Thursday, 22 June 2017

Suburb Guide: Alexandra Hills

A male Australian king-parrot (Alisterus scapularis) surveys his surrounds in Greater Glider Conservation Area.

So much of Redland City’s appeal lies in its foreshores. Check the #redlandsanyday tag on Instagram, and you’ll see what I mean—stunning photo after stunning photo of the tranquil waters surrounding Straddie, the bay islands and the stretch of coast from Thorneside in the north to Redland Bay in the south. One of the best kept secrets of the region, however, is the wealth of beautiful wilderness areas found inland from the coast, where even on a weekend, the crowds can usually be escaped. It’s not just the larger reserves and National Parks of places like Mount Cotton that are worth checking out either—even Alexandra Hills, the most heavily-populated suburb in the region, has environmental treasure aplenty!

Featured areas: (1) Windemere Road Park, (2) Greater Glider
Conservation Area, (3) Squirrel Glider Conservation Area, (4)
Scribbly Gums Conservation Area, and (5) Suburban Alexandra
Hills. Image courtesy of Google Maps.
A sprawling residential suburb that also plays host to many schools, shops, sporting facilities and an infamous hotel, the fact that Alexandra Hills nevertheless has so much green space set aside is quite impressive. The suburb’s evolution into its current form began back in the early 1960s when Finucane Road was completed. Once amenities like town water and sewerage were established, housing developments quickly sprang up on former farming plots and bushland. By the mid-1970s, Alex Hills had become the fastest growing area of the Redlands, but evidently, some wise members of the local community recognised the value in protecting some cherished natural areas from the advancing urbanisation. These areas persist to this very day, sheltering rare and threatened flora and fauna species, as well as providing excellent outdoor recreation opportunities. Four locations are presented below, followed by a look at what can be found in the developed, residential part of the suburb.

1. Windemere Road Bushland Refuge
This tiny patch of bushland covers just over 5 hectares, but for any animal trying to eke out a living in suburbia, every bit of green space counts! Bordered by Windemere Road Park, the best way to experience this location is to walk the short, informal thoroughfare that begins behind the skating enclosure. 

Inside the woodland grows a pointy-leaved tree with a mottled trunk that looks out-of-place among the she-oaks; it's called the coastal geebung (Persoonia stradbrokensis), and yes, the scientific name refers to that iconic Redlands location where it is also found. In the foliage of these trees live colonies of black weaver ants (Polyrhachis australis), a glossy, stingless, medium-sized species that builds its nest among leaves.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: black she-oaks, kerosene bush (Pultenaea villosa) and coastal geebung.

For some birds, the refuge lives up to its name by providing shelter from the noisy miners (Manorina melanocephala) that dominate the adjacent parkland and gardens. For example, common bronzewings (Phaps chalcoptera) can be found waddling through the undergrowth, and restless flycatchers (Myiagra inquieta) have been recorded here also. Neither species are traditionally regarded as suburban birds, and their presence illustrates the value of even the smallest conservation areas.

2. Greater Glider Conservation Area
Named after the world’s largest gliding mammal, this well-loved reserve is indeed home to the greater glider (Petauroides volans), though anecdotal evidence suggests there has been a decline in their population over the years. Like the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)—also present at this site—the greater glider subsists primarily on a diet of eucalypt leaves, but unlike the koala, it requires tree hollows for shelter and reproduction as well. While this reserve has both of those requirements, it is also surrounded almost entirely by suburbia and by Redland Bay Road, placing any animal roaming outside the park boundary into immediate jeopardy.

Birds obviously don’t face this problem on quite the same scale, and the populations of many at this location seem fairly robust and healthy. Some species only utilise the reserve at certain times of the year; in spring and summer, sacred kingfishers (Todiramphus sanctus) fill the air with their repetitive calls, then in autumn and winter, honeyeaters like the eastern spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris) and little wattlebird (Anthochaera chrysoptera) increase their presence to take advantage of flowering coast banksias (Banksia integrifolia). Other birds have territories that encompass the park year-round, whether they be common like the rainbow lorikeet (Trichoglossus moluccana) or rare like the powerful owl (Ninox strenua).

Coast banksias flower at a time of year when not much else does, providing a valuable food resource for wildlife.

Greater Glider Conservation Area has a few access points, the easiest probably being the one at the end of Kindred Street. The walking trail is a circuit extending for 2.3km, remaining fairly flat for most of the way.

3. Squirrel Glider Conservation Area
In the same way that the squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) is smaller than the greater glider, so too is its namesake reserve, sandwiched between Finucane Road to the south and McMillan Road to the north. In my experience, the gliders aren’t as easily observed here as they are in some other South-east Queensland locations, and sightings of swamp wallabies (Wallabia bicolor) and common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) are much more likely when visiting at night.

Several thoroughfares cut through the reserve, one hugging closely to—and crossing—gorgeous Hilliards Creek. On the bridge during the day, taking a moment to feel the leaf texture of the sandpaper fig (Ficus coronata) is time well spent. On summer nights in exactly the same spot, eastern dwarf tree frogs (Litoria fallax) conduct a lilypad symphony, though trilling cane toads (Rhinella marina) try to drown them out.

4. Scribbly Gums Conservation Area (Redlands Track Park)
This recently established reserve seems to go by two names, one referring to the most common eucalypt in the park (Eucalyptus racemosa), and the other highlighting the extensive network of trails that exist here. If entering from a gate that has a map (such as at the start of Flinders St), take a photo of it with your phone, or download the map beforehand here. Either way, make sure your phone has sufficient battery life left when walking!

Some trails are broad, while others like this one are narrow, but all are well-maintained.

At 239 hectares in size, this is the largest conservation area within Alexandra Hills, and is designated as multi-use, so be alert for horse-riders, mountain-bikers, trailrunners and dog walkers (on-leash only). Many of the trails are flat and low-lying, passing through black she-oak (Allocasuarina littoralis) woodlands brightened up by vivid green carpets of feather sedge (Ptilothrix deusta). Others, like the Hammer Track, navigate subtle elevations where brown bloodwoods (Corymbia trachyphloia) occur, and variable sword-sedge (Lepidosperma laterale) covers the ground.

Forest boronia (Boronia rosmarinfolia).
Regardless of where you are in the park, interesting insects abound, including sweet little orange ringlet (Hypocysta adiante) butterflies on the trail, and ribbed case moth (Hyalarcta nigrescens) caterpillars in the vegetation beside it. Like all case moths, the latter creature spends much of its life inside a mobile, self-constructed shelter, which in this instance resembles a large gum nut. Perhaps the most prominent insect species in the park, however, is the moth (Ogmograptis scribula) whose caterpillars leave the ‘scribbles’ all over the scribbly gum. 

5. Suburban Alexandra Hills
Besides the conservation areas shown above, Alexandra Hills also has quite a lot of narrow ‘linking corridors’ of bushland that weave along creeks and drains, behind or through housing estates. These exist so that wildlife can, in theory, travel between the larger reserves in relative safety, though an 80 percent decline in the local koala population in recent decades suggests that this conservation method needs to work in tandem with other measures to be truly successful.

Many of the schools, businesses and community organisations in the area are to be commended for retaining a decent amount of native vegetation on their premises. Alexandra Hills State High School has a veritable eucalypt forest on campus for example, and the Bayside Community Church on McDonald Road is nestled in amongst stands of wattle and she-oak. Sadly, the same can’t quite be said for some of the residential gardens in the suburb however, teeming as they are with serious environmental weeds like ochna (Ochna serrulata) and broad-leaved pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius)

Nevertheless, the residents of Alexandra Hills are very fortunate to be living in the vicinity of so much natural bushland and to be sharing their suburb with so many beautiful animals. Falling asleep to the calls of a southern boobook (Ninox boobook) on a starry night, while white-striped freetail bats (Austronomus australis) flutter high above the rooftops is a privilege not afforded to all Australians. Long may it continue in Alexandra Hills!

It's easy to take rainbow lorikeets for granted as a common garden visitor, but nesting in tree-hollows means they require bushland for survival.