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 April 2012

Marbled Frogmouth in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland

The plumiferus race of the Marbled Frogmouth, found only in south-east Queensland and north-east New South Wales, was truly enigmatic not so long ago. It had not been seen or heard for several decades until I found it in 1976 while camping with Glen Ingram along the upper Booloumba Creek in the Conondale Range. See this link for the paper published in Emu. The surprise is that it took so long for the bird to make its presence known. Subsequent surveys showed it was widespread in suitable habitat throughout its known range.
The Marbled Frogmouth is restricted to rainforest at all attitudes, favouring wet gullies with closed canopy, especially those with an abundance of Piccabean Palm, as in this image. Tree-ferns, Quandong, Brush Box and Rose Gum are among the trees that are common in its habitat.
The bird in the images above was a female in the western slopes of the Blackall Range, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. I have found 11 pairs holding well-established territories over much of what is now the newly declared 10,400-hectare Mapleton National Park - see this link for the park announcement. Two pairs reside in adjoining territories and at the right time of year - late spring - three or four frogmouths may be heard calling simultaneously.
The Marbled Frogmouth is widespread in the nearby Conondale Range; birds continue to reside at sites in the Conondales where they were present in the mid-1970s. The frogmouths are particularly vocal in spring and summer but can be heard at any time of the year.
The Marbled Frogmouth and the much more common Tawny Frogmouth, pictured here, often occur in close proximity to each other, though the Tawny is rarely inside rainforest - and the Marbled is rarely outside rainforest. They are of similar size and the male Marbled shares the Tawny's general greyish colouration, but the female Marbled is much browner.
Contrary to what the field guides show, both have extended plumes above the bill and while Marbled typically has deep orange eyes, the eye colour of Tawny is variable and may be quite bright orange. Marbled appears blotchy on the underparts and upperparts, while Tawny is finely streaked. 
Both have a pale supercilium although it is more apparent and sharply defined in Marbled, as this image shows well. Marbled also looks longer-tailed. The calls are substantially different.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Lewin's Rail around the Sunshine Coast

Lewin's Rail, generally regarded as a scarce and difficult-to-see species in Australia, is proving to be quite common on the Sunshine Coast. This bird was photographed in a dense thicket of two-metre vegetation in wallum heath at Peregian Beach.
This rail was co-operative but they can be difficult to see in thick wallum heath.

The rails are heard regularly - and seen much less often - in wet patches of wallum heath at Peregian Beach and near Mt Emu, as well as further north at Cooloola. They may occur in close proximity to Ground Parrot and King Quail.
Lewin's Rail is resident in the wallum; I have seen fledglings at Peregian Beach in January.
The species is not restricted to wallum heath. Lewin's Rail will readily utilise flooded grassland in areas such as the cane field flats surrounding the Maroochy River. At the site above, they were present along with Buff-banded Rail and Spotless Crake. These grasslands are normally dry but have been inundated during the past two west summers. The rails also occur in dense grass and other vegetation along freshwater streams in farmland.
The coastal plain aside, Lewin's Rail is often found in the Sunshine coast hinterland, where it appears to be more nomadic. This bird was on a small stream at Moy Pocket. I've had birds at sites intermittently where they are absent for long periods for no apparent reason. In the hinterland, the rails are usually associated with dense stands of lantana. They may also occasionally be found in the open on roadside verges.
In streamside vegetation both on the coast and in the hinterland, Lewin's Rail sometimes occurs together with Pale-vented Bush-hen.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Wandering Tattler on the Sunshine Coast

Today at Alexandra Headland on the Sunshine Coast I had six Wandering Tattlers on the rocks at low tide, all in breeding plumage. This species is quite rare in Australia, and to see six together is exceptional.
It's all the more unusual to see Wandering Tattlers in breeding plumage in this country. These birds appeared to be gathering prior to departing for their nesting grounds in the northern hemisphere. They were unusually restless and active, flying about and calling constantly. Birds were seen chasing each other on several occasions. My friend Brett Lane points out that these birds appear to be particularly fat - perhaps twice their normal weight - clearly in preparation for their long flight north.

The Sunshine Coast has proved to be one of the best sites for this species in Australia. The birds occur in small numbers at several rocky headlands along the coast in summer.
A pair of Sooty Oystercatchers was also on the rocks today at Alexandra Headland.
Along with this grey phase Reef Heron. Wandering Tattler, Sooty Oystercatcher and Reef Heron are all primarily birds of rocky headlands in southeast Queensland. All three today were surprisingly tolerant of the people who strolled about the rock pools at low tide.
At Pt Cartwright nearby, this pair of Osprey performed nicely overhead. Offshore, the first Australasian Gannets of the season were seen, and Common Terns were in good numbers.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Eastern Grass Owl on the Sunshine Coast

Last night I had a pair of Eastern Grass Owls performing nicely in the tall grassland/sugar cane flats of the Maroochy River floodplain on the Sunshine Coast. I was unable to photograph them unfortunately; thanks to Rob Hutchinson for this image. One of my birds was similarly coloured, but the second was much more extensively buff on the underparts.
I have recorded Grass Owls consistently since first finding them on the Sunshine Coast in December 2009 and know of 7 and possibly 8 local sites for the species. While Eastern Grass Owl is nomadic in much of its Australian range, it appears to be resident in this region. Autumn appears to be a particularly good time of year for playback response, suggesting that like other Tyto species in south-east Queensland, the bird is essentially a late autumn-winter breeder.

Much of the habitat frequented by the owls is tall grassland in areas that were once farmed for sugar cane but are now disbanded. Some of the grassland is being colonised by Allocasuarina and other trees so its future is uncertain. The owls also frequent areas of tall grass interspersed with sugar plantations.
A pair of Eastern Grass Owls deserted one favoured site when the grass was cut down, but they were back as soon as the grass regrew, so they are demonstrating an ability to adapt to changing circumstances. I've not seen owls hunting over sugar cane and I've only once managed to flush an owl during the day.
Last night I also had this Southern Boobook feeding over the open grassland. The Southern Boobook is generally associated with wooded habitat, not grassland.
Similarly I had a Grey Goshawk feeding over the open paddocks, along with a Brown Goshawk. Like the Southern Boobook, the Grey Goshawk is a forest bird - see here for more. The raptors, both nocturnal and diurnal, are evidently being attracted by healthy populations of rats in the grasslands; those populations presumably have not declined to any significant extent over the 30 months that I've been keeping an eye on the owls.
I've seen dark native rats (the short tails indicate native rather than introduced) often scurry across the roads at night - most likely the Swamp Rat, Rattus lutreolus. On several occasions I've spotted Black-shouldered Kites carrying large dead rats in their talons.
Other good birds in the grassland and associated wet areas yesterday included 3 King Quail and 1 Spotless Crake.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Kayaking the Middle Reaches of the Maroochy River

Following my trip down the upper reaches of the Maroochy River last week, yesterday I checked out the river's middle section. I launched the kayak at the end of Stony Wharf Road, Bli Bli, initially heading north to a tributary which runs through cattle and cane farms after leaving the mangroves. I then returned downstream, ending at Fishermans Road, a short way down Eudlo Creek from its confluence with the Maroochy River, where these Pied Oystercatchers were.
I was especially interested in seeing whether Shining Flycatchers were at the same sites where I found them in this section of the river last October. I found a pair of flycatchers and a single male in precisely the same places where a pair and a single male were six months ago. Moreover, I found two more pairs and two more single males - seeing a total of nine Shining Flycatchers over about 5km of riverbank.
It seems fairly evident that these birds have established territories and I expect they will prove to be resident on the Sunshine Coast, although mid-winter surveys will need to be done. Birds may be partly nomadic, however; a few weeks ago I searched unsuccessfully for flycatchers I had found earlier at sites on the Noosa River. Shining Flycatchers are typically found in tall, extensive and well-vegetated mangrove areas, often some distance from dry land, although one pair and a single bird yesterday were in surprisingly narrow mangrove strips, the single bird quite close to a busy road.
This Australasian Darter was looking good yesterday.

Loads of Little Black Cormorants.

   This Little Friarbird was another bird hanging about the mangroves.