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16 Feb 2020 – a duck, just about

 

Finally a break in the intense rain that has been falling in the past few weeks. That, combined with the timing of two pelagic birding trips mean that I hadn’t had a chance to get out to the reservoir. But this morning I took advantage of the sunny forecast and arrived at dawn. Just as I got out of the car at the Cherbon Street parking area, I heard a Glossy Black-Cockatoo calling nearby. I couldn’t find it though. Good to see that at least one of the birds from a few weeks ago still remains.

As I neared the reservoir, it became apparent there was water everywhere! The reservoir is at 102.1% today, and still spilling over the dam wall. The water level was so high that for the most part I couldn’t even get a view of the open water by virtue of being hemmed in by small trees that are usually well above the waterline, but now have their ankles wet. The one spot I could access had little more than a few Pacific Black Ducks. Notably, a number of Australasian Swamphens were present, which is the first time this year I’d seen them on the main reservoir. Defeated and deflated, I wandered around in the Eucalypt woodland seeing not much at all.

Several plants that I hadn’t yet seen this year were in flower, and I saw a Koala “roosting” in a tree. I returned to the car not too happy with the morning’s proceedings, no year ticks in the bag, but still having enjoyed the time in nature.

eBird lists:

PlaceDistanceTimeSpp
JC Trotter0.76 km24 min23
JC Trotter2.14 km82 min41
Pylon line 1.92 km67 min15
JC Trotter 0.721013
TOTAL5.54 km3 h 3 min49



Koala getting ready to go to sleep for the day. Tingalpa Reservoir is the centre of a local stronghold for this species.
 
26 Jan 2020 – branching out

 

With the reservoir filling up (64.7% today), and all the muddy edges having disappeared, the potential for shorebirds appearing is declining markedly. It’s going to be a bit boring when the level is rising, and better birding when the level is dropping I guess. I thus decided today to explore some of the woodlands along the western edge of the reservoir, where I could focus on exploring new areas without fear of missing out on shorebird action. But first, back to the big news of yesterday. Rick Franks called late morning to say that Felicia Chan had found a trio of GLOSSY BLACK-COCKATOOS on the patch!!! I raced down there, and within half an hour from the call was watching the birds calmly feeding on Casuarina fruits with a few metres of me, Felicia, Rick and Ged Tranter. It was a family party – a juvenile with an adult male and adult female.

Not only is this a brilliant species for the patch list, but it’s also a Brisbane lifer for me – the first time I have seen this species within the Brisbane Local Government Authority boundary. Nerdy I know, but there’s a few of us who watch this list, and the friendly competition is a bit of fun and keeps up our enthusiasm for local birding and bird-finding. There is only a sprinkling of Glossy Black-Cockatoo records in Brisbane, with most in the Mount Nebo / Mount Glorious area. The subcoastal woodlands around Redland have more regular records, and presumably these birds originate from this local population. Maybe they are regularly at Tingalpa, but haven’t been found before because of relatively poor birding coverage.

Fast forward to this morning, which began fairly quietly, although I did manage to flush a small buttonquail species, either Red-backed or Red-chested, which unfortunately flew quite distance and I couldn’t re-find it. Best birds were a Spotted Pardalote, a Forest Kingfisher and a singing White-winged Triller. Good birds to get under the belt. After finishing along the west side, I headed back to the Glossy Black-Cockatoos for another look, which was worth it as I got better sound recordings and photos.

With the addition of Glossy Black-Cockatoo (yesterday), Spotted Pardalote, Forest Kingfisher, White-winged Triller, Lewin’s Honeyeater and Australasian Figbird, my patch year list rose to 129 species.

eBird lists:

PlaceDistanceTimeSpp
Mt Gravatt-Capalaba Rd5.58 km232 min66
JC Trotter1.27 km33 min8
TOTAL6.85 km4 h 25 min68
One of the three Glossy Black-Cockatoos. I think this is an adult male on the basis of well developed crest, strongly red tail panels, no yellow spotting on head or breast. But the tail panels are barred, which is a little confusing – perhaps this is a young-ish male bird?
Several groups of termites were doing renovations to their mounds. I’ve never seen this happening before – very cool!
Close up of the hard-working little chappies. I think these are Nasutitermes sp, but not sure yet.
Several of these were landing on the sand by the water’s edge, then nervously taking off again before landing back at the same spot. Not really sure what they are (perhaps a ground beetle?), but certainly cracking little things! UPDATE: This is certainly a ground beetle, in fact Myriochila semicincta – it seems to be endemic to Australia, and perhaps Papua New Guinea. See record on iNaturalist here.
The 580 records of Myriochila semicincta on GBIF are scattered across Australia, and there is one stray record from the far SE of Papua New Guinea.
 
18 Jan 2020 – good weather for ducks (and pygmy-geese, it turns out)

 

Rain! 102mm of it in the past 24 hours at Tingalpa Reservoir, and the water level in the reservoir has risen to 57.4%. I awoke at 0350 with the alarm to hear the sound of continual heavy rain, which had been falling for most of the night. A lie in was in order, so I eventually surfaced about 0415, and even then sat in the car for a bit in the pouring rain after arriving at the car park. Eventually I summoned up the courage to step out, electing to leave my camera in the car – any record shots would have to be via phone-binning or phone-scoping. I splashed through the woodland, where essentially nothing was calling, and eventually emerged onto the Forest Peninsula. First good bird of the morning was a Yellow-billed Spoonbill, foraging together with a Royal Spoonbill – I managed an extremely poor phone-binned pic while also holding my umbrella – not an easy feat I can assure you!

Getting increasingly sodden, I reached the end of the peninsula, and to my dismay essentially all of the recent wader habitat has been submerged! Only one Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was hanging on, and I eventually noticed not one, but TWO stints with it. I grilled them both very carefully, but was straining at the limit of 50x magnification through my telescope. After prolonged observation, I was satisfied they were both Red-necked Stints, having initially hoped that one might prove to be a Long-toed. In the distance, a Little Friarbird called, my first at the patch this year.

Suddenly, a pair of small “ducks” flew by – initially thinking they were teal I raised by bins and was delighted to see a pair of Cotton Pygmy-Geese! They seemed to disappear right into the SW arm of the reservoir, but as I rounded the peninsula I relocated them in the open water, preening and feeding happily in the rain. Good weather for ducks indeed. Another record shot, this time a phone-scoped effort – terrible stuff! Cotton Pygmy-Goose is quite a rare species in Brisbane, with most records coming from Dowse Lagoon and nearby sites on the north side. It is also primarily a winter visitor, so I was doubly surprised to see them in January.

Eventually the rain eased off, but no more birds of note showed up. With the addition of Little Friarbird and Cotton Pygmy-Goose, my patch year list rose to 123 species.

eBird lists:

PlaceDistanceTimeSpp
JC Trotter0.89 km11 min4
Forest Peninsula3.31 km167 min65
Desert1.78 km37 min38
JC Trotter1.63 km40 min33
TOTAL7.61 km4 h 15 min75



Pair of Cotton Pygmy-Geese.
 
17 Jan 2020 – non-avian highlights

 

I’m trying to pay more consistent attention to all biodiversity this year, and have been photographing a wide range of taxa and subsequently poring over books, and relying on the expert help of kindly folks on iNaturalist, my favourite citizen science project of all time. Here are some of the recently identified highlights.

This Water Prince Hydrobasileus brevistylus was moving fast and didn’t seem to want to land. I could only manage flight shots, but the well-spotted abdomen is distinctive enough to clinch the ID. Wing ventation isn’t clearly discernible from this pic. Record on iNaturalist here.
Nice female Red Arrow Rhodothemis lieftincki. Record on iNaturalist here.
Banksia spinulosa var. spinulosa – has teeth near the tip of the (narrow) leaves only. Endemic to the east coast of Australia, and found in a variety of habitats from coastal heath to sclerophyll woodlands. Record on iNaturalist here.
Delta Arrowhead Sagittaria platyphylla, native to North and Central America; a cute but noxious weed of marshy places in Australia. Also known as Also known as Delta Duck-Potato, which I think is a much better name! Record on iNaturalist here.
The lovely Lilac Tasselflower Emilia sonchifolia, native to Asia and Australasia, commonly naturalised in Australia. Record on iNaturalist here.
Pseudopenthes fenestrata, a bee fly. I didn’t think this would be identifiable to species, but apparently it is distinctive enough. Seems to be an Australian endemic, but I can’t find out much about its ecology. Record on iNaturalist here.
Golden Bladderwort Utricularia aurea, its native range spans from India to Australia. Record on iNaturalist here.
Yellow Rush-Lily Tricoryne elatior, widespread around Australia occurring in sclerophyll forest, heath and woodland. Record on iNaturalist here.
 
12 Jan 2020 – The tide is high but I’m holdin’ on

 

Looking at the whopping 2.7 m high tide at 1040 today, I couldn’t resist a trip to the reservoir. And to top this, Michael Daley phoned last night to say he’d seen a Painted Buttonquail at the entrance gate to the JC Trotter trails. He’d seen it at dusk, so I was hopeful it would still be around at dawn. A reasonably civilized 0400 alarm saw me arrive at the entrance to the reserve at 0451. Almost immediately I saw the buttonquail, nonchalantly parading around on the road verge – cracker!! It posed for a few pics, and then I left it to its own devices. Since the high tide was late, I reversed my usual circuit, and started at the southern end of the reservoir, but there was nothing special around. In fact rather fewer birds than usual in that area.

The pylon break was also fairly quiet, although a singing White-throated Gerygone was the first one I’ve actually heard at the site this year. Time was moving on, so I traversed the Forest Peninsula and began checking the exposed mud on the far side. No obvious influx of waders, but it was still short of the high tide time. I could only find one female Australasian Shoveler, and only one Great Crested Grebe – perhaps there has been something of an exodus of wildfowl. Four Latham’s Snipe were in with the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper flock, and as the high tide approached, cormorant numbers began building up. Suddenly, I noticed a Tringa and immediately assumed it was a Marsh Sandpiper, but it’s thick, upturned bill, relatively short tibia, and chew-chew-chew call gave it away as a Common Greenshank – in some ways a rather unexpected species, and a great bonus! Moments later there was a flash of black-and-white as a couple of Black-tailed Godwits landed near the Greenshank. One went straight to sleep and the other was feeding voraciously. Brilliant!

Scanning the Whiskered Terns revealed one bird with an orange leg-flag, which presumably means it was banded in Victoria. I’ll look into this.

With time up, I had to start the trek back, noting a Rufous Fantail along the way, and several nice plants, fungi and dragonflies to ID later. As I was leaving, I had a Straw-necked Ibis and Spotted Dove from the end of Cherbon Street, both patch year ticks – they all count! The water level was 53.8% today, slightly lower than last visit despite some rain yesterday. The addition of Painted Buttonquail, Common Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Straw-necked Ibis and Spotted Dove brings my year list to 121. Just a few bird pics for now. Will update with a bunch of other pics over the next few days.

eBird lists:

PlaceDistanceTimeSpp
JC Trotter2.33 km103 min45
Pylon line1.07 km41 min22
Forest Peninsula2.7 km183 min58
Pylon line0.6 km14 min7
JC Trotter0.77 km11 min10
TOTAL7.47 km5 h 52 min83
True artwork – Painted Buttonquail
A Common Greenshank was a nice surprise
And so were two Black-tailed Godwits. This is a rare species in the southern Brisbane foreshore, with a group of 10-20 birds at Manly foreshore being the only regularly seen birds. There is a big flock of several hundred in the Tinchi Tamba area.
 
8 Jan 2020 – chestnut teal

 

Up at a reasonably civilized 0330, and did the now familiar walk through JC Trotter Reserve to the pylon break, then looping around the forest peninsula and back to the southern end of the reservoir via the “desert”. It was a good start, with three different koalas in the woodland, although no night birds. The Rufous Fantail appeared to have moved on, and as I scanned the muddy patches from the forest peninsula it became apparent the Wood Sandpiper had also gone, as had the Red-necked Stint. But the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper flock had increased to 23. A bit frustrating today, but it does show that birds move into and out of the reservoir on a daily basis, a good characteristic for turning up rarities.

Scanning the ducks carefully, there was a darker teal among the Grey Teals. It looked good for a female Chestnut Teal, but views were pretty distant. It flew south, and later I relocated it and had much closer range telescope views to confirm its very dark ground colour to body plumage and wings, along with a buffy rather than whitish throat. Good enough to clinch the identification as a female Chestnut Teal. Salvaged a patch year tick from the day!

Plenty of pics of plants and dragonflies will keep me busy over the coming few days. Useful homework as my actual “day job” work starts to ramp up again over the next week or so.

I was on the lookout for sound recording opportunities today, and managed to capture Grey Teal, Pied Stilt, Little Egret and Magpie Lark.

The water level was 53.9% today, and the addition of Chestnut Teal brings my year list to 116.

eBird lists:

PlaceDistanceTimeSpp
JC Trotter0.91 km24 min4
Pylon line0.41 km19 min22
Forest Peninsula2.5 km135 min57
Desert2.17 km44 min32
JC Trotter1.75 km87 min40
TOTAL7.74 km5 h 9 min81



The Pied Stilt’s call sounds simple but is in fact a stack of sounds!
Chestnut Teal – note the much darker ground colour than the (partially obscured) Grey Teal behind it, and the light brown rather than whitish lower cheeks and (you can’t really seee it in this picture) throat.
 
7 Jan 2020 – sound birding

 

Water level still falling – 54.1% today. Didn’t visit the patch, but had some fun editing some of the sound recordings I’d made from my iPhone yesterday. Turns out it’s a really bad idea just using the voice memo function on the phone, since it records in very low quality compressed format. Still, I went ahead and followed the Macaulay Library sound file editing instructions for Audacity, and the results didn’t sound too bad to my ear. Check out the recordings of Wood Sandpiper, Rufous Fantail and Brush Cuckoo.

However, I’m now the proud owner of the free app Rode rec and hope to test it out tomorrow. I’ve read the instructions from eBird about how to make better recordings, so let’s see how it goes.

 
6 Jan 2020 – waders

 

Up at a very reasonable 0400 and off to the reservoir. It was getting light as I arrived at the car park, giving me a chance to bird the woodlands on the approach to the reservoir itself. Good numbers of White-throated and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, along with a few Leaden Flycatchers were about. At the pylon break, I heard the distinctive sound of a Rufous Fantail, and saw it reasonably well although it mostly remained out of sight. It called persistently and I got a couple of recordings through the iPhone. I do have a “proper” recorder, and one of my aims this year is to make some recordings of as many species as possible – we don’t have many bird recordings from Brisbane currently stored on eBird. Rufous Fantails can be found all year in Brisbane, but are commonest in spring and autumn – their movements are probably fairly complex and I haven’t researched it enough to pretend yet to understand them.

I proceeded as usual onto the Forest Peninsula. The water level in the reservoir is still slowly dropping (today it was 54.4%) and a little more mud was exposed today. The Sharp-tailed Sandpipers had moved closer, and looking through the flock I saw something different – a Wood Sandpiper!!! This is a rare non-breeding migrant to Brisbane, occurring just about annually. The bird was calling stridently, so I got a recording – the first one of this species recorded in Australia on eBird!

Off the end of the peninsula another small group of sharpies was present in the usual spot, and with them something smaller – a Red-necked Stint! While not a rarity, they are essentially a coastal species, so it was great to get this species on the patch year list. A male Australasian Shoveler had joined the two females, and I later saw what were presumably the same birds at the JC Trotter end of the reservoir, before retiring to the car as the day heated up.

All in all, a great morning! My patch year list edged upward to 115, having added Rufous Fantail, Wood Sandpiper and Red-necked Stint.

eBird lists:

PlaceDistanceTimeSpp
JC Trotter0.98 km27 min19
Pylon line0.47 km21 min20
Forest Peninsula2.54 km140 min63
Desert2.02 km42 min32
JC Trotter1.63 km71 min33
TOTAL7.64 km5 h 1 min82

I love Rufous Fantails, and this one was very obliging allowing me to get a couple of decent recordings – see here.
Wood Sandpiper – only about 1-2 records per year in Brisbane, I was well pleased with this one. Also, I managed to get a lengthy recording of it calling – see here.
Mostly the Wood Sandpiper gave the dysyllabic call (left), but occasionally it gave what is for me the more familiar trisyllabic call (right), which is basically the disyllabic call with an additional, briefer, weaker, lower third note.
Juvenile Brown Goshawk – note the breast streaking, thick powerful legs, fulsome rounded tail.
A male Australasian Shoveler has joined the two females. Pick them out with their pale orange legs.
Red-necked Wallabies in the morning. Record on iNaturalist here.
Australian Tiger – what a beauty! Record on iNaturalist here.
I initially thought this was a rush, but Scott Gavins pointed out on iNaturalist that this is in fact a sedge – Grey Sedge Lepironia articulata. Record on iNaturalist here.
A stand of Grey Sedge – abundant around the water’s edge. Record on iNaturalist here.
Water Primrose Ludwigia peploides. Much less common than L. octovalvis, and occurring in marshier areas. Record on iNaturalist here.
 
5 Jan 2020 – Armchair ticks

 

Didn’t get to the reservoir today, but plenty of photos to process, a few of which I reproduce below. Hoping to get back to the reservoir tomorrow. Water level is 54.4% today.

The beautiful Wandering Pennant Macrodiplax cora, a member of the skimmer family of dragonflies. A tropical and subtropical species found from Africa to Australia, it inhabits mainly slow and still water. Record on iNaturalist here.
Mexican Primrose-Willow Ludwigia octovalvis grows commonly around the edges of the reservoir. This individual has fairly wide leaves (compare with next image), and the fruits that are forming are round in cross section, unlike the angular fruits of L. peruviana and L. longifolia. Despite its name, L. octovalvis is thought to be native to Australia, although the situation is complicated by many introductions globally. Record on iNaturalist here.
This Mexican Primrose-Willow has much narrower leaves, but you can still see the rounded cross section of the fruiting bodies. Record on iNaturalist here.
The brilliant Water Snowflake Nymphoides indica is a pantropical species thought to be native to Australia. Those flowers are amazing! Record on iNaturalist here.
The brilliant little Dentella repens – an Asian and Australasian species occurring from India to Australia. Identified on iNaturalist by Greg Tasney.
Red-necked Wallabies are common in the area, although Swamp Wallabies outnumber them at the water’s edge. Record on iNaturalist here.
Bunchy Flat-Sedge Cyperus polystachyos, a very common species around the edges of the reservoir. Record on iNaturalist here.
 
4 Jan 2020 – Orient Express

 

Woke up at 0155 by my son climbing into bed and kicking me in the head. Couldn’t get back to sleep, so decided to get up and head down the reservoir early. This turned out to be a good move, not because I had any spectacular night birds (although I did see a Koala), but actually quite a few bits and pieces were calling, including a trio of patch year ticks: Bush Stone-curlew, Australasian Swamphen, and several Magpie Geese. The Magpie Geese appeared to have been roosting on the reservoir, and were lifting off calling before dawn. Impossible to gauge numbers, but didn’t sound like very many.

As dawn broke, I got myself to the spot along the pylon break where Elliot Leach found an Oriental Cuckoo yesterday. Right on cue, the lank long-winged form of an Oriental Cuckoo appeared just yards from me, and it landed somewhat obscured in the Melaleuca trees. It even allowed me to snap a few pictures – totally MEGA! This has been a great summer for Oriental Cuckoos in south-east Queensland, and I was mighty relieved to have caught up with this species at Tingalpa so early in the year.

Continuing onto the Forest Peninsula, yesterday’s Austrlasian Shoveler was still there, but had been joined by a second bird, which was nice. The Caspian Tern had gone, but the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper flock had swelled to 13 birds, still with no other migratory shorebirds with them. Also no sign of the Latham’s Snipe. This is all good, suggesting substantial movement of birds through the reservoir. Off the end of the peninsula, another Oriental Cuckoo showed very briefly, and it seemed to be a different bird to the pylon break individual – top stuff! I also added Red-browed Finch, Pied Currawong, Galah, Crested Pigeon, and Blue-faced Honeyeater to the year list. And a nice male Peregrine was sitting on one of the pylons.

No sign of any quail / buttonquails in the “Desert”, but two Brown Songlarks were still present, as were the four Wandering Whistling-Ducks in the southern arm. A tatty Brown Goshawk flew over, and I also saw it later hunting in the woodlands. It was getting hotter, and I decided to call it quits about 9am, bumping into Wayne and Joanne Schulz on the way out – always nice to actually meet people whose names are familiar from eBird / social media.

Dam water level is 54.6% today, and my patch year list finished the day on 112, having added Magpie Goose, Australasian Swamphen, Bush Stone-curlew, Oriental Cuckoo, Pied Currawong, Spangled Drongo, Crested Pigeon, Peregrine Falcon, Galah, Blue-faced Honeyeater, Red-browed Finch, Willie Wagtail, Brown Goshawk and Striated Pardalote. A bumper day!

Oriental Cuckoo, within 5 metres of the coordinates that Elliot Leach had kindly given me from his sighting yesterday!
A second, self-found Oriental Cuckoo.
Australasian Shoveler – two birds were present on the reservoir today.
 
3 Jan 2020 – ouch!

 

Family day out at the Gold Coast today, marred only by the fact that Elliot Leach texted just as we were leaving the house, to say he’d found an Oriental Cuckoo at Tingalpa Reservoir! Still, I enjoyed the day out, and resolved to head to the reservoir first thing tomorrow morning to try to re-find it.

In the meantime, the amazing Victor W Fazio III has identified a photo of a Tineid moth that I took on 1 Jan – Moerarchis australasiella. See here for the record on iNaturalist. While this year will mostly focus on finding birds, I’m keen to take notice of other nature around my patch too. So far I’ve identified 13 non-bird species, all of which are up on iNaturalist. I’ll put up lists soon.

The brilliant Moerarchis australasiella. Apparently the larva bores into the dead stems of grass trees Xanthorrhoea spp, lining its boreholes with a silk tube which projects from the tunnel and has a silk cap (see here). Indeed, this moth was buzzing about in an area where grass trees had recently been burnt – perfect habitat. Next time I’m in that area I’ll look for the silk tubes produced by the larva.

 
2 Jan 2020 – part time patching

 

Reservoir 54.8% full today. Michael Daley was keen to look for the Stubble Quail and Red-chested Buttonquail at dawn this morning, and I had arranged to meet him there, but that he should carry on without me if I didn’t show up. Horror of horrors, I overslept! The early start and 17km of hiking yesterday had taken their toll and I needed the rest. Anyway, he scored the Stubble Quail, but unfortunately couldn’t re-find the Red-chested Buttonquail.

I decided to go for a wander after lunch, to coincide with high tide, just in case any additional waders might come in to roost. I don’t really know the site very well, so not sure if there’s any tidal connection. The same 11 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers were still there, and still minus the Red-necked Stint that had scarpered before the end of 2019. A stonking Caspian Tern was perhaps a tidal refugee, and I’m not sure how rare they’ll turn out to be at the reservoir. But by far the best bird was a female Australasian Shoveler, a scarce bird at the best of times in Brisbane, and especially rare at this time of year, it being mainly an autumn and winter visitor. I was very pleased with this – the type of bird that I need to keep the list accumulating through the year.

At least one Brown Songlark was still present, but I could find no sign of quails or buttonquails. A nice flock of passerines at the end of the pylon break had a bright juvenile White-throated Gerygone, a couple of Speckled Warblers, Leaden Flycatchers, Grey Fantail, Grey Shrikethrush, a Brown Honeyeater and a bunch of Silvereyes. Nice!

Today’s haul brought the patch year list to 97, having added Australasian Shoveler, Caspian Tern, Brown Honeyeater, Noisy Miner & White-throated Gerygone. Still missing some suprising things, including Willie Wagtail and Australasian Swamphen!

Caspian Tern – not sure how rare this is going to turn out to be. Probably not particularly rare.
White-throated Gerygone – cracking little thing!
Brown Songlark – look at the drumsticks on that! This species is actually usually very rare in Brisbane, but there has been something of an influx this summer.
Australasian Shoveler – best bird (if not best photo) of the day.
 
1 Jan 2020 – patchwork

 

In 2018 I did a big year in Brisbane, which entailed trying to see as many bird species as possible within the city limits. It was fun, but exhausting – I eventually ended up with a total of 305 species, which shows how biodiverse our great city is! In 2019 I didn’t set any particular goal, and found myself going out birding less and less. This is a shame because (i) I enjoy it, (ii) it’s good for my mental and physical wellbeing, and (iii) I ended up just spending more time working without a definite birding goal to aim for.

So this year I’ve decided to join a number of other birders in Brisbane, who are each trying to see as many species as possible in a “patch” of their choosing. In birding parlance a patch is a local spot where you frequently go birdwatching, getting to know and love the place. I’ve never really been a patch birder, preferring to dart around the place visiting here, there and everywhere. This year I’m going to try to focus on one place, observe its nature, watch it change over the course of a year, and try to learn more about the flora and fauna of my local area.

It all began today, 1 Jan 2020, with a rude awakening from my alarm at 0230. Yes, 0230. And yes, I did go to bed before midnight on New Year’s Eve! My chosen patch is Tingalpa Reservoir, a drinking water reservoir with a capacity of 13,206 ML, although only currently 55% full. The low water level has exposed lots of muddy edges and there is nice growth of aquatic vegetation. A couple of reconnaissance visits in the last week have suggested to me this could be an awesome patch, but is not frequently visited by Brisbane birders.

Anyway, I arrived on site at 0324 and almost immediately heard an Australian Owlet-Nightjar, a great start! A Southern Boobook and Tawny Frogmouth were also calling, and eventually a Powerful Owl started up to complete a nice nocturnal quartet. As sun rose I birded the southern end and then made my way to an area of open grassland that looked very promising for quails and buttonquails. A few unusual species have been showing up in south-east Queensland recently, but there are vanishingly few places in Brisbane that are suitable. I began walking across the grassland, ready to closely watch any bird that was to flush in front of me.

And then it happened. A large quail flew out from the grass in front of me – I was immediately struck by its overall sandy pale brown appearance, quite unlike the rich brown of the much smaller Brown Quail, and its take-off seemed well controlled and not like the emergency explosion of disturbed Brown Quail. Crucally, it had several strong whitish streaks running down its back, and although I could not see the head pattern since the bird was flying directly away, I knew it was a Stubble Quail! The fourth record for Brisbane, with all previous birds being one-off sightings, this was a major find – I immediately texted Ged Tranter, and he set out on his way. I birded some other parts of the reservoir, picking up Brown Songlark, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, 5 Great Crested Grebes and a long list of other species. Ged arrived at 0830 and we slowly retraced my earlier steps, cameras at the ready.

Suddenly a bird flushed, but it wasn’t the Stubble Quail – it was much smaller, a buttonquail!! But which one? Ged and I fired off photos as the bird flew, cameras held not to our eye, but out in front of us to stand the best chance of actually getting a shot. A frustrating process, but eventually we got several photos that were clear enough to clinch the identification. Brisbane’s fourth Red-chested Buttonquail! It had rather sandy upperparts and relatively little contrast between the flights feather and coverts, and crucially strongly rusty rear flanks and undertail.

Both of these species are very rare visitors to the coast, and I was over the moon!

Ged and I parted ways, and I explored the southern section of the reservoir as the day really began to heat up. Nothing else mega, but a great selection of species left me with a grand total of 92 species for the morning. Not a bad start at all to my patch big year.

Red-chested Buttonquail – notice the richly rufous flanks and dark undertail – only the belly centre is pale
Red-chested Buttonquail, showing relatively little contrast between back and wing coverts, and wing coverts and flight feathers. Sadly I couldn’t get pics of the Stubble Quail, although Ged did.
 
Sunshine Coast Pelagic Trips

 

Several times each year, pelagic birdwatching trips to look for seabirds are organised by local birders. We depart from Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast and head east to the continental shelf NE of Moreton Island. Arriving at the shelf, we typically cut the engines and drift for about three hours, looking for seabirds in that transition zone between deep ocean and the coastal waters. Below you will find an information sheet giving details of these trips, which cost $180 per person for the regular trips and $260 per person for the extended 12-hour trips. Note that they are on a non-profit basis (e.g. even the organisers pay for their own tickets – all the money goes to pay the charter company and to buy burley).

Trips for the rest of 2022:

23 Oct (extended 12 hour trip into deeper water beyond the shelf)

13 Nov

Please email Richard Fuller on r.fuller@uq.edu.au if you are interested in coming along on a trip or want to know more.

Tahiti Petrel, November 2019
Masked Booby, October 2019
White-bellied Storm-petrel, April 2022
 
Birding Brisbane

 

Birding Brisbane is a free monthly magazine about birds and birdwatching in the River City – download your copy today! Issues will uploaded to this page each month. Please email Richard Fuller with comments, story ideas, or permission for us to use your eBird photos in future editions!

Happy reading, and have a happy time Birding Brisbane in 2019.

Birding Brisbane is a monthly magazine about Birds and Birdwatching in the River City
 
Dec 25: That’s it folks

 

Today was my last day in Brisbane this year, and I’m writing this from 40,000 feet in the air aboard a flight bound for Dubai, then on to the UK, where we will be until Jan 24. As I crossed the Gateway Bridge, the view of the distinctive CBD skyline in the setting sun symbolised a great year spent birding in Brisbane. Surely one of the birdiest cities in the world! It’s official, I will finish the year on 305 species, which far surpassed my initial prediction of 253!! In the end, 9 birders finished above that total of 253. I’ll go through the birding highlights in more detail in another post, but several aspects of the big year surprised and delighted me, and I’m totally pleased that I did it.

First and foremost, I reconnected with nature. The last few years have been increasingly busy at work. Very enjoyable, but very busy – and like many jobs, academia will take all you can throw at it, and more. The basic truth is that if you work more hours, you’ll produce more scientific output. It really feels like a slippery slope – easy to get addicted to an ever-increasing time commitment to work, at the expense of other important things in life. My young family has been a huge priority for me since our daughter was born in 2012, and the increasing busy-ness of work has led to nature study being squeezed out of the diary, with almost all my time being spent at work or with family. This was a shame, because a love of nature was the thing that got me into science in the first place, and increasingly I believe it is fundamental to my wellbeing. This year compelled me to spent lots of time in nature, and I felt much the better for it. Being in nature, and particularly doing something purposeful like birding means that one really only cares about the present – what is happening around you and why? It enforces a kind of mindfulness; the past or the future don’t matter.

Second, I discovered what a brilliant community of birders there is in Brisbane. A group of folks where the experts freely give their time and expertise to help beginners, and there’s a real sense of camaraderie and shared purpose. Kindness, and not much politics. Really refreshing, having been brought up in British birding, which is a fascinating scene, but overly dominated by some strong characters and an at time and intense game of politics.

Third, it cemented my love of eBird. Almost all the keenest birders in Brisbane use eBird to document their observations, and this is gold for the group of folks engaged in Brisbane year listing. We could communicate quickly and efficiently with each other – alerts would email us at hourly intervals with any observations of year ticks, and I was frequently spurred into action by the appearance of an eBird alert. I became convinced that eBird is the way of the future – sharing, documenting, archiving all birding records. And not just for birders, but for ecology and conservation research too. Validated eBird records get passed to Birdlife Australia’s Birdata database, the Atlas of Living Australia, and also on to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. This means the records are available to scientists and others studying biodversity anywhere around the world. Truly brilliant stuff! Have a think about where your valuable records go – do they end up somehwere they can be used and stored for the future? If not, I encourage you to get yourself a free eBird account today and get started. Will your birding discoveries just die with you, or will they be around for future birders to learn from?

Fourth, I learnt heaps about Brisbane’s birds. For example, I hadn’t realised how rare Crested Terns become in the cooler months – they pretty much completely clear out of Brisbane during winter, presumably to breed on the Great Barrier Reef, starting to return in December or so. A number of new sites for Barn Owl were documented during the year, several singing Jacky Winters were present out west, and a huge invasion of White-browed and Masked Woodswallows was a highlight. All these were good learning experiences for me, yet it also brought home to me how little birding effort has been put in to the western woodlands flanking the west side of Mount Nebo and Mount Glorious. This all cemented my goal of creating an Atlas of the Birds of Brisbane, to bring together in one place everything we know about Brisbane’s birds. I will write a post about this soon, and we’ll be launching the Atlas on 1 Jan 2019 – look out for it, and especially how you can contribute to filling in survey gaps and writing species accounts. For a sneak preview check out http://brisbanebirds.com

Fifth, it reconfirmed to me what a strong family we are. My wife was super supportive of (if a little baffled by) the big year effort, and recognises my need to spend time in nature. On many occasions she had to do the heavy lifting at home while I dashed off for yet another stomp round Oxley Creek Common or some other such flight of fancy. I am truly grateful. The kids were flummoxed by the whole thing – “Daddy, birdwatching is boring snoring…” But we made it through.

For all its thrills and successes, the year was also undeniably hard work in places, with 17 dips on Black Bittern in the end – a species that continued to taunt me right to the end, when yet another photograph of one appeared on the Facebook feeds, this time from the northern bank of the Brisbane River (and hence just inside the Brisbane LGA) at Colleges Crossing on Christmas Eve! I also remember the cheerless mope around Shelley Road Park in the dense fog looking for a Red-backed Kingfisher that had been seen the previous afternoon, but never reappeared. And the heartstopping moment when Ged Tranter phoned to say he’d found Brisbane’s first Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Tinchi Tamba, while I was at the other end of the country in Hobart – the bird was twitched by a few local birders that afternoon but then promptly disappeared. However, this particular demon was eventually exorcised a few weeks later when the same bird or another was found at the Port of Brisbane roost by Tina Rider and Sean Nolan and widely twitched by local and interstate birders. Another low was crashing out of the March pelagic because of being hospitalised with pneumonia, during which episode they also discovered I had Type I diabetes. Once I was out of hospital, the diabetes didn’t disrupt birding too much at all, and with careful planning, I don’t think it’ll limit future birding in any way. It does have an impact on lifespan, which is irritating given my plans for retirement world birding(!), but I’m trying to limit that with very tight blood sugar control. And ironically I’m probably healthier now than I’ve ever been, with a carefully thought-out and super healthy diet!

Would I have done anything differently? Well, perhaps. In general, my strategy was built around focusing on difficult species rather than trying to amass a high species count quickly. Going for rare stuff first, and moving quickly whenever the chance arose to try for a difficult species. Inevitably, there were times when I bumped into a species again, after having put in huge amounts of effort for it (e.g. a Little Eagle sailing over suburban east Brisbane after spending multiple days searching for the lingering bird at Shelley Road Park). There were plenty of dips, but most of those defeats were fair and square, not through poor strategic decision-making. I should have gone to Moreton Island more times, but those trips are time consuming, and doing more of them would have entailed unacceptable amounts of time away from family, at short notice, which is very disruptive. If I ever do this again, it’ll have to be post-retirement, when I can do a series of multi-day trips to Moreton Island at short notice for seawatching. Also, more adventure birding would have been good. I should have bought a kayak and spent time checking out Brisbane extensive network of creeks. This would almost certainly have landed me Black Bittern, and it’s a project I want to try out next year. A more complete attempt to look for Black-breasted Button-quail, based on systematic searching in appropriate habitat. In general, more careful use of vegetation mapping to guide searching for some of the rarer species might have paid dividends, but again I would have needed big blocks of time, and time was a scarce commodity. More expeditionary birding in the western woodlands would surely have yielded some additional species, but again the time commitment was not possible for me. In short, there is lots we still don’t know about which species occur where in Brisbane, highlighting the urgent need for the Atlas of the Birds of Brisbane.

What will I do next year? I will focus on birding to fill gaps in the Atlas of the Birds of Brisbane. This year has necessarily entailed spending much time at heavily visited sites – these are often the places where rare birds get found, and the dedicated year lister cannot avoid them. Next year I’m going off the beaten track. I’ll be searching out birds in under-watched Atlas squares (like Whoa Boy and ), hoping to find new sites for birds, and maybe locating one or two difficult-to-find species that I didn’t see this year, such as Yellow Thornbill, Glossy-Black Cockatoo or Black-breasted Button-quail.

Brisbane CBD, as viewed from the Gateway Bridge en route to the airport in an Uber. Sunset on a brilliant year of Brisbane birding.
 
Dec 23: The perils &c

 

Up at 0330 and back to Sandy Camp Road Wetlands again, arriving at my lookout over the bittern pond just as dawn was breaking (eBird checklist here). Less heron activity than yesterday, although a Striated Heron flew in and foraged in the open. Predictably, there was no sign of the Black Bittern, and at 0545 I headed east of the railway line to meet up with Ged Tranter. We checked the swamp in the southern part of Constellation Way Park, access from Sandy Camp Road just east of the railway crossing.

The habitat looked really good for waterbirds, with mixed papyrus stands, melaleuca woodland and Typha beds (eBird checklist here). But we couldn’t access large parts of the good-looking habitat. Somehow, there are birds to be found here!

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 305 species. I spent 2 hours 44 minutes birding, walked 3.773 km and drove 30.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Dec 22: The perils of not giving up

 

I couldn’t resist another attempt at the Black Bittern today, since I knew there was one somewhere in the vicinity. I set the alarm for an over-enthusiastic 01:30, with the aim of spotlighting and listening for the Black Bittern at Sandy Camp Road Wetlands. It’s only a few more days before the year is over, I reasoned with myself as I made coffee.

The nocturnal portion of the birding (eBird checklist here) produced a number of herons, including a singing Australian Little Bittern, 3 Nankeen Night-herons and a calling Striated Heron. But the star of the show was conspicuously absent. No sight nor sound. I did see an unidentified flying heron just after dawn, and although I think it was probably a Nankeen Night-heron, there is an outside chance it was the Black Bittern.

As light dawned, I kept up the vigil (with a stationary count that eventually logged 51 species! See here), hoping the bird might do a repeat of yesterday, but it just wasn’t to be. Was I frustrated? Maybe. Will I try again tomorrow? Definitely…

After taking the kids swimming (and having a flock of 90 Topknot Pigeons fly over Carindale), I had to head out to the coast to do a low tide shorebird count for work. I started at Lota and worked my way up to Nudgee Beach. The surveys have to be done quite quickly, so they’re not enormously conducive to birding. But I did bump into a Sooty Oystercatcher at Darling Point, which was very nice (see here), together with four Broad-billed Sandpipers. I messaged Steve Murray, and he successfully twitched it for his year list, together with Felicia Chan and Rick Franks.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 305 species. I spent 8 hours 44 minutes birding, walked 1.926 km and drove 98.5 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Dec 21: The perils of giving up too soon

 

I reckon giving up is a key skill in life. Knowing when to quit a project doomed to failure is probably just about as important as determination to see something through. The trouble is, one has to decide when to give up and when to face the headwind. Today I put in a 15th effort for Black Bittern, arriving at Sandy Camp Road Wetlands just after dawn (eBird checklist here). In many ways I was going through the motions, with only a few birding days left until the end of the year (we fly to the UK on Christmas Day, back in Australia on 24th January). My options for year ticks are now very limited. The three most likely possibilities are White-winged Black Tern, Black-breasted Button-quail and Black Bittern. All are very difficult, and all require very different search strategies in very different places.

I kept vigil over the bittern pond for about half an hour when Steve Murray showed up, and we birded together for a while. He showed me a White-winged Triller nest, which had a female bird sitting tight, presumably incubating eggs. He had seen a male on there just earlier; nice to see them sharing parental duties. After chatting for a while, I decided to head home. I could have stayed another 20 minutes or so before I absolutely had to leave, but the chance of Black Bittern seemed so remote, and I’d done this so many times before that I didn’t think twice about giving up slightly early.

As I neared the car park, my phone went and Steve told me he’d just seen a Black Bittern, but that it was flighty and nervous. I couldn’t believe it, and began running back to the bittern pond. I must have got there within about three minutes, and I had missed it by literally seconds. Steve said it last flew east over the railway line, into the swamp there. I had a look from the track that runs along the railway line, but couldn’t see anything perched up in the trees.

The time had come when I really did have to leave, and of course the “if onlys” were swirling around in my head. Still, it wouldn’t be a proper big year without a bogey bird, now would it?

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 305 species. I spent 1 hour 46 minutes birding, walked 4.008 km and drove 20.5 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Dec 17: Sitting on the dock o’ the Bay, wasting time

 

With ex tropical cyclone Owen still causing showers and strong easterly winds, I felt duty-bound to get out and about again this morning. I needed to be back at 0700, so awoke early at 0345 and headed up to Shorncliffe Pier, from which I watched out into the Bay. The winds had eased a little, and I wasn’t super hopeful. Unfortunately my pessimism was well-founded and nothing especially rare showed up, even with a fishing boat offshore that was attracting fair numbers of Silver Gulls (eBird list here).

The most galling thing about this is that Steve Murray and Ged Tranter came along in the afternoon and had a Short-tailed Shearwater just off the end of the pier! Still, at least that wasn’t a year tick for me. Following my baywatch, I thought I’d pop in to the Brisbane Entertainment Centre Lagoons (eBird hotspot here)- a wander round produced Brush Cuckoo, Common Cicadabird and a few other bits and pieces (eBird checklist here). This is a spot worth checking every now and then, and seems be easily accessible in the early morning even though the signs say it opens at 0800. The lily-covered ponds look good for crakes, and Geoff Dennis had a couple of Cotton Pygmy-goose here on 19 Aug this year.

After working until early afternoon, I popped out again to GJ Fuller Oval Lagoon to see if yesterday’s Long-toed Stint was still around. No sign of it, but rain and / or the tides had raised the water level dramatically – there were no Sharpies or stints there at all (eBird list here). I moved onto Kianawah Rd Wetlands just to see if any of the stints were there, but no luck (eBird list here). I gave up for the day.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 305 species. I spent 2 hours 10 minutes birding, walked 1.474 km and drove 83.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Dec 16: Brisbane Birding goes Bananas!

 

Yesterday afternoon Tina Rider messaged to say that her and Sean Nolan had found a Buff-breasted Sandpiper at the Port of Brisbane Shorebird Roost!! There was about 1.5 hours remaining until dark, but I was at South Bank with the family. I couldn’t, in all conscience, leave them to go dashing off twitching, despite the fact this was the second Brisbane record ever (although possibly the same bird as the first for Brisbane found by Ged Tranter on October 27th). I was crestfallen to say the least; a number of Brisbane’s keenest birders had managed to dash over there and connect with it before dark. I briefly contemplated racing over, but it had disappeared just before dusk so I called it off.

Awake on the alarm at 0345, I was at the Port roost by 0440 (eBird list here). I phoned Port security and they very kindly unlocked the gate to let me in – the staff are so friendly and helpful! Ex tropical cyclone Owen is tracking SSE across Queensland today, but so far the rain was largely holding off. I could see a few hundred Bar-tailed Godwits in the main roost, along with a number of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers foraging in the saltmarsh – it was with these that the Buff-breasted Sandpiper was associating last night. I carefully scanned all I could see, but couldn’t pick out buffy. Soon, a few other birds turned up – Todd Burrows, Ged Tranter and Chris Sanderson. By this time I had moved up to the second hide, and was scoping the area in front of it, where the bird had spent much time yesterday.

All of a sudden I was onto the handsome caramel-coloured cutie, with its beady eye in a plain buff head really standing out. I was delighted to claw back this mega after miserably missing out on the October bird while in Tasmania. I called the others over, and eventually a number of other birders turned up. The crowd reached 8 at one point – probably in the top ten ever crowds for Brisbane! A few Broad-billed Sandpipers added interest, but I missed the Asian Dowitcher because I was so engrossed in searching for, then watching, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

I had to leave fairly promptly to do a shorebird survey at Nudgee and Sandgate. On the way, I saw a Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo fly over the motorway at Nudgee Waterhole Reserve, which was a nice surprise. There were almost 1,000 Curlew Sandpipers foraging on the tidal flats at Nudgee Beach, along with a nice flock of Little Terns. With the wind and rain picking up, I was hoping for something rare, but it wasn’t to be. Pushing up through Sandgate, there were few shorebirds, and Ged texted to say him and Michael Daley had found a Long-toed Stint at GJ Fuller Oval Lagoon – another great find! But once I’d finished the shorebird survey, I wanted to try baywatching from Shorncliffe Pier, since the easterly wind was now blowing at about 20 knots. A trio of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters got my hopes up early on, but it was generally quiet. After about 45 minutes, a nice Common Tern appeared briefly among the numerous Whiskered Terns, but that was it. Very satisfied with the day’s events, I headed home.

With one year tick today, my year list ticked up to 305 species. I spent 5 hours 46 minutes birding, walked 1.458 km and drove 107.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper at the Port of Brisbane.
Todd Burrows in action. That’s not a camera, this is a camera!


 
Dec 12: Best bird of the day was a jellyfish, although I did +1

 

Elliot Leach arrived at my place promptly at 0430 and we then picked up Louis Backstrom from his place in Kedron before powering up the M1 to Mooloolaba. We were full of the usual pelagic birder optimism – this is the lifeblood that keeps one going back for more. Arriving at the harbour, the wind seemed fresh enough, still coming from the east, and forecast to be 10-20 knots during the day. Ideal, or so we thought.

We motored out as usual, noting a nice flock of Common Terns, a Flesh-footed Shearwater, and a lone Sooty Tern on the way, and also pleased to see Wedge-tailed Shearwaters in almost constant attendance all the way to the shelf. Almost as soon as we crossed the border into Brisbane waters, though, the birds began to dry up a little. As we stopped to begin the drift, it was immediately apparent something was wrong. It was eerily quiet. No wind. The doldrums! Our hearts sank, as we all knew that this didn’t bode well for the day’s birding. Nevertheless, we began deploying berley.

Eventually a nice Sooty Tern appeared, associating loosely with a group of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. More Wedge-tailed Shearwaters arrived, and although a few investigated the slick, most weren’t really interested or hungry-looking. At length, a couple of nice Tahiti Petrels appeared, and finally a Flesh-footed Shearwater made a brief pass of the boat – a year tick at last! At one point I was scanning with binoculars and saw a cracking Blue Marlin scything out of the water – amazing! And we spent time between birds watching a small group of Long-finned Pilot Whales.

On the way back, we stopped fairly close inshore off Mooloolaba to scan some fishing boats and do a small drift, which produced an adult Brown Booby, and a mixed flock of Common and White-winged Black Terns. A nice end to the trip.

But pride of place had to go to the world’s largest jellyfish! A cracking Lions mane Jellyfish Cyanea capillata that drifted by very close to the boat – mega!

With one year tick today, my year list finally moved on again, after one month and one day of stasis, to 304 species. I spent 5 hours 39 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 242.1 km. My chronological year list is here.


 
Dec 8: Runways and flyways

 

I started the day not long after dawn at Archerfield Airport. In my now well-practised routine, I stopped at three sites (1,2,3) and scanned the airfield. Nothing mega was present, although there were some decent counts – at least 160 Galah, 87 Australian Magpies and at least 32 Masked Lapwings. Sadly I couldn’t turn any of the lapwings into Banded! Time was short since I needed to be home at 0730. So I finished up at the airfield, and dropped in to Granard Wetlands for a quick look (eBird list here). Again nothing mega, although I had the first record of Black Kite for this site, which has now had 75 species. Not bad for a very unprepossessing roadside park.

In the afternoon, I headed to the Wynnum-Manly foreshore to do a migratory shorebird survey for work. I started at Lota and finished at Wynnum, counting shorebirds foraging on the intertidal flats at low tide. In some ways, counting and birding don’t go desperately well together, since time is limited for the fieldwork and I needed to push on from site to site. Still, I had 15 Black-tailed Godwits viewed from the end of Nelson Parade, a bunch of Tereks at Lota, and a Ruddy Turnstone at Dreveson Park. Overall, not huge numbers of shorebirds present in the area today, although it was good to see 180 Black Swans and 25 Whiskered Terns (all adults) at Wynnum.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained stuck on 303 species. I spent 3 hours 39 minutes birding, walked 0.943 km and drove 82.3 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Dec 7: Seabirds? I don’t see birds

 

There has been strong easterly airflow for several days now, and it is expected to go on until at least the middle of next week. My thoughts had been turning to seabirds, and our outstanding good fortune that the Sunshine Coast pelagic is coming up on Sunday 9th December. Or at least it was coming up on 9th December, until the very thing that would have made it a zinger of a trip – the wind – caused the captain to cancel. The horror!!!!

Greg Roberts was straight on the case, and managed to negotiate moving the trip to Wednesday 12th December, hopefully still within the period of easterly winds. I was initially thinking of trying to get to Moreton Island for a seawatch on Sunday, but with the pelagic rescheduled so close, it would be tricky to negotiate the time away from home.

Still, as I peered outside this afternoon after a long session working on the laptop, and saw the blustery winds still blowing, and showers scudding through, I jumped up and decided to head to Shorncliffe Pier to see if any seabirds had entered Moreton Bay by way of shelter. I dashed up the M1, and arrived at the pier about 3.30, resolving to put in half an hour of “seawatching” (baywatching perhaps?)

Straight away I had a Little Tern and I thought it was going to be a mega session with Sooty Terns and Lesser Frigatebirds. But as usual my overactive imagination was leading me astray. There were no seabirds in the Bay. Sulking, I retreated home. I’m planning to give Archerfield another shot in the morning.

But then I got to speak at the opening of Deb Mostert’s exhibition Australien Future at Redland Art Gallery this evening. A fine collection of work highlighting the parallels between migrations of people and shorebirds. Well worth a visit if you are in Cleveland sometime between now and 20th January 2019.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained stuck on 303 species. I spent 35 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 64.0 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Dec 3: Button’s undone

 

Leigh Wilson had an absolutely cracking male Red-chested Buttonquail yesterday in the car park at Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens! The bird was nonchalantly wandering along in the open by a flower bed outside the administration building!!! She had had the bird at 0700, and I simply couldn’t resist trying for it early this morning, even though my brain told me there were next to no chance.

I arrived in the car park at 0445 and immediately zeroed in on the spot where the bird had been seen, marvelling at how open and how close to areas of human activity the bird had been seen. I wandered around for a while, but I’ll be honest my heart wasn’t in it and I knew I was going to dip. Presently Louis Backstrom turned up, and we both desultorily finished checking the area not long after 0600, when I headed home.

Later in the afternoon, news broke that a Black Bittern has been seen again this morning at Sandy Camp Rd Wetlands – this is course a nemesis bird, having eluded me on 14 occasions so far this year! Will I try at dawn. At this point, I really don’t know…

With no year ticks today, my year list surged remained on 303 species. I spent 1 hours 32 minutes birding, walked 1.06 km and drove 39.6 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Nov 11: Chicken skin and sea fowl

 

Today was the penultimate Sunshine Coast pelagic of the year, and we were to try out a new berley mix with chicken skin and extra added fish oil. The purpose of the chicken skin is to get the berley to float, keeping the sight and smell of the potential food as noticeable as possible to any passing sea fowl.

Leaving the house at 0420, I collected Louis Backstrom and Andy Jensen en route, and eventually arrived in Mooloolaba at 0615 or so. We joined the huddled crowd of birders on the jetty, rejoicing in the south-easterly wind ruffling our hair. There had been a southerly blow a couple of days ago, then the wind turned easterly for a day, and now was in the south-east quarter, great conditions for a pelagic. A few showers were scudding through, which made us all very optimistic.

We set sail bang on time, but it rapidly became clear that there were relatively few birds about as we steamed at full speed east towards the Brisbane border and the continental shelf. After what seemed like an age, and about 3km before we reached the Brisbane border, a fine squadron of four Pomarine Jaegers put on a show to the south of the boat, including landing on the water at close range allowing us some great looks. After admiring them for a while, we steamed for the border, and after another 20 minutes or so the skipper finally cut the engine. We were above 600 metres of water, right on the steeply dropping off continental shelf.

Commencing with the berley, we could tell it was going to work a treat. Our slick spread out, and the chicken skins soaked with fish oil and rotten fish bits floated nicely on the surface. A few Providence Petrels and shearwaters (both Wedge-tailed and Short-tailed) came for a look, although nothing seemed super hungry. Presently a cracking Sooty Tern darted by, and with its smart looks and purposeful flight, arrived onto my year list in style. A petrel appeared distantly, and it remained close enough for long enough for me to see it had a white belly and dark head – a Tahiti Petrel – year tick number two!! A few Wilson’s Storm-petrels appeared, and whilst birds were in view most of the time during the drift, no additional species were going to show up for the next couple of hours.

Around 12.30 we decided to call a halt to the drift, and moved back towards land looking for a trawler that was on the radar. We crossed back into Sunshine Coast waters before reaching the trawler, although it did have a Brown Booby on it, which was nice. We drifted for 30 minutes near the trawler, and just as we were about to leave had a cracking Flesh-footed Shearwater – a bittersweet moment since it would have been a Brisbane year tick yet we weren’t in Brisbane waters.

As we started steaming for port, I was feeling sleepy and eventually slumber took over. I woke up with a start back at the seaway!  We arrived back on land a little disappointed with the trip, although I’d had a clear technical success, with two year ticks.

With the two year ticks today (Tahiti Petrel and Sooty Tern), my year list surged to 303 species. I spent 3 hours 58 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 232.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

Sooty Tern in the Coral Sea off Cape Moreton

Tahiti Petrel, a speciality of the western Pacific, and a summer visitor to Brisbane waters.

 
Nov 4: Murder most fowl

 

I was keen to try Archerfield airport again, since it has been quite a while since anyone went there. It’s got huge potential (see my discussion from September 16th), being one of the largest open grassy expanses in Brisbane that is accessible to the birding public. I arrived at the corner of Boundary Rd and Ashover Rd and scoped around the airfield, noting a big count of 123 Australian Magpies, and a flyover Magpie Goose (eBird list here). Suddenly I heard a burst of the unmistakable twangy song of a Brown Songlark due east of where I was standing – somewhere out on the airfield. It sang just once, and I desperately searched to try see it. But try as I might, I just couldn’t find it – indeed, they can be quite hard to find if they are singing from high up in the air. I was certain of the identity of the bird, but very disappointed not to have any photographic or audio evidence. Brown Songlark is a decidedly rare species in Brisbane, with just a handful of records each year, although there are currently birds present at Oxley Creek Common and Priors Pocket, and it has been an unusually good year for them in coastal south-east Queensland. I waited awhile, not finding any other uncommon birds while scanning the airfield, and eventually decided to move on.

I drove around to the corner of Balham Rd and Barton St, and almost the first bird I saw when scanning the airfield was a magnificent Brown Songlark!! It was too distant for pics with the proper camera, but I got some smudgy phone-scoped pictures and was mighty relieved – a first for Archerfield (at least as far as we know). Eventually it flew up and gave a few bursts of song in the air, and obligingly landed on a fence, and I took the chance to get some more pics. It was very distant, but phone-scoping at least gave me some useable shots to document the record (eBird list here)

Lastly, I moved down to Rockwell Drive (eBird list here; Archerfield airfield can be reasonably well covered from the three spots I visited today). It was interesting to see 8 Pacific Golden-Plovers on the southern runway, and I minutely grilled them just in case something else was in there, but to no avail. A Starling was carrying food to a nest cavity in a building, and it was nice to get a breeding record for this species.

I wasn’t going to stay out much longer, but wanted to try Norma Croker Park before heading home (eBird list here). I parked on Beatty Rd where it crosses Oxley Creek, and immediately noticed a Laughing Kookaburra attacking something. I couldn’t see what it was pecking at, but I assumed it was a skink or something. I set up, got my camera out, and then realised it was still stabbing and hacking away at its victim a couple of minutes later. Suddenly I realised that it was attacking another Kookaburra, and that the victim was not looking very well at all. The attacker was violently stabbing at the victim’s neck, holding it down with flexed wings, and clearly trying to kill it. Eventually the victim succumbed and after it was dead, the assailant flew up into a nearby tree next to another Kookaburra and began singing. Despite being a biologist, I must confess to being a bit horrified by witnessing this cold-blooded murder. But then, it all appeared in perspective when I turned to walk across the bridge over the creek, and noticed a dead Torresian Crow in the middle of the road, with another crow desolately wondering what had happened to its mate. I knew which death was the more senseless of the two. A series of pictures is below, with apologies to the squeamish.

Nothing mega in Norma Croker Park, although plenty of Black-faced Dotterel and a nice flyover Black Kite.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 301 species. I spent 2 hours 41 minutes birding, walked 1.209 km and drove 43.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

Brown Songlark this morning at Archerfield Airport, viewed from the corner of Balham Rd and Barton St. The bird was showing well, albeit distantly, and song-flighting on and off.

The assailant spent much of the time with its bill clamped around the victim’s neck.

 

 

 

The victim is pretty weak by this point.

The assailant held the victim down with flexed wings.

I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that bill.

Sequence of shots showing a Kookaburra killing another Kookaburra. Disturbing, but fascinating. Presumably this was some kind of territorial dispute.

Another, much less natural avian death just 50 metres from the kookaburra brawl. Always sad to see a “grieving” bird puzzling over what just happened.

 
Oct 28: I leave Brisbane for a day, and look what happens…

 

I flew back from Hobart to Brisbane via Melbourne, and my plane touched down about 1.30pm. My wife and kids had come to meet me at the airport, and had brought birding stuff, so I could do a kind of reverse superman and change into my tatty old birding clothes and don binoculars and a telescope. After some debate, we decided I’d drop the family at DFO for shopping, and I’d take the car and drive to Tinchi Tamba. There had been no definite sighting of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper this morning, although Louis Backstrom had a brief look at a bird he thought was probably it.

I wasn’t enormously hopeful, but as I pulled into the car park and bumped into Michael Daley, I thought at least it’ll be fun looking. We slopped through mud out to the plain, and two things were immediately apparent. There were hundreds of shorebirds, and it was extremely windy. We set about sorting through the birds, but they were fairly mobile, and large numbers spent most of their time hunkered down and tricky to view. We met up with John Hoekstra, David Stewart, Deb Metters, Peter Hayes and a few other folks. There was a really nice flock of 160+ Black-tailed Godwits, about 25 Red Knots, 20 Marsh Sandpipers and a bunch of other shorebirds, but no-one had a sniff of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. I had to leave about 4.30 to go back and pick the others up from DFO.

And that’s what happens when I leave Brisbane for a day!

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 301 species. I spent 2 hours 7 minutes birding in Brisbane, walked 3.682 km and drove 0 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Oct 27: The pain

 

The inimitable Ged Tranter struck gold once again today, finding Brisbane’s first Buff-breasted Sandpiper!!!!! Ged regularly covers Tinchi Tamba, and given the time of year, his thoughts had turned to shorebirds and he was purposely looking for something good. Ged sets a great example of a birder who is always thinking, always pushing to find quality birds, and always sharing information immediately. He texted me straight away in the mid afternoon, which would have left me plenty of time to twitch the bird, as four other folks did … if I had not been in Tasmania at the time! All I could do was watch helplessly from the sidelines, and fervently hope that the bird is still there tomorrow. I arrive back into Brisbane at 1.30, and if the bird is around I’ll be able to rush straight to Tinchi from the airport.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 301 species. I spent 0 minutes birding in Brisbane, walked 0 km and drove 0 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Oct 23: Another day, another year tick!

 

Yesterday afternoon, literally five minutes after he’d first found the bird, the brilliant Angus Daly posted on Facebook that he’d seen a Satin Flycatcher at Raven Street Reserve, which is an isolated fragment of eucalypt woodland in the northern suburbs of Brisbane. Although I saw the news almost straight away, I wouldn’t have time to dash there that afternoon, and instead made plans to go early this morning. I didn’t have much time, and I really needed to back home by 7am at the latest. Consequently I set the alarm for 0345 for the second time in three days…

Waking up eager to go, I was in the car by 0400, and arrived on site at Raven Street Reserve at about 0440 just at first light. Dawn chorus was in full swing, and I headed into the woodland for the short walk to the spot where Angus had the bird yesterday (eBird list here). I could only hear and see common birds, although presently a cracking Black-faced Monarch appeared – this is also a spring migrant in lowland Brisbane, albeit a substantially commoner one than Satin Flycatcher. The flycatcher is an exceptionally and somewhat inexplicably rare spring migrant in Brisbane. The timing of the passage is rather broad, with records occurring all the way from September to April. October is the best month, and I had been hoping one might turn up before the month’s end. Sue Lee and Catherine Hirsch photographed one at Bellbird Grove on 27 Feb, and that had remained the only Brisbane record this year until yesterday.

Suddenly I heard the Satin Flycatcher calling, and it appeared almost as if by magic at close quarters. I was flabbergasted – what a total cracker! Striking glossy black and crisp white plumage, a concave-shaped and blotchy border between the black breast and white belly, and a very dark undertail combined to make the bird’s identity instantly clear. Leaden Flycatcher is a confusion species, and some Satins can resemble Leadens quite closely. But this one was strikingly obvious, and I was very happy! It performed on and off for about 20 minutes or so, disappearing for several minutes at a time before briefly reappearing and showing reasonably well, if generally high up in the trees and in low light conditions.

I took the chance to leave early and try to beat the rush hour home, which was just as well, as the traffic was already building up on the roads towards to the CBD even before 0600! Louis Backstrom was en route as I left, and got onto the bird at about 0630.

With one year tick today, and with my year list only sticking on 300 for two days, I incremented to 301 species. I spent 50 minutes birding, walked 0.952 km and drove 52.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

Satin Flycatcher – note the blotchy, concave edge to the breast band, strikingly black head and bib, and very dark undertail.

Here’s a lightened shot of the undertail – Leaden normally shows substantial paleness on the undertail, especially pale feather shafts. This tail appears completely dark.

 
Oct 21: We’ll all have some figgy pudding

 

Spring is in full swing here in Brisbane, with temperatures rising, the sun hotting up and storms scudding through most days. One feature of this time of year is the fruiting of many of the fig tree species favoured by frugivorous birds. Australasian Figbirds have been extremely active over the past few weeks cashing in on the bumper crops, and as I was mulling last night where to go birding this morning, I settled on Gold Creek Reservoir as it is a reliable spot for fruiting fig trees around the dam, car park, and entrance road. The quarry I had in mind was Barred Cuckooshrike, an enigmatically rare summer visitor to Brisbane, and the Gold Creek Reservoir is the locus of what few Brisbane records there are. Barred Cuckooshrikes typically occur between November and April in Brisbane, and having missed the species earlier in the year during a run of records in February and March (and in fact having never seen one in Brisbane), I was keen to try now that the right time of year was ticking around again.

I got up at an over-enthusiastic 0345 and jumped into the car. By the time I got myself mobilised and drove to Gold Creek, it was pretty much dawn, although the heavy cloud ensured it was dingy for a while (eBird list here). A White-eared Monarch was calling along the creek near the car park, which was nice. I had two possible year ticks in mind in addition to the cuckooshrike – Black Bittern and Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo. I tried for the bittern by searching up and down the creek at the base of the dam, focusing on the area near the bottom of the spillway. But just as in previous trips, there was no sign of Black Bittern. As the dawn light brightened, I headed up onto the dam wall to look and listen for Barred Cuckooshrike. eventually I heard something that sounded like one calling! But I had just seen four Spangled Drongos fly into the spot where the call came from, and wanted to make sure I wasn’t hearing mimicry. After a few minutes’ tracking down the mystery songster I was gutted to find it was indeed a drongo, making a call really rather similar to Barred Cuckooshrike. Rats!

I wandered back to the car park, and then along the entrance road as far as the third creek crossing. A fruiting silky oak sported a number of Australasian Figbirds, and something else a bit smaller. My pulse quickened, as I realised it was a female Regent Bowerbird! In the next few minutes, it became clear there were seven different Regent Bowerbirds visiting the tree, including a magnificent male! I was quite surprised to see this many Regent Bowerbirds here at this time of year (I usually think of them as a rare winter visitor to Gold Creek), and it boosted my hopes that a Barred Cuckooshrike might be around. A few minutes later, as I was checking through the Figbirds in the heavily fruiting fig by the third creek crossing I suddenly saw it! A cracking Barred Cuckooshrike sitting right out in the open!!!!!! What a way to reach 300 for the year!!!!!! I rattled off a few pictures, and the bird called a few time, but then began to move around and after about 15 minutes it had melted away. The bird was at -27.4642° S / 152.8864° E.

I was deeply satisfied to find my 300th species for the quest – at the start of the year I simply hadn’t imagined it was possible. 300 species in one city in one year, brilliant. I texted a few other birders, and Ged Tranter arrived after half an hour or so, while I was birding further down the road (I had a couple of Emerald Doves, which I think are easier along the approach road than at the Reservoir itself). I showed him which tree the bird had been in, but there was no sign of the bird, and eventually I left to focus on looking for Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo. The eagle-eyed Ged later re-located the bird a few hundred metres down Gold Creek Rd; in a neat symmetry this was his 300th life bird in Brisbane.

I headed to Adavale Street Dam, parking at the intersection between Savages Rd and Adavale St, where I had a cracking pair of Grey Goshawks low over, and circling a few times calling, all the while being mobbed by Blue-faced Honeyeaters. Perhaps they are breeding somewhere nearby. I tried a few more spots along Bundaleer St and Savages Rd (1,2), but no sign of any Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos – although I had another Grey Goshawk. As the day was now really beginning to heat up, I finished and headed home, very happy with the day’s proceedings.

With one year tick today, I finally reached the magic target of 300 species. I spent 4 hours 19 minutes birding, walked 4.194 km and drove 73.6 km. My chronological year list is here.

A very smart adult Barred Cuckooshrike – my 300th species in Brisbane this year.

 
Oct 12: The eternal optimism of the seawatcher

 

The weather forecast for Friday was for strong southeasterly winds, gusting to 35 knots, accompanied by showers. The temptation was too much to bear, and as Louis Backstrom and I waited at the Holt Street Jetty at Pinkenba this morning we were hoping for great things as the breeze whipped up the surface of the Brisbane River. As the boat got onto the river, it was clear a decent wind was blowing, and once we were on the Bay the ride was pretty bumpy, which combined with the fast speed of the boat, made the birding really tricky. Consequently we didn’t see much at all of interest on the way over.

Arriving at Tangalooma, we headed toward to the tour desk to pick up the rental car, amazed by the extreme tameness of the Bush Stone-curlews at the resort – just loafing about waiting for handouts from tourists! This time we had been allocated a seven-seater Landcruiser, and we were relieved we didn’t get the older and weaker vehicle we had last time, when we managed to spectacularly blow up the radiator! In fact (spoiler alert), we were to get around the island today without any vehicular mishaps.

The tide was already high on the ocean beach, and we had to move fast to get up the western beach before it too was covered (high tide on the western beach is 1.5 hours after the ocean beach side). We drove north along the beach, checking the Tangalooma wreck in vain for Sooty Oystercatcher, skirting Cowan Cowan and then, after scoring a nice Australian Hobby perched in a beachside tree (only the fourth eBird record for Moreton Island), turned onto the track from Bulwer that winds through the beautiful heathland that dominates the north of the island. We didn’t have much time, as we needed to get across the sand bar at North Point before the tide covered it, but we managed to stop for 10 minutes in heath habitat to try and get Louis a year tick. And we succeeded in seconds as a couple of cracking White-cheeked Honeyeaters appeared. Moving quickly on, we arrived at North Point; the first waves had begun breaching the sand bar, but we made it safely across and turned onto the track to Cape Moreton. A couple of minutes later we arrived at the lighthouse car park, loaded up our backpacks and marched up the track toward the cliffs. We scrambled a little way down the rocks and found the vantage point we had used on 8th June, which seems to be well suited to seawatching at the Cape.

Immediately on setting up my telescope I got onto a Short-tailed Shearwater, which at the time I thought was a year tick, but later realised I had seen on 3rd Feb! Following the shearwater, I noticed a couple of storm petrels flitting about. Almost as soon as I’d seen them I lost them – I’d noticed a flash of white, but wasn’t sure if it was rump or belly. After a minute or so, they re-appeared and we could see they were all dark below and white-rumped, a pair of Wilson’s Storm-petrels, still a great bird to see from land, and the first land-based eBird record of this species in Brisbane. This early success filled me with hope. But as is so often the case with seawatching, that hope gradually began to dissipate over the next hour. It wasn’t that we weren’t seeing birds. There was a nice steady stream of Short-tailed Shearwaters. It was that the diversity was very low, with Short-tails vastly outnumbering anything else. We got onto a distant seabird which might have been a cookillaria, but it didn’t really show well enough to get anything meaningful on it, and we left it as completely unidentified.

The wind was raging straight onshore at 30-35 knots, but although it was cloudy, the forecast rain hadn’t materialised. At length, around 1pm, a few showers fell, but it wasn’t really squally enough to do much to the seabird passage. A continuous trickle of Short-tailed Shearwaters had been passing all morning, with 10 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters mixed in. The monotony was interrupted when a Common Noddy flew north fairly close in. A year tick at last!! About 2.30pm, the passage picked up considerably though, and all told we had about 500 Short-tailed Shearwaters, almost all of which flew south. A decent passage, and the biggest count in eBird so far from the Brisbane LGA. During the main passage of Short-tailed Shearwaters, Louis picked up a smaller, pale-bellied shearwater, which turned out to be a Hutton’s, with smudgy axillaries and no “saddlebags”. About 3.30 the rain became very heavy and we needed to get going.

We drove south along the ocean beach, and reached the resort via Middle Road only a couple of minutes after 5pm, when the car was due back. Scoping from the jetty we were lucky enough to pick out a distant Beach Stone-curlew to round off the day. Despite the fact I’d only got a single year tick, and we hadn’t really seen any spectacular seabirds, I had really enjoyed the day. It was especially nice really getting to know Short-tailed Shearwater, and watching the variation in their flight styles in different wind conditions, as well as how different their underparts and underwings can look as the light changes. And there was enough passage of birds to keep up the hope that something mega might fly past. The eternal optimism of the seawatcher.

With one year tick today, my year list edged up to a tantalising 299 species. I spent 6 hours 49 minutes birding, walked 0.53 km and drove 50.4 km, plus c. 75 km on Moreton Island. My chronological year list is here.

Bush Stone-curlew at Tangalooma Resort, where this species is abundant and very tame.

 
Rain falling, but the drought isn’t over

 

I’m not getting a huge amount of birding time at the moment, only really getting out each Sunday. Having spent the last couple of weeks looking for Black-breasted Button-quail, I decided to wander round Shelley Road Park today, for another attempt to look for migrants. Rain had been falling over the past few days, and I thought it might be worth heading out west to check for stray inland birds. The brilliant Dali Lin has just commenced his PhD at UQ, and so I invited him along, ducking around to his temporary digs in West End at 0430 to pick him up. Dali works at the brilliantly-entitled Endemic Species Research Institute in Taiwan, and will be spending much of the next few years at UQ working on strategies for making Asian agriculture more bird-friendly. I was transported to Asia as we chatted about Taiwan’s endemic birds and the big success of eBird Taiwan.

We stopped roadside at Lake Manchester Rd, and also at the corner of Kholo Rd and Lake Manchester Rd, where a Jacky Winter was singing. Eventually we arrived at Shelley Road Park just after 0530, and completed an anticlockwise circuit in just under three hours. Unfortunately nothing spectacular was about, although a singing Bush-hen at the oxbow lake was a nice bonus. I’m not sure what’s going to break the year-tick drought! Maybe I’ll have to wait until the Sunshine Coast pelagic in November before moving the list on again!

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 298 species. I spent 3 hours 14 minutes birding, walked 2.639 km and drove 83.8 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Sep 25: Washout

 

I ducked out this morning for some birding, electing to look for migrants along the NW border of the LGA instead of trying again for rare residents, which would still be around later in the spring and into summer. But I seriously miscalculated on the weather front! The radar looked OK, but when I got to Bald Hills, it was raining cats and dogs, and it looked set in. I sheltered in the car for a while but then decided to brave it, without the luxury of a raincoat or umbrella, and (wisely in retrospect) deciding to leave the camera behind. Soaked, I checked the gravel pits along Linkfield Rd, first from the Moreton Bay Regional Council side, and then from the Brisbane side. The latter yielded a Baillon’s Crake and a Latham’s Snipe, but nothing rarer than that.

Retreating to car in the still incessant rain, I drove around the corner and checked the Bald Hills Raptor Watchpoint from the car. Again nothing special, but another 8 species for this hotspot, and it feels like a place where a decent rarity could turn up one day. After a quick check at a piece of urban bushland around the corner, I headed into Pinaroo cemetery, and birded around the lake in the NE corner. Now this is a spot that looks really promising, with papyrus covering one end, and some nice undisturbed bush at the other, sporting Eastern Whipbird, Eastern Yellow Robin, White-throated Honeyeater, Golden Whistler etc – species characteristic of higher quality habitat. A cracking male White-winged Triller was flying about, which was a nice bonus.

Louis Backstrom joined me, and we birded the lake for a bit before calling it quits and heading to Kedron Brook Wetlands Reserve (eBird list). Louis needed Black Falcon for the year, and one had been seen recently here. We scanned for raptors for three quarters of an hour, but no Black Falcons could be seen. After Louis left, I wandered around to the eastern shore of the main pool, and checked the sharpie flock carefully. I couldn’t pick out any Pectoral Sandpipers, but had a cracking Curlew Sandpiper to round off the morning.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 298 species. I spent 3 hours 54 minutes birding, walked 2.639 km and drove 83.8 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Sep 23: Low platelet count. Diagnosis: dip

 

I spent the full morning at Mill Road, Pullenvale, one of the few locations in Brisbane where Black-breasted Button-quail has been regularly seen. This is one of the few remaining “resident” species in Brisbane that I still need for the year list. Yet in some ways I might as well be searching for bigfoot. Black-breasted Button-quail is a rare resident of eastern Queensland and northern New South Wales. It inhabits semi-evergreen vine thicket and littoral scrub, both habitats that have undergone substantial loss and degradation. The species is vanishingly rare in Brisbane, but sightings have continued over the years, so one has to assume they are extant and resident in the LGA. Gold Creek Reservoir has the most records, and there is photographic evidence by Benjamin Harms), but regulars there believe the birds to have either disappeared or moved to an unbirded section. There have been no eBird records in Brisbane since May 2016. Mat Gilfedder had one at Moggill Conservation Park in 2005, and I understand that one of the possible locations for birds is the dry rainforest near the end of Mill Rd, Pullenvale.

I left the house at 0400, stopped randomly to listen for owls on the way, and then parked by the tracks where Pullen Creek crosses Mill Rd. I explored the dry rainforest on either side of the road, disturbing a Southern Boobook from its roost, and noting a Black-faced Monarch and a flock of Topknot Pigeons but nothing else spectacular. The habitat in the area looks very good, with dense forest but an open forest floor with deep leaf litter. I covered 4 km in just under 5 hours, but there was simply no sign of any buttonquails. All the skulking birds rustling in the leaf litter ended up being Eastern Whipbirds or Russet-tailed Thrush. I did find what might possibly have been some very old platelets, but definitely nothing fresh. I’m unsure whether to persist trying for this species, but with the breeding season for it pretty much upon us (October – December), I thought the next few weeks might be a good time. Perhaps if I don’t find one in September, I’ll try again in early December – adults with young might be a bigger and noisier target.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 298 species. I spent 5 hours 16 minutes birding, walked 4.239 km and drove 73.8 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Sep 16: Archerfield Airport

 

With Australian Pratincoles turning up not far to the west of Brisbane in the last 24 hours, I decided to finally check out Archerfield Airport, after months of putting it off. A study comprising 36 monthly surveys between 1995 and 1998 by Peter Woodall revealed Banded Lapwings in reasonable numbers between 1996 and 1998, together with vagrant Australian Pratincoles and Little Curlews. An astounding run of records resulting from a dedicated search of the area from the perimeter fence. There have been very few records of any of these three species anywhere in Brisbane LGA since, and today I went to look. I made a mental note to try to make a habit of regularly spending a morning at the airfield. I can send a PDF of Woodall’s study to anyone interested – email me.

Access is reasonably easy, and one can survey pretty much the entire 200 hectare airfield from various points on the perimeter fence, especially anywhere along Barton St, Balham Rd, Ashover Rd (the corner of Ashover Rd and Boundary Rd is a particularly good vantage point), on foot from Beatty Rd toward the east end of the main runway (no roadside parking allowed here), and–importantly to cover the south end of the airfield–from the perimeter fence on Rockwall Dr. All these spots seemed to be OK from a security perspective – I didn’t feel uncomfortable and wasn’t approached by anyone wondering what I was doing, even though at Rockwall Dr I was in sight of the control tower. A telescope is essential as many birds are distant.

Sadly I didn’t find any rare birds (eBird lists 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I spent about 2.5 hours looking, and enjoyed a flyover flock of Topknot Pigeons, a Black Kite, two White-bellied Sea-eagles, a Black-shouldered Kite and a small flock of Starlings. Of especial note was the huge number of Australian Magpies on the field – 118 was my highest count from one spot, and I reckon up to 140 birds were probably present across the whole site. I wouldn’t have expected so many in September, when breeding has well and truly commenced in the suburbs, and I would have thought most birds would be dispersed on breeding grounds. Indeed, the highest count in Woodall’s surveys was 106, and numbers were mostly well below 80, although they varied markedly between months. A quick look at the nearby Archerfield Wetlands didn’t produce anything spectacular – it looks like a great spot, but much of the wetland itself seems to be inaccessible on foot.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 298 species. I spent 2 hours 2 minutes birding, walked 1.294 km and drove 54.0 km. My chronological year list is here.

Breeding records of Australian Magpie in Brisbane. The y axis shows the percentage of eBird records of Australian Magpie in which breeding was noted. Although the data are still rather sparse, the main time for breeding in Brisbane is clearly during spring. This is an example of the kind of data that will be become available through the forthcoming Atlas of the Birds of Brisbane project. More details soon.

 
Sep 9: Woodswallows a go-go

 

Up at an enthusiastic 0400, I jumped in the car and set off for Shelley Road Park. I arrived at the corner of Kholo Rd and Lake Manchester Rd at dawn, and decided to spend a while there listening for King Quail since it was foggy and cool, and woodswallows wouldn’t be moving for quite some time yet (eBird list here). Sure enough, at least two birds were vocal, periodically giving the four-note call. They were fairly close to the road edge, but remained hidden in the rank grass. A calling Eastern Yellow Robin was the 100th species for this eBird hotspot. Just a corner of two roads – 100 species in 50 checklists!!

After half an hour, I drove round to Shelley Road Park in the thick fog, and set out across the main paddock prepared for a serious birding session (eBird list here). The weather forecast was for wall to wall sunshine, and I knew it wouldn’t be too long before the fog burnt off. As I got down to the bank of the Brisbane River, the sky cleared and it was a gloriously beautiful scene. Plenty of birds around, and evidence of migration in abundance, with many soaring birds overhead and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters streaming south in groups of 10-20. Presently, I picked up two large black and white birds that I assumed were pelicans, but followed them a while just to make sure. Then I suddenly noticed in my binoculars a really distant flock of woodswallows, about 100 birds! They were too far away to identify in bins, and I frantically set up my telescope. I began sorting through them, and had only identified White-browed by the time the flock had drifted out of view. I was excited, but also frustrated that I hadn’t had time to sort through the whole flock. White-broweds often move with Masked Woodswallows, and I couldn’t help thinking I’d missed a golden opportunity.

I hastily texted Louis Backstrom, who was also on site, in the main paddock. He came racing over, but the birds were long gone by the time he joined me. We walked south along the river bank and looped around via the edge of the farm back under the pylons. There were plenty of birds around, and we clocked up a decent list of species, but simply couldn’t locate any more woodswallows. Arriving back at the main paddock we had a flyover Peregrine, but by this time were a little down in the dumps.

Walking back across the main paddock towards the cars, I looked up at a soaring bird that turned out to be a pelican, and in a re-run of earlier events I suddenly noticed a flock of woodswallows very high overhead, this time even bigger numbers – about 250 birds in total. This is pretty big flock by Brisbane standards, although chicken feed compared to the 2,000 birds over Moggill on 26th August 1972! The vast majority of the birds were White-browed, but a few had pale underparts and were surely Masked Woodswallows. Yet in an almost identical fashion to the previous flock, they had disappeared by the time I got my scope up and started to scan them more closely. Louis had to leave at this point, but I stayed on, and after a while eventually relocated what was probably the edge of this big flock. Joyfully, I managed to pick out a couple of Masked Woodswallows. I left more exhausted than elated, after five hours of trudging about scanning the skies for a few brief looks at extremely distant woodswallows.

With two year ticks today (White-browed Woodswallow and Masked Woodswallow), my year list rose to 298 species. I spent 6 hours 36 minutes birding, walked 8.301 km and drove 113.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Sep 8: Galling

 

I couldn’t get out birding at all today, and Ged dropped a bombshell mid-morning with a series of text messages – he’d found a flock of 35 White-browed Woodswallows at Shelley Road Park, complete with a Masked Woodswallow! TWO year ticks for me, and especially galling since Louis and I spent the afternoon in that area yesterday, precisely with woodswallows in mind. That’s the way the cookie crumbles in this brutal sport of competitive year-listing. Hoping to spend some time over there early tomorrow morning.

I kept an eye on the sky most of the day just in case, and resolved to carry binoculars around with me for the next week or two to be prepared for the event that a woodswallow flock goes over.  A brief skywatch from home produced a Black Kite, flying high south, looking like it was migrating.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 296 species. I spent 12 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 0 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Sep 7: The Day of the Jacky

 

After an early morning work session and taking my son to the playground and story time at the library, I drove into town, and met Louis Backstrom at Roma St bus station. We headed out to Shelley Road Park, where we had decided to put in some birding over the middle of the day to look for woodswallows. There have been a few decent size mixed flocks of White-browed and Masked Woodswallows west and north of Brisbane in recent days, although none yet within the LGA. We were not to be lucky at Shelley Road Park (eBird list here), and eventually after nearly two hours we gave up.

Perusing the map, we decided to head north-west and try to see if any of the tracks leading up the western flank of Mount Glorious were accessible from Lake Manchester Road. We drove a short way up Sheppards Road until we had just re-entered Brisbane LGA from Somerset LGA, although further progress was thwarted by a private sign. We stopped and did a 10-min stationary eBird list since we were in a part of Brisbane scarcely birded before. We then tried the next track to the west, which appeared to be public. About 100m in we reached a small dam, and parked up, to do another short stationary eBird list. A few minutes in, a small slim passerine hopped up onto a wire – a magnificent Jacky Winter! Buoyed by this success, we drove a little further up the track until we reached a gate with a private sign. We stopped before the gate to conduct one last eBird list, concluding that much of this area is unfortunately covered with private land, and to birdwatch on it we would one day need to ask landowner permission. Amazingly, we heard another two Jacky Winters singing – clearly this was the time and place for them!

A farmer came along and politely let us know the track was in fact private, so we retreated back to the main road. We did another stationary eBird list at the Cabbage Tree Creek / Lake Manchester Road crossing, but apart from a vociferous New Holland Honeyeater, there wasn’t much of interest. Next we tried the corner of Kholo Rd and Lake Manchester Rd, where we listened for King Quail (without success), but then watched one of the long-staying Jacky Winters singing its heart out – truly one of the most beautiful songs of any Australian bird. I managed a recording, which is the first sound record of this species captured in Brisbane. We stopped a little further south, where Creek crosses Kholo Road, and Louis found a magnificent platypus, which was swimming around on the west side of the road in full view for several minutes – brilliant! The first one of these I’ve seen within Brisbane LGA, and a brilliant sighting. I’ve put the record on iNAturalist, where I am gradually entering all of my non-bird records.

On the way back to the city, we stopped along Stumers Road where a Shining Bronze-cuckoo was furtively following a Brown Thornbill around, perhaps ready to lay an egg.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 296 species. I spent 3 hours 2 minutes birding, walked 2.8 km and drove 111.5 km. My chronological year list is here.

Jacky Winter at Sheppards Break this afternoon, one of four birds that we saw today, only one of which was previously known about. Three of the birds were singing, so a good time to go and hear this species in action!

 

Platypus!

 

 
Aug 29: Fun in Canada

 

The conference in Canada was great fun, and I got the chance for a bit of birding, accumulating 114 species, and 7 lifers in the end. Without wishing to distract too much from my story of Brisbane birding, here are some pics.

White-tailed Ptarmigan. After a three hour hike to the summit of Flatiron Mountain, I flogged around all afternoon but couldn’t find any ptarmigan. Instead of sensibly going back down and sleeping in the car overnight, I just lay on the tundra and slept overnight on the mountain. I woke up shivering a few times, but was rewarded in the morning when a covey of six birds gave brilliant views!

Sooty Grouse – roadside birds in the early morning along Blackwall Road in E C Manning Provincial Park.

Spruce Grouse – another boreal forest speciality, this female gave great views on the loop trail at Strawberry Flats, E C Manning Provincial Park.

 

Poor picture, but PINE GROSBEAK! I’ve tried so many times for this bird in Europe and Asia – so pleased to finally connect, with three birds in E C Manning Provincial Park.

Northern Pygmy-owl. Split from the European Pygmy-owl a few years ago, I’d dipped on this species several times in SW USA, so very pleased to catch up with it along the Yew Lake trail at Cypress Mountain, just outside Vancouver.

 
Aug 17: A piece of crake

 

I’m heading off to Vancouver tomorrow to attend the International Ornithological Congress. Two thousand birdwatchers gathered for a week to talk about birds. Not everyone’s idea of fun, but I’m really looking forward to it. And I’ll get in a bit of birding here and there, mainly targeting grouse species.

Today I took the day off work, since I’ll be away from family for 10 days. After dropping our daughter at school, I couldn’t resist a quick shot at Baillon’s Crake. I drove the short distance to Sandy Camp Road Wetlands and wandered around for a bit (eBird list here). Simply no sign of the crake in any of the usual spots I see them there. It was a sunny day, and by 10.30 it was getting really warm, and not feeling at all likely for a crake. Yet in stark contrast to Europe, where they are really skulking, Baillon’s can be very showy on their spring passage through Brisbane, so after chatting with a birder who was visiting from Canberra, I decided to give the eastern end of the main lagoon one last shot before leaving. Unbelievably there was a Baillon’s Crake right out in the open, parading around on the lilypads like some sort of diminutive jacana!

Brilliant. This was the last of the regularly occurring species that I needed to see for my Big Year, and I could leave for Vancouver knowing that I’d caught up with everything available before my trip. 10 days out of Brisbane is risky, but I’ll just have to wear the consequences. Back 28th August.

With one year tick today (Baillon’s Crake), my year list rose to 296 species. I spent 1 hours 12 minutes birding, walked 1.793 km and drove 29.5 km. My chronological year list is here.

Baillon’s Crake at Sandy Camp Road Wetland today.

 
Aug 15: Chasing spring migrants

 

The last few days had seen the first of the arrivals of Baillon’s Crakes and White-winged Trillers. These two species are pretty much exclusively spring migrants to Brisbane, most common in September and October, but with a few vanguards usually showing up in August. This year spring seems to have started early, and both species have been recorded at Oxley Creek Common in the past few days. I had been playing it cool, since they are both fairly easy to see in spring, and I’m keen to spend time with my family prior to leaving for Vancouver on Saturday.

However, when Ged texted mid-morning today to let me know him and Steve Murray had seen White-winged Triller and Baillon’s Crake at Oxley Creek Common early morning, I was definitely keen to get down there. Fear of missing out has been the primary motivator that keeps me going out day after day in my Big Year effort. My wife and I decided to take the kids down and we would all wander from the car park to Jabiru Swamp, where both birds had been seen. We were encumbered with a push chair, scooter and tricycle, and made slow noisy progress, but I was just happy to have a shot at the birds without having to slink away from my family.

Presently, we saw two birders coming the other way – Ged and Steve, finishing their 5-hour marathon birding session at the common. They passed on details of exactly where they’d seen the triller and crake, and our party pressed on. Ged had mentioned the triller had been really difficult despite several people looking, so I didn’t hold out much hope, especially since it was now about midday. But eventually we arrived at Jabiru Swamp, and I began checking the big isolated gum tree. Incredibly, I located the White-winged Triller almost immediately, unobtrusively feeding in the tree. It didn’t show especially well, remaining quite high up and often obscured, but no matter – I was delighted to have this species under the belt. While not super rare, they certainly aren’t common either – perhaps best described as a scarce spring migrant. Oxley Creek Common and Sandy Camp Rd Wetlands are the most reliable sites. I then turned my efforts towards the crake, and intently scanned the floating vegetation on the northern side of Jabiru Swamp. No luck.

After about 30 minutes I needed to break the boredom, and wandered up to check the edge of Pelican Lagoon. Approaching it, I saw a biggish bird out of the corner of my eye, skulking about in the bushes. Luckily, I could see where it had perched up, and beheld a cracking Pallid Cuckoo! This appeared to be a different bird to the one earlier in the year, a rather spangly adult dark rufous morph bird. I hadn’t really been following records of this species, since I’d already seen it earlier in the year on 7th June, but checking eBird this evening, I see that Oxley has hosted what is presumably this second bird since 28th July, when Andrew Cameron found it. Poor Steve Murray still needed for his Brisbane year list, and although I’d texted them immediately on finding it, Steve had long since departed the common.

By this time, the kids had understandably gotten a bit bored of waiting around, and we walked back to the car park, happy that White-winged Triller was in the bag. Baillon’s could wait for another day, perhaps an early morning wander to Sandy Camp Rd on Friday, before heading off to Vancouver on Saturday. Even if I have to wait until September or October, I won’t be especially concerned (although the FOMO is always strong whatever rational thought says).

With one year tick today (White-winged Triller), my year list incremented to 295 species. Within five of the magic 300!!! But with only one more “easy” species remaining – Baillon’s Crake. I spent 2 hours 21 minutes birding, walked 2.9 km and drove 29.0 km. My chronological year list is here.

Female White-winged Triller feeding unobtrusively in the big gum tree by Jabiru Swamp today. This tree has hosted multiple scarcities and rarities over the years.

Adult Pallid Cuckoo. At first sight I thought this was an immature bird, but the secondaries appear to be all adult, with buff instead of white notches. This resembles a “dark rufous morph”, with extensive brown hindneck extending onto mantle, and rufous-spangled upperparts and wing coverts.

White-winged Triller – a scarce spring migrant to Brisbane.

Baillon’s Crake – also a spring migrant, but with a more prolonged passage, and with birds lingering into early summer.

 
Aug 12: Re-run at Sandy Camp

 

I only had time for a quick trip this morning, so I went to Sandy Camp to have yet another shot for Black Bittern. As with the previous 13 occasions I dipped, although it was a lovely morning. It was nice to see the Freckled Duck still there, found by Chris Sanderson on 24th June, and I heard a Lewin’s Rail in the NE lagoon. No sign of Baillon’s Crakes either (the first bird of the “spring” has already occurred, at Oxley Creek Common).

A Radjah Shelduck has been report this afternoon at St Lucia Links, so I might take a look there tomorrow from work if I get a chance.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 294 species. I spent 1 hour 47 minutes birding, walked 2.509 km and drove 31.2 km. My chronological year list is here.

The fine Freckled Duck, still present in the NE pool, feeding in the open with grey teals just after dawn.

 
Aug 9: Making hay while the sun shines

 

Much of rural Queensland, along with all of New South Wales is currently experiencing drought conditions. Concern is mounting around the nation for farming families, many of whom are currently struggling physically, mentally, or financially as a result. Oxley Creek Common is taking part in the relief effort by having some of the grassy meadows slashed and made into hay bales that will be trucked out west to help the stricken farm animals. As Steve Murray birded the common this morning, he noticed that one ornithological side effect of this activity was the attraction of several raptors to the area, gorging themselves on invertebrates and small vertebrates exposed as the slashing proceeded. Most noticeable was a group of about a dozen Black Kites, but it must have been a heart-stopping moment for Steve when he noticed what looked like two Black Falcons!!!

Once he had confirmed the identity from his pics, he texted me the news. I was at Carindale library working, and not wanting to waste a moment jumped straight into an Uber that took me home, where I transferred to my trusty battered old Mazda. It was only a 20 minute drive to the common, and I was relieved to see the tractor still working the big paddock by the grassy knoll near the red shed (eBird list). But although there were Black Kites everywhere, and a cracking Brown Falcon taking big invertebrates out of the field whenever it felt like it, the stars of the show had gone missing.

All of a sudden, at about 2.45, a commotion broke out among the Torresian Crows, and I heard a shrill raptor call. Two Black Falcons had burst onto the scene and were dashing about over the paddock, ending up circling over my head before drifting further east beyond the pylons. A Brisbane lifer! I simply couldn’t believe I’d connected. After the madcap runaround earlier in the year with various folks (mainly Ged Tranter) seeing Black Falcons at various places in eastern Brisbane and me dipping them at every opportunity, I thought the chance to see this species had gone.

I took in the features of the birds as it’s not a common species, and definitely confusable with Brown Falcon. I wanted to use the chance to make sure I would recognise one if I found one myself. Chocolate brown all over, no hint of eyedrop patterning on the face, soaring only on flat wings, a slim but powerful body, broad wings with coverts darker than flight feathers, unbarred tail. But in many ways, their flight action was the most immediately distinctive feature. Unlike the lazy and ponderous Brown Falcon, these things were energetically dashing about, diving, circling, always moving at high speed, and always seemingly scaring the life out of other birds there. A flock of Torresian Crows continuously harassed the Black Falcons, and the Noisy Miners went crazy when they were near. A brilliant spectacle that is etched onto my retina forever.

At 3pm, the birds flew higher and disappeared off to the west, directly into the sun. They hadn’t returned by 3.25pm when I had to leave, and I felt sorry for Brad Woodworth, who had turned up to look for them just after 3pm. I later heard that the birds returned after 3.30, and showed for Brad and Esther Horton-Van Der Woude, so all’s well that ends well.

With one year tick today (Black Falcon), my year list moved up to 294 species. I spent 48 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 29.0 km. My chronological year list is here.

Black Falcon, showing slim body profile, relatively small head, broad wings tapering to narrow points, with coverts darker than remiges, unbarred tail, unmarked face, and feet falling well short of the tips of the undertail coverts.

 
Aug 5: Northerlies – ugh!

 

Today was my third Sunshine Coast pelagic of the year, but since the weather forecast was for light northerly winds, I didn’t have my usual sense of excitement as I drove up the Bruce Highway to Mooloolaba before dawn. Arriving at the jetty at 0630, the group of folks was assembling, and it was nice chatting with folks. Presently, we climbed aboard and motored through the seaway and past Beacon Point. It quickly became apparent that there were very few birds around. I started a new eBird checklist every 5km on the journey out to the shelf, and most of the lists were completely blank. No birds in a 5 km transect of the Coral Sea!

We eventually had a lone Wedge-tailed Shearwater, and after we had crossed into Brisbane waters, came upon a couple of fishing boats, complete with 60+ Crested Terns and a couple of Brown Boobies. As we commenced the main drift over the continental shelf, a few Providence Petrels showed up, but nothing was interested in the berley, and the few birds that were around just whizzed past instead of hanging around. Quite a few Providence Petrels came and went, a couple of Gannets, and a handful of Hutton’s Shearwaters, but that was going to be it for the day. Really a very disappointing result, and no year ticks for me. It really does show how sensitive shelf sea-birding is to wind direction, and even though I know the theory, I was surprised by how dramatic the effect is.

I’m ashamed to say I grabbed some sleep on the way back, uncharacteristically. I was exhausted after a week of early starts and late nights, and thrashing up and down the motorway between the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane. Hoping for some kind of interlude bird-wise in the next week so I can rest! I’m off to Vancouver on 17th – 28th August, so that’ll be a decent break from obsessive year-listing, in a location from which I can’t just dash back to twitch the latest rarity!

Also, we’ve booked a trip to the UK, leaving on Christmas Day. So my last day of birding for my Brisbane Big Year will be Christmas Eve.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 293 species. I spent 5 hours 38 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove or boated 277.1 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Aug 3: Lax fieldcraft

 

Checking eBird mid-morning, I was shocked to see a full-frontal photo of magnificent Barking Owl taken by Niel Bruce at Enoggera Reservoir!! He had found a roosting bird along the Araucaria Circuit. Being in the middle of my lab retreat, I couldn’t just leave straight away, but eventually decided to head off once the sessions had ended. Duly, just after 4pm, I jumped into the car and drove down the Bruce Highway towards the reservoir, musing on how many times I was driving between Brisbane and Mooloolaba this week! Ged Tranter had been in touch, and he was already at the reservoir with Steve Murray as I passed Caboolture. They could find no sign of the Barking Owl.

Eventually I arrived at the reservoir just after dark (eBird list here), and almost ran down toward where the bird had been seen earlier. I bumped into Ged and Steve, and we searched and listened around the edge of the lake, without hearing or seeing any nocturnal birds. Eventually Ged and Steve had to leave. Their torchlights retreated into the distance, but I soon saw Ged’s camera flashing – he was taking photos of something. I anxiously hovered over my phone waiting for a text message, but there was none. They had seen a Squirrel Glider – nice, but no Barking Owl.

A few Australian Owlet-nightjars had started calling, and I heard a very distant Southern Boobook. Presently I heard something that sounded just like a Powerful Owl, but it was a single hoot and then it stopped and didn’t call again. I wasn’t sure what to do with that, and didn’t record it on my eBird list. By about 7.20pm I was giving up hope. Clearly the Barking Owl wasn’t calling tonight. I walked back through the forest, heading past the area where we searching for Regent Honeyeater only yesterday. Suddenly right in front of me, fairly low down in the trees was a Barking Owl!!!!!!! But I had spooked the bird and it instantly took off and disappeared behind some trees – it was unclear how far it had gone. Search as I might, I just couldn’t find it again. I was delighted but a bit unsatisfied – pleased to have seen it, but frustrated with myself for lax fieldcraft. I should have been moving more carefully through the woodland.

I made my way back toward the discovery centre along the Link Track, and when I got back down onto the track next to the reservoir, I heard a rustling next to the track. A cracking Echidna was snuffling about in the lead litter only a few metres away – the first one I’ve seen in Brisbane!! Tired but happy, I once again pounded the tarmac back to Mooloolaba, arriving back about 11pm.

With one year tick today (Barking Owl), my year list moved up to 293 species. I spent 3 hours 30 minutes birding, walked 2.5 km and drove 204.0 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Aug 2: Brolga dreaming

 

Every year or so, we have a lab retreat, and we all began arriving yesterday afternoon at a nice big house on the Sunshine Coast, where we were to spend the next three nights as a group. Despite my excitement about the retreat, I was naturally a bit nervous leaving the borders of Brisbane behind, and my nervousness was proved justified when Michael Daley sent a text message in the evening telling me that a photo of a Regent Honeyeater taken at Enoggera reservoir on 31 July had just been put on the Brisbane Birders Facebook page!!

I couldn’t believe it, and as Ann Cheesman, the wonderful and kind observer, provided details of the location, it dawned on me we had to send a party down to search for the bird in the morning. After fevered discussions, six people from the lab group decided they wanted to come along and try for the bird. After all, it’s a Critically Endangered species that is nearing extinction, and for several folks this was a lifer. So we agreed to leave in the morning at 0500.

Folks began emerging from their slumber about 0430 and we tried to breakfast quietly but failed spectacularly, waking up most of the other people sleeping in the house – sorry….. Shortly after 0500 we piled into two cars and struck off down the motorway. Arriving at Walkabout Creek we gradually spread out along the track around to the spot where the bird had been seen, and were pleased to see that around 15 birders had shown up to take part in the search. A good turn out, and a real demonstration that Brisbane Birding is alive and kicking – there was a real sense of community among the birders there, which was really nice to experience. But the Regent Honeyeater declined to join the party. By 1030 we had been searching for four hours without so much a sniff of it, although we had a couple of White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes including a nice dark morph bird, a female Regent Bowerbird, and 50 flyover Topknot Pigeons. Somewhat crestfallen, we retreated and retraced our steps north along the motorway, reasoning that the honeyeater could be anywhere by now. Or even just 50 metres off the track. It might conceivably show up again, and searching the area thoroughly over the next few days and weeks would possibly repay itself. We should keep looking!

As we passed Tinchi Tamba I mused to Micha Jackson and Brad Woodworth in the car about the fact a couple of Brolgas had been seen recently at Dohles Rocks Rd, just north of South Pine River just outside the Brisbane LGA boundary. I’ve never seen one in Brisbane and I was hoping that one of the birds might hop over the border and visit Tinchi Tamba one day. In an almost unbelievable coincidence, Ged Tranter phoned just as we were arriving back into Mooloolaba and said that Rick Franks had just found a Brolga at the First Lagoon at Tinchi Tamba and that he was watching it from the Wyampa Rd bridge right now!! Energised despite the early start, we immediately turned around and powered back down the motorway. I was deeply grateful to Rick and Ged for spreading the news so quickly of this bird – once again the grapevine was working fast. Would we get something out of the morning after all?

Heart rates were rising as we ascended up onto the bridge at Wyampa Rd, but I was already punching the air before I’d stopped the car. I could see a distinctively crane-shaped blob standing in the wetland. And sure enough there it was. Just standing there, oblivious to the excitement its mere presence was causing in the human world. Blurry photographs and whoops ensued all round, although we were especially careful not to cause the bird to flush, as Ged still hadn’t seen it, and was on his way. We got back onto the motorway and headed once again north back to the Sunshine Coast, another year tick under the belt, and some excellent consolation from what was a frustrating start to the day.

Arriving back at the house, the others were about to hit the beach, so we lunched and joined them. A sand castle competition was in full swing when we got there, and ours was going to be a late entry. Brad had a red frisbee with him – there was only one thing to do with it. He planted it in the sand and we began our sand sculpture…

With one year tick today, my year list moved up to 292 species. I spent 4 hours 30 minutes birding, walked 3.85 km and drove 349.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

“Brolga Dreaming” by yours truly, Brad Woodworth and Micha Jackson. What do you mean it looks more like a button-quail???

And the real thing, as found by Rick Franks this afternoon. Massive thanks Rick!

 
Jul 29: Barking up the wrong tree

 

The run on night birds, presumably associated with the onset of the breeding season for many species, continued in the past week or so, culminating in Rod Gardner hearing a probable Barking Owl at Shelley Road Park. So I decided to put in a major session for night birds. My plan was to stay up all night!

I left home about 10pm last night, with the first stop being Pinjarra Hills, where I wanted to try again at the spot where Will Hemstrom heard a Barking Owl on 14th July. It was a warmish (for the time of year) and very bright night with a full moon. I heard nothing from the car park, so moved on to a spot near the junction of Moggill Road and Pinjarra Rd, where one can walk down the slope to view from the boundary fence over the area where Will heard the bird a couple of weeks ago. Suddenly I saw a flash of white – an owl was heading straight for me! It diverted at the last second, and swooped up to land. A cracking Barn Owl! There are rather few records of this species in Brisbane, and it is very erratic, with blank years in 2008-2005, 2010-2012, and 2014. It’s hard to work out whether it is an overlooked resident, and / or an occasional visitor from beyond the Brisbane boundary. The various records in unlikely parts of the city (see these corkers from Matteo Grilli and Michael Daley for example) suggest there are definitely wandering birds, but the records in good breeding habitat along the western margin of the city (Lake Manchester, Kholo, Pinjarra Hills) suggest to me there is an overlooked breeding population.

Despite a couple more stops on Pinjarra Rd, I just couldn’t hear a Barking Owl even though I put in quite a bit of time. I gave up and moved on to Upper Brookfield Rd, where I wanted to put in a few stops. Southern Boobooks were now calling non-stop almost everywhere. Several kilometres up the road, at one of the points where Moggill Creek crosses the road, a Powerful Owl was giving its full territorial song. Long bouts of the double-hoot call. Spellbinding stuff. Although I recorded the bird only to find out I had the microphone settings wrong and succeeded only in recording silence! I also heard a White-throated Nightjar at the same spot, continuing the recent run of unseasonal records. As previously discussed, this is mainly a summer visit to Brisbane (or at least birds are mainly detected in summer), but clearly there are appreciable numbers remaining through winter. Tonight I was to hear no fewer than 6 individuals at various stops.

After finishing Upper Brookfield, I circled back (fortuitously the Powerful Owl had started calling again and I got a recording this time) and did Haven Rd – plenty of birding opportunities all throughout this area. This whole region will deserve some careful attention next year when we’ll be building up eBird records for the Brisbane Bird Atlas (more on that soon). I ended up at Shelley Road Park about an hour before dawn, and patrolled around hoping for Barking Owl, but to no avail. The most notable birds were a small group of Wandering Whistling-Ducks flying around in the darkness.

I enjoyed the night – it was very clear to me that activity was greatest in the evening until about 2am, after which it began to quieten down as the temperature dropped. So my future efforts (at least in winter) will probably focus on going out in the evening rather than doing early morning starts. Overall I had:

1 Barn Owl
1 Powerful Owl
19 Southern Boobook
6 White-throated Nightjar
2 Tawny Frogmouth
16 Bush Stone-curlew
1 Australian Owlet-nightjar

+assorted other species

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 291 species. I spent 5 hours 32 minutes birding, walked 2.5 km and drove 150.8 km. My chronological year list is here.

Powerful Owl records in western Brisbane. Surprisingly, there were none from west of Upper Brookfield township until this week, with birds found at Lake Manchester by Ged Tranter, Steve Murray and Rick Franks, (large red flags) and one by myself tonight (small red flag to the east of Lake Manchester). This area is seriously underbirded as I would expect Powerful Owls to be all through this forest.

 
Jul 23: The King is Dead, Long Live the King!

 

Globally, King Quail is an enigmatic species. Although officially listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, it is decidedly uncommon across basically all of its distribution, and that includes Australia, where it occurs from NW Western Australia around the northern and eastern coast to New South Wales (introduced into Victoria). It’s a what I call a “global 2000” species – less than 2,000 records in eBird, so when you tick “show points sooner” while exploring its range map in eBird, all the records in the world turn to flags (I’m such a nerd). Several folks are worried that King Quail is declining in various parts of its distribution, for example a paper I’m working on with Lizzie Boakes shows that it appears to be extinct outside protected areas in Sumatra. It’s a difficult species to detect even when it is present in an area, and correspondingly it’s hard to estimate population trends. Preferring rank grasslands, and keeping extremely well hidden, it’s only really when birds call that they can be detected. Seeing them is next to impossible, and usually  occurs when  one is accidentally flushed, or a vanishingly rare chance encounter on a track.

In Brisbane, there have been scattered records of the species, and there is insufficient continuity of records to consider it a confirmed continuous resident. The nearest known continuous resident birds are at Lake Samsonvale, for example at Golds Scrub Lane. In Brisbane, there was a spate of records from Kedron Brook Wetlands in 2013 and 2014, but only occasional records outside this period, despite the area being frequently visited at dusk by birders looking for Grass Owl. Otherwise, there have been tantalising records from locations as scattered as Sandy Camp Wetlands, Lake Manchester, and Oxley Creek Common, and there was a dead one in a northern suburban park, possibly an escape. I had considered it an essentially impossible species for this Brisbane Big Year, until March, when Steve Cunningham had one briefly run across the road near the Lake Manchester Car Park. With that record, it became a species on the radar in the Lake Manchester area, and birders listen out for it when covering Shelley Road Park, thus far without any joy.

Until yesterday.

When Ged Tranter, Steve Murray and Rick Franks were birding the Cabbage Tree Creek area last night, King Quail was probably a long way down their list of expectations. So it must have come like a bolt from the blue when one suddenly gave the main, down-slurred advertising call as clear as a bell only about 20 metres in front of them, in a grassy patch just north of where Lake Manchester Road crosses Cabbage Tree Creek!! The bird gave two calls and that was it. Stunned, and no doubt extremely excited, the three birders went on to have a cracker of a night, with Barn Owl, Powerful Owl, Masked Owl, and an unusual winter record of White-throated Nightjar.

Ged texted me about 10pm relating the story. I was stunned. When my mind was able to think again, I resolved to head up there at some point during the week, but it rapidly dawned on me that I should go right now. There was a King Quail calling within the last few hours, it was a moonlit cloudless night, and King Quail can be active all through the night.

Strike while the iron’s hot. It’s a lesson I’ve learnt during this big year.

So, despite being a little tired from my 2.30am start this morning, I jumped in car and drove back over to Lake Manchester. I arrived at Cabbage Tree Creek at about 11.45pm, and waited silently in the dappled light of the moon. After about 10 minutes, I suddenly heard a King Quail give the ‘snoring’ call that rises in pitch. Winner! I waited for the downward call to follow, but the bird completely shut up. It was in the same patch of grass just north of the creek bridge as the others had it earlier in the evening. I hung around, hoping it would call again and I could get a recording. But I had to wait another 40 minutes before it called again, and wasn’t ready at the moment it called, this time the main downward call. The bird had moved cross to west of the road bridge, and was somewhere near the road itself. But again, silence descended after the single call. Testament to how difficult this species is to detect even when one is nearby. I gave it another 20 minutes, and then went across the bridge into Somerset LGA and listened and from near where I thought the bird was coming from. No luck, so I headed home very tired but very satisfied. King Quail is alive and kicking in Brisbane!

With one year tick today (King Quail), my year list incremented to 291 species. I spent 1 hour 14 minutes birding, walked 0.178 km and drove 110.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Jul 22: ‘owling with despair

 

Up at 0230 and out to Pinkarra Hills, where I put in another owling session to try and locate the Barking Owl heard the other day by Will Hemstrom. No such luck, although plenty of Southern Boobooks calling, a couple of Bush Stone-curlews, and a Squirrel Glider among numerous flying foxes.

Heading west, I stopped at a few more spots to trying for Barking Owl, again without success. It is surely a rare species in Brisbane! Prior to dawn, I drove from east to west from Mount Crosby along Stumers Road through to Kholo Road; to check the road went all the way through (which it does) and also for one last ditch effort to try for Barking Owl. The habitat along here looks really nice – with variegate dry sclerophyll, wet sclerophyll gullies, weedy patches, and farmland. As pointed out by Louis Backstrom on this blog a few days ago, Stumers Road is a place that will be well worth exploring.

Still, dawn found me at Shelley Road Park – I was keen to get right to the western frontier of the city and spend a couple of hours birding there before moving back to Stumers Road. In the end, I didn’t find any rarities at Shelley Road Park, with the highlights being 12 Nankeen Night-herons roosting in a tree by the council building. I notched up 71 species in the 2 hours, which was a pretty good total. Just nothing mega…

With my remaining time, I birded at a few random stops along Stumers Road – again nothing mindblowing, but a good variety of birds and a real sense that anything could turn up here. A bit disappointed, but not really surprised at having not year-ticked, I returned home.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 290 species. I spent 4 hours 50 minutes birding, walked 4.628 km and drove 110.5 km. My chronological year list is here.