Sheep Station Creek Conservation Park, Sep 2020

Summary: Dry uninspiring bushland that nevertheless has some decent birds

Date of visit: Sep 23, 2020

Sheep Station Creek Conservation Park is a large nondescript-looking block of bushland just south of Caboolture, about 40km north of Brisbane CBD. It sizes 231 hectares, and has been protected since 1977. The longest oustide loop, Grey Gum Circuit, is 4.4km around and is the only trail that allows horse-riding as well as walking.

Black-Chinned, Striped, and Fuscous Honeyeaters can all be seen here, and even Rose Robin in winter months. There’s definitely a chance of seeing something interesting. I had seen Fuscous Honeyeaters listed on eBird so that was a target species for me, but I had also been jonesing for a Black-Faced Monarch for quite a while. Was today to be the day?

There are a couple of ways to access the park, with Phelps Rd on the west side and McLoughlin Rd on the east offering the closest ways in. I chose the latter, and headed south as soon as I hit the Grey Gum circuit.

Because it was early spring, the forest was still quite dry from winter; visiting in late summer might have yielded a different experience. I trudged for quite a while without seeing much at all, and the overcast conditions – terrible for photography – were also dampening my spirits; I only saw a Sacred Kingfisher, Olive-Backed Oriole and a Spangled Drongo for over an hour. Eventually I did see what I thought was Fuscous Honeyeater in the very top of the canopy, but only forensic examination of the photos later and a little wishful thinking convinced me I had actually seen them. Another 30 minutes of slow birding went by with only a Grey Shrikethrush and a wallaby to show for it, and by then I had nearly completed a circuit back up to the top of the IronBark Ridge trail.

However, things really picked up then. I saw an Eastern Yellow Robin collecting material for its nest, and even saw it nesting right on the side of the path, then continuing north (back on the Grey Gum loop now) I saw a Scarlet Honeyeater male and then – quite high up – my first ever sighting of a Little Lorikeet. Actually there were a few, but they were quite far away, so I had to settle for mediocre photos, but at least I had seen something new.

I started wandering back towards McLoughlin Rd, thinking that this section (marked in yellow on the map) was really where I should have been concentrating my birding attention from the start, rather than the drier, less dense southern section of the park. There were a few gullies and it just seemed more promising in general. I picked up a White-Browed Scrubwren and both male and female Rufous Whistlers – and another Grey Shrikethrush – while I was pondering this.

Sometimes when you’re birding, the forest just seems to explode with life and you barely know where to look or point your camera because there’s so much happening. Like an encounter with a rare bird or an intimate close-up with a more common bird, these moments can flip a disappointing venture into a memorable one. Such was the case for me today: suddenly the section I was in – the Grey Gum loop just to the east of the intersection with Ironbark Ridge – had birds aplenty: a Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, a couple of Lewin’s Honeyeaters, a female Golden Whistler, and then, incredibly, a Black-Faced Monarch appeared! It fluttered around for quite a while, even dropping onto a branch that arched across the top of the path. For what I had thought was a very uncommon bird, it sure was friendly enough. And even better, most of this action was happening in the mid-canopy, so I was able to get decent-ish images.

Soon after this, a group of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos started going crazy in a tree higher up, and peering through the zoom lens showed the tail of a Lace Monitor. They really were distraught, crests flaring and making a huge racket. Monitors are partial to birds’ eggs as part of their diet, so it’s no wonder the cockatoos were trying to drive it off. Unfortunately, they also drove off all the other birds in the vicinity too, so that was about the end of the “explosion of birds” phase of the visit.

Sheep Station Creek is not the world’s prettiest or most interesting place to go birding. Much of the forest is dry eucalypt and the tracks are basically dusty fire trails, and there are no facilities (except some signage); however, the bird life there makes it worth a visit.

eBird

Checklist for this visit (23 species)
Hotspot: Sheep Station Creek Conservation Park (166 species)
Nearby hotspots of note: none.

Pluses and minuses:
+ Decent bush bird variety
+ Some sections of the park are very good
– Only bush birds, few raptors or water birds
– High canopy makes spotting and photography challenging
– Long, same-ish tracks with no facilities

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