Sgt Dan Stiller Memorial Reserve, Sep 2020

Summary: Lesser-known hotspot with a good birding spot at the southern end but otherwise unremarkable.

Date of visit: Sep 8, 2020

The Sergeant Dan Stiller Memorial Reserve was named after Sgt Dan Stiller who was killed by a jackknifing truck in 2010 on the Bruce Highway while on duty. I had driven past this Reserve to and from birding at Greenwood Lakes, so this seemed like a good spot to also try.

At the southern end, you drive in off Paradise Road and there is a big car park and play area. This part is all fairly new and is called Warril Parkland, and is great if you have kids with you. Otherwise, park the car and get out birding…

Yes, well. There are a couple of adjoining ponds with a viewing area and interpretative panels, and I saw a couple of common water birds here – Little Black Cormorant, Dusky Moorhen, a juvenile Comb-Crested Jacana and Pacific Black Duck. As well as a glimpse of a Red-Backed Fairywren.

Once I stepped outside this playground/pond area, however, things become a bit confusing. There are a scattering of dirt and gravel paths, and the pretty new sign did not cover anything but the immediate area. Where to go?

The map unhelpfully does not cover much of the Reserve

In what follows I have to mention that I can only speak for myself and to this visit I did. Your mileage may vary!

If you check the map, I’ve marked an orange region as a “bird-rich area”, which is where I (luckily…) first headed. Basically it’s behind the playground, near the creek. Of course, I did not know at the time what I would find. As I walked past the very southern tip of the lake, I saw a large bird – probably a raptor – take off from an exposed branch above the water. A big missed opportunity!

Along this dirt path there was a flock of Red-Browed Finches, as well as Silvereyes and Yellow-Faced Honeyeaters and even a (brief, highly obscured) look at a Rufous Fantail. As I got closer to the creek (the orange area on the map), the bush turned into that dense and varied mix that makes you think “this sure seems like it could be a pretty great spot for birds”, and sure enough lingering around here saw Noisy Friarbird, Lewin’s and Blue-Faced Honeyeater, White-Browed Scrubwren, and an Olive-Backed Oriole. I’m sure I missed a few too, but I was having a pretty good time, as the morning sun was streaming in and there were a few birds around. It just generally seemed like a pleasant spot.

Following the path further south seemed to devolve into very dry (and tall) Eucalypts, so I decided to backtrack. I found I couldn’t really access the actual creek from here, but then I had a brainwave: the big raptor on the lake I had seen earlier might have returned to its resting spot again, so I crept stealthily towards where I had seen it, being very slow in my movements as the dead tree overhanging the lake came into view. Sure enough, it was a large Osprey! It was a while before it spotted me, so I had time to grab some shots. Even when it saw me it wasn’t too worried. What a powerful-looking – even regal – bird.

At this point I should mention that I was birding with two cameras around my neck. If that sounds awkward… well, yes it was. One was my trusty Nikon D500 with 300mm prime lens; however I had recently also purchased a “bridge” camera, the Nikon P950, thinking to use its ridiculous 83x zoom (yes, you read that correctly) for the further-away birds. The P950 definitely had the edge for reach and clarity on this Osprey, which was maybe 30 or 40 metres away.

I then decided to go all the way round the main lake, going anti-clockwise. I knew from what little I had read beforehand that there was no signage, and that I likely would have to complete the circuit by crossing Oxley Creek on Johnson Road, where there is a bridge with no footpath. Comments on bushwalking websites like Aussie Bushwalking described this as “extremely dangerous.. The traffic is heavy on that road so I don’t recommend it to anyone”, so I was rather apprehensive of not only being able to find my way, but also dodging huge trucks.

The long paths didn’t offer many birds, in fact I only really saw a Brown Honeyeater and a Tawny Grassbird all the way up the eastern side of the lake. There was a great deal of noise and activity in the Woolworths depot (just over the fence), and traffic noise increased as I approached the north end of the lake where the Logan Motorway runs east-west. It was not very pleasant birding conditions, and I couldn’t really see the lake from the path either. Sigh.

At this point my rudimentary map showed that I might have to walk underneath the motorway to cross the creek, but I found a way to cross more directly (shown with the “Creek crossing” and grey dashed line on the map, at the top). Probably it was dry enough that this was possible.

Continuing down the trail between the creek and the lake was quieter and although there still weren’t many birds, I entertained myself by trying to get shots of dragonflies and butterflies. A few Red-Backed Fairywrens appeared at one point, and I also gained a brief look at a far away Brahminy Kite circling over the north end of the lake. When I eventually found a spot along the trail where I could see the lake more clearly, I found Pelicans, a couple of Darters, and several Great Cormorants right across on the other side. Even the P950 struggled at that distance, with photos good only for ID’ing.

The challenge remained how to get back to the car park, and whether I would end up having to risk my life on Johnson Road; but here I was in luck with another (very) unofficial creek crossing and a little mild bush-bashing (see the map). Again, likely not possible in wetter conditions.

Somehow, in the end I saw 33 species in the 4 hours I was there.

From a birding perspective I’d only recommend doing the full lake circuit for the obsessive completionist; it isn’t worth the time in my opinion. And from an overall perspective, it’s arguably not worth making the trip to this location unless you want to check out somewhere novel, or to try out the new park, or if you want to knock off a few spots in the area (Greenwood Lakes being the other site very close-by).

Checklist for this visit.

eBird hotspots:
Sergeant Dan Stiller Memorial Reserve (161 species)
Warril Parkland (Larapinta)

Notable nearby hotspots: Greenwood Lakes

Pluses and Minuses:
+ Southern end is rich with birding potential
+ Great new park facilities
– Longer circuit presents navigation and track challenges and is not worth exploring
– Noisy highways and nearby logistics warehouses
– Hard to see water birds (and not many anyway)

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