Thursday, 18 May 2017

A big day of birdwatching in Toowoomba

Brown cuckoo-dove (Macropygia phasianella), Redwood.
Last Saturday, I took part in a ‘Global Big Day’ held by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and their birdwatching website, ‘eBird’.

For the uninitiated, a ‘big day’ (or month, year, etc) is a birdwatching colloquialism that refers to the act of finding as many birds as possible within the designated timeframe, something which I had not partaken in before.

I decided that I would try find 100 bird species or more out in Toowoomba, a place I have never visited.

Heading off in the dark, I reached my first location—Flagstone Creek, in the Lockyer Valley—as an underwhelming dawn revealed a gloomy, overcast day.

Walking along a gravel road through undulating, open farmland, I managed to tick off a good selection of birds that I knew would not be found in the forests and wetlands I was heading to later, including an Australasian pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae), superb fairy-wrens (Malurus cyaneus) and red-rumped parrots (Psephotus haematodus).

Pleasingly, I found the flock of zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) I became acquainted with last November; they appear to be residents of the area.

Zebra finches, Flagstone Creek.

With 39 species under my belt already, I decided it was time to press on to Toowoomba, and I drove up the range and halfway back down again to visit Redwood Park.

I was somewhat under-prepared for this location in a number of ways.

Firstly, the dry vine scrub was incredibly beautiful, and is a type of forest I hope to spend much more time in.

Female regent bowerbird, Redwood.
My basic description would be to picture a rainforest in shrub form, with lithophytic ferns on the ground, and taller wattles and eucalypts providing the top canopy layer.

Secondly, the bird life here was more diverse and abundant than I ever imagined; I recorded 46 species in total, including regent bowerbirds (Sericulus chrysocephalus), shining bronze-cuckoos (Chrysococcyx lucidus) and Australia’s smallest bird, the weebill (Smicrornis brevirostris)

And lastly, despite the humble name, Redwood Park is surprisingly large, with steeper, more challenging trails than what I had expected.

I’d recommend having at least a moderate fitness level if you wish to tackle the Grasstree or Redwood Forest Trail, as well as equipping yourself with ample water and sturdy shoes.

It is well worth the effort though!

Birdwatching distractions (CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT): caper white (Belenois java), red-necked wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus), small-leaved coondoo (Planchonella cotinifolia), and turkey tail (Trametes versicolor).

Following this, and a break for lunch, I decided it was time to try find some wetland species at the Toowoomba Bicentennial Waterbird Habitat.

With 72 species under my belt already, I hoped to find 28 more at this new location.

Drizzly showers kicked in again, triggering a wave of playful activity from a flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita), with brief appearances also being made by galahs (Eolophus roseicapilla) and a yellow-tailed black-cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus).

Sulphur-crested cockatoos, Rangeville.

On the waterbody, a selection of cormorants, ducks and waterhens all added to my birdlist, and I even saw a new bird species for me, the red wattlebird (Anthochaera carunculata), a type of southern honeyeater which crosses the border into Queensland only in the cooler, more temperate parts of the south-east corner.

Unfortunately, the lagoons and surrounds had only taken my birdlist up to 90 species. 

I still had another hour or daylight to use, so I checked eBird for some nearby locations that might find me the 10 species I still needed.

There was one half an hour away: Cooby Dam.

I jumped in my car and enjoyed my drive first through the Highfields district, and then along rural roads, some with a narrow strip of bitumen, others just gravel.

I arrived at Cooby Dam with the sun low in the sky, casting a breath-taking golden glow over a beautiful, bird-filled lake. 

The ticks came quickly at first: black swans (Cygnus atratus), black-fronted dotterels (Elseyornis melanops), a great egret (Ardea alba), and many Australasian grebes (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae), some of which appeared to be behaving rather strangely, clustering together in tight, co-ordinated flocks the way little black cormorants (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris) do.

Alarm calls from the parkland behind me made me to turn around to see a noisy friarbird (Philemon corniculatus) flock rising into the air, followed shortly by a brown falcon (Falco berigora) being chased by crows.

I still needed 4 species, so I walked back west along the lakeshore, into the beautiful sunset, and came across another flock of birds that included a great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus) and a pair of yellow-billed spoonbills (Platalea flavipes).

Yellow-billed spoonbill, Groomsville.

But now the sun was well and truly slipping over the horizon, and I was still two birds short of my goal.

I decided to sit down on the ground and just enjoy the beautiful sunset; 98 birds was still a great result and I had enjoyed my day regardless.

It was then that I simultaneously saw a distant Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus) flock on the lake, and heard some grey-crowned babblers (Pomatostomus temporalis) calling from behind me.

I had done it! 100 birds in one day!

It turns out that I had picked up a bonus bird as well, which was also a new species for me.

When I checked my photographs at home, the flock of grebes behaving strangely turned out to include hoary-headed grebes (Poliocephalus poliocephalus), which took my total to 101 species.

All in all, 18788 people participated in Global Big Day, and 6564 of the world’s bird species were recorded.

If reading this has whet your appetite for more bird tales and stories from Global Big Day, you can visit Wild Bird Wednesday, a weekly blogging link-up that celebrates birds from around the world.

There’s one particular place in the world that has captured my heart, however.

Toowoomba, I will return!!!


  1. What a fantastic day out. I enjoyed reading your blog about your adventures. All of these places have been on my to do list for too long.

    1. Thanks Sri, I look forward to seeing Toowoomba make an appearance on your blog soon! 😉

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Matteo, you would absolutely love some of those locations if you are ever out that way!

  3. Hello!:) 103 birds, is remarkable result. Well done for taking up the challenge, and doing so well. I thoroughly enjoyed your images and narrative.

    1. Thank you, I am glad you had a good read! 😊

  4. Hi Christian, nice seeing you. I was in Queensland 2014. For a two weeks birding trip. The only place I saw of Brisbane was the airport. And roade to and from. The Zebra finch I onde had as cagebirds but could not see on my trip. Loved to see yourbeautiful cocoo dove :)

    1. Well that's a shame you didn't get to see more of Brisbane - I think it's an overlooked birding and wildlife destination! There's even interesting things to see near the airport, haha! And yes, it's funny how well-known and loved our little finches are. Thanks for reading :)

  5. 101 in a day is a good effort - and any day with babblers is a good day!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

    1. Thanks Stewart, yes I was very happy it all came together nicely, babblers included! :)

  6. Wow, that's incredible! Congratulations.