Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Suburb Guide: Boondall

The swamp oak forest in the Boondall Wetlands is a place of great beauty and peace.

Featured areas: (1) Brisbane Entertainment Centre, (2) Boondall
Wetlands Reserve, (3) Suburban Boondall, and (4) Frank
Sleeman Park; Image courtesy of Google Maps.
Home to Brisbane’s largest wetlands, Boondall is a suburb that should be familiar to any South-east Queensland nature enthusiast. Located 15 kilometres north of the Brisbane CBD, the suburb is positioned on a flat coastal floodplain bound by a number of estuarine waterways, including the lower reaches of Cabbage Tree Creek in the north, and Nundah Creek in the east. Over the years, Boondall has grown from a quiet little community into a busy residential area that is home to almost 10,000 people. Sandgate Road and the Gateway Motorway cut through the suburb, each coming to a standstill during peak hour as traffic flows in and out of the city. This urban pressure has had a noticeable effect on the wildlife of the area, and roadkill is a common sight along the edges of the Gateway Motorway (M1) where it adjoins the Boondall Wetlands. 

Prior to urbanisation, much of the area was farmed or was owned and left as unused land by the Catholic Church. Before this, however, the land belonged to the Turrbal people for many thousands of years. The landscape would have likely been quite similar to what exists in the Boondall Wetlands today, with food aplenty found in the coastal forests and estuaries.

Alongside the wetlands themselves, a number of interesting natural areas still exist in Boondall, explored further below.

Dawn at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre parkland.

Brush cuckoo (Cacomantis variolosus).
1. Brisbane Entertainment Centre
To allow extensive parking and subdue event noise, the Brisbane Entertainment Centre sits on 63.5 hectares of land, some of which has been converted into parkland for public recreational use. BBQs, toilets and a viewing platform straddle a man-made lagoon that is home to darters (Anhinga novaehollandiae), chestnut teal (Anas castanea) and little pied cormorants (Microcarbo melanoleucos), the latter of which have established a small nesting colony in one of the waterside paperbarks. A network of firetrails and pathways cut through the remnant swamp woodland adjacent to the lagoon, where pale-headed rosellas (Platycercus adscitus), striped marsh frogs (Limnodynastes peronii) and common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) reside.

Butterflies are very common in the swamp woodland, including the glasswing (Acraea andromacha).

Coastal golden orb-weaver (Nephila plumipes).
2. Boondall Wetlands Reserve
Having been protected for almost 30 years, it’s easy to take this Brisbane environmental gem for granted, but that would be a mistake. Not only does the reserve safeguard coastal habitats that are now in short supply elsewhere in South-east Queensland, it almost never existed, having been chosen as the site for a massive development project in 1985 that would have seen a marina town built for 13,000 residents. Instead, we are now blessed to enjoy this thousand-hectare reserve, complete with walking/cycling tracks, an environmental centre, picnic area and bird hide.

Birds of prey such as the collared sparrowhawk (Accipiter cirrocephalus) are well-represented in the wetlands.

The best way to see the reserve is by walking the Billai Dhagun Circuit (2km) that leads from the carpark to the bird hide at the junction of Nundah and Cabbage Tree Creek. The track initially passes through swamp oak (Casuarina glauca) forest that is home to variety of birds, and is probably the best place in Brisbane to see the mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum) in particular. The spot these gorgeous birds most frequent is easily found—when you reach the information board about them, simply look up into the surrounding trees and listen for their high-pitched call.

Estaurine mistletoes (Lysiana maritima) grow on the she-oaks, spread by the mistletoebird.

Yellow owlfly (Suhpalacsa flavipes).
Bird sightings at the birdhide itself can be a little hit-and-miss, but a visit at low tide will at least guarantee hundreds of two-toned fiddler crabs (Uca vomeris) out on the mudflats; if the tide is in, colourful blue blubbers (Catostylus mosaicus) may be seen swimming slowly through the estuary.

Quite a few rare and regionally uncommon creatures survive in the reserve, including the eastern grass owl (Tyto longimembris), squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) and tree skink (Egernia striolata), the latter being a species mostly found west of the Great Dividing Range. These and other animals are eaten not only by native apex predators like the carpet python (Morelia spilotes) and white-bellied sea-eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster), but also by introduced red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) that prowl the area.

Low-tide view from the bird hide at the junction of Nundah and Cabbage Tree Creek.

On the Billai-Dhagun circuit, an abundance
of white fig (Ficus virens) saplings currently 
grow alongside the tracks. This Australian 
rainforest species is not one that occurs 
naturally in the reserve, but has been 
planted by the Brisbane City Council in
the parks and foreshores of nearby 
Shorncliffe and Sandgate. A clue to their 
sudden appearance in the reserve lies in 
their growing position: they are springing 
up beneath swamp oaks near the forest edge. 
These trees are the favoured perches of 
local figbird (Sphecotheres vieilloti) flocks; 
the birds evidently feed on the fruiting adult 
figs on the other side of Cabbage Tree Creek, 
then fly back and rest in the wetlands, where 
they eject the bellyful of seeds acquired earlier 
in the day. If the trees are left to grow, the 
increased shade and changed nutrient load 
from such large and leafy trees may gradually 
convert the habitat from swamp woodland to 
rainforest, which might sound good… unless you 
are an animal adapted to swamp woodland.
Plant life in the Boondall Wetlands is worth a closer look. The she-oak forest—for which the Billai Dhagun Circuit is named—is an eye-catching place, thanks to the lush carpets of marine couch (Sporobolus virginicus) that grow beneath the whispering trees. Near the environmental centre is also a garden of native plants that are of special significance to local indigenous people.

3. Suburban Boondall
With so much coastal forest nearby, Boondall residents may be lucky enough to share their gardens with a variety of native animals. Green treefrogs (Litoria caerulea) and black flying-foxes (Pteropus alecto) inhabit the gardens at night, while during the day, garden with large trees play host to little friarbirds (Philemon citreogularis) and blue-faced honeyeaters (Entomyzon cyanotis). A familiar sound in the suburb most afternoons are the loud calls of feral long-billed (Cacatua tenuirostris) and little corella (C. sanguinea) flocks, though sulphur-crested cockatoos (C. galerita) may also be seen. Many of the street trees in the area are natives like the weeping lillypilly (Waterhousia floribunda); on Lyndhurst Road in the summer, floury bakers (Aleeta curvicosta) call from the lillypilly canopies.

Floury bakers are told apart from other cicadas by their call and the two black spots on the wing.

Intermediate egret in breeding plumage.
4. Frank Sleeman Park
Green spaces also exist in the southern part of Boondall, along the Zillman Waterholes and also on land owned by St Joseph’s Nudgee College. As there is no public access to the latter, the best option is to visit Frank Sleeman Park (off Parthenia Street) for a closer look at the waterholes. This site can be a little ‘weedy’—the waterbody transports both introduced tilapia (Oreochromus mossambicus) and cockspur coral trees (Erythrina crista-galli) downstream—but it is also used by a variety of waterbirds. Keep an eye out for Australian pelicans (Pelecanus conspicillatus) and darters in the deeper pools, and intermediate egrets (Mesophoyx intermedia) along the shore.

The sunlit, still waters of the Zillman Waterholes provide a great dragonfly habitat.

4 comments:

  1. Very interesting and informative post. Beautiful images. Love the shadows in the first one

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    1. Thanks Margaret, those shadows were what caught my eye in person, so I'm glad it translated into the photo!

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  2. Many years ago I used to ride my bike around the Entertainment area. The newly laid cycleways were often under water which at least made for good wildlife observations.

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    1. Yes I should've mentioned that the area floods easily actually! The whole place comes alive with frogs... and mosquitoes... I bet!

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