Thursday, 16 February 2017

Summer birds flock to the Sunshine Coast

White-faced heron (Egretta novaeholandiae), Burpengary East.

With the exceedingly hot start we’ve had to 2017, I’ve spent most of my “wildlife time” searching either for frogs in the comparative cool of the night, or in the water looking at fish. This week, however, a slightly cooler, unstable air mass swept in, and I decided to make the most of it with a full day of birding north of Brisbane.

Bar-tailed godwit (Limosa lapponica) and eastern curlew, Burpengary East.

First stop was the mouth of Burpengary Creek, just after sunrise. The tide was low, so migratory waders such as the whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) and eastern curlew (N. madagascariensis) were out patrolling the mudflats, while a small flock of chestnut teal (Anas castanea) kept to the tidal channels. My wader luck continued when I checked out the saltmarsh behind the mangroves, with flocks of red-capped plovers (Charadrius ruficapillis) and sharp-tailed sandpipers (Calidris acuminata) seen scurrying about the mud. Complete birdlist here.

Peaceful dove (Geopelia placida),
Mount Mellum.
After calling in for breakfast with family at Narangba, I pressed on north to East Mount Mellum Nature Refuge, a small parcel of land with tricky road access near Landsborough. I didn’t expect to see much here—eucalypt forests in such dry weather can sometimes be unrewarding places to go birding—but the birds really put on a show! White-bellied cuckoo-shrikes (Coracina papuensis), shining bronze-cuckoos (Chrysococcyx lucidus) and a leaden flycatcher (Myiagra rubecula) were all good finds, but the highlight was my first ever oriental cuckoo (Cuculus optatus). It provided a distant, foliage-obscured view, and the ‘hepatic’ colour morph initially required me to rule out one of the more common local cuckoos in an immature form. Any remaining doubt was removed, however, when the bird flew off in a direct, swift manner quite unlike the bouncy, undulating habit of the Cacomantis cuckoos.  Complete birdlist here.

Oriental cuckoo, Mount Mellum.

Though the morning had been cloudy, the afternoon cleared up very nicely, and I decided to have lunch at Cotton Tree, then combine birding with a swim. The sandbanks in the river offered a great resting place for hundreds of terns, mostly of the crested (Thalasseus bergii) variety, but also the migratory common tern (Sterna hirundo). A lot of the crested terns were mottled young birds in their first or second year; as I swam in the river channel, it was amusing to watch them playfully swoop down and pick up random floating objects in the water, no doubt harnessing vital hunting skills they’ll utilise later in life. Complete bird list here.

Crested tern, Maroochydore.

The last stop of the day was one of my favourites that I became acquainted with last year, Lake Cooroibah Environmental Park. There’s always something interesting to see here—this time a covey of brown quail (Synoicus ypsilophorus) emerging from the grassy woodland at twilight—but unfortunately, the way the locals seem to misuse the area is depressing from an environmental point of view. Off-leash dogs get into pack fights and scare birds, parents bring their kids to illegally ride dirt bikes along the tracks, and the vegetation is being threatened by trampling and possibly firewood collection. I’m going to send a letter of complaint to Noosa Council about this—it’s a hell of a long way to drive just to get a dose of anger and disappointment each time, and there are other places I could be taking my day-trip and weekend-away money to. Complete bird list here.

Despite the slightly sour ending, overall it was a fantastic day out, with 62 bird species recorded in total, and one lifer!

Striated heron (Butorides striata), Cooroibah.


  1. Great shots! I'd be keen to see the cuckoo, which part of Mt Mellum was it found in?

    1. Thanks Ollie, I found it in a little nature refuge on Old Gympie Road, opposite a pineapple farm.

  2. Hi Christian, I am shivering here in Harrogate, North Yorkshire UK!!!
    and stumbled across your blog while having a look for birding places south of Brisbane. I am on facebook barry.carter.9699 and do a bit of photography! If you have the time maybe we could be mates!! I have family in BNE and hoping to retire and have a trip over. Keep up the good work Baz (