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, 20 March 2016

Sunshine Coast Pelagic Trip March 2016

Pomarine Jaeger
It was with a sense of foreboding that we departed Mooloolaba Marina at 6.45am (a late start due to lost souls) for the March 19, 2016 pelagic trip off the Sunshine Coast. The weather forecast accorded with the pattern for the day: a gentle northerly breeze under cloudless skies that struggled to exceed 5-8 knots. Not ideal conditions for pelagic birds.

Pomarine Jaeger
A pair of Welcome Swallows 14nm offshore was unexpected. Little else was seen on the way out other than a few small flocks of Common Terns close in. We reached the shelf in just over 2 hours and began laying a trail of shark liver burley 33nm offshore at a depth of 363m: 26.36.035S, 153.43.645E; with a swell of 1-1.5m. We were soon joined by small numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Tahiti Petrels, which remained in view for most of the time we were off the shelf.

Tahiti Petrel
We drifted 2.5nm east to 683m, with a White-faced Heron another unexpected surprise so far offshore. Small numbers of Flesh-footed Shearwaters joined the Wedge-taileds. With conditions not improving and a hoped for south-easterly change failing to eventuate, we moved inshore to 530m, laying another burley trail and drifting a further 1nm.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater
A nice Pomarine Jaeger enlivened proceedings. We headed back soon after 1pm, seeing some Hutton's Shearwaters on the way in, including a flock of 8. We arrived back at the marina at 3.20pm.

Participants: Lachlan Tuckwell (skipper), Greg Roberts (organser), Tony Baker, Margaret Baker, Sarah Beavis, Devon Bull, Phil Cross, John Gunning, Bob James, Wayne Lock, Colleen Lock, Andrew Naumann, Robert Shore, Jamie Walker.

Species (Total maximum at one time):

Wedge-tailed Shearwater 50 (6)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 4 (1)
Hutton's Shearwater 12 (8)
Tahiti Petrel 20 (4)
Crested Tern 30 (10)
Common Tern 40 (15)
Pomarine Jaeger 1 (1)
Pied Cormorant 4 (2)
White-faced Heron 1 (1)
Welcome Swallow 2 (2)

Friday, 18 March 2016

Yandina Creek Wetland Update

Yandina Creek Wetland this week looking towards Mt Coolum
This time last year, thousands of waterbirds of many species were frequenting the Yandina Creek Wetlands on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. Among them were more than 120 Latham's Snipe: a sufficiently large number of this species to afford the 200ha site the status of internationally significant, according to federal Government guidelines. Also present was a Pectoral Sandpiper - one of the rarer shorebird species visiting Australia.

During an inspection yesterday, not a single waterbird was present. As has been documented, the wetland was drained last July so the area could be redeveloped as sugar cane plantation when broken floodgates were replaced, preventing the daily flow of tidal water to the wetland. Following national publicity surrounding the fate of the area, state authorities intervened. The wetland began refilling last September when the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries moved to protect mangroves and other protected plants, with the cane farmer lessees agreeing under pressure to open a floodgate.

Tall grass now covers shorebird habitat of mudflats and small pools
However, the floodgate was shut again in December after acid sulfate pollution was detected on the site; the leaching of toxic chemicals to the surface is a common problem when pollution-prone areas are drained. The landholders have failed to respond to repeated offers of professional assistance to assist in tackling sulfate pollution on the site. Meanwhile, the state Department of Agriculture and Fishers and Department of Environment and Heritage have both said they are powerless to order that the closed floodgates be reopened, highlighting deep flaws in state environment protection legislation.

Dead native vegetation on the site
The cane farmers leasing the land from its owners are unable to proceed with plans to grow cane because of the intervention by Queensland Fisheries, with possible prosecutions pending over the initial drainage. At the same time, the Queensland Government and the Sunshine Coast Council have thankfully backed down from their previous view that the site is not worth protecting because it had been modified by human activity.

The government and council have both indicated a preparedness to contribute funds for the acquisition of the two adjoining properties that comprise the wetland. Negotiations are presently underway with interested parties to facilitate an arrangement which hopefully will protect the main features of the wetland.

Yandina Creek Wetland looking towards Mt Ninderry this week
The sticking point, however, appears to be cost. The owners of one of the properties are keen to sell and are realistic enough to appreciate that this highly flood-prone land has limited value. The owners of the second property differ from their neighbours and among themselves about what should be an acceptable price. Hopefully this impasse will be resolved to facilitate the protection and restoration of the wetland. From an environmental perspective, the priority is to secure the protection of one of the two properties: Lot 4RP148079, which abuts Yandina Creek.

Latham's Snipe in Yandina Creek Wetland last year
During yesterday's inspection from the banks of Yandina Creek - the only point of public access to the wetland - it could be seen that extensive areas of shallow pools and mudflats that were utilized by large numbers of shorebirds this time last year are now covered in tall grass. Other areas of tall reed bed were dead, as were numerous native shrubs and trees. There were plenty of rain-filled depressions that looked like reasonable habitat but worryingly, these had not attracted any birds, possibly because of the above-mentioned acid sulfate pollution.

Map of Yandina Creek Wetlands

Monday, 7 March 2016

Brush-tailed Phascogale, Bush-hen Babies, Marbled Frogmouth and more in Sunshine Coast Hinterland

Brush-tailed Phascogale
Brush-tailed Phascogale is one of our more secretive, uncommon and difficult-to-find marsupials. So it was something of a surprise to learn that one had taken up residence in a residential letterbox along Booloumba Creek in the Conondale Range, in Queensland's Sunshine Coast hinterland.

Brush-tailed Phascogale
What's even more surprising is that according to the home owner, Christopher Lee, a phascogale has been resident in the letterbox on-and-off for the past four years. Phascogales are not long lived, with lifespans ranging from 12 months (males) to potentially 3 years (females), so it is highly likely that more that one animal has lived here.

Brush-tailed Phascogale
It is even stranger that the letterbox is in the open, by a road. The phascogale would need to traverse 20-30 metres of open lawn to reach some bush, and there is no shortage of owls, snakes and other predators in the area. It seems possible that the original animal that took up residence in the letterbox was a female and that its young have followed suite.

Home of the Phascogale
The phascogale comes and goes. According to Chris, it can be there for a week, then absent for a week, then back again.

Brush-tailed Phascogale. Pic: Christopher Lee  
Initially, the animal huddled in a corner of the letterbox as the mail was delicately removed daily. Then Chris put a small cardboard box in with some torn newspaper for bedding, which the phascogale took to readily as its abode within an abode.

Barred Cuckoo-shrike
Also about the area were good numbers of Barred Cuckoo-shrike, with a flock of 8 birds at the Charlie Moreland Park turnoff, and 2 birds along Booloumba Creek Road.

Marbled Frogmouth
In the evening I saw a female Marbled Frogmouth along Booloumba Creek at precisely the same spot where I first saw a Marbled Frogmouth in 1977.

Brown Tree-Snake
Also along the road in warm, damp conditions was a lively Brown Tree-Snake.

Great Barred River-Frog
Further up in the mountains, a Great Barred River Frog was on the road, while in the damp surrounding rainforest, numerous Marsupial Frogs were calling.

Pale-vented Bush-hen with young
 I called it at Moy Pocket at a reliable site for Pale-vented Bush-hen, and was happy to see an adult with two well-fledged young.

Pale-vented Bush-hen

White-eared Monarch
Elsewhere in the hinterland, I checked out a new site: Kureelpa Falls Track, at the end of Kureelpa Falls Road behind Nambour. John Kooistra saw an Oriental Cuckoo here last week; coincidentally, on the same day, I saw an Oriental Cuckoo fly over the Bruce Highway at Glenview.

Wompoo Fruit-Dove 
Kureelpa looked very birdy. I didn't see John's cuckoo but White-eared Monarch (along with Spectacled and Black-faced), Wompoo Fruit-Dove and Barred Cuckoo-shrike were nice.

Buff-banded Rail juv
Plenty of juvenile birds were seen including a Buff-banded Rail. Elsewhere about the Sunshine Coast, good numbers of waders were gathering at the Toorbul roost, many in breeding plumage, preparing for their annual journey north.

Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Great Knot

Common Greenshank
Chesnut-breasted Mannikin
This Chesnut-breasted Mannikin was in the reeds at Parklakes.

Plumed Whistling-Duck with young
A Plumed Whistling-Duck was attending a flock of youngsters at the Coolum Industrial Estate wetland; this species breeds uncommonly in South-East Queensland. Two Australian Little Bitterns - an adult male and a juvenile - have also been present in the wetland.

Collared Sparrowhawk
Not a great image but the distinctive tale shape can be seen in this juvenile Collared Sparrowhawk at Yandina Creek.

Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove juvenile

Australasian Figbird juvenile
It's been a good season for the normally scarce Barred Cuckoo-shrike, which has also turned up in the big fig in the home garden, along with juvenile Rose-crowned Fruit-Doves and loads of Australasian Figbirds.

Wonga Pigeon
Wonga Pigeon - a scarce visitor here - has been about the garden recently.

Eastern Koel female

While Eastern Koels in the garden are preparing for their northward migration.