While most of my time in Australia was spent in the Killarney area, I did manage a few days with the family up on the Fraser Coast, where we spent two nights at Burrum Heads. We also spent a bit of time at Hervey Bay. I got to photograph most of the common species, along with a big surprise – a Loggerhead Turtle that swam along almost the entire length of the Urangan Jetty!
Spring Creek Road, which runs from Killarney over the range down to the Head, has some great spots for not only wildlife watching but also magnificent natural scenery. Along this road there are Brown’s Falls, Dagg’s Falls, Queen Mary Falls, Carr’s Lookout and Teviott Falls. But perhaps most importantly from a conservation viewpoint, there is the Carabeen Nature Refuge. This patch of rainforest between Queen Mary Falls and Carr’s Lookout is home to one of the rarest Australian birds, the Albert’s Lyrebird. That this strip of natural forest remains is the testimony of an environmentally aware property owner who recognised how important this piece of land on her property was. She protected it and then bequeathed in trust to the Queensland Government for conservation status, and any future owners of the land will need to bide by her arrangement. Surrounded by pastureland, this strip of rainforest is home to many uncommon and rare creatures. I have driven through it many times and seen the iconic Albert’s Lyrebirds and Red-necked Pademelons that are relatively common here. But lots of other hard-to-see species are also active here. So even though I wasn’t really equipped to photograph in this extremely dark environment, I rather optimistically set out before dawn and found a quiet piece of road where I could park the truck and get fairly unobstructed views in both directions. I managed to get very poor images of a female Albert’s Lyrebird, Australian Logrunner and Red-necked Pademelon……this is definitely territory for a 300/2.8, not a 70-300/4-5.6!
While in Australia I spent a very short time with the family one afternoon at Girraween National Park, just south of Stanthorpe. Famous for Turquoise Parrots which I had hoped to photograph, the national park is host to many rare and uncommon species of wildlife and also magnificent granite outcrops. While I didn’t get to observe any rarities, I did have nice encounters with a male Flame Robin and some other birds.
On one photo excursion during my stay at Killarney, I decided to try following the Killarney – Barlow’s Gate Road all the way to Barlow’s Gate, a crossing along the Queensland – New South Wales border. This road is almost all dirt, and some sections are impassible in wet conditions. This particular morning was dry, although melting frost made some hollows a little tricky for the 2WD Ford Ranger. Navigation was also a little tricky, but the rabbit fence (a fence built along the border to try, fruitlessly, to keep rabbits from crossing over!) was a pretty good marker for my relative position. Although there were a lot of kangaroos and wallabies along the track, there was not all that much birdlife. Wood Duck were perched up in the trees, Red-browed Finch and Double-barred Finch were feeding on the grass seeds, Superb Fairywren were feeding along the track itself and every now and then a pair of rosellas (Crimson, Eastern or Pale-headed), Red-rumped or Red-winged parrots would be flushed from feeding in fields next to the road. Passing one of the very few properties along this road, I stopped to photograph the grizzly sight of a dingo carcass hanging on a fence – obviously shot or poisoned and strung up as a warning to others that might be preying on livestock in the area.
After running along the border for a few kilometres, I climbed a hill to a magnificent summit that had almost 360 degree views across the countryside. I immediately thought that this would be great place to observe different bird species, and it seemed others had the same idea – I soon noticed a flock of Red-browed Finch and Double-barred Finch feeding on commercial bird seed spread under some trees beside some shrubs. As I was photographing the finches, a pair of Brown Quail came out of the undergrowth to start feeding as well! Not to be outdone, a flock of White-winged Chough arrived noisily and took over proceedings. A Grey Goshawk made a pass over the hilltop, causing a commotion among the smaller birds, although the White-winged Chough were not too perturbed by it all. So it was a very nice experience to sit there in the car and photograph several species at close range. After the goshawk flew past, I walked up to a sign that was posted in front of the gate to a small cabin. The location was named “Picnic Hill” – very apt for such a beautiful, albeit remote, spot. In the grounds of the cabin, there were quite a few birds feeding on the lawn, such as Superb Fairywren and White-browed Scrubwren, while flittering between the trees was a Rufous Fantail. In the trees, several species of honeyeater were busy feeding on the nectar of the few flowers that had already started blooming.
After drinking in the sights of the location, I realised that I had use up all my time for this morning and reluctantly turned the car around and headed back to Killarney. All in all, Picnic Hill seems to have the potential to turn up dozens of different species and is definitely worth another visit on my next trip to Australia!
While in the Killarney area, I had the privilege of being allowed access to a property called “the Lakes”. This property is on the outskirts of town (actually in Loch Lomond rather than Killarney) and has the distinction of having one of the few permanent naturally occurring water sources in the region. The shallow lake usually has water even in the worst droughts, and at the moment it is larger than ever due to the regular rains Killarney has been experiencing for the past few years. The Lakes mainly runs cattle, but the owner also keeps various other livestock such as pigs, sheep and ducks. The lake itself is fenced off with barbed wire, so that cattle do not get bogged around the edges.
Not surprisingly, the lake attracts a wide variety of birdlife. Swans, ducks, spoonbills, egrets and waders are present in the lake itself, while small passerines feed and breed along the fringes. This density of species attracts eagles, falcons, goshawks, and harriers. The few gum trees away from the water have corellas, cockatoos, lorikeets, rosellas, and other parrots. In winter, however, the variety of species is less than in other times of the year. I visited the lake twice – once at the end of July and once late in August. The first time I visited at dawn, which was extremely cold and frosty, although the temperature soon got warmer once the sun had burned away the mist. The second visit was late afternoon. Both times the weather was fine with no wind, and the light was very beautiful during the “magic hours”.
On the first morning, I was mainly concentrating on photographing the Black Swans with their cygnets, trying to capture them in the mist but also as the first rays of light penetrated to set off the reds and whites of their plumage. But I soon became aware of the other birdlife and photographed Black-winged Stilt, Royal Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Spoonbill and Straw-necked Ibis. But perhaps the highlight of the first morning was the visiting flock of about 60 Plum-headed Finch, quite an uncommon bird across its range.
The second visit was much different. I had mainly returned to try to get better images of the Plum-headed Finch, but they were not at the lake. Disappointed, I just set up in one location and observed the activity for a few hours, during which time several raptors hunted the lake fringes. The first was a dark-morph Brown Falcon, which harassed a pair of Masked Lapwing. Next came a Spotted Harrier, which flushed out a Latham’s Snipe and then attempted to catch Golden-headed Cisticola. A commotion alerted me to the next raptor – a Brown Goshawk flying fast and low across the lake and causing most of the birds to fly, although they were pre-warned by the Little Corella flock perched high in a gum tree so the goshawk’s ambush was unsuccessful. All the while, Australian Hobby, Nankeen Kestrel and Black-shouldered Kite were constantly active. All in all, there was plenty of action and I just wish I had had a longer lens than my 70-300/4-5.6!
Three species of harrier are found in Australia, those being the Swamp Harrier, Papuan Harrier and the Spotted Harrier. The Spotted Harrier (also known as the Smoke Hawk) is in some respects a unique harrier and highlights the way species adapt to their environment by changing basic instincts so as to survive in a demanding environment.
At first glance nothing seems out of the ordinary with this harrier; it soars low over grasses, crops and other reed-like vegetation like a harrier, has an owlish facial disk like a harrier, and preys on small birds like a harrier. However, unlike all other species of harrier, the Spotted Harrier nests in trees, not on the ground.
This adaptation is likely due to the lack of protection from predation that most harrier species can expect from their nest location, which is usually located in wetlands. The Spotted Harrier is mainly a bird of more arid environments, where it is difficult to find a nesting location that is safe from dingos, foxes, quolls, goannas and other animals likely to prey on eggs and fledglings.
So the Spotted Harrier adapted – it decided to nest in trees to increase the chances of survival of the species. But it has not lost all its basic harrier nesting instincts! The Spotted Harrier will often nest in trees that have thick vegetation or have been accosted by “parasites” such as mistletoe and similar shrub-like plants. The nest is also made with grasses and other matted materials so that the end result is a nest which looks similar to what other species of harrier might construct on the ground.
And from my experience, it seems like the Spotted Harrier is doing very well indeed. In the Killarney area there are several birds that seem to be competing very well in their niche, co-existing with other birds of prey that hunt small birds such as Australian Hobby, Collared Sparrowhawk, Brown Falcon and Brown Goshawk. It is always a pleasure to watch them haunt the fields with their greyish wings, chestnut facial disc and creamy-spotted flanks, contrasting sharply with the bright yellow legs with their long taloned claws!
I recently had to make a sudden trip home to Australia due to the passing away of my mother. Amidst the sadness of the occasion I managed to escape at times to the relative solitude of the national park which borders my family home in Killarney on the Southern Downs of Queensland, or for walks on the outskirts of the town or even just taking the camera out onto the back verandah. There I encountered the usual suspects but, as always, their beauty and antics served to cheer me up somewhat. Some of the better photos are below…. Next week I return to Australia, during which time I hope to be able to have to chance to photograph some of the more uncommon birds and perhaps even a rarity or two!
I revisited the Queen Mary Falls area the next morning, again very early as I didn’t have much time on this day. My main focus was to photograph the male Satin Bowerbird in his bower, plus to walk the trail down to the foot of the falls and capture anything interesting. Also, I removed the 1.4x TC and just used the 300/2.8 at its native focal length, which gave me an extra stop of light as well as better resolution. After a couple of hours at Queen Mary Falls, I stopped briefly at Daggs Falls on the way back to my parents’ place. Then, on the way back to the Gold Coast, I paused at a lookout and took a shot of the Head, an iconic mountain near Boonah.
In the early morning I went up to Queen Mary Falls, which is in the southern section of the Main Range National Park. Weather was better, but mainly cloudy at first, so high ISOs were the order for the initial part of the morning. I hadn’t taken a tripod, so all shots were handheld and at pretty slow shutter speeds. The weather improved later, and I was able to get some better shots of some bird species.
I visited Australia for just three days; arriving Monday, November 28 and departing Thursday, December 1. This trip was mainly for family reasons, but I managed to squeeze in a little bit of photography while I was there, as my parents live just next to a national park. The first morning, after picking up the hire car and visiting some relatives on the way to my parents’ place, I took a couple of photos of Nankeen Kestrel but the weather wasn’t great and so I didn’t waste much time trying to take too many images. After arriving at my parents’ house I took some more photos from the back verandah while relaxing, chatting and downing a few beers.