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, 25 September 2015

Yandina Creek Wetlands Unplugged

Newly replenished wetland looking east to Mt Coolum
Just when some of us were beginning to think that the fate of the Yandina Creek Wetlands was sealed, the Queensland Government has intervened so that a recently installed floodgate has been opened to allow the area to be partially refilled with water from tidal flows. The stage may now be set for the landholders to sit down with the Sunshine Coast Council, government authorities, community groups and private organisations that acquire and manage reserves to map out a plan for the future for the 200ha wetland.

One of three newly installed floodgates has been opened
The entire wetland was drained within a few days in July when three new floodgates were installed.

Signs of revival in the wetland looking west to Mt Ninderry
As was explained in The Weekend Australian and elsewhere, the federal and Queensland governments, along with the Sunshine Coast Council, stood by and did nothing to prevent the wetland - which is nationally and internationally significant according to Commonwealth guidelines - from being drained. Their rationale was that because the wetland had been created by tidal flows through broken floodgates on drainage canals on land used formerly for sugar cane production, it was not worth saving. That argument conveniently ignored the fact that the area was wetland naturally before the development of the cane industry last century in the Maroochy River lowlands.

A floodgate is being installed at a new site some distance upstream from the main gates
Federal and state laws protecting rare and endangered wildlife were ignored, although during the 12 years since cane was grown on the land, a diverse wetland rich in plants and animals had been created.

Now, however, the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has ordered that one of the three new floodgates be opened; the other two gates are expected to be opened in the near future. The department has signalled it is working towards the gradual restoration of water flow to the site. The landowners have been told to ensure that a monitoring system is in place to ensure that water quality is managed and that further impacts are reduced.
Some of the extensive area of mangroves in the wetland
Fisheries personnel are understood to have collected samples of protected plants at the site. The department is compiling a prosecution brief relating to possible offences under Section 123 of the Fisheries Act 1994 and Sections 574 and 578 of the Sustainable Planning Act 2009. All marine plants growing on or adjacent to tidal lands are protected under Queensland law. The destruction, damage or disturbance of marine plants without prior approval from Fisheries Queensland is prohibited; heavy penalties apply to any unauthorised disturbances that impact on marine plants on all private and public lands.

Section 123 of the Fisheries Act makes it an offence to cause a marine plant to be removed, destroyed or damaged. In some circumstances, landholders can undertake "self-assessable" drainage and other development works which may have environmental impacts.  However, anyone undertaking such work must comply with applicable codes for self-assessable development under Section 574 of the Sustainable Planning Act. Under Section 578 of the act, a person must not carry out an assessable development without a permit.

Aquatic vegetation is looking stressed in much of the wetland, which remains high and dry
The former sugar cane properties were sold in the mid-2000s to family trusts with links to Sunshine Coast property developers. The landholders insist they did not acquire the properties as a long-term investment in the hope that the land will eventually be rezoned from rural to allow for canal estate or other residential or commercial development. Earlier this year, the landholders leased the properties back to their original owners - the family of local sugar cane farmer Scott Trevor, which undertook the drainage works.

Mr Trevor had signalled his family's intention to drain the wetland so sugar crops could be re-established. Mr Trevor has insisted that no state or federal government approvals were required for the drainage works.

State authorities envisage that the land will now be managed in similar fashion to the recently rehabilitated Trinity Inlet in Cairns - see here for more. The landholders will be required to monitor the wetland as the water returns because Fisheries is concerned that arsenic and other toxic metals may have leached to the surface from acid sulfate soils during the two months that the area has been dry.

Evidence of the stress to mangroves through water deprivation
Within a few days of the floodgate being opened this week, a substantial section of the eastern end of the wetland had been partly replenished. Enough water was present for small numbers of migratory shorebirds - a flock of 10 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers - to be present; the annual presence of large numbers of shorebirds at the site was one of the major arguments in support of its protection. However, there is not yet sufficient water to lure back the substantial numbers of ducks, herons, pelicans and other waterbirds that had been frequenting the site.

Google Earth map showing floodgates
Moreover, it has been discovered that a new floodgate was being installed this week at another site several hundred metres upstream from the three main floodgates on Yandina Creek. It is not known if this new floodgate is intended to facilitate the release of water now entering the wetland from the main floodgates as a result of the intervention of Fisheries. Any such move may have the effect of negating the Fisheries order to open the main floodgates. Fisheries is now investigating the new floodgate.

Water replenishment in the eastern sector of the wetland 
A substantial area of mangroves and other tidal vegetation had been established in the wetland. Notwithstanding the positive news of this week, most of the wetland remains high and dry; aquatic vegetation including mangroves is showing evident signs of distress.

The proactive stance of the state Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is in stark contrast to that of the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, which has primary responsibility for protecting the state's environment. On the basis of a single, brief visit by officers with no experience with the site earlier this year, the department concluded that the wetland was of no significance as it had been "highly modified". Despite published evidence of rare and threatened species and many waterbirds nesting at the time the wetland was drained, the department determined (as it has done so often in relation to other environmental disputes) there were no breaches of the Nature  Conservation Act.

Nonetheless, the  new state Environment Minister, Steven Miles, has taken a personal interest in the wetland. The minister is believed to be considering options for its future.

Meanwhile, the federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, has finally revealed the outcome of two investigations he had ordered into whether the drainage works breached provisions of the Environment Protection and Diversity Act relating to protected species (the endangered Australian Painted-Snipe and critically endangered Curlew-Sandpiper occur at the wetland) and migratory shorebirds (Australia is a signatory to several international agreements requiring it to protect important shorebird habitat). In short, the minister concluded that the act had been complied with; no explanation was offered.

As for the future, offsets and partial rezoning - along with contributions from the state and federal governments - have been mentioned as potential sources of funding to acquire the properties so they can be protected and managed as a reserve. The Sunshine Coast Council, in co-operation with the Queensland Government and perhaps an agency such as the Queensland Trust for Nature or Bush Heritage  Australia, is the obvious body to be overseeing any such plan. Significantly perhaps, the council has softened its  previously declared stand of having no interest in the site.

Further inundation in the wetland's eastern sector

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Lewin's Rail, Parklakes Wetland Redevelopment, Ground Parrot Habitat Burnoff

Lewin's Rail
Spring is in the area and manifested in fine form by vocal Lewin's Rails about the Sunshine Coast. I had a pair along Finland Road, Pacific Paradise, in paperbark wetland - a habitat in which I've rarely noted this species. These birds showed well but briefly, even venturing to the road edge. One bird  moved into an area of grassland, indicating the variety of habitats frequented by the rails. The rails were twice seen in flight.

Lewin's Rail
I found a second pair of Lewin's Rail in mixed grassy swamp and lantana thickets near Eumundi, where I had heard them previously. These birds showed extremely well but only after gradually losing fear of the human interloper over a period of a couple of hours. A list of birds at the site is here.

Lewin's Rail
Lewin's Rail occurs on and around the coast in habitat ranging from grassland and creekside  vegetation to lantana thickets and wallum heath.

Restless Flycatcher
A Restless Flycatcher at North Arm took a dislike to its image in the car window.

Parklakes Wetland development
Elsewhere about the coast, the Parklakes Wetland at Bli Bli is undergoing a makeover. Several people have expressed concern about the work underway, which has removed a substantial portion of the big reed bed favoured by Australian Little Bittern and crakes. The Parklakes estate developers say the Sunshine Coast Council has insisted on changes to the vegetation regime but that the wetlands will be restored. As usual, the council doubtlessly intervened without the aid of professional advice.

Pink-eared Duck
A pair of Pink-eared Ducks is present on one of the pools at Parklakes. This species is a rare visitor to the Sunshine Coast.

A short distance away, the pair of Radjah Shelducks which turned up recently on Finland Road, Pacific Paradise (see here) is still present. I had seen a single shelduck at the site on two occasions, so this was the first time I had seen the pair.

Radjah Shelduck
Chesnut Teal
Chesnut Teal showed well here. Also along Finland Road was an Australian Hobby feeding on a quail of some kind.

Australian Hobby
Further north, the state authorities have burned off a substantial portion of the wallum heath in sections of the Noosa and Mt Coolum national parks frequented by remnant populations of Ground Parrots.  Parts of the heath had not been burned for 15-20 years; it was so tall and dense that most of the habitat was unsuitable for the parrots, which have declined sharply over the decades (see here for more). So the burn-off is necessary, if overdue.

Noosa National Park burnoff at Peregian Beach
I listened at dusk at a site near Mt Coolum which had been inhabited by Ground Parrots but failed to hear any birds; they may well have disappeared from here. I was disturbed to learn from a local birder that a dead Ground Parrot was found in the driveway entrance to a service station nearby in Marcoola last year. The bird probably was likely to have belonged to the tiny population surviving within the fence of the Sunshine Coast Airport, a population at risk of being eliminated by plans for a new runway.

Variegated Fairy-wren
A Variegated Fairy-wren showed nicely on the edge of the heath at Peregian Beach.

At the Buderim Forest Park, Green Catbirds and Rose-crowned Fruit-Doves were nicely co-operative as they fed in a fruiting tree on the edge of the northern carpark.

A male Mistletoebird was looking cheerful along River Road, Yandina Creek.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

New England National Park: Flame Robin, Olive Whistler, Forest Raven but no scrubbirds

Following our campout at Goomburra on the eastern slopes of the Great Divide in Queensland (see following post) we headed south, crossing the border, to New England National Park, east of Armidale. We camped here for 3 days at a free camp site by the Styx River near the park entrance at  the suggestion of the NSW NPWS website, which said the park camping ground, Thungutti, would not cater for camper trailers.

As is so often the case, this information was incorrect (we could have easily camped at Thungutti with the trailer) but the scenery around the Styx River was not hard on the eyes.

From here it was a 5-kilometre drive to Pt Lookout and the mosaic of walking trails that criss-cross the national park. It was very cold during our stay, notwithstanding the beginning of Spring. The views from various lookouts across vast tracts of forest wilderness did not disappoint, notwithstanding the weather.

Of particular interest was the extensive areas of Nothofagus beech forest in the park. The large tracts of this forest compare to the isolated patches at high altitudes in the Border Ranges region further north and the Gloucester Tops area to the south. The relatively large number of Olive Whistlers seen and heard (about 20) at various sites was a surprise.

Also surprising was the total absence of Rufous Scrubbird from seemingly ideal habitat; I understood that this site was once favoured by the species, which persists in both the Border Ranges and Gloucester Tops areas where the habitat is much more limited. More in evidence was Superb Lyrebird: many were calling and at least 8 birds were seen around Pt Lookout carpark area, including several immature males which appeared to be competing to establish territories.

Another bird that was surprisingly widespread in the park was Flame Robin, with 12-15 seen in habitat ranging from open meadows to the edge of the beech forest.

Two Scarlet Robins were also seen, while several Rose Robins were seen and heard.

The Forest Raven is another specialty of the region. Australian Ravens were seen to the north of Armidale during our drive south but it seemed that all the ravens in the vicinity of the national park were Forest Ravens.

Red-browed Treecreepers were in small numbers in wet sclerophyll forest along the entrance road, where they were heavily outnumbered by White-throated Treecreepers; see here for a full list of bird species recorded.

Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Swamp Wallaby and Red-necked Wallaby were common.

On the way back we stopped for a couple of nights at the Broken Head Caravan Park near Byron Bay.

The coastal scenery here was as exquisite as always, with rainforest meeting the sea. Seabirds offshore during a strong south-easterly included quite a few Fluttering Shearwaters and Australasian Gannets along with several Common Terns and a probably White-fronted Tern.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Goomburra: Masked Owl, Albert's Lyrebird, Musk Lorikeet

Musk Lorikeet
We opted for a three-day campout in the Goomburra section of the Main Range National Park. It had been 20 or so years since camping here and it was nice to get to know the place again.

The birding highlight was a Masked Owl which called several times from along the creek in the Poplar Flat camping ground where we were camped; unfortunately the bird failed to show. Also vocal was Albert's Lyrebird: 3 birds were heard along the road to the lookouts, and another 3 during the 6.5km Cascades Circuit walk.

Cascade Circuit rainforest
The road was an old logging track last time I was here. Now, easy access to the Mt Castle and Sylvester lookouts is available. We were fortunate to strike a clear day so the scenery across the Fassifern Valley was quite something. We were able to see even the Brisbane CBD, about 100 kilometres distant.

View from Sylvester Lookout across Fassifern Valley
Topknot Pigeons were feeding along the road at Mt Castle. Other rainforest birds included Yellow-throated Scrub-wren in abundance, while Australian Logrunner and Paradise Riflebird were about in small numbers. A pair of Crested Shrike-tit were in wet sclerophyll forest.

Topknot Pigeon
One of the attractions of Goomburra is the variety of habitat which includes open forest, wet sclerophyll forest and rainforest. Several birds can be seen here which do not occur west of the Great Dividing Range or generally north of this area.

Red Wattlebird
Those species include Red Wattlebird and Musk Lorikeet, both fairly common in the eucalypts along the entrance road.

Buff-rumped Thornbill

Striated Thornbill
Thornbills put on a good show. Brown Thornbill was plentiful but quite a few Buff-rumped and Striated Thornbills were also seen.

Eastern Grey Kangaroo and Red-necked Wallaby were common. A single Boebuck was spotlighted at night.

Spotted Pardalote female
Spotted and Striated Pardalotes were both breeding in trackside holes. A full list of bird species can be found here.

Turquoise Parrot
After Goomburra we moved south to the Old Wallangara Road at Wyberba for a brief stop. A pair of Turquoise Parrots were seen but did not show particularly well;  I had luck with this species when I had more time during a visit to this excellent site last March.