. Council officers set up cameras in the area as part of the council’s Coastal Fox Control Program, which operates from Maroochy River north to Peregian Beach. The council said through a spokesperson that the program is one of a number of schemes funded by its Environment Levy to protect native wildlife and habitat. The record was reported to the Queensland Government’s Department of Environment and Science. The image below is of a quoll photographed by me last year in New England National Park, NSW.
The University of the Sunshine Coast’s Scott Burnett says there have been no
Spotted-tail Quoll records confirmed by specimen or photograph in the Sunshine Coast region since the first half of the 1900s. However, he is aware of several sightings, regarded as reliable, in recent decades from the Bellthorpe, Black Mountain-Cooroy and Widgee areas.
Scott Burnett adds: “Potentially the species was quite common and widespread. They used to bother poultry across the Blackall Range and around the Glasshouse Mountains, and no doubt throughout much of the forested Sunshine Coast region.”
Regarding the Coolum quoll, observers are surprised that a finding of such significance was not reported earlier by either the Sunshine Coast Council or the Queensland Government. An earlier report may have enabled analysis of such matters as spatial ecology, genetics and breeding status, according to Scott Burnett.
The present advance of the cane toad westward is continuing to wreak havoc in populations of the Northern Quoll (above)in the Northern Territory and northern Western
Australia. However, in relatively recent times, the species has become more common and widespread in north Queensland, where it was plentiful before the toad invasion. While still generally scarce, the patchy comeback of Northern Quoll in some areas suggests that predators may be able to adapt to the introduced pests, possibly by learning to avoid eating them.
Plenty of suitable habitat for Spotted-tailed Quoll remains in the Sunshine Coast region, protected in extensive national parks and other reserves in the hinterland (like Conondale National Park, above). The Queensland Government is funding efforts to find quolls through Wildlife Queensland’s Quoll Seekers Network, which is using trained dogs in efforts to confirm reported quoll sightings in the Mary River Valley. The network’s Sunshine Coast co-orindator, Amanda Hancock, describes some claimed sightings from members of the public as “anecdotal but very exciting”.
Following a visit to Julatten (next post) it was time to head for Cairns and the journey home. The coastal drive from Port Douglas to Palm Cove was magnificent as usual; I’ve done this drive many times and it never disappoints.
We overnighted in Palm Cove. Buchan’s Point Beach nearby (above) is another favourite spot. We had three pleasant nights at Lake Placid (below) on the northern outskirts of Cairns and two more with relatives. on the city’s southern outskirts.
We checked out Les Davies Park in Cairns where a Rufous Owl (first image and below) had been roosting. The bird is not always there so we were pleased to find it perched high up in a strangler fig.
Nearby around Centenary Lakes we had nice views of Double-eyed Fig-Parrot and Black Butcherbird.
Yellow Oriole and Olive-backed Sunbird were common about Cairns.
As was Orange-footed Scrubfowl.
A couple of nights were enjoyed at Mission Beach, where good numbers of early returning migratory Shining Starlings and Torresian Imperial-Pigeons were spotted.
We had two nights at Jourama Falls, near Ingham. I tried in vain to find a Mahogany Glider here, a known site. The falls were an impressive sight.
Plenty of good birds were about the campground including an absurdly tame Noisy Pitta and a showy male Yellow-breasted Boatbill.
Other birds included Brown-backed Honeyeater, Grey Whistler and White-browed Robin.
Large-billed Gerygone was vocal and an Australian Owlet-Nightjar was seen at night.
Non-avian critters to catch the eye included Black-throated Rainbow Skink and Northern Stony Creek Frog.
Moving further south we spent a couple of nights in Townsville. Best bird during a quick visit to the Common was a flock of Crimson Finches.
Then it was on to Bowen, where no fewer than 30 Radjah Shelducks were present on Mullers Lagoon.
A couple of days in Rockhampton were next on the agenda. A morning visit to the usual Yellow Chat sites along the Port Alma Road and near Marmor failed to turn up any chats though a Zitting Cisticola performed well near the Port Alma Road saltworks. After that it was an overnight stay in Gin Gin and then home.