Thursday, 28 July 2016

Suburb Guide: Maroochy River

View of the Maroochy River from the summit of Mount Ninderry.

Connecting the forested slopes of the Blackall Ranges to the glittering coastline at Maroochydore, the Maroochy River is an important part of the Sunshine Coast’s natural heritage. Named after an Aboriginal legend, the river has also lent its name to a rural and low-density residential suburb that straddles either side of its shores in the upper estuary area. To avoid confusion for the rest of this article, the name ‘Maroochy River’ will refer to the suburb specifically.

Featured areas: (1) Suburban Maroochy River, (2) Highlands Hill Reserve,
(3) Dunethin Rock, (4) Mount Ninderry Bushland Conservation Park,
(5) River Road; Image courtesy of Google Maps.
Originally the cherished homeland of the Kabi Kabi people, the Maroochy River area was quickly recognised by European settlers as a place of great fertility, and to this day it is still used largely for farming purposes, particularly sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum). Increasing residential development is occurring on the surrounding slopes however, in estates such as ‘Ninderry Rise’, named for the mountain lying just to the north. The western suburb boundary roughly follows Caboolture Creek and the edge of Parklands Conservation Park, then borders Bli Bli and Coolum Creek to the south and east, respectively. Within the confines of the suburb are a number of places that a naturalist may find interesting, discussed in detail below.

'Honey Gem' grevilleas provide a great nectar resource for garden wildlife during the winter months.

1. Suburban Maroochy River
Mercifully, the residential development that has occurred in Maroochy River has so far been of low-density, allowing for stands of mature trees to exist in the large gardens. South of the river along Kirra Road, eucalypts like the grey ironbark (Eucalyptus siderophloia) are scattered throughout the properties, and many of the plantings are bird-friendly natives like the ‘Honey Gem’ grevillea (Grevillea banksii x pteridifolia). Such nectar-rich trees and shrubs in an otherwise cleared area do tend to provide the perfect habitat for somewhat aggressive honeyeaters however, and blue-faced honeyeaters (Entomyzon cyanotis) and noisy miners (Manorina melanocephala) are common as a result. Creating patches of denser, rainforest-type vegetation in their gardens would be a good way for the local residents of the area to do even more for the birds in the region.

Hillside woodland.
2. Highlands Hill Reserve
A small area of bushland has been retained behind the houses along Highlands Hill Road, though access seems to be very limited. A small gravel path leads down from the cul-de-sac at the end of the road, cutting between two properties until it arrives at a brush box (Lophostemon confertus) woodland. From here, a grassy fire break threads along the back fences of each property, allowing one to also search for birds like bar-shouldered doves (Geopelia humeralis), golden whistlers (Pachycephala pectoralis) and pheasant coucals (Centropus phasianinus) amongst the trees opposite. Judging from the number of conical diggings in the soil at this location, a healthy population of northern brown bandicoots (Isoodon macrourus) also manages to persist in the area.

Native basil on Dunethin Rock, with view out to Mount Coolum in the background.

3. Dunethin Rock
A popular scenic attraction for over a century now, Dunethin Rock is a small, mostly bare outcrop on the southern bank of the Maroochy River, which offers beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. It is most easily accessed on foot, using a short gravel road that leads uphill from the river carpark. At the top, take particular notice of the beautiful plant life, as some of the species at this location are especially adapted to rocky surfaces and are not so common in the region. Native basil (Plectranthus graveolens) has small spikes of purple flowers on display most of the year, but you’ll have to visit in winter and early spring to see the gorgeous Hill’s velvet-flower (Seringia hillii).

River jetty shaded by cotton trees (Hibiscus tiliaceus).
Back down near the river, lovely views of Mount Ninderry can be had across the water, but a closer look at the surrounding vegetation will also reveal the orange mangrove (Bruguiera gymnorhiza). This tree has thick, dark green leaves and resembles a fig more than a mangrove, but can be identified by its orange, fleshy flowers.

Tucked away in a little inlet extending off the river is Dunethin Lake. It is best enjoyed using the jetty that can be seen on the left briefly as you are driving in, before you reach the toilet block. From this vantage point, birds like the Australasian darter (Anhinga novaehollandiae) can be seen. When not drying their wings on an exposed perch, darters can usually be found in the water with just their snake-like necks visible above the surface. They feed exclusively on the fish living in the water, which at Dunethin Lake includes the Pacific blue-eye (Pseudomugil signifer) and estuary glassfish (Ambassis marianus).

Red-browed finches are usually first noticed by their high-pitched, whispering call.

4. Mount Ninderry Bushland Conservation Park
The actual summit walk of Mount Ninderry falls in the neighbouring northerly suburb of Ninderry, but a section of the conservation park on the southern side of the mountain falls within the boundary of Maroochy River. Access to this southern slope is obtained via a gate at the end of Ocean Vista Drive, at the margins of a new housing estate named ‘Ninderry Rise’.

The wildlife sightings at this location commence immediately upon stepping out of the car, with flocks of rainbow bee-eaters (Merops ornatus) and red-browed finches (Neochmia temporalis) occupying the lightly-wooded hillside terrain. Grey goshawks (Accipiter novaehollandiae) reside at the top of the food chain here, ambushing birds using intermittent patches of thick vegetation as cover.

Eucalyptus weevils (Gonipterus species) are very common at this site.
The trail through the gate quickly reaches a cleared grassland that allows for stellar views of the surrounding countryside, all the way out to Mount Coolum and the Pacific Ocean. It’s a good idea to keep your eyes out for snakes on the path however, as well as tawny grassbirds (Megalurus timoriensis) in the nearby grass. A stand of banksias further up plays host to the white-cheeked honeyeater (Philidonyris niger), a very handsome bird streaked in black, white and gold.

The trail becomes much trickier to navigate once it enters the forest below Mount Ninderry. It is used primarily by rockclimbers ascending the sheer cliff wall of the mountain, and judging by the treacherous conditions prevalent even just on the way there, it is safe to say that rockclimbers are more sure-footed than naturalists. I’d recommend not going much further than the first large boulder that the trail passes, as the general vibe of the forest can be sufficiently appreciated at this point, without endangering yourself too much.

Because it falls under the shadow of Mount Ninderry on the cooler, moister southern slope, the ecosystem here is wet eucalypt forest, an increasingly uncommon habitat in South-east Queensland. A lush layer of soft bracken ferns (Calochlaena dubia) carpet the ground, providing shelter for ‘bities’ like the giant bulldog ant (Myrmecia brevinoda) and eastern mouse spider (Missulena bradleyi). Native yams (Dioscorea transversa) and sweet sarsaparilla (Smilax glyciphylla) vines twine themselves around the mid-vegetation layer, while brush box trees and mountain hickory wattles (Acacia penninervis) reach for the canopy. Set against such a dramatic landscape, the forest has an ancient feel to it that inspires a quiet awe.

The Australian hobby is one of the smaller falcon species in Australia.

5. River Road
Extending east off the Yandina – Coolum Road, River Road offers some great birding in the Maroochy River area. It is best traveled along in a car, making sure to pull over off the road when coming to an area of interest so that large farm vehicles can safely pass. Much of the river flats at this location are used for sugar cane crops, but the low-lying areas flood easily and attracts waterbirds and raptors.
Towards the end of River Road lies 
a former wetland with a heartbreaking history.
A few years ago, Sunshine Coast bird
expert Greg Roberts discovered that regular
tidal flooding from nearby Yandina Creek
had turned some of the adjacent properties
along the northern side of the road into
subsequent observations at the site, Greg
went on to record many rare species such as
the Australian spotted crake (Porzana 
fluminea), eastern grass owl (Tyto 
longimembris) and black-necked stork 
(Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus), the latter
shown above in one of his photos. Unfortunately,
efforts to preserve the area as a formal 
reserve have since been thwarted by bureaucratic
apathy and a few key landholders, who 
drained the wetland upon learning of its 
conservation value. Greg’s last report on the 
situation didn’t sound promising, but here’s 
hoping the story can still have a happy outcome.

Worth checking out is the first property on the left, near the junction with the main road. Australian wood ducks (Chenonetta jubata) and straw-necked ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis) wander the pastures, but in the swampier patches, interesting birds like the white-necked heron (Ardea pacifica) can be found. A glance upward, both here and along the powerlines further down the road, can reveal birds of prey such as the black-shouldered kite (Elanus axillaris) and Australian hobby (Falco longipennus). 

The road terminates at a metal gate, beyond which lies Coolum Creek Conservation Park. I am not sure if there is private property in between the gate and the park in the distance, and there is limited information regarding public access to this reserve, so I chose not proceed any further. The park itself protects high quality coastal wetland habitat that is home to the water mouse (Xeromys myoides), a unique native mammal which is listed as a Vulnerable species. Even without travelling into the park, the very end of River Road still offers some interesting sights; where it crosses Yandina Creek at the last bridge, a coastal boobialla (Myoporum insulare) grows on the banks, and kingfishers and Australasian pipits (Anthus novaeseelandiae) are common.

Mount Coolum rises in the distance, with Coolum Creek Conservation Park in the foreground.

4 comments:

  1. I have been birdwatching at many of these locations, it is spectacular! great photographs, especially of the Australian Hobby!

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    1. Glad I'm not the only one fond of these places, Ollie! And thanks for the compliment too :)

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  2. Nice one Christian. I live on Mt Ninderry but have yet to head up the track you did! It's a nice walk to the summit from the other side. Let me know when you're up this way and we might be able to connect.

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    1. Thanks Greg, yes I did the summit walk a few days later with some friends to score the above view of the river plain shown above. It was lovely! And yes, definitely up for a day with you and the birds if the chance arises in the future, so will let you know!

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