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, 12 April 2019

Night Parrot restrictions to stay in place as John Young speaks out

John Young in Diamantina National Park

The Queensland Government has pledged to continue locking up indefinitely hundreds of thousands of hectares of Diamantina National Park in the Channel Country in a move it claims will help protect the critically endangered Night Parrot.

The government's stand comes as north Queensland naturalist John Young broke his silence over criticism of his Night Parrot research. Young announced he was launching a fresh search for the Night Parrot with Winton publican Paul Nielsen. He compared his treatment with the failure of authorities to act over the disappearance of two Night Parrots in Western Australia after one was fitted with a radio transmitter.

Young resigned from his job as a field ecologist with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy last year amid a furore when critics questioned some of his records. An investigation by the AWC last month raised doubts about a clutch of eggs and a nest found by Young in Diamantina National Park and his reports of the species from Kalamurina in South Australia. Young has told supporters that he stands by his records.

The AWC scrapped not only the records in question but all research data gathered by Young in Diamantina National Park and elsewhere. Young's records of the Night Parrot in the park while working for the AWC were responsible for a 2016 decision by the Queensland Government to declare half the 500,000 hectare park a Restricted Access Area. Anyone entering the area may face heavy fines or a jail sentence.

Although those records are now disowned by the AWC, the state Department of Environment and Science said this week the restrictions would remain in place. The department rejected any suggestion there was now no firm evidence of the parrot's continuing presence in the national park, with a spokesman saying: “Evidence shows the existence of Night Parrots in Diamantina National Park. Given the critically endangered status of the Night Parrot and the potential disturbance to these birds from members of the public, the RAA over the eastern part of Diamantina is strongly justified.”

The spokesman added the RAA also helped restrict access to the adjoining Pullen Pullen Nature Refuge, where Young sensationally rediscovered the Night Parrot and took the first photographs of the species in 2013.

A Night Parrot vanished after it was caught in a mist-net and fitted with a radio transmitter in 2017 by a team headed by Night Parrot Recovery Team chief Allan Burbidge in the Each Murchison region of Western Australia. The bird's mate disappeared soon after. The pair was discovered several months earlier by a group of four WA birders.

Young took to Facebook this week to claim that the “fiasco” had gone unchallenged. “This beggars belief,” he said. “A lot of questions need to be asked here as to why on earth it was allowed in the first place and why has it been just brushed under the carpet...” Young added: “That WA capture of the most mythical bird in the world was completely out of line. Those two birds should have never been interfered with after the brilliant work Nigel [Jackett]and Bruce [Greatwich] put into finding them. Before the slightest hint of even contemplating such a thing, there should have been a long monitoring program to see how many more there were.”

Young described his critics during the AWC row as “vengeful”. He said: “You wonder whether they wake up with demons in their eyes wondering who they can take down to their level... We should all be supporting each other, not trying to undermine each other or trying to walk over each other to show how smart we are. In the process the natural world suffers and I am not going to be part of that.”

Young said he had decided to share publicly much of the information he has gathered about the Night Parrot. “Time to open the doors to give you all a chance to see this priceless bird. Much that is coming will never have been shown or told. I am going to leave no stone unturned. I made the mistake of trying to keep the locations out of site to protect the birds and was damned for it. Time to completely open the floodgates.” Over the next few weeks he would “show as much as I can and give as many hints as possible” on how to find the Night Parrot, but he would not be disclosing specific site information.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Oriental Cuckoo + Sunshine Coast bits & pieces

Oriental Cuckoo

Oriental Cuckoo was the only bird in the Sunshine Coast region that I hadn't managed to photograph, so this last summer I was keen to bag it. I found an Oriental Cuckoo in open forest on the Kureelpa Falls track in January but it avoided the camera. The bird hung around the same spot for the next two weeks, coming and going. While others managed to photograph the cuckoo, I couldn't find it on subsequent visits.

Oriental Cuckoo
At the end of February, Maleny birder Hans Erken had an Oriental Cuckoo on his property. It was feeding in a shady glade among orchard trees. Hans reported that the bird returned repeatedly to the same spot, even after flying some distance away. So I was pleased it was still there the next day. Unusually for migrants, this species can often be found over a period of time in a favoured haunt.

Oriental Cuckoo

Oriental Cuckoo
Elsewhere about the region, I camped overnight in March in Bellthorpe National Park, not far from Peachester. I was pleased to find a pair of Red-browed Treecreepers in wet sclerophyll forest – just the third time I've seen the species in the Sunshine Coast hinterland in the decade I've been living here. (They were formerly much more common.) Also seen were a pair of Marbled Frogmouths, while 3 or 4 Southern Boobooks were calling close to the vehicle. These birds were somewhat distant, high the trees. A Masked Owl was heard calling close by in the early-morning.

Marbled Frogmouth

Southern Boobook
Glossy Black Cockatoos have been drinking regularly around Sunrise Beach, especially in the vicinity of Rainbow Park. Australasian Shoveler has turned up at Wappa Dam and near Bli Bli. 

Australasian Shoveler

Glossy Black Cockatoo
Swamp Harrier is showing early in the season near Bli Bli, and a Black Kite was seen there catching a large cane toad.

Black Kite with cane toad

Swamp Harrier
Richmond Birdwing is looking good at Cooloolabin.

Richmond Birdwing
Eastern Ringtail has been seen a few times during the day as well as night in the home garden at Ninderry, where a white phase Grey Goshawk was photographed roosting at night.

Eastern Ringtail

Grey Goshawk white phase
With a start to the cool weather, flocks of Topknot Pigeons are feeding in the open, this bird near Cooroy this morning.

Topknot Pigeon

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

The travesty that is Toondah Harbour: Queensland Labor's environmental sin

Eastern Curlew, Grey-tailed Tattler & Great Knot

The foreshore of Raby Bay on Moreton Bay, a short distance from Brisbane, was a magical place. Thousands of migratory shorebirds of many species would congregate there at high tide on samphire flats behind the mangroves, dispersing at low tide to feed on adjoining mudflats. When I was a young birder in the late-1960s and early-1970s, Raby Bay was an exciting destination; I spent many hours there working out how to identify those shorebirds.

Whimbrel & Bar-tailed Godwit
These days, Raby Bay is a vast expanse of canals, marinas and real estate. All the special spots I once frequented are gone. Nothing remains of that once thriving haven for birdlife. The same is true of many places around Moreton Bay and elsewhere in south-east Queensland, where wildlife habitat has been displaced by canal and other coastal development. We now know that Moreton Bay is regarded as being of international significance as a feeding and roosting ground for migratory shorebirds, so governments have supposedly tried in recent years to contain the destruction and protect what's left of the habitat.

Toondah Harbour, looking north

Toondah Harbour, looking east to Cassim Island
Or so we thought. Today, just a short distance from the environmental wasteland that is Raby Bay, yet another massive development is set to proceed. More than 40 hectares of tidal flats which are supposedly protected under the international Ramsar convention will be destroyed to make way for the Walker Corporation's $1.3 billion Toondah Harbour project which includes a 200-berth marina, a convention centre and 3,600 residential dwellings.

Scope of the planned Toondah Harbour development 

The planned development - another sea of canals
State and federal environmental laws are being trashed in the process. What is the point of signing treaties such as Ramsar, intended to protect the habitat of rapidly dwindling populations of migratory shorebirds, if those treaties are simply ignored when inconvenient? When will authorities say “enough is enough” and seriously do something to curb coastal canal developments? Are the interests of wealthy owners of canal-side mansions and luxury boats more important than salvaging those few remaining areas of natural coastal habitat?

Terek Sandpiper
This week I strolled across the mud and sand flats and through the tall mangroves of Toondah Harbour at low tide. As I looked east from the shore towards Cassim Island, I tried to envisage the moonscape of canals that is set to be the lot of this place. Raby Bay all over again. Feeding on the mudflats I saw Eastern Curlew and Great Knot, two species listed federally as “critically endangered” because their numbers have crashed catastrophically in recent years, largely due to coastal developments along the flyways between the birds' breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere and their summer feeding refuges in Australia. Refuges like Toondah Harbour. Why bother listing something as endangered if its habitat is being demolished?

Gull-billed Tern
Also on the flats were plenty of Bar-tailed Godwits, some looking splendid in breeding plumage as they prepare to depart for their annual 12,000km migration northwards. Other migratory shorebirds included Whimbrel, Terek Sandpiper and Grey-tailed Tattler. A host of non-migratory birds were there as well: Australian Pelican, Pied Oystercatcher, Gull-billed Tern, Little Egret and many others. Bird images in this post were taken at Toondah Harbour this week.

Raby Bay, as it looks today
Just across the harbour, at Oyster Point, a state government sign proudly points out that the area is a wetland of international significance, protected under Ramsar. Says the sign: “These shorebirds need the space, food and protection found at critical sites along the foreshores of Moreton Bay.” No hint there that the treaty is in the process of being gutted and that one of those critical sites is about to be obliterated.

State government sign at Oyster Point
The former federal Environment Minister, Josh Frydenberg, ignored his own department's advice to block the Toondah Harbour project. In a 2016 letter to the company, the department suggested it might want to consider an alternative proposal to “avoid substantially direct impacts on the ecological character of the Moreton Bay Ramsar wetland”. When nothing of the sort was forthcoming, the department advised the minister in 2017 that the proposal was "clearly unacceptable" because it would result in “permanent and irreversible damage to the ecological character” of the wetland.

Flock of Grey-tailed Tattler & Bar-tailed Godwit
Frydenberg ignored that advice and instead ordered his department to undertake a “full assessment” that “might lead to mitigation or offsets of any significant environmental impact”. That's politician-speak for giving the project the green light. The Walker Corporation donated $225,000 to Frydenberg's federal Liberal Party in 2016; the minister and the company insist donations had no influence on the decision-making process.

Little Egret
According to reports by the ABC, Frydenberg's department raised multiple objections to the project. The impacts of the ecological character of the site would be “difficult to mitigate and offset”, notwithstanding the minister's suggestion to the contrary. The department expressed concerns about adverse changes to water quality resulting from dredging, excavation and reclamation work. Increased boat traffic, lighting and ongoing dredging of the harbour would be damaging for dugongs and three species of sea turtle that frequent the area. The removal of onshore vegetation would pose risks to other threatened species, including koalas.

Pied Oystercatcher
The federal Labor Opposition raised no voices of objection to the minister's move, being more concerned about lending support to the Palaszczuk state Labor government, which has not only enthusiastically embraced the project but expanded it significantly from what was proposed originally. In 2016, the then Queensland Environment and Heritage Department wrote on behalf of Deputy Premier Jackie Trad and Environment Minister Steven Miles to the then federal Environment and Energy Department about the Ramsar convention. The letter complained that “historical mapping anomolies” were compromising the “revitalisation” of Toondah Harbour.

Australian Pelican
In other words state Labor, which has also been the beneficiary of generous donations from the Walker Corporation, wanted the international treaty maps torn up so that, among other things, half a million cubic metres of seabed could be dredged to make way for the project.  On its website, the Walker Corporation describes Toondah Harbour as a “rare opportunity to create a waterfront destination that will transform the face” of the region. Yes, the face of the region will indeed be transformed.

Mangroves at Toondah Harbour
While canal developments are being discouraged around the world, especially in this era of climate change and rising sea levels, they continue in Queensland to be regarded as models of sensible economic development. The wanton destruction of environmentally sensitive wetlands is as acceptable to governments today as it was half a century ago.

See here for how to lodge a protest.

Toondah Harbour looking south to where ferries leave for North Stradbroke Island