Monday, 2 October 2017

Suburb Guide: Bilinga

Border patrol: rainbow bee-eaters use the Gold Coast Airport perimeter fence as a hunting perch.

Unless you are a southern Gold Coast local, you might barely know Bilinga. Driving along the Gold Coast Highway, it comes across as simply being a part of Tugun, and the beachfront is more widely known as North Kirra Beach. Even the Gold Coast Airport terminal, situated within Bilinga, is known by the alternate name of Coolangatta Airport! For those in the know, however, it is a small but quite beautiful part of the Gold Coast, with a gorgeous coastline in particular.

Featured areas: (1) Beach, (2) Joe Doniger Park, (3) Gold Coast Airport,
and (4) Suburban Bilinga; Image courtesy of Google Maps.
The name Bilinga is derived from the word ‘Bilinba’, which according to various sources, can mean either a ‘place of bats’ or a ‘place of parrots’ in the local indigenous Yugambeh language. Both interpretations suggest that pre-clearing, the low-lying landscape of the area may have been covered by the kind of lush paperbark wetlands preferred by grey-headed flying-foxes (Pteropus poliocephalus) and rainbow lorikeets (Trichoglossus moluccanus). Remnants of this coastal habitat can be seen at nearby Currumbin, which can perhaps be considered the new ‘place of parrots’ on the Gold Coast.

The topography of Bilinga is very flat, and much of the land is taken up by the Gold Coast Airport, no doubt placed here for that very reason. There are some environmentally valuable areas that provide public access to green space however, and these are explored in more detail below.

Excellent views of Surfers Paradise can be had from North Kirra Beach.

1. Beach
Bilinga is home to not one, but two official beaches, though there’s little to distinguish Bilinga Beach from North Kirra Beach in environmental terms, being one continuous stretch of coastline. 

Heliotrope moth (Utetheisa pulchelloides)
The shore is fairly exposed to the sun, wind and wave action, and for the casual visitor, is perhaps best appreciated with a walk rather than a swim. Strolling the tide line will reveal sun-bleached mud ark (Anadara trapezia) shells, stranded moon jellies (Aurelia sp.) and other marine creatures depending on the season. Humans aren’t the only beachcombers here either, with flocks of ubiquitous silver gulls (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae) patrolling the water’s edge for tasty morsels during daylight hours. At night, ghost crabs (Ocypode sp.) take on scavenger duties instead, emerging from burrows higher up on the shore.

The fore and frontal dunes in Bilinga are fairly well-vegetated, with beach spinifex (Spinifex sericeus) and introduced beach primrose (Oenothera drummondii) keeping a good hold of the ever-shifting sands. Wandering through this groundcover are a variety of invertebrates, including moths, ants and a spindly, elongated grasshopper called the giant green slantface (Acrida conica), which amongst the spinifex, actually exists in a brown form. The dunes are best viewed from a concrete path on their landward side, or from narrow trails that reach into them from the various beach access tracks.

Flowers of the unfortunately-named pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens) brighten up the dunes.

2. Joe Doniger Park
Parkland along the Bilinga foreshore is mostly limited to a narrow nature strip along either side of a concrete pathway, but around the North Kirra Surf Life Saving Club, the green space increases to become Joe Doniger Park. Here, small lawns, picnic areas and a playground sit in the shade of tall Norfolk Island pines (Araucaria heterophylla), an introduced tree planted widely by councils along both the Gold and Sunshine Coast beachfronts. Personally, I haven’t found this species to be very invasive at all, yet it was the subject of a hit-piece in the Sydney Morning Herald a couple of years ago that boldly claimed it to be a bigger foreign menace than the cane toad. I suspect the true motivation in disliking this tree comes from coastal property developers and owners who find that its mammoth proportions block precious (and valuable) ocean views.

Potted Norfolk Island pine saplings are sold as Christmas trees overseas.

Joe Doniger Park is named after a heroic young lifesaver and subsequent founder of the North Kirra Surf Life Saving Club, who risked his life to save a friend from a tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) attack at nearby Kirra Beach, in 1937.

Beautiful pandanus (Pandanus tectorius) trees grow next to the pathway at Joe Doniger Park.

3. Gold Coast Airport
Outside of the state capitals, this airport is the busiest in Australia, and often the first location that a visit to Queensland entails. Birdwatchers from southern states can tick off tropical species almost immediately upon arrival, with blue-faced honeyeaters (Entomyzon cyanotis) and Torresian crows (Corvus orru) common around the terminal exterior.

The Gold Coast Airport frequently makes environmental news headlines because of a series of planned upgrades that will potentially damage rare and threatened ecosystems on the site. These locations—home to fauna like the long-nosed potoroo (Potourus tridactylus), common planigale (Planigale maculata) and wallum froglet (Crinia tinnula)—mostly fall over Bilinga’s southern border, into the neighbouring suburb (Tweed Heads West) and state (New South Wales). Within Bilinga, most of the airport land consists of open fields drained by vegetated ditches.

Buff-banded rails (Gallirallus philippensis) live amongst the waterweeds at Betty Diamond Park.

Access to the airport grounds is obviously restricted, but one of the drainage channels flows out of the north-western corner of the site into Betty Diamond Park. The waterway is choked by weeds such as salvinia (Salvinia molesta) and creeping water primrose (Ludwigia peploides), but ddwfauna surveyors have nevertheless recorded some interesting fish species residing here, including firetail gudgeons (Hypseleotris galii) and long-finned eels (Anguilla reinhardtii). In the airspace above the park and airport grounds fly swirling flocks of insectivorous fairy martins (Petrochelidon ariel) that are sometimes joined by rainbow bee-eaters (Merops ornatus). Access to Betty Diamond Park—a dog off-leash area—can be had at the end of Adina Avenue.

4. Suburban Bilinga
It seems like everyone wants to live by the beach judging by the amount of construction and renovation work in Bilinga at present! Such activity can be a bad thing environmentally, as dust and debris is increased and mature trees are sometimes removed to allow access to builders. Resilient urban birds like the Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) and magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca) are managing to persist though, with both species successfully nesting amongst all the commotion. Plant-wise, the front gardens along Pacific Parade showcase exotic ornamental plants over native varieties, with the Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) being particularly common.

A female magpie-lark, uttering its familiar 'peewee' call.

2 comments:

  1. A super photo of a beautiful bird. I don't think I have ever seen one before.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Diane, the bee-eaters are fairly common and are usually heard first. Keep an ear out for a gentle trill coming from the sky as they fly around.

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