Monday 26 June 2017

Birds of the Cape River & Campaspe Plains, Queensland

Back in the summer of 2016, on a collection of rural properties in the desert uplands region (Cape-Campaspe Plains) of northern Queensland, south-west of Charters Towers and south-east of the small town of Pentland, four men and a woman dressed in khaki and beige set about turning over every rock, fallen branch and piece of tin they could lay their hands on, in search of the creatures below and within. They had very little to do over three weeks…, other than find animals. 

Black-throated Finch stake-out
Some good rains had fallen over the region a few weeks prior to our arrival. The country was looking wonderful, and teeming with life. The cattle were fat and the frogs very nearly as fat -deafening they were in some places and one had to be careful with every step.

Each day Dennis, Darren, Bruce and I…, and many times, Sue, would set out from our camp on the upper reaches of the Cape River and begin the long drive north towards Pentland, from where we would then head east along the Flinders Highway, over the Cape River tributaries, and further on head south along a nondescript dirt road into the survey area. It was quite the trek! For, due to the river flowing at the time, and there being no nearby crossings any of us were aware of that would get us over to the eastern side, this extra hike was forced upon us each day. Frustratingly, the vast majority of survey sites were just the other side of this river, and some of those only a few hundred metres from our camp. Every evening one of us would walk down to the river, look over it sullenly, and try to conceive a way around it. In the end, though, we had to come to terms that there was no other way.  

Gilgai woodland
The sites to the east were spread wide over the landscape, and within various types of habitats…, some proving more rewarding than others, in terms of what they brought. Lightly-timbered eucalypt and acacia woodland with a grassy understorey, normally referred to as tropical savannah, was probably the most dominant and extensive vegetation type and this is where the most interesting birds turned-up.

Ornamental Snake
There were also stands of native pine Casuarina cristata, or belah, on the heavier clay soils, where one of the animals we were after was supposed to be found, the Ornamental Snake Denisonia maculata (right). Searches were undertaken each evening for this little guy and every night we returned to camp with stories of their capture. No more than 18 inches long, this snake is almost exclusively found in, or very close to, the Gilgai’s (large, hollowed-out scrapes in the heavy clay soils) scattered in and around the belah woodland, where the surface of the earth reminds one of golf ball dimples. So often it was found sitting motionless in these depressions, lying in wait for anything edible to happen past and stumble into striking reach. And, as many of the scrapes contained water and were rung with a wealth of frogs, they did not have to wait long for their meals to arrive. 

Green-striped Frog
The frogs were great fun! They never stopped entertaining. In all, we came across eight different species -not including the vermin toad- and all in different stages of development. A couple of the more common species were the Superb Collared Frog Cyclorana brevipesGreen-striped Frog Cyclorana alboguttata (pictured left) and Eastern Snapping Frog Cyclorana novaehollandiae. There were tens of thousands of these and they could all be heard calling in perfect agreement, snapping up the wealth of insect prey within easy reach of another. Everything was perfect happiness. It was the same wherever we went. At every corner they were seen happy and squat, getting fat on the resources. 

Towards the end of the trip the frog din became less obvious. The chorus no longer reached the heights of earlier days and the quieter intervals between became more lengthy with each night -they were seemingly winding down. But gradually, little by little, within these relative calms one could make out an unusual and feeble sound. It was an odd little cry…, hardly-audible… high-pitched…, a drawn-out “eeeeegh”. I had no idea what it was. But it sounded disturbing. Darren suggested it was the sound of violence. The frogs, according to him, had put aside their former easiness, had turned on one another, and were now feasting on their neighbours. I couldn’t believe it. I needed to see it for myself. How could these charismatic little creatures be responsible for such ghastly deeds? It wasn’t possible.

Eastern Snapping Frog devouring a Superb Collared Frog
Darren, to shut me up, drew me over to where the so-called slaughter was taking place. He then there shone a light on a properly obese Eastern Snapping Frog in the middle of a meal. Here, thrust about a third of the way inside its mouth, was a slightly smaller, swollen, sad and pathetic-looking, Superb Collared Frog which, with each scream and release of air, was slowly disappearing within the mouth of the other. It was heart-breaking.

Happily, things were not so gruesome during daylight hours. We would set out for the savannah woodlands -principally on the eastern side of the study area- and spend hours beneath the summer sun searching for anything that moved or grumbled. The heat was brutal in these places! Animals of any kind were hard to come by. Even sun-loving lizards had gone missing -there was next to no sign of them here at the best of times. By as early as 8.30 most mornings the temperature had risen to around 40 degrees and, at that early hour, defied logic by feeling as though it was the hottest part of the day, only to rise steadily still throughout the remainder of the afternoon. No doubt after this mid-morning hell-spell the temperature plateaued and remained the same until late afternoon when the heat seemed not to be as bad…, or at least it was more bearable.

Herein, slow walk, after slow walk, from the shade of one tree to the next, where it was a good idea to stop a few moments, watch and listen, and pace one’s self so as not to come down with heat-stroke, some birds and animals put in an appearance. But none of them came quick and fast. Rather, there were lengthy periods of silence disrupted occasionally with brief bursts of activity.

Despite the seemingly unsuitable conditions, a good many bird species were discovered over the duration; likely because whenever anything interesting did “pipe-up” it was able to be heard over the hush and there were not too many distractions on the way to finding them. Not even the sometimes deafening cries of cicadas proved to be a problem. That is how one day I was able to latch on to a handful of Grey-fronted Honeyeater in a sparsely-treed woodland, a bird that I am more familiar with in southern parts of the country and one that very nearly goes down as my “bird-of-the-trip”.

Red-browed Pardalote
Whilst observing the grey-headed honeyeaters a soft piping sound was audible off in the near distance, a hundred metres or so away. Recognising the call at once, I set off in a canter, careful though not to over-heat the “machinery”. On arrival, it became clear that there were in fact two of the softly piping birds, which I knew to be the Red-browed Pardalote Pardalotus rubricatus (pictured left). Just managing to track one of the two birds down in time to obtain a visual identification, a different bird began calling a little way off that set my pulse racing anew. It was a Crested Bellbird, the “pum…, pum…, pumalum” call giving it away, and a species which I was not expecting to find here –I thought we too far north. But it turned out Bruce and Dennis had recorded them a few days beforehand, and I managed to come across more later, though they went unseen, as is so often the case with the species.

Daily travels around the properties also threw up a few really healthy-looking wetlands, the odd one quite large, and some with stands of aquatic vegetation. It was not something we were expecting to find. But these wetlands “beefed-up” the bird-list considerably and came in handy during the middle of the day when other habitats became inactive. For, apart from the usual waterbird candidates one might expect, there were also other fine discoveries such as Glossy Ibis, some breeding White-necked Heron, the Black-necked Stork, a small number of Magpie Geese, the Comb-crested Jacana, Cotton Pygmy Goose and, at one particularly productive spot, a pair of Brolga with chicks. Nice! Australasian Grebe and the northern, longer wattled form of Masked Lapwing also had active nests at this last location.

As for the target species, Squatter Pigeon Geophaps scripta scripta were seen fairly regularly in small numbers. We must came across them almost every day. Wherever a watercourse travelled through an area of skeletal soils we were a good chance of picking them up. The enigmatic Black-throated Finch Poephila cincta cincta was a different story, however. We were not getting a sniff of that bird anywhere.

Black-faced Woodswallow
Towards the latter end of the trip Darren and I decided to concentrate our efforts on an area near the south-eastern limits of the study area. A decent decision it proved, too, for it was in this area that some of the unexpectedly few Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo were encountered during the trip, likewise a couple more crested bellbird, a Red-backed Kingfisher and small numbers of Little Woodswallow. Darren busied himself by recording the plant species in this area and I continued the search further afield, soon losing sight of him, and still hopping from one tree to the next in search of shade -for it hadn’t got any cooler.

Black-throated Finch
Towards early evening, and after having picked up birds like Grey-crowned Babblers, Rufous-throated Honeyeater, a Collared Sparrowhawk and a loose group of 16 Black-faced Woodswallow Artamus cinereus (pictured above), I set out across a clearing scattered here and there with large isolated shrubs and trees when I thought I heard the call of a chat. My pulse quickened and I began looking about me in haste...., then with increasing desperation. The birds continued to call intermittently but, frustratingly, I was not able to locate them. I was mad with fear lest I should miss them. Then, off to my left, I caught sight of two small birds perched atop a tree in the clearing. Seeing them clearly now, the first thing that became clear was that they were no chats. No, these two birds were something much more exciting. For, there before me were a pair of black-throated finch, the birds we were after, and the same we thought it unlikely we would see. Immediately, I grabbed my camera and set about taking some record shots –none of them good despite their displays. Eventually, tired of my feeble attempts, they blew me off and flew to another perch fifty metres further on, and moments later were lost to the south. 

It was a hugely successful twelve days. And it could have been much more. For, in the last few days someone did eventually manage to find a way over the Cape River, only a kilometre or so downstream of our camp, where tracks left-right-and-centre crossed the river bed. It turned out all someone had to do was ask the station hand. 

Emu Dromaius novaehollandiae, Brown Quail Coturnix ypsilophora, Magpie Goose Anseranas semipalmata, Plumed Whistling Duck Dendrocygna eytoni, Pink-eared Duck Malacorhynchus membranaceus, Maned Duck Chenonetta jubata, Cotton Pygmy Goose Nettapus coromandelianus, Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa, Grey Teal Anas gracilis, Hardhead Aythya australis,  Australasian Grebe Tachybaptus novaehollandiae, Hoary-headed Grebe Poliocephalus poliocephalus, Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus, Black-necked Stork Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus, Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus, Royal Spoonbill Platalea regia, Nankeen Night Heron Nycticorax caledonicus, White-necked Heron Ardea pacifica, Great Egret Ardea modesta, Intermediate Egret Ardea intermedia, Little Egret Egretta garzetta, Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus, Little Black Cormorant Phalacrocorax sulcirostris, Australasian Darter Anhinga novaehollandiae, Black Kite Milvus migrans, Whistling Kite Haliastur sphenurus, Spotted Harrier Circus assimilis, Brown Goshawk Accipiter fasciatus, Collared Sparrowhawk Accipiter cirrocephalus, Wedge-tailed Eagle Aquila audax, Nankeen Kestrel Falco cenchroides, Australian Hobby Falco longipennis, Brown Falcon Falco berigora, Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus, Australian Bustard Ardeotis australis, Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio, Eurasian Coot Fulica atra, Brolga Grus rubicunda, Little Buttonquail Turnix velox, Bush Stone-curlew Burhinus grallarius, White-headed Stilt Himantopus leucocephalus, Masked Lapwing Vanellus miles,  Black-fronted Dotterel Elseyornis melanops, Comb-crested Jacana Irediparra gallinacea, White-headed Pigeon Columba leucomela, Common Bronzewing Phaps chalcoptera, Crested Pigeon Ocyphaps lophotes, Squatter Pigeon Geophaps scripta scripta, Diamond Dove Geopelia cuneata, Peaceful Dove Geopelia striata, Red-tailed Black Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus banksii, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Cacatua galerita, Galah Eolophus roseicapilla, Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus moluccanus, Pale-headed Rosella Platycercus adscitus, Red-winged Parrot Aprosmictus erythropterus, Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinus, Pacific Koel Eudynamys orientalis, Channel-billed Cuckoo Scythrops novaehollandiae, Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis, Shining Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx lucidus, Little Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx minutillus minutillus, Pallid Cuckoo Cacomantis pallidus, Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformis, Brush Cuckoo Cacomantis variolosus, Southern Boobook Ninox boobook, Tawny Frogmouth Podargus strigoides, Spotted Nightjar Eurostopodus argus, Australian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles cristatus, Oriental Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis, Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae, Blue-winged Kookaburra Dacelo leachii, Forest Kingfisher Todiramphus macleayii, Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus, Red-backed Kingfisher Todiramphus pyrrhopygius, Rainbow Bee-eater Merops ornatus, Great bowerbird Chlamydera nuchalis, Spotted Bowerbird Chlamydera maculata, Brown Treecreeper Climacteris picumnus, Variegated Fairywren Malurus lamberti, Red-backed Fairywren Malurus melanocephalus, Singing Honeyeater Lichenostomus virescens, Grey-fronted Honeyeater Lichenostomus plumulus, Noisy Miner Manorina melanocephala, Yellow-throated Miner Manorina flavigula, Blue-faced Honeyeater Entomyzon cyanotis, Black-chinned Honeyeater Melithreptus gularis gularis, White-throated Honeyeater Melithreptus albogularis, Little Friarbird Philemon citreogularis, Noisy Friarbird Philemon corniculatus, Striped Honeyeater Plectorhyncha lanceolata, Brown Honeyeater Lichmera indistincta, Rufous-throated Honeyeater Conopophila rufogularis, Red-browed Pardalote Pardalotus rubricatus, Striated Pardalote Pardalotus striatus, Weebill Smicrornis brevirostris, White-throated Gerygone Gerygone ilvacea, Inland Thornbill Acanthiza apicalis, Yellow-rumped Thornbill Acanthiza chrysorrhoa, Yellow Thornbill Acanthiza nana, Grey-crowned Babbler Pomatostomus temporalis, Grey Butcherbird Cracticus torquatus, Pied Butcherbird Cracticus nigrogularis, Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen, Masked Woodswallow Artamus personatus, White-browed Woodswallow Artamus superciliosus, Black-faced Woodswallow Artamus cinereus, Little Woodswallow Artamus minor, Black-faced Cuckooshrike Coracina novaehollandiae, White-bellied Cuckooshrike Coracina papuensis, Common Cicadabird Coracina tenuirostris, White-winged Triller Lalage sueurii, Varied Sittella Daphoenositta chrysoptera, Rufous Whistler Pachycephala rufiventris, Grey Shrikethrush Colluricincla harmonica, Crested Bellbird Oreoica gutturalis, Olive-backed Oriole Oriolus sagittatus, Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys, Magpie-lark Grallina cyanoleuca, Leaden Flycatcher Myiagra rubecula, Torresian Crow Corvus orru, Australian Raven Corvus coronoides, Apostlebird Struthidea cinerea, Jacky Winter Microeca fascinans, Tawny Grassbird Megalurus timoriensis, Rufous Songlark Cincloramphus mathewsi, Brown Songlark Cincloramphus cruralis, Mistletoebird Dicaeum hirundinaceum, Black-throated Finch Poephila cincta cincta, Zebra Finch Taeniopygia guttata, Double-barred Finch Taeniopygia bichenovii, Australian pipit Anthus australis

Based on Australian_IOC_Checklist V1.1

Monday 24 April 2017

Pechey's Lagoon in the Lockyer Valley

Over the past decade or so I have frequented a little spot in the district of Lower Tenthill, which lies in the southern parts of Queensland's bird-rich Lockyer Valley, and is just a short drive south-west of the town of Gatton. Somewhat out of the Traprock district where my recent efforts have been concentrated, it goes by the name of Pechey's Lagoon and seems to be becoming more and more well known and popular with each passing year. For, whereas once upon a time this gem-of-a-location was little recognised -mostly local birders were in the habit of visiting, nowadays things have changed, and it seems to be on most birding visitor's itinerary of the region. 

Anyone who has experienced Pechey's Lagoon at its best might well understand this increase in popularity, for quite apart from it being a charming site, it is a really interesting mix of habitats. Woodland, swamp and farmland come together here to form a diverse blend that has turned up some nice discoveries over the years and continues to do so still.

Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia
Moderate in size and, fortunately for birders, low-lying in terms of its overall depth, the lagoon provides some reasonably extensive areas of mudflat and, after particularly heavy rains, the wetland swells and spills out onto the roads, blocking off vehicle access, and stretches out onto an adjacent private property to the south. It is at these times that the calling frogs can be deafening and, right behind them, of-course, come the many herons and egrets ready to take them at their most vulnerable moment! The heron population can be impressive at such times, with just about all of the locals being recorded here at one time or another, and sometimes many on the same visit, including the rather graceful Intermediate Egret (pictured right).

When there is enough semi-permanent water the surface can be altogether choked with aquatic vegetation; on each visit there appears a different turn and renewal of the biological cycle and often a complete transformation of aquatic flora species from one season to the next. This increased cover provides opportunity for the "skulkers" to set up shop, at least for a time. A few years back, around 2010, Black-tailed Native-Hen had dispersed en masse from a sodden central Australia, where they had been breeding up in big numbers in response to good rains, and for a time afterwards records were surfacing from here, there and everywhere around the east and south coast of the country. At such times these birds can be encountered in enormous numbers. (In South Australia there can be so many that one really does have to try very hard not to collect them with the vehicle -indeed, there is little time for anything other than trying not to run them over.)

Wandering Whistling Duck Dendrocygna arcuata
This is also when one might be a chance of encountering the rather handsome-looking Wandering Whistling Duck (left); not an uncommon species in south-east Queensland, but one that seems to prefer vegetative cover, it's a bird that can sometimes seem to materialise from nowhere with a brood of ducklings as though they had all been parachuted in from elsewhere, such is the secrecy with which they go about the breeding process.   

(Recently, within the last twelve months, many parts of eastern mainland Australia experienced another seasonal deluge and numerous inland locations were flooded, including portions of the ecologically important Murray-Darling Basin. During this time, one might reasonably have expected another mass breeding event of waterbirds to take place, such as that of a decade or so earlier, and, indeed, for many months waterbirds had gone missing from much of the east coast, presumably to breed "out there". But so far, with plenty of time having passed between then and now, and the return of some waterbirds in "dribs and drabs", there has been little evidence of any such large-scale breeding. For any related coastal dispersal that might be expected afterwards has pretty much gone unnoticed this time around, or at least that I am aware of, and this is rather discouraging. Hopefully, though, with time this will prove to be misleading and we will again see them return in abundance.)

Freckled Duck Stictonetta naevosa
Quite apart from the location being a relatively regular haunt for Freckled Duck (left) over the years -another whose plight is determined by those "boom and bust" environmental cycles through the Murray-Darling Basin, the Baillon's Crake (below) has also turned up at the site. In 2012 a group of us manged to see one of these crakes on the edge of the swamp vegetation and there has been additional sightings of the species before and since -crakes and rails are not frequently encountered in the "valley", despite the often perfect conditions that can often be found throughout. So any record from this group of birds is a good one. 

Baillon's Crake Porzana pusilla 
Normally on arrival at Pechey's Lagoon I will pass a cursory eye over the water and margin for anything of obvious interest, whereupon I will then make my way over to a stand of nearby trees within the paddock. There is said to be an Australian Owlet-Nightjar that can sometimes be seen sunning itself on cool mornings at the entrance to one of the tree hollows; but I have to take the word of others for that as, although I have heard the species call during daylight hours on a couple of occasions, I am yet to see this particular individual. Not to be discouraged, it is then on to an area of adjacent woodland and paddocks off Cross Road that is almost always good for bush birds. Scarlet Robin is a bird that has turned up in this area, so too the Turquoise Parrot and Diamond Dove. And it can be particularly good for cuckoos, too, with at least nine species recorded over the years, to my knowledge. If one includes the Pheasant Coucal, Channel-billed Cuckoo and Pacific Koel, then there has also been the Black-eared and Pallid Cuckoo -both at their eastern-most limits, the Fan-tailed, Brush Cuckoo, Shining Bronze and Little Bronze Cuckoo (below left). 

It is also here that a small party of Varied Sittella can sometimes be seen amongst the ironbarks, whilst the Plum-headed Finch also seems to favour this area, sometimes turning up in quite good numbers when the grasses are seeding profusely. Likewise, all three fairy-wren species can be found in this vicinity; the red-backed, variegated and superb fairy-wrens, which sometimes happens in the transition zone of suitable habitats. Other nice discoveries over time have been of a couple of instances of Ground Cuckoo-shrike and the Chestunt-breasted Mannikin (below right). Pechey's seems to be a relatively regular haunt of a pair of Black Falcon, too -but whether they are a separate pair to those over at nearby Lake Clarendon, it is hard to know. 

Chestnut-breasted Mannikin Lonchura castaneothorax 
Little Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx minutillus (male) 

Once I feel that the woodland birding experience has been exhausted, or at least when the birds have quietened, I will often grab the scope and set myself up in a shaded area beneath some red-gums on the northern side of the dam. Time after time I return to this particular spot. For it's a good vantage point from where to scan the expanse of water before you to the south and, from where, if one is quiet and discreet, waterbirds approach once they become comfortable enough with your presence. This is a fantastic little spot and I find that on each visit I tend to spend more and more time wiling away the hours here.

So, this is Pechey's Lagoon! Not Fogg Dam..., not Iron Range or even Broome..., but one fine, pint-sized little wetland I have a fondness for!

Personal Birdlist for Pechey's Lagoon
Golden-headed Cisticola Cisticola exilis -a grass-loving
bird that can be very photogenic.
Brown Quail, Magpie Goose, Plumed Whistling Duck, Wandering Whistling Duck, Black Swan, Freckled Duck, Pink-eared Duck, Maned Duck, Pacific Black Duck, Australasian Shoveler, Grey Teal, Chestnut Teal, Hardhead, Australasian Grebe, Australian White Ibis, Straw-necked Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Royal Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Eastern Cattle Egret, White-necked Heron, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, White-faced Heron, Little Egret, Australian Pelican, Little Pied Cormorant, Little Black Cormorant, Great Cormorant, Australasian Darter, Black Kite, Whistling Kite, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Brown Goshawk, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Nankeen Kestrel, Brown Falcon, Black Falcon, Baillon's Crake, Purple Swamphen, Dusky Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, White-headed Stilt, Masked Lapwing*, Red-kneed Dotterel, Black-fronted Dotterel*, Comb-crested Jacana, Whiskered Tern, Common Bronzewing, Crested Pigeon, Peaceful Dove, Bar-shouldered Dove, Galah, Little Corella, Cockatiel, Rainbow Lorikeet, Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, Little Lorikeet, Pale-headed Rosella, Red-rumped Parrot, Turquoise Parrot, Pheasand Coucal, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Shining Bronze Cuckoo, Little Bronze Cuckoo, Pallid Cuckoo, Australian Owlet-Nightjar, Oriental Dollarbird, Laughing Kookaburra, Sacred Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Variegated Fairywren, Superb Fairywren, Red-backed Fairywren, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Noisy Miner, Blue-faced Honeyeater, White-throated Honeyeater, Little Friarbird, Noisy Friarbird, Striped Honeyeater, Brown Honeyeater, Scarlet Myzomela, Spotted Pardalote, Striated Pardalote, Speckled Warbler, White-browed Scrubwren, Weebill, White-throated Gerygone, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Yellow Thornbill, Grey-crowned Babbler, Grey Butcherbird, Pied Butcherbird, Australian Magpie, Pied Currawong, Ground Cuckooshrike, Black-faced Cuckooshrike, White-winged Triller, Varied Sittella, Australian Golden Whistler, Rufous Whistler, Grey Shrikethrush, Australasian Figbird, Olive-backed Oriole, Willie Wagtail, Grey Fantail, Magpie-Lark, Leaden Flycatcher, Restless Flycatcher, Torresian Crow, Rose Robin, Welcome Swallow, Tree Martin, Tawny Grassbird, Golden-headed Cisticola, Silvereye, Common Myna, Mistletoebird, Plum-headed Finch, Double-barred Finch, Chestnut-breasted Mannikin 

Based on Australian_IOC_Checklist V1.1

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Rosenthal Scrub EP: Small Reserve On A Hill

Nine kilometres south-west of the town of Warwick a small woodland reserve known as Rosenthal Scrub Environmental Park sits atop a hill. Little visited by birders, it is no more than 7.05 hectares in size and it would take no longer than fifteen minutes to walk its entire boundary. Much of it is crisscrossed here and there with narrow paths; even these tracks are traversed by a grey, chestnut and dark-bay, three horses that had been present for some time. Now meat ants maintain these tracks, and doing a surprisingly good job they are.  

Despite these seemingly destructive forces, the park is in surprisingly good condition and diverse in terms of its flora, something even more surprising given that there is very little similar habitat nearby. Somehow, it seems to thrive on its own. 

My association with the park has only been over a relatively short period, but it hasn't taken too long during that time to learn that a good variety of bird species call this place home. And, because of its diminutive size, it means that all those birds present are packed into the limited space available and "relatively easy" to see. For, it is somewhat sad, but they have nowhere else to go.

Speckled Warbler -male
Without trying too hard, most visits to the location can unearth close to forty bird species in a little over an hour. Some of these can be rather nice birds, too. A family of Speckled Warbler (male pictured right) are resident and seen on just about every visit. Often the adults will alert one to their presence by a distinctive churring noise, belted out reasonably loudly and disapprovingly when they first notice you and then subsequently whenever one strays too close to the foraging birds -they almost always are the first bird in a feeding party to alert others to potential danger. And the first sign that they have young ones among them comes in the form of a short, sharp, high-pitched note, similar to an immature red-capped robin for those that are familiar with them. Like the Grey Fantail, which also occurs here, speckled warblers are great company and are always worth spending some time searching for.

White-browed Scrubwren
Sometimes hard-to-see birds like thornbills can be seen at close range, usually best after they have become accustomed to one's presence. Yellow Thornbills, surprisingly numerous, are often foraging with or near the odd Weebill, whilst inevitably not too far away are Yellow-rumped Thornbills and the rather angry-looking and cantankerous White-browed Scrubwren (pictured left), a bird that almost always seems to have something to complain about. The northern, dark-headed form of Varied Sittella can be seen quite regularly at the location; they seem to quite like searching the deeply-fissured ironbarks for insects, although for the most part they will take whatever tree-type they can get.

Further on, one is a good chance to come across an Eastern Yellow Robin (below right), or two, often flying in silently, perching sideways on a trunk, to see what is responsible for the disturbance in their patch. Other times their piping call will alert one to their presence; sometimes this regular and monotonous call can continue for what seems a life-time and the bird's never seem to get tired of it. And, because they often come in and perch nearby, this can allow some nice photographs to be taken.

Eastern Yellow Robin
A pair of Brown Goshawk have a nest in the park, or at least they did so. As a result, they could be seen often if a visit coincided with their nesting, as on one particular visit of mine. On this occasion, as I walked through the woodland, without warning, a bird big enough to be a female came straight towards me at break-neck speed through the trees and then peeled off only at the very last moment. As she did so, I noticed that she appeared to have something in her talons. Once she had passed and found a nearby perch to reload from, I looked down at my feet and noticed what appeared to be a decapitated and quite dead, hairless animal. Who could be certain, though. She had presented me with and offering. But I resisted the urge to touch it, as on a previous occasion many years ago something similar happened when I picked up and was carrying about a bull's testicle for much of the day, not knowing what it was.

Smaller residents such as Silvereyes and Double-barred Finches (pictured below left) also do well at the location, their numbers far-out-weighing what one might have thought the reserve capable of hosting. The latter breed here and frequently one finds dirty-looking young birds (that's the best way to describe them) among the much cleaner adults. 

Double-barred Finch
Due to the exposed setting, the winds from the surrounding countryside collect and funnel over and around the knoll, no doubt bringing with them all manner of weed seeds -although, strangely, there is no great physical evidence of this in the park. For, as with many such landmarks, it often blows. For a bird species that relies on its prey insects being dislodged from their arboreal roost, this can be a blessing. And perhaps that's one of the main reasons that, given the right time of year, Oriental Dollarbirds are almost always to be found at this site. The birds sit patiently on a prominent roost, waiting for a gust of wind and then, without warning, slide gracefully off their perch, momentarily dip, then gain some more height and snatch at their prey, usually very successfully. They seem to be particularly keen on cicadas... and there is no shortage of those.

Variegated Fairy-Wren can be seen at the reserve in a couple of small groups, or at least that's how it seems -it's not always easy to determine whether one has come across the same group of birds on multiple occasions, and at a different parts of the reserve, or not. But I suspect there is a small group at the eastern end and then another at the western. Here, on the flanks of the hill, there remains a small amount of remnant vine scrub, which they seem to be particularly keen on, and where often any wayward migrants might turn up on their way through the area south or north.

Striated Pardalote -male
Rosenthal Scrub really is quite the relaxing little spot, so much so that a Southern Boobook has seen fit to set up a daytime roost here, a species very adept at locating quiet, shaded spots for its diurnal roosts. One bird was located roosting on the verge of one of the tracks, which is no doubt a good strategy as any potential danger is more easily identified and any subsequent evasive action more readily taken, evidenced by its sudden and explosive departure on my approach. But, rather than disappearing further off, out of sight, the bird on this occasion fled a short distance further into the woodland just off the track, no more than fifteen metres away and where it continued to be visible. Unfortunately, they can be a little difficult to get good shots of in such situations, though; with a dense screen of branches, twigs and foliage between, it was best to leave the bird alone.  


Common Myna, Silvereye, Mistletoebird, Double-barred Finch, Tawny Grassbird, Torresian Crow, Pied Currawong, Australian Magpie, Grey Butcherbird, Pied Butcherbird, Australasian Figbird, Olive-backed Oriole, Black-faced Cuckooshrike, Black-faced Monarch, Leaden Flycatcher, Magpie-lark, Grey Fantail, Willie Wagtail, Rufous Whistler, Grey Shrikethush, Eastern Yellow Robin, Scarlet Myzomela, Brown Honeyeater, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Noisy Miner, Blue-faced Honeyeater, Noisy Friarbird, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Striped Honeyeater, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Yellow Thornbill, Weebill, White-browed Scrubwren, Speckled Warbler, Superb Fairywren, Variegated Fairywren, Striated Pardalote, Spotted Pardalote, Varied Sittella, Oriental Dollarbird, Laughing Kookaburra, Southern Boobook, Pheasant Coucal, Pacific Koel, Eastern Rosella, Australian King Parrot, Rainbow Lorikeet, Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, Galah, Little Corella, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Bar-shouldered Dove, Crested Pigeon, Spotted Dove, Nankeen Kestrel, Brown Goshawk, Brown Quail 

Based on Australian_IOC_Checklist


Thursday 23 February 2017

Summer Spots Around Inglewood

Breaking records here, there and everywhere, the hot spell that this part of the world experienced from near the end of January until around the middle of this month was a testing time for all, birds and people alike, and seemed as though it was without end. We were regularly experiencing days over 35 degrees, without a break, and the rain clouds that irregularly stole upon the area some afternoons and evenings promised without delivering, taunting on each occasion. We desperately need some rain.

The countryside is very dry and in dire need of a drink. Even many of the migrant birds that are usually present at this time of year seem to have moved on, seeking better living conditions elsewhere. Either that, or they are lying low and conserving energy. Koels are no longer calling and it has been weeks since I have seen a dollarbird. Needless to say, these were hardly ideal times to go birding. 

When the temperatures did finally drop, however, it was quite the relief..., and we even got a little rain which quickly re-greened the countryside, at least for the time-being, and the first available opportunity was sought to go birding somewhere out west. The decision was made to visit a handful of spots around the town of Inglewood, namely Mosquito Creek Road (pictured below), Yelarbon State Forest and Coolmunda Dam, and pick up some of the slightly more inland bird species that prefer drier habitats.

White-winged Fairywren habitat -Mosquito Creek Road.

The drive out along the Cunningham Highway was uneventful, as it was overcast for almost the entire way -many birds were slow to rise and those that were seen were the usual roadside candidates. I can't even recall seeing a single kangaroo or wallaby, which is unusual along this stretch of the highway, only a couple collected by vehicles the night before.

Mosquito Creek Road -looking n/w.
Just after 6am I entered the first of the day's birding destinations, Mosquito Creek Road -it was still reasonably cool and I thought this an excellent sign. Almost immediately birds began putting in an appearance, among the first a small number of White-throated Needletail picking over the remnants of the previous nights' storm, flying low over the adjacent paddocks. There were even a couple of Latham's Snipe flushed from near the roadside..., unusual, but not the first time I have encountered these birds here -on a previous visit a tightly-knit group of around eight were clustered together in spare grass around a small dam and were sent flying in every direction when I unknowingly ventured too close. 

Both Noisy and Yellow-throated Miners were scattered thinly along the southern stretch of road, no clear distinction between where either species' territory begins or ends. The small amount of available eucalyptus blossom was shared between the two, each frequently within very close reach of the other. A solitary Jacky Winter was observed, likewise several Red-winged Parrot, an Inland Thornbill, good numbers of Pied Butcherbird and Magpie-Lark, a couple of Pale-headed Rosella, some Apostlebird, two Brown Quail and a small group of Zebra Finch (pictured below).

Zebra Finch (male).
Other excellent records along the few kilometres of road explored were the Horsfield's Bushlark, Blue Bonnet and four or five White-winged Fairy-Wren. The latter's habitat appeared as if it had seen better days, like much of the region's vegetation, and as such there were no males in breeding plumage to light up the sad paddocks and expanses of sparsely scattered small shrubs. 

From here it was on to the next location, Yelarbon State Forest, a large native reserve south and west of Inglewood. It had been many years since my last visit here and I had been wanting to re-visit some spinifex habitat known to occur there. But it was by then getting a little warm and exposed areas such as these can be "graveyards" in the heat. So, rather than risk driving further than was ideal, the first accessible track into the woodland was taken, one to the east, which was tracked to a place amongst ironbark-dominated woodland and where water had emptied out across the width of the road from the overnight rain.

Yellow-faced Honeyeater
As it was a little later in the morning, the birding was a little tougher here... the birdlist not-so-substantial... the decision was made to bird along another track that reached out to the south through some woodland that was slightly more sheltered. Before long, it soon became evident that Fuscous Honeyeater were by far the dominant species, their fluid call interrupted from time to time by the occasional Yellow-faced Honeyeater (pictured left), and both the Brown-headed and White-eared Honeyeater. A solitary Grey Fantail hawked a shallow and almost undetectable creek that ran through the forest; normally at this time of year this species decamps its inland haunts and migrates to the cooler woodland and forests closer to the coast... however, like the Pied Currawong this season, the odd bird has remained in some winter habitats despite the record-breaking heat of this summer.

Feeling more positive about the next destination, Lake Coolmunda, I headed back through Inglewood and drove back towards the east -it'd be interesting to see how much water remained in the lake. Some of the missing waterbirds might be found, hopefully -they have to be somewhere.

Grey-crowned Babbler
After getting permission to visit a section on the northern side, I jumped the fence and began making my way to the shoreline, hopping from the shade of one tree to the next. As I did so, a Spotted Bowerbird flushed from a nearby tree and made off to the west -unfortunately, it was not seen again after that. A small party of Tree Martin were spending a good deal of time circling the upper parts of a tall, dead tree in the centre of the location, whilst perched in the branches below was a Nankeen Kestrel and two Cockatiel were busy inspecting a hollow. Calls of the Red-rumped Parrot were audible in the vicinity, whilst additional records were of a small group of Grey-crowned Babbler (pictured above) and Apostlebird, an Australian Hobby and a group of nine White-winged Chough closer to the boundary. 

Sheltering beneath a squat tree, I was soon joined by a group of seven Yellow-rumped Thornbill and a pair of Superb Fairy-Wren who proceeded to noisily hop about and vie for attention in the midst of the foliage. I began scanning the margin of the large lake, where in the distance on the bank some Black Swan, Straw-necked Ibis and Eastern Cattle Egret were feeding at the feet of some horses and cattle -in the dead trees above, several hundred Little Black Cormorant were roosting. A mere two Pink-eared Ducks were observed, whilst additional discoveries consisted of several Australasian Darter and Australian Pied Cormorant, a handful of Glossy Ibis, Black-fronted Dotterel, large numbers of Australian Maned Duck and, in the furthest parts of the distant haze, a Little Egret, its rapid, jerky movements betraying its presence.

The last spot visited for the day was Durikai State Forest. As it had rained overnight, and there was likely many pools of water lying about on the floor of the reserve, I figured it might be best to visit here a little later in the day on the return trip. In theory, this would be a better time, when birds visited the highway dam in spits and spurts to drink and bathe. And this they did.

Rainbow Bee-eater
During the forty or so minutes spent at this location, and another slightly shorter stint at another spot on the western boundary, a good many species were encountered despite the time of day. Among these were numerous Tree Martin hawking in a group over the woodland, in association with a small number of White-browed Woodswallow and the Rainbow Bee-eater (pictured left). As with Yelarboron SF earlier, here too there was a Grey Fantail present during the summer.

Honeyeater species, as is usual for Durikai, were present in healthy numbers and high diversity. Among the many were the Brown Honeyeater, Fuscous Honeyeater, one or two White-plumed Honeyeater, the Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Brown-headed, Black Chinned and White-naped Honeyeaters, and the ever-present and abundant Yellow-tufted Honeyeater. Larger nectar feeders included the Striped Honeyeater, Noisy Miner, Noisy Friarbird and, the surprise for the location, a solitary Bell Miner. This adult bell miner was first heard calling briefly at the dam and a short while later was noticed with its head buried in a mistletoe clump. (A few years ago there was also a bird recorded here, on this occasion an immature..., a long way from their usual haunts, the tall, wetter forests and woodlands of the ranges to the east.)

Despite the dry nature of all the habitats visited, and the vegetation as yet being able to take advantage of the overnight rain, 107 bird species were recorded during the day.   

Day's Birdlist: 

Australian Pipit, Zebra Finch, House Sparrow, Mistletoebird, Common Starling, Common Myna, Tree Martin, Horsfield's Bush Lark, Jacky Winter, Eastern Yellow Robin, Apostlebird, White-winged Chough, Torresian Crow, Restless Flycatcher, Leaden Flycatcher, Magpie-Lark, Grey Fantail, Willie Wagtail, Grey Shrikethrush, Rufous Whistler, Varied Sittella, Black-faced Cuckooshrike, Dusky Woodswallow, White-browed Woodswallow, Australian Magpie, Pied Butcherbird, Grey Butcherbird, Grey-crowned Babbler, Yellow Thornbill, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Buff-rumped Thornbill, Inland Thornbill, White-throated Gerygone, Weebill, Speckled Warbler, Brown Honeyeater, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Striped Honeyeater, Noisy Friarbird, Little Friarbird, White-naped Honeyeater, Brown-headed Honeyeater, Black-chinned Honeyeater, Blue-faced Honeyeater, Yellow-throated Miner, Noisy Miner, Bell Miner, White-plumed Honeyeater, Fuscous Honeyeater, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, White-eared Honeyeater, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, White-winged Fairywren, Superb Fairywren, Variegated Fairywren, White-throated Treecreeper, Spotted Bowerbird, Rainbow Bee-eater, Sacred Kingfisher, Laughing Kookaburra, White-throated Needletail, Pacific Koel, Red-winged Parrot, Red-rumped Parrot, Bluebonnet, Pale-headed Rosella, Little Lorikeet, Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, Rainbow Lorikeet, Cockatiel, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Little Corella, Galah, Crested Pigeon, Whiskered Tern, Silver Gull, Latham's Snipe, Black-fronted Dotterel, Masked Lapwing, White-headed Stilt, Eurasian Coot, Australian Hobby, Nankeen Kestrel, Whistling Kite, Black Kite, Australasian Darter, Australian Pied Cormorant, Little Black Cormorant, Little Pied Cormorant, Australian Pelican, Little Egret, White-faced Heron, Great Egret, White-necked Heron, Eastern Cattle Egret, Glossy Ibis, Straw-necked Ibis, Australian White Ibis, Great Crested Grebe, Australasian Grebe, Hardhead, Grey Teal, Pacific Black Duck, Maned Duck, Pink-eared Duck, Black Swan, Brown Quail

Sunday 29 January 2017

Old Wallangarra Road

Misty morning along Old Wallangarra Road -looking south

Straddling the Queensland and New South Wales border is one of my favourite birding destinations -Old Wallangarra Road. Not a reserve, but farmland, and no free access to much of the surrounding countryside, with the added restriction of having to keep one's self to the roads or the verge.... no matter, a day out here regularly leaves one feeling renewed and as though they have just indulged in a very enjoyable few hours birding. Never have I departed here feeling any less than satisfied. 

One of the first things that one notices on arrival at Old Wallangarra Road is the extremely healthy bird species diversity, something no doubt sourced to the nice-sized swathe of woodland that is Girraween National Park not all that far away to the north and east, as well as other extensive and modest parks and reserves in the region, from where some of the winter migrants originate. Another reason is due to the transition of habitats that strike here; the location is situated in something akin to a pocket, where the temperate woodland of the south chances up against the drier country of the west and north, whilst a relatively short distance to the east are the extensive tracts of rainforest that run north and south, up and down the Great Dividing Range.

Turquoise Parrot -female
And because of this several bird species' distribution limits occur in the general region. One species belonging to this category is the White-browed Babbler Pomatostomus superciliosus, a bird more frequently encountered in similar habitat further south where it can be common. These birds are not recorded all that often in southern Queensland and there are only a few "reliable" spots locally where they might be seen. (It is only the second-ever location where I have recorded them in this state.) Similarly, the Diamond Firetail Stagonopleura guttata and Chestnt-rumped Heathwren Callamanthus pyrrhopygius find a place here, although the former is encountered far more easily than the latter. The conjunction of habitats also helps explain the presence of Satin Bowerbird Ptilonorhynchus violaceus and Brown Treecreeper Climacteris picumnus, birds not normally drawn together for want of habitat, along with Eastern Rosella Platycercus eximius, both the local corvids (Australian Raven Corvus coronoides and Torresian Crow Corvus orru), the stunning Turquoise Parrot Neophema pulchella (picture rightand, if one is lucky, the enigmatic Hooded Robin Melanodryas cucullata (below left). 

More often than not, the somewhat secluded nature of the location allows for relaxed and undisturbed birding and vehicles rarely pass along the bitumen. This may be the reason for the birds' approachability; I find that they are far from shy and often allow close approach. For instance, the most recent visit here at the end of January coincided with a foggy morning and as I made my way slowly along Hickling Lane numerous Tree Martin Petrochelidon nigricans, initially prostrate on the warm dirt surface of the road, took to the air and began hawking insects around me, some coming to within a whisker of my cheek, taking swipes at unseen objects..., one even passing between my legs, and then gradually disappearing back in the haze, only to be replaced by another, shuffling off droplets from their wings close to m
y ears. Shortly after, they were joined by small numbers of Dusky Woodswallow Artamus cyanopterus and Wecome Swallow Hirundo neoxena, each and all as genial as the other.

Hooded Robin -female
Whilst this was occurring small numbers of Diamond Firetail Stagonopleura
guttataDouble-barred Finch Taeniopygia bichenovii and Plum-headed Finch Neochma modesta were not far away, all casually feeding in the knee-high sodden grass lining the road verge, their lookouts on the fence-line drifting into and out of a torpor in the lazy conditions. A little further afield in the damp paddocks Australian Pipit Anthus australis, Yellow-rumped Thornbill Acanthiza chrysorrhoa, Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys and Restless Flycatcher Myiagara inquieta were searching for tid-bits to the hellish calls of some distance Channel-billed Cuckoo Scythrops novaehollandiae.

The muffled sound of an Australian Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles cristatus call came to my ears from over by the opposite side of the road, a nocturnal bird not afraid to call during daylight hours. When this has happened before I would search tree hollows near where I thought the bird called, but more often than not do not have any luck locating them this way. Rather, they tend to flush and explode out of their hollows at the most un
moments and scare the hell out of one, looking innocent and charming as they pose on a nearby branch.

Silvereye Zosterops lateralis -a common resident.
One of the things I like to do when visiting here is walk the fenceline on the eastern side of the road, where it borders a paddock. It can be quite wet here after rain but it is more than worth taking the trouble over. It takes one between the fence and a strip of roadside woodland where an amazing number of birds use the exposed trees and fence posts as places to perch and sally out from. On cold mornings, and there are may cold mornings here, it is a perfect place for them to warm themselves to the morning sun. Scarlet Myzomela Myzomela sanguinolenta were burying their heads in the eucalyptus blossom along here  during my recent visit, taking time out every now and then to "give it to" any one of the other honeyeaters that dare pilfer "their nectar". Size is no object for these feisty little customers.

This is 
just small portion of the array of birds that occur here, with other observers documenting the presence of the Brown Goshawk, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Australian Kestrel, Australian King Parrot, Southern Whiteface (out of it's "normal" range) and the Eastern Spinebill, just to name a few. Superb Lyrebirds have even been recorded singing in the general vicinity, apparently, their song certainly loud enough to carry the distance from the adjacent hills.

In four or five visits here, I have come across 83 bird species (outlined below), al
though on this latter visit had to make do with a little over sixty. 

Personal birdlist for the site:

Australian Pipit, Chestnut-breasted Mannikin, Double-barred Finch, Plum-headed Finch, Red-browed Finch, Diamond Firetail, Mistletoebird, Common Starling, Silvereye, Rufous Songlark, Tree Martin, Welcome Swallow, Jacky Winter, Hooded Robin, Eastern Yellow Robin, Australian Raven, Torresian Crow, Restless Flycatcher, Grey Fantail, Willie Wagtail, Olive-backed Oriole, Grey Shrike-Thrush, Rufous Whistler, Australian Golden Whistler, Crested Shriketit, Varied Sittella, Common Cicadabird, White-bellied Cuckooshrike, Black-faced Cuckooshrike, Dusky Woodswallow, Pied Currawong, Australian Magpie, Pied Butcherbird, Grey Butcherbird, White-browed Babbler, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Brown Thornbill, White-throated Gerygone, White-browed Scrubwren, Chestnut-rumped Heathwren, Striated Pardalote, Spotted Pardalote, Scarlet Myzomela, Brown Honeyeater, Red Wattlebird, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Noisy Friarbird, White-naped Honeyeater, Brown-headed Honeyeater, Noisy Miner, White-plumed Honeyeater, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Superb Fairywren, Variegated Fairywren, Brown Treecreeper, White-throated Treecreeper, Satin Bowerbird, Sacred Kingfisher, Laughing Kookaburra, Oriental Dollarbird, Australian Owlet-Nightjar, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Pacific Koel, Turquoise Parrot, Eastern Rosella, Crimson Rosella, Little Loriket, Musk Lorikeet, Rainbow Lorikeet, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Galah, Bar-shouldered Dove, Peaceful Dove, Peregrine Falcon, Australian Hobby, Little Eagle, White-necked Heron, Straw-necked Ibis, Pacific Black Duck, Maned Duck

Based on Australian_IOC_Checklist