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.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Fairy Gerygone & Spotted Harrier on the Sunshine Coast

This Fairy Gerygone was singing today at Mudjimba on the Sunshine Coast. There are six pairs of this species in a 3-km stretch of coastal vine scrub in the vicinity. I've also seen the bird elsewhere along the coast including Noosa National Park and Coolum. Occasionally in turns up in the hinterland - at Ninderry, Kenilworth and Bli Bli - but it does not appear to be resident there.
Until relatively recent years, Fairy Gerygone was not known to occur south of the Gin Gin-Childers region. Whether it has spread southward or was overlooked in the past is not known; this is one of several essentially tropical species which appears to be extending its range south. In the Sunshine Coast littoral scrubs, it occurs side by side with Mangrove Gerygone. More rarely in the hinterland, it may be in the same habitat as Brown Gerygone, which is absent from the coastal scrubs.
In the nearby grasslands of the Maroochy River flats, I had an adult and a juvenile Spotted Harrier, the juvenile pictured here. This species, normally associated with the arid inland, has been seen throughout the year in the vicinity and it is likely to be breeding here.
An Australian Hobby was perched on the wires. Other raptors seen included Grey Goshawk and Brown Goshawk.
In grassland inundated by recent rains, I had no fewer than 6 Spotless Crakes calling. I had not previously associated the species with this kind of habitat.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Musings on Broad-billed Flycatcher Identification

Identification of the Myiagra flycatchers has always been a tricky business, particularly separating female Leaden Flycatcher from female Satin Flycatcher and Broad-billed Flycatcher. It's worth having a look at this in view of a healthy exchange of views between some of us on the subject in recent weeks.
The field guides tell us that Broad-billed is distinguished from female Leaden by the male having more glossy blue upperparts; both sexes having broader, more bow-shaped bills; richer rufous colouration around the throat and breast; and different tail patterns, with Broad-billed having shorter outer tail feathers, giving its tail a more rounded rather than square-shaped appearance. This graduation in the undertail - a "layering"of three or more feathers - is regarded as a particularly salient feature in view of the difficulty of being definitive about other features. It is well-illustrated in the photograph above by Tom Tarrant.
I have over the past year found Shining Flycatchers at 22 mangrove sites on the Sunshine Coast in southeast Queensland. This predominantly tropical species had until fairly recent times been considered very rare in this part of the world, and it occurred to me that it was worth looking for other northern birds in this habitat. I was equipped  with a new kayak, giving me access to extensive areas of mangrove in the region. Broad-billed Flycatcher is known from specimens and sightings to occur as far south as the Shoalwater Bay area of the central Queensland coast - not that far north of the Sunshine Coast - where it has been seen side-by-side with Leaden Flycatcher in fringe mangrove habitat.
For the discussion here, I am grateful for input from Jeff Davies, Chris Corben, Graeme Chapman and Henry Nix, all of whom have either intricate knowledge of the identification features of the Myiagra flycatchers, or have extensive field experience with Broad-billed.
Early last month, playback of Broad-billed in the mangroves of the Pumicestone Passage near Coochin Creek attracted a single bird and a group of three birds, all of them "female Leaden" types, including the bird above. I was convinced initially that they were Broad-billed.
The slightly bowed bill shown here could fit juvenile Broad-billed, or the dark chin could indicate juvenile male Leaden - such are the identification challenges posed. This bird was the one I found by itself.
One of the group of three appeared to have particularly glossy blue upperparts but I failed to photograph it. These three birds behaved very much like a family group; if they were Leadens, it was curious that there was no sign of an adult male. However, it was pointed out that the photographs I posted on my blog of two of the four birds showed the birds did not have graduated undertails so were most unlikely to be Broad-billed. The bird shown above does not have a graduated tail so appears to be a Leaden.
Nonetheless, a return visit was in order. I went back to the area a week later but could not find the birds. I eventually hooked up with them a couple of weeks ago, finding the group of three in the original area. One of them is photographed above. Again, that slightly bow-shaped bill looks interesting, and again, no sign of an adult male Leaden. Again I saw a bird with what appeared to be glossy blue upperparts but it kept well back in the vegetation and I was unable to photograph it; I point out that at the distance this bird was on both occasions, that impression could not be verified. These birds responded vigorously to playback of both Broad-billed and Leaden calls.
This is another of the group of three, and we've had some lively discussion about whether this is a Leaden or a Broad-billed. Bear in mind that tail feathers are missing and there is some blurred vegetation in the foreground, but the key question is whether this tail is graduated or not. This is where the discussion gets intricate, so I'll try to sum it up. In a nutshell, one view is that there are at least two feather tips visible on the left side of the tail which are noticeably smaller than feathers on the right side, suggesting a conspicuously graduated tail. Another view is that there are not necessarily two feather tips on the left side, and that shadows/vegetation interference could be giving a false impression of tips. In short, we simply are not sure.
Photographs of Broad-billed show that the level of graduation varies considerably between individuals. Compare the bird above, another of Tom Tarrant's photographs, with the bird at the top of the post (note also the very pale chest colouration on this bird). Hopefully we're a little more informed now about these issues.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Sunshine Coast January 2012 Pelagic

Red-tailed Tropicbird (above), Buller's Shearwater, Hutton's Shearwater, Tahiti Petrel, Bridled Tern and Sooty Tern were among the birds seen today on our third pelagic trip off the Sunshine Coast.

Our excursion kicked off with our departure from Mooloolaba Marina at 06.35 in our 10m catamaran, Cat-A-Pult, under cloudy skies with a light easterly blowing.

We had large numbers of Common Terns and smaller numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (above) over an extensive area inshore, and at 120m (21 3702S, 153 3505E), 25 naut miles out, the action started with 2 Common Noddies, 2 Bridled Terns and 6 Sooty Terns seen in quick succession.
When we reached the shelf proper at 230m (26 3655S, 153 41.64E), we were joined by our first Tahiti Petrel (above). Wedge-tailed Shearwaters continued to be present in large numbers – always a sign at this distance offshore that conditions are exceptionally calm. The breeze struggled to hit five knots and we headed out further to 300+m, to the area where we had the Stejneger’s Petrel in November, but the hoped for parade of Pterodromas failed to materialise.
All was not lost, however. We had frequent sightings of Sooty Terns - adults and juveniles - while on the shelf, and Tahiti Petrels and Flesh-footed Shearwaters (above) were regular about the boat.
Turning westward at about 1300, we were half-way back when Paddy spotted a Red-tailed Tropicbird (above) sitting on the water, offering excellent views.
The action picked up again 6 naut miles offshore in 37m of water with a huge flock of terns and shearwaters feeding on small fish spooked by marauding yellowfin tuna. Common Terns were in abundance and with them were good numbers of White-winged Terns and a smattering of Crested and Little Terns. At least three White-winged Terns can be seen with Common Terns in the photograph above.
Two Hutton’s Shearwaters – very unusual for this time of year - were in the mix, one of them showing poorly in the photograph above with Wedge-tailed Shearwaters.
The seabird numbers continued to grow,

the spectacle enhanced by yellowfin tuna frequently breaking the surface. George Chapman snapped this one.
A Bridled Tern, much more co-operative than the birds seen in the morning, joined the fray.

To cap it off, we were about to head home when a Buller’s Shearwater joined the action, giving everyone a good if all too brief view. Jim Sneddon did well to snap this one showing the upperparts.

PARTICIPANTS: Paddy Diamond (skipper - pictured above with his boat), Greg Roberts (organiser).
George Chapman,  Mark Clarke,  Robyn Duff,  Jan England,  Judith Hoyle,  Nick Leseberg,  Brendon Levot,  Gavin O’Meara,  Jim Sneddon,  Kathy Wilk,  Brian Willey.

SPECIES - Total number (maximum at once):
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 1200 (200)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 12 (2)
Buller’s Shearwater 1 (1)
Hutton’s Shearwater 2 (2)
Tahiti Petrel 16 (4)
Arctic Jaeger 2 (1)
Pomarine Jaeger 1 (1)
Red-tailed Tropicbird 1 (1)
Silver Gull 6 (3)
Common Noddy 2 (2)
Crested Tern 20 (4)
Common Tern 2500 (1200)
White-winged Tern 100 (10)
Little Tern 6 (2)
Sooty Tern 30 (6)
Bridled Tern 3 (1)
Little Black Cormorant 2 (1)
Great Cormorant 1 (1)

You can look at our pelagic trips from last July and  November.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Egret Colony on Sunshine Coast

A Cattle Egret colony at Bli Bli on the Sunshine Coast is thriving, with several hundred pairs on nests there this week.
Many of the egrets have left the nests and juvenile birds are congregating in small grounds around the wetland.
Small numbers of other egret species nest at Bli Bli. Here can be seen all four egret species occurring in Australia, along with Australian White Ibis: Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Little Egret & Intermediate Egret
Plumed Whistling-Ducks were there together with Wandering Whistling-Ducks
Birds in the garden this week included White-throated Honeyeater
Dusky Honeyeater, a scarce species in southeast Queensland
And a Channel-billed Cuckoo being annoyed by a Willie Wagtail.
Birds seen during another kayaking session in Pumiceston Passage include a Far Eastern Curlew

 And a White-bellied Sea-Eagle

Saturday, 7 January 2012

A Paddle to Mudjimba Island

I had a paddle in the kayak out to Mudjimba Island, 2km off the Sunshine Coast. The island is known by locals as Old Woman Island, after an Aboriginal legend about elderly Aboriginal women living there.
Getting on and off the island was something of a challenge due to the sea swell, but I made it ashore.
I walked the rocky platform around the island, very slippery in places, encountering a total of 4 Sooty Oystercatchers
 This flock of Common Terns was roosting on the rocks
A Wandering Tattler was feeding on the waterline
With it were a few Turnstones
Perched in the scattering of trees on the island were several Pied Cormorants
Two white phase Eastern Reef Egrets were about
along with a single grey phase Eastern Reef Egret

An Osprey with a large fish was on the rocks
The sandy slope behind the island cliff was honeycombed with the burrows of thousands of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Unusual Feeding Behaviour by Norfolk Island Boobooks

Staff at the Norfolk Island National Park and Botanic Garden have photographed unusual behaviour by Norfolk Island Boobook Owls. As this image shows, the birds are hunting in broad daylight - something unheard of with the Southern Boobook, the species to which the Norfolk birds belongs.
The hunting by Boobooks of large rodents is also regarded as highly unusual, as the species feeds primarily on insects.

The population of the Norfolk Island Boobook had been reduced to just one female until she bred successfully with two male Boobooks introduced from New Zealand. National park manager Coral Rowston reports that the population is now about 40.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Superb Fruit-Dove, Black-breasted Buttonquail, Barred Cuckoo-Shrike

A productive day looking at some of the last remaining pockets of lowland rainforest in the Sunshine Coast hinerland. A male Superb Fruit-Dove (above) was seen well along Cedar Creek Road, Belli Park, but as is so often the case with this species, the bird kept to the tops of the rainforest trees.
Plenty of other pigeons were about in this rainforest patch including good numbers of Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, Wompoo Fruit-Dove, White-headed Pigeon and Brown Cuckoo-Dove (above). Other nice birds here included Russet-tailed Thrush and Paradise Riflebird.
Moving on to another vine scrub patch near Imbil, I saw no fewer than 8 Black-breasted Buttonquail in a favoured site for the species. There were three pairs, a single female and a single male. As always, difficult to photograph as they move quickly through vine tangles.

 I was surprised when this Brindled Bandicoot came crashing through the scrub in broad daylight, stopping at my feet.
In a third rainforest patch, this one near Moy Pocket, I found a pair of Barred Cuckoo-Shrikes in a distant eucalypt. Superb Fruit-Dove, Black-breasted Buttonquail and Barred Cuckoo-shrike are predominantly lowland rainforest birds in southeast Queensland and none are easy to find.
Also about the Mary River Valley today were small numbers of Little Corellas, a species absent from the region until a decade or so ago. In southeast Queensland and elsewhere, this species has presumably moved to the coast from the inland.