Sunday, 28 December 2014

Top Ten Wildlife Encounters of 2014

Of the top ten wildlife encounters I had this year, seven of them were with species I had never seen before. The amazing thing is, I didn't exactly have to travel to far-flung places to see these creatures either. Some of them were even seen in places like the outskirts of Caloundra, or among the busy new housing estates of North Lakes. This is why I love Brisbane, a place where the wilderness can creep into our suburbs and enrich our lives if we take the opportunity to notice it. Here is what I noticed this year!

1. Black Falcon, Jeebropilly.
Black Falcon; Photo by David Jenkins courtesy of 'Birds as Poetry'.
At a wetland out near Amberley Air Force Base in May, I saw nature's own version of a jet-fighter plane, and it was very impressive. Swooping in low over the water and scattering flocks of wildfowl into flight, I watched a Black Falcon - my first ever!
- give hot pursuit to a startled Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis). While the egret ultimately escaped (see here to find out how), I was still very taken by the power, speed and intelligence of this large falcon.

2. Glossy Black-Cockatoo, Aroona.
Female Glossy Black-Cockatoos have yellow markings on their head and neck.
I spent the October long weekend in a holiday house near Mooloolaba, but made sure to use at least one morning for a visit to the bush. I couldn't have chosen a better spot than Sharryn Bonney Bushland Reserve on the outskirts of Caloundra, where I encountered a flock of Glossy Black-Cockatoos. These stunningly beautiful birds were only noticed by the gentle, crunching noises they made in the foliage as they fed on Black She-Oak (Allocasuarina littoralis) cones.

3. Baillon's Crake, North Lakes.
A Baillon's Crake, preening in the early morning sunlight.
More often than not, to see a crake is to see a glimpse of a tiny bird dash quickly through the reeds for three seconds. The situation is a little different at North Lakes, where I had prolonged views of a Baillon's Crake in January. Several high-quality wetland habitats surrounded by the busy suburb itself seems to have made the birds of North Lakes quite comfortable with being observed!

4. Little Eagle, Chandler.
Little Eagle being harassed by a Torresian Crow
The only time I've ever featured an 'Animal of the Month' and then seen it in the wild just a short while later happened this year with the Little Eagle. I was walking along Tingalpa Creek one morning in July when the cawing of crows alerted me to a raptor in the sky. Expecting the common Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus), I was instead delighted to see my first Little Eagle, a small yet powerful bird-of-prey that is an uncommon winter visitor to the Brisbane area. As they are meant to be fond of lightly-wooded inland regions, it came as a surprise to see this one soaring above coastal mangrove forest.

5. Yellow-faced Whip Snake, Lota.
On one of November's many hot and sweaty afternoons, I went for a walk in a small but well-cared-for Brisbane bayside reserve and came upon the elusive Whip Snake. Small, surprisingly colourful and extremely quick, I made do with a brief glimpse of this anxious skink-hunter as it raced through the leaf litter in search of prey.

6. Grey-crowned Babbler, Haigslea.
Grey-crowned Babblers are boisterous birds that are also known as 'Happy Jacks' and 'Yahoos'.
On a mild winter's morning out in the rural countryside west of Ipswich, loud chattering in the dry scrub made my heart skip a beat, as unusual bird calls so often do. I was soon gifted with the sight of three Grey-crowned Babblers ascending a dead tree in the distance. These charming and playful birds were once common in south-east Australia, but have suffered severe declines in the past few decades, as their messy woodland habitat is either cleared or 'neatened up'. 

7. Native Plants and Trees, various locations.
Dogwood (Jacksonia scoparia) tree in full bloom, near Caloundra.
The most life-changing experience for me in the bush this year has been my rapid induction into plant and tree identification. Thanks to this, basically every moment out of the house has turned into a nature study, regardless of what the birds and animals are up to.

8. Australian Little Bittern, North Lakes.
Male Australian Little Bitterns make deep, low and loud calls at night to advertise their territory.
For many other local birdwatchers, the highlight of the year would surely have been the sighting of a rare Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis) at North Lakes in July. The politics and drama surrounding this South-east Asian vagrant turned me off both it and the location however, so I list here the happy memory of my first ever Australian Little Bittern sighting instead.

Koalas can be individually told apart by patterning in their nostrils.
9. Koala, various locations.
In some ways, 2014 became the 'Year of the Koala' for me. I began to recognise the types of trees they can be found in, saw them both during the day as well as at night, and found them in all levels of the forest, including on the ground. My fondness for Koalas only increased when I was able to show them off to international and local friends, who were really able to connect with the Australian bush through their experience with this animal. Key locations where I found Koalas this year include Kippa-Ring, Ormiston and Joyner, indicating their preference for life just outside of the Brisbane city limits. A great Facebook page to follow for more Koala facts and photographs is 'Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours'.

10. Ornate Burrowing Frog, Kippa-Ring.
Ornate Burrowing Frogs have hardened pads on their hind feet that allow them to dig backwards.
On one of the first warm and moist nights this spring, I headed into Chelsea Street Environmental Reserve to observe nocturnal mammals. It was a good thing that I also paid attention to the forest floor, as the sandy soils around me were erupting with these gorgeous little amphibians! It was a pleasure to see them thriving within a literal stone's throw of urban Redcliffe.

  • TOMORROW: My favourite wildlife locations of 2014!


  1. definitely exotic sightings to me. :)

    1. Thanks Theresa, they were exciting and seemingly exotic to me also! :)

  2. Fabulous encounters! Love the black cockatoo, and the koala (who doesn't!?) Love that you included native flora in your posting, too. We across the world love seeing these amazing places and (for us) unusual birds and animals!

    1. Thanks Marie, glad you enjoyed this post! Koalas hold a special fascination for everybody! I saw my friend's daughter yesterday and she is only one-and-a-half years old, but as she was listing off all the animals she knew, she went "cat... dog... cow... rooster... koala" :)