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

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