|Sunrise along Policeman Spur Road, Harper Creek|
The area is a quiet rural place called Harper Creek, used mostly for cattle farming and country retreats such as Crystal Waters Eco Village. I drove up through the Blackall Ranges past Maleny in the early morning darkness, and if that didn't make my first mountain drive challenging enough, I was soon enveloped by a thick morning fog as I descended into the valleys below. For the sights and bird species that awaited my safe arrival however, the risk was worth it!
|Spiderwebs adorn a Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwilli)|
|Torresian Crow (Corvus orru)|
I parked at the start of Policeman Spur Road and began a leisurely stroll along its graveled surface, with farmland on my left and thick streamside forest to my right. A small campground along the creek was full with people enjoying their Easter weekend, and the birds around this area - including Sulphur-crested Cockatoos (Cacatua galerita), Red-backed Fairy-wrens (Malurus melanocephalus) and a very large Figbird (Sphecotheres viellioti) flock - seemed comfortable near human activity. The birds were much more skittish further up the road in the forest, and while I had good views of them through my binoculars, the photographic results were unfortunately not so impressive. The area has an interesting mix of mature trees that includes Gums, Wattles, She-oaks and Figs, but it gives secretive birds like the Little Shrike-thrush (Colluricincla megarhyncha) and Rose Robin (Petroica rosea) plenty of room to hide from a camera. If only they were as accommodating as this fellow!
Once over the causeway, I came across the first of two Bell Miner (Manorina melanophrys) colonies in the area. I have heard these birds in a variety of locations near Brisbane, as well as the Blue Mountains and Central Coast districts in New South Wales, but I've never actually laid eyes on them before. Their tinkling call is a famous feature of the Australian bush, and most people know them simply as 'Bellbirds' because of it.
Watching these birds for a period of time informed me greatly about their lifestyle and ecology. Bell Miners live in social groups, and the chiming note is a contact call which seems to express that each bird is 'OK'. This constant aural reassurance of safety lets them keep their eyes focused on searching out prey, and in this regard, I honestly don't think I've ever seen a harder-working bird before. They scan all levels of the forest - shrubs, trunks, limbs, leaves, canopies - for tiny insects and the sugary secretions they exude, and are in a permanent state of activity in doing so. I did notice that when I would approach them too closely, they'd stop giving the bell call and would instead squawk in a manner of alarm similar to their urban relative, the Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala). They are also highly protective of their insect-infested forest patch, and I saw them driving away several birds including Bar-shouldered Doves (Geopelia humeralis) and a Restless Flycatcher (Myiagra inquieta). As a result, I saw a better variety of birds elsewhere in the forest.
|New Holland Honeyeater|
Bell Miners are a type of Honeyeater, a large and varied group of songbirds that have evolved in Australia alongside our unique flowering trees and shrubs. This forest here in Harper Creek was particularly rich in Honeyeater species, with common species including Lewin's (Meliphaga lewinii), Yellow-faced (Lichenostomus chrysops), Scarlet (Myzomela sanguinolenta) and White-naped Honeyeaters (Melithreptus lunatus). The treetops were home to larger and more aggressive Honeyeaters like Noisy Friarbirds (Philemon corniculatus), Blue-faced Honeyeaters (Entomyzon cyanotis) and Little Wattlebirds (Anthochaera chrysoptera), while the shrub layer allowed smaller species like the Brown (Lichmera indistincta) and gorgeous New Holland Honeyeaters (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae) to thrive.
I always find it interesting as to how a place differs in reality compared to my imaginings from Google Maps. I had expected this area to be more of a rainforest habitat, and was (happily!) surprised to find such good quality open forest instead. This was reflected in some of the nice sightings I had in the morning, with highlights being a Varied Sitella (Daphoenositta chrysoptera), Crested Shrike-tit (Falcunculus frontatus) and flocks of Little Lorikeet (Glossopsitta pusilla). There were several pairs of White-throated Treecreepers (Cormobates leucophaea) scattered throughout the forest also, which I always enjoy seeing.
|Common Brown Ringlet (Hypocysta metirius)|
Other forms of wildlife were surprisingly not common, or not very obvious at least. I had a brief glimpse of a Wallaby shuffling into the scrub alongside the creek, and I appreciated a variety of lovely butterflies swirling about in the autumn sunshine. Lesser Wanderers (Danaus petilia) were particularly numerous, gathering in a tight group of about 20 butterflies. They are related to the Monarchs (D. plexippus) famed in North America for migratory gatherings that number in the millions, so perhaps these similar butterflies are preparing to fly somewhere also.
Overall, I didn't mind seeing mostly just birds because there were so many of them - 52 different species in fact! I will definitely go back to Harper Creek sometime in the future again, probably just as early in the day. As I drove back through Maleny and down the range just before midday, a queue of daytripping cars extended for 2km down the mountainside, caught at roadworks I had breezed through at 6am. It's true what they say - the early bird catches the worm!
|Sunrise, Harper Creek|