The intention of our trip to Australia was to spend Christmas with family in Brisbane, Queensland. However, just a little time spent on internet research suggested that South East Queensland in December could be both an excellent birding location and season. We were not disappointed with 162 species confidently identified using Morcombe’s Field Guide to Australian Birds in the field and the Collin’s Field Guide to the Birds of Australia as a reference.
Flights from London Heathrow to Brisbane, via Singapore, were booked almost a year ahead with Singapore Airlines through Dial-a-flight. Outside of Brisbane accommodation was in a borrowed tent, on a mix of sites privately owned at Lamington and others managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, plus two nights in luxury at O’Reilly’s Guesthouse. We were kindly loaned a 2WD, which was fine for all locations except for the Great Sandy National Park, where 4WD is a must. We hired from Thrifty at Brisbane Airport – not recommended as we were informed at the desk that insurance cover is non existent for off road driving.
Arriving in Brisbane after about twenty hours in the air, we set off to walk from Redcliffe to Woody Point. An easy two hour walk provided you have slept the night before. This plus temperatures in excess of 30ºC caused us to return in a taxi. The lesson learned is to take it easy on day one! That said this was a great introduction to common birds such as Grey-tailed Tattler, Spur-winged Plover, Noisy Miner, Rainbow Lorikeet, Pied Butcherbird, Australian Pelican, Australian White Ibis, Silver Gull, Magpie Lark, Torresian Crow and Welcome Swallow. Garden birding from a shady first floor balcony gave great views of Galah, Brown and Blue-faced Honeyeaters, Crested Pigeon, Spotted Turtle Dove, Figbird and Little Wattlebird, plus our own House Sparrow (sadly only once seen in our garden in a village on the outskirts of Nottingham). Also a fly past by huge Fruit Bats was an exotic sight at dusk as they left their day time roosts.
The Brisbane area is extremely well laid out for birding with well sign posted walking and cycling tracks, board walks and some bird hides. The Brisbane street map covers a huge area and was provided with our hire car; an essential resource. We started with three wetlands just to the north of the city, spending a couple of hours at each. It’s well worth returning to the shady board walks in order to experience different tide conditions. Tinchi Tamba produced Azure and Sacred Kingfisher, Laughing Kookaburra, Olive-backed Oriole, White-faced Heron, Mangrove Honeyeater, Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants, the Little, Great and Cattle Egrets, plus Latham’s Snipe flushed from grassy tussocks adjacent to the entrance road. Walking to the bird hide at the end of the Nudgee Beach Board Walk we had White-breasted Woodswallow hawking insects, a Dollarbird and at the hide itself there were a dozen or so Whimbrel roosting in the mangrove. At Boondall there is a useful information centre with leaflets and trail maps of sites in the Brisbane area. On the forest trail we had a superb view of two roosting Tawny Frogmouth, panting in the mid-day heat as temperatures reached 38°C. There were also numerous Forest Kingfishers. We spotted our first Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike from the tower hide on the trail between Boondall and Nudgee, with Butcherbirds creating mayhem below.
The ranger at Boondal recommended a visit to the settlement of Toorbul and Esplanade Road north of Brisbane. This is a great place to spend an afternoon, ideally at high tide, as a special roost site has been constructed for shorebirds at the end of the Esplanade. We arrived a little late on our first visit as the tide was really too high, but we still managed to tick Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel, Bar and Black-tailed Godwit and Pied Oystercatcher. Esplanade Road surprised us with its raptor views; Whistling Kite, Australian Hobby which was chasing everything in sight, several Osprey (one carrying a fish) and two perched Brahmeny Kites. Fluty calls alerted us to Rainbow Bee-eaters overhead, whilst a comical Willie Wagtail danced on a fence post. This was the only site we found for Australian Wood Duck, which could be seen parading their elegant plumage along the Esplanade. We met few birders on our travels, but a local couple recommended we stop off at Volz Road. “A dirt track on the left, shortly after leaving Toorbul, you’ll see a lagoon just before the road rises” they said. Sure enough there was the lagoon with three Brolga, said to be the only site in Queensland for this species, chasing a group of Royal Spoonbill, whilst White-necked Heron, Black-necked Stork and Australasian Grebe fed nearby. A large dead tree, with two immature Wedge-tailed Eagles, was a back drop. We were warned about a local farmer who objected to people stopping on the dirt track, so probably best to view from the main road.
The main reason for visiting Toorbul in the afternoon is actually nothing to do with the birds as Kangaroos appear in the early evening from the bush; as the sun set numbers built up to around forty at the shorebird roost site. There was fun and games with one young Joey seen to jump into its mother’s pouch. Other young ones engaged in play fighting, whilst there was some serious kick boxing between two fine two metre tall males.
After this useful introduction to Australian birds and mammals we were confident to take on some serious business in Lamington National Park, two to three hours by car to the south of Brisbane. Here we were booked into the private Binna Burra campsite in the eastern section of the park. The area turned out to be our favourite venue. The altitude meant temperatures were 10º C cooler and the shade of the rainforest trees meant good distances could be walked without feeling the lethargy felt elsewhere. Binna Burra also has cabins to rent, a pleasant tea house and restaurant, but is very low key and peaceful.
The first bird spotted was a Satin Bowerbird, which had constructed its bower, incorporating various blue objects, alongside the path from the car park to the lodge. Other target species of which we had good views were the Green Catbird, which shrieks like a Cat in pain and hops along sturdy branches in the canopy, and the Paradise Riflebird, which has iridescent plumage and a curved bill, perfectly adapted to probing bark and a far carrying call like an accelerating diesel engine. Other sightings around the lodge and on the central Border Track were Bush Turkey, always alert to opportunities to theft on the campsite, Wonga Pigeon, Crimson Rosella, Oriental Cuckoo, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Spangled Drongo, White-browed Scrubwren, Large-billed Scrubwren, Brown Gerygone, Brown Thornbill, Lewin’s Honeyeater, Eastern Spinebill, Pale-yellow Robin, Eastern Yellow Robin, Logrunner, Pied Currawong, Little Shrike-thrush, Black-faced Monarch and Australian King-Parrot. We also had a fleeting view high up in the canopy of a male Regent Bowerbird. After some initial searching the Eastern Whipbird proved easy to see and easier to hear; located by the male’s whip crack call immediately answered by the female. Likewise the Golden Whistler was a common sight in the forest located by its musical whistling. Russet-tailed Thrush could be seen busily collecting food on the campsite, until late in the evening, just about the time that Tawny Frogmouths took off from their roost sights in the mature trees above our tent.
The Border Track runs south from Binna Burra along the Queensland/New South Wales border and eventually connects with O’Reilly’s in the Green Mountains (western section of the national park). This is an easy track to walk and is the backbone of the trail system. We chose the Coomera Track for a long walk, which is particularly scenic due to the many spectacular waterfalls it passes. However, the 18 km circuit is rather challenging and should be walked anti-clockwise, so returning via the easy Border Track. We were there at mid-summer, when there is about 13 hours of daylight, but even so, an early start is a must. There is the added delight of Pardamelons (a small Kangaroo like marsupial) which could be seen grazing at both ends of the day. For birding we recommend just going as far as the viewing platform and then returning via the same route. Nevertheless, we were pleased to have walked the circuit, which has about nine river crossings to negotiate. We walked the trail after a storm and so Leeches were a problem. Come prepared with gaiters and consider wearing a long-sleeved shirt if you can bare the humidity. We saw Brown Cuckoo Dove and Sulphur-crested Cockatoo on Coomera, but these species were also seen on other Lamington trails. The Cockatoo is probably easier to see in some town parks. Nearing the end of the walk at a junction of paths we stopped for a final rest. Hearing the familiar sound of the Paradise Riflebird we looked up to see a spectacular male overhead catching the afternoon sun.
Dave’s Creek Circuit is a full day’s walk at twelve kilometres and has a number of very pleasant look-outs. Here we saw White-headed Pigeon, Australian King Parrot and our first Variegated Fairy-wren. The Cave Circuit is an easy five kilometre walk from the information centre. There are some spectacular views and on one occasion we looked down on a huge flock of Topknot Pigeon in the canopy below. This is apparently an unusual sight these days due habitat loss. From the Kweebang Cave we spotted a Grey Goshawk circling overhead.
Next we headed for O’Reilly’s Guesthouse, where we were booked into the luxury of a mountain view room. Arriving on a Sunday afternoon four days before Christmas, it turned out to be a bit of a culture shock after the tranquillity of Binna Burra. Coach loads of tourists were milling around and sadly O’Reilly’s organises bird feeding from the hand, which has encouraged the beautiful Crimson Rosella to become something of a pest. However, we did manage to find peace and quiet both in the grounds where we saw our first Superb Fairy-wren and Spectacled Monarch near the well appointed outdoor spa pool, and on the trails. The short Wishing Tree Trail was a favourite, with a tower, which allows canopy top views, from where we spotted a singing Scarlet Honeyeater. Other new birds on the trail were Shining Bronze-Cuckoo and Yellow-throated Scrubwren, with Grey Fantail and Red-browed Finch around the creek. The Regent Bowerbird could be seen regularly from our balcony and was also spotted on the trails.
The Noisy Pitta had eluded us, despite hearing its “walk to work” song on both the Border and Wishing Tree Trails. Rangers at O’Reilly’s advised us of a nest site on the Python Rock Trail, in a buttress root of a Strangler Fig, where we did indeed see the open beak of our target. So, only the Albert’s Lyrebird had eluded us, although there was one unconfirmed sighting on the Python Rock Trail. Some compensation was the juvenile Wedge-tailed Eagle, with its 1.5 metre wingspan soaring right next to the road as we left Lamington.
Bound for Brisbane we stopped off at Oxley Creek, a small grassland reserve with lagoons, just south-west of the city. After leaving the parking area there is little shade, so walking even short distances here seem tough in temperatures of over 35ºC. However, we were rewarded with some excellent birding including our first sightings of some common water birds at the lagoon: Chestnut Teal, Pacific Duck, Darter, Purple Swamphen, Dusky Moorhen and Eurasian Coot. In the surrounding scrub there were also Red-backed Fairy-wren, Grey Butcherbird, Singing Bushlark, Chestnut-breasted Mannekin, Plum-headed Finch, Fairy Martin and Golden-headed Cisticola.
After a night in Brisbane, we picked up a 4WD and headed north with family to spend Christmas in the Great Sandy National Park, three nights at the Freshwater Camp Ground followed by two nights at Inskip. Freshwater is a well laid out shady site in the Cooloola section of the park next to a beautiful twenty-five kilometre long sandy beach. The sixteen kilometre drive from the asphalt road is interesting as the Freshwater track becomes increasingly difficult as it descends into the dunes. We learnt much about sand driving, in particular the benefits of lowering tyre pressure to 15 psi preferably before getting stuck. Walking any distance proved difficult in the heat at sea level, and so most birds were seen around the camping area or on the beach. We added Bar-shouldered Dove, Noisy Friarbird and Varied Triller to the list. At the campsite Laughing Kookaburras were always on the look out for an easy meal, as were the metre long monitor lizards, known as Goannas.
The Inskip camping sites are sandy, but there is easy access on an asphalt road. On the west side of the peninsular is the mud of Tin Can Bay. Exposed at low tide we had good views of Red-capped Plover in breeding plumage, plus resting Caspian, Crested and Lesser Crested Terns.
Sadly we had to abandon plans to stay on the near-by world heritage listed Fraser Island, due the lack of insurance on the hire car. But a day trip in a 4WD bus did enable us to see what we were missing at some of the key sites. This is the largest sand island in the world, with a forested interior, where we managed to the Wompoo Fruit Dove at Central Station, a bird that had eluded us at Lamington. Returning to Inskip Point we passed several Dingoes and a White-bellied Sea Eagle, apparently on a favourite perch in a dead tree on the edge of the beach. On a more independent trip we could have seen more of the island, which would have been possible if hiring from a specialist 4WD operator in Rainbow Beach.
On the 29th December we left Inskip and spent the morning on the western side of Tin Can Bay, where the foreshore has been laid out as a bird walk. This is located within the Great Sandy Strait and is part of a Ramsar Wetland. Arrive three or four hours before high tide for the best views of shorebirds. The walk is eight kilometres, from Norma Point in the north, accessed from Tin Can Bay Road, to Crab Creek in the south. Unfortunately, this is a popular holiday area and at this time of the year disturbance from humans and their dogs was a problem, even in the early morning. Nevertheless, we added Striated Heron, Peaceful Dove, White-throated Honeyeater and the Rufous Whistler.
The final six days were based back in Brisbane and we managed some birding every day. One full day out began at the Samsonville Lake, a superb day despite a heat wave. On the lake itself we noted Wandering Whistling Duck, Black Swan, Great Crested Grebe and Great Cormorant. A Swamp Harrier beside its nest on the ground was a memorable shimmering scope view. The area also produced Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Double-barred Finch and Silvereye. Driving on the Mount Nebo Road, we almost ran over a Brown Quail, with an excellent but brief view. A favourite walk on Mount Coot-tha was the five kilometre Araucaria Trail, which started from the Brisbane Parks Headquarters. This is a shady trail beside lily ponds. The tinkling calls of Bell Miner were audible long before we eventually found a feeding flock, seen in a sudden downpour, which had forced the insects down also attracting a White-throated Needletail. Our only Comb-crested Jacana was picking its way across the lily pads. Returning to the parking, two huge Channel-billed Cuckoos drifted across the road. A dusk vigil at the Slaughter Falls picnic area produced nothing but mosquito bites, so we retreated to the splendidly located restaurant at the top of Mount Coot-tha, were we had dinner on the terrace, with sweeping views of Brisbane below.
South of the Brisbane Airport is an area known as Bayside Parklands. Head across the toll bridge on the Gateway Motorway and immediately turn off following signs to Port of Brisbane and Wynnum. The Wynnum North Reserve has one of the nicest boardwalks, shaded but with open views through the mangrove. A bird hide, just east of the boardwalk, overlooks Lytton Wader Roost, where we ticked Marsh and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Red-necked Avocet. Mangrove Gerygone and Striped Honeyeater were new species seen from the boardwalk.
A UK birder recommended the Manly Yacht Club, which is excellent two hours either side of high tide. Head south from Wynnum and take signs for the Yacht Club and marina. Park at the end of the road just south of the Yacht Club and walk as far as you can, eventually going through an obvious hole in the chain link fence. Here you will find a couple a lagoons surrounded by high banks. Close views of shorebirds are possible but take care not to disturb them. We found that dog walkers on the marina side of the bank actually pushed the birds closer to us. Here there were good numbers of Terek Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Great Knot, Sanderling, Red-necked Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, as well as a few Little Tern and at least one Sooty Oystercatcher amongst the Pied.
Now almost at the end of the holiday we headed for the southern tip of Bribie Island and Buckley’s Hole, which is a small lagoon overlooked by a hide. The lagoon was pleasant but with no new species. However, just off the nearby beach is a small sandbar, which is an excellent high tide roost. Here we spent sometime peering at the Sand Plovers, which refused to fly. Given their leg length and short tail relative to wing length we were confident to record Greater Sand Plover.
By staying in a relatively small area of South East Queensland we were really able to get to know and enjoy a wide variety of birds and their different habitats.
Alison Hall & Nick Blinston
Bird Places of Brisbane www.birdsqueensland.org.au
Queensland Environmental Protection Agency, Parks and Wildlife Service www.epa.gov.au
Tin Can Bay Foreshore Bird Walk www.cooloolacoastcare.org.au
Binna Burra Mountain Lodge www.binnaburralodge.com.au
O’Reilly’s Lodge www.oreillys.com.au
Morecombe's Field Guide to Australian Birds
Australian Brush-turkey, Brown Quail, Wandering Whistling Duck, Black Swan, Australian Wood Duck, Pacific Black Duck, Chestnut Teal, Australasian Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Darter, Pied Cormorant, Little Black Cormorant, Great Cormorant, Australian Pelican, White-faced Heron, Little Egret, White-necked Heron, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Cattle Egret, Striated heron, Australian White Ibis, Straw-necked Ibis, Royal Spoonbill, Black-necked Stork, Osprey, Whistling Kite, Brahminy Kite, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Swamp Harrier, Brown Goshawk, Grey Goshawk, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Australian Hobby, Brolga, Purple Swamphen, Dusky Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Latham’s Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Eastern Curlew, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Terek Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, Ruddy Turnstone, Great Knot, Sanderling, Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Comb-crested Jacana, Pied Oystercatcher, Sooty Oystercatcher, Black-winged Stilt, Red-necked Avocet, Pacific Golden Plover, Red-capped Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Masked Lapwing, Silver Gull, Caspian Tern, Lesser Crested Tern, Crested Tern, Little Tern, White-headed Pigeon, Spotted Turtle- Dove, Brown Cuckoo-Dove, Crested Pigeon, Peaceful Dove, Bar-shouldered Dove, Wonga Pigeon, Wompoo Fruit-Dove, Topknot Pigeon, Galah, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Rainbow Lorikeet, Australian King-Parrot, Crimson Rosella, Pale-headed Rosella, Oriental Cuckoo, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Tawny Frogmouth, White-throated Needletail, Fork-tailed Swift, Azure Kingfisher, Laughing Kookaburra, Forest Kingfisher, Sacred Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Dollarbird, Noisy Pitta, Red-browed Treecreeper, Superb Fairy-wren, Variegated Fairy-wren, Red-backed Fairy-wren, Yellow-throated Scrubwren, White-browed Scrubwren, Large-billed Scrubwren, Brown Gerygone, Mangrove Gerygone, Brown Thornbill, Little Wattlebird, Striped Honeyeater, Noisy Friarbird, Blue-faced Honeyeater, Bell Miner, Noisy Miner, Lewin’s Honeyeater, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Mangrove Honeyeater, White-throated Honeyeater, Brown Honeyeater, Eastern Spinebill, Scarlet Honeyeater, Pale-yellow Robin, Eastern Yellow Robin, Logrunner, Eastern Whipbird, Golden Whistler, Rufous Whistler, Little Shrike-thrush, Grey Shrike-thrush, Black-faced Monarch, Spectacled Monarch, Magpie-lark, Rufous Fantail, Grey Fantail, Willie Wagtail, Spangled Drongo, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Varied Triller, Olive-backed Oriole, Figbird, White-breasted Woodswallow, Grey Butcherbird, Pied Butcherbird, Pied Currawong, Paradise Riflebird, Torresian Crow, Green Catbird, Regent Bowerbird, Satin Bowerbird, Singing Bushlark, Double-barred Finch, Plum-headed Finch, Red-browed Finch, Chestnut-breasted Mannikin, Mistletoebird, Welcome Swallow, Fairy Martin, Golden-headed Cisticola, Silvereye, Russet-tailed Thrush, Common Starling, Common Myna, House Sparrow.