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.
Stay tuned. Maybe in a week or two…