Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bell Miner at Yarraman State Forest

Hoop Pine Forest
image at:
In my previous blog, about our jaunt over to the East Nanango State Forest, I mentioned the large expanse of Yarraman State Forest, renowned for the presence of Black-breasted Button-quail Turnix melanogaster. Back in the mid-90s Fay and I made several birding trips out here in search of this elusive bird and will never forget the moment the little creatures first presented themselves, a few feet away, busily scratching around in search of fodder. Thereafter we took several other birders, including a number of overseas aspirants, to the same area. That was long before it ever occurred to either of us that one day we would actually become domicile just a few kilometres further along the D’Aguilar Highway.

Things have changed somewhat. Then the favoured spot for Black-breasted Button-quail was a small rest area referred to as “The Stables.” It provided minimal facilities. While still there, it is no longer in use, having been replaced by the "Rogers Day Rest Area", a lawned area with concrete barbeques, tables and toilet amenities. A track leads out through some scrub vine and while we have seen a number of the telltale platelets –although one has to be aware that it is not the only button-quail which creates these circular depressions as a function of its foraging practices- we have never seen a Black-breasted here.

Nevertheless we return here on occasions. Hope burns eternally.

On our last visit we had crippling views of Eastern Spinebill Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris. It was there, flitting low around a tree on the very edge of the carpark. We didn’t even have to leave our vehicle to see it. Then its mate appeared and we found ten minutes of our allotted birding time had been spent on watching these two gorgeous creatures.

There was no spinebill this time though the picnic area resounded to the calls of Eastern Whipbird Psophodes olivaceus. We could distinguish the whip crack of at least two males with the complementary response of two females.

The usual cacophony of early morning choristers accompanied us as we strolled along, including Golden Whistler Pachycephala pectoralis, White-throated treecreeper Cormobates leucophaea, Eastern Yellow Robin Eopsaltria australis and Grey Shrike-thrush Collricincla harmonica. Further out, but still within the confines of Yarraman State Forest, we heard the Pied Currawong Strepera graculina and the alluring call of the Brown Cuckoo-Dove Macropygia amboinensis.

Bell Miner image at: It was while we were attempting to track down the White-browed Scrubwren Sericornis frontalis, which had been busily scolding us for our elephant-footed approach to its particular patch of Hoop Pine Araucaria cunninghamii, that we first heard the familiar tinkle of the Bell Miner Manorina melanophrys. It wasn’t new to us. Indeed, on those occasions when we mis-time our descent [or accent coming the other way] of the Ranges [courtesy of the January floods washout] we console ourselves during the ensuing 15-20 minute wait for the light changes with listening to this captivating bird.

Aside: Back in 1974, our first year in Australia, while birding and exploring this new homeland of ours, we found ourselves travelling along the Cunningham Highway, slowly, listening out for birds, when I stopped to investigate a new wheel squeal the vehicle seemed to have developed. I meticulously inspected each tyre, listened while Fay revved up the engine. It took several minutes to appreciate that the unusual squeak was in fact the call of the Bell Miner. Thankfully several specimens showed themselves, no doubt chuckling at our unnecessary concern.

No, it wasn’t an anomaly; they abound just kilometres further along the highway. Yet, in all our visits here over more recent years, we had never heard the bird here – at the "Rogers Day Rest Area". However, search as we may, we failed to actually sight it.

We ended the day’s birding with flashing glimpses of the Australian Raven Corvus coronoides which had been giving its distinctive cry of utter misery for several minutes; once heard, and memorized, it is difficult to ever again confuse it with the similar but humbler call of the Torresian Crow Corvus orru.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

East Nanango State Forest

The South Burnett is blessed with a plethora of state forests. Fay and I have one, Tarong State Forest, just 4km along the Nanango-Maidenwell Road; a little further, the South Nanango State Forest. The Archookoora State Forest involves a little more travel and time. In another direction we have the massive Yarraman State Forest [globally renowned as a hotspot for the vulnerable Black-breasted Button-quail Turnix melanogaster], supplemented by both the Gibson and Pidna State Forests. Or, in yet a different direction, the East Nanango State Forest.

It was the latter to which Fay and I recently travelled. Like many other forested areas there are a number of entry points. Our usual habit has been to approach the East Nanango State Forest via the East Nanango Road and along Calvert Road. Back in November 2009 we’d made our first, and to date only, trip out to this state forest accompanied by the loosely formed ROBYN bird group [Recorders of Birds in Yarraman & Nanango]. On that occasion they had used the Mount Stanley Road entry point.

It seemed a good time to recapture that outing.

Many Queensland country “roads” eventually peter out to gravel, or simply grass. The Mount Stanley Road is no exception. However, for the first few kilometres we were impressed by the sound nature of the road surface. That is until we arrive at the point S26 30’ 51” E152 04’ 42”. Here the road began to rise but the damage of the January floods was abundantly clear. No doubt a more experienced, even braver, soul behind the wheel of a 4-wheel drive vehicle would have dared the challenge of ruts across and along the road but I am of a simpler mode; discretion has always been the better part of my valour.

We stopped, alighted and were almost immediately rewarded with the distinctive call of a Yellow-faced Honeyeater Lichenostomus chrysops. We counted seven Australasian Grebes Tachybaptus novaehollandiae on the adjoining dam. The Rainbow Bee-eaters Merops ornatus were an unexpected bonus, as were the crippling views of Eastern Spinebill Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris.

As we walked along the track we rapidly added other species to the day’s tally: Grey Fantail Rhipidura albiscapa, Lewin’s Honeyeater Meliphaga lewinii [a bird more often heard than seen], White-naped Honeyeater Melithreptus lunatus, Pale-headed Rosella Platycercus adscitus and eight Red-browed Finch Neochmia temporalis. Among the “heard only” species in those first few metres, we ticked White-throated Honeyeater Melithrptus albogularis, Brown Honeyeater Lichmera indistinct and Spotted Pardalote Pardalotus punctatus.

By the time we called it a day along the Mount Stanley Road we had accumulated a list of 30 species, including good views of Speckled Warbler Chthonicola sagittata, Welcome Swallow Hirundo neoxena and Eastern Yellow Robin Eopsaltria australis.

En route to home we turned into Calvert Road [it connects with the aforementioned East Nanango Road] where we added Superb Fairy-wren Malurus cyaneus and Pied Currawong Strepera graculina. As we left the East Nanango State Forest we spotted a pair of juvenile Olive-backed Orioles Oriolus sagittatus perched high in a tree. This, however, is not the place to wax lyrical about the presence of orioles in this region at this time of the year.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Having spent the past few weekends up to my neck in school report cards I was determined to get out on at least one of three days of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. Saturday was a washout. Rain. We have become accustomed to that wet substance which seems to have been coming down from out of the sky since before the onset of 2011.

Sunday came. It was overcast, dull, grey and grim but there was no rain. We decided to do at least something towards our continuing survey of the birds of the Tarong Power Station.

Given Saturday’s heavy downpour it was decided to go out to Nobby Smith Drive [the road leading to the Tarong Coal Mine], to monitor the birds on and immediately around the small western bay of Meandu Creek Dam. As we left the front gate visibility along Allen Road was no more than 20m; it fared little better once we turned onto the Nanango-Maidenwell Road. It was almost oppressive.

The birding matched the surrounding mood. The only waterbirds noted on the dam itself was a solitary Australasian Grebe Tachybaptus novaehaollandiae and a pair or forlorn Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa.

The woodland across the road was more fruitful but it really was a case of bird-listening rather than watching. The three Torresian Crows Corvus orru calling and flying by overhead could nearly have been the day’s most outstanding feature, matched only by the three Willie Wagtails Rhipidura leucophrys cavorting on the road edge a few metres from us – perhaps they too were finding the visibility challenging. Thankfully, the sudden appearance of a Nankeen Kestrel Falco cenchroides floating out from somewhere beyond the trees to glide overhead made the otherwise desultory trip worthwhile. Not that Fay and I are particularly raptorphilic but their presence always seems to add a note of drama to the settings.

We abandoned the western bay and opted to take a narrow dirt track leading off Nobby Smith Drive. The four Speckled Warblers Chthonicola sagittata were a welcome sighting. The White-browed Scrubwren Sericornis frontalis showed well, as did the usually more elusive Lewin’s Honeyeater Meliphaga lewinii.

A single Grey Shrike-thrush Colluricincla harmonica put in an appearance but the remainder of the list was a record of “heard only” species - that is until we approached the other end of the track [exiting back onto the Nanango-Maidenwell Road].

Fay spotted several small birds dart across the track some metres ahead of us; I was otherwise occupied avoiding deep ruts and potholes, the vestiges of January’s floods. We pulled up, lowered the windows, watched and listened. Three long-tailed birds flitted into view. Fairy-wrens. Females of the species and difficult to distinguish from other fairywrens. I squeaked. Does anyone else out there still have [and use] the old Audubon bird squeaker? A male responded by alighting atop a nearby bush. We had Superb Fairy-wrens Malurus cyaneus.

Given the miserable conditions, that would have served as a grand finale for the day but Fay, who has amazing hearing, picked up the faint call of a robin. We scoured the nearby treetops but lighting was poor. A bird shot through from one tree to a neighbouring tree. It was only the briefest of glimpses but enough to direct our binoculars in the right direction. A Rose Robin Petroica rosea! The first for this area.

On the way back home we pulled up onto the hard shoulder, it hardly qualifies as an entire lay-by, by the bridge over Meandu Creek [just south of the Berlin Road junction]. It has proved fruitful on past visits but then we have usually birded here in good light conditions. The list was, as expected under the circumstances, meagre but watching the Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen strenuously attempting to pull a long worm out of the ground was interesting. The six Yellow-rumped Thornbills Acanthiza chrysorrhoa were that locality’s highlight on this occasion.

The hot coffee at home was marginally better.