Maiala Tracks, Sep-Dec 2020

Summary: Awesome patch of bird-rich rainforest quite near Brisbane.

Dates of visit: Sep 6, Nov 19, Dec 22.

Track map:

Getting to the Maiala area, part of D’Aguilar National Park west of Brisbane, is half the adventure. It’s not that it’s difficult – any car can do it and the roads are good and well-paved – but it’s a long and twisty journey, and you’ll likely encounter more than a few cyclists and motorcyclists. There are two ways there:

(1) through Enoggera and up past Jolly’s Lookout and Mt Nebo. I don’t recommend this as it’s 30km of winding up and down road and it may leave you never wanting to drive a car again.

(2) from upper Samford Valley (go via Samford Village) – there’s less than 10km of almost pleasant windy road instead.

Maybe you like driving undulating twisting roads, in which case ignore the above.

Rainforest Circuit, Cypress Grove Circuit and Greene’s Falls Track are 1, 2 and 3.

Upon arriving, there’s a decent car park and a spacious Day Use area. It’s worthwhile lingering in this clearing before you plunge into the rainforest, especially if there’s not too many people about, as there seem to be a few birds here and you can get some good encounters. I made 3 visits to the area in the second half of 2020, and in the open area at various of those times were Eastern Yellow Robin, Red-Browed Finch, Satin Bowerbirds, Lewin’s Honeyeaters and even a White-Headed Pigeon.

Onto the tracks. A sign at the end of the car park directs you into the “Rainforest Circuit”, and I found the wildlife was intense immediately, with the sound of Whipbirds and Green Catbirds, and glimpses of Pademelons. I was with a couple of fellow birders on this first trip, and with patience we managed to get a good look – and a couple of photos! – of a Whipbird, and also the vocal Catbird. The weird cat-like wail of Catbirds kept going as we walked, and we couldn’t help but giggle every time we heard it.

Soon after we heard and felt small bits of fruit dropping down from the upper canopy, and sure enough there were some Topknot Pigeons up there causing havoc. Too far up and obscured so all but impossible to get a photo.

On the side of the track we then found a Russet-Tailed Thrush – quite a sizeable bird, really. It’s generally the species you get here, rather than the incredibly similar Bassian Thrush.

The dim light in the rainforest is a real challenge. At times my camera auto shutter speed was falling below 1/20th of a second, which really trains you to hold it incredibly steadily. Logrunners are a case in point: they’re usually on the forest floor in low light, and often digging busily, so you also get the bird’s motion blur. I was lucky to have a salvageable photo of one.

We’d got a few of the rainforest species by now – Whipbird, Logrunner, Thrush, Catbird. Happy-making!

The Rainforest Circuit then hits a gravel road, and crossing over it leads you into the Greene’s Falls and Cypress Grove Circuit areas. These are both well-worth doing, especially Greene’s Falls which has some stunning track as it meanders around gullies following the creek line.

Over the course of working our way back around the circuit we encountered Crimson Rosella, then some smaller birds: Yellow-Throated Scrubwren, Rufous Fantail, Large-Billed Scrubwren, Brown Gerygone, and an unexpected Eastern Spinebill. Then a Pale Yellow Robin to go with the Eastern Yellow we’d seen earlier.

As it was a Sunday and time was marching on (despite arriving quite early, we had really taken our time so far), more walkers including larger groups were on the tracks. People come for the forest, not just the birds, which is fair enough! On the way out we encountered another few pigeons way up high. I only managed one subpar shot. Check the photo – maybe it’s just the angle, but this one looks fat!

No Noisy Pitta this time, that would have to wait for… the second visit! I went up early by myself at the start of November, on a weekday, aiming to get a look (and hopefully a photo!) of a Pitta. I was able to see – and get reasonable photos – of most of the species we’d seen previously, with the highlight being a very close encounter with a Pale Yellow Robin in the Greene’s Falls area (though I also saw Russet-Tailed Thrush, Logrunners, Green Catbird, King Parrot and Golden Whistler all in that part too).

Oh, I also walked obliviously straight past a huge coiled python on the side of the boardwalk near the falls, only realising it was there when I walked back. Yikes!

I thought I’d heard the screeching call of a Paradise Riflebird at one point so decided to take some time on the Cypress Grove Circuit – I think someone had mentioned in checklist comments on eBird that they’d seen these here. I heard the call a few more times and was chatting to a fellow birder who was also searching. She generously got my attention soon after, having gone only a few metres round the corner to find the male Riflebird, and beckoned me over to see. A huge buzz!

Next I wandered into the lower, eastern part of the Rainforest Circuit, where I spied a Pale Yellow Robin nesting, taking a couple of snaps at a discreet distance. I was only a few hundred metres from the end when I came across a Whipbird very busily foraging among the massive roots of a fig tree, and stopped to watch for a while. The bird was mostly hidden, but popped out now and again from between the buttresses and didn’t seem to mind me being there; it was at that point when I noticed a different type of movement behind it, and there was the Noisy Pitta – after I’d all but given up on it!

You know that feeling when you’ve only ever seen pictures of a bird species and then you see it in real life? That. You almost can’t believe the vivid colours can be real against the brown and green backdrop of the forest. It was maybe 15 or 20 metres away, and moving quite quickly. I was desperate to get a photo to commemorate the encounter, and hurried around the curve of the track, where it was always the same distance away up the ridge and hopping along fast. My opportunity came when it alighted on a long log, so I was able to anticipate it walking along the log and grabbed a shot before it jumped off the end. Given the circumstances – this didn’t seem like a bird that would pose patiently for the keen birder – it seemed like the best I could do.

The wonderfully colourful Noisy Pitta

And it’s still my first and best, and only, Noisy Pitta encounter 🙂

On this visit I also popped in at the nearby Manorina Track on the way home, and thought I was going to see absolutely nothing (except for hearing the pinging of Bell Miners), but was fortunate enough to see a Southern Boobook.

Southern Boobook

The third visit just before Christmas turned up a lot of very cute Pademelons, but there seemed to be much less bird action in the Greene’s Falls section.

A highlight in the Rainforest Circuit on this third visit was seeing a Rufous Fantail returning to its messy suspended nest, a well as a cracker of a photo opp with a White-Browed Scrubwren – one of those times when the bird is fully exposed for just the briefest moment, but if you’re quick enough to nab the shot, it can be awesome. A photo of a Catbird eating a fruit also turned out pretty well, and there were still a few Crimson Rosellas and King Parrots around.

Maiala is a very special place. It is a heavily visited and trafficked area, and as such is excellently signed. It has not only a picnic area, but a seat to sit down on deep along the trail, and the tracks are well-maintained (there’s even a boardwalk section close to the falls). There’s something about rainforest walking that really settles the soul, it’s a primordial communion with nature and the specialist rainforest birds only enhance the experience.

Do try to visit on a sunny day if you can, as you get the sun’s rays shining through the canopy, and will avoid the extra complication of overcast skies if you’re trying to take photos up into the trees (and generally lower light in general).

It should be mentioned that an alternative rainforest walk in the region is Thylogale Track, which is accessible from Jolly’s Lookout (though it is still about 15km up from Enoggera Reservoir). This is less peopled, and a little less spectacular, but in my experience does contain many of the same birds (I’ve seen both Regent Bowerbird and Paradise Riflebird there, for example). To be covered in a future post.

Checklists for these visits: Sep 6, Nov 19, Dec 22

eBird hotspots:
I am not sure it is useful having so many hotspots in such a small space; they are annoying if you’re birding the whole area, especially as you might typically leave the Rainforest Circuit, do Greene’s Falls, then re-enter the Rainforest Circuit. Oh well.

Maiala Loop Walk (128 species) – seems most people use this anyway
Maiala Picnic ground (134 species) – or is it this one. LOL.
Greenes Falls (69 species) – much less used

Nearby hotspots of interest: Lawton Rd, Manorina, Boombana/Jolly’s Lookout/Thylogale Track

Pluses and Minuses:
+ Wonderful range of birds, including celebrated rainforest birds like Paradise Riflebird and Noisy Pitta
+ Just the right amount of track to explore
+ Feeling of seclusion – so much nature!
– Windy roads to get there
– Gets quite busy – avoid weekends esp. in summer
– Challenging photography conditions (can’t be helped…)

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