Coombabah Conservation Area, Aug 2020

Summary: Huge, premier birding hotspot on the Gold Coast with plenty for the birder happy to do a lot of walking.

Date of visit: Aug 23, 2020

Coombabah Conservation Area is an area of 1200 hectares on the northern side of the Gold Coast, that includes wetland, eucalypt forest, mangrove habitat and salt marsh. It is the #1 birding hotspot on the Gold Coast according to eBird.

The place has a bit of a quirky layout. There’s side tracks which you aren’t supposed to walk down – though I met a birder on this visit who professed to not caring a whit. Also, inside what you’d think would be the park’s boundaries lie an airfield (!), a wastewater facility, and an animal shelter. (If you see any of these, you’ve probably strayed a little too far!)

Yellow shows an opinion of the best places to see birds here. “P” indicates car parking and best start points.

There’s three main entry points, which don’t really connect up:

  • On the west side on Shelter Rd is a short forest walk that turns into a boardwalk through mangroves leading to a bird hide that looks out over the water. The entrance to this path is not super-obvious from the road – look carefully for the information panels. True to form, I saw nothing from the hide and not much on the boardwalk when I was here, except for some annoying mosquitoes.
  • On the north is the Myola Court boardwalk trail, with parking at Myola Court. The trail follows the creekline here for a fair distance, and on a previous mini-foray here I had good encounters with Rainbow Bee-Eaters and a Sacred Kingfisher diving into the water. However, I did wonder what was on the other side of the creek…
  • …Which is the main section of tracks in Coombabah. And this trail network is vast! Access this by heading to the road called Rain Tree Glen, and stop when you get to a car park with interpretive signs and before the road – confusingly – changes its name to Shelter Road. (Marked with a parking “P” on the map).

From this main starting point at Rain Tree Glen, I followed the path around to Koala track and followed that northwards. It was quite early (7am on a winter’s day), and very few other people were about at first – a couple of joggers and bike riders. There wasn’t a whole lot of bird action for a while, there were actually kangaroos and koalas instead, on the grassy areas. I took quite a few photos of the kangaroos in the golden morning light, and two of them even had a play-fight at one point. As I got deeper into Koala track, I heard the welcome piping call of a Scarlet Honeyeater and was able to track it down. Soon after a Noisy Miner launched an unprovoked attack on a placidly resting Kookaburra, and a pair of Pied Butcherbirds – one juvenile – let me get close for a decent photo opportunity. Common birds so far, but there was better to come…

As I approached the intersection with the Jabiru Circuit, the terrain to the west of the track become more marshy and this yielded a White-Necked Heron, which made for a great photo against the pinkish of the salt marshes (reminiscent of Tinchi Tamba, these are…). Then the call of a Whistling Kite was heard and patience rewarded a close look as it soared past. ‘Twas a good chance to try capturing the tricky bird-in-flight shot.

Into the Jabiru Circuit the vibe started to change again, with a narrower track and a denser bush feel, with Superb Fairywrens (right on the path!), an Eastern Yellow Robin, a friendly female Rufous Whistler (is there any other kind? Seriously, what is it with them), an Olive-Backed Oriole, and even a brief glimpse of a Varied Triller.

I should be saying “we” here, by the way, rather than “I”, as I had a birding companion with me. This is important because we then shared the encounter of the day with a pair of whipbirds. They were calling to each other on one side of the track, getting increasingly loud until the whipcrack call became positively deafening. We spied one of the birds in a dense tree and waited long enough for it to come further out of hiding; I took a shot of it calling and soon it even crossed the path just a few metres from me, but so fast that it was barely possible to get any sort of photo that close. Still, we were buzzed at the encounter!

The rest of the visit saw us heading across to where the path hugs the creek along the eastern side of the park, where we spied another cute koala and also a Rainbow Bee-Eater, before turning into the long and straight Melaleuca Track. Here a male Leaden Flycatcher appeared as well as a Spangled Drongo and Grey Shrikethrush. As the day was getting on a bit, there were noticably more people in the park – mind you, it was a weekend day.

There were enough birds in the various interesting environments to keep me interested for the four hours I spent there, and a final tally yielded a respectable 32 species and a few nice photos to commemorate it all.

Birds Queensland guide to Birding Coombabah

eBird hotspots

Unfortunately this is one of those places which appears to have an “umbrella” hotspot for the whole area, as well as slightly-lesser-used individual hotspots for the different parts within it.

eBird hotspot for the main Wetlands section (124 species) – Checklist for this visit (32 species)
Coombabah Lakelands Conservation Area for the whole area (202 species)

Nearby hotspots: Pine Ridge Conservation Park (104 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Huge area to explore with varied mix of environments
+ Reasonable birds including mix of bush and water birds, and raptors
+ Good tracks and boardwalks, with no hills
– Few facilities
– Quirky layout hampers the keen birder from covering it all comprehensively
– Can get busy esp. on weekends

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