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.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Sooty Owl & Marbled Frogmouth at Mary Cairncross; Lewin's Rail & Spotless Crake at new Maleny Wetland

Marbled Frogmouth
It's satisfying to report two positive environmental news stories from the Sunshine Coast hinterland. The rare Sooty Owl and Marbled Frogmouth have been seen in Mary Cairncross Reserve in the latest indication that the extensive rehabilitation of cleared farmland in the Blackall Range is reaping rich biological dividends. Meanwhile, a new wetland created by Unitywater in Maleny's community precinct is shaping up as one of the Sunshine Coast's prime waterbird habitats.

 Mary Cairncross Reserve is one of the largest tracts remaining of the extensive rainforests that once covered the northern Blackall Range. It has suffered in the past from being isolated from other rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest remnants, but in recent years extensive areas in the region have been replanted with native vegetation. Valuable wildlife corridors are being created, allowing the spread of wildlife to areas from which they had long been absent.

Sooty Owl
Sooty Owl and Marbled Frogmouths are iconic species of the Blackall-Conondale Range complex. Both species have hitherto been very rarely recorded in Mary Cairncross (I can find evidence of just one record for each) although the habitat is ideal. So I was pleased to have a pair of Marbled Frogmouths and a Sooty Owl calling simultaneously and showing nicely last night in the reserve. I've noticed in the past that Marbled and Tawny Frogmouths do not seem to be at all deterred by nearby Sooty or Masked Owls.

Marbled Frogmouth
Although I've looked in the past for Sooty Owl and Marbled Frogmouth in Mary Cairncross without success, hopefully these species may become long-term residents as the good news story of habitat rehabilitation in the region continues.

Southern Boobook
Earlier in the evening, local wildlife enthusiast Barry Traill (of Pew Charitable Trusts fame, among other things) and I heard another two pairs of Marbled Frogmouth calling from rainforest gullies below the Maleny escarpment. A fine pair of Southern Boobooks were encountered as we left the area.

Common Ringtail
A poke around Barry's Maleny property revealed no fewer than 6 Common Ringtails in the space of a few minutes.

Yellow-throated Scrubwren
I had called into Mary Cairncross earlier in the afternoon. As usual, Yellow-throated Scrubwrens were abundant. See here for Mary Cairncross list.

Barry and I also visited the newly created wetland in the Sunshine Coast Council's Maleny Community Precinct. The wetland has been established by Unitywater for filtrating treated effluent from its Maleny Sewage Treatment Plant. The result is most impressive, with an extensive area of mixed aquatic vegetation providing refuge to what I suspect will be some interesting wildlife. The surrounding slopes are being replanted with native rainforest trees, with plenty of help from community-spirited locals.

Barry Traill at Maleny Precinct Wetland
It did not take us long to spot a couple of migratory Latham's Snipe. We saw a Spotless Crake and heard another 4 or 5. We also heard 3 Lewin's Rails. There are very few records of either of these two cryptic rail species from the Maleny region.

Lewin's Rail (file pic)
This is a spot to keep on eye on and congratulations to Unitywater, the Sunshine Coast Council and local residents for the good work they've done here. See here for the wetland list.

Wild Dogs
 In other news, I was birding with some friends near Kenilworth when we came across a pack of dingo-wild dog hybrids. These animals are rarely encountered in the field and it was interesting to see how dingo-like they were in appearance.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
This Sulphur-crested Cockatoo was nesting in a large eucalypt at Ninderry.


Sunday, 29 January 2017

Sunshine Coast Pelagic January 2017

White-tailed Tropicbird
White-tailed Tropicbird, Red-footed Booby and Streaked Shearwater were the highlights of what proved to be excellent pelagic trip off Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast on Saturday January 28, 2017.

Sooty Tern
The January pelagic had been postponed three times due to weather so we were pleased to finally depart Mooloolaba Marina at 6.35am on a warm day with a final drizzle early, a water temperature of 26 and a forecast of light to moderate E-SE winds, which proved to be the case as the day progressed. We negotiated a healthy 1.5m swell heading eastwards and soon began picking up large numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters.

Streaked Shearwater
Half-way out we spotted our first Streaked Shearwater for the day in 50m.

Streaked Shearwater with Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and 1 Flesh-footed Shearwater (far right)
It was sitting on the water among a raft of shearwaters which included a single Flesh-footed Shearwater. A Hutton's Shearwater also flew by.

Hutton's Shearwater
We were to see six more Streaked Shearwaters on our way out along with a few Sooty Terns before reaching the continental shelf at about 8.50am.

Flesh-footed Shearwater
We began laying a berley trail in 135m - 26, 38, 698 S; 153, 36, 008 E - 26 nautical miles from shore. A light breeze of 5-7 knots was a bit of a worry but it was coming from the right direction and it picked up as the day wore on. We soon spotted our 8th and last Streaked Shearwater for the day.

Sooty Tern juvenile
Wedge-tailed Shearwaters continued to be plentiful and were joined by an occasional Flesh-footed Shearwater. More Sooty Terns, both adults and young, were about the boat and we chalked up quite a few before the day was out. The first Tahiti Petrel of the day made a belated appearance.

Tahiti Petrel
After a short time we decided to head further out to 32 nautical miles offshore in 310m. The numbers of Tahiti Petrels picked up markedly and they remained about the boat, along the obligate Wedgies, while we were out on the shelf.

Pomarine Jaeger
A Pomarine Jaeger came in to inspect the goings-on; a total of 5 being logged for the day. While out wide we were also distracted by non-birdy Blue Buttons (Porpita porpita) floating on the surface.

Red-footed Booby
A subadult light phase Red-footed Booby flew past and behind the boat and while not as close or inquisitive as we would have liked, this species is always a welcome addition to the list.  The smattering of Sooty Terns were joined by a couple of Common Noddies before we turned around at 12.45pm to try our luck further in, which looked so promising on the way out.

White-tailed Tropicbird
Our skipper Paddy spotted a subadult White-tailed Tropicbird sitting on the water about half-way back - another sought after South-East Queensland rarity.

Brown Booby with Crested Tern
A Brown Booby was hanging around one of several fishing trawlers out for the day. Heading in we saw a few more Hutton's Shearwaters and some Common Terns, arriving back at the marina at 3pm. Many thanks to Nikolas, Raja and Helmut for going the extra mile in helping to sort out our berley supply for the day.

PARTICIPANTS: Paddy Dimond (skipper),  Greg Roberts (organiser), Adrian Brooks, Mike Bysouth, Phil Cross, Jo Culican, Steve Grainger, Nikolas Haass, Guohualing Huang, Sreekar Rachokonda, Helmut Schaider, Raja Stephenson, Paul Walbridge, Jamie Walker.

SPECIES Total for Day (Total at any one time)

Wedge-tailed Shearwater 250 (40)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 5 (1)
Hutton's Shearwater 6 (2)
Streaked Shearwater 8 (2)
Tahiti Petrel 50 (12)
Pomarine Jaeger 5 (1)
Crested Tern 30 (10)
Common Tern 40 (20)
Little Tern 1 (1)
Sooty Tern 30 (4)
Common Noddy 3 (2)
White-tailed Tropicbird 1 (1)
Brown Booby 1 (1)
Red-footed Booby 1 (1)

Offshore Bottle-nosed Dolphin 15 (6)

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Birds of Yandina Creek Wetland

Latham's Snipe
 I have pulled together a pictorial account of the birds of Yandina Creek Wetland on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.A total of 151 species had been record at the site as of August 2017.

Yandina Creek Wetland before being drained
The large number of people who have followed this issue will be aware that the 200ha site was drained in July 2015 when broken floodgates on the former sugar cane land were repaired. At the time, the area was a thriving wetland teeming with waterbirds, including rare and endangered species and large numbers of migratory shorebirds.

Lewin's Rail
Governments stood by and did nothing to prevent the destruction of the wetland because in their view, it had been artificially created and was therefore not worthy of protection. The land was sold by its farmer-owners in the mid-2000s. The new property developer owners, hopeful that one day the area would be rezoned from rural, failed to maintain floodgates which had prevented inundation of tidal water from the Maroochy River.
Spotless Crake
With the floodgates in disrepair, a vibrant wetland was created as the fallow land was inundated twice daily at high tide. The newly created habitat was not unlike what the area had been in its natural state, before being developed for cane farms in the 1920s.

Intermediate Egret
Following community protests and adverse media coverage, some floodgates were reopened in September 2015 when the Queensland Government took action over the alleged destruction of marine vegetation resulting from the draining. However, the floodgates were again shut - and the wetland was drained for the second time - in January 2016 after government authorities concluded they had no power to prevent plans by the property developer owners to lease the land back to its original farmer owners so sugar cane could again be grown. (This move, by technically continuing an existing land use, was intended to bypass state and federal environmental regulations.)

Australasian Darter
Over the past 12 months, however, there has been little indication that the cane farms will be re-established. It is timely to recall the wealth of birdlife that frequented the site and hopefully will return to it in due course; more will be said about this in the near future.

One of the avian strengths of the Yandina Creek Wetland was its attraction to migratory shorebirds, which are declining rapidly in numbers as their feeding grounds along the flyway between Australia and north-east Asia are developed.

Pectoral Sandpiper
According to Commonwealth guidelines, the wetland was internationally significant because it provided refuge for a significant proportion (between 120 and 150 birds) of the Australian migratory population of Latham's Snipe. The presence of this one species should have been sufficient to prompt the Australian Government to take action to protect the area under various treaties to protect migratory shorebirds to which Australia is a signatory.

Broad-billed Sandpiper
Another migratory shorebird regularly using the wetland was Curlew-Sandpiper, listed as critically endangered under the Commonwealth's Environment Protection and Diversity Conservation Act.
Other migratory shorebirds included species which are scarce visitors to Australia. The only records of Pectoral Sandpiper and Broad-billed Sandpiper in the Sunshine Coast region are from the Yandina Creek Wetland.

Australian Painted-Snipe
 A non-migratory shorebird seen several times at the wetland is the Australian Painted-Snipe, listed as endangered under the federal EPDCA; as many as seven of these rare wading birds have been observed. But the then federal  Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, saw no reason to intervene to save the wetland.

Red-kneed Dotterel
Some of the largest concentrations of Red-kneed Dotterel recorded in eastern Queensland have been at Yandina Creek, with more than 200 birds gathering.

Red-necked Avocet
 Another scarce resident shorebird, Red-necked Avocet, occurred there.

Spotted Harrier
I recently updated old records to present a full list of the 142 bird species recorded in the wetland here on ebird. Other wildlife of interest doubtlessly occurs but the landowners had refused permission to interested parties to undertake a full fauna and flora survey; Eastern Water-Rat and large numbers of Swamp Rat are among the mammals recorded.  Looking at the bird list shows how attractive the site was to raptors. Spotted Harrier, normally a rare visitor to south-east Queensland, is regular here.

Grey Goshawk
Grey Goshawk is usually a denizen of wet forests but at Yandina Creek it habitually sits out in the open.

Peregrine Falcon
The Peregrine Falcon, nesting on nearby Mt Coolum, was a regular visitor.

Australian Hobby
Its smaller cousin, the Australian Hobby, was frequently observed.

Eastern Grass Owl
 The site was significant not just because of its wetlands. It includes substantial areas of well-developed grassland, which provides habitat for a different suite of wildlife. Although the wetland has been drained, the grasslands continue to flourish, although in the absence of tidal water flows they are gradually being replaced by exotic weeds and regrowth of Allocasuarina and Melaleuca trees. The grasslands are home to several pairs of the rare Eastern Grass-Owl.

Large-tailed Nightjar
The wetland is the most southerly site known for the Large-tailed Nightjar, another species that is extremely scarce in south-east Queensland.

Australian Little Bittern
The reeds provided refuge for a small population of the elusive Australian Little Bittern, which could be heard booming in the evening. The elevated tracks that line the canals dissecting the wetland provide excellent opportunities for observing birdlife. As has been noted previously, the site has great potential as an ecotourism destination.

Baillon's Crake
Also in the reeds lurked unusually large numbers of cryptic, uncommon waterbirds including Lewin's Rail, Spotless Crake, Australian Spotted Crake, and Baillon's Crake.

Black-tailed Native-hen
The Black-tailed Native-hen is known from just a handful of records in South-East Queensland but several birds have turned up at Yandina Creek.

Little Grassbird
Perching birds or passerines are well-represented by good populations of the likes of Little Grassbird and Tawny Grassbird in the tall grasses and reeds.

Tawny Grassbird
Red-backed Buttonquail, another species that is very rare in South-East Queensland, occurs in the grasslands, as does King Quail and Brown Quail.

Black-necked Stork
Two pairs of the stately Black-necked Stork used the wetland as a feeding ground, while Brolga was an occasional visitor.

Black Swan nest at Yandina Creek Wetland
Large numbers of waterfowl were to be found at Yandina Creek, with a healthy breeding population of Black Swans and several duck species. Many active swan nests were left stranded when the wetland was initially drained.

Pink-eared Duck
Other interesting waterfowl at the site include Australasian Shoveler and Pink-eared Duck.

Great Cormorant
More common species present in sometimes considerable numbers included Australian Pelican; Royal Spoonbill; all four species of Australian egret - Great, Intermediate, Little and Cattle; four cormorant species - Pied, Little Pied, Great and Little Black; and Australasian Darter.

Australian Pelicans & Royal Spoonbills
The mangroves along Yandina Creek were home to Black Bittern and Mangrove Gerygone.

Mangrove Gerygone

Map of properties comprising Yandina Creek Wetland