Sunday, 10 September 2017

Caloundra's Grassy Wildlife Habitats-Opportunities Lost and Found

From coastal wallum to long-cleared land, Caloundra has plenty of grasslands around, most of it unprotected. Some of it is overgrown with invasive Couch grass ( Cynodon dactylon), while other areas are under threat of clearing for developmental estates. Three main areas around Caloundra have (or have had) great potential to become effective wildlife, some of which I have grown quite fond of.

Wallum grassland near proposed Aura site

The first and probably the best site is based at Bancroft's "Red Gum Reserve". I have posted about this location before, usually referring to it as "The Grasslands". On summer surveys back in 2015 I counted 64 species of birds, with some interesting species such as Little Bronze cuckoo (Chalcites minutillus), Lewin's Rail (Lewinia)*no picture*, and Tawny Grassbird (Megalurus timoriensis). The Bronze Cuckoo was an interesting find for me because they are not very often recorded on the sunshine coast and it was a "lifer" for me!

"The Grasslands". Notice Couch Grass infestation

Less than spectacular shot of Little Bronze Cuckoo (Chalcites minutillus)

Unfortunately, adjacent habitat that was largely utilised by other birds and wildlife has been cleared in the past weeks-this damage can be sen from the Kawana link road. Large populations of elapids such as Red Bellied Black Snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus) and Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis) have been recorded there and nearly stepped on-they were strangely unfazed by human activity.  Nowadays, the creek once utilised for frog hunting there is now little more than a muddy drain. The dam that provided water for many birds during the hot summer has now been reduced to a puddle, and the old trees that provided habitat for microbats and possibly owls, have all been cleared.

Dam-Before clearing

Dam-After Clearing

However, some animals have not only survived, but thrived in the new conditions. A pair of Wedge Tailed Eagles (Aquila audax) were photographed on mounds of dirt within the construction site taking advantage of the animals trying to escape. Each eagle had a mammal clutched in their talons, likely one of the many Bandicoots or Rabbits that were exposed while fleeing the destruction.

Wedge Tailed Eagle (Aquaila audax) on construction site

While the clearing of this habitat is saddening, the Grasslands give me hope. The site in which the Little Bronze cuckoo was found has not only been protected, but improved. The local council often do plantings of native saplings in areas previously affected by Couch grass ( Cynodon dactylon), and the results for this site have greatly improved nesting habitat for birds and rodents, giving the local snakes a second chance as well. Additionally, a raised footpath has been added, which walkers can use to spot an array of passerines including White Throated Honeyeater (Melithreptus brevirostris), Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora) and Golden headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis), which will often put on a show for the viewer at close proximity. Although I am yet to aquire a photograph, one can often spot Red Bellied Black Snakes basking on the path ahead, although a careful approach is advised (they are incredibly shy and dart off the track with even slight movement or vibration near them).

Raised footpath, newly laid.

To the left of the footpath is a planting site run by the council

Veregated Fairy Wren (Malurus lamberti)

Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora)

Golden Headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis)

The second area that has come to my attention is A patch of wallum heathland next to Springs Drive, in new estate. This area has been severely degraded, and what was once a huge wallum area full of frogs is now another muddy swamp with houses being put on it. Strangely enough, the site is a large natural drainage basin, and often floods after big rains. Constructers have done nothing to make the ground more suitable for housing so the next big rains will tell whether that location is effective for housing or not. Unfortunately, I cannot find any photos of the land post-clearing, as they were lost while wiping my computer. No matter, there's not much left to imagine.

Former wallum area-this has all been cleared now.

Despite the bad news, there is hope for this site yet. I recently discovered a healthy patch of wallum sedgeland in forest nearby, potentially utilised by Wallum Sedgefrog (Litoria olongburensis) and Wallum Froglet (Crinia tinnula). On a spotlighting search earlier on this year, I heard an Australian Owlet Nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus) in Melaleuca forest near this location-the species would be a "lifer" for me. Unfortunately, I haven't yet taken any usable shots of the local wildlife due to school studies and work, however during the next 6 months I plan to scour the area for signs of frog and reptile activity. In the meantime, enjoy some poor habitat shots.

Newly found wallum wetland-exciting!

While development remains a large threat to this habitat, with plenty of support these threatened areas can be protected. The third area to be discussed is in the developing estates of Aura. While I still have my doubts for the sustainability for the site, there is a noticeable degree of effort being put in to aid the survival of local animals as best as possible. Dams and crossings are built specifically for frogs, Possum bridges and sediment dams have all been introduced, even before the houses have finished being built. Most importantly, and perhaps unintentionally, very little to no water runoff will make it to the swamps adjacent to the suburbs, which is vital for sensitive species (such as frogs) to survive. Despite this refreshing news, I fear that as people move into the area there will be an increasing problem of pollution into these swamp areas and, perhaps more disruptive, direct human disturbance. For the time being, however, the swamp looks quite healthy, if not a little overgrown:

Sedges and swamp on Aura's northern outskirts

These photos give poor depth of field-in person, this area is spectacular.

The biggest threat that development poses here is on local Wallum Frog populations. I have been mentioning these species a lot in this post because they are one of the species most susceptible to degradation of Caloundra's grasslands. A good indication that a grassland is healthy is that there are frogs calling from within it after rain. All three of the sites described in this area have Wallum Froglets (Crinia tinnula) calling, sometimes in great numbers. Additionally, the Aura sites show great potential for other frog species such as Tyler's Tree Frog (Litoria tyleri), Wallum Froglet (Crinia tinnula) and potentially Scarlet Sided Pobblebonk (Limnodynastes terraereginae).

Wallum Froglet (Crinia tinnula). This specimen was found along Steve Irwin way.

With holidays just around the corner, I plan to visit each site after big rain and survey birds, mammals, reptiles and frogs respectively. I also have ideas to work on some tree planting at the Grasslands site (with permission from council of course!). I believe that if native plants are brought back, the site may have a chance to grow and become a wetland, which would be hugely beneficial for the rare frog and bird species that live there. Stay tuned for further posts over the holidays, not just of activity at the grasslands but also from outings around the Sunshine Coast. I also have plans to head out to Crows Nest National Park, on a search for Brush Tailed Rock Wallabies (Petrogale penicillata) around Perseverance Dam and along Crows Nest Creek.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

a World of Wildlife for a Dry "Wet Season"

Although the holidays are long gone, it's good to share the highlights to "keep the dream alive" so to speak. I have encountered some remarkable wildlife during summer, and my growing interest in all animals, as a pose to just birds, has led to some awesome new sightings. The post will continue to list the best of these experiences.

1. Bunginderry Station, Channel Country:

"Bunginderry" rainbow.
A trip to a friends cattle property in Channel Country proved very rewarding animal wise. With the drought recently broken by heavy rain, the property was incredibly green, bringing with it, large amounts of birds and other wildlife.

The first to be noticed was the large flocks of parrots that were flying around. It was impossible to go 10 minutes without hearing a flock of Budgerigars or Cockatiels wheel past. These birds were especially entertaining at the local dam, where one could simply sit and watch the birds drink and swim in the water-unfortunately this was usually only allowed from a distance, according to the budgies.

Budgerigar's (Budgies) antics at the dam.

...Coming down to drink.
Drinking was a great way to capture birds out there. Like one of the owners said, "when the temperature gets above 40 degrees, the birds seem to loose all fear of humans and head for a drink and some shade". Well, at 45 degrees one can imagine the action I was getting! After spending a couple of hours sitting on the back step adjacent to some watered depressions, I not only saw, but photographed at least 3 "lifers"-new species for me! The following photos aren't great as I found it hard to take photographs that were in focus, mainly due to the heat and scrubby habitat.

Black Honeyeater (Sugomel (Certhionyx) niger), A Lifer for me.

Red Winged Parrot (Aprosmictus erythropterus) female.
Not a lifer but one of the few decent photos I got!

White Plumed Honeyeater (Lichenostomus penicillatus) coming down for a drink.
Also making the most of the rain were the Green Tree Frogs (Litoria caerulea). Although other frogs such as L.rubella were present the Green Tree Frogs were everywhere! Turns out they like to hide in shoes, which I learned one morning when I saw a small green head poking out! (no photos)

One of many...

An uncomfortable looking position! Notice the blue toepads.

They weren't picky on where they slept for the day!

This one just woke up from his/her daily snooze under a cap.

Of all of the experiences with wildlife out here, one of my best was with a Burton's Legless Lizard (Lialis burtonis). Although few photos that I took manages to keep the head in focus, it was a great experience nonetheless. These lizards intrigue me-they hunt other small skinks, and subdue them by suffocating them in the strong grip of their jaws. I hope to see some here on the coast in the near future.
Burton's Legless Lizard.

This cleaning session would have been great had it been in focus!
Unfortunately these lizards like to keep on the move-not great
for focus! Notice the large numbers of sleeping flys!

2. The Bats and the Bridge:

Upon getting interested in Australian mammals (including/especially microbats) I decided to check out a small microbat colony which roosts in some cracks below a bridge over a wide creek. Unfortunately the mission proved precarious and difficult, as the bats were out of sight due to the depth of the cracks, and were roosting in the middle of the Creek. The following footage shows the colony, but not very well as I was a bit shaky trying to hold the awkward photography contraption!

For those who are intrigued about how I filmed it, the "tool of choice" can be seen below:

Tool of choice-a long stick with Gopro attached via clamp and headtorch!
Still torn on the species, I decided to set up at dusk to try to get some shots in flight. Due to a slow shutter speed and poor lighting conditions, all photographs taken were "fuzzy" and unclear. After much thought and consulting with a mammal field guide, I decided that it may be a forest bat of some description due to the light grey underparts contrasting somewhat with the back. I believe that I would have to identify the bats by hand if I wanted to know the exact species, however I do not have any permits for trapping and very limited experience so i will leave that to the professionals! Anyone who may know more about the subject is welcome to comment at the bottom of the post!

Vespadelus sp. ? This was the best image I could manage.


A screenshot from the video.
3. Frogs on the Coast:

With my interest in frogs quickly increasing, it has been good to find some species that I have never seen or photographed before! With the help of my grandfather, I have been to numerous areas, with many thanks going out to environmental scientist Jono Hooper for helping me with locations for particular species. A few weeks after the encounter with L. chloris, we set out to Maleny, where Obi Obi creek crosses the road. As we walked along the track we heard a chorus as Dozens of male Great Barred Frogs (Mixophyes fasciolatus) called to attract a mate. Surprisingly, two male Giant Barred Frogs (Mixophyes iteratus) were found on fresh cut lawn nearby the creek. One can tell the difference between the two species mainly via the brilliant golden eye that is unique to the Giant Barred frog. Remember to look carefully at the eye-size of these frogs as they can look very similar to toads, if one hasn't had experience with them before. If you are not sure Take a photograph and look at the QLD Frog Society's "be Toadally Sure" campaign. They have all the necessary information to help you identify a toad.

Great Barred Frog (Mixophyes fasciolatus) one of many males chorusing.

Great Barred Frog-note the variation in colour and size from the other male.


Giant Barred Frog (Mixophyes iteratus). Note the golden eye.

After Maleny we headed to Gardener's falls for some shots of the local population of Stoney Creek Frogs (Litoria wilcoxii). Although few photos were taken it was interesting to find a pair in amplexus. What I've noticed is that the smaller, yet "yellower" males are often in amplexus as a pose to the scores of other males with a tinge of brown to their backs.

L. wilcoxii in amplexus.

A lonely "brown" male.
On a more recent note, I finally got the opportunity to get out frogging with Jono Hooper, earlier mentioned. He has been a major contributor to my knowledge and passion for frogs, and a great role-model in how to go about photography in the frog world. After a very dry "wet season", we were hard pressed to find dams with any remaining water-Ben Bennett Park, usually a frog hotspot, was bone dry. Luckily, Jono knew a location near Buderim which was often reliable for Cascade tree Frogs (Litoria pearsoniana). As we arrived we could already hear a couple calling from within the creek. Unfortunately, some technical difficulties with my camera resulted in many photos being poor quality. I did manage to salvage some shots, however.

Cascade Tree Frog (Litoria pearsoniana)


All up, it was a fantastic night, with plenty of wildlife around-the freshwater pools were full of Longfinned Eel (Anguilla reinhardtii) and yabbies, while Flying Foxes squabbles in the Piccabean palms overhead, dropping fruit everywhere. And, of course, I nabbed a new species encounter with a Cascade Tree Frog!

To conclude, Summer was full of interesting wildlife, and it has been great to be out and about again. Of course, with school being back, I am going to be largely unable to find time outside of study, especially with a decent OP in mind. April holidays are expected to be full of spotlighting for owls and other critters, so expect most future posts to be then. :)

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Brooms head Wildlife Highlights

Below are some highlights from the previous trip to Brooms Head, Yuraygir NP in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

On the first days of the trip, I went diving in the "Lagoon", a reef sheltered from large waves as a result of large rock structures surrounding it, in search of any marine life. The result was multiple Spotted Wobbegong (Orectolobus maculatus) some hunting, some resting under rocks and crevices. Unfortunately, I only managed to take videos so below are screenshots of the most notable individuals.

Spotted Wobbegong (Orectolobus maculatus)

One of the larger individuals at a possible 2 metres!

Resting individual
Many towns have an icon, something that makes it memorable. In the small town of Brooms Head, the most significant icon may be the "Brooms Head Brumby". With no real name, just rumours about its history, this youngish male brumby is supposedly the only survivor of a once large herd that roamed Yuraygir, apparently wiped out by bushfire. An escapee domestic horse may be more likely. 

Despite All this, it is not often seen, unless by the few locals of the town. Always looking for new places to explore, I headed along the main creek towards "Cakora Lagoon", and soon came face-to-face with the elusive horse. it is intriguing to see that brumby tracks can be found fresh many kilometres from the town, either side, all the exact size of the male in question.

"Brooms Head Brumby", Cakora Lagoon

Backlit by the sun
While exploring for wildlife one can often make mistakes-blurry photographs, wrong-place-wrong-time, or misjudging a location. One such mistake was made while looking for a swamp I had seen in an arial photograph of the town. Although there was no path to it, the forest didn't appear too thick so I decided to wander through (barefoot), to find it. Unfortunately, what appeared to be open forest was in fact incredibly dense scrub, laden with Lantana and another vine with short, sharp and strong spines covering it. Progress was so slow that a 5 minute walk took an hour, as I pushed my way through Orb Weaver webs and vines. when I finally found the creek, I had to wade through knee deep mud to get back to the nearby bridge, which I could access the campsite from. No photos, only screenshots of a quick video taken.

The scrub type was similar on the other side of the creek-minus the vines!

The "wetland" turned out to be a grassy, swollen bend in the creek-not happy!

Through the adventures, some nice shots were managed of wildlife and scenery alike, as seen below.

Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funerus)

Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funerus)

Sooty Oystercatchers (Haematopus fuliginosus)

Sooty Oystercatcher (Haematopus fuliginosus) wave  breaking behind

The "Lagoon" seen in background behind the lone pine tree

Yuraygir NP Sandon Road Sector as seen from nearby Candole Range

Unamed Creek, from the bridge earlier described

Temporarily abandoned nest of a Bar Shouldered Dove