Plunkett Conservation Reserve, Sep 2020

Summary: Dry sandstone forest off the beaten track with long confusing paths and mediocre birds.

Date of visit: Sep 15, 2020

I will forever remember Plunkett Conservation Park for one very special reason: it was where I first used my new Nikon 500mm prime lens. I had been using a 300mm lens up until then, and many blog posts had advocated that you needed a 500 to 600mm focal length to “really see the birds”. Were they right?

First things first: Plunkett Park is massive and is well off the beaten track. It’s half-way between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. I encountered precisely zero people there and the place has something of a neglected vibe about it.

I overshot my planned entry point not once, but twice! I had aimed for the spot along Quinzeh Creek Rd where the “Quinzeh Link” was supposed to allow entry into the park, at first missing it completely and then getting flustered about where to pull over. It’s basically roadside car parking wherever you can find it.

The only sign said “Wickham Timber Reserve”, which is the north area of the whole system of tracks and “breaks”. The entire area is huge, a good 6km at least from top to bottom as the crow flies, so I knew I wasn’t going to be covering the whole thing, thinking to cherry-pick a circuit taking in “Wickham Peak” and “Grass Tree Lookout”.

After parking I figured I was at my intended entry spot and headed in. The first bird I saw was scared up off the dirt trail and ended up flying up into a nest: it was a pair of Common Bronzewing! Nothing wrong with that to start the day. Then a female Rufous Whistler and a few Variegated Fairywrens on the promising brush on the right hand side of this Quinzeh Link.

I then saw a what sort-of-seemed-like-a-track to the left, but there was no signage, so I left it and plunged onwards – getting less certain of where I was by the minute. Turns out I was walking down the “Eastern Break” and then the “Sandstone Break”, both sandy dirt roads, but which unexpectedly provided the best birding of the day, as I first saw some playful Striated Pardalotes, then a couple of White-Throated Honeyeaters, and then a female Leaden Flycatcher sitting nonchalantly on a log on the side of the track! Alas, I was too slow to grab a shot of it there, but managed to get more soon after, and even better shots of the male. I do love Flycatchers and Monarchs; these ones were friendly enough and I enjoyed seeing their tails flicking when they landed on a branch.

Now, onto the new lens. I had figured out a passable way to actually walk with it – it is a bit of a beast at 1.4kg (though actually much lighter than the more common and much cheaper 200-500mm lens, which is 2.3kg) and obviously longer than my previous lens too; I ended up rotating the tripod handle thingy and walked with it vertically hanging down my left side, my fingers steadying it around the lens hood. It would take a while to get used to the heavier weight when shooting too, particularly when shooting upwards… but boy oh boy, is this lens worth the money! It really did put me that much closer to the birds I was photographing, it felt quite intimate at first! The field of view is also narrower than what I had been using, so it was a little harder to line up smaller birds in the viewfinder. All things considered though, a big win, and I’ve never looked back.

Right, back onto the walking. I had a feeling I wasn’t going the way I originally wanted to go, but forged ahead anyway, figuring the worst case scenario was I’d end up walking around the Cave Track and Link Track… which is what happened, and nary a bird to be seen. The morning was getting hotter and the sandy track became a bit of a slog, the ambience of the forest also ruined by earth-moving machinery in the distance. Finally I came round to “Ally’s Break” and an actual sign indicating I was now entering Plunkett Reserve proper, and track markers (I was now on the “Calytrix Circuit”). Phew!

Eventually I even saw another bird – though, to be fair, I was hearing plenty of Noisy Friarbirds, which seemed to be the dominant bird. This one though was a Forest Kingfisher, seeming a little out of place in this very dry bush but a very welcome sight.

Following the circuit around up to Grass Tree Lookout did indeed produce plenty of grass trees – in fact, some of the spikes on these were mighty. I kept looking for Honeyeaters and other birds feasting on the nectar, like I would normally see in similar places like Toohey Forest, but perplexingly only saw a butterfly on one of the spikes. Might have been too late in the day?

There still weren’t many birds around, just a little flock of Red-Browed Finches, a very vocal Noisy Friarbird and a couple of chortling Magpies.

The view from both Grass Tree Lookout and Wickham Peak were both quite good; the latter is where the dry sandstone really dominates, and hopping down that trail (the “On Edge Break”) dumped me out at the left turn I had purposefully ignored about three hours before. Oh well! If I hadn’t taken the path less travelled I wouldn’t have seen the Flycatchers, I suppose.

So: what to make of this as a birding spot? Great if you like meandering through vast dry forest without much chance of running into other people; and a couple of patches held some promise for birds; but overall, it was a bit of a bust. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time there – I liked the solitude compared to some other birding places I’d visited recently, and I did encounter some birds to keep things interesting, but I won’t be rushing back. And certainly not in summer.

eBird

According to eBird there was a flurry of visits here in mid-2020, but my visit in September seemingly was the last for several months. Checklist for this visit (15 species).

Plunkett Conservation Park (106 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Lesser known forest can be fun to explore
+ Huge area, with a couple of promising bird areas
+ Solitude
– Quite dry and not many birds
– Unclear entry points and roadside parking only
– Disorienting if you aren’t on the main paths

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