• lab17
    • Jas Scotia
Apr 17: Mirapool Magic

I’d been looking forward to the Moreton Island trip with the Queensland Wader Study Group for ages, and I was very excited this morning to be heading out on the Spoonbill, the Queensland Parks Department’s 12 metre-long barge, complete with a 4WD that we could unload as needed. We assembled expectantly at Manly boat harbour before 0700. In the group were Melissa Whitby, Peter Rothlisberg, Ross Patterson, Brad Woodworth, Robert Bush, Arthur & Sheryl Keates, and Kristy Currie. Kristy has been a key figure in Queensland state government working to conserve migratory shorebirds in Moreton Bay.

We chugged out of the harbour on time at 0700, and headed across the Bay toward the southern end of Moreton Island. I diligently scanned the Bay as we crossed it, but couldn’t turn up any interesting seabirds. The first bird to greet us as the barge nudged onto the beach was a magnificent Beach Stone-curlew, a species that is highly sensitive to disturbance, and the relatively undisturbed beaches of Moreton Island are now the main refuge for this species in Brisbane. Arthur had very kindly arranged for me to be part of the small group that was going to head to Mirapool, a lagoon and sandspit system on the SE corner of Moreton Island. He was keen to give me the best chance of connecting with Sanderling, a very rare species in Brisbane, and with the beaches of southern Moreton Island being the most reliable spot. There are only five Brisbane records in eBird between 2005 and 2017.

We unloaded the 4WD from the barge, and bumped along the sandy track to Mirapool. As we drove on to the top of the beach, immediately obvious was a number of plovers in a scattered group on our right hand side, most of which were Double-banded Plovers, a year tick! Double-banded Plover is a winter migrant from New Zealand where they breed, and it was nice to see good numbers of them, 73 all up. To our left was a much bigger group of small shorebirds, mainly Red-necked Stints but with a few other species accompanying them. We counted through the birds, and had around 600 stints, a few Red-capped, Lesser Sand, and Greater Sand Plovers and 6 Curlew Sandpipers. Brad and I backtracked to count the plover flock while Peter Rothlisberg went further on to check the birds on the beach in front of the stints.

Brad and I began to count through a nice flock of mixed plovers and stints until suddenly the whole lot spooked and wheeled around in the air. The original flock to the left also took flight and all the birds mixed up together before landing again in front of Peter. We would have to count everything again from the start! the big news from Peter was that he had found some Sanderling down on the beach, and sure enough I got onto at least 8 Sanderling and managed some long range photos. A mega year tick! Some of the birds were pretty much in breeding plumage, some were still grey, but most were in a sort of transitional “fresh” breeding plumage with some grey feathers on the back and a rather spangly appearance.

We walked across to the lagoon, where we saw a nice group of 9 Grey Plover, 4 Great Knots, 175 Bar-tailed Godwits, 180 Whimbrels and some mixed terns, including a rather orangey-billed Crested Tern, presumably one of those mysterious SE Australia birds. Time was up and we needed to make tracks, so we walked back to the car and drove to Dead Tree Point where there was a nice flock of 650 Whimbrels roosting. Whimbrels counted, we drove back to the barge and boarded with a sense of satisfaction – we had been luckier than the other group, who found only a small number of shorebirds on the roost sites they checked.

We then headed across South Passage to Amity Banks, a sand bar in Redland LGA (thus outside Brisbane) off North Stradbroke Island. There was the biggest flock of Pied Cormorants I have ever seen – about 1,500 birds! Quite an impressive sight. But not much else. We then circled Goat Island, where the highlight was 5 Eastern Reef Egrets roosting in the trees. Sandy Island, just off Cleveland, had a couple of Red Knots – which was a tad irritating, because we were quite some distance outside the Brisbane LGA boundary. I still need that species for my Brisbane Year List, but the southward passage is normally much more pronounced than the northward passage so I’m not too worried yet. This capped off a really nice morning out, and we steamed back to Manly Harbour, tired and sun-exposed but very satisfied with the day’s proceedings.

When I arrived home, I was amazed to hear a Grey Fantail calling in our front yard – and even managed to get a couple of pictures. It’s a common bird in Brisbane, but normally found in bushland – great to see one in suburbia; my 70th species for the house and we only moved there in June 2017. Top stuff!

With two year ticks today (Double-banded Plover and Sanderling), my year list rose to 256 species. I spent 1 hour 27 minutes birding in Brisbane, walked 0 km (birding was mostly stationary or incidental) and drove 20.4 km.

Sanderling at Mirapool! I was pleased, although my five-year-old daughter wasn’t particularly impressed.

Beach Stone-curlew, an increasingly rare species in Brisbane, restricted to the diminishing number of undisturbed beaches.

Double-banded Plover is a winter visitor to Brisbane from New Zealand, but the data possibly show increased numbers during passage months, perhaps en route to and from a more northerly wintering ground?

Red Knot is a passage migrant and scarce summer visitor to Brisbane. The southward passage is more pronounced than the northward movement.