Sunday, 20 April 2014

Down A Country Lane

It goes without saying that the freedom of being able to drive has expanded my wildlife-watching opportunities. I used to be bound by public transport access and timetables, so that only suburban reserves could be explored, usually around mid-morning or late afternoon. Interestingly though, since getting my license, I haven't really used my newfound liberty to head out to the well-known National Parks and wildlife hotspots yet. Instead, I prefer to survey unmarked but intriguing patches of bushland I see on satellite maps, and this is how I came to be walking down a country lane in the Sunshine Coast hinterland at dawn yesterday.

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!

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
Heading up into the hills, I found a sunlit tree to lean against while I ate breakfast, and enjoyed the company I had.




Mary River
The stream that Policeman Spur Road runs parallel to is actually the upper-most reaches of the Mary River. From here, it meanders north through the hills and valleys to Gympie, before turning coastwards to Maryborough. In its broader floodplain sections there, it is home to Estaurine Crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus), forming the southern distribution limit of this species. Mercifully, I only encountered tiny Red-browed Finches (Neochmia temporalis) and Brown Thornbills (Acanthiza pusilla) when I crossed it.

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.

Bell Miner

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.

White-naped Honeyeater

Crested Shrike-Tit

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




20 comments:

  1. really neat birds - very exotic to me. :) love the sunrise photos, too!

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    1. Thank you. Some of the more uncommon species are exotic to me too, haha! :)

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  2. go where you please, when you can Christian; it's a wonderful gift to be able to explore and find. That's a fabulous sunrise through the trees at Harper Creek. It has a somewhat eerie feeling to it. Ooooh, you saw R.B.F.Wrens...that was lucky. I'll swap for the Little Wattlebirds from my back-door. AND a Rose Robin...aren't they so special too? I saw my only one when up at Lamington last year. A nice addition with your two videos. The sunlight on the Bell Miner photograph certainly improves how you generally observe them, they always seem to be high up. Got to see a Crested Shrike-Tit for myself too yet; they look fantastic. Had missed your posts for a while there Christian, and this one has made up for your abscence now :).

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    1. Aww thanks Carole! My old laptop went to computer heaven and it's taken a while to set my new one up, hence my absence. Still not sure of what I think about a new photo editing program I'm using, but we'll see. The RB Fairy-wrens are plentiful up here so I can point you in the right direction if you come up on holiday again. Crested Shrike-Tit I have no clue about however. This was only my third sighting ever and it was unexpected. My tip is to keep an eye out near old forest with eucalypts that have loose bark, but there's no guarantees for that bird! Thanks for your encouragement RE: driving too, its added so much to my life. After my walk yesterday I drove to the beach because all my stuff was in the car - the other advantage about a car is that it holds way more than a daypack can!

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  3. Very lovely post interesting.
    Have a Nice sunday Easter

    ♥♥♥V♥ (¯`:´¯)░~~♥☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    ░░(¯ `•.\|/.•´¯)░)(░░░)
    (░(¯ `•.(█).•´¯)░♥♥(¯`:´¯)░)
    (░░(_.•´/|\`•._)(¯ `•.\|/.•´)░)
    ░░░(_.:._).(░(¯ `•.(█).•´¯)░)
    ~~~~♥♥♥__.....(░(_.•´/|\`•._))~~♥
    ♥♥♥♥♥♥~~.............(░(_.:._)░)♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

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  4. Wonderful birds! I wish you a Happy Easter!

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    1. Thank you Gunilla, hope the Easter Bunny visits you too :)

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  5. Incredible sunlit day. Thanks for taking us a long.

    Your bird photos are extraordinary!! The Crested Shrike Tit is quite similar to our Kiskadee here in USA.

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    1. I just googled the Kiskadee and I can see the similarity, right down to the crest! It's a shame my bird has obscured its bill though as it looks hooked and nasty like a Shrike's bill. Glad you liked the post, thanks for hosting that bird blog collection too! :)

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  6. Wow, gorgeous birds and lovely images..The sunrise photos are gorgeous! I would like to take a stroll at this place too. Thanks for sharing your visit, have a happy day!

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    1. Thanks Eileen, yes it was a lovely place so I may have to do a 'sequel' visit in the future :)

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  7. Sounds like the kind of day out I enjoy Christian. Far away from the madding crowds - quiet discovery, enjoying all the environment has to offer with time for thought and reflection. I enjoyed the trip out with you, especially all those fabulous and exotic sounding birds.

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    1. Yes, that kind of day does wonders for the soul, Phil! Especially seeing as though I followed it up with a swim and a sleep at the beach! Glad you enjoyed reading it :)

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  8. Nice post. I was surprised to find out how close the Lamington national park was to Brisbane - I added couple of days to a work trip to Brisbane a few years ago and had a great weekend there.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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    1. Thanks Stewart. Yes I have it in mind for a future trip but want to get my driving skills up to scratch first before I attempt that road up to O'Reillys!

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  9. Surely this is a site well worth seeing.

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  10. Great post and very informative once again! I think I need to read all your posts as you seem to have great knowledge of birding spots... I may have to work on the early mornings as I'm not really a morning person!

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  11. Thanks Liz! This was definitely a great spot. The early mornings are beautiful if you can just plough on through those first 20 minutes out of bed! :)

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