Thursday, April 12, 2012

Have Car Will Bird [Part 2]

With the Forester back we gradually reintroduced it to the ardours of birding, one step at a time.  On Good Friday, the morning after its return late on Maundy Thursday, we drove across to the Nanango Fauna Sanctuary [see appropriate blog], a destination we could, of course, have quite easily managed in Fay’s little Swift.  It involved only minimal off-road driving on a relatively flat and well-maintained dirt track.  On Easter Sunday we ventured further, into the open woodland below the Meandu Creek Dam which again was comparatively easy driving but the remaining ruts and potholes [see photograph accompanying Part 1] would definitely have been beyond the Swift. 
Easter Monday was its ultimate test in this current series of trials for the regenerated Forester; the decidedly more challenging Gibson State Forest, a 430ha Hoop Pine Araucaria cunninghamii with vine scrub and open woodland fringes.   Shortly after entering the forest, from the Yarraman end, the dirt track rises steeply – low first gear stuff.  The gradient is not in itself too much of a problem, it’s more the gravelly base of the track as it climbs steeply in a comparatively short distance.  The surface was badly damaged during the January 2011 floods and only part of the track has been regraded and improved.  To enhance the dangers, on our previous trip here [24 July 2011] a large tree had fallen across part of the western section the road.

Today we managed it in a breeze!   All the way around!  The steep rise made both driver and vehicle think and work a little more diligently than on any other part of the circuitous track but with some nifty manoeuvring around the remaining ruts the navigation was straightforward – even the fallen tree had been removed.
The early stages of the forest drive didn’t produce any particularly outstanding birds, the usual crop of Torresian Crow Corvus orru, Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen, Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys and, naturally given the setting, Lewin’s Honeyeater Meliphaga lewinii.  It was the number of specimens involved that astounded.  We counted as many as ten Lewin’s in a short space and in excess of 50 Red-browed Finch Neochima temporalis cavorting around the road edges or flitting between track and bordering bushes.  Six Yellow Thornbills Acanthiza nana added spice to the growing list of familiar but more abundant species.
For the second time over the long Easter weekend we spotted another Spangled Drongo Dicrurus bracteatus.  Three to be precise.  The presence of one alone on the previous day at the Meandu Creek Dam woodland [see previous blog] caused us to pause, consider and comment; three in the same immediate vicinity to each other at Gibson was almost mind-boggling.
Nor were the drongos the only welcomed sighting that morning.  Up to three Golden Whistlers Pachycephala pectoralis were heard and seen at the first stopping point [where we indulged in bacon sandwiches and black coffee].  A Varied Triller Lalage leucomela [new to the 2012 Year List] put in not one but two fleeting appearances.  A solitary Grey Shrike-thrush Colluricincla harmonica and one Black-shouldered Kite Elanus axillaris added jest, as did the three Eastern Yellow Robins Eopsaltria australis and the female Regent Bowerbird Sericulus chrysocephalus.

However, the ticks of the day came as we were leaving Gibson State Forest.  A hundred metres from the gate we spotted a pair of Brown Falcons Falco berigora atop a Hoop Pine.  At the gate itself, four Wonga Pigeons Leucosarcia picata foraging on the ground; they flew into nearby trees on our approach. 
A little way beyond the gate –and strictly speaking outside the forest boundaries- we had the sighting of the entire long weekend, a Spotless Crake Porzana tabuensis.   It raced out from longish, green grass [suggesting a source of nearby water] and ran across the road to disappear in yet more longish, green grass.  It was our first for the South Burnett region and yet another addition to the Year List.
Spotless Crake.  Photiographed at Werribee in Victoria [Aug. 2011] bu Vik Dunis 

The Forester had proved both its mettle and worth.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Have Car Will Bird [Part 1]

Some might say that we made a meal of it.  Fay wrote off her Toyota in January, I followed, albeit with a lesser accident, in February.  We’d replaced Fay’s almost immediately with a little Suzuki  Swift – perhaps an appropriately named vehicle for a petit birder.  The longer saga of my Forester was hinted at in the previous post.

Fay’s new vehicle was totally unsuitable for all but the simplest of birding; we could, for example, pull off the road at Meandu Creek, close to the junction between the Nanango-Maidenwell and Berlin Roads, a spot which has in the past provided us with some adequate birding.  We could drive to the Brooklands Road Water Reserve, park in the layby and walk in.
On Easter Sunday, with the Forester back in action, we ventured forth once more to the Tarong [now officially the Stanwell] Power Station.  Fay and I remain the only birders with security clearance to enter the premises, collect keys for various locked gates and monitor the birds still extant on their 1500ha property.
We long since divided the area into various habitat types to facilitate comprehensive coverage, including open, vine scrub and hoop pine woodlands and of course the two major dams as well as the lesser waterholes. While access to many of our designated sites has improved since the January 2011 floods, the approach roads [mostly gravel tracks] to many remain problematic and definitely not something we would attempt in a Swift.
Our goal on Sunday morning was the open woodland below [behind] the wall of Meandu Creek Dam.  We’d covered this area on a number of occasions, usually following one of two well prescribed tracks- to the left which followed the creek itself or to the right which ran parallel to Nobby Smith Drive.  The former turned to bring us back to the gate while we had only ever explored the latter to the top of the first steep rise, at which point the track turned away from the road.
The track leading to the woodland as it was several months after the 2011 flooding

The White-throated Treecreeper Cormobates leucophaea and White-throated Gerygone Gerygone albogularis almost immediately rewarded our decision to venture to the right; the gerygones even showed themselves a little later along the track.  The usual plethora of small birds was quickly added to our list in those first few metres: Lewin’s Honeyeater Meliphaga lewinii, Grey Fantail Rhipidura albiscapa, White-browed Scrubwren Sericornis frontalis, Yellow-faced Honeyeater Lichenostomus chrysops and the always welcome Spotted Pardalote Pardalotus punctatus, a species we associate more with the Bunya Mountains.
On reaching the furthest point we had previously explored along this track a pair of Fan-tailed Cuckoos Cacomantis flabelliformis suddenly showed themselves on an open branch a few metres from where we stood.  Before we could blink a collective eye, a third one appeared, seemingly to argue with one of the original two and all three then vanished into the blue yonder.  It was also at this point that a trio of gerygones entered into a public debate before also disappearing up the track.  Could this be taken as a clear sign that we should follow their example and explore the track beyond this rise?
We accepted the challenge and proceeded.
Accepting the dare provided us with good views of four White-throated Honeyeaters Melithreptus albbogularis, three Variegated Fairy-wrens Malurus lamberti and good views of both Golden Pachycephala pectoralis and Rufous Pachycephala rufiventris Whistlers.  The panicked Australian Brush-turkey Alectura lathami was the comic relief of the moment.
However, the gem of the day had to be the totally unexpected Spangled Drongo Dicrurus bracteatus.  The species is fairly uncommon in the immediate area at the best of times.  Since the initial record on 25 September 2005, Fay and I have recorded only ten sightings and one of those was at Crow’s Nest which is pushing the South Burnett boundaries by a few kilometres.  That does not preclude that the species was more abundant in pre-drought days nor that it continues to flourish in other South Burnett strongholds BUT here, in the immediate vicinity the drongo is a rarity.
They are summer migrant throughout most of their Australian range; they come, they remain awhile and they go.  There are however records of drongos that have made corners of Queensland their permanent home.  Could it be that this drongo has found the conditions here, in the open woodland below the Meandu Creek Dam a desirable residence?  We’ll keep an eye on the creature.
By the time it came to return home – there are always chores to be attended to on a 7½-acres property- we had recorded our best ever tally for Tarong woodland bird, 35 species; the previous best had been 32 species back in February 2011 [our post-flood venture].
                               The woodland track still partially under water.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Forester is Back

The panel beater delivered the Forester back on Thursday evening.  Yes, that’s right, the panel beater personally dropped off the Forester at our front door.  It had required a final wheel balance which was carried out in Nanango itself [the smash repair workshop is in Blackbutt, some 40km down the road].  It was just as easy for Nev to drop off the Forester here and drive himself back home in the RAV4, the courtesy car I had used since he had taken over the repair assignment.
The Forester concealed in bush while its occupants are birding the area.  Note the front passenger wing, the area damaged back in February.
It had never occurred to me that a humble panel beater could take such pride in his work but this one did.  Nev went to some pains to point out the finer details of his work on the Forester, especially his skill in colour-matching the pearl white of the vehicle.  Both Fay and I had to admit that the car looked immaculate, as good as the day it had been driven out of the showroom. I had at one time considered the possibility of never seeing the Forester again.  This is country-Queensland where panel beaters are almost as rare as chicken’s teeth, a shortage not assisted when some act like middle-aged 9-years-olds!
All previous plans for the following day, Good Friday, were immediately cancelled and birding stepped in to fill the ensuing vacuum.  On such short notice it would be difficult to venture too far afield, all the more as we noticed the petrol gauge indicator reading low and there was no guarantee that many service stations would open on Good Friday.  Given a quarter of a tank of petrol we opted to revisit the nearby Nanango Fauna Sanctuary, a piece of land on the town’s eastern boundaries set aside for the local wildlife, last covered on 1 May 2011.
As has been our wont on previous visits, we pulled up by the large, obviously manmade [person-made?], duck pond and immediately noted a pair of Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa and four Grey Teal Anas gracilis swimming about on the open water. An Australian White Ibis Threskiornis molucca was perched atop an overhanging tree on the far side.

On scanning across the duck pond a little more diligently we spotted a single Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyria and five Dusky Moorhen Gallinula tenebrosa, one of which was a juvenile still in its drabber plumage.
                                                                  Purple Swamphen

From the shrubbery across the duck pond we heard the distinctive whipcrack of two male Eastern Whipbirds Psophodes olivaceus but only one female response.  Were the three engaged in a little avian menage à trois?  A Grey Fantail Rhipdura albiscapa called from somewhere in the other direction and a Striated Pardalote Pardalotus striatus added its “chip chip” monotony to the growing cacophony of the post-Dawn Chorus period.  A Lewin’s Honeyeater Meliphaga lewinii punctuated their singing with its own particular thrill.
On previous visits we had always tended to retrace our steps back towards the East Nanango Road to take the right-hand track some 30m before hitting the road.  On this occasion we heralded in the changes and ventured forth along the left-hand track which we suspected lead back towards the Cattle Dip.  It did but it also produced a few interesting bushbirds.  The White-browed Scrubwren Sericornis frontalis scolded at the call of the old Audubon squeaker.  Does anyone else still possess one of these?  A Pied Butcherbird Cracticus nigrogularis called from some hidden corner; a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Cacatua galerita called from overhead.
We came away from this, our first birding expedition in the Forester since the smash on 20 February, with a bird tally of 24 species; well  below the record 33 on 6 June 2010 but only marginally short of the 26 on 6 September 2009.  On the other hand it was more than a 100% increase on the 11 tallied at the initial visit of 17 January 2009.
There were no especially outstanding species recorded on the day but the sheer pleasure of having the Forester back and being able to use it as the preferred mode of birding transportation was a blessed joy in itself.
And this is the four-day Easter weekend!

Sunday, April 1, 2012


When asked to write a piece about birding in the South Burnett region, I opted to encourage potential birdwatchers to look around their immediate neighbourhood in search of promising spots for birds. I threw in a couple of examples; one a mere spit from my own home, the second much further but nevertheless a possibility for someone living in that part of the region.

Fay and I continue to do just that ourselves, look around for possible birding sites. Some we immediately adopt and add to the ever expanding itinerary, others are usually given a second [occasionally a third] chance before being relegated to the column labelled “Unsuitable.” Boondooma Dam was such a reject while Gordonbrook Dam [approximately in the same vicinity] has become a regular spot. Indeed, given the opportunity and timeframe, we plan to take a pair of UK birders, currently making their way west and north through Queensland, heading for the Northern Territory and Western Australian, to this dam.

Closer to home, at the end of July last year [2011] we discovered The Quarry. Well, more a small, disused gravelpit surrounded by open woodland and Hoop Pine Araucaria cunninghamii. This weekend we made our third trip to the spot to be rewarded by an increased bird tally [17 on our inaugural trip; 20 on the second in August 2011].

Track to The Quarry.  D'Aguilar Highway visible in foreground.
We’d been intending to explore a number of forestry tracks leading of the D’Aguilar Highway between the Tarong Power Station and the small township of Yarraman. Somehow there never seemed to be the opportunity. Whenever we found ourselves on the highway [no more than a typical British “A” road and a seeming haven for abandoned cars] we were en route to somewhere else – Brisbane or simply a dinner party at Blackbutt.

The opportunity finally presented itself at the end of July 2011 and we were immediately impressed by its potential as a future birding site. The initial tally may have been rather limited but it was late in the morning when we arrived and nowhere can be bad if it offers you such gems as the Regent Bowerbird Sericulus chrysocephalus, Scarlet Honeyeater Myzomela sanguinolenta, Golden Whistler Pachycephala pectoralis and Eastern Yellow Robin Eopsaltria australis all within the space of few minutes: a White-headed Pigeon Columba leucomela, Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica , Shining Bronze-cuckoo Chrysococcyx lucidus and a Varied Triller Lalage leucomela on the occasion of our second trip a fortnight later.

Two weeks later, in mid-August, we tried a second of the forestry tracks leading off the highway, this one a little further along, closer to Yarraman itself. It was a broader track and infinitely easier driving. It was of course edged by Hoop Pine. As is our custom when exploring less used by ways and dirt tracks we pulled up every hundred or so metres to both look out and listen for birds. It appeared less lively that the original forestry track of 31 July but nevertheless we persevered 

At what was clearly a major Forestry intersection we were faced we a small dilemma- which way to proceed? In fact we tried all three possibilities and each one petered out either into impassable goat tracks or, as in the case of the last one, we came to the actual forestry working site festooned with warning signs and dire threats to any who dared ignore these signs.

The entrances were no more than a couple of hundred metres apart; they traversed the same Hoop Pine forest and had been created by the same Forestry Department. Yet, in birding terms they proved to be fathoms apart.

We will, when the opportunity arises, give this second track another chance to prove its birding mettle but in the meantime there remain another two or three as yet unexplored avenues leading off the D’Aguilar Highway and, of course, The Quarry has already proved its worth.

Without the trusted Forester, or indeed Fay’s old 4-wheel drive Toyota, we limit ourselves; further exploration is currently on hold until the vehicle is returned [promised for Thursday 5 April as long as one outstanding part is delivered on time]. The Quarry we know and is accessible by conventional vehicles.

It became part of our weekend target, along with another look at a long-established favourite, the Rocky Creek Circuit. Nor did The Quarry disappoint us. If nothing else, the tally came in at 27 species, a 53% increase on the first count and a 30% increase on the mid-August tally. But it was the quality of the birds that impressed most and who could fail but be impressed with stunning views of a Grey Goshawk Accipiter novaehollandiae!

We were turning to leave, Rocky Creek beckoned, when Fay looked up at the tallest pine on the skyline. It was an unmistakable tree with a few dead limbs protruding from its crown. The same tree on which, only moments earlier, we’d noted the more humble Bar-shouldered Dove Geopelia humeralis. There, admittedly perched in a somewhat squat position, looking slightly out of sorts was the Grey Goshawk. Fay initially called Black-shouldered Kite Elanus axillaris; certainly as a white raptor it seemed to fit the bill. But the jizz was wrong; too big, too bulky and more a pearl white in colour than a bright white. As soon as it moved to fly away, the wings told the complete tale.

We will return to The Quarry, as we will return to several other odd birding spots we have located in the six years we have called the South Burnett our home region.

Grey Goshawk.  Photograph from

Saturday, March 17, 2012


The Suburu before the prang.
I’ve spent months laying the blame for my recent tardiness in maintaining my blogs on the ever-increasing pressure of coming to grips with the new Australian Curriculum which kicked off this year in Queensland. That excuse still holds true but the prang on my 42nd wedding anniversary didn’t help the cause of birding the South Burnett.

And even the prang can be squarely laid at the feet of the Australian Curriculum, or rather my growing sense of doom as I plough through it’s intricacies. It was a Monday [20 February] and I was out and about along Berlin Road by 0600 hours hoping to get in some additional school time [it’s about a 30-minute drive from Allen Road to Blackbutt]. As I climbed the one steep hill along this 6-km stretch of road the sun poked its face above the crest of the hill completely blinding me. I somehow drifted across to the other, the wrong, side of the road. That’s when the other motorist came over the brow.

Neither of us was seriously injured but both vehicles, while not badly damaged [in the sense of being declared “write-offs”] did sustain considerable body panel damage; my leaking radiator forewarned me that there was also some adverse mechanical impairment present.

Birding was not foremost in my mind at the time but the reality of being without a driveable vehicle settled morosely on the brain the following Friday evening. That’s the time of day Fay and I usually relax together on the east verandah, sip a glass or two [in my case almost invariably more] of a fine South Australian red, be it Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon or the recently discovered Clare Valley gem, a fabulous Grenache from the Reilly stable. It is also the time we debate the weekend’s birding itinerary.

With my 4-wheel drive out of action, Fay’s small Swift rather limited our choices, all the more as steady rain had made all but the better tarmac roads virtually impassable to a vehicular minnow.

We covered the Meandu Creek from the Berlin Road Bridge but even this often prolific corner proved unproductive that first weekend. Poor visibility did little to help matters.

That weekend birding prospects for anything beyond Allen Road appeared decidedly grim. This is not the UK where Fay and I could catch a bus [to Milford Hills] or indeed walk [to Cannock Chase or, in our Great Haywood days, stroll along the Trent & Mersey Canal]. This is inland Queensland where bus services are as rare as rocking horse droppings and when you live nine kilometres outside town even the prospect of covering some of the local parklands is beyond the pale of human endurance.

Matters did not improve when the designated panel beater informed me that he couldn’t possible begin on my Suburu until after Easter. Eight weeks! I tried to circumnavigate the delay by approaching a second panel beater. Yes, he could have me back on the road by Easter.

Complications arose. The insurance company, with a “helpline” based in Melbourne, failed to understand the local geography and they failed to appreciate my urgent need to go birding [they probably don’t know a House Sparrow from a Red Goshawk anyway]. The original delegated panel beater, on hearing that I was attempting to bypass his long delay refused to work on my car. The Suburu remained in limbo betwixt red tape and my growing sense of doom.

Matters finally took a turn for the better last week. The issue of which panel beater would work on the vehicle was settled; he was also capable of doing the mechanical repairs [the original pawned out that part of the overall work]. And, to add icing to a steadily more flavoursome cake, the Blackbutt panel beater was prepared to give me a courtesy vehicle, an all-wheel RAV-4!

I collected the vehicle on Friday [16 March] afternoon, after school. Saturday was already earmarked for other duties


but we had today, Sunday 18 March to look forward to.

It’s been pouring down all morning!

Monday, February 20, 2012


Looking down onto corner of Meandu Creek Dam from jetty-like structure. While the blogs here may be slowing down, entirely due to work pressures, our relentless search for the birds of Tarong Power Station continues almost unabated. We go out whenever time and circumstances permit.

To side track a moment, for those new to this blog, Fay and I continue to be the only birders with security clearance to enter Tarong Energy property to monitor the birds in the immediate area. This includes a number of woodlands [both open and stands of hoop pine], vine scrub and, naturally, a number of dams.

Our last two visits have centred on the large Meandu Creek Dam. Over time we have established a number of points from which to count birds, particularly waterbirds. Our initial counts were made from the jetty-like structure on the eastern shore and from a small bay on the west, overlooked from Nobby Smith Drive. A little later we were granted permission to travel along the dam wall itself which afforded us expansive views of birds on the water.

A crowning moment came when a Tarong Energy official escorted us to the shallow end of the dam, where the creek becomes the dam proper- albeit very shallow at this point. It was the winter of 2010 with sparse birdlife about but it immediately occurred to the pair of us that this could be ideal wader habitat in season. We agreed to investigate at the earliest possible opporetunity as soon as we returned from our planned UK trip in September.

The vagaries of Nature took a hand, undermining all our good intentions. The skies opened up, the rain poured down in bucketsful and most of southeast Queensland became a mite waterlogged. Fay and I were marooned on our own small property for three days.

The aftermath was perhaps just as telling for aspiring birders in the South Burnett. Most minor roads [gravel or simply grass tracks] became unpassable. Given the multi-million dollar repair bill to restore main infrastructures, remedial work to the lesser, insignificant byways remained in limbo. In several instance, Tarong Energy land included, they continue to be precarious avenues.

Consequently, on our eventual return for The Old Dart, there was no access to the shallow end of the Meandu Creek Dam. Indeed, there was precious little vehicular access to many other Tarong Energy sites.

Finally, on 12 January this year we managed to find a window of opportunity to explore the shallow end. Or rather we tried.

We found the gate easily enough, off Nobby Smith Drive. We carefully followed the track, ignoring the sharp right-hand turn shortly after going through the gate. All looked promising as we noted the edge of the dam on our left.

Suddenly the bush cover disappeared and we were in an open area with waterbirds galore sitting on the dam. There were 100+ Eurasian Coot Fulica atra, mostly hugging the near bank, a score of Black Swan Cygnus atratus, in pairs, gracefully gliding over the surface. The immediate tally included good numbers of Hardhead Aythya australis and Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa. Both the Great Phalacrocorax carbo and Pied Cormorant Phalacrocorax varius were present as were Great Crested Podiceps cristatus and Australasian Grebe Tachybaptus novaehollandiae. A dozen Dusky Moorhen Gallinula tenebrosa floated by. Along with the waterbirds the surrounding terrestrial area was awash with land birds, including such gems as Tawny Grassbird Megalarus timoriensis and Whistling Kite Haliastur sphenurus.

This however was not the shallow end. From where we were stopped we could look back and see the spot along Nobby Smith Drive which we used to survey this bay along the dam shoreline.

A second dilemma faced us. The track now split, with one route going straight ahead and a second bearing sharp right. We opted for the former but this road eventually petered out by an old butterhouse.

Retracing our steps, we bore off to the left [the sharp right of earlier]. This came to an intersection and again we had no memory of the place. Once again we retraced our steps and headed back to the gate off Nobby Smith Drive.

That brought us back to the original turn which we had ignored as it seemed to merely double back on itself and run parallel to Nobby Smith Drive. We followed it and moments later arrived at a spot we both immediately recognised from our initial trip with the Tarong Energy official. We had relocated the shallow end.

Well, not quite! What had been ankle deep vegetation back in April 2010 was now towering over our heads making it impossible to see beyond. It looked right but we needed better views. Further, what in 2010 had been a fairly level walking plain was now rutted and dangerous underfoot as we couldn’t distinguish ridge from furrow beneath our feet.

We tried a track off to the left and found ourselves on the side of the shallow end, a window across the dam but one that offered limited views through reeds, tall shrubs and trees. Nevertheless, we added an Intermediate Egret Ardea intermedia and a solitary Comb-crested Jacana Irediparra gallinacea. From somewhere beyond the reeds we heard the distinctive call of an Australasian Darter Anhinga novaehollandiae.

Waders were notable by their general absence.

Of more importance was the second gate, clearly coming off Nobby Smith Drive and clearly worth a closer look but that had to wait awhile. On eventually exploring the area from this newly-discovered gate we got no further than on the previous visit- reeds, tall shrubs and trees. We did spot a Black Swan on the nest.

As we left Tarong Energy property via this second gate, on impulse I turned left, towards Meandu Mine, rather than turn right, heading directly home. A hundred metres along we found a third gate – closer to the shallow end.

Stay tuned. Maybe in a week or two…