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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.