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Best bird of the day was a jellyfish, although I did +1

 

Elliot Leach arrived at my place promptly at 0430 and we then picked up Louis Backstrom from his place in Kedron before powering up the M1 to Mooloolaba. We were full of the usual pelagic birder optimism – this is the lifeblood that keeps one going back for more. Arriving at the harbour, the wind seemed fresh enough, still coming from the east, and forecast to be 10-20 knots during the day. Ideal, or so we thought.

We motored out as usual, noting a nice flock of Common Terns, a Flesh-footed Shearwater, and a lone Sooty Tern on the way, and also pleased to see Wedge-tailed Shearwaters in almost constant attendance all the way to the shelf. Almost as soon as we crossed the border into Brisbane waters, though, the birds began to dry up a little. As we stopped to begin the drift, it was immediately apparent something was wrong. It was eerily quiet. No wind. The doldrums! Our hearts sank, as we all knew that this didn’t bode well for the day’s birding. Nevertheless, we began deploying berley.

Eventually a nice Sooty Tern appeared, associating loosely with a group of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. More Wedge-tailed Shearwaters arrived, and although a few investigated the slick, most weren’t really interested or hungry-looking. At length, a couple of nice Tahiti Petrels appeared, and finally a Flesh-footed Shearwater made a brief pass of the boat – a year tick at last! At one point I was scanning with binoculars and saw a cracking Blue Marlin scything out of the water – amazing! And we spent time between birds watching a small group of Long-finned Pilot Whales.

On the way back, we stopped fairly close inshore off Mooloolaba to scan some fishing boats and do a small drift, which produced an adult Brown Booby, and a mixed flock of Common and White-winged Black Terns. A nice end to the trip.

But pride of place had to go to the world’s largest jellyfish! A cracking Lions mane Jellyfish Cyanea capillata that drifted by very close to the boat – mega!

With one year tick today, my year list finally moved on again, after one month and one day of stasis, to 304 species. I spent 5 hours 39 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 242.1 km. My chronological year list is here.


 
Dec 8: Runways and flyways

 

I started the day not long after dawn at Archerfield Airport. In my now well-practised routine, I stopped at three sites (1,2,3) and scanned the airfield. Nothing mega was present, although there were some decent counts – at least 160 Galah, 87 Australian Magpies and at least 32 Masked Lapwings. Sadly I couldn’t turn any of the lapwings into Banded! Time was short since I needed to be home at 0730. So I finished up at the airfield, and dropped in to Granard Wetlands for a quick look (eBird list here). Again nothing mega, although I had the first record of Black Kite for this site, which has now had 75 species. Not bad for a very unprepossessing roadside park.

In the afternoon, I headed to the Wynnum-Manly foreshore to do a migratory shorebird survey for work. I started at Lota and finished at Wynnum, counting shorebirds foraging on the intertidal flats at low tide. In some ways, counting and birding don’t go desperately well together, since time is limited for the fieldwork and I needed to push on from site to site. Still, I had 15 Black-tailed Godwits viewed from the end of Nelson Parade, a bunch of Tereks at Lota, and a Ruddy Turnstone at Dreveson Park. Overall, not huge numbers of shorebirds present in the area today, although it was good to see 180 Black Swans and 25 Whiskered Terns (all adults) at Wynnum.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained stuck on 303 species. I spent 3 hours 39 minutes birding, walked 0.943 km and drove 82.3 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Dec 7: Seabirds? I don’t see birds

 

There has been strong easterly airflow for several days now, and it is expected to go on until at least the middle of next week. My thoughts had been turning to seabirds, and our outstanding good fortune that the Sunshine Coast pelagic is coming up on Sunday 9th December. Or at least it was coming up on 9th December, until the very thing that would have made it a zinger of a trip – the wind – caused the captain to cancel. The horror!!!!

Greg Roberts was straight on the case, and managed to negotiate moving the trip to Wednesday 12th December, hopefully still within the period of easterly winds. I was initially thinking of trying to get to Moreton Island for a seawatch on Sunday, but with the pelagic rescheduled so close, it would be tricky to negotiate the time away from home.

Still, as I peered outside this afternoon after a long session working on the laptop, and saw the blustery winds still blowing, and showers scudding through, I jumped up and decided to head to Shorncliffe Pier to see if any seabirds had entered Moreton Bay by way of shelter. I dashed up the M1, and arrived at the pier about 3.30, resolving to put in half an hour of “seawatching” (baywatching perhaps?)

Straight away I had a Little Tern and I thought it was going to be a mega session with Sooty Terns and Lesser Frigatebirds. But as usual my overactive imagination was leading me astray. There were no seabirds in the Bay. Sulking, I retreated home. I’m planning to give Archerfield another shot in the morning.

But then I got to speak at the opening of Deb Mostert’s exhibition Australien Future at Redland Art Gallery this evening. A fine collection of work highlighting the parallels between migrations of people and shorebirds. Well worth a visit if you are in Cleveland sometime between now and 20th January 2019.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained stuck on 303 species. I spent 35 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 64.0 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Dec 3: Button’s undone

 

Leigh Wilson had an absolutely cracking male Red-chested Buttonquail yesterday in the car park at Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens! The bird was nonchalantly wandering along in the open by a flower bed outside the administration building!!! She had had the bird at 0700, and I simply couldn’t resist trying for it early this morning, even though my brain told me there were next to no chance.

I arrived in the car park at 0445 and immediately zeroed in on the spot where the bird had been seen, marvelling at how open and how close to areas of human activity the bird had been seen. I wandered around for a while, but I’ll be honest my heart wasn’t in it and I knew I was going to dip. Presently Louis Backstrom turned up, and we both desultorily finished checking the area not long after 0600, when I headed home.

Later in the afternoon, news broke that a Black Bittern has been seen again this morning at Sandy Camp Rd Wetlands – this is course a nemesis bird, having eluded me on 14 occasions so far this year! Will I try at dawn. At this point, I really don’t know…

With no year ticks today, my year list surged remained on 303 species. I spent 1 hours 32 minutes birding, walked 1.06 km and drove 39.6 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Nov 11: Chicken skin and sea fowl

 

Today was the penultimate Sunshine Coast pelagic of the year, and we were to try out a new berley mix with chicken skin and extra added fish oil. The purpose of the chicken skin is to get the berley to float, keeping the sight and smell of the potential food as noticeable as possible to any passing sea fowl.

Leaving the house at 0420, I collected Louis Backstrom and Andy Jensen en route, and eventually arrived in Mooloolaba at 0615 or so. We joined the huddled crowd of birders on the jetty, rejoicing in the south-easterly wind ruffling our hair. There had been a southerly blow a couple of days ago, then the wind turned easterly for a day, and now was in the south-east quarter, great conditions for a pelagic. A few showers were scudding through, which made us all very optimistic.

We set sail bang on time, but it rapidly became clear that there were relatively few birds about as we steamed at full speed east towards the Brisbane border and the continental shelf. After what seemed like an age, and about 3km before we reached the Brisbane border, a fine squadron of four Pomarine Jaegers put on a show to the south of the boat, including landing on the water at close range allowing us some great looks. After admiring them for a while, we steamed for the border, and after another 20 minutes or so the skipper finally cut the engine. We were above 600 metres of water, right on the steeply dropping off continental shelf.

Commencing with the berley, we could tell it was going to work a treat. Our slick spread out, and the chicken skins soaked with fish oil and rotten fish bits floated nicely on the surface. A few Providence Petrels and shearwaters (both Wedge-tailed and Short-tailed) came for a look, although nothing seemed super hungry. Presently a cracking Sooty Tern darted by, and with its smart looks and purposeful flight, arrived onto my year list in style. A petrel appeared distantly, and it remained close enough for long enough for me to see it had a white belly and dark head – a Tahiti Petrel – year tick number two!! A few Wilson’s Storm-petrels appeared, and whilst birds were in view most of the time during the drift, no additional species were going to show up for the next couple of hours.

Around 12.30 we decided to call a halt to the drift, and moved back towards land looking for a trawler that was on the radar. We crossed back into Sunshine Coast waters before reaching the trawler, although it did have a Brown Booby on it, which was nice. We drifted for 30 minutes near the trawler, and just as we were about to leave had a cracking Flesh-footed Shearwater – a bittersweet moment since it would have been a Brisbane year tick yet we weren’t in Brisbane waters.

As we started steaming for port, I was feeling sleepy and eventually slumber took over. I woke up with a start back at the seaway!  We arrived back on land a little disappointed with the trip, although I’d had a clear technical success, with two year ticks.

With the two year ticks today (Tahiti Petrel and Sooty Tern), my year list surged to 303 species. I spent 3 hours 58 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 232.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

Sooty Tern in the Coral Sea off Cape Moreton

Tahiti Petrel, a speciality of the western Pacific, and a summer visitor to Brisbane waters.

 
Nov 4: Murder most fowl

 

I was keen to try Archerfield airport again, since it has been quite a while since anyone went there. It’s got huge potential (see my discussion from September 16th), being one of the largest open grassy expanses in Brisbane that is accessible to the birding public. I arrived at the corner of Boundary Rd and Ashover Rd and scoped around the airfield, noting a big count of 123 Australian Magpies, and a flyover Magpie Goose (eBird list here). Suddenly I heard a burst of the unmistakable twangy song of a Brown Songlark due east of where I was standing – somewhere out on the airfield. It sang just once, and I desperately searched to try see it. But try as I might, I just couldn’t find it – indeed, they can be quite hard to find if they are singing from high up in the air. I was certain of the identity of the bird, but very disappointed not to have any photographic or audio evidence. Brown Songlark is a decidedly rare species in Brisbane, with just a handful of records each year, although there are currently birds present at Oxley Creek Common and Priors Pocket, and it has been an unusually good year for them in coastal south-east Queensland. I waited awhile, not finding any other uncommon birds while scanning the airfield, and eventually decided to move on.

I drove around to the corner of Balham Rd and Barton St, and almost the first bird I saw when scanning the airfield was a magnificent Brown Songlark!! It was too distant for pics with the proper camera, but I got some smudgy phone-scoped pictures and was mighty relieved – a first for Archerfield (at least as far as we know). Eventually it flew up and gave a few bursts of song in the air, and obligingly landed on a fence, and I took the chance to get some more pics. It was very distant, but phone-scoping at least gave me some useable shots to document the record (eBird list here)

Lastly, I moved down to Rockwell Drive (eBird list here; Archerfield airfield can be reasonably well covered from the three spots I visited today). It was interesting to see 8 Pacific Golden-Plovers on the southern runway, and I minutely grilled them just in case something else was in there, but to no avail. A Starling was carrying food to a nest cavity in a building, and it was nice to get a breeding record for this species.

I wasn’t going to stay out much longer, but wanted to try Norma Croker Park before heading home (eBird list here). I parked on Beatty Rd where it crosses Oxley Creek, and immediately noticed a Laughing Kookaburra attacking something. I couldn’t see what it was pecking at, but I assumed it was a skink or something. I set up, got my camera out, and then realised it was still stabbing and hacking away at its victim a couple of minutes later. Suddenly I realised that it was attacking another Kookaburra, and that the victim was not looking very well at all. The attacker was violently stabbing at the victim’s neck, holding it down with flexed wings, and clearly trying to kill it. Eventually the victim succumbed and after it was dead, the assailant flew up into a nearby tree next to another Kookaburra and began singing. Despite being a biologist, I must confess to being a bit horrified by witnessing this cold-blooded murder. But then, it all appeared in perspective when I turned to walk across the bridge over the creek, and noticed a dead Torresian Crow in the middle of the road, with another crow desolately wondering what had happened to its mate. I knew which death was the more senseless of the two. A series of pictures is below, with apologies to the squeamish.

Nothing mega in Norma Croker Park, although plenty of Black-faced Dotterel and a nice flyover Black Kite.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 301 species. I spent 2 hours 41 minutes birding, walked 1.209 km and drove 43.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

Brown Songlark this morning at Archerfield Airport, viewed from the corner of Balham Rd and Barton St. The bird was showing well, albeit distantly, and song-flighting on and off.

The assailant spent much of the time with its bill clamped around the victim’s neck.

 

 

 

The victim is pretty weak by this point.

The assailant held the victim down with flexed wings.

I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that bill.

Sequence of shots showing a Kookaburra killing another Kookaburra. Disturbing, but fascinating. Presumably this was some kind of territorial dispute.

Another, much less natural avian death just 50 metres from the kookaburra brawl. Always sad to see a “grieving” bird puzzling over what just happened.

 
Oct 28: I leave Brisbane for a day, and look what happens…

 

I flew back from Hobart to Brisbane via Melbourne, and my plane touched down about 1.30pm. My wife and kids had come to meet me at the airport, and had brought birding stuff, so I could do a kind of reverse superman and change into my tatty old birding clothes and don binoculars and a telescope. After some debate, we decided I’d drop the family at DFO for shopping, and I’d take the car and drive to Tinchi Tamba. There had been no definite sighting of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper this morning, although Louis Backstrom had a brief look at a bird he thought was probably it.

I wasn’t enormously hopeful, but as I pulled into the car park and bumped into Michael Daley, I thought at least it’ll be fun looking. We slopped through mud out to the plain, and two things were immediately apparent. There were hundreds of shorebirds, and it was extremely windy. We set about sorting through the birds, but they were fairly mobile, and large numbers spent most of their time hunkered down and tricky to view. We met up with John Hoekstra, David Stewart, Deb Metters, Peter Hayes and a few other folks. There was a really nice flock of 160+ Black-tailed Godwits, about 25 Red Knots, 20 Marsh Sandpipers and a bunch of other shorebirds, but no-one had a sniff of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. I had to leave about 4.30 to go back and pick the others up from DFO.

And that’s what happens when I leave Brisbane for a day!

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 301 species. I spent 2 hours 7 minutes birding in Brisbane, walked 3.682 km and drove 0 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Oct 27: The pain

 

The inimitable Ged Tranter struck gold once again today, finding Brisbane’s first Buff-breasted Sandpiper!!!!! Ged regularly covers Tinchi Tamba, and given the time of year, his thoughts had turned to shorebirds and he was purposely looking for something good. Ged sets a great example of a birder who is always thinking, always pushing to find quality birds, and always sharing information immediately. He texted me straight away in the mid afternoon, which would have left me plenty of time to twitch the bird, as four other folks did … if I had not been in Tasmania at the time! All I could do was watch helplessly from the sidelines, and fervently hope that the bird is still there tomorrow. I arrive back into Brisbane at 1.30, and if the bird is around I’ll be able to rush straight to Tinchi from the airport.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 301 species. I spent 0 minutes birding in Brisbane, walked 0 km and drove 0 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Oct 23: Another day, another year tick!

 

Yesterday afternoon, literally five minutes after he’d first found the bird, the brilliant Angus Daly posted on Facebook that he’d seen a Satin Flycatcher at Raven Street Reserve, which is an isolated fragment of eucalypt woodland in the northern suburbs of Brisbane. Although I saw the news almost straight away, I wouldn’t have time to dash there that afternoon, and instead made plans to go early this morning. I didn’t have much time, and I really needed to back home by 7am at the latest. Consequently I set the alarm for 0345 for the second time in three days…

Waking up eager to go, I was in the car by 0400, and arrived on site at Raven Street Reserve at about 0440 just at first light. Dawn chorus was in full swing, and I headed into the woodland for the short walk to the spot where Angus had the bird yesterday (eBird list here). I could only hear and see common birds, although presently a cracking Black-faced Monarch appeared – this is also a spring migrant in lowland Brisbane, albeit a substantially commoner one than Satin Flycatcher. The flycatcher is an exceptionally and somewhat inexplicably rare spring migrant in Brisbane. The timing of the passage is rather broad, with records occurring all the way from September to April. October is the best month, and I had been hoping one might turn up before the month’s end. Sue Lee and Catherine Hirsch photographed one at Bellbird Grove on 27 Feb, and that had remained the only Brisbane record this year until yesterday.

Suddenly I heard the Satin Flycatcher calling, and it appeared almost as if by magic at close quarters. I was flabbergasted – what a total cracker! Striking glossy black and crisp white plumage, a concave-shaped and blotchy border between the black breast and white belly, and a very dark undertail combined to make the bird’s identity instantly clear. Leaden Flycatcher is a confusion species, and some Satins can resemble Leadens quite closely. But this one was strikingly obvious, and I was very happy! It performed on and off for about 20 minutes or so, disappearing for several minutes at a time before briefly reappearing and showing reasonably well, if generally high up in the trees and in low light conditions.

I took the chance to leave early and try to beat the rush hour home, which was just as well, as the traffic was already building up on the roads towards to the CBD even before 0600! Louis Backstrom was en route as I left, and got onto the bird at about 0630.

With one year tick today, and with my year list only sticking on 300 for two days, I incremented to 301 species. I spent 50 minutes birding, walked 0.952 km and drove 52.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

Satin Flycatcher – note the blotchy, concave edge to the breast band, strikingly black head and bib, and very dark undertail.

Here’s a lightened shot of the undertail – Leaden normally shows substantial paleness on the undertail, especially pale feather shafts. This tail appears completely dark.

 
Oct 21: We’ll all have some figgy pudding

 

Spring is in full swing here in Brisbane, with temperatures rising, the sun hotting up and storms scudding through most days. One feature of this time of year is the fruiting of many of the fig tree species favoured by frugivorous birds. Australasian Figbirds have been extremely active over the past few weeks cashing in on the bumper crops, and as I was mulling last night where to go birding this morning, I settled on Gold Creek Reservoir as it is a reliable spot for fruiting fig trees around the dam, car park, and entrance road. The quarry I had in mind was Barred Cuckooshrike, an enigmatically rare summer visitor to Brisbane, and the Gold Creek Reservoir is the locus of what few Brisbane records there are. Barred Cuckooshrikes typically occur between November and April in Brisbane, and having missed the species earlier in the year during a run of records in February and March (and in fact having never seen one in Brisbane), I was keen to try now that the right time of year was ticking around again.

I got up at an over-enthusiastic 0345 and jumped into the car. By the time I got myself mobilised and drove to Gold Creek, it was pretty much dawn, although the heavy cloud ensured it was dingy for a while (eBird list here). A White-eared Monarch was calling along the creek near the car park, which was nice. I had two possible year ticks in mind in addition to the cuckooshrike – Black Bittern and Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo. I tried for the bittern by searching up and down the creek at the base of the dam, focusing on the area near the bottom of the spillway. But just as in previous trips, there was no sign of Black Bittern. As the dawn light brightened, I headed up onto the dam wall to look and listen for Barred Cuckooshrike. eventually I heard something that sounded like one calling! But I had just seen four Spangled Drongos fly into the spot where the call came from, and wanted to make sure I wasn’t hearing mimicry. After a few minutes’ tracking down the mystery songster I was gutted to find it was indeed a drongo, making a call really rather similar to Barred Cuckooshrike. Rats!

I wandered back to the car park, and then along the entrance road as far as the third creek crossing. A fruiting silky oak sported a number of Australasian Figbirds, and something else a bit smaller. My pulse quickened, as I realised it was a female Regent Bowerbird! In the next few minutes, it became clear there were seven different Regent Bowerbirds visiting the tree, including a magnificent male! I was quite surprised to see this many Regent Bowerbirds here at this time of year (I usually think of them as a rare winter visitor to Gold Creek), and it boosted my hopes that a Barred Cuckooshrike might be around. A few minutes later, as I was checking through the Figbirds in the heavily fruiting fig by the third creek crossing I suddenly saw it! A cracking Barred Cuckooshrike sitting right out in the open!!!!!! What a way to reach 300 for the year!!!!!! I rattled off a few pictures, and the bird called a few time, but then began to move around and after about 15 minutes it had melted away. The bird was at -27.4642° S / 152.8864° E.

I was deeply satisfied to find my 300th species for the quest – at the start of the year I simply hadn’t imagined it was possible. 300 species in one city in one year, brilliant. I texted a few other birders, and Ged Tranter arrived after half an hour or so, while I was birding further down the road (I had a couple of Emerald Doves, which I think are easier along the approach road than at the Reservoir itself). I showed him which tree the bird had been in, but there was no sign of the bird, and eventually I left to focus on looking for Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo. The eagle-eyed Ged later re-located the bird a few hundred metres down Gold Creek Rd; in a neat symmetry this was his 300th life bird in Brisbane.

I headed to Adavale Street Dam, parking at the intersection between Savages Rd and Adavale St, where I had a cracking pair of Grey Goshawks low over, and circling a few times calling, all the while being mobbed by Blue-faced Honeyeaters. Perhaps they are breeding somewhere nearby. I tried a few more spots along Bundaleer St and Savages Rd (1,2), but no sign of any Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos – although I had another Grey Goshawk. As the day was now really beginning to heat up, I finished and headed home, very happy with the day’s proceedings.

With one year tick today, I finally reached the magic target of 300 species. I spent 4 hours 19 minutes birding, walked 4.194 km and drove 73.6 km. My chronological year list is here.

A very smart adult Barred Cuckooshrike – my 300th species in Brisbane this year.

 
Oct 12: The eternal optimism of the seawatcher

 

The weather forecast for Friday was for strong southeasterly winds, gusting to 35 knots, accompanied by showers. The temptation was too much to bear, and as Louis Backstrom and I waited at the Holt Street Jetty at Pinkenba this morning we were hoping for great things as the breeze whipped up the surface of the Brisbane River. As the boat got onto the river, it was clear a decent wind was blowing, and once we were on the Bay the ride was pretty bumpy, which combined with the fast speed of the boat, made the birding really tricky. Consequently we didn’t see much at all of interest on the way over.

Arriving at Tangalooma, we headed toward to the tour desk to pick up the rental car, amazed by the extreme tameness of the Bush Stone-curlews at the resort – just loafing about waiting for handouts from tourists! This time we had been allocated a seven-seater Landcruiser, and we were relieved we didn’t get the older and weaker vehicle we had last time, when we managed to spectacularly blow up the radiator! In fact (spoiler alert), we were to get around the island today without any vehicular mishaps.

The tide was already high on the ocean beach, and we had to move fast to get up the western beach before it too was covered (high tide on the western beach is 1.5 hours after the ocean beach side). We drove north along the beach, checking the Tangalooma wreck in vain for Sooty Oystercatcher, skirting Cowan Cowan and then, after scoring a nice Australian Hobby perched in a beachside tree (only the fourth eBird record for Moreton Island), turned onto the track from Bulwer that winds through the beautiful heathland that dominates the north of the island. We didn’t have much time, as we needed to get across the sand bar at North Point before the tide covered it, but we managed to stop for 10 minutes in heath habitat to try and get Louis a year tick. And we succeeded in seconds as a couple of cracking White-cheeked Honeyeaters appeared. Moving quickly on, we arrived at North Point; the first waves had begun breaching the sand bar, but we made it safely across and turned onto the track to Cape Moreton. A couple of minutes later we arrived at the lighthouse car park, loaded up our backpacks and marched up the track toward the cliffs. We scrambled a little way down the rocks and found the vantage point we had used on 8th June, which seems to be well suited to seawatching at the Cape.

Immediately on setting up my telescope I got onto a Short-tailed Shearwater, which at the time I thought was a year tick, but later realised I had seen on 3rd Feb! Following the shearwater, I noticed a couple of storm petrels flitting about. Almost as soon as I’d seen them I lost them – I’d noticed a flash of white, but wasn’t sure if it was rump or belly. After a minute or so, they re-appeared and we could see they were all dark below and white-rumped, a pair of Wilson’s Storm-petrels, still a great bird to see from land, and the first land-based eBird record of this species in Brisbane. This early success filled me with hope. But as is so often the case with seawatching, that hope gradually began to dissipate over the next hour. It wasn’t that we weren’t seeing birds. There was a nice steady stream of Short-tailed Shearwaters. It was that the diversity was very low, with Short-tails vastly outnumbering anything else. We got onto a distant seabird which might have been a cookillaria, but it didn’t really show well enough to get anything meaningful on it, and we left it as completely unidentified.

The wind was raging straight onshore at 30-35 knots, but although it was cloudy, the forecast rain hadn’t materialised. At length, around 1pm, a few showers fell, but it wasn’t really squally enough to do much to the seabird passage. A continuous trickle of Short-tailed Shearwaters had been passing all morning, with 10 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters mixed in. The monotony was interrupted when a Common Noddy flew north fairly close in. A year tick at last!! About 2.30pm, the passage picked up considerably though, and all told we had about 500 Short-tailed Shearwaters, almost all of which flew south. A decent passage, and the biggest count in eBird so far from the Brisbane LGA. During the main passage of Short-tailed Shearwaters, Louis picked up a smaller, pale-bellied shearwater, which turned out to be a Hutton’s, with smudgy axillaries and no “saddlebags”. About 3.30 the rain became very heavy and we needed to get going.

We drove south along the ocean beach, and reached the resort via Middle Road only a couple of minutes after 5pm, when the car was due back. Scoping from the jetty we were lucky enough to pick out a distant Beach Stone-curlew to round off the day. Despite the fact I’d only got a single year tick, and we hadn’t really seen any spectacular seabirds, I had really enjoyed the day. It was especially nice really getting to know Short-tailed Shearwater, and watching the variation in their flight styles in different wind conditions, as well as how different their underparts and underwings can look as the light changes. And there was enough passage of birds to keep up the hope that something mega might fly past. The eternal optimism of the seawatcher.

With one year tick today, my year list edged up to a tantalising 299 species. I spent 6 hours 49 minutes birding, walked 0.53 km and drove 50.4 km, plus c. 75 km on Moreton Island. My chronological year list is here.

Bush Stone-curlew at Tangalooma Resort, where this species is abundant and very tame.

 
Rain falling, but the drought isn’t over

 

I’m not getting a huge amount of birding time at the moment, only really getting out each Sunday. Having spent the last couple of weeks looking for Black-breasted Button-quail, I decided to wander round Shelley Road Park today, for another attempt to look for migrants. Rain had been falling over the past few days, and I thought it might be worth heading out west to check for stray inland birds. The brilliant Dali Lin has just commenced his PhD at UQ, and so I invited him along, ducking around to his temporary digs in West End at 0430 to pick him up. Dali works at the brilliantly-entitled Endemic Species Research Institute in Taiwan, and will be spending much of the next few years at UQ working on strategies for making Asian agriculture more bird-friendly. I was transported to Asia as we chatted about Taiwan’s endemic birds and the big success of eBird Taiwan.

We stopped roadside at Lake Manchester Rd, and also at the corner of Kholo Rd and Lake Manchester Rd, where a Jacky Winter was singing. Eventually we arrived at Shelley Road Park just after 0530, and completed an anticlockwise circuit in just under three hours. Unfortunately nothing spectacular was about, although a singing Bush-hen at the oxbow lake was a nice bonus. I’m not sure what’s going to break the year-tick drought! Maybe I’ll have to wait until the Sunshine Coast pelagic in November before moving the list on again!

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 298 species. I spent 3 hours 14 minutes birding, walked 2.639 km and drove 83.8 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Sep 25: Washout

 

I ducked out this morning for some birding, electing to look for migrants along the NW border of the LGA instead of trying again for rare residents, which would still be around later in the spring and into summer. But I seriously miscalculated on the weather front! The radar looked OK, but when I got to Bald Hills, it was raining cats and dogs, and it looked set in. I sheltered in the car for a while but then decided to brave it, without the luxury of a raincoat or umbrella, and (wisely in retrospect) deciding to leave the camera behind. Soaked, I checked the gravel pits along Linkfield Rd, first from the Moreton Bay Regional Council side, and then from the Brisbane side. The latter yielded a Baillon’s Crake and a Latham’s Snipe, but nothing rarer than that.

Retreating to car in the still incessant rain, I drove around the corner and checked the Bald Hills Raptor Watchpoint from the car. Again nothing special, but another 8 species for this hotspot, and it feels like a place where a decent rarity could turn up one day. After a quick check at a piece of urban bushland around the corner, I headed into Pinaroo cemetery, and birded around the lake in the NE corner. Now this is a spot that looks really promising, with papyrus covering one end, and some nice undisturbed bush at the other, sporting Eastern Whipbird, Eastern Yellow Robin, White-throated Honeyeater, Golden Whistler etc – species characteristic of higher quality habitat. A cracking male White-winged Triller was flying about, which was a nice bonus.

Louis Backstrom joined me, and we birded the lake for a bit before calling it quits and heading to Kedron Brook Wetlands Reserve (eBird list). Louis needed Black Falcon for the year, and one had been seen recently here. We scanned for raptors for three quarters of an hour, but no Black Falcons could be seen. After Louis left, I wandered around to the eastern shore of the main pool, and checked the sharpie flock carefully. I couldn’t pick out any Pectoral Sandpipers, but had a cracking Curlew Sandpiper to round off the morning.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 298 species. I spent 3 hours 54 minutes birding, walked 2.639 km and drove 83.8 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Sep 23: Low platelet count. Diagnosis: dip

 

I spent the full morning at Mill Road, Pullenvale, one of the few locations in Brisbane where Black-breasted Button-quail has been regularly seen. This is one of the few remaining “resident” species in Brisbane that I still need for the year list. Yet in some ways I might as well be searching for bigfoot. Black-breasted Button-quail is a rare resident of eastern Queensland and northern New South Wales. It inhabits semi-evergreen vine thicket and littoral scrub, both habitats that have undergone substantial loss and degradation. The species is vanishingly rare in Brisbane, but sightings have continued over the years, so one has to assume they are extant and resident in the LGA. Gold Creek Reservoir has the most records, and there is photographic evidence by Benjamin Harms), but regulars there believe the birds to have either disappeared or moved to an unbirded section. There have been no eBird records in Brisbane since May 2016. Mat Gilfedder had one at Moggill Conservation Park in 2005, and I understand that one of the possible locations for birds is the dry rainforest near the end of Mill Rd, Pullenvale.

I left the house at 0400, stopped randomly to listen for owls on the way, and then parked by the tracks where Pullen Creek crosses Mill Rd. I explored the dry rainforest on either side of the road, disturbing a Southern Boobook from its roost, and noting a Black-faced Monarch and a flock of Topknot Pigeons but nothing else spectacular. The habitat in the area looks very good, with dense forest but an open forest floor with deep leaf litter. I covered 4 km in just under 5 hours, but there was simply no sign of any buttonquails. All the skulking birds rustling in the leaf litter ended up being Eastern Whipbirds or Russet-tailed Thrush. I did find what might possibly have been some very old platelets, but definitely nothing fresh. I’m unsure whether to persist trying for this species, but with the breeding season for it pretty much upon us (October – December), I thought the next few weeks might be a good time. Perhaps if I don’t find one in September, I’ll try again in early December – adults with young might be a bigger and noisier target.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 298 species. I spent 5 hours 16 minutes birding, walked 4.239 km and drove 73.8 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Sep 16: Archerfield Airport

 

With Australian Pratincoles turning up not far to the west of Brisbane in the last 24 hours, I decided to finally check out Archerfield Airport, after months of putting it off. A study comprising 36 monthly surveys between 1995 and 1998 by Peter Woodall revealed Banded Lapwings in reasonable numbers between 1996 and 1998, together with vagrant Australian Pratincoles and Little Curlews. An astounding run of records resulting from a dedicated search of the area from the perimeter fence. There have been very few records of any of these three species anywhere in Brisbane LGA since, and today I went to look. I made a mental note to try to make a habit of regularly spending a morning at the airfield. I can send a PDF of Woodall’s study to anyone interested – email me.

Access is reasonably easy, and one can survey pretty much the entire 200 hectare airfield from various points on the perimeter fence, especially anywhere along Barton St, Balham Rd, Ashover Rd (the corner of Ashover Rd and Boundary Rd is a particularly good vantage point), on foot from Beatty Rd toward the east end of the main runway (no roadside parking allowed here), and–importantly to cover the south end of the airfield–from the perimeter fence on Rockwall Dr. All these spots seemed to be OK from a security perspective – I didn’t feel uncomfortable and wasn’t approached by anyone wondering what I was doing, even though at Rockwall Dr I was in sight of the control tower. A telescope is essential as many birds are distant.

Sadly I didn’t find any rare birds (eBird lists 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I spent about 2.5 hours looking, and enjoyed a flyover flock of Topknot Pigeons, a Black Kite, two White-bellied Sea-eagles, a Black-shouldered Kite and a small flock of Starlings. Of especial note was the huge number of Australian Magpies on the field – 118 was my highest count from one spot, and I reckon up to 140 birds were probably present across the whole site. I wouldn’t have expected so many in September, when breeding has well and truly commenced in the suburbs, and I would have thought most birds would be dispersed on breeding grounds. Indeed, the highest count in Woodall’s surveys was 106, and numbers were mostly well below 80, although they varied markedly between months. A quick look at the nearby Archerfield Wetlands didn’t produce anything spectacular – it looks like a great spot, but much of the wetland itself seems to be inaccessible on foot.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 298 species. I spent 2 hours 2 minutes birding, walked 1.294 km and drove 54.0 km. My chronological year list is here.

Breeding records of Australian Magpie in Brisbane. The y axis shows the percentage of eBird records of Australian Magpie in which breeding was noted. Although the data are still rather sparse, the main time for breeding in Brisbane is clearly during spring. This is an example of the kind of data that will be become available through the forthcoming Atlas of the Birds of Brisbane project. More details soon.

 
Sep 9: Woodswallows a go-go

 

Up at an enthusiastic 0400, I jumped in the car and set off for Shelley Road Park. I arrived at the corner of Kholo Rd and Lake Manchester Rd at dawn, and decided to spend a while there listening for King Quail since it was foggy and cool, and woodswallows wouldn’t be moving for quite some time yet (eBird list here). Sure enough, at least two birds were vocal, periodically giving the four-note call. They were fairly close to the road edge, but remained hidden in the rank grass. A calling Eastern Yellow Robin was the 100th species for this eBird hotspot. Just a corner of two roads – 100 species in 50 checklists!!

After half an hour, I drove round to Shelley Road Park in the thick fog, and set out across the main paddock prepared for a serious birding session (eBird list here). The weather forecast was for wall to wall sunshine, and I knew it wouldn’t be too long before the fog burnt off. As I got down to the bank of the Brisbane River, the sky cleared and it was a gloriously beautiful scene. Plenty of birds around, and evidence of migration in abundance, with many soaring birds overhead and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters streaming south in groups of 10-20. Presently, I picked up two large black and white birds that I assumed were pelicans, but followed them a while just to make sure. Then I suddenly noticed in my binoculars a really distant flock of woodswallows, about 100 birds! They were too far away to identify in bins, and I frantically set up my telescope. I began sorting through them, and had only identified White-browed by the time the flock had drifted out of view. I was excited, but also frustrated that I hadn’t had time to sort through the whole flock. White-broweds often move with Masked Woodswallows, and I couldn’t help thinking I’d missed a golden opportunity.

I hastily texted Louis Backstrom, who was also on site, in the main paddock. He came racing over, but the birds were long gone by the time he joined me. We walked south along the river bank and looped around via the edge of the farm back under the pylons. There were plenty of birds around, and we clocked up a decent list of species, but simply couldn’t locate any more woodswallows. Arriving back at the main paddock we had a flyover Peregrine, but by this time were a little down in the dumps.

Walking back across the main paddock towards the cars, I looked up at a soaring bird that turned out to be a pelican, and in a re-run of earlier events I suddenly noticed a flock of woodswallows very high overhead, this time even bigger numbers – about 250 birds in total. This is pretty big flock by Brisbane standards, although chicken feed compared to the 2,000 birds over Moggill on 26th August 1972! The vast majority of the birds were White-browed, but a few had pale underparts and were surely Masked Woodswallows. Yet in an almost identical fashion to the previous flock, they had disappeared by the time I got my scope up and started to scan them more closely. Louis had to leave at this point, but I stayed on, and after a while eventually relocated what was probably the edge of this big flock. Joyfully, I managed to pick out a couple of Masked Woodswallows. I left more exhausted than elated, after five hours of trudging about scanning the skies for a few brief looks at extremely distant woodswallows.

With two year ticks today (White-browed Woodswallow and Masked Woodswallow), my year list rose to 298 species. I spent 6 hours 36 minutes birding, walked 8.301 km and drove 113.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Sep 8: Galling

 

I couldn’t get out birding at all today, and Ged dropped a bombshell mid-morning with a series of text messages – he’d found a flock of 35 White-browed Woodswallows at Shelley Road Park, complete with a Masked Woodswallow! TWO year ticks for me, and especially galling since Louis and I spent the afternoon in that area yesterday, precisely with woodswallows in mind. That’s the way the cookie crumbles in this brutal sport of competitive year-listing. Hoping to spend some time over there early tomorrow morning.

I kept an eye on the sky most of the day just in case, and resolved to carry binoculars around with me for the next week or two to be prepared for the event that a woodswallow flock goes over.  A brief skywatch from home produced a Black Kite, flying high south, looking like it was migrating.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 296 species. I spent 12 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 0 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Sep 7: The Day of the Jacky

 

After an early morning work session and taking my son to the playground and story time at the library, I drove into town, and met Louis Backstrom at Roma St bus station. We headed out to Shelley Road Park, where we had decided to put in some birding over the middle of the day to look for woodswallows. There have been a few decent size mixed flocks of White-browed and Masked Woodswallows west and north of Brisbane in recent days, although none yet within the LGA. We were not to be lucky at Shelley Road Park (eBird list here), and eventually after nearly two hours we gave up.

Perusing the map, we decided to head north-west and try to see if any of the tracks leading up the western flank of Mount Glorious were accessible from Lake Manchester Road. We drove a short way up Sheppards Road until we had just re-entered Brisbane LGA from Somerset LGA, although further progress was thwarted by a private sign. We stopped and did a 10-min stationary eBird list since we were in a part of Brisbane scarcely birded before. We then tried the next track to the west, which appeared to be public. About 100m in we reached a small dam, and parked up, to do another short stationary eBird list. A few minutes in, a small slim passerine hopped up onto a wire – a magnificent Jacky Winter! Buoyed by this success, we drove a little further up the track until we reached a gate with a private sign. We stopped before the gate to conduct one last eBird list, concluding that much of this area is unfortunately covered with private land, and to birdwatch on it we would one day need to ask landowner permission. Amazingly, we heard another two Jacky Winters singing – clearly this was the time and place for them!

A farmer came along and politely let us know the track was in fact private, so we retreated back to the main road. We did another stationary eBird list at the Cabbage Tree Creek / Lake Manchester Road crossing, but apart from a vociferous New Holland Honeyeater, there wasn’t much of interest. Next we tried the corner of Kholo Rd and Lake Manchester Rd, where we listened for King Quail (without success), but then watched one of the long-staying Jacky Winters singing its heart out – truly one of the most beautiful songs of any Australian bird. I managed a recording, which is the first sound record of this species captured in Brisbane. We stopped a little further south, where Creek crosses Kholo Road, and Louis found a magnificent platypus, which was swimming around on the west side of the road in full view for several minutes – brilliant! The first one of these I’ve seen within Brisbane LGA, and a brilliant sighting. I’ve put the record on iNAturalist, where I am gradually entering all of my non-bird records.

On the way back to the city, we stopped along Stumers Road where a Shining Bronze-cuckoo was furtively following a Brown Thornbill around, perhaps ready to lay an egg.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 296 species. I spent 3 hours 2 minutes birding, walked 2.8 km and drove 111.5 km. My chronological year list is here.

Jacky Winter at Sheppards Break this afternoon, one of four birds that we saw today, only one of which was previously known about. Three of the birds were singing, so a good time to go and hear this species in action!

 

Platypus!

 

 
Aug 29: Fun in Canada

 

The conference in Canada was great fun, and I got the chance for a bit of birding, accumulating 114 species, and 7 lifers in the end. Without wishing to distract too much from my story of Brisbane birding, here are some pics.

White-tailed Ptarmigan. After a three hour hike to the summit of Flatiron Mountain, I flogged around all afternoon but couldn’t find any ptarmigan. Instead of sensibly going back down and sleeping in the car overnight, I just lay on the tundra and slept overnight on the mountain. I woke up shivering a few times, but was rewarded in the morning when a covey of six birds gave brilliant views!

Sooty Grouse – roadside birds in the early morning along Blackwall Road in E C Manning Provincial Park.

Spruce Grouse – another boreal forest speciality, this female gave great views on the loop trail at Strawberry Flats, E C Manning Provincial Park.

 

Poor picture, but PINE GROSBEAK! I’ve tried so many times for this bird in Europe and Asia – so pleased to finally connect, with three birds in E C Manning Provincial Park.

Northern Pygmy-owl. Split from the European Pygmy-owl a few years ago, I’d dipped on this species several times in SW USA, so very pleased to catch up with it along the Yew Lake trail at Cypress Mountain, just outside Vancouver.

 
Aug 17: A piece of crake

 

I’m heading off to Vancouver tomorrow to attend the International Ornithological Congress. Two thousand birdwatchers gathered for a week to talk about birds. Not everyone’s idea of fun, but I’m really looking forward to it. And I’ll get in a bit of birding here and there, mainly targeting grouse species.

Today I took the day off work, since I’ll be away from family for 10 days. After dropping our daughter at school, I couldn’t resist a quick shot at Baillon’s Crake. I drove the short distance to Sandy Camp Road Wetlands and wandered around for a bit (eBird list here). Simply no sign of the crake in any of the usual spots I see them there. It was a sunny day, and by 10.30 it was getting really warm, and not feeling at all likely for a crake. Yet in stark contrast to Europe, where they are really skulking, Baillon’s can be very showy on their spring passage through Brisbane, so after chatting with a birder who was visiting from Canberra, I decided to give the eastern end of the main lagoon one last shot before leaving. Unbelievably there was a Baillon’s Crake right out in the open, parading around on the lilypads like some sort of diminutive jacana!

Brilliant. This was the last of the regularly occurring species that I needed to see for my Big Year, and I could leave for Vancouver knowing that I’d caught up with everything available before my trip. 10 days out of Brisbane is risky, but I’ll just have to wear the consequences. Back 28th August.

With one year tick today (Baillon’s Crake), my year list rose to 296 species. I spent 1 hours 12 minutes birding, walked 1.793 km and drove 29.5 km. My chronological year list is here.

Baillon’s Crake at Sandy Camp Road Wetland today.

 
Aug 15: Chasing spring migrants

 

The last few days had seen the first of the arrivals of Baillon’s Crakes and White-winged Trillers. These two species are pretty much exclusively spring migrants to Brisbane, most common in September and October, but with a few vanguards usually showing up in August. This year spring seems to have started early, and both species have been recorded at Oxley Creek Common in the past few days. I had been playing it cool, since they are both fairly easy to see in spring, and I’m keen to spend time with my family prior to leaving for Vancouver on Saturday.

However, when Ged texted mid-morning today to let me know him and Steve Murray had seen White-winged Triller and Baillon’s Crake at Oxley Creek Common early morning, I was definitely keen to get down there. Fear of missing out has been the primary motivator that keeps me going out day after day in my Big Year effort. My wife and I decided to take the kids down and we would all wander from the car park to Jabiru Swamp, where both birds had been seen. We were encumbered with a push chair, scooter and tricycle, and made slow noisy progress, but I was just happy to have a shot at the birds without having to slink away from my family.

Presently, we saw two birders coming the other way – Ged and Steve, finishing their 5-hour marathon birding session at the common. They passed on details of exactly where they’d seen the triller and crake, and our party pressed on. Ged had mentioned the triller had been really difficult despite several people looking, so I didn’t hold out much hope, especially since it was now about midday. But eventually we arrived at Jabiru Swamp, and I began checking the big isolated gum tree. Incredibly, I located the White-winged Triller almost immediately, unobtrusively feeding in the tree. It didn’t show especially well, remaining quite high up and often obscured, but no matter – I was delighted to have this species under the belt. While not super rare, they certainly aren’t common either – perhaps best described as a scarce spring migrant. Oxley Creek Common and Sandy Camp Rd Wetlands are the most reliable sites. I then turned my efforts towards the crake, and intently scanned the floating vegetation on the northern side of Jabiru Swamp. No luck.

After about 30 minutes I needed to break the boredom, and wandered up to check the edge of Pelican Lagoon. Approaching it, I saw a biggish bird out of the corner of my eye, skulking about in the bushes. Luckily, I could see where it had perched up, and beheld a cracking Pallid Cuckoo! This appeared to be a different bird to the one earlier in the year, a rather spangly adult dark rufous morph bird. I hadn’t really been following records of this species, since I’d already seen it earlier in the year on 7th June, but checking eBird this evening, I see that Oxley has hosted what is presumably this second bird since 28th July, when Andrew Cameron found it. Poor Steve Murray still needed for his Brisbane year list, and although I’d texted them immediately on finding it, Steve had long since departed the common.

By this time, the kids had understandably gotten a bit bored of waiting around, and we walked back to the car park, happy that White-winged Triller was in the bag. Baillon’s could wait for another day, perhaps an early morning wander to Sandy Camp Rd on Friday, before heading off to Vancouver on Saturday. Even if I have to wait until September or October, I won’t be especially concerned (although the FOMO is always strong whatever rational thought says).

With one year tick today (White-winged Triller), my year list incremented to 295 species. Within five of the magic 300!!! But with only one more “easy” species remaining – Baillon’s Crake. I spent 2 hours 21 minutes birding, walked 2.9 km and drove 29.0 km. My chronological year list is here.

Female White-winged Triller feeding unobtrusively in the big gum tree by Jabiru Swamp today. This tree has hosted multiple scarcities and rarities over the years.

Adult Pallid Cuckoo. At first sight I thought this was an immature bird, but the secondaries appear to be all adult, with buff instead of white notches. This resembles a “dark rufous morph”, with extensive brown hindneck extending onto mantle, and rufous-spangled upperparts and wing coverts.

White-winged Triller – a scarce spring migrant to Brisbane.

Baillon’s Crake – also a spring migrant, but with a more prolonged passage, and with birds lingering into early summer.

 
Aug 12: Re-run at Sandy Camp

 

I only had time for a quick trip this morning, so I went to Sandy Camp to have yet another shot for Black Bittern. As with the previous 13 occasions I dipped, although it was a lovely morning. It was nice to see the Freckled Duck still there, found by Chris Sanderson on 24th June, and I heard a Lewin’s Rail in the NE lagoon. No sign of Baillon’s Crakes either (the first bird of the “spring” has already occurred, at Oxley Creek Common).

A Radjah Shelduck has been report this afternoon at St Lucia Links, so I might take a look there tomorrow from work if I get a chance.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 294 species. I spent 1 hour 47 minutes birding, walked 2.509 km and drove 31.2 km. My chronological year list is here.

The fine Freckled Duck, still present in the NE pool, feeding in the open with grey teals just after dawn.

 
Aug 9: Making hay while the sun shines

 

Much of rural Queensland, along with all of New South Wales is currently experiencing drought conditions. Concern is mounting around the nation for farming families, many of whom are currently struggling physically, mentally, or financially as a result. Oxley Creek Common is taking part in the relief effort by having some of the grassy meadows slashed and made into hay bales that will be trucked out west to help the stricken farm animals. As Steve Murray birded the common this morning, he noticed that one ornithological side effect of this activity was the attraction of several raptors to the area, gorging themselves on invertebrates and small vertebrates exposed as the slashing proceeded. Most noticeable was a group of about a dozen Black Kites, but it must have been a heart-stopping moment for Steve when he noticed what looked like two Black Falcons!!!

Once he had confirmed the identity from his pics, he texted me the news. I was at Carindale library working, and not wanting to waste a moment jumped straight into an Uber that took me home, where I transferred to my trusty battered old Mazda. It was only a 20 minute drive to the common, and I was relieved to see the tractor still working the big paddock by the grassy knoll near the red shed (eBird list). But although there were Black Kites everywhere, and a cracking Brown Falcon taking big invertebrates out of the field whenever it felt like it, the stars of the show had gone missing.

All of a sudden, at about 2.45, a commotion broke out among the Torresian Crows, and I heard a shrill raptor call. Two Black Falcons had burst onto the scene and were dashing about over the paddock, ending up circling over my head before drifting further east beyond the pylons. A Brisbane lifer! I simply couldn’t believe I’d connected. After the madcap runaround earlier in the year with various folks (mainly Ged Tranter) seeing Black Falcons at various places in eastern Brisbane and me dipping them at every opportunity, I thought the chance to see this species had gone.

I took in the features of the birds as it’s not a common species, and definitely confusable with Brown Falcon. I wanted to use the chance to make sure I would recognise one if I found one myself. Chocolate brown all over, no hint of eyedrop patterning on the face, soaring only on flat wings, a slim but powerful body, broad wings with coverts darker than flight feathers, unbarred tail. But in many ways, their flight action was the most immediately distinctive feature. Unlike the lazy and ponderous Brown Falcon, these things were energetically dashing about, diving, circling, always moving at high speed, and always seemingly scaring the life out of other birds there. A flock of Torresian Crows continuously harassed the Black Falcons, and the Noisy Miners went crazy when they were near. A brilliant spectacle that is etched onto my retina forever.

At 3pm, the birds flew higher and disappeared off to the west, directly into the sun. They hadn’t returned by 3.25pm when I had to leave, and I felt sorry for Brad Woodworth, who had turned up to look for them just after 3pm. I later heard that the birds returned after 3.30, and showed for Brad and Esther Horton-Van Der Woude, so all’s well that ends well.

With one year tick today (Black Falcon), my year list moved up to 294 species. I spent 48 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 29.0 km. My chronological year list is here.

Black Falcon, showing slim body profile, relatively small head, broad wings tapering to narrow points, with coverts darker than remiges, unbarred tail, unmarked face, and feet falling well short of the tips of the undertail coverts.

 
Aug 5: Northerlies – ugh!

 

Today was my third Sunshine Coast pelagic of the year, but since the weather forecast was for light northerly winds, I didn’t have my usual sense of excitement as I drove up the Bruce Highway to Mooloolaba before dawn. Arriving at the jetty at 0630, the group of folks was assembling, and it was nice chatting with folks. Presently, we climbed aboard and motored through the seaway and past Beacon Point. It quickly became apparent that there were very few birds around. I started a new eBird checklist every 5km on the journey out to the shelf, and most of the lists were completely blank. No birds in a 5 km transect of the Coral Sea!

We eventually had a lone Wedge-tailed Shearwater, and after we had crossed into Brisbane waters, came upon a couple of fishing boats, complete with 60+ Crested Terns and a couple of Brown Boobies. As we commenced the main drift over the continental shelf, a few Providence Petrels showed up, but nothing was interested in the berley, and the few birds that were around just whizzed past instead of hanging around. Quite a few Providence Petrels came and went, a couple of Gannets, and a handful of Hutton’s Shearwaters, but that was going to be it for the day. Really a very disappointing result, and no year ticks for me. It really does show how sensitive shelf sea-birding is to wind direction, and even though I know the theory, I was surprised by how dramatic the effect is.

I’m ashamed to say I grabbed some sleep on the way back, uncharacteristically. I was exhausted after a week of early starts and late nights, and thrashing up and down the motorway between the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane. Hoping for some kind of interlude bird-wise in the next week so I can rest! I’m off to Vancouver on 17th – 28th August, so that’ll be a decent break from obsessive year-listing, in a location from which I can’t just dash back to twitch the latest rarity!

Also, we’ve booked a trip to the UK, leaving on Christmas Day. So my last day of birding for my Brisbane Big Year will be Christmas Eve.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 293 species. I spent 5 hours 38 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove or boated 277.1 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Aug 3: Lax fieldcraft

 

Checking eBird mid-morning, I was shocked to see a full-frontal photo of magnificent Barking Owl taken by Niel Bruce at Enoggera Reservoir!! He had found a roosting bird along the Araucaria Circuit. Being in the middle of my lab retreat, I couldn’t just leave straight away, but eventually decided to head off once the sessions had ended. Duly, just after 4pm, I jumped into the car and drove down the Bruce Highway towards the reservoir, musing on how many times I was driving between Brisbane and Mooloolaba this week! Ged Tranter had been in touch, and he was already at the reservoir with Steve Murray as I passed Caboolture. They could find no sign of the Barking Owl.

Eventually I arrived at the reservoir just after dark (eBird list here), and almost ran down toward where the bird had been seen earlier. I bumped into Ged and Steve, and we searched and listened around the edge of the lake, without hearing or seeing any nocturnal birds. Eventually Ged and Steve had to leave. Their torchlights retreated into the distance, but I soon saw Ged’s camera flashing – he was taking photos of something. I anxiously hovered over my phone waiting for a text message, but there was none. They had seen a Squirrel Glider – nice, but no Barking Owl.

A few Australian Owlet-nightjars had started calling, and I heard a very distant Southern Boobook. Presently I heard something that sounded just like a Powerful Owl, but it was a single hoot and then it stopped and didn’t call again. I wasn’t sure what to do with that, and didn’t record it on my eBird list. By about 7.20pm I was giving up hope. Clearly the Barking Owl wasn’t calling tonight. I walked back through the forest, heading past the area where we searching for Regent Honeyeater only yesterday. Suddenly right in front of me, fairly low down in the trees was a Barking Owl!!!!!!! But I had spooked the bird and it instantly took off and disappeared behind some trees – it was unclear how far it had gone. Search as I might, I just couldn’t find it again. I was delighted but a bit unsatisfied – pleased to have seen it, but frustrated with myself for lax fieldcraft. I should have been moving more carefully through the woodland.

I made my way back toward the discovery centre along the Link Track, and when I got back down onto the track next to the reservoir, I heard a rustling next to the track. A cracking Echidna was snuffling about in the lead litter only a few metres away – the first one I’ve seen in Brisbane!! Tired but happy, I once again pounded the tarmac back to Mooloolaba, arriving back about 11pm.

With one year tick today (Barking Owl), my year list moved up to 293 species. I spent 3 hours 30 minutes birding, walked 2.5 km and drove 204.0 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Aug 2: Brolga dreaming

 

Every year or so, we have a lab retreat, and we all began arriving yesterday afternoon at a nice big house on the Sunshine Coast, where we were to spend the next three nights as a group. Despite my excitement about the retreat, I was naturally a bit nervous leaving the borders of Brisbane behind, and my nervousness was proved justified when Michael Daley sent a text message in the evening telling me that a photo of a Regent Honeyeater taken at Enoggera reservoir on 31 July had just been put on the Brisbane Birders Facebook page!!

I couldn’t believe it, and as Ann Cheesman, the wonderful and kind observer, provided details of the location, it dawned on me we had to send a party down to search for the bird in the morning. After fevered discussions, six people from the lab group decided they wanted to come along and try for the bird. After all, it’s a Critically Endangered species that is nearing extinction, and for several folks this was a lifer. So we agreed to leave in the morning at 0500.

Folks began emerging from their slumber about 0430 and we tried to breakfast quietly but failed spectacularly, waking up most of the other people sleeping in the house – sorry….. Shortly after 0500 we piled into two cars and struck off down the motorway. Arriving at Walkabout Creek we gradually spread out along the track around to the spot where the bird had been seen, and were pleased to see that around 15 birders had shown up to take part in the search. A good turn out, and a real demonstration that Brisbane Birding is alive and kicking – there was a real sense of community among the birders there, which was really nice to experience. But the Regent Honeyeater declined to join the party. By 1030 we had been searching for four hours without so much a sniff of it, although we had a couple of White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes including a nice dark morph bird, a female Regent Bowerbird, and 50 flyover Topknot Pigeons. Somewhat crestfallen, we retreated and retraced our steps north along the motorway, reasoning that the honeyeater could be anywhere by now. Or even just 50 metres off the track. It might conceivably show up again, and searching the area thoroughly over the next few days and weeks would possibly repay itself. We should keep looking!

As we passed Tinchi Tamba I mused to Micha Jackson and Brad Woodworth in the car about the fact a couple of Brolgas had been seen recently at Dohles Rocks Rd, just north of South Pine River just outside the Brisbane LGA boundary. I’ve never seen one in Brisbane and I was hoping that one of the birds might hop over the border and visit Tinchi Tamba one day. In an almost unbelievable coincidence, Ged Tranter phoned just as we were arriving back into Mooloolaba and said that Rick Franks had just found a Brolga at the First Lagoon at Tinchi Tamba and that he was watching it from the Wyampa Rd bridge right now!! Energised despite the early start, we immediately turned around and powered back down the motorway. I was deeply grateful to Rick and Ged for spreading the news so quickly of this bird – once again the grapevine was working fast. Would we get something out of the morning after all?

Heart rates were rising as we ascended up onto the bridge at Wyampa Rd, but I was already punching the air before I’d stopped the car. I could see a distinctively crane-shaped blob standing in the wetland. And sure enough there it was. Just standing there, oblivious to the excitement its mere presence was causing in the human world. Blurry photographs and whoops ensued all round, although we were especially careful not to cause the bird to flush, as Ged still hadn’t seen it, and was on his way. We got back onto the motorway and headed once again north back to the Sunshine Coast, another year tick under the belt, and some excellent consolation from what was a frustrating start to the day.

Arriving back at the house, the others were about to hit the beach, so we lunched and joined them. A sand castle competition was in full swing when we got there, and ours was going to be a late entry. Brad had a red frisbee with him – there was only one thing to do with it. He planted it in the sand and we began our sand sculpture…

With one year tick today, my year list moved up to 292 species. I spent 4 hours 30 minutes birding, walked 3.85 km and drove 349.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

“Brolga Dreaming” by yours truly, Brad Woodworth and Micha Jackson. What do you mean it looks more like a button-quail???

And the real thing, as found by Rick Franks this afternoon. Massive thanks Rick!

 
Jul 29: Barking up the wrong tree

 

The run on night birds, presumably associated with the onset of the breeding season for many species, continued in the past week or so, culminating in Rod Gardner hearing a probable Barking Owl at Shelley Road Park. So I decided to put in a major session for night birds. My plan was to stay up all night!

I left home about 10pm last night, with the first stop being Pinjarra Hills, where I wanted to try again at the spot where Will Hemstrom heard a Barking Owl on 14th July. It was a warmish (for the time of year) and very bright night with a full moon. I heard nothing from the car park, so moved on to a spot near the junction of Moggill Road and Pinjarra Rd, where one can walk down the slope to view from the boundary fence over the area where Will heard the bird a couple of weeks ago. Suddenly I saw a flash of white – an owl was heading straight for me! It diverted at the last second, and swooped up to land. A cracking Barn Owl! There are rather few records of this species in Brisbane, and it is very erratic, with blank years in 2008-2005, 2010-2012, and 2014. It’s hard to work out whether it is an overlooked resident, and / or an occasional visitor from beyond the Brisbane boundary. The various records in unlikely parts of the city (see these corkers from Matteo Grilli and Michael Daley for example) suggest there are definitely wandering birds, but the records in good breeding habitat along the western margin of the city (Lake Manchester, Kholo, Pinjarra Hills) suggest to me there is an overlooked breeding population.

Despite a couple more stops on Pinjarra Rd, I just couldn’t hear a Barking Owl even though I put in quite a bit of time. I gave up and moved on to Upper Brookfield Rd, where I wanted to put in a few stops. Southern Boobooks were now calling non-stop almost everywhere. Several kilometres up the road, at one of the points where Moggill Creek crosses the road, a Powerful Owl was giving its full territorial song. Long bouts of the double-hoot call. Spellbinding stuff. Although I recorded the bird only to find out I had the microphone settings wrong and succeeded only in recording silence! I also heard a White-throated Nightjar at the same spot, continuing the recent run of unseasonal records. As previously discussed, this is mainly a summer visit to Brisbane (or at least birds are mainly detected in summer), but clearly there are appreciable numbers remaining through winter. Tonight I was to hear no fewer than 6 individuals at various stops.

After finishing Upper Brookfield, I circled back (fortuitously the Powerful Owl had started calling again and I got a recording this time) and did Haven Rd – plenty of birding opportunities all throughout this area. This whole region will deserve some careful attention next year when we’ll be building up eBird records for the Brisbane Bird Atlas (more on that soon). I ended up at Shelley Road Park about an hour before dawn, and patrolled around hoping for Barking Owl, but to no avail. The most notable birds were a small group of Wandering Whistling-Ducks flying around in the darkness.

I enjoyed the night – it was very clear to me that activity was greatest in the evening until about 2am, after which it began to quieten down as the temperature dropped. So my future efforts (at least in winter) will probably focus on going out in the evening rather than doing early morning starts. Overall I had:

1 Barn Owl
1 Powerful Owl
19 Southern Boobook
6 White-throated Nightjar
2 Tawny Frogmouth
16 Bush Stone-curlew
1 Australian Owlet-nightjar

+assorted other species

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 291 species. I spent 5 hours 32 minutes birding, walked 2.5 km and drove 150.8 km. My chronological year list is here.

Powerful Owl records in western Brisbane. Surprisingly, there were none from west of Upper Brookfield township until this week, with birds found at Lake Manchester by Ged Tranter, Steve Murray and Rick Franks, (large red flags) and one by myself tonight (small red flag to the east of Lake Manchester). This area is seriously underbirded as I would expect Powerful Owls to be all through this forest.

 
Jul 23: The King is Dead, Long Live the King!

 

Globally, King Quail is an enigmatic species. Although officially listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, it is decidedly uncommon across basically all of its distribution, and that includes Australia, where it occurs from NW Western Australia around the northern and eastern coast to New South Wales (introduced into Victoria). It’s a what I call a “global 2000” species – less than 2,000 records in eBird, so when you tick “show points sooner” while exploring its range map in eBird, all the records in the world turn to flags (I’m such a nerd). Several folks are worried that King Quail is declining in various parts of its distribution, for example a paper I’m working on with Lizzie Boakes shows that it appears to be extinct outside protected areas in Sumatra. It’s a difficult species to detect even when it is present in an area, and correspondingly it’s hard to estimate population trends. Preferring rank grasslands, and keeping extremely well hidden, it’s only really when birds call that they can be detected. Seeing them is next to impossible, and usually  occurs when  one is accidentally flushed, or a vanishingly rare chance encounter on a track.

In Brisbane, there have been scattered records of the species, and there is insufficient continuity of records to consider it a confirmed continuous resident. The nearest known continuous resident birds are at Lake Samsonvale, for example at Golds Scrub Lane. In Brisbane, there was a spate of records from Kedron Brook Wetlands in 2013 and 2014, but only occasional records outside this period, despite the area being frequently visited at dusk by birders looking for Grass Owl. Otherwise, there have been tantalising records from locations as scattered as Sandy Camp Wetlands, Lake Manchester, and Oxley Creek Common, and there was a dead one in a northern suburban park, possibly an escape. I had considered it an essentially impossible species for this Brisbane Big Year, until March, when Steve Cunningham had one briefly run across the road near the Lake Manchester Car Park. With that record, it became a species on the radar in the Lake Manchester area, and birders listen out for it when covering Shelley Road Park, thus far without any joy.

Until yesterday.

When Ged Tranter, Steve Murray and Rick Franks were birding the Cabbage Tree Creek area last night, King Quail was probably a long way down their list of expectations. So it must have come like a bolt from the blue when one suddenly gave the main, down-slurred advertising call as clear as a bell only about 20 metres in front of them, in a grassy patch just north of where Lake Manchester Road crosses Cabbage Tree Creek!! The bird gave two calls and that was it. Stunned, and no doubt extremely excited, the three birders went on to have a cracker of a night, with Barn Owl, Powerful Owl, Masked Owl, and an unusual winter record of White-throated Nightjar.

Ged texted me about 10pm relating the story. I was stunned. When my mind was able to think again, I resolved to head up there at some point during the week, but it rapidly dawned on me that I should go right now. There was a King Quail calling within the last few hours, it was a moonlit cloudless night, and King Quail can be active all through the night.

Strike while the iron’s hot. It’s a lesson I’ve learnt during this big year.

So, despite being a little tired from my 2.30am start this morning, I jumped in car and drove back over to Lake Manchester. I arrived at Cabbage Tree Creek at about 11.45pm, and waited silently in the dappled light of the moon. After about 10 minutes, I suddenly heard a King Quail give the ‘snoring’ call that rises in pitch. Winner! I waited for the downward call to follow, but the bird completely shut up. It was in the same patch of grass just north of the creek bridge as the others had it earlier in the evening. I hung around, hoping it would call again and I could get a recording. But I had to wait another 40 minutes before it called again, and wasn’t ready at the moment it called, this time the main downward call. The bird had moved cross to west of the road bridge, and was somewhere near the road itself. But again, silence descended after the single call. Testament to how difficult this species is to detect even when one is nearby. I gave it another 20 minutes, and then went across the bridge into Somerset LGA and listened and from near where I thought the bird was coming from. No luck, so I headed home very tired but very satisfied. King Quail is alive and kicking in Brisbane!

With one year tick today (King Quail), my year list incremented to 291 species. I spent 1 hour 14 minutes birding, walked 0.178 km and drove 110.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Jul 22: ‘owling with despair

 

Up at 0230 and out to Pinkarra Hills, where I put in another owling session to try and locate the Barking Owl heard the other day by Will Hemstrom. No such luck, although plenty of Southern Boobooks calling, a couple of Bush Stone-curlews, and a Squirrel Glider among numerous flying foxes.

Heading west, I stopped at a few more spots to trying for Barking Owl, again without success. It is surely a rare species in Brisbane! Prior to dawn, I drove from east to west from Mount Crosby along Stumers Road through to Kholo Road; to check the road went all the way through (which it does) and also for one last ditch effort to try for Barking Owl. The habitat along here looks really nice – with variegate dry sclerophyll, wet sclerophyll gullies, weedy patches, and farmland. As pointed out by Louis Backstrom on this blog a few days ago, Stumers Road is a place that will be well worth exploring.

Still, dawn found me at Shelley Road Park – I was keen to get right to the western frontier of the city and spend a couple of hours birding there before moving back to Stumers Road. In the end, I didn’t find any rarities at Shelley Road Park, with the highlights being 12 Nankeen Night-herons roosting in a tree by the council building. I notched up 71 species in the 2 hours, which was a pretty good total. Just nothing mega…

With my remaining time, I birded at a few random stops along Stumers Road – again nothing mindblowing, but a good variety of birds and a real sense that anything could turn up here. A bit disappointed, but not really surprised at having not year-ticked, I returned home.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 290 species. I spent 4 hours 50 minutes birding, walked 4.628 km and drove 110.5 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Jul 17: Birding the frontier – Changing Mountain Bushland

 

Louis Backstrom has been birding the frontier of Brisbane LGA, and yesterday discovered a new area that looks to show great potential for birding – a hotspot that we have provisionally named Changing Mountain Bushland (following the lead of a hiking map and pending further information from Brisbane City Council). The area is located between Stumers Rd and Lake Manchester Rd in Kholo. Best accessed via Stumers Rd (see map below), there are apparently numerous trails that wind around the hillsides in this area.

Louis takes up the story, “Here’s a trace of the route that I took this morning. Travelling anti-clockwise, the first section up until the northward turn is quite flat and was where I had much of the best birding – it follows a gully and there are pockets of denser vegetation which had scrubwrens, whipbirds etc. in it – this is where I had the Speckled Warbler. The habitat is quite similar to much of Enoggera in parts – there’s even a moderately-sized patch of Lantana with thick undergrowth (dare I say potential BBBQ habitat!).

After the northward turn the vegetation opens up into your typical SEQ scrub – basically identical to much of Manchester and Shelley Road (which is unsurprising given it’s only about 5km as the crow flies) although it felt better to me – I think it could be a spot for honeyeaters and swift parrots too. I’d stop and pish whenever I heard a group of birds and generally I was able to call in 5 or so species of honeyeaters very easily, plus whistlers, fantails, pardalotes etc. The elevation rises steadily to the fork (about 110m at the highest point I got to) and is quite similar to Sugarloaf Mountain Break in that regard.

There are many more tracks everywhere, and I passed plenty of forks that I could have taken had I had more time”.

As Louis points out, there are huge swathes of the country on the very SW extreme of Brisbane county that seem totally unbirded and could hold a number of interesting species. The area enclosed by Lake Manchester, Mt Crosby and Kholo Roads and the River has essentially no eBird records/hotspots inside it but looks every bit as good as the more well-known sites around.

Brisbane City Council list a couple of other council bushland reserves in Kholo that might be worth exploring: Dandys’ Range Bushland, and Kholo Bushland Reserve. Also Skyline Drive Park looks to be worth exploring, a map of which I append below.

I didn’t get out birding today, and with no year ticks today, my year list remained on 290 species. I spent 0 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 0 km. Jolly poor show. My chronological year list is here.

The first foray into Changing Mountain Bushland, by birding pioneer Louis Backstrom. There seems to be little doubt that further investigation of accessible sites in the SW corner of Brisbane will turn up a number of new birding spots, and exciting species! We will create eBird hotspots as these sites are discovered and begin to be birded.

Skyline Drive Park is a Brisbane City Council park by the Brisbane River off Skyline Drive in Kholo. Well worth checking for birding potential I reckon.

 

 

 
Jul 16: All-a-flutter

 

Today was the day for my fourth trip to Moreton Island of the year so far. Another wonderful trip with the Queensland Wader Study Group, who conduct quarterly surveys of southern Moreton Island, Amity Banks, Goat Island and Sandy Island on the Monday after the main count weekend. I had one of those journeys to Manly boat harbour where every traffic light was on red, and I only just made it in time for our scheduled 8.30 departure aboard the Spoonbill, complete with our very own 4WD ute, which we were going to land on Moreton Island and use to drive to Mirapool.

The journey over to Kooringal was reasonably uneventful, although we logged a total of 15 different Australasian Gannets, which is a good number for just a single transect across the Bay. A juvenile Brown Booby appeared, but at that moment we were in Redland waters. Nearing the beach, we noted a nice roosting flock of shorebirds and terns, containing 11 Grey Plovers, a scarce species at any time of year in Brisbane, and seeing 11 together in midwinter was especially noteworthy. The captain nudged the barge into the beach near Kooringal and Peter Rothlisberg, Brad Woodworth Wayne Matthews and I bumped along the sandy tracks towards Mirapool, on the south-east corner of Moreton Island. The recent high tides had washed away some of the tracks, and many dead trees had fallen onto the beach and were being consumed by the sea along the southern shore of the island.

Arriving at Mirapool, we were disappointed to find that almost no roosting shorebirds were present. This was probably because of the extremely high tide, but there were also recent vehicle tracks through the roost, so there might have been some disturbance. I could resist peering out to sea through my telescope whenever the opportunity afforded, and almost straight away I had a small shearwater flying south – either a Fluttering or Hutton’s, but frustratingly too distant to ID. We wandered down to Mirapool lagoon itself, where there was a splendid Beach Stone-curlew, but again no roosting migratory shorebirds. On the way there I stole another chance to seawatch from the dunes, and had another small shearwater this time much closer in. It had extensive white on the underwing and noticeable white saddlebags – a Fluttering Shearwater! On the way back to the car, a final few minutes seawatching revealed a Fairy Prion flying south very close in. All this suggests that seawatching could be worthwhile off Moreton Island whatever the weather, perhaps especially in winter when these sorts of birds are around.

We called in at Dead Tree Point, where we had 48 Eastern Curlews, and then met the others back at the barge. Loading the vehicle onto the boat, we soon set off into Redland waters, where we had a Sanderling, 140 Double-banded Plovers, 8 Grey Plovers and 11 Lesser Crested Terns amongst a big mixed flock of terns, cormorants and shorebirds on Amity Banks, 11 Eastern Reef Egrets (including a white phase bird) on Goat Island, and a nice mixed shorebird flock on Sandy Island, including a satellite-tagged female Eastern Curlew AAJ. It had been a whirlwind trip, but a very nice morning motoring about on the Bay, and we arrived back at Manly very satisfied with an enjoyable day surveying shorebirds.

With one year tick today (Fluttering Shearwater), my year list incremented to 290 species. I spent 1 hour 32 minutes birding, walked 1.727 km and drove 20 km. My chronological year list is here.

Beach Stone-curlew at Mirapool Lagoon. Moreton Island is the last Brisbane stronghold of this species, which is listed as Vulnerable in the state of Queensland.

 
Jul 15: All bark and no bite

 

It was that fatal and perfidious bark, Built in th’ eclipse, and rigg’d with curses dark (John Milton).

Will Hemstrom is a visiting PhD student doing some fieldwork on Monarch butterflies at UQ’s Pinjarra Hills Research Station. He’s also a gun birder, and although he’s only been in Australia a few months, he’s finding some great birds. Not least among these was a calling Barking Owl yesterday afternoon, coincidentally only a few hundred metres from where I was trying for the species along Pinjarra Rd early Friday morning. Will very kindly agreed to show me the spot where he had heard the bird, and being a UQ campus I was able to accompany him there as a staff member.

We arrived at the spot around 4.35, and listened intently. It’s always at these sorts of moments when you realize how many barking dogs there are around the place!! But there were no barking birds, and as dusk fell we tried a spot in the south-west corner of the campus, again without luck. Returning to the original spot, near the junction of Pinjarra Rd and Moggill Rd, we put in one last forlorn listen but again to no avail. After picking up my car from the entrance again, I tried a couple of point count stops along the first part of Pinjarra Rd, but the traffic noise was irritating and I couldn’t hear any Barking Owls. The bird that Will heard would definitely have been audible from the first 100m of Pinjarra Rd (see map below), but might be most fruitful later at night when the traffic noise is a bit lower.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained stubbornly on 289 species. I spent 1 hour 38 minutes birding, walked 0 km (everything was stationary, or driving with Pinjarra hills campus) and drove 75 km. My chronological year list is here.

The Barking Owl was calling from within this area, and would definitely have been audible from the first 100m of Pinjarra Rd after turning in from Moggill Rd. The traffic noise along Moggill Rd is irritating, and the area is probably best checked later at night when the traffic is lighter. The only advantage of being inside the UQ campus (to which there is strictly no public access) is that the traffic noise is shielded by a hillside. It is entirely possible that the Barking Owl doesn’t spend much time in this area, and could be elsewhere in surrounding woodlands for much of the time.

 
14 Jul: A walk in the park

 

No dedicated birding today, but we did do a walk with some family friends and our collective five young kids around Minnippi. I did surprisingly well bird-wise considering the amount of youthful energy around, notching up 51 species. Most notable was a couple of Musk Lorikeets feeding on a flowering eucalypt near the northern car park at -27.4826° S / 153.1144° E. This is only the second record for Minnippi, and I even managed a record shot by holding my phone up to my bins – digibinning.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 289 species. I spent 48 minutes birding, walked 1.81 km and drove 0 km (birding was incidental to the rest of the day’s plans). My chronological year list is here.

One of two Musk Lorikeets at Minnippi Parklands this afternoon. Good to know that “digibinning” can deliver a passable record shot. It’s been a good winter for this species across Brisbane so far.

 
13 Jul: Moggill-o-mania

 

I started early this morning in the western suburbs, again looking for Barking Owl. I tried Pinjarra Rd, reasoning that the habitat is mixed, with some nice remnant dry woodland and more open paddocks, and David Niland had one last March in the adjacent UQ site. No luck with Barker, but a few Southern Boobooks calling. I’ll try to do some survey work inside the UQ site to see if I can turn anything up in there.

As dawn approached, I arrived at the National Parks and Wildlife Office at Moggill, where a small group of birders had assembled hoping for Red Wattlebird. Before they arrived I had a pair of Musk Lorikeets fly over, which was nice. Steve Murray later got pics. The search was long and slow, and in the end, Louis Backstrom, Rick Franks, Felicia Chan and I all missed out by leaving too early, but Steve Murray, Ged Tranter and Rod Gardner connected with not one, not two, but THREE birds!

Staff at the office have kindly put in place the following access arrangements for next week, noting that there is STRICTLY NO PUBLIC ACCESS to the site over the weekend, during which time birders will be restricted to looking and listening from the public areas outside the compound fence. It’s critically important that birders don’t create an OH&S incident by trespassing, and this will cause all access to cease. There is every chance of seeing or at least hearing the birds from outside the small compound, if you put enough time in, as the birds are mobile and call every few hours or so. Although you can walk along the edge of the main compound fence at the southern end of the site, note that there is no access to the rear of the compound (i.e. don’t proceed beyond the small wire fence).

During office hours next week, birders wishing to visit can telephone the supervising staff member (email me for contact details at r.fuller@uq.edu.au) and advise him of the approximate time you wish to visit. If he is on site at that time (he’s currently planning to be there in office hours all next week), you’ll be able to come into the compound, sign in at reception noting him as the contact, and then spend time inside the compound area looking for the birds.

After I left the site this morning I headed to Moggill Wetlands, which really is a lovely site. There was a cracking Yellow-billed Spoonbill feeding alongside a Glossy Ibis on the big pool to the east of the road. This pool looks brilliant for Painted Snipe… I ventured up Aitcheson Street toward the Brisbane River, and realised that the area is in fact a Brisbane City Council parkland called, unimaginatively, Aitcheson Street Park. I set up a hotspot, as it looks worth visiting every now and then, and it is distinct habitat from the nearby Moggill Wetlands. There were a few raptors around – a Black Kite, two Brown Falcons and a Black-shouldered Kite.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 289 species. I spent 4 hours 32 minutes birding, walked 1.671 km and drove 86.8 km. My chronological year list is here.

Yellow-billed Spoonbill was a nice find at Moggill Wetlands – on the big pool east of the road.

 
12 Jul: Red Wattlebird!

 

Today was the last day of a lovely family holiday in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. We stayed in a small farm cottage in Witta, just outside Maleny, and had a wonderful week largely disconnected from the internet. I couldn’t resist regularly checking the Brisbane bird news of course, and no year ticks showed up during the course of the week. Gentle birding around the farm turned up some interesting species (Regent and Satin Bowerbird, Restless Flycatcher, White-headed Pigeon, Little Wattlebird, Emerald Dove etc – a number of species that are tricky around Brisbane seem fairly common up here). On the way back home to Brisbane, I checked my email and buried in an email discussion about something else a colleague in the Queensland State Government informed me he’d been seeing a couple of Red Wattlebirds at the Priors Pocket Road office of Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. He said the birds had been around since at least 25th June, and that they were still present today! Graciously he said he’d show me the birds in the afternoon.

I immediately put in place a plan to get over to Moggill as soon as we got back into Brisbane, and met with my colleague, who showed me the spot where he’d been seeing and hearing the birds. After an anxious wait of about 20 minutes, a glorious Red Wattlebird flew in silently to the tree next to us, and showed really well for about 5 minutes. Awesome!! Red Wattlebird is an extremely rare winter visitor to Brisbane, with only 9 previous records on eBird, all in June or July. Perhaps some kind of flowering pattern or failure leads to them pushing north into the Brisbane area. Normally they are a high altitude bird in SE Qld, being rather common in the Border Ranges and Toowoomba areas. But they are vanishingly rare in Brisbane and I was delighted to have connected (eBird checklist here).

Now the big challenge is access. The birds are on private land, and while I’ll try to arrange guided access next week, perhaps during a lunchtime if there is demand, the best way to see these birds is probably to look from the perimeter fence. I saw the bird about 110m inside the compound, at -27.577146, 152.875460, and they have also been seen around the koala hospital area at about -27.577403, 152.876300. The birds have been highly mobile and highly vocal, and there is every chance they’ll be viewable and audible at times from the compound entrance at -27.575777, 152.876526 or elsewhere around the perimeter, e.g. at -27.577032, 152.877287. I’m planning to head there early morning tomorrow (Friday) to take a look from the road.

With one year tick today (Red Wattlebird), my year list edged forward to 289 species. I spent 54 minutes birding in Brisbane, walked 1.049 km and drove 73.9 km. My chronological year list is here.

Red Wattlebird at the National Parks Wildlife Office, Moggill, this afternoon.

 
2 Jul: Little and large

 

Today started out as just a regular Monday – got into work, edited a manuscript, began my first meeting with Shawan Chowdhury, a highly talented PhD student working on migratory butterflies. Then at 1125 a text message came through from Elliot Leach that changed everything “Western Gerygone at Whites Hill right now!!!”

My mind was racing, but I didn’t need much time to decide what to do. I finished up the meeting, postponed my afternoon meeting until tomorrow, and rushed to UQ Lakes bus stop. I had parked the car in Camp Hill, so took the bus back there, dropped in at home to get my camera and then raced to Whites Hill, only a couple of kilometres from my house! Elliot Leach and Gus Daly were waiting for me at the car park, and we walked up the spot where Elliot had seen the bird earlier. We split up to search for the bird, and after a tense few minutes I heard it singing – YES!!!!!! But I had forgotten how much like Mangrove Gerygones they sound, especially the eastern subspecies exsul. Hearing it was good, but I really needed to see the bird and ideally register and photograph the salient features. Eventually the bird showed, but it really gave us the run-around, being quite mobile and always managing to stay behind leaves. I managed a few blurry pics but nothing really useful – there was clearly lots of white in the tail, and I had no doubt the bird was a Western, but I wanted some pics.

After a while we decided to move off for a bit and look at the Powerful Owl roost. Sure enough one bird was there, sleepily checking us out. Little and large were my two year ticks today. Back at the gerygone, Steve Murray had turned up, and had already located the bird. It showed on and off, but didn’t come close again. Eventually Elliot and Gus left, but soon after the bird did a close pass in front of Steve and I, and we finally got some half-decent pics – I add some ID notes under the photos below. Michael Daley showed up shortly after and also enjoyed some good views but endured a frustrating time with the camera, with the bird sticking to cover and by now becoming a little elusive.

At about 3pm, I called it a day, the bird still showing and singing intermittently. What an amazing record – the first documented Brisbane record that I know of. Astounding, and huge kudos to Elliot for working his local patches (Moorhen Flats and Whites Hill) diligently over the weeks and months. Patch birding pays off once again!

With two year ticks today, my year list surged forward to 288 species. I spent 2 hours 31 minutes birding, walked 2.743 km and drove 19.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

Noticeable in this pic is the blood-red eye, and the thick, black lores (area between the eye and the bill), which contrasts with the thin whitish supercilium that doesn’t reach beyond the eye (unlike in Mangrove Gerygone). Also of interest, although I’m not sure if it’s an ID feature are the pale edges to the secondaries, which form a panel on the closed wing. Extensive white is visible on the uppertail even though the tail is closed, unlike any other gerygone species.

The changed angle of the bill in this pic renders the black lores much less visible, but the pale wing panel, and white in the uppertail base are still noticeable.

The blood-red eye shows well in this pic, not the brownish-tinged red of Mangrove Gerygone, also the almost-complete white eye-ring.

The undertail shows a very distinctive pattern unlike any other gerygone – with a broad black band contrasting with the gleaming white undertail coverts, and white distal half of the tail feathers, which are tipped black. Only Brown Gerygone approaches this black / white pattern in the undertail.

Although the tail is unfortunately partially obscured in this pic, the uppertail pattern can be pieced together. The tail feathers have a whitish base, then a broad black band, white subterminal spots and finally brown tips. This pattern is unique among gerygones – in particular, Mangrove Gerygone doesn’t show pale bases to the uppertail feathers.

 

 

 
Jul 1: Woodworth’s secret forest

 

Today marks the half way point through the year. A lot has happened, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. And I’m way beyond what I thought was possible in terms of a year list total when I started the year. I was thinking 253 would be good, but at this half way point, my list stands on 286, with plenty of potential and time for further growth. I’m really enjoying the switch from pure twitching or visiting known sites, to exploring new sites and trying to find enigmatic species. Today’s non-existent mystics were Barking Owl and Black-breasted Buttonquail.

With the night being still and warm, I wanted to try looking for night birds again in D’Aguilar National Park, and having set the alarm for 0200, I picked up Brad Woodworth from his place in Dutton Park at 0225 and we then met Louis Backstrom in the Ferny Grove Tavern car park about 0250, before driving up to Lawton Road, Mount Glorious. Listening intently in the dark, we heard a couple of distant Southern Boobooks, but it was apparent fairly quickly that there wasn’t as much activity as last weekend. Pushing further down the track we eventually heard a couple of Marbled Frogmouths calling, and doing the classic bill-snapping noise, which was pretty neat – although we couldn’t see the birds. We hadn’t logged anything else by the time we’d got back to the car, so we set off down the hill and made a number of stops to listen for night birds (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8). We heard lots of Southern Boobooks, but little else – although we did hear a Sooty Owl outside the Brisbane LGA boundary. Despite our best efforts we coulnd’t find it in torchlight, and there was not a sniff of Barking Owl or Powerful Owl all morning.

Our last stop was the creek at Bellbird Grove, and dawn was beginning to break. We hurried down to Enoggera Reservoir, in a re-run of last Sunday’s itinerary. Birders mainly visit the Araucaria track along the northern shore of Enoggera Reservoir, but a few weeks ago the intrepid Brad Woodworth circumnavigated the Reservoir, and reckoned by far the best area for birding is the western end of the lake, where the Enoggera Creek feeds in. He made the point that there is such a broad range of habitats there from rainforest to reedbeds, that a large range of species can be seen in a small area. En route to the area, we had a couple of Spotless Crakes calling, and Brad managed to see one of them. Slightly further west, we had a another two Spotless Crakes calling, and an Australian Owlet-nightjar also called briefly.

Brad egged us on, assuring us it would be worth visiting the Enoggera Creek feed-in area. Soon after this, Louis noticed a bird feeding along the side of the grassy track – a magnificent Painted Buttonquail!! It posed for photos, and Louis pulled off a truly beautiful photo, gaining real dramatic effect and excellent background by crouching down low to get a good angle – I must try that next time I’m in a similar situation. Two birds were calling, and we suspect it was a pair wandering about together.

Just after this, I suddenly noticed a few dark-looking woodswallows flying over, and urged the others to get on them. I got a few rubbishy pics, and could just about tell they were Dusky Woodswallows, peering at the tiny screen on the back of the camera. All a bit unsatisfying. But eventually we found a subset of the birds perched in a long line high up in a tree – a wonderful party of Dusky Woodswallows, perhaps some of the same birds Ged Tranter and Steve Murray had had at Shelley Road Park yesterday. It was great to find such a scarce bird, and Brad’s secret forest was turning out to pretty darned productive!

It wasn’t going to end there, with a Lewin’s Rail calling from the grassy lakeside vegetation a bit further on, and a wonderful confiding White-eared Monarch giving repeated views, although difficult to photograph as ever. A cracking Noisy Pitta was close the track, and remained perched in trees as we peered at it, although we didn’t manage good pics. There is plenty of very good looking habitat for Black-breasted Buttonquail in this area, with little patches of rainforest, and plenty of weedy areas with a Lantana understorey. I think a careful search in this area would pay dividends. We turned around and headed back toward Payne Rd where we had parked the car, electing to take the circuit south to South Boundary Road to loop back. We had a party of Buff-rumped Thornbills on the way, which was nice. We arrived back at the car tired but very satisfied with a haul of good birds in the day we went to Woodworth’s secret forest. Excellent stuff – we will be back!

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 286 species. I spent 7 hours 14 minutes birding, walked 11.004 km and drove 136.0 km. My chronological year list is here.

Female Painted Buttonquail strolling about on the Link Track near the western end of the south shore of Enoggera Reservoir – spellbinding stuff!

Part of a group of 17 Dusky Woodswallows in a similar area to the buttonquail. Terrible photo, taken into the light, but I was well happy with this find.

 
Jun 26: Disappearing ducks, and shorebirds that won’t disappear

 

Arthur Keates had very kindly agreed to let me tag along on his visit to Manly Wader Roost this morning. Arthur is a long time member of the Queensland Wader Study Group, and is probably the most prolific resighter of colour-marked shorebirds in Moreton Bay. His knowledge of shorebirds is immense, yet he is so humble with it – a truly wonderful and likeable man. We met along the approach road to the roost at 0700, and Arthur unlocked the heavy chain that secured the giant metal gates together. Gazing up, I registered the layers of razor wire, and felt it was a bit over the top, although in a previous incarnation of the security system, the site had been continually disturbed by anglers and dog walkers, so I suppose I was on balance grateful.

We made our way down the grassy pathway and looked onto the far pan. Several hundred mixed shorebirds were scattered around the roost, and we set to work picking through them with telescopes, looking for leg flags and counting the birds. Arthur beat me hands down (in the nicest possible way) in both endeavours. But I was preoccupied – I was looking for the Red Knots that had been frequenting the roost in recent days. The birds seem to feed at Thornside (outside Brisbane) at low tide, and then come on to the Manly roost at high tide. Presently, we found the birds in with a flock of Bar-tailed Godwits and Great Knots. Six splendid Red Knots, three of them in decent breeding plumage, and one in simply resplendent colours – Arthur explained this bird was probably of the subspecies piersmai while the others were rogersi.  Regardless of subspecies, I had another year tick in the bag, and I was well satisfied, and grateful to Arthur. It’s a little surprising that several of the Red Knots are in full breeding plumage. Usually non-migrating birds stay in non-breeding plumage, but perhaps these birds had terminated their migration late, after the point of no return plumage-wise.

We checked the wall at the end of the roost, and there were 118 Grey-tailed Tattlers, but Arthur couldn’t conjure up a Wandering Tattler. That’s a project for much later in the year… My money is on Cape Moreton. In the end, our shorebird tally was 123 Pied Stilts, 1 Red-necked Avocet, 44 Pied Oystercatchers, 35 Pacific Golden Plovers, 31 Double-banded Plovers, 13 Red-capped Plovers, 8 Whimbrel, 4 Eastern Curlew, 231 Bar-tailed Godwits, 2 Ruddy Turnstones, 52 Great Knots, 6 Red Knots, 4 Curlew Sandpipers, 45 Red-necked Stints and 118 Grey-tailed Tattlers. Not bad for the middle of winter!

Just as we were leaving, we noticed a couple of splendid Lesser Crested Terns on the northern end of the island, and a leg-flagged Red-capped Plover ‘JH’ turned out to have been banded in 2011 – quite an oldie for a red-cap. We left the roost well satisfied, clanging the gate behind us.

I dashed home, and then decided to pop in to Thompson Estate Reserve in Greenslopes where there had been a report of a possible Blue-billed Duck, which would be a first record for Brisbane. I had checked it Saturday, and had another look today just in case, but there was no sign. It’s a great little pool, with really nice fringing vegetation. Someone has done a good job with restoration here.

With one year tick today (Red Knot), my year list rose to 286 species. I spent 2 hours 2 minutes birding, walked 2.478 km and drove 32.0 km. My chronological year list is here.

A splendid red Red Knot, rarely seen in this plumage in Brisbane. A lingering non-migrating individual – why leave the Sunshine State?

A fine pair of Lesser Crested Terns, a scarce winter visitor to Brisbane.

 
Jun 24: Barking mad

 

Up at 0200 this morning, I was keen to put in some serious nocturnal birding – the plan was to drive from the top of Mount Glorious down towards Enoggera Reservoir searching for Barking Owl. The wind had been calm overnight and it was a relatively warm night for the time of year. Good conditions for nocturnal birding. I jumped in the car and headed to Lawton Road, stopping at Banks Street Bushland Reserve on the way. There is a Barking Owl specimen in the Queensland Museum from here, so I thought I’d give it a quick listen, but in 7 minutes I heard no birds whatsoever.

I didn’t want to dally for long, and so pressed on to Lawton Road, arriving at 0326. Almost immediately I heard several Southern Boobooks calling, a good sign. Then a couple of Australian Owlet-nightjars and a Noisy Pitta called, and eventually a Marbled Frogmouth started calling quite distantly – a not unexpected year tick, but very welcome nevertheless. Near the start of the track I was watching a nice Sugar Glider when I heard a clatter of wings and a large bird flew over. It landed on the wires over the road – a magnificent Masked Owl!!! I managed a few grainy pics before it flew off again into the night. Needless to say the Sugar Glider had scarpered.

I stopped at approx 1.5 km intervals down Mount Glorious Road, and spent 5-10 minutes listening for birds, more if there was activity. And boy was there activity! I heard night birds calling almost every time I stopped (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10), and in total for the night had 9 Southern Boobooks, 6 Masked Owls, 4 Sooty Owls, 4 Marbled Frogmouths and 5 Australian Owlet-nightjars. An amazing night! No Barking Owl, but I wasn’t really expecting it. Also no Powerful Owl, which is starting to get a bit silly given the amount of time I’ve spent out at night. I didn’t get into the lower altitude forest today, so I’ll probably pick up where I left off another night.

As dawn began to break, I decided to head to the Link Track that runs along the southern shore of Enoggera Reservoir – accessed via the end of Payne Road. Brad Woodworth had mentioned it as a place worth watching, and when I saw the habitat I had to agree. The lantana thickets  and wet sclerophyl gullies look very promising for Black-breasted Button-quail, which would be a brilliant bird to find this year. It’s an enigmatic species in Brisbane – there are records, and although they’ve gone from some of the known places, no doubt there are still some groups about. But I don’t know of any active sites at present. After battling my way through the wall of noise emanating from a roost of 320 Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, and logging an exceptional count of 154 Hardheads on the reservoir, I put in some time searching the Lantana thickets, but couldn’t turn up any platelets or button-quails. I’ll come back here when I can put in a full morning.

Just as I was finishing up, and about to get back into the car to get home (I had agreed to be back by 9am), Chris Sanderson texted to say he’d found a Freckled Duck at Sandy Camp Road Wetlands. A total mega, with only 1 twitchable bird in the last five years. I jumped into the car and started driving toward Sandy Camp. My wife graciously agreed I could meet her and kids directly at the theatre where we were going to watch a kids show at 10am instead of going home first. Even with this time extension it was going to be extremely tight. Stoney-faced I pressed on the accelerator and once again gladly paid tolls to shave minutes off my journey that I simply wouldn’t do on a regular day. Zooming over the Gateway Bridge the adrenalin was pumping and I was in full twitch mode, having alerted all the other active year listers (many people had seen the 2013 Minnippi bird, although for me this would be a Brisbane lifer too).

Screaming into the car park at Sandy Camp, I bumped into Deb and John Merton just inside the reserve, and blurted incoherently at them that there was a Freckled Duck on the NE lagoon. We briskly walked over there, but try as we might, we could not see any sign of the duck. The bird had been seen along the edge of the thick Melaleuca swamp on the lagoon, and it would only have to move back a few metres to be completely out of sight. Freckled Ducks often loaf about perched during the day, so I was rapidly getting despondent. After about 15 minutes Mat Gilfedder and Jo Culican arrived, and then Michael Daley showed up. A veritable mass twitch!

There were a few Grey Teals along the edge of the swamp, and I was slowly scanning along the edge with my scope, when I suddenly perceived a peaked crown of a duck. That’s all I could see – the rest of the bird was completely obscured. My heart missed a beat – this had to be it. Michael found a spot where we could see a little more of the bird, and hey presto it was the Frecked Duck! Glory! With impeccable timing, Ged Tranter showed up, and coolly year-ticked it through the scope.

After firing off a few terrible pictures, I absolutely had to leave or risk being late for the children’s theatre, which would have been a very serious offence indeed. I raced off and made the theatre with 5 minutes to spare. Phew! The end of a madcap morning.

With two year ticks today (Marbled Frogmouth and Freckled Duck), my year list rose to 285 species. I spent 4 hours 8 minutes birding, walked 5.394 km and drove 145.7 km. My chronological year list is here.

Masked Owl at Lawton Road – great to see one this well.

Sooty Owl – I heard four different birds this morning. A rainforest specialist, so rather restricted in its Brisbane distribution, although not particularly uncommon in the right habitat.

Freckled Duck – told you it was a terrible pic. And this was the best of about 150 shots!

 
Jun 17: The dove from above

 

I had planned to wake up at 3am to go looking for Barking Owl, but I must have unconsciously turned my alarm off and eventually woke with a start 4.30. I decided to head out anyway to check a few spots for the owl. Matt Wright had recommended trying the Kenmore Hills area, so I listened at a few roadside locations along Bielby Road and surrounding area (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), but it was all a bit half-hearted because there wasn’t really enough dark time to do anything really meaningful. Needless to say, I didn’t hear any owls, although I had a couple of Bush Stone-curlews calling.

As the rays of dawn began to penetrate the darkness I headed to Gold Creek Reservoir. Since it was a half-hearted sort of morning so far, I thought I’d continue that and have a half-hearted search for Black Bittern along the creek near the spillway, with a predictable result. Checking the reservoir itself, there were four heron species feeding together in the far SE corner (2 White-necked, 2 White-faced, and Intermediate and Great Egrets). A bunch of waterfowl was also associated with this feeding frenzy (30+ Australasian Grebes and several Hardheads, Pacific Black Ducks and Eurasian Coots) – I couldn’t see what they were feeding on, but I guess there must have been some sort of emergence of tadpoles or fish or something.

After not too long, and as the light became strong enough to see birds in the woodland, I wandered down to the picnic area in search of my real quarry for the day – Emerald Dove. Patient searching revealed nothing there, so I moved on to the nursery area. Annoyingly a gaggle of five dogs was rushing about off leash (illegal in Brisbane) and barking, which didn’t bode well for connecting with an elusive ground-dwelling dove. Yet in the end it was a dove from above, a clatter of wings of something flying in through the canopy and landing on an exposed branch not far from me – a cracking Emerald Dove!!

Although there are records of this species in many of the wetter woodlands just beyond the western suburbs, it is not common, and Gold Creek Reservoir is by far the best location to reliably connect with this species around Brisbane. I was pleased to have it finally in the bag, and headed off more or less straight away to Priors Pocket. Mat Gilfedder and I had been discussing the comparatively tame behaviour of the Oxley Creek Common Diamond Dove compared to the recent Priors Pocket birds, and I was keen to see the latter for “insurance purposes”. Yet it wasn’t to be – I put in a decently intensive search at Priors Pocket but just couldn’t turn any up. A quick look at Moggill Wetlands rounded off the morning, and I headed home. Moggill Wetlands looks like a great little site, and it has indeed turned up some good birds over the years. It was the first time I’d been there, but I’ll certainly have to go back again soon.

With one year tick today (Pacific Emerald Dove), my year list rose to 283 species. I spent 4 hours 13 minutes birding, walked 4.622 km and drove 110.7 km. My chronological year list is here.

Pacific Emerald Dove at Gold Creek Reservoir this morning – what a beauty!

 
Jun 14: Grass Owl!

 

Nearing the end of a hectic week at work, and with my wife kindly agreeing to singlehandedly get the kids their dinners etc, I took the chance for a dusk trip to Kedron Brook Wetlands. Grass Owl has been seen there recently by Ged Tranter and Louis Backstrom, and Mal Graham had an owl sp, which was probably a Grass Owl. I simply had to try to cash in on this run of records. For whatever reason, mid-winter and mid-summer are the two peaks in records for this species in Brisbane. I arrived at Kedron Brook at about 5.15, as dusk was setting in, wandered out into the middle of the grassland in the southern portion of the reserve, and waited.

At 5.32 I suddenly saw an owl flying from the SW corner of the reserve and then drop into the grass in front of me, about 75 metres away. Seeing the long wings and dark upperwings I was happy it was a Grass Owl, and I walked along the fire break to get nearer to where it landed, estimating I was about 20 metres away from it. At exactly 5.50, the bird flew up again, and circled in the torchlight right in front of me, affording me a really good look at its long legs with feet projecting behind the tail. As magically as it appeared, after a few seconds it disappeared and flew in the direction of the airport, although I couldn’t see how far it went.

I was extremely pleased with this – first it was a somewhat poignant moment; Grass Owls are so rare in Brisbane that this must surely be a species flirting with extinction in the LGA. Second, it was just a magical moment to have such a close encounter with a beautiful and rare species. Third, connecting with species like Grass Owl is strategically critical for my year list – I can’t afford to miss any of the rare resident species.

There are now only eight regularly occurring species left that I really should be able to see, given enough effort: Black Bittern, Baillon’s Crake, Red Knot, Wandering Tattler, Emerald Dove, Powerful Owl, Marbled Frogmouth and White-winged Triller. Securing these eight will take me to 290 species, and from there I would need 10 rarer species (landbird migrants, seabirds etc) to push my list over 300. There are also a number of other more enigmatic species that possibly occur regularly within Brisbane LGA but for which substantial exploratory searching will be needed. These include such goodies as Black-breasted Buttonquail, Barking Owl, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo and Yellow Thornbill.

With one year tick today (Australasian Grass-Owl), my year list rose to 282 species. I spent 40 minutes birding, walked 1.179 km and drove 32.8 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Jun 9: Best bird of the day was… at least a bird!

 

We woke from a well deserved sleep at a very civilised 0730 or so, and didn’t really have any time to go birding before heading to the jetty to catch the ferry back to Pinkenba. The boat was arriving as we neared the jetty, we climbed aboard and manned the back of the boat, bins and cameras at the ready. Soon after we set off Louis and Elliot called out they were watching an interesting tern, and Brad and I rapidly got onto it. The bird was a little smaller and cleaner than the many Crested Terns we’d seen over the past 24 hours, and had noticeably paler upperwings and a distinctly orange bill – a Lesser Crested Tern! This was extremely welcome – the first record of this species in Brisbane this year, and it brings to 300 the total number of species recorded in Brisbane in 2018 by all birders.

There are Lesser Crested Tern records from all months in Brisbane, but it is distinctly a winter visitor, presumably from Great Barrier Reef breeding grounds further north. The main peak of records is from May to August, but it is a rare bird even in winter. And apparently becoming rarer in the last few years, with a distinct drop in reporting rate between 2005 and 2017. Although there hasn’t been a blank year in this period, it has come very close, and for whatever reason, the species now appears to have become very rare in Brisbane.

The rest of the crossing produced a Brown Booby and 6-7 Australasian Gannets. We arrived back at the jetty noting a few Striped Toadfish around the mooring posts, and dispersed to our homes. It had been a frustrating trip that had not been as exciting bird-wise as it could have been, although I was pleased to come away with two good quality year ticks. Only 19 species left to hit the magical target of 300 species.

With one year tick today (Lesser Crested Tern), my year list rose to 281 species. I spent 21 minutes birding (at least that is the total of the eBird checklist durations), walked 0 km and drove 15.6 km. My chronological year list is here.

Lesser Crested Tern off Tangalooma this morning. Obviously a heavy crop from a distant photograph, but showing bright orange bill, pale upperwing, tidy appearance and more graceful proportions than Crested Tern.

Although never common, Lesser Crested Tern is primarily a winter visitor to Brisbane, with records peaking between May and August.

Lesser Crested Tern is rare, and apparently becoming rarer as the years go by, with just a handful of records since 2013.

 

 
Jun 8: Best bird of the day was a dead fish

 

Which is of course a little unfair to the ethereal Fairy Prion. Let me explain…

Elliot Leach showed up at my place bang on time at 05:45, and we immediately headed to Pinkenba where we met Louis Backstrom and Brad Woodworth, ready for our Moreton Island adventure. There was very little wind, and even waiting to get on the ferry I got an uneasy feeling that the seawatching off Cape Moreton wasn’t going to be as good as yesterday off Point Lookout. Still, we were determined to give it a go, and have fun exploring Moreton Island anyway. There wasn’t much of note on the ferry ride over, with a count of 520 Silver Gulls in the mouth of the Brisbane River being the most interesting observation. Several Australasian Gannets were in Moreton Bay, but nothing else of interest, although it is tricky birding from the super-fast resort ferry.

Arriving at Tangalooma, we made our way to the tours desk and picked up the rental vehicle. After a few minutes we were on our way north along the western beach, turning inland along the middle track and heading across the island to the ocean beach. There was a reasonably stiff onshore wind, and a few white horses on the ocean, but not the full-on seabird wreck conditions that I was hoping for. Undeterred we headed north toward Cape Moreton, noting a dead Australasian Gannet on the beach. Arriving at the Cape, we quickly headed to a vantange at about -27.032078, 153.466687 and began seawatching. Almost the first birds we set eyes on were a magnificent pair of Brown Boobies heading north, and soon after Elliot clocked a Fairy Prion also heading north, although the other three of us couldn’t get onto it.

After a while, a few more Fairy Prions began passing, all flying north, and eventually we all got good enough scope views to nail the diagnostic features of this species, a year tick for me, and the prion that is most commonly seen from or near land. After the excitement of the first 15 minutes we thought we’d be logging a good bunch of seabirds as the morning progressed, but it wasn’t to be. The wind dropped, conditions brightened, and we didn’t add another species for the next three hours, although we did see another Brown Booby around midday, and in total we had about 30 Fairy Prions. We decided to call it a day at 1230 and head south along the ocean beach before the incoming tide made it impassable and cut us off over high water.

We had to decide whether to continue all the way to the southern end of the island, or loop round via the Bulwer road and bird the heathlands that cover the northern third of the island. After some debate we settled on the former option, reasoning there was more chance of finding something interesting by looking at the shorebird roosts around Mirapool and Reeders Point.

Driving south along the beach, Elliot noticed a small dead fish lying in one of the wheel ruts on the beach, and it turned out to be a porcupinefish – a bizarre-looking thing indeed! Pushing further south, we eventually arrived at Mirapool Sandspit about half an hour before high tide. There were no shorebirds roosting yet, although I had a Fairy Prion flying south just over the waves only 100m offshore – amazing! Only a couple of Eastern Curlews were on Mirapool Lagoon, so we headed over to Reeders Point, where there was a nice mixed flock of shorebirds. About 100 assorted small shorebirds were disturbed by a couple of Whistling Kites low over the roost, and disappeared to the north, but remaining were 70 Pied Oystercatchers, 13 Pacific Golden-Plovers (including one bird in full breeding plumage), and about 50 Red-capped Plovers. We couldn’t turn up much else around the Kooringal area apart from a Little Wattlebird that a couple of us got on to.

Eventually we made our way back to Mirapool, and by now there were 25 Eastern Curlew and a nice flock of 132 Gull-billed Terns on the lagoon, and a mixed flock of shorebirds on the spit, comprising 4 Pied Oystercatchers, 9 Lesser Sand-Plovers, 32 Double-banded Plovers, 15 Red-capped Plovers and 96 Red-necked Stints. Time was running away from us, and we were already running a bit late. We made our way north up the ocean beach, but as we reached Rous Battery there was suddenly a mini-explosion under the bonnet and steam billowed out everywhere! Upon opening the hood we realised the radiator had exploded, spraying coolant everywhere. It was clear we weren’t going to be driving any further, and time was already pressing – it was 5.30 and the ferry was due to depart at 6.45 to take us back to Brisbane.

We called up the resort, and they scrambled a couple of folks, who kindly brought a second vehicle so we could drive ourselves back to Tangalooma in a desperate bid to catch the ferry. The boat was prepared to wait a short while, but they called us just as we were turning onto the middle track to say it couldn’t wait any longer and had left without us!!! Resigned to our fate, and somewhat crestfallen, we trundled back into Tangalooma, handed in the keys, and searched out some dinner.

After eating, and in part determined to capitalise on being stuck on the island overnight, and in part to put some distance between us and the DJ, we wandered along to the jetty with a spotlight to see what we could find. A couple of crab species and an interesting fish provided some interest, and we then wandered along the Tangalooma by-pass track through the woodland to see if we could turn up any nocturnals. A couple of Southern Boobooks and three Squirrel Gliders were our reward – definitely better than nothing.

The resort had made us up a small room, and we finally turned in about 11pm, four tired and probably pretty smelly birders sleeping in close proximity in the tiny space. Glad we weren’t the ones going to be making up the room in the morning. The day’s adventure had left us all pretty tired and we all slept soundly.

With one year tick today (Fairy Prion), my year list rose to 280 species. I spent 7 hours 23 minutes birding (at least that is the total of the eBird checklist durations), walked 3.8 km and drove 150.0 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Jun 7: Bedraggled

 

Today the rain arrived from the northern edge of the giant low pressure system moving up the east coast of Australia. We had fairly continuous rain for a few hours today, which is relatively unusual at this time of year, and welcome after a prolonged dry spell. The wet conditions were accompanied by a stiff easterly breeze, and Elliot Leach had some excellent seawatching off Point Lookout, North Stradbroke Island (in Redland LGA – outside Brisbane), including lots of Fairy Prions, Common Noddy, Northern Giant-Petrel and a possible Southern Giant-Petrel – amazing stuff, although surprisingly no albatrosses.

This bodes well for our trip to Moreton Island tomorrow. Yesterday I booked a 4WD hire car from the Tangalooma Resort, and myself along with Elliot Leach, Louis Backstrom and Brad Woodworth are heading over for some seawatching tomorrow. The easterly winds will persist all day, although they are predicted to moderate and there won’t be significant rain. On the one hand it means easier birding, but on the other hand there might be a weaker passage of birds. We’ll have to wait and see, but I’m excited about making my third trip of the year to the glorious isle (see here and here for the first two trips). Aside from seabirds, the only species I need over there is Wandering Tattler, but of course there’s almost no chance of finding one at this time of year.

The brilliant Rae Clark found a Pallid Cuckoo yesterday at Oxley Creek Common, and I had considered heading down there first thing this morning. However, it seemed a bit unfair to desert the family two mornings in a row for birding, so I held off until after the school run, and then ducked down to the Common for a look. Ged Tranter had connected with the cuckoo early this morning, so it was with some stress and trepidation that I drove across to the site. This was a chance I simply could not afford to miss for the big year – Pallid Cuckoo is a rare visitor to Brisbane, although several previous individuals have proven long stayers. Birds have shown up throughout the year, although the most well-twitched birds have been in September and October. But I couldn’t take any risks and needed to see this thing right now, striking while the iron was hot rather than playing catch-up later. Unfortunately it was still raining pretty hard, and I had to don raincoat and umbrella to try and keep the camera gear dry. This cramped my birding style, and I didn’t see many species, just focusing on getting to the spot where the cuckoo had been seen.

Arriving at the turnoff to the track leading to Jabiru Swamp, I searched intensively for the cuckoo but couldn’t turn anything up. I did hear a funny call that sounded a bit like a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, but couldn’t locate the bird and then it went quiet. Ideally I would have spent more time searching for it, but I decided I needed to focus on the Pallid Cuckoo, since I knew that it was around somewhere close by. After 20 minutes of fruitless searching I was running out of time as I needed to leave for a dentist appointment. With only 5 minutes to go until I had to go, the Pallid Cuckoo suddenly flew into the big gum tree on the left hand side just before Jabiru Swamp – totally MEGA! This was actually a Brisbane lifer for me, as I’d not twitched any of the previous individuals, so I was double happy.

But the poor bird looked as bedraggled as I did. I reeled off a few photos through a rain-sodden viewfinder through which I could hardly see anything, and promptly exited stage left. No more birding today, just excited preparation for Moreton Island #3 tomorrow. Watch this space.

With one year tick today (Pallid Cuckoo), my year list incremented to 279 species. I spent 59 minutes birding, walked 3.905 km and drove 29.0 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
Jun 3: Just Shy of Brisbane

 

Today was my second Sunday in a row out on the brine, with the scheduled June Sunshine Coast pelagic taking place. There is a big low pressure system off NSW, and the leading edge of this meant SSW winds of 15-18 knots veering S today. I was expectant as we gathered at the wharf in Mooloolaba given the weather pattern, but also wished the pelagic was a few days’ hence, when the winds would kick around to the east (still, there might be a seawatching expedition to Moreton Island in the latter part of next week to try and coincide with that).

There was a 2m swell rolling in, but it had a much longer period than last week, and was well organised. This meant the boat rocked predictably, and no-one was seasick all day – hurrah!

We passed a few Hutton’s Shearwaters and Australasian Gannets on the way out, and a couple of Humpback Whales. Our track took us well to north of east, and it was going to be a long time before we arrived into Brisbane waters. It was with some trepidation that I looked upon a couple of fishing boats that we veered towards. I was exhilarated but if I’m honest also slightly frustrated when we saw a stonking subadult Shy Albatross around the first boat – an absolute cracker, but not even close to being in Brisbane waters. There were good numbers of Providence Petrels appearing from about half way out to the shelf, and a very brief prion might have been a Fairy, but I didn’t get enough on it to tell.

After what seemed like an age to an ardent Brisbane year-lister, we edged into Brisbane waters as we neared the shelf, and eventually cut the engine and commenced the drift. Providence Petrels continued to show up, but not much else happened for a while. Then a couple of prions put in an appearance, and studies of camera screens revealed them both to be Antarctic. Presently a Grey-faced Petrel joined the Providence procession, and it seemed to be a different individual to last week’s bird, with today’s bird showing less extensive grey on the forehead. I had resigned myself to not getting any Brisbane year ticks when a totally splendid Black-bellied Storm-petrel danced past the back of the boat, and proceeded to circle the boat a couple of times. Truly one of my favourite species! Several more showed in the ensuing hour, hard to tell if it was the same bird coming back for another nose at the slick. The time rolled around to leave, and this was going to be it. I was happy with a good pelagic, although the way the birds lined up there was only one year tick for me, perhaps a couple less than I was hoping for.

With one year tick today (Black-bellied Storm-petrel), my year list incremented to 278 species. I spent 4 hours 36 minutes birding in Brisbane, walked 0 km and drove 220.0 km. My chronological year list is here.

Black-bellied Storm-petrel. What a beauty!!

Show us your belly!

 
One Morus for the list

 

Towards the end of a ridiculously busy week at work, I decided to duck out after lunch and grab a couple of hours in nature. After all, even small doses are good for our health. I headed first to Kedron Brook Wetlands in the vague hope of connecting with a Black Falcon, but never really expected to see one. My low expectations were fulfilled, but I was pleasantly surprised to see two pairs of Australasian Shoveler there.

I then moved on to Nudgee Beach, and scoped out into Moreton Bay from the car park at the end of Fortitude Street. I was looking for Australasian Gannet, and after about 5 minutes, I saw a presumed adult very distantly flying north in front of Moreton Island, and then about 15 minutes later an immature bird was quite a bit closer in, moving slowly south. With the main quarry in the bag, and not much else going on, I stopped in at Tuckeroo Park on the way back to the motorway, to scope the sand bar that was exposed at the mouth of Kedron Brook. There was a mixed flock of shorebirds, gulls and terns, but nothing unusual with them (I was hoping for Lesser Crested Tern, which surprisingly hasn’t yet shown up in Brisbane this year). Beyond the island a flock of 40 Little Black Cormorants was voraciously fishing, and an immature Australasian Gannet, presumably the same one I’d seen off Fortitude Street, was floundering about in the water not far beyond the sand bar, trying to swallow a large fish. Eventually it succeeded and took off, flying north.

Australasian Gannet is a winter visitor to Brisbane, but there are very few records – only 29 between 2005 and 2017. A reminder to us all to scope Moreton Bay every now and then – I suspect gannets are around pretty much all winter most years, and maybe also at other times of year. Another species to look for in the Bay at this time of year is Fluttering Shearwater, but I didn’t see any of those today. In fact I’ve seen them off Bribie Island, but never in Brisbane – I bet they occur inside Moreton Bay with some regularity, and would surely be seen on a winter Moreton Island seawatch. Talking of winter Moreton Island seawatching, conditions look interesting for 9th or 10th of June, with strong onshore easterlies…

With one year tick today (Australasian Gannet), my year list edged on to 277 species. I spent 2 hours 8 minutes birding, walked 0.739 km and drove 46.6 km. My chronological year list is here.

 

Australasian Gannet is a winter visitor in small numbers to Brisbane, but Moreton Bay and the coastal waters beyond Moreton Island are severely underwatched, so the occurrence pattern must be considered tentative.

Australasian Gannet records vary from year-to-year, with many in 2010, and far fewer in other years since 2005.

 
May 27: All at sea

 

The day had finally arrived when I would finally get out on the deep blue sea off Brisbane. The skipper has decided the pelagic trip out of Mooloolaba would go ahead despite easterly winds and a 2m swell – good man! My body was against the whole idea – I get pretty seasick on pelagics when they are rough, and because of this, my diabetes control was going to be horribly problematic. I won’t bore you with the details – suffice to say my desire to year list overcame common sense (nothing new there).

I arrived at Louis Backstrom’s house 10 minutes late at 0450 and then we dashed over to Ged Tranter’s place, and piled into his car. As we disembarked at the marina in Mooloolaba, the excitement was palpable, with the easterly wind blowing in our hair. Greg Roberts took the roll call, and we climbed aboard. Greg has been a birding pioneer for much of his life, discovering a number of new populations of various species, putting the Sunshine Coast firmly on the birding map, and latterly organising a fine series of pelagic trips out of Mooloolaba. Organising pelagics is an enormous task, and I felt truly grateful to Greg as we left the marina and crossed the seaway amid rising seas. Once we got out into the ocean, the swell hit and I instantly knew this was going to be a rough one.

Still in Sunshine Coast waters, a cracking dark juvenile Brown Booby was one of the first birds to put in an appearance amidst a few Australasian Gannets. We steamed at fast pace toward the shelf, and the border of Brisbane waters (see this post for a discussion of all this). Just as we crossed the border, a Red-footed Booby showed distantly to the south, and a Providence Petrel was closer in – an absolutely brilliant start!

At 0939, we arrived near to the shelf, and the skipper cut the engine to idle so we could drift over the swell and put out some berley. An early appearance was made by a cracking Grey-faced Petrel, which did a single pass close to the boat and then disappeared. Another Providence Petrel was also around, but there wasn’t much happening so in the end Greg rightly decided to move on. A quick look at a fishing boat revealed an adult Brown Booby sitting preening on one of the outriggers, and it was a great relief to have this species out of the way for my Brisbane year list, after Steve Murray had found a couple in Moreton Bay last weekend and I was wondering how I was going to get that species back.

Arriving at the shelf, we commenced the main drift with the engine cut, and continuously delivered small amount of berley. After a while, several Providence Petrels showed up, and I enjoyed watching this beautiful Pterodroma. But the year-lister in me wanted more, despite now being somewhat seasick with the continual lurching of the boat. And more we got – eventually a single prion showed up, but it disappeared almost as quickly as it had arrived. Raja managed some shots and reckoned it was probably an Antarctic, but I didn’t get much on it. Not to worry – a while later three more prions showed up (perhaps including the first bird again) and did a series of very close passes behind the boat and in the slick – splendid Antarctic Prions! This lovely species is scarce this far north in Australian waters, and I was delighted to see it. Also new for the year list was a small number of Wilson’s Storm-petrels dancing along the slick. This was all great stuff, and perhaps not the mega trip I was hoping for, but a wonderful set of 5 year-tick seabirds and a really enjoyable session.

At 1322, we commenced the drive back to the marina, noting the adult Brown Booby again on the same fishing boat as seen previously, but nothing else of note on the way back. We arrived back at the marina at about 4pm, tired but happy. No mega species, and relatively small numbers of birds, but certainly not a bad trip. And what’s best is that there’s another trip next week!

With five year ticks today (Brown Booby, Red-footed Booby, Providence Petrel, Antarctic Prion, Wilson’s Storm-petrel), my year list surged to 276 species. I spent 7 hours 10 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove or boated 277.1 km. My chronological year list is here.

The beautiful Antarctic Prion – you just can’t go past it!

The black in the tail doesn’t reach the sides, ruling out Fairy Prion, and extends onto T4, ruling out Slender-billed. The well-defined ‘M’ mark over the wings also rules out Slender-billed, as does the relatively thick bill. Also this photo shows that the pale bill sides contrast strongly with the dark ridge, ruling out Salvin’s.

This photo shows the strong half collar, ruling out Fairy, the restricted black nearer the centre of the tail tip, and unbarred undertail. Note how dark the bill side looks compared to the previous pic, even though this is the same individual.

 
May 26: One of my favourite Australian birds

 

Since I’m going to be off birding all day tomorrow on the Sunshine Coast pelagic trip (yipppeeeeee!) I spent most of today morning with the family. About 1.30pm I decided to duck out and head up to Shorncliffe Pier – the easterly winds were blowing reasonably strongly and a few squalls were rolling in off the Pacific; a good chance to look for Australasian Gannet and Brown Booby in Moreton Bay. But while I was driving up the M1, Ged Tranter phoned and said he’d just found two Jacky-winters (or is it Jackies-winter?) at the corner of Kholo Rd and Lake Manchester Rd, just SE of Lake Manchester.

This is one of my favourite Australian birds – it has a beautiful melodious song, vaguely reminiscent of Common Nightingale, and is a characteristic species of drier country. It’s very rare in Brisbane, with only 20 previous records, but I wonder if it might be a scarce resident in the drier western parts of the LGA. I had one in January 2016 along the perimeter track NE of Lake Manchester, and haven’t been back to that area since to see whether there are still birds there.

I had a brief argument with myself about what I should do. With two birds present, they seem likely to stick around, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are still there in two months’ time. Good conditions for looking for seabirds in Moreton Bay are scarce, and this was a good opportunity. In the end I decided to chase the known rarity, rather than look for new ones. The adrenalin racing, I turned around and sped towards Lake Manchester, taking advantage of the toll roads to expedite my arrival. The showers were scudding through and the weather was looking decidedly dicey. But as soon as I screeched to a halt at the corner of Kholo Rd and Lake Manchester Rd and raised by bins to scan the fenceline I could breathe a sigh of relief. The birds were still there!

And one of them posed very nicely on a signpost. Absolutely spellbinding stuff! After admiring them for half an hour or so, and wandering up and down Kholo road birding, I headed toward home with a very nice unexpected species added to my year list.

I’m super excited about the pelagic tomorrow! The weather conditions are about as good as they get, with sustained SE/E winds over the last week or so, and projected to continue tomorrow.

With one year tick today my year list edged up to 271 species. I spent 49 minutes birding, walked 1.461 km and drove 133.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

Jacky Winter – one of my all time favourite birds! With only 20 previous eBird records in Brisbane, this remains a very scarce species.

 
May 22: Top Brisbane year lists

 

Extreme nerdiness warning for this post – read on at your own risk…

No birding of note today, but I’ve been playing with the eBird data again, and am happy to announce the top 10 Brisbane year lists of all time prior to 2018. Drum roll please…

Jo Culican 225 (2017)

Chris Attewell 218 (2017)

Matteo Grilli 218 (2017)

Ged Tranter 217 (2017)

Chris Attewell 216 (2016)

Mat Gilfedder 213 (2014)

Mat Gilfedder 211 (2017)

Chris Attewell 210 (2015)

Chris Wiley 210 (2013)

Stephen Murray 208 (2016)

This year is turning out to be smashing all previous records, with seven people currently equaling or exceeding the all time Brisbane year list record. I think this is a direct result of adding LGAs into eBird as pseudo-“counties”. This has stimulated interest in local birding, and I think has also resulted in more people exploring more places in far-flung corners of the LGA. The big story of the year so far is the meteoric rise of Shelley Road Park and Lake Manchester, with heaps of exciting species being found along the far western border of the LGA, that has been relatively thinly birded until this year. Also significant is more birding activity west of Mount Glorious Road, e.g. at Lawton Road. But we still collectively need to make huge inroads into finding out what’s inside the camel’s head.

Who will win this joyfully pointless race? As I have pointed out before, the raw totals cannot yet be used to reliably indicate who might steal gold this year, because folks have a different number of easy birds “up their sleeve”, e.g. I still need White-winged Triller, Baillon’s Crake and Powerful Owl. Ged still needs Sooty Owl, Paradise Riflebird etc. OK, these sorts of species aren’t easy easy, but they are essentially guaranteed given reasonable effort at the right time of year.

Richard Fuller – 270

Ged Tranter – 256

Jo Culican – 251

Stephen Murray – 250

Rod Gardner – 234

Mat Gilfedder – 234

Rick Franks – 225

 
May 20: One out of four ain’t bad

 

Up early again this morning, setting out to look for four possible year ticks in the Gold Creek area – Black Bittern, Emerald Dove, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo and Masked Owl. All are difficult, and as I rolled up at a spot in Pullenvale at 0515, I reflected on how difficult the birds were getting now. Almost all the species I still need are rare local residents that are hard to connect with, or are generally only reliable at known stakeouts. After a few minutes, I heard a Masked Owl calling, which was excellent – I managed to get a recording of one call, but annoyingly I missed a second call because I turned the recorder off just before it did it (2.5 minutes after the first call). I trimmed the audio file down to just 10 seconds, containing one call.

Buoyed by this early success I headed to Gold Creek Reservoir, where my plan was to look for Black Bittern in the creek between the dam spillway and the car park. Despite carefully searching a decent section of the creek, I couldn’t turn up a Black Bittern – I’m not sure if they are always present here, but there was a good run of records this time last year, so I thought I’d try just on the offchance and to make a change from dipping Black Bittern at Sandy Camp and Mookin-Bah.

Giving up with the bittern as the daylight intensified, I headed to the entrance road to look for Emerald Dove, but it’s a tricky species to produce on demand, and I had neither sight nor sound of one. I drove a bit further back up the road and birded the roadside in more open country, seeing a cracking quartet of Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos fly over, but no sign of Emerald Dove. Another spot nearer Adavale Street dams produced a nice Eastern Spinebill but no Emerald Doves, or the scarce introduced Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo.

Many of the sightings of the introduced population of Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo have been around the Adavale Street area, and looking at the map I thought Savages Rd looked a good bet, being one of the few publicly-accessible areas near the locations of the recent sightings. I drove to the end of Savages Rd, and birded the last few hundred metres – nothing spectacular, but very birdy and enjoyable. This does look like a promising area to get a flyover Major Mitchell’s, but ultimately getting that species will be all about spending lots of time in the right area. I’ll have to put in a few long mornings here I think. With time up, I headed home, having missed three target (but very difficult) birds, and scored one. Not a bad result at this stage of the game.

With one year tick today my year list edged up to 270 species. I spent 3 hours 14 minutes birding, walked 6.214 km and drove 86.2 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
May 19: Yellow gonebill

 

I had planned to go to Gold Creek Reservoir to look for Black Bittern and Emeland Dove this morning, but following Mike Bennett’s excellent find of two Yellow Thornbills at Oxley Creek Common yesterday afternoon, I changed my mind and decided to go there and look for the thornbills. It wasn’t clear exactly where the birds had been seen, so I arrived early (failing to find Grass Owl) and covered the entire area. There were lots of Brown Honeyeaters, but not a sniff of any Yellow Thornbills. Mike later told me the birds were near the second dip. I bumped into Chris Barnes, who had seen two mobile Black-necked Storks, but I didn’t get onto those either. All a bit miserable really, and I retired home, tail between my legs.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 269. I spent 3 hours 5 minutes birding, walked 5.94 km and drove 29.0 km. My chronological year list is here.

 
May 16: Lightning strikes in the same place twice

 

Dropping our young son at daycare this morning, I was driving up Reynolds Street in Carindale when I noticed a raptor low over the road, with Noisy Miners going completely crazy at it. A pale phase Little Eagle. Un. be. lievable. After yesterday’s exertions and hours of patient scanning, to just bump into one in suburban east Brisbane was simply amazing – lightning struck twice.

Little Eagle is a very sparse species in Brisbane, with only 58 records in eBird up to Feb 2018. It is a winter visitor to the city, but I don’t know whether this is associated with breeding, or if the records are mainly of itinerant birds.

The records of Little Eagle in Brisbane show a clear winter peak, with April to July being the best month to connect with this species.

Records are sparse, with no records at all in some years, and the possible suggestion of a decline over the past decade or so.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 269. My chronological year list is here.

 

 
May 15: Raptorous applause

 

With a few meetings cancelled today, I decided to get up early, work like crazy all morning and then head out birding at lunchtime. I probably should have gone to Tinchi Tamba (chance of Black Falcon and Little Eagle), but instead I went to Shelley Road Park. Winter is fast approaching, and it is time to be looking for overshooting migrants from the south (robins, swift parrots etc) and stragglers from the drier country out west. I’ve been looking forward to this period all year, and although I didn’t discover any rarities, I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon on the western frontier of the city.

I was fortunate to “discover” Shelley Road Park from a birding perspective a couple of years ago. It has already turned up some great birds and is becoming a regular feature on the Brisbane birding agenda. Today, as well as searching for rarities, I was keen to connect with one of the Little Eagles that had been repeatedly seen here over the past month or so. To this end, I spent much of my four hours there with my eyes glued to the sky, and preferring to stay in open country where I had a good view of the sky.

I wasn’t disappointed, with a veritable cornucopia of amazing raptors – EIGHT species, with the highlights being both Swamp and Spotted Harriers, a Square-tailed Kite and a pale phase Little Eagle. I had to work pretty hard for this lot, with long periods of waiting between raptor flyovers, but the strategy of focusing on the sky had well and truly paid off – several of the birds I only found because I was actively scanning the sky with binoculars, i.e. they were too far to easily pick up with the naked eye. It was a lovely sunny afternoon with scattered cloud – good weather for raptors to be up, and a truly magical birding occasion.

With one year tick today my year list edged up to 269 species. I spent 4 hours 10 minutes birding, walked 4.393 km and drove 156.7 km. My chronological year list is here.

I couldn’t get pics of the Little Eagle or Spotted Harrier, but the Square-tailed Kite obliged – what a beauty!

Square-tailed Kite records generally increase through the year, presumably associated with breeding time, when the birds become more obvious. There is curious peak in May, to which my record today will contribute.

 
May 13: Booby trap

 

Had a really relaxing couple of nights at Binna Burra – the kids totally loved it and it was a great way for them to experience the rainforest with relatively accessible tracks etc. We stayed in an apartment with an amazing view, and part of it was generously paid for by the wonderful members of our research lab at UQ, who kindly contributed to a voucher as a get-well present for me earlier in the year. A really touching gift from a brilliant group of people.

Yesterday, Steve Murray had gone on a commercial sightseeing tour to Moreton Island, and while the seawatching from the Cape was unproductive, he did see two different Brown Boobies from the ferry. This is a very rarely recorded species in Brisbane, with only four previous records in eBird. One bird, a juvenile, was just off Tangalooma, but the other, an adult, was not far off the Port of Brisbane. This latter bird made me think about going to Nudgee Beach to scope into the Bay and look for it maybe sometime next week. The other big highlight of yesterday was Rick Franks and Felicia Chan’s Black Falcon sighting at lunch time at Kedron Brook Wetlands. One or two Black Falcons had been around for weeks now, but very mobile and seen only briefly every time – just not twitchable. Very frustrating for me, but also good to know the birds are still around and that a chance of connecting still remains.

We arrived back at home about lunchtime, and almost immediately Michael Daley put his list from this morning onto eBird – a couple of Black Falcons circling over Sandy Camp Road Wetlands and drifting off towards Lytton. This was too much – the first record of the itinerant falcons south of the river, and I had to act on this. I decided to go to Kedron Brook Wetlands, reasoning that the birds had been seen there a couple of times and it would be wiser to be there than at either of the extremities of their sightings so far (Tinchi Tamba and Sandy Camp). I arrived at Kedron at 1420 and spent an enjoyable 45 minutes watching from the yellow gate, but no sign of any Black Falcons. I decided to bolt to Nudgee Beach to have 20 minutes’ scoping into Moreton Bay to look for Brown Booby in the afternoon light, but no such luck and I was soon back at Kedron, where I bumped into Brad Woodworth and his partner Emma out for a spot of gentle birding. I disturbed their peace, charging about and stressing about falcons, but they gamely put up with my wittering on. Eventually they wandered into the grassland, and Louis Backstrom turned up – quite a party here today, and quite a few raptors put in an appearance (Australian Kite, Brahminy Kite, Whistling Kite, Nankeen Kestrel, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Swamp Harrier) but again no Black Falcons. Dusk was approaching, and the four of us gathered at the shrine of the Grass Owl and waited for nightfall. I was running out of time, and the bright sunset took ages to metamorphose into darkness. I eventually had to leave just before darkness fell, but there was to be no sign of any Grass Owl tonight.

As Louis pointed out, there have been relatively few recent records of Grass Owl here, and it is possible that the species has become erratic or maybe even disappeared from this location. There are 135 eBird records of this species in Brisbane, 127 of which are from Kedron, so at present it’s the only game in town. I wonder if there are other locations for this species in Brisbane? Parts of Boondall look good, for instance. Records at Kedron have been erratic over the years, but there were rather few records in 2016 and 2017, and only one so far in 2018. Rather concerning. Still, June and July are key months for this species, and so come on Brisbane – let’s put in a concerted effort and try to find these birds this winter!

With no year ticks today my year list remained on 268 species. I spent 2 hours 32 minutes birding, walked 1.5 km and drove 45.7 km. My chronological year list is here.

Grass Owl reporting rate by month – winter is a good time to look for this species.

Grass owl records have been erratic over the years, with rather few since 2015.

 
May 8: The list so far

 

No birding to report today – it rained most of the day, and I have a busy week at work, so I hope nothing good shows up! At the weekend I’m going with the family to Binna Burra – the longest time I would have spent outside the Brisbane LGA this year. I can feel the FOMO already.

From now on I will be maintaining an up-to-date list of all species recorded this year, together with date and location and will try to remember to link to it at the end of each post.

With no year ticks today, my list remained on 268 species. My chronological year list is here.

 
May 6: High jinx!

 

Terrible news! Greg Roberts emailed last night to say the pelagic had been cancelled!! The coastal winds were strong and forecast to stay that way today. This is some sort of jinx – I missed the March pelagic because I was in hospital, and then this one got cancelled. It has been rescheduled to 27th May – and there might still be a few spots. Please get in touch with Greg, or email me (r.fuller@uq.edu.au) and I’ll put you in contact with him. It should be a blast!

I toyed with the idea of going to Moreton Island for a seawatch since the winds were southeasterly, but it was a bit too late to organise it, there was no rain or storm associated with the wind, and Dusky Woodswallows had been showing at Lake Manchester over the past few days and I was keen to connect with them. I decided against a madcap dash to Moreton Island, and instead set the alarm for 0300 intent on walking as far as I could in the dark along the ridge track (which I think is called Sugarloaf Mountain Break) just W of Lake Manchester. This would place me deep in the forest before light and I could then make my way south again back to Lake Manchester Road after dawn looking for the woodswallows.

I got to the trail entrance at 0430, swung my rucksack over my shoulders and puffed my way up the hill. Just after the gate, I suddenly heard a Barn Owl calling off to the SW – I was absolutely elated, as this is a really rare species in Brisbane (at least there are very few records). Yet the habitat around this area is quite suitable for them, with substantial pastures with long grasses, and trees with large hollows in open woodland nearby. It called twice, and had moved in in the intervening period – ending up somewhere near the trail entrance on Lake Manchester Road. I couldn’t see the bird, which was a shame, but nevertheless the year tick was in the bag. The year lister is advised to exercise caution in this area, as the trail criss-crosses the Brisbane / Somerset boundary.

Pushing on up the hill, I stopped every now and then to listen in the darkness, but not much was going on. I had thought I might hear a Powerful Owl or even a Masked, but no such luck. Eventually I heard a distant Southern Boobook, had good views of another on the track. Much further up, a couple of Australian Owlet-Nightjars called right next to the track, but I couldn’t get onto them visually. As dawn began to break, I realised there were heaps of birds around – lots of migrant lateralis Silvereyes, Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, and shedloads of Spotted Pardalotes – these are surely migrants too. But no Dusky Woodswallows…

I got further up the track, where it veers off into Somerset for a couple of kilometres, but eventually decided my pace was too slow and I should turn around to head back south along the track towards where the woodswallows had been seen over the past few days. Just before I turned around, a bird flushed off the side of the track and I saw white tail corners. Presently I got onto a female Spotted Quail-Thrush, but before I could take a photograph it was obscured in the dense ground vegetation again. After a while two birds were calling very close to me, and I got a sound recording, but I couldn’t see either of them again. I was pleased to find this species in a new location, and it’s a Somerset LGA lifer! Maybe I should do a Somerset big year next year. Actually my wife has told me in no uncertain terms – no big year-ing of any sort next year…

I turned around and tried to collect my enthusiasm so I could remain alert and try to find these woodswallows – I was tired, in many ways chronically so from the repeated early starts this year, and the sun was heating up. My first scare came after a kilometre or so when two White-breasted Woodswallows soared low over the canopy. Then suddenly, about 0900 I heard the distinctive call of Dusky Woodswallows! They were high – two birds – but they flew across my visibility over the track and were gone before I could properly register what was happening. Fortunately there were another four birds following, and I got a few distant flight shots. Then the birds came lower and three perched in a dead tree fairly close by, allowing me to see all the key ID features and get some reasonable photos. I was totally elated. This was the second really difficult species under the belt today.

Although Dusky Woodswallow occurs not far to the west of Brisbane, it is very rare in Brisbane Local Government Area itself, with only six records in eBird up until the end of 2017. Interesting, five of the six previous records were in May, June or July, making the present set of birds a typical date. Nothing much else occurred on the way back to the car, and I was tired but happy.

Having a couple more hours to spare, I wandered around Shelley Road Park, and bumped into Ged Tranter. We birded together for a while, and a Collared Sparrowhawk was notable, but we couldn’t turn up any rarities, and annoyingly, there was no sign before I left of the Little Eagle that had been kicking around for a while. Ged actually had the eagle much later in the day. At least it’s still about. I’ll have to try again soon.

With two year ticks today (Barn Owl and Dusky Woodswallow) my year list rose to 268 species. I spent 8 hours 17 minutes birding, walked 15.727 km and drove 113.4 km.

Dusky Woodswallows!!! All four sightings of Dusky Woodswallows since Carla Perkins first found the birds have been along Sugarloaf Mountain Break. You’ll need to walk long distances up hill and down dale to stand a chance of finding these birds.

Really happy with my record of Spotted Quail-Thrush today, which significantly extends the current distribution in eBird (it’s the red flag on the map). The reality is that the species probably occurs quite widely in the Brisbane ranges, but it is tricky to detect and undoubtedly occurs at low density.

 
May 4: The less said about this, the better

 

With the pelagic coming up on Sunday, I had decided to spend Saturday with the family and do no birding. So I thought I’d grab the chance late evening on the Friday night to get out to Kedron again and look for Barn Owl and Grass Owl. I won’t say much about it, except you can guess the outcome, and at least I saw one owl.

With no year ticks today my year list remained on 266 species. I spent 3 hours 16 minutes birding, walked 7.753 km and drove 35.4 km.

 
May 1: Harriers

 

Up before dawn and drove over to Micha Jackson’s place at Paddington. Brad Woodworth met us there and the three of us piled into my car and drove down to Lake Manchester. Even before dawn had broken, we parked at the base of the ridge track, and walked up toward the western end of Dam Break 11, where the Dusky Woodswallows had been seen a couple of days ago. One of the first birds to appear when there was sufficient light was a nice Rose Robin, my first of the year. They are winter visitors to Brisbane, and although they’d been around for a couple of weeks I hadn’t spent any time in the right habitat so far. We pushed on up the hill, and looped back via the lake track and car park but could find no sight nor sound of Dusky Woodswallow, although a couple of White-breasted Woodswallows gave us a scare at one point. The birding was good, with Buff-rumped Thornbill, Restless Flycatcher, Weebill, two different groups of Varied Sittellas and about 5 Rose Robins. All really nice stuff, but not the mega year tick I was hoping for.

We exited the car park and headed south across the road to Shelley Road Park, an amazing Brisbane City Council parkland that had hosted a Red-backed Kingfisher a few weeks ago. Notable birds were Restless Flycatcher, Brown Falcon and Nankeen Kestrel, but despite our optimism we couldn’t turn up anything rare. Time was ticking on and we had to get to work, so we left about 1000.

After my meeting at work I had a couple of hours before the end of the day, and decided to head to Oxley Creek Common. Chris Attewell had texted earlier saying he’d had a Spotted Harrier again this morning. I couldn’t resist and headed to the common, arriving about 1430. I walked down the track toward Jabiru Swamp, and bumped into Ged Tranter along the way. He showed me his incredible photos of an adult Spotted Harrier, but hadn’t seen it for a couple of hours. I was happy it was still around, but tense because I still hadn’t seen it. I needn’t have worried because after about a minute Ged shouted he’d seen the harrier, and sure enough a splendid adult Spotted Harrier appeared and began quartering the main paddock. Absolutely amazing. It did a few reasonably close passes allowing some photos. Presently a Swamp Harrier appeared, completing a brilliant harrier duo.

Ged left the common, and I pressed on to the Secret Forest looking for Collared Sparrowhawk without luck. On the way back to the Red Shed, an Accipiter burst out of the trees in front of me and belted across the common, landing in a tree quite some distance away. It had a long, narrow tail with what looked like a nicely squared off tip, but I couldn’t get much more than that in field views. I got a few extremely distant shots of the perched bird, but it disappeared before I could get my scope on it. The pics are below, and I’m happy they show a Collared Sparrowhawk.

With a whopping three year ticks today (Rose Robin, Spotted Harrier and Collared Sparrowhawk), my year list rose to 266 species. I spent 6 hours 8 minutes birding, walked 11.789 km and drove 112.4 km.

Tail looks reasonably narrow, but hard to discern shape of the tip from this pic

This pic is the most informative, and shows square-ended tail, with slight notch, spindly legs, and what I fancy looks like a small head with a staring expression. But it is a heavy crop of a photo taken at great distance!

The head looks smallish and flattish in this pic.

Hard to tell given the angle, but maybe the secondaries look like they are bulging behind the rest of the wing (although compare with the top pic, which shows quite a straight trailing edge to the wing). Again, narrow tail but hard to discern the shape of the tip from this pic.

Rose Robin is strictly a winter visitor to Brisbane.

 

 
Apr 29: Really bad photos of rare finches

 

I was determined to try again for Scaly-breasted Munia. Not the birding choice I would have made if I’d not been doing a big year, as this would be my third attempt. It’s a fascinating case though, being an introduced species that has become very rare in recent years. One wonders why this is. Perhaps its population never really gained sufficient size and connectivity to persist over the long term; perhaps the climate is a bit too temperate – globally it is a tropical species, and south-eastern Australia is among the highest latitudes of any part of its current world distribution. Maybe green space and long grasses needed by this species are disappearing in Brisbane. Whatever the cause of its decline in the city, I was keen to see this bird, as there might not be another good opportunity this year.

After I arrived at Fitzgibbon Bushland I began coming across small groups of Chestnut-breasted Mannikins, and traversed right across the area with no luck. Eventually I returned to the spot where the birds had initially been found by Ross Smith and seen again by Ged Tranter. I saw a small group of finches, raised my bins and there it was! Right there, just nonchalantly sitting there. I reeled off a few blurry pictures, later realising they were horribly overexposed because I had previously been photographing flying birds. It shuffled down into the bush, and I kept on it for about 5 minutes, but after that it just seemed to evaporate. I didn’t see or hear it leave, and simply couldn’t find it again. No matter, the tick was in the bag and I was mighty relieved.

I decided to push on to Tinchi Tamba, and have another look for the Black Falcon that had been seen over a week ago. It was a very long shot, but I thought I’d try nevertheless. Arriving at the small car park, I realised I had the place to myself, and wandered out onto the expansive wader roost area, since it was high tide and I wondered if the falcon might investigate it during that time. Except for a small flock of Red-capped Plovers there were no shorebirds roosting. As I got onto the plain, three finches flushed from close by and flew across in front of me – Plum-headed Finches! They landed in a tree and I got some very long range pics, but then they flew again and I lost them. This is a rare and erratic species in Brisbane, and this was the first record for Tinchi Tamba, the 232nd species recorded at this exceptional site. I texted the news to Ged Tranter and Steve Murray, both keen Tinchi birders. Steve showed up about an hour later but unfortunately couldn’t relocate the birds.

I spent the rest of the morning scanning carefully for raptors, taking advantage of the 360 degree sky view on the wader roost plain. The final tally was 1 Brown Goshawk, 2 Whistling Kites, 6 Brahminy Kites, 3 White-bellied Sea-eagles, and a Nankeen Kestrel. And just before I was about to leave, a Square-tailed Kite appeared rather distantly in the east, a year tick. I was pleased with this, because although I wasn’t worried about missing it for the year, it’s a scarce species and now one less to plan time for. Steve Murray later had a Swamp Harrier and Rick Franks had a Little Eagle – all in all an amazing raptor day for Tinchi Tamba. Just Black Falcon missing…

With two year ticks today (Scaly-breasted Munia and Square-tailed Kite), my year list rose to 263 species. I spent 4 hours 50 minutes birding, walked 7.717 km and drove 76.6 km.

Scaly-breasted Munia at Fitzgibbon Bushland. Horribly overexposed because I forgot to change the camera setting back from previously photographing a flyover bird. Also poorly framed and out of focus, although to be fair I only had a few seconds to grab a pic.

Plum-headed Finches at Tinchi Tamba – these are two of the three birds that flushed from in front of me and landed in a tree at the SW corner of the wader roost plain. Very distant record shot – this documents the first record of this species at Tinchi Tamba, which now has 232 species listed on eBird.

 
Apr 28: A birder’s bird

 

Against my own better judgement, I had another go for Black Bittern this morning. This time I went out earlier, arriving at Sandy Camp Road Wetlands at 0415, about 2 hours before dawn. I wanted to wander around the site well before sunrise and try to find a Black Bittern out feeding. No such luck – the best bird was a nice Tawny Frogmouth. Just before dawn I bumped into Michael Daley, and we arranged to cover different spots as the sun rose. I had a Lewin’s Rail calling briefly along the southern edge of bittern lagoon, but neither of us had sight nor sound of Black Bittern. Another crushing defeat – I think is my 12th dip on this species this year!

I had to be home early, so I left site around 0630. I was due to take the kids swimming, but a visitor was running late so I stayed behind. After the visitor had gone, I realised I had a spare 90 minutes, and decided to go and look for the Little Grassbirds that have been seen recently at Swan Lake, Port of Brisbane. 20 minutes later I was there, and skirting around the northern shore of the lake, I got into a position where I could view the small patch of juncus, and pished gently. Two birds appeared almost immediately at the edge of the juncus patch, and I even got a passable photo. This is a “birder’s bird” really – brown, skulking and quite rare in this part of its geographic range.

I was never really worried about missing this species, but it felt good to have it in the bag. There are only three active sites for the species at the moment, and it was good to have one less species to worry about. The little patch of trees at the east end of the lake looks really good, and there was a lot of bird activity in a small area. Worth keeping an eye on this spot I reckon – it has the feeling of a place where a rare honeyeater could show up. A quick check of the shorebird roost revealed nothing particularly noteworthy, and I headed home satisfied.

With one year tick today (Little Grassbird), my year list rose to 261 species. I spent 3 hours 2 minutes birding, walked 3.42 km and drove 78.9 km.

Little Grassbird at Swan Lake, Port of Brisbane this afternoon. Showing black streaks in a crown that shows no rufous colouration, and distinct breast streaking.

Little Grassbird records show peaks in May and Sep/Oct, but these could be spurious as the overall number of records is rather low. It is unclear to me whether Brisbane birds are involved in any migratory movements.

 
Apr 26: Diamonds are a birder’s best friend

 

After the tumultuous events of yesterday, I was in position by Jabiru Swamp before dawn, carefully scanning the track for yesterday’s Diamond Dove. No sign initially after dawn, and after 20 minutes Steve Murray turned up – he had planned a mission today to look for the Spotted Harrier, but was of course now very keen to see the dove. We both intently scanned the trees around the track looking for the dove perched, and were on tenterhooks for the following half an hour, until finally the Diamond Dove appeared distantly on the track feeding calmly right next to a fierce-looking Torresian Crow several times its size. A total cracker, it appeared to show no obvious signs of captivity, and is a likely vagrant since the species has been recorded almost continuously all the way from the arid zone to the east coast, albeit thinning out east of the Dividing Range. I was over the moon – to have any chance of reaching 300 species for the year, it’s essential to catch up with as many vagrant species like this as possible.

Much as I would have liked to stay to look for Spotted Harrier, I had to get to work, so headed home after a few minutes watching the dove, passing Michael Daley coming the other way. Michael connected with the dove, as did Ged Tranter not long after. Poor Steve never did see the Spotted Harrier, even after 5 hours and 8 km of walking! Tough luck.

I am fundamentally quite a competitive person – it’s a trait that is useful and destructive probably in equal measure, and over the years I’ve learned to carefully temper it. Unfortunately academia is a profession that encourages and rewards obsessive competitiveness – publishing more papers, achieving more citations, winning more grants etc. I started off the year determined not to feel competitive about my Brisbane Big Year – I would enjoy reconnecting with Brisbane’s birds, and it didn’t matter who came out with the highest total. By and large, this is how things are panning out – my main purpose for doing this year list is to spark some excitement and ownership among the birding community of Brisbane as a mecca for birding. As I mentioned a while ago, we are starting work at the University of Queensland on an atlas of Brisbane’s birds, powered by open-access eBird and Birds Queensland data, and generously co-funded by Birds Queensland. This big year was a way of motivating myself, and maybe others to get excited about intensifying the focus of Brisbane birding in 2019 and 2020, the main years of data collection for the atlas. You will hear much more about the atlas project over the coming weeks and months – it will be a freely available and open source product, and soon we will circulate some samples for how the species accounts could look, and welcome comment and collaboration on writing the atlas.

Yet I can’t resist an occasional glance at the league table. Like some sort of marathon (which I suppose is exactly what it is), a clear leading pack has emerged as the year has progressed. Although I am currently at the top of the table with 260 species, my position is extremely tenuous, and at this stage I expect Ged Tranter to go home with the gold medal, with me standing on tip-toes in silver or bronze position. I’ll explain this in a minute. The current top ten is:

1 Richard Fuller 260
2 Ged Tranter 247
3 Stephen Murray 239
4 Jo Culican 238
5 Mat Gilfedder 224
6 Rod Gardner 223
7 Matteo Grilli 203
8 Lucas Brook 202
9 Michael Daley 195
10 Rick Franks 194

The reason my lead is tenuous is that at this stage of the game, the totals aren’t what matters. It all depends who has seen which species. For example, Ged Tranter has seen four species that I don’t expect to get back – Barn Owl, Red-backed Kingfisher, Black Falcon and Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo*. Conversely, I have seen five species that Ged might find hard to get back – say two of the seabirds, Asian Dowitcher, Brown Songlark and Common Blackbird. This puts us essentially neck-and-neck as we near the end of April. It will be nailbiting stuff as the year continues – I might eventually get one of the Black Falcons that have been kicking around, or Barn Owl. The dowitcher might oversummer here again for Ged, we might score seabirds-a-plenty on the upcoming pelagic trips (we will both be in the same boat!). Hard to say, but it is most definitely close. My expectation is that Ged will pull into the lead as the year progresses – he’s a better birder than me, and my time in the field is limited. But we’ll see.

*Aside: I didn’t go for the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo in late March, because I had just assumed it’ll be an escape, or a bird from the local straggly flock that has been around the Brookfield area for a few years. This could prove to be a costly mistake. Ged has pointed out that the birds have been around since the 1990s, meaning they are now tickable under the usual Australian convention of a 15 year establishment period. I need to put some serious thinking into how to find a Major Mitchell’s in Brisbane in the remaining part of 2018.

With one year tick today (Diamond Dove), my year list rose to 260 species. I spent 1 hour 57 minutes birding, walked 3.42 km and drove 29.0 km.

Diamond Dove this morning at Oxley Creek Common. The brownish cast to the upperparts and pink (rather than red) orbital skin suggests this bird is an adult female.

Diamond Dove records stretch from the dry country out west all the way to the coast, albeit obviously thinning out progressively to the east. This suggests a reasonably good chance of vagrants reaching Brisbane.

 
Apr 25: A late hat trick

 

I had a feeling of inevitability about this morning. Given the late dawn these days, I had the luxury of a sleep in until 0500 on this Anzac Day, a public holiday in Australia. We were doing a family trip to the parade in the CBD, leaving the house at 0900, so I had to be back from my dawn birding quick smart. I headed up to Fitzgibbon Bushland to attempt to see the Scaly-breasted Munia so wonderfully photographed by Ged Tranter yesterday. I met Steve Murray there, and we birded together for a while, tippling up lots of small groups of Chestnut-breasted Mannikins, but there was no sign of a Scaly-breasted in with them. The frustrating thing about this is that the Scaly-breasteds are almost certainly still there somewhere, but the birds are so mobile, and hard to comprehensively sort through when they do eventually perch. This might take another couple of trips before I connect. It’s worth some degree of effort, as although in all likelihood there will be some easier birds this year, this isn’t the kind of species one wants to just leave for later. I had to leave site at 0830, and Steve and John continued birding, although there was no sign of Scaly-breasted Munia the rest of the morning.

The Anzac parade was excellent, but the birding wires were going crazy, and I knew I had to get out again in the afternoon. Rod Gardner had found a Yellow-billed Spoonbill at Priors Pocket, and amazingly had heard a Red-backed Buttonquail calling from a maize field! My wife very graciously saw my desperation and gave me leave to depart. I wasn’t going to Priors Pocket straight away, reasoning that the spoonbill would either be there or not (racing there wouldn’t make a difference), and that the buttonquail might be most likely to call again later in the afternoon.

A Spotted Harrier has been seen at Oxley Creek Common a few times over the last week, and this is about as close as possible to a twitchable individual. I decided to head there over the hottest part of the early afternoon, as many raptors seem to get up and soar about at this time. Scanning from the grassy knoll by the red shed brought an immediate year tick in the shape of a Nankeen Kestrel perched high on a wire – not entirely unexpected, and they become less rare after April, but they all count, and I was pleased to have another species in the bag. I walked briskly to Jabiru Swamp, where I continued scanning for raptors and had 2 White-bellied Sea-eagles, 4 Black Kites, a Whistling Kite, a Black-shouldered Kite, and a Wedge-tailed Eagle! Not a bad raptor haul, although the one I really wanted was conspicuously missing. I gave myself a time limit, and left at 1500 as I had to be back home by 1715.

I drove to Priors Pocket, with the tension rising as I approached the farm dam, a small roadside pool. I would know instantly if the spoonbill was still present and… BINGO!! An absolute cracker of a bird, hanging out with 3 Royal Spoonbills, and I even managed a reasonable photograph of it. This was actually a Brisbane life tick for me, the commonest bird that I still needed (the commonest now is Little Grassbird, then Pallid Cuckoo, Freckled Duck and Brolga). I tore myself away from the spoonbill too soon because I had allocated half an hour to listen for the Red-backed Buttonquail. I arrived at the spot described by Rod, and unbelievably the bird was calling as I got there! Punching the air, I sat down and waited to see if it might pop out since it was quite close to the edge. It didn’t, after 20 minutes, but I was totally chuffed anyway with the Brisbane life and year tick. All thanks to Rod’s generosity and timeliness in sharing information.

In fact, doing this Brisbane Year List has shown me what a brilliant birding community there is around the city, and it’s wonderful how generous people are with information and help, and spreading the news of good birds fast!

I returned home very satisfied with today’s late hat trick. Yet there was to be a sting in the tail. Incredibly, Andrew Thelander had found a Diamond Dove at Oxley Creek Common just after I had left, and a couple of hundred metres further along the track that I had stopped at to scan for raptors. Unbelievable! There is some controversy about whether Diamond Dove records in Brisbane are mostly wild or escaped birds. My sense is that individuals of this species showing no signs of captive origin should be treated as wild. And the photographs of today’s bird (here and here) don’t ring any alarm bells for me.

So, the bag is packed, the thermos is filled with coffee, and I’ll be back at Oxley Creek Common at dawn. I’ll only have about 30 minutes to look for the bird, but hopefully it’ll be enough.

With three year ticks today (Nankeen Kestrel, Yellow-billed Spoonbill and Red-backed Buttonquail), my year list rose to 259 species. I spent 4 hours 31 minutes birding, walked 7.396 km and drove 147.2 km.

A very nice Yellow-billed Spoonbill at Priors Pocket, found this morning by Rod Gardner.

Yellow-billed Spoonbil records show distinct peaks in autumn and spring, so this late April record is on a typical date. It’s the first Brisbane record this year.

 
Apr 22: Runnin’ over the same old ground…

 

Runnin’ over the same old ground · What have we found? The same old fears · Wish you were here.

I have been a lifelong fan of Pink Floyd, as evidenced by a blurry photograph of an awkward teenager in Surrey, England (photo below, if you dare to look). At 0400 this morning I was inwardly reciting these lyrics to an invisible Barn Owl at Kedron. I was also reciting them to an invisible Grass Owl. This was the second time I have dipped on this Tyto duo at this site, and it was starting to get me down. “Why don’t you go at dusk?” I hear you cry, dear reader. Indeed you have a very good point, except that dusk is a really tricky time for me, with the kids’ dinner usually being at 1740 or so – an unpopular and strategically unwise time for me to be out of the house. Maybe in mid-winter I’ll be able to do some dusk jaunts for owls. For now I’m getting up stupidly early to chase night birds, and getting thoroughly cheesed off with it. I had some good views of Black flying-fox.

As the light of dawn flickered across the wetland, I had one last hopeless stand, and then retreated to the car and headed north up the M1 to Tinchi Tamba. I reasoned there was no point in looking for yesterday’s Black Falcon at dawn, so instead I tried the Typha beds around First Lagoon for Little Grassbird. I got onto a grassbird almost straight away skulking low down in the reeds, but it turned out to be a Tawny. No sign of Little here or in the Typha beds on the right hand side of Wyampa Rd heading towards Tinchi. Arriving at the yellow gate, I walked straight out to the peninsula, with Nankeen Kestrel and Black Falcon in my sights. Presently Rod Gardner arrived and we chatted Brisbane birds for a while – at the time I couldn’t remember the seasonal pattern of occurrence for Nankeen Kestrel – see below Rod. He was after Black Falcon as well, and like me, also eventually dipped. We had 16 flyover Topknot Pigeons, a reasonably scarce bird at Tinchi, but scant consolation for missing Black Falcon. I had to leave  at 0900 to get back in time for a family engagement, and I was, to be honest, a bit down in the dumps. Year ticks were being seen all around me, and I had neatly dipped five year birds in one morning just like that. Not a sausage. Nada. Zilch.

The Black Falcon was seen by John Armstrong at lunchtime, and I planned maybe to come back during the middle of the day later in the week or next weekend.

Around lunchtime I saw on the eBird alert that Ross Smith had seen two Scaly-breasted Munias at Fitzgibbon Bushland, the first record of this declining introduced species in Brisbane this year (see this post for a discussion on that species). Ross very kindly gave me directions to where he’d seen the birds, and I headed up there for a mid-afternoon twitch. Ross had seen the Scaly-breasted Munias with a flock of about 35 Chestnut-breasted Mannikins. Presently I found the mannikin flock, but only about 20 birds were there, and I couldn’t see any Scaly-breasted Munias despite searching through the mobile flock for an hour or so. I retreated, very disappointed that I had missed 8 year ticks this weekend.

I guess things can only get better from here.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 256 species. I spent 5 hours 18 minutes birding, walked 8.829 km and drove 136.8 km.

Me, volunteering at Nower Wood Nature Reserve in Surrey, England. Some years ago.

Records of Nankeen Kestrel peak in autumn and early winter, with very few records between August and March. I have no idea why this is.

The reporting rate for Nankeen Kestrel appears to have dropped between 2005 and 2017, suggesting a decline in this species, which is now quite rare.

 

 
Apr 21: Knotty problem

 

I could only choose one of the two weekend days for morning birding, and I had chosen Sunday. So I had a much-needed lie-in this morning. Checking the alerts around lunchtime, I saw that the amazing Michael Daley had seen a bunch of Red Knots at the Manly foreshore near Dreveson Park on the morning low tide. I decided to head there late afternoon with the family to check the foreshore on the falling tide – the kids could play on the playground while I was birding. When we arrived about 16:20 the tide wasn’t as far out as I thought it would be, so it was quite a while before enough intertidal was exposed to attract the shorebirds off the roost. Although I saw hundreds of Grey-tailed Tattlers I couldn’t find the mixed flock of shorebirds that Michael had described. Eventually I doubled back and found the  flock at Penfold Place, but by now it was getting dark and it was too late to find the knots. It was irritating to miss them like this, but I really shouldn’t worry about it – there is generally a nice southward passage of red knots through Moreton Bay in September.

When I got home I checked the eBird alert again and saw that the inimitable Ged Tranter had found a Black Falcon at Tinchi Tamba, an incredible repeat of the bird he’d seen at Kedron on Feb 26th. The Tinchi bird had reappeared three times during the day today, and it later emerged that it had flown over Dowse Lagoon earlier in the morning. I had to go for this, so I resolved to try Tinchi in the morning, possibly looking for Little Grassbird at dawn, and then heading onto the peninsula / wader roost later in the morning. I had to back home for about 10am, so I wouldn’t have all that long.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 256 species. I spent 1 hours 8 minutes birding, walked 1.564 km and drove 10.2 km (I counted half of the kilometres since it was also a family outing).

 
Apr 17: Mirapool Magic

 

I’d been looking forward to the Moreton Island trip with the Queensland Wader Study Group for ages, and I was very excited this morning to be heading out on the Spoonbill, the Queensland Parks Department’s 12 metre-long barge, complete with a 4WD that we could unload as needed. We assembled expectantly at Manly boat harbour before 0700. In the group were Melissa Whitby, Peter Rothlisberg, Ross Patterson, Brad Woodworth, Robert Bush, Arthur & Sheryl Keates, and Kristy Currie. Kristy has been a key figure in Queensland state government working to conserve migratory shorebirds in Moreton Bay.

We chugged out of the harbour on time at 0700, and headed across the Bay toward the southern end of Moreton Island. I diligently scanned the Bay as we crossed it, but couldn’t turn up any interesting seabirds. The first bird to greet us as the barge nudged onto the beach was a magnificent Beach Stone-curlew, a species that is highly sensitive to disturbance, and the relatively undisturbed beaches of Moreton Island are now the main refuge for this species in Brisbane. Arthur had very kindly arranged for me to be part of the small group that was going to head to Mirapool, a lagoon and sandspit system on the SE corner of Moreton Island. He was keen to give me the best chance of connecting with Sanderling, a very rare species in Brisbane, and with the beaches of southern Moreton Island being the most reliable spot. There are only five Brisbane records in eBird between 2005 and 2017.

We unloaded the 4WD from the barge, and bumped along the sandy track to Mirapool. As we drove on to the top of the beach, immediately obvious was a number of plovers in a scattered group on our right hand side, most of which were Double-banded Plovers, a year tick! Double-banded Plover is a winter migrant from New Zealand where they breed, and it was nice to see good numbers of them, 73 all up. To our left was a much bigger group of small shorebirds, mainly Red-necked Stints but with a few other species accompanying them. We counted through the birds, and had around 600 stints, a few Red-capped, Lesser Sand, and Greater Sand Plovers and 6 Curlew Sandpipers. Brad and I backtracked to count the plover flock while Peter Rothlisberg went further on to check the birds on the beach in front of the stints.

Brad and I began to count through a nice flock of mixed plovers and stints until suddenly the whole lot spooked and wheeled around in the air. The original flock to the left also took flight and all the birds mixed up together before landing again in front of Peter. We would have to count everything again from the start! the big news from Peter was that he had found some Sanderling down on the beach, and sure enough I got onto at least 8 Sanderling and managed some long range photos. A mega year tick! Some of the birds were pretty much in breeding plumage, some were still grey, but most were in a sort of transitional “fresh” breeding plumage with some grey feathers on the back and a rather spangly appearance.

We walked across to the lagoon, where we saw a nice group of 9 Grey Plover, 4 Great Knots, 175 Bar-tailed Godwits, 180 Whimbrels and some mixed terns, including a rather orangey-billed Crested Tern, presumably one of those mysterious SE Australia birds. Time was up and we needed to make tracks, so we walked back to the car and drove to Dead Tree Point where there was a nice flock of 650 Whimbrels roosting. Whimbrels counted, we drove back to the barge and boarded with a sense of satisfaction – we had been luckier than the other group, who found only a small number of shorebirds on the roost sites they checked.

We then headed across South Passage to Amity Banks, a sand bar in Redland LGA (thus outside Brisbane) off North Stradbroke Island. There was the biggest flock of Pied Cormorants I have ever seen – about 1,500 birds! Quite an impressive sight. But not much else. We then circled Goat Island, where the highlight was 5 Eastern Reef Egrets roosting in the trees. Sandy Island, just off Cleveland, had a couple of Red Knots – which was a tad irritating, because we were quite some distance outside the Brisbane LGA boundary. I still need that species for my Brisbane Year List, but the southward passage is normally much more pronounced than the northward passage so I’m not too worried yet. This capped off a really nice morning out, and we steamed back to Manly Harbour, tired and sun-exposed but very satisfied with the day’s proceedings.

When I arrived home, I was amazed to hear a Grey Fantail calling in our front yard – and even managed to get a couple of pictures. It’s a common bird in Brisbane, but normally found in bushland – great to see one in suburbia; my 70th species for the house and we only moved there in June 2017. Top stuff!

With two year ticks today (Double-banded Plover and Sanderling), my year list rose to 256 species. I spent 1 hour 27 minutes birding in Brisbane, walked 0 km (birding was mostly stationary or incidental) and drove 20.4 km.

Sanderling at Mirapool! I was pleased, although my five-year-old daughter wasn’t particularly impressed.

Beach Stone-curlew, an increasingly rare species in Brisbane, restricted to the diminishing number of undisturbed beaches.

Double-banded Plover is a winter visitor to Brisbane from New Zealand, but the data possibly show increased numbers during passage months, perhaps en route to and from a more northerly wintering ground?

Red Knot is a passage migrant and scarce summer visitor to Brisbane. The southward passage is more pronounced than the northward movement.

 
Apr 15: Sandy Camp

 

I had a short window of opportunity for birding this morning, so decided to stick local, heading to Sandy Camp Wetlands just before dawn for yet another try for Black Bittern, predictably without success. I’m going to need a change of strategy, and will try evening visits and also going during the night. It was a pleasant enough morning at Sandy Camp although nothing rare was about. Best bird was a Rufous Fantail. I spent quite some time listening to and looking at Leaden Flycatchers. April is a good month for migrating Satin Flycatchers showing up in Brisbane (although nothing like as good as October – see below), and I carefully studied the features on the Leadens to make sure I’d be able to pick out a Satin should one cross my path. If I don’t see one in the next couple of weeks, I’ll probably have to wait until September or so for my next reasonable chance, and it’s a hard species to specifically go out and look for.

In the afternoon we headed out to Lota to take the kids to the playground. I took the scope and spent 17 minutes scanning the mudflats offshore. Quite a few Terek Sandpipers around, but I couldn’t pick out a Double-banded Plover in the loose flock of Red-capped Plovers. I’m going on a Queensland Wader Study Group shorebird count to southern Moreton Island next Tuesday so hope to pick up another year tick or two there.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 254 species. I spent 2 hours 38 minutes birding, walked 3.738 km and drove 20.4 km.

Satin Flycatcher is usually considered a passage migrant through Brisbane, with the spring passage being much more pronounced than autumn.

 
Apr 10: Taking it on the chin

 

Up at 0330 and out to Lake Manchester, I was keen to start early so I could walk out toward Dam Break 11 under cover of darkness and thus not waste precious daylight. A White-throated Nightjar sang briefly, a reasonably late bird, although the reporting rate for the species in Brisbane doesn’t really drop until May. A few birds are present throughout winter in the Brisbane area, and to be honest if they stopped singing they would be pretty hard to detect even if they did stick around.

I arrived at the start of Dam Break 11 just as dawn was breaking, although like yesterday the whole area was shrouded in fog. The birding was fairly quiet, and there was distinctly no sign of my target species, the Black-chinned Honeyeater. There have been only 14 records of this species in Brisbane since 2005, all but one of these since 2012. So it remains a very rare bird in the area, and it is sparse throughout much of its distribution in eastern Australia. These thoughts weighed on my mind as I plodded up Dam Break 11 increasingly losing hope of connecting. This is a big continuous area of forest – the birds could be anywhere by now.

I reached the western end of Dam Break 11, and mulled whether to call it quits and turn left to roll downhill and look for the Red-backed Kingfisher, turn back and patrol Dam Break 11 one more time, or turn right and go deeper into the forest. I chose the last. The birds were here only two days ago – surely they must be somewhere reasonably nearby. I decided to stop and listen carefully every 100 metres. At 700m, just as I was approaching the junction with Dam Break 8 (I don’t know what happened to Dam Breaks 10 and 9…), I heard the distinctive and strident tones of a Black-chinned Honeyeater singing loudly some distance away. Totally MEGA! After 10 minutes or so, I finally got onto the bird high up in a tree. I reeled off some incredibly grainy pictures as my camera struggled with the distance and the fog, and its incompetent operator.

I listened and watched for about 20 minutes, captivated by the rarity and mellifluous voice of this amazing species, famed for stealing fur from sleeping koalas to build its nest. After I’d had my fill, I turned off the eBird track, and walked fast down toward Buylar Road, where a Red-backed Kingfisher had been seen two days ago. I noted a nice Speckled Warbler on the way, and a mixed party of White-naped and Fuscous Honeyeaters at Cabbage Tree Creek, together with a Spectacled Monarch and a couple of Long-billed Corellas.

I eventually arrived at the paddock, and set about searching for the kingfisher. I patrolled around and around, but just couldn’t turn anything up. I was returning on the track through the pond when I looked up and saw a kingfisher perched right out on a telephone cable. Surely this had to be it!!!! I went for the camera first, and got a few shots into the glaring light, but something didn’t seem right as I looked at the images on the camera’s tiny screen. When I looked up again I was dismayed to see the bird had gone – that’ll teach me to go for the camera first without being sure of the identity of the bird I’m looking at! I wandered about and eventually the bird popped up onto the wire again – a very tatty adult Sacred Kingfisher, with quite a pale crown. But definitely a Sacred. RATS!

I decided to cover the last hundred metres of fence, and scanning into the distance, amazingly saw a kingfisher perched on the fence and dive-bomb down in the field before coming back to perch again. Was this a Red-backed, or just the same Sacred I’d just left behind? It was too far to see anything conclusive through bins, so I got a few shots, which show a very blurry Sacred; probably the same bird. It disappeared after 30 seconds and I couldn’t re-find it. Reluctantly, I had to leave to get to a meeting, and be content with one of the two possible year ticks. And actually, I really was content – the Tranter-Murray-Franks trio totally deserve to have an exclusive “one-up” as reward for their expeditionary birding at the weekend. Hats off to them.

With one year tick today (Black-chinned Honeyeater), my year list edged up to 254 species. I spent 3 hours 39 minutes birding, walked 9.303 km and drove 112.7 km.

Black-chinned Honeyeater miles away up a tree in the fog. It was more enjoyable in the field than this photo might suggest.

White-throated Nightjar records peak in the summer, consistent with a northward migration away from Brisbane.

 

 
Apr 9: Flycatcher in the fog

 

Steve Murray, Rick Franks and Ged Tranter did an epic day birding at Lake Manchester yesterday, and found a Red-backed Kingfisher and a party of Black-chinned Honeyeaters, both excellent birds for Brisbane. I didn’t have much time this morning, as I had to be back to drop the children at day care before 0800. So I had to choose either the kingfisher or the honeyeaters. I chose to try for the kingfisher, reasoning that a group of Black-chinned Honeyeaters were likely to hang around whereas the kingfisher could depart any moment. I set the alarm for 0400 and duly arrived at Buylar Rd only to find to my horror that it was enveloped in thick fog! If there’s one weather condition that kills birding, it’s fog.

I groped my way toward the fence line where the kingfisher had been yesterday afternoon, but I knew my chances were low to non-existent even if the bird was around somewhere. There was simply no sign of it, although a Restless Flycatcher was some small consolation. All too soon, my time was up and I had to retreat back to the car and head home, bitterly disappointed. I could potentially make some time available tomorrow morning, and so I resolved to come back tomorrow for a re-match. Maybe starting by looking for the Black-chinned Honeyeaters, and then moving to the Red-backed Kingfisher spot. Watch this space.

With one year tick today (Restless Flycatcher), my year list edged up to 253 species. I spent 1 hour 31 minutes birding, walked 1.937 km and drove 112.6 km.

 
Apr 7: The Shining

 

With nothing obvious to target, and being a bit tired of repeatedly dipping Black Bittern, I decided to try for Scaly-breasted Munia. It’s always been a rather scarce introduced species in Brisbane, but records have really dried up in the past few years since a peak in 2008-2012, and it’s a species that I reckon is definitely missable in my Brisbane Big Year. There have been no records yet this year in Brisbane. I decided to try Granard Wetlands, which is a small area of wetland restoration just south of Oxley Creek Common. There have been several records of multiple birds in the last two years.

I set my alarm for 0430, and arrived in the area a little before dawn. I had a quick look in at Oxley Creek Common to see if I could magic up a Barn Owl or Grass Owl, but no such luck! Arriving at Granard Wetlands at 0540, I could see why the munias were here – plenty of nice grasses, albeit with most not yet setting seed. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any munias in an 80 minute search, which entailed covering the entire site about three times, so small it was. A flyover Peregrine was nice. I resolved to try again later in the year, perhaps also exploring the surrounding area a bit more thoroughly, as it does look like a good spot for Scaly-breasted Munia.

I weighed up whether to try for Powerful Owl at JC Slaughter Falls, or head to Priors Pocket to look for birds more generally. After some indecision, I opted for the latter course of action, and rolled up to the farm dam at Priors Pocket half an hour later. I couldn’t find anything amazing, but enjoyed watching the comical Pink-eared Ducks, and had four flyover Long-billed Corellas. I drove further down the road to the horse paddocks, when Ged Tranter phoned to say that Stephen Murray had just found a male Shining Flycatcher at Tinchi Tamba and it was still showing right now!!!

Fuelled by an adrenalin buzz, I jumped in car and drove across the city “promptly”, shall we say. It was a tense 50-minute drive. For once I was actually thankful for the network of extremely expensive toll tunnels that now criss-cross the city, as time was more much important than dollars. I arrived at Tinchi about 0915, parked up behind Ged’s car, and puffed my way to the bird hide. I could hear the Shining Flycatcher calling before I even saw it. And WHAT A BIRD it was!!! I mean, I’ve seen quite a few before further north in Australia, but this bird was showy and pumped; simply captivating. Well, I got a year tick after it looked like the morning wasn’t going to produce anything.

And it was great to finally catch up with Ged – he’s clearly got the big year in his sights now as well. And although I’ve got the advantage of a few good birds seen early in the year, he’s also seen some crackers, he’s a better birder than me, and he puts in many more hours than I do in the field. Currently he’s on 236, with about half a dozen easy species still to get. I reckon he’s in with a good chance of winning this year, and it’s certainly going to spice up the race and keep me motivated to press on, which has to be a good thing…

With a nice shiny year tick today, my year list edged up to 252 species. I spent 2 hours 13 minutes birding, walked 2.196 km and drove 156.2 km.

Male Shining Flycatcher at Tinchi Tamba – very hard to see in Brisbane, one of its most southerly outposts in Australia, without traipsing long distances through mangroves, or kayaking. And such a showy, singing individual – just amazing!

 

Scaly-breasted Munia records peaked between 2008 and 2012, and they have again become extremely rare in more recent years.

 
Apr 2: Following Ged around like a lost dog

 

Ged Tranter is one of the very best birders in Brisbane, consistently finding great quality birds, and extremely generous with information on his sightings, always doing what he can to help people connect with the birds he has found. This week was no exception on all of these counts. Yesterday he found a Crested Shrike-Tit at Lawton Road, Mt Glorious. While they are known to be in this area, and the top of Mt Glorious is probably the best single spot for them in Brisbane, it is a very difficult bird to catch up with. I therefore decided to head over there this morning, setting the alarm for 0400. Arriving at Lawton Rd at 0530 in the cool drizzle, I was neither enthusiastic nor hopeful. My pessimism was to be unfounded – about 800m down the road, as the rainforest was giving way to tall eucalypt forest, I heard the distinctive rattling call of a Crested Shrike-Tit some distance away. Try as I might I couldn’t get onto it, and after a few brief bouts of calling it fell silent. Despite 10 minutes of searching the bird had simply evaporated, and although in this binary game of year listing, it didn’t really matter, I was disappointed as they are extremely smart birds and I wanted to get visuals. A little further down the track a couple of Red-browed Treecreepers were calling, and a third bird was calling 100m or so below them, showing distantly but I couldn’t get any photos. Another good bird, restricted to high elevation forest in south-east Queensland.

The rain was really setting in now, and having got both target species in the bag I decided to do the bolt to Pooh Corner Bushland Reserve, where a small number of Musk Lorikeets had set up shop in flowering eucalypts near the main entrance. It wasn’t long before I was on at least four birds, sitting high up and showing reasonably well. Musk Lorikeet is a winter visitor to Brisbane, but highly variable in numbers fro m year to year. A good species to get in the bag just in case this doesn’t turn out to be a good year for them.

With a whopping three year ticks today, my year list rose to 251 species. I spent 1 hour 57 minutes birding, walked 3.316 km and drove 155.9 km.

Musk Lorikeet is mostly a winter visitor to Brisbane, with records peaking in May – Aug.

But they are highly variable in numbers from year to year. 2010 and 2014 were particularly good years. If they’re on a 4-year cycle, maybe 2018 will be a bumper year too…

 
Mar 27: I thought Crested Pigeons were increasing!?

 

Quick update – I haven’t been birding anywhere, but was idly flicking through some of the downloaded eBird data last night, and came across a really interesting pattern for Crested Pigeon. In my mind I think of this species as being a successful urban colonist that is presumably increasing in numbers. The data don’t bear this out at all – it has been steadily declining, at least in reporting rate (i.e. the proportion of outings on which the species is seen) over the past 13 years – see graph below.

It’s one of those periods again when heaps of good birds are being seen. A Little Eagle is kicking around Oxley Creek Common area, Double-banded Plover and Red Knot at Manly, Ged Tranter had a Barn Owl at Kedron, a species of almost mythical status in Brisbane, a Little Grassbird at Dowse and several Barred Cuckooshrikes at Gold Creek. I should definitely try for the grassbird, but all the others are tricky for one reason or another, and I am sitting frustratedly on the sidelines. It’s getting trickier to fit in early morning birding because dawn is advancing. Hope to get some birding in during the Easter holidays later this week.

The reporting rate for Crested Pigeon in Brisbane has consistently declined since 2005, when approximately half of all complete checklists included this species, to 2017, when this proportion had dropped to about 35%. The reasons for this steady decline seem unclear to me.

 
Mar 25: Goose Chase

 

Lots going on at the moment, with up to 6 Barred Cuckooshrikes present at Gold Creek Reservoir on 22nd March, and two there the following day – this was all following Chris Burwell’s discovery and cracking photo of one on 3rd March. But Mat Gilfedder and Ben Hoffmann went yesterday and couldn’t locate any birds. I couldn’t go birding yesterday, but in the afternoon Rick Franks found a Cotton Pygmy-Goose at Dowse Lagoon. Cotton Pygmy-Goose is another one of those species that isn’t super rare, but it’s a winter visitor, and very erratic between years (e.g. didn’t show up at all in 2009 and 2010, and very few in 2016) and I was keen to connect as soon as the opportunity arose. I decided to try for the goose this morning in the brief time I had available reasoning that Mat and Ben would have given Gold Creek a thorough search yesterday and that in any case it would need longer than I could reasonably give it.

About 30 minutes into my search for the goose at Dowse Lagoon, I was beginning to regret this decision. I had opted to start the search from the platform at the end of Alexandra street on the west shore, reasoning that I’d be able to see most of the lily-covered areas from there. I searched and searched but couldn’t turn up the bird. In the end I gave up and moved to the platform along the southern shore of the lagoon, off Hoskins Street. Almost straight away I got onto a female Cotton Pygmy-Goose, and then a male popped up nearby – I was well pleased that not one, but two birds were still there! Later in the day, a number of other observers had three birds (two females and the male). Also notable there was 7 Plumed Whistling-Ducks.

In the afternoon I went with family over to North Stradbroke Island, which is of course in Redland City Council, beyond the Brisbane frontier. Didn’t have any birds of note, but enjoyed the day very much.

With one year tick today, my year list rose to 248 species. I spent 44 minutes birding in the Brisbane region, walked 0 km (stationary counts at Dowse) and drove 70.2 km.

Cotton Pygmy-Goose is a winter visitor to Brisbane, although there are at least a few records from all months, apart from March! This graph includes data from 2005 to 2017.

Cotton Pygmy-Goose is erratic from year-to-year, with good numbers in 2007 and 2013, but few in 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2016.

 
Mar 18: Australia’s smallest bird

 

Feeling better each day from the pneumonia and strong enough to get up early today and head out to Lake Manchester, on Brisbane’s far western frontier. It was something of a mop-up mission – a few other birders have had Weebill around the SW corner of the lake in the last couple of weeks, and I missed that species on my epic wander of Feb 18. Australia’s smallest bird, the Weebill weighs in at 6 grams (that’s 15 Weebills to a Brown Quail!) and usually sticks fairly high up in the trees, although fortunately has a distinctive vocalisation. I headed for Dam Break 11, inspired by the recent sighting by Stephen Murray and Ged Tranter. Just as I reached the junction between the lake perimeter track and Dam Break 11, I heard the chirpy chatter of not one but two Weebills – bingo! One of them came within firing range of the camera, and I was very pleased. I continued up Dam Break 11 and heard a third bird 3/4 of the way along the track, and then bumped into another couple of birds as I continued on the circuit to Lake Manchester Road at Cabbage Tree Creek. Truly a bumper day for this diminutive little species.

Weebill is a rare bird in Brisbane. It has been seen in 76 complete checklists in Brisbane between 2005 and 2017, out of a total of 23,890 lists – that’s only 0.32% of lists! Puzzlingly there are scattered records from most bushland areas around the city, but it is only really reliable in the western woodlands. Although sample sizes are low, there is a hint of a seasonal pattern to the records, with a distinct autumn peak. It is also possible that people don’t bird eucalypt woodland much in the heat of summer, but to work that out would need more detailed investigation. One very clear pattern though is a huge decline in reporting rate between 2005 and 2017, with some recent years yielding almost no records at all, and with 2005 and 2006 being bumper years that haven’t been repeated since. I wonder if Weebills are nomadic, or just so scarce that there are spurious patterns in the data?

With one year tick today, my year list rose to 247 species. I spent 3 hours 14 minutes birding, walked 5.092 km and drove 113.0 km.

Monthly reporting rate for Weebill – is there an autumn peak?

Reporting rate each year for Weebill – clearly far fewer records in recent years compared to the heady days of 2005 and 2006. Is this species declining? Or maybe nomadic wanderings bring it into Brisbane in some years but not others?

 
14 Mar: Celebrating the life of David Milton – a Queensland Ornithological Great

 

Today I learnt about the tragic recent passing of David Milton, a hugely influential figure in Queensland ornithology, and a highly valued collaborator of our research group over the past 10 years. I’ll leave others who knew him more deeply to write the full tributes and relate the stories of David’s achievements. But David was still very much a man in his prime, recently retired from a successful science career at CSIRO and enjoying a richly deserved series of world birding trips to some of the most exotic locations out there. As well as being a tragic loss to his family and friends, David’s passing is also a huge blow to the Queensland Wader Study Group, in which David has been a central figure for decades. His knowledge of shorebirds and their habitats, and his tireless dedication to their conservation was a true inspiration to those around him, and right until the end he was working closely with the Queensland Government to ensure data on shorebirds is being effectively used in decision-making processes around the state. We owe it to him to continue his wonderful work and to reflect his legacy in effective shorebird conservation in Queensland and around the flyway.

David has worked closely with our research group over the last decade, and was critical to establishing a productive partnership between the University of Queensland and the Queensland Wader Study Group. As well as brokering several collaborative projects, David worked directly with us on five publications, and I list them at the end of this post as a recognition of his contribution. We are currently working on another paper on Moreton Bay shorebirds on which David is a co-author, and we will dedicate the piece to his memory. Rest in peace mate – cut short in your prime, with plenty more birds still to see.

David Milton in action on 28th January 2018, attempting to encourage some shorebirds to move toward a cannon-net set at the Port of Brisbane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Studds CE, Kendall BE, Murray NJ, Wilson HB, Rogers DI, Clemens RS, Gosbell K, Hassell CJ, Jessop R, Melville DS, Milton DA, Minton CDT, Possingham HP, Riegen AC, Straw P, Woehler EJ & Fuller RA (2017) Rapid population decline in migratory shorebirds relying on Yellow Sea tidal mudflats as stopover sites. Nature Communications, 8, 14895.

Hansen BD, Clemens RS, Gallo-Cajiao E, Jackson MV, Maguire GS, Maurer G, Milton D, Rogers DI, Weller DR, Weston MA, Woehler EJ & Fuller RA (2018) Shorebird monitoring in Australia: a successful long-term collaboration between citizen scientists, governments and researchers. In Legge S, Robinson N, Scheele B, Lindenmayer D, Southwell D & Wintle B (eds) Monitoring Threatened Species and Ecological Communities. CSIRO, Canberra.

Choi C-Y, Rogers KG, Gan X, Clemens RS, Bai Q-Q, Lilleyman A, Lindsey A, Milton DA, Straw P, Yu Y-T, Battley PF, Fuller RA & Rogers DI (2016) Phenology of southward migration of shorebirds in the East Asian–Australasian Flyway and inferences about stop-over strategies. Emu, 116, 178-189.

Clemens RS, Rogers DI, Hansen BD, Gosbell K, Minton CDT, Straw P, Bamford M, Woehler EJ, Milton DA, Weston MA, Venables B, Weller D, Hassell C, Rutherford B, Onton K, Herrod A, Studds CE, Choi CY, Dhanjal-Adams KL, Murray NJ, Skilleter GA & Fuller RA (2016) Continental-scale decreases in shorebird populations in Australia. Emu, 116, 119-135.

Wilson HB, Kendall BE, Fuller RA, Milton DA & Possingham HP (2011) Analyzing variability and the rate of decline of migratory shorebirds in Moreton Bay, Australia. Conservation Biology, 25, 758-766.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 246 species. I spent 0 hour 0 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 0 km.

 
Mar 13: We’re moving again!

 

Checking the alerts mid-morning, I saw that Ged Tranter had seen three Australasian Shovelers at Kedron Brook Wetlands yesterday, presumably the two birds that were at Lytton a few weeks ago, joined up with a third bird. Being only 15 minutes from the house, I hauled myself into the car and headed up to Kedron in the drizzly rain. Sure enough, scoping from the yellow gate I got straight on to a pair of Australasian Shovelers, although I couldn’t see a third bird. This species is reliable in the Lockyer Valley, where reasonable numbers are always present at Lake Clarendon and other sites, but it is rare and erratic in Brisbane, so I was very pleased to connect. While there, I wanted to make the most of it, and wandered through the waterlogged tracks to view other parts of the marsh. A raptor caught my attention – a Swamp Harrier! While not mega rare in Brisbane, this is another species that is not reliable in any one spot, and I was always going to rely on finding one by chance.

With two year ticks today (Australasian Shoveler and Swamp Harrier), my year list rose to 246 species. I spent 55 minutes birding, walked 1.199 km and drove 35.3 km.

 
Mar 12: Resting

 

Spent all day inside, mainly resting up.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 244 species. I spent 0 hour 0 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 0 km.

 
Mar 11: Just like the good old days

 

Sunday morning, and I was feeling a little better – I wanted to head out birding just to start to get things back to normal. For old time’s sake, I thought I’d dip on Black Bittern once again. I chose Mookin-Bah for this, and executed the dip perfectly – not even a hint of Black Bittern all morning, although I did hear Spotless Crake and Lewin’s Rail. After finishing at Mookin-Bah I checked out a few sites to the south around Tingalpa Reservoir, mainly stopping roadside and exploring to see if any of the small dams I could see on Google Earth were publicly accessible – sadly they were not.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 244 species. I spent 1 hour 11 minutes birding, walked 2.257 km and drove 46.9 km.

 
Feb 28 – Mar 10: T1D

 

Sorry, this update is more a health report than  birding report, although I’m happy to report I am now strong enough for some gentle birding again!

I eventually went into the Mater hospital on Friday 2nd March with severe fevers and chest pains from pleurisy, after a chest x-ray showed I had pneumonia. But this wasn’t to be the end of the story – the staff in the emergency department found very high glucose levels in my blood and immediately suspected Type I diabetes. Further tests showed this to be the right diagnosis and I started receiving insulin. After staying in 3 nights, I came out of hospital on 5th March and now inject insulin four times a day – lots of fun! Hopefully this won’t impact birding (or life in general) too much – plenty of people seem to live full lives with T1D (as the trendies call it).

One serious impact of this hospitalisation was missing the Sunshine Coast pelagic on 4th March. This was a cruel twist of fate after securing a spot on the previously booked-out trip. This has heightened my resolve to arrange a Brisbane trip, and either way, I’m booked on the May and June Sunshine Coast pelagic trips.

During this period I was unable to go birding, and my year list remained on 244. The best bird was a cracking adult Wedge-tailed Eagle over the house on 10th March.

 
Feb 27: Falling behind again

 

Still very sick today, but desperate to get outside having spent 40 of the last 48 hours in the house, I dragged myself into the car to check Lytton roost for the Australasian Shovelers in the afternoon. No sign of them here, and I also checked the Port Roost and Swan Lake without success. They’re probably at Kedron Brook Wetlands, where all the other birds seem to be at the moment!

Sue Lee and Catherine Hirsch found a cracking male Satin Flycatcher at Bellbird Grove this morning. Will have to try for that if it sticks around.

Falling behind at the moment, with three decent birds showing up in the last 24 hours and I’ve connected with none of them.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 244 species. I spent 43 minutes birding, walked 0.825 km and drove 33.6 km.

 
Feb 26: Sick

 

Flu! Spent all day in bed – could scarcely move.

Two brilliant sightings of rarities appeared on the wires late afternoon. Ged Tranter had a magnificent Black Falcon at Kedron Brook Wetlands, and Rod Gardner and Paul Clyne had two Australasian Shovelers at Lytton Roost. The Black Falcon would clearly be 1000:1 chance of it hanging around, but the shovelers perhaps might stay. If I could drag myself there tomorrow I might give it a go.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 244 species. I spent 0 hour 0 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 0 km.

 
Feb 25: On Top of the World, well Brisbane anyway

 

Brilliant morning out today. I started at Bellbird Grove, where the main target species is Spotted Quail-thrush. Arriving at the car park, there were 3 walkers’ cars backed up from the creek, which was flooded and running quite fast over the road. They were going to park in the previous car park and walk out to the trailheads. I did the same, parking up and getting my things ready. As soon I opened the door the expected peace and quiet of the middle of nowhere at 5.30am turned out to be loud thumping rave music. There was some sort of party going on in the main car park. Walking past all the hullabulloo I headed up the Link Road and pulled up the hill. Not much was happening, although near where the pylons cross I heard and then saw a White-bellied Cuckooshrike, always a thrill.

I continued up Link Road, and suddenly heard a Spotted Quail-thrush singing on the left just before I reached the junction with Marshall Road. The song is reminiscent of some calls of White-throated Treecreeper, and it would definitely pay to listen to a recording of the quail-thrush call before heading out into suitable habitat, just to ensure you don’t overlook it as a White-throated Treecreeper. I half toyed with the idea of leaving straight away – the year tick was in the bag, and I could try for some other species. Quickly I came to my senses and pushed on up the track to try to see the bird. Turned out it was very close to the track edge, and it showed extremely well (at least for a quail-thrush) allowing some fairly good photo opportunities. I stayed with the bird for about 10 minutes until it eventually wandered off out of sight. A couple of Striated Thornbills were calling overhead, and gave distant views – another year tick.

I walked back down the track and in the rainforest areas around the creek near the car park there was a Spectacled Monarch, 2 Black-faced Monarchs and FINALLY a Golden Whistler! Third year tick of the day.

I jumped straight into the car and headed up to the highest point in Brisbane – the summit of Mount Glorious. I stopped by the Mount Glorious Community Centre to have another look for New Holland Honeyeater, having missed them on the eventful 11 Jan. I got out of the car and wandered around, and out of nowhere a couple of stonking Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos flew lazily low to the south. Annoyingly I didn’t have my camera, and assessing the distance back to car I wouldn’t have made it anyway before they disappeared. Moral: Never leave camera behind when getting out of the car, even if only walking 20 metres. I walked up to Maiala, always taking care to stay on the Brisbane side of the road; the boundary between Brisbane and Moreton Bay Region runs along the road here. I’d almost given up when finally a New Holland Honeyeater flew over my head as I got back to the car. It disappeared immediately, but at least I’d finally caught up with one. Someone on one of the Facebook groups had mentioned they’d been difficult this year, and I hope it doesn’t mean they’re declining. Just before I left, a splendid female Regent Bowerbird obligingly posed for a picture for a few seconds.

Needing to get home, I headed off down the hill. One of the front wheels was making a ticking noise, but I couldn’t see anything wrong with it. This persisted, and then eventually on the Pacific Motorway just before the Marshall Road turnoff the front passenger side tyre blew out and I ground to a halt on the hard shoulder, with traffic rushing past only inches away. Fortunately the spare tyre was in good condition, and all the tools worked well. I changed the tyre and headed home, extremely satisfied with a great morning’s birding.

With five year ticks today (Spotted Quail-thrush, Striated Thornbill, Golden Whistler, Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, New Holland Honeyeater), my year list surged to 244 species. I spent 1 hour 46 minutes birding, walked 4.762 km and drove 113.6 km.

Spotted Quail-thrush, Bellbird Grove, 25th Feb 2018.

 
Feb 24: Jaeger and Peregrine

 

I went up to Nudgee Beach early this morning to see if any seabirds were in Moreton Bay sheltering from the remnants of Cyclone Gita. The cyclone passed south from New Caledonia to New Zealand, but we got substantial rainfall and easterly winds from the edge of it. I did a stationary count from the car park, and saw at least two Arctic Jaegers patrolling around quite some distance out, which was good. There are few records of this species from Brisbane, so I was pleased to see them. Lots of terns around, but they were overwhelmingly Little Terns, with quite a lot of Crested Terns, and a few Gull-billed and Caspian. So in the end I was not going to get a year tick here, but I enjoyed seeing the jaegers and the anticipation that something rarer might have been lurking out there.

Later in the afternoon at home, I heard the Noisy Miners giving their raptor alarm call. I grabbed by bins and dashed outside – a handsome Peregrine was circling around! I dashed back inside, grabbed the camera and got a few grainy pics – the bird was pretty far away. I was surprised how lacklustre the reponse was by the Noisy Miners to such a fearsome predator, and looking at the photos it was clear the Peregrine had a full crop. I wonder if somehow the birds knew it wasn’t in hunting mode.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 239 species. I spent 1 hour 16 minutes birding, walked 0 km (all of it was stationary counts) and drove 48.2 km.

 
Feb 23: Ticket to ride

 

I sulkily watched the wind and heavy rain engulf Brisbane today, imagining the awesome seabird action that must surely be happening at Cape Moreton. However, a significant silver lining accompanied the clouds – I’ve managed to secure a seat on the Mooloolaba pelagic trip on 4th March! This is an important development for the year list. Every chance for pelagic birding or good weather conditions for seawatching is a chance to add unique species to the list that are simply impossible to see any other way. The number of possible species is very large, and the more pelagics or seawatching that I can do, the bigger the final year list total will potentially be. However, as with all pelagic trips, there’s a chance of seeing almost nothing. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I will still try to organise a local pelagic out of Redcliffe / Scarborough, but will probably aim for April instead of March.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 239 species. I spent 0 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 0 km.

 
Feb 22: Nothing to report 2

 

All work no play, although I did manage to wander through UQ Lakes (not literally) on the way into the office. I didn’t see anything notable in the 14 minutes, but I really should make more of a habit of doing this. It’s good for the soul.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 239 species. I spent 14 minutes birding, walked 0.61 km and drove 0 km.

 
Feb 21: Nothing to report

 

Did the school run today, and spent all other time working, so nothing notable to report. The wind was blowing strongly from the east all day, with the occasional shower. I couldn’t help but think about what was going on at Cape Moreton – I bet there was some amazing seabird action today. No reports coming in from Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island, so I’m assuming no-one has been out seawatching today. Makes it easier to bear – if I’ve missed heaps of birds at least I don’t really know what was out there.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 239 species. I spent 0 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 0 km.

 
Feb 20: Six tries and counting

 

No luck with Black Bittern this morning for the sixth time of trying. I’m lucky the two spots where there are birds (Sandy Camp Rd Wetlands and Mookin-Bah Reserve) are within 15 minutes of my house. Or maybe I’m unlucky and wouldn’t have bothered trying so hard if they were further away. I walked carefully up and down the creek through Mookin-Bah this morning but no sign of any bitterns, Black or otherwise. The best bird was without doubt a branchling Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo being fed by Red-backed Fairywrens – the first time I’ve seen this happening. Absolutely brilliant, I stood captivated for ages!

There were a couple of Peaceful Doves calling and it made me curious about the distribution of this species; I wonder if it is expanding into smaller suburban bushland patches? Certainly, it appears to be increasing in Brisbane (see below) and I wonder if it might follow Bar-shouldered Dove and start to become adapted to a suburban lifestyle.

The weather is looking good for a seawatch off Moreton Island tomorrow, with the remnants of Cyclone Gita being swung our way as the huge storm tracks towards New Zealand. But there’s absolutely no way I can get across to the island, with a full day at work and the morning and afternoon school run to do. I’ll probably have to be content with a pelagic trip in March and / or April, assuming I can get one organised. Must get on the phone tomorrow to see if there’s anyone that might take us out.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 239 species. I spent 1 hour 18 minutes birding, walked 2.589 km and drove 21 km.

 

Peaceful Dove shows a winter drop in reporting rate, but I wonder if this has more to do with calling behaviour than a real change in distribution?

 

There appears to be a strong increase in Peaceful Dove records in the last decade – when I next do a data download, I’ll add in 2016 and 2017. I wonder if this species will eventually be a common garden bird in Brisbane?

Peaceful Dove at Mookin-Bah Reserve. Coming to a garden near you?

 
Feb 19: Aching

 

I felt yesterday’s fully laden 11 km walk today in my ageing frame. A work day, with nothing ornithologically interesting to report, other than finally submitting my grant proposal, hurrah! It’s our son’s second birthday tomorrow so I’ll have the day off work. Not sure what might happen birding-wise during the day, but early morning I’m off to Mookin-bah to have a sixth try for Black Bittern. Wish me luck.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 239 species. I spent 0 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 0 km.

 
Feb 18: I love it when a plan comes together

 

I finally got out birding again this morning, setting the alarm for 0315 and driving out to Lake Manchester, on the far western border of the Brisbane LGA. There is extensive habitat in this area, and I would wager several important birding discoveries to be made. I cut the engine and listened in silence when I arrived in the car park about 0420. A Southern Boobook was calling distantly, and then an Australian Owlet-Nightjar called somewhere fairly close by. I couldn’t find it in the spotlight, and then a White-throated Nightjar started up. I was keen to get moving and donned camera and telescope, water bottle, hat etc etc and started walking around the edge of the lake, clocking another couple of White-throated Nightjars.

The tracks around Lake Manchester are so extensive, and the area so large, that I had decided to use personal locations instead of the Lake Manchester hotspot, and that I would start a new checklist every kilometre. By the second kilometre, it had got light, and I had atmospheric views of the lake through the trees. I scanned the lake through my telescope and found four Great Crested Grebes, a very scarce bird in Brisbane, but reliable here. They were formerly reliable at Gold Creek Reservoir, but surprisingly there has been only one record since 2010. Soon after this a group of Fuscous Honeyeaters began calling away and giving good views, a highly localised species in Brisbane LGA, found only in the woodlands of the far west. The third year tick of the morning so far.

I was undecided whether to try for the circumnavigation of the lake, or to trace out a circular route to the west of the lake along the fire breaks. I decided on the latter course, planning to head west up Dam Break 7 and then south again along the track to Lake Manchester Road.

The third kilometre delivered more Fuscous Honeyeaters but nothing else notable. Things improved on the fourth kilometre with a calling White-bellied Cuckooshrike, a couple of Forest Kingfishers, at least 9 feeding Little Lorikeets and more Fuscous Honeyeaters. Turning west up Dam Break 7, I ran into an area with plenty of bird activity during the fifth kilometre. The first notable birds were a small group of Buff-rumped Thornbills, and there was also a group of Varied Sittellas with them, two more year ticks. By the time I started the sixth kilometre at 0730 it was starting to warm up and bird activity was declining, although as I gained height there were some good views of forested ridges during the seventh kilometre, which I kept an eye on for raptors. The eight kilometre continued the southward journey back toward Lake Manchester Road, and the track skirts the very edge of the park, with farmsteads and paddocks adjoining the forest. On one of these farmstead tracks, no less than four Speckled Warblers were feeding out in the open on ground, something I hadn’t seen before.

A little further along, there was a long steep climb, and I tackled it head down, at speed. This turned out to be a mistake, because instead of spotting the bird as it was feeding on the track, I flushed a Painted Buttonquail and it flew across the track in front of me, but not before I’d noted it’s rufous spangled upperside and strong contrast with plain remiges. Another good quality year tick! More was to come – on the ninth kilometre, and just before the final descent back to Lake Manchester Road, I heard a startlingly loud sound of wind rushing through feathers – some sort of display flight. On the second pass, I saw that it was a Grey Goshawk doing the display, and it made a further three passes before disappearing. The bird would tower high in the air and then rush toward the ground with wings closed, making the noise near the base of the descent – incredible!

There was nothing particularly notable at Cabbage Tree Creek, although I reckon this spot looks really good for turning up a scarcity. There are a few Casuarinas through there, and I wonder whether Yellow Thornbill is a possibility one day. I completed the circuit back to the car park, absolutely delighted with the morning’s birding – one of those days when everything seemed to go my way. Still, there are plenty more species to target in this general area, and I want to cover at least 100 km of tracks in the region between Lake Manchester and Mount Nebo this year looking for Striated Thornbill, Square-tailed Kite, Spotted Quail-Thrush, Crested Shrike-Tit, Yellow Thornbill, New Holland Honeyeater, Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Emerald Dove, Weebill, Jacky Winter, Little Eagle etc.

With a whopping nine year ticks today, my year list surged to 239 species. I spent 5 hours 22 minutes birding, walked 10.3 km and drove 113.9 km.

 
Feb 17: The Shining

 

As foreshadowed yesterday, I didn’t do any targeted birding today. The major event of the day was a fantastic find of 3 Shining Flycatchers at Boondall Wetlands by the inimitable Ged Tranter. He saw the birds from kayaking up Nundah Creek, and although I had planned to do this at Tinchi Tamba, this sighting adds urgency and suggest I should try Boondall instead of Tinchi. Ged is one of the best birders in Brisbane – always innovatively searching for new birds, and he is among the most prolific finders of rarities in the city.

My thoughts for tomorrow are distinctly more terrestrial. I’m heading to Lake Manchester. I’m hoping to get an early start and will either circumnavigate the lake, or focus on a circular route to the north-west or north-east of the parking area at the dam. As well as looking for a range of scarce woodland species, I want to scope out the margins of the lake for possible Red-backed Buttonquail habitat. It’ll be a serious morning out, and hopefully I’ll find a few nice birds.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 230 species. I spent 0 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 0 km.

 
16 Feb: Work trumps birding again

 

Talk about work / life balance, I was up at 0330 this morning finishing off a grant proposal – remember I mentioned it a while ago, only breaking for a 5-min stationary count in the back yard. It also consumed my afternoon after the meeting at the lovely 34 Trafalgar Street office of Marine Parks personnel at Manly. They have the best office in Brisbane I reckon. When the meeting finished at 1230 the water level was still super high even though it was 2.5 hours after high tide, so there wasn’t much point in looking for shorebirds. With such a high tide they would all be safely squirreled away in the Manly roost, so I headed home.

On the way home I saw a Dollarbird on wires at the junction of Old Cleveland Road and Mount Petrie Road, and it occurred to me I’ve been seeing more this year than I have been in previous summers. It is, of course a strict summer visitor to Brisbane, and that is reflected very nicely in the monthly reporting rate – see below. Perhaps surprisingly there is no obvious year-on-year decline in Dollarbirds in Brisbane, although I need to add 2016 and 2017 to the plot – I’ll be doing this at the end of February when the new eBird data update is provided.

I’ll probably need a rest tomorrow, and there’s a busy day with kids’ activities, but will then go for a decent trip out Sunday morning.

There’s nothing desperately rare to chase, so this intense work period has come at a good time. Things are looking clearer in the diary next week and beyond.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 230 species. I spent 5 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 0 km.

Monthly reporting rate for Dollarbird in Brisbane – a clear summer visitor to the city, occurring on about 15% of eBird checklists during the summer months, gone by April, returning in October.

 

 

 

eBird reporting rate for Dollarbirds in Brisbane between 2006 and 2015. No obvious decline, although it should be borne in mind this is a measure of how widespread the species is, not how abundant it is at the sites where it occurs. Also, I guess with a migratory species like this, one has to check whether there has been any change in birder behaviour, e.g. doing more summer birding at time goes by. Lots to figure out!

 

 
15 Feb: Looking forward to some birding

 

Again no birding today, but looking forward to at least a spot of shorebird watching tomorrow around Manly – I have a morning meeting there, and will be looking in the Wynnum-Manly area for Red Knot, seen on three occasions in the past two weeks (Penfold Parade and Elanora Park at low tide, and at the no-public-access Manly Roost at high tide). Red Knot is mainly a passage migrant through Brisbane en route to New South Wales, and summer records are notable.

I’m excited about a couple of trips later in the year. I’m booked onto the Mooloolaba pelagic on May 6th and June 3rd. As we found out a little while ago, the Mooloolaba pelagic is in Brisbane waters when at the shelf, so the birds seen on the far eastern extension of the trip will be countable for my year list. It’s going to be tense moments as we cross the border from Sunshine Coast Regional Council into Brisbane waters.

Secondly, I’m off to Moreton Island on 17th April to help count the shorebird roosts at the southern end of Moreton Island. We’ll go by boat from Manly Harbour, which should be lots of fun. Sanderling will be a key target, but anything’s possible!

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 230 species. I spent 0 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 0 km.

 
Feb 14: Work again

 

Just a 5-min stationary count in my back yard this morning, I’ve been using the early mornings for some prime work time, since I’m doing school & daycare drop off and pick ups on Mondays and Wednesdays. As soon I can, I’ll revert back to using the early dawns of summer to go birding, because once winter comes I won’t be able to get out at all before the kids wake up. Winter mornings are working mornings, summer mornings should be for birding!

Mat Gilfedder and Jo Culican had a Swamp Harrier at Oxley Creek Common the day before yesterday, a good bird and another one of those enigmatic raptors that never appears to be reliable in any particular place. It’s probably the bird on Mat’s list I’m most worried about clawing back (we’re having a friendly competition for the 2018 Brisbane LGA year list). Although I chose not to chase it on the day they saw it, I should try to make sure I do chase one down whenever there are future sightings. It’s the sort of bird you just come across when generally birding and don’t think much about until trying to build a year list and you wonder exactly how to track down each species.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 230 species. I spent 5 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 0 km.

 
Feb 13: Rinse and Repeat

 

Nothing to report once again, dear reader. How will I keep you (and me) entertained through the slack times? I have to put in early mornings all this week at work, so birding will be incidental at best. However, my eyes are on the news feed, the weather and the tides all the time, and should some emergency year list birding be necessary, I’m sure I’ll find a way of making it happen. Cyclone Gita will be just south of New Caledonia on Saturday – not sure yet where it’s going or how strongly the SE winds will be felt off Brisbane.

I have a meeting at Manly Harbour on Friday, and it will finish about 12.30 – I’m expecting some degree of ornithological action then.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 230 species. I spent 0 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 0 km.

 
Feb 12: Nothing to see here

 

Nothing to report today. No potential year ticks for me were seen by anyone else in Brisbane today – this is the first time that has happened. Aside from a 5-min stationary count in the back yard this morning, I did no birding; and saw no interesting birds.

With no year ticks today, my year list remained on 230 species. I spent 5 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 0 km.

 
Feb 11: “I thought you meant a real kite Daddy”

 

After yesterday’s exertions I sat on the sidelines today, with a kids’ birthday party at Colmslie Pool and various domestic duties needing doing. I kept a weather eye on the bird news, but fortunately there was nothing too dramatic. Rounding the corner into our road on the way back from the party, I was surprised to see a raptor flying fairly low west. It was clearly a kite, but I couldn’t get enough on it to see whether it was Whistling, Black or Square-tailed. Much to the consternation of my wife, I raced round the corner and screeched to a halt just as it crossed the road. A dark bird with a nicely forked tail, it was a Black Kite! My daughter thought I was talking about a real kite, and was very disappointed to learn it was “just a bird“. The small number of Black Kites that call Brisbane home seem to wander about and not be reliable anywhere in particular, so I was pleased to have bumped into one. And my apologies for degrading the quality of the Internet in general, and eBird in particular, by adding my smudgy iPhone photo to the checklist. I drove back to the front drive with the bird in view, and it became the 62nd bird on my yard list.

With one year tick today, my year list clicked up to 230 species. I spent 0 minutes birding (the kite was purely incidental), walked 0 km and drove 0 km.

Black Kite seems to show peaks in reporting rate in autumn and spring, but is pretty scarce at any time of year.

 
Feb 10: Gold Rush

 

Up at 0256 and in to the car reasonably quickly to pick up Mat Gilfedder in St Lucia at 0330. We drove out to Gold Creek Reservoir with the plan to try for nocturnals and Painted Buttonquail early on and then look for yesterday’s Barred Cuckooshrike after sunrise.

Standing at the car park just after we arrived we heard a sort of grunting noise that was definitely avian but we couldn’t place it at all. It’s amazing how often one hears strange noises at night that are hard to fathom! Probably something common just making an odd noise. Eventually we had Tawny Frogmouth and Southern Boobook calling away, and managed to see the frogmouth. We went up the track south of the dam wall, and heard a splendid calling White-throated Nightjar – it’s one of my favourite bird calls of all time, and Mat managed to get a recording. It was a year tick for me, so I was well-pleased.

As light dawned, we began a new eBird checklist (as per eBird protocol), and almost immediately a White-naped Honeyeater was calling away, a second year tick for me. As we walked down the grassy track toward the SW corner of the reservoir I heard something walking in the undergrowth. It was too dense to have any hope of seeing it, so I moved towards it and the bird flushed with whirring wings. Mat and I both saw it, but our views were so poor that we couldn’t tell if it was a Brown Quail or a Painted Buttonquail. We subsequently stalked it but there was no further sign. The one that got away.

The woodland was reasonably quiet, but we heard another White-naped Honeyeater. When we got back to the dam, a nice pair of Forest Kingfishers suddenly landed on the tower in the water and sat there for about 15 minutes, another year tick. Even with binoculars we could clearly see the overall blue colouration, white flashes in the wings as the birds flew, the clear white underparts, and the round clean white spot above the bill base. Cracking birds! There was no sign of the Barred Cuckooshrike from the dam wall, so we birded along the approach road for a while. At the second creek crossing an Azure Kingfisher was sitting on a branch over the creek, and a Spotted Pardalote called for a while, two more year ticks! I was really getting through the remaining common species that I still hadn’t seen for the year. Eventually we gave up, about 7am and drove up Hillbrook Road to a spot where Mat had seen good bird activity in the past few weeks. There were quite a few birds moving, including another couple of White-naped Honeyeaters, and a Scarlet Honeyeater – the sixth year tick of the day. Golden Whistler is now the last remaining common species I still need for my year list.

With six year ticks today (White-throated Nightjar, White-naped Honeyeater, Forest Kingfisher, Azure Kingfisher, Spotted Pardalote and Scarlet Honeyeater), my year list at the end of the day rose to 229 species. I spent 3 hours 36 minutes birding, walked 5.601 km and drove 69.6 km.

Progress of my year list (green) against all species seen in Brisbane by all eBirders (purple). Certainly looking better than the stock market has recently. There might be a few additional species seen by the (small number of) Brisbane birders that don’t use eBird.

 
9 Feb: Bald Hills Raptor Watchpoint

 

Never heard of the Bald Hills Raptor Watchpoint? That’s not surprising, I only minted the hotspot today. The spot, along Buckle Road near the northern border of Brisbane has an amazing panoramic view over a very wide area, and I reckon it’s surely one of the best places to scan for soaring raptors in all of Brisbane. Noticing it as I drove past this morning, I pulled up and spent 20 minutes scanning the skies. In that short time I had 2 Brown Goshawks, 1 Osprey, 1 Whistling Kite and a Brown Falcon. The falcon was a year tick, and I was after that species in particular, having seen it at the nearby Gravel Pits on Linkfield Road last year. A splendid Glossy Ibis was present on the gravel pits today, and I was pleased to have made the effort to look there – the short grass and muddy edges among the horses and camels (yep, camels) looked really good for a rarity of some sort, a Yellow Wagtail maybe. Although that wasn’t to be, I’d enjoyed searching anyway.

Despite having a national distribution all across Australia, Brown Falcon is a scarce bird in Brisbane, perhaps because there isn’t that much truly open country. It is seen on just a few percent of outings. Curiously there is a distinct winter peak in its reporting rate, and I’m not sure if this is associated with breeding, or whether its a winter influx into Brisbane.

I spent the early morning at Sandy Camp looking once again for Black Bittern, and once again without success. I think I’ll give up on that species for a while. It is resident, so I don’t need to see it urgently.

Deb Metters found a Barred Cuckooshrike at Gold Creek Reservoir today, and I’m going to head there early morning with Mat Gilfedder to look for it. We’re going to arrive pre-dawn and have a look around for nocturnal species before searching for the cuckooshrike.

With one year tick today, my year list at the end of the day clicked up to 223 species. I spent 3 hours 30 minutes birding, walked 4.491 km and drove 107.6 km.

Map of Brown Falcon sightings in Brisbane – red flags are sightings in the last month.

The reporting rate of Brown Falcon each month of the year in Brisbane (reporting rate is the % of complete eBird checklists in each month in which the species has been reported). There seems to be a winter peak, but I don’t know why this is.

 

 
Feb 8: Treading water

 

Up at 0430 today, but worked instead of birding. Down from 1,000 emails to 462, and got quite a bit done so can’t be bad. Gearing up for tomorrow, when I’m off work for my birthday and will get the chance to do a couple of trips. I’m going to try Sandy Camp Road for Black Bittern early doors. Yes folks, Black Bittern again – but I need a change of scene from Mookin-Bah. Not sure what I’ll do after that – maybe head to the coast and look for terns / shorebirds, up to Tinchi Tamba to look for Little Grassbird, or head inland for species such as Speckled Warbler or Painted Button-quail. Or something else altogether. But definitely time for another year tick or two.

I’m trying to find a boat that can host a pelagic trip into the waters east of Moreton Island in March or April. Email me if you’re keen (r.fuller@uq.edu.au), with a list of Saturdays in March and April that you are available.

With no year ticks today, my year list at the end of the day remained on 222 species. I spent 5 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 0 km.

 
Feb 7: “You still haven’t seen a Golden Whistler?”

 

I was showing James Watson the eBird alert system the other day, and he couldn’t believe I still needed Golden Whistler for the year, along with a number of other fairly common species like Scarlet Honeyeater, Spotted Pardalote, Forest Kingfisher etc. It’s true, I have foregone amassing these sorts of species to focus on chasing the trickier birds. But this morning, as I tramped around Mookin-Bah for the third time with not a sniff of Black Bittern I was bemoaning the repetition and slow advancement in my year list birding. Using the target species feature in eBird, here are the top 20 species I still need for the year list, along with the % of lists that each species has been seen on. For example, I still need Scarlet Honeyeater, which is present on 13.5% of all complete eBird lists for the Brisbane area. I only need 16 “1%” birds – those have been seen on more than 1% of eBird lists, but there are some quite common species in there.

 Number Species % lists
1 Scarlet Honeyeater Myzomela sanguinolenta 13.52121
2 Golden Whistler Pachycephala pectoralis 12.71174
3 Spotted Pardalote Pardalotus punctatus 5.65133
4 Forest Kingfisher Todiramphus macleayii 5.25034
5 Rose Robin Petroica rosea 3.45525
6 Varied Sittella Daphoenositta chrysoptera 2.04992
7 Azure Kingfisher Ceyx azureus 1.87003
8 White-naped Honeyeater Melithreptus lunatus 1.6939
9 White-bellied Cuckooshrike Coracina papuensis 1.6077
10 Nankeen Kestrel Falco cenchroides 1.54774
11 Collared Sparrowhawk Accipiter cirrocephalus 1.37536
12 Black Kite Milvus migrans 1.35662
13 White-winged Triller Lalage tricolor 1.34912
14 Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus funereus 1.31539
15 Restless Flycatcher Myiagra inquieta 1.21046
16 Brown Falcon Falco berigora 1.14675
17 Pacific Emerald Dove Chalcophaps longirostris 0.95938
18 Baillon’s Crake Zapornia pusilla 0.93689
19 Swamp Harrier Circus approximans 0.84695
20 Cotton Pygmy-Goose Nettapus coromandelianus 0.83945

Jane Turnbull and Margaret Robertson had three Painted Buttonquails today at Anstead. I’m not sure exactly where the birds were, and I probably don’t have enough time to search tomorrow morning. I’ve got Friday off work so might go then, or at the weekend.

For tomorrow, what else can I do but search a fourth time for Black Bittern? OK, don’t answer that.

With no year ticks today, my year list at the end of the day remained on 222 species. I spent 1 hour 14 minutes birding, walked 2.17 km and drove 20.2 km.

 
Feb 6: Is 300 possible?

 

No birding today. But check back tomorrow, I’ll be trying Mookin-Bah once again for black bittern at dawn. As the days get shorter and dawn gets later it will become harder to fit in any birding before the day’s weekday routine kicks off at home at 0630; birding will depend on weekends, and taking time off work. I’m beginning to feel a little anxious about how many tricky resident species I need to find. There’s about 50 of them that are gettable with varying degrees of effort. This will put me on 272 for the year. With, say, another 15 seabird species from pelagic trips, I would need another 13 unexpected or irregular birds to hit the magic threshold of 300 species…

With no year ticks today, my year list at the end of the day remained on 222 species. I spent 0 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 0 km.