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.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Rescue Mission for Endangered Eastern Bristlebird

Eastern Bristlebird

In a sign of what we are rapidly coming to appreciate is the “new normal” of severe climatic events in Australia, an extraordinary operation is underway to rescue a remnant population of the endangered Eastern Bristlebird from the bushfires which have been ravaging south-eastern Australia for the past five months.

The unprecedented rescue operation involves the Australian Defence Force, Zoos Victoria, Parks Victoria, Queensland's Currumbin Sanctuary, Monash and Wollongong universities, the Orbost Incident Management Team, and the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.


Rohan Clarke with a captured bristlebird
Leading the charge in the field is Monash University's Rohan Clarke. Rohan has written on Facebook of the efforts of a team of people working to save the Howe Flat population of Eastern Bristlebird. The birds are at risk of being consumed by fires which have devastated the nearby town of Mallacoota and hundreds of thousands of hectares of bushland across four states. About 180 bristlebirds frequent the threatened site.


Chinook helicopter to the rescue
Seven rescuers were taken to the area in an ADF Chinook helicopter after flying from Melbourne to Sale. The biodiversity hotspot is threatened by fires burning to the north of Howe Flat – near Marshmead and the Victoria-NSW border in Nadgee Nature Reserve. Says Rohan: “The operation is likely unprecedented both in terms of the action – rescuing an endangered species ahead of an approaching fire – and the level of support provided. My role is to lead a catch team alongside Rowan Mott and people from Zoos Victoria, Parks Victoria and DEWLP.”


Rohan checks the mist-nets
Birds are snared in mist-nets, with 15 having been caught by Wednesday night. With two birds per containment cage, the precious cargo is taken by boat to Mallacoota and then by charter flight to Melbourne Zoo. The best outcome for all concerned is that Howe Flat doesn't burn and the birds can be released back there when the danger is over. Rohan says that alternatively, if the worst happens, a captive insurance population can be used to rebuild the southern population as conditions recover. He adds: “Nestled within this is a positive story where a collection of agencies and organisations and an impressive group of people (both those on the ground but also critically those behind the scenes that just make things happen) have been working together to achieve this.”

Says Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio: “Our hardworking teams are ensuring this precious little bird has a chance at a bright future despite the impact of these devastating fires, which are still posing a threat to our native wildlife.”

Captured bristlebirds head to safety
With 15 birds in protection, the first phase of the mission is completed; the target had been between 15 and 20. Says Rohan: "There's still lots of hard work ahead. People remain on the ground fighting the fires to protect assets such as the incredible biodiversity at Howe Flat.  Zoos Victoria is pulling out all stops to house and support a very special bird. Work is underway to plan and implement the next steps that will aid with recovery this species and others impacted by the fires."

Eastern Bristlebirds can breed successfully in captivity. Currumbin Sanctuary has bred several pairs of the critically endangered northern population that frequents the NSW-Queensland border area. That population is likely to have been hit by fires which raced through its distributional range last September. About half the territory of one pair I've been monitoring for several years has burned.

By some estimates, as many as one billion wild animals have perished in the bushfires.

Eastern Bristlebird 


Wednesday, 29 January 2020

New Zealand race of Shining Bronze Cuckoo in South-East Queensland

Female Shining Bronze Cuckoo race lucidus, Sunshine Coast
The New Zealand-breeding Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, Chalcites ludidus lucidus, appears to be much more numerous in south-east Queensland than is generally believed. University of Queensland adjunct research fellow Richard Noske discusses the status of this likely contendor for a split in a paper just published in the Birds Queensland journal Sunbird. Richard points out that birds are recorded in Queensland and NSW mainly during March-April and September-October, coinciding with their presumed passage migration to and from wintering grounds in northern Melanesia. However, several records in June and July suggest some birds may over-winter in Australia.

Richard documents 38 records of lucidus since 2008 in South-East Queensland that are substantiated by descriptions or photographs. A further 22 records were listed in eBird, mostly from 2019, with no supporting evidence. The furthest inland records were from the Great Dividing Range and the northernmost record was from Bundaberg. Of 78 Shining Bronze-Cuckoos banded at 11 sites in South-east Queensland by Jon Coleman and his team since 2007, six birds (7.7%) from four sites were identified as lucidis.

Many birds are overlooked presumably because migratory birds would be largely silent and observers are generally unaware of the marked sexual dimporphism of the subspecies, so females would be passed off as our resident subspecies Chalcites lucidus plagosus. The great majority of records of lucidus lucidus in Australia are males. Another problem is that birders are not inclined to take much notice of subspecies. In similar fashion to the cuckoos, for instance, few look for the distinctive Tasmanian race of Striated Pardalote - a scarce but regular winter visitor to South-East Queensland. In the 1970s, I and others documented multiple records in the region of what was formerly called the Yellow-tipped Pardalote.


Shining Bronze-Cuckoos race lucidus, Sunshine Coast 
According to Richard: “Records since 2014 suggest that New Zealand lucidus is more common in South-east Queensland than previously thought, and… they visit just as much during their southbound (spring) passage, ie en route to New Zealand, as during their northbound (autumn) passage. In South-East Queensland, the earliest record during the autumn passage was 17 February, and the latest during spring passage was 26 October.”

Noting that a little known identification feature of lucidis is its wider bill, Richard concludes: Given our incomplete understanding of the occurrence of New Zealand birds in Queensland, I urge birders to check the identity of all Shining Bronze-Cuckoos they encounter, and if possible secure photographs, especially of their bills.”

I've seen lucidis occasionally in my Sunshine Coast garden. The birds in this post were in a loosely grouped flock of 4-5 that were conspicuous by their silence in the half hour or so that I watched them.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Death by Barbed Wire

Dead Baillon's Crake
This week a Baillon's Crake, an uncommon species, was found hanging dead from the top strand of a barbed wire fence near Bli Bli on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. It clearly was flying over the fence when a leg was caught in a strand of barbed wire. Its death would have been slow and agonising. Needless to say, the bird would have lived if the fence strand was not barbed.

Large numbers of birds and mammals are killed when climbing or flying over or through barbed wire fences, especially the top strand. A critically endangered Night Parrot was found decapitated after flying into a barbed wire fence in 2006 in Diamantina National Park in western Queensland; that finding led to John Young's celebrated rediscovery of the species. Yet hundreds of kilometres of barbed wire fence from former grazing properties remain standing in national parks and other reserves.

Juvenile Night Parrot decapitated by barbed wire fence
I've reprinted below some worthy advice from WIRES Northern Rivers in NSW:
Each year hundreds of native animals become entangled in or “hung’ up on barbed wire. The suffering endured by these animals is unimaginable.
All species of native animals are vulnerable to this silent, lifeless predator. Flying Foxes, Sugar Gliders, Squirrel Gliders, Greater Gliders, all of these are found entangled, usually through the flying membranes, the damage done is generally severe, some do not recover and others are in care for extended time. Birds such as Tawny Frogmouths are often found on barbed wire.
In most cases they are caught by the wings, many breaking vital bones in a vain attempt to escape.
Many wallabies and possums, be it Ringtails or Mountain Brushtails, are also rescued from barbed wire, generally caught by the legs and all suffer horrific injuries. When an animal is caught, it will struggle in fear and pain; sadly this only serves to further entangle it in the barbs. In many cases the animal is not discovered for some time. Barbs will tear open flying membranes, rip skin and muscles, break wings on birds and legs on wallabies, leaving horrific wounds, which often become fly blown, and all too often prove fatal.

What can you do to prevent this occurrence? If you already have barbed wire fences, the top strand of barbed wire could be replaced with ordinary wire, this would help stop gliders, bats and birds being caught. An alternate method to stop flying animals being caught is to use old garden hose slit down its length, then slid over the top strand of the barbed wire. Strips of cloth or any shiny material, tied at intervals along the middle strand of fencing wire, is another way to help prevent injury by alerting both flying and running animals that the wire is there. The best method of all is simply to get rid of the barbed wire completely. If erecting a new fence please consider the alternatives to barbed wire.
If finding an animal on barbed wire, call WIRES immediately, do not try to free the animal yourself. If possible provide shade whilst waiting for a rescuer to arrive.

Wildlife Friendly Fencing (WFF) is a campaign encouraging landowners to manage fencing that is safe and effective for wildlife, people and livestock. Further advice for landholders can be found here. Thousands of animals die each year in the cruellest of circumstances due to barbed wire. These entanglements often leave members of the public and rescuers distressed due to the severity of the injuries to wildlife. Nocturnal animals such as bats, gliders and owls are particularly susceptible to this hazard and are often entangled when flying towards fruiting trees or dams and creeks close to barbed wire. Flying foxes are the most common victims of barbed wire. Tawny frogmouths are surprisingly common victims too, and just this week we had a crow brought into care from a barbed wire entanglement.

This Barking Owl had to be euthanised after being caught on a barbed wire fence - Wildlife Care NT  
We ask people to modify the fencing adjacent to these ‘hot spots’ by modifying those sections of fence in order to minimise the risk to wildlife. Often this involves relatively short sections of fence, so it’s easy to modify.
Firstly, we ask landowners to consider whether the barbed wire fence is necessary. Sometimes the fence no longer contains livestock so could be removed or replaced with plain wire. If the barbed wire fence is needed, you could cover the top strand in the hot spot zone with polypipe split longitudinally. WIRES volunteers can assist with this, with our nifty polypipe splitter and applicator. Just call us for more info. Consider replacing the top strand with plain wire, and when planning a new fence, consider whether barbed wire is really necessary.

Metallic Starling killed in Cairns - Cairns Post
Our patch of paradise is blessed with many possums and glider species, some endangered. They are common victims of barbed wire, so we ask landowners to plant trees to shorten the gliding distance between trees, no more than 20m apart. Wildlife corridors are critical for wildlife survival.
If you have old wire on the property that no longer has a purpose, please dispose of it and save a few lives in the process. We receive quite a few calls every year for wildlife entangled in piles of disused wire or netting. Our snake handlers sometimes have the task of very slowly and cautiously removing  snakes from discarded fencing.

Rare Mahogany Glider killed  near Cardwell - Daryl Dixon
For our carers the most heart wrenching rescues are those where the animal has barbs twisted amongst bone and membrane and it is a difficult process to remove the animal so that no further damage occurs. It is very important that you do not cut the animal in order to save the fence as one could only imagine the pain this would cause (I know it sounds silly but it happens). It is much better for the animal if you contact us before you try to remove the animal as pain killers from the vet are vital. These animals might have been on the wire for many hours, or sometimes days and are usually dehydrated and in severe pain, so do your best to make them as comfortable as possible whilst you await further instructions.

In relation to whether electric fences are a better option, Steve Grainger posted this comment on Facebook: Several large cattle stations in North Queensland have been replacing Barbed wire with Electric fencing. They move stock by switching off/on water points and use the Electric fence to prevent the stock roaming across roads etc. The water points and surrounding paddock is well grassed, so stock don't need to wander far. The Electric fence costs about 1/8 of the cost of hard wire.

Brown Goshawk killed on Atherton Tableland - Alarmy Stock 




Monday, 20 January 2020

BirdLife Australia Sunshine Coast Pelagic Trip January 2020

Tahiti Petrel

We departed at 6.35am on January 19, 2020 from the new Sunshine Coast Afloat dock on the Mooloolah River, exiting the river mouth 20 minutes later. A mild northerly wind of 10-12 knots was blowing but we were up against a pretty rough 1-2m swell as we headed east due to unsettled weather offshore in recent days. We saw little on the way out other than an unidentified jaeger and a smattering of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Crested Terns.

Crested Tern
This was the first BirdLife Australia Sunshine Coast outing for the year so quite a few on board were new to the joys of pelagic birding. After crossing the shelf we stopped at 9.25am 36 nautical miles offshore in 500m (26.3639S, 153.4472E) and began laying a trail of burley. We soon had a fine slick behind the boat but birds did not appear to be hungry. We'd seen a couple of Tahiti Petrels just before the shelf and they proved to the most common bird out wide, with as many as five at once around the boat.

Tahiti Petrel
Later in the morning a single White Tern was seen distantly; the poor images we managed ruled out other possibilities. We also saw a handful of Sooty Terns out wide.

White Tern
Sooty Tern
A Brown Booby, normally a species we see closer in, put in an appearance. Another was seen later perched on a trawler. A Risso's Dolphin was the only cetacean of the day. Birds and mammals aside, a Convolvulus Hawk-moth made a highly unusal appearance, loanding on the boat before succumbing to the elements.

Brown Booby
Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Crested Terns were about but in small numbers; we saw many more on the way back.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater
The wind freshened up to 12-15 knots late-morning but unfortunately it was from the wrong direction – north. It dropped off sharply around lunchtime and with little around we pulled up stumps at 12.30pm to try our luck further in. A few nautical miles to the west of our last drifting point we had a distant pair of Lesser Frigatebirds. Then much further in, about 15nm offshore, a fine Masked Booby offered good views to all. We arrived back at the berth at 3.45pm. So notwithstanding the wind direction, a good day all round.

Masked Booby
OBSERVERS: Greg Roberts (organiser and leader), Eric Anderson, Tyde Bands, Luke Bennett, Judith Coles, Patrick Colley, Michael Dawson, Jan England, Hans Erken, Alex Ferguson, Richard Fuller, Brian Gatfield, Marie Gittins, Nikolas Haass, Merri Kuerschner, Helen Leonard, James Martin, Gillie Matthew, Maggie Overend, Karen Rose, Jamie Walker, Paul Zellerer.

SPECIES (Maximum at one time)
Tahiti Petrel 30 (5)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 120 (15)
Brown Booby 2 (1)
Masked Booby 1
Lesser Frigatebird 2 (2)
Crested Tern 80 (10)
Little Tern 2 (1)
Common Tern 2 (1)
Sooty Tern 3 (2)
White Tern 1
Risso's Dolphin (1)

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Winding up 2019: Horsfield's Bushlark, Plum-headed Finch, Oriental Cuckoo on Sunshine Coast; Gull-billed (nilotica) Tern in Brisbane




Oriental Cuckoo hepatic phase
A bit of birding fun to wind up 2019. An early morning run to Finland Road, Pacific Paradise, proved to be productive, as is so often the case with this site. I located some of the 20+ Plum-headed Finches which have been present here in recent weeks among big flocks of Chestnut-breasted Mannikin. This is a scarce species in coastal South-east Queensland. Stubble, King and Brown Quail were all flushed but no images sadly. King Quail has been regular here for many years but Stubble Quail has turned up just recently, although last year they were present nearby along Burtons Road.

Plum-headed Finch
Paul Jensen and I found a Horsfield's Bushlark lying low in a depression. When it flew I realised that two odd-looking passerines I'd flushed earlier were also Horsfield's Bushlarks. This is the first time the species has been recorded for the Sunshine Coast's coastal plain, although I had them last year in the region near Gunalda. We learned later that a bushlark was photographed here yesterday but not reported at the time.

Horsfield's Bushlark
To top things off, a grey phase Oriental Cuckoo flew over. I then moved on to Burtons Road and found a hepatic phase Oriental Cuckoo along the Maroochy River. It's been a good year for the species this season in south-east Queensland. As many as four or five individuals of both colour phases have been seen regularly around Lake Macdonald's Jabiru bird hide, and they've been recorded from multiple other sites around Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast.

Oriental Cuckoo (grey phase)
A large roost of Nankeen Night-Herons was in mangroves along the river and a Pallid Cuckoo made an appearance in more open habitat nearby. Brown Songlark, another rarity in coastal South-East Queensland, has been present along both Burtons and Finland roads. 

Nankeen Night-Heron

Pallid Cuckoo
Last week in Brisbane, Andy Jensen found a Gull-billed Tern at the Gregory Road claypan in Mango Hill. I located the bird a few days later. This is the newly split Gull-billed Tern nilotica, now separated from what has been dubbed the Australian (Gull-billed) Tern macrotarsa. It is a rare visitor from Asia to South-East Queensland, though seen more frequently in north-west Australia. The differences in the field between the two species were obvious, including the much smaller size of nilotica and its darker upperparts.

Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed & Australian Tern

Gull-billed & Caspian Tern

Gull-billed Tern



Monday, 30 December 2019

Yandina Creek Wetland Survey December 2019

Great Egret & Yellow-billed Spoonbill

The latest BirdLife Australia survey of Yandina Creek Wetland for Unitywater was undertaken on Saturday December 21 by myself, Steve Grainger and Russell McGregor. We had an excellent morning with plenty of good birds about. The morning started off well with two Baillon's Crakes feeding in the newly flooded southern half of the site. This species was once regular at the wetland but this is just the second sighting since the site's northern half was restored. Two Spotless Crakes were recorded later in the same spot.

Baillon's Crake
A Lewin's Rail scurried across the track and a couple of Buff-banded Rails were seen. Large numbers of Grey Teal were again present and a small group of Pink-eared Ducks - a very rare species on the Sunshine Coast - was among them.

Grey Teal & Pink-eared Duck
Migratory shorebirds were in reasonable numbers with Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit and Latham's Snipe recorded.

Marsh Sandpiper, Grey Teal & Pied Stilt
Large numbers of Australian Pelican were present, feeding on what presumably were commensurate numbers of fish.

Australian Pelican
The normally scarce Glossy Ibis was in good numbers and a couple of Yellow-billed Spoonbills joined the sizeable rafts of Royal Spoonbill. Great Egret was plentiful.

Glossy Ibis 

Royal Spoonbill
Other nice birds included Little Grassbird, Nankeen Night-Heron and White-throated Needletail. Olive-backed Oriole was among the bushbirds seen.

Nankeen Night-Heron

Olive-backed Oriole 
Black-necked Storks were again on show, this time two pairs feeding in the shallows in widely flung parts of the site. It was pleasing to see a Water Rat splashing about with another couple almost certainly feeding in the shallows.

Black-necked Stork
Recent surveys have departed from the old format of short transects done by multiple groups. There are several reasons for this. Some of the old transects are now impassable due to the sustained inundation of the wetland, which wasn't a problem in the early days but is now. Much of the taller grass along the main perimeter track has drowned, allowing easier observation over the wetland, so double-counting from the old transects would increasingly be likely to distort data. It's necessary to wade into the wetland in gum boots off the tracks, which is not everyone's cup of tea. A comprehensive survey can be done comfortably now by a small group in a few hours. As reported after the September survey, the reopening of some more floodgates on Yandina Creek has allowed part of the southern half of the site to be flooded for the first time in several years. More water has accumulated in that area since then. Ebird list.



Thursday, 19 December 2019

Lockyer Valley December 2019: Little Curlew, Australian Pratincole, Freckled Duck & Drought

Little Curlew

This week I headed out to Atkinsons Dam in the hope that a flock of six Little Curlew that turned up there in October was still about. It was a depressing sight. The main dam was empty, littered with turtle carcasses being feasted on by Whistling Kites and Torresian Crows. A single live Long-necked Turtle wandered across the sun-backed mud. It was the same throughout the Lockyer and Brisbane valleys: Lockyer Creek is dry; the Brisbane River is a series of pools below Somerset Dam; almost all the wetlands are empty; the landscape is parched and tinder-dry.

Long-necked Turtle


I'd been unable to look for the curlews earlier because of our road trip to Tasmania. I walked around the edge of the dry main storage, checking out the area where they had been hanging about, without success. Then as I left I ran into Tyde Bands, the last person to see them, on December 6. Tyde relocated three birds exactly where he'd seen them several times. They were further back from the lake edge than I'd expected. There's nothing special about this spot; the birds keep returning to it even after flying off. (See ebird for Tyde's GPS coordinates). Little Curlew is a very rare visitor to South-East Queensland. In the 1970s we would see them regularly at Archerfield Aerodrome near Brisbane but they've rarely been reported there in recent years.

Little Curlew


Little Curlew
I then checked out Banool Road nearby where several Australian Pratincoles have been present for several weeks. This is another very rare visitor to South-East Queensland. Five birds were quickly located, a couple not far from the road.

Australian Pratincole



Banded Lapwings were in the distance here, a regular hotspot for this species. Then a flock of 23 lapwings flew from the dry paddocks to a roadside dam to drink, before returning to the paddocks.

Banded Lapwing
For the rest of that day and the next morning I visited favoured birding localities but birdlife was subdued in the dry conditons. A Wedge-tailed Eagle pair in the early morning light at (the empty) Peacheys Lagoon and a pair of Cockatiel nearby were nice. Lake Apex at Gatton was also dry and the locals are putting out seed and dishes of water for the swamphens and other waterbirds that continue to hang about. A single (introduced in South-East Queensland) Long-billed Corella was feeding among hundreds of Little Corella here.

Cockatiel

Long-billed Corella & Little Corella

Wedge-tailed Eagle
I found that Lake Dyer was at least half-empty and there appeared to be good numbers of birds on it, so I walked around the lake. Among the hundreds of Grey Teal and Hardhead were two Freckled Duck; they were distant and I managed just poor record images. Three Hoary-headed Grebes were also distant. At the lake's western end I flushed three Red-chested Buttonquail from long grass and weeds, habitat that was relatively sparse for this species. The ducks were being harassed by a trio (two adults and an immature) of White-bellied Sea-eagles. Large numbers of Red-necked Avocet were on the lake. Elist.


Freckled Duck (distant, centre)

Hardhead

Red-necked Avocet & Grey Teal

White-bellied Sea-Eagle