Summary: Large suburban park with a few excellent bird habitats
Date of visit: Sep 26, 2020
Schuster Park is a sprawling suburban park on the Gold Coast set along the Tallebudgera Creek. It was previously part of a dairy farm owned by Joe Schuster and his family, and is approximately 68 hectares in size. Best access is via Heather Street in Tallebudgera or a bridge from Nineteenth Avenue, Elanora.
But is it any good for birding? Can you find birds in the mangroves before mosquitoes and midges drive you mad? Just how many photos of Welcome Swallows can one take?
The answers are: yes, yes, and lots!
I was with a couple of other keen bird photographers and we started early, parking in the car park that lies just within the park boundary at the end of Heather Street. This gave us easy access to the “Peninsula”, a mangrove-covered area on the north side of the park, which has good (dirt) trails that stretch about 2km once you go into there and follow the circuit around. This area is dense with mangroves and casuarinas and is reasonably bearable in terms of mosquitoes and other bities. Here we saw both Superb and Red-Backed Fairywrens, a Brown Thornbill and a Brown Gerygone (or was it a Mangrove Gerygone..?), and deeper in, a lovely Mistletoebird. Some gaps in the bush fringing the creek also gave a look at Black Swan on the water too.
At the furthest, bulbous end of the Peninsula was a Noisy Friarbird, a Blue-Faced Honeyeater, and a few Rainbow Lorikeets. On the way back alongside the creek, we stopped a while to track down the sound of an Olive-Backed Oriole, and it was as we were taking photos of it that we spotted an unusual bird higher up in the casuarinas – which turned out to be a Striped Honeyeater! It was the first time I’d seen this bird.
Another bird sound then kept us puzzled – it sounded a little like one of those “complainy” sounds that Brown Honeyeaters sometimes make, but turned out to be a Sacred Kingfisher, of which we then saw a few more.
Once we left the Peninsula and walked south along the main (paved) pathway, I spotted another unusual bird in one of the trees that fringe the wide open grassy areas. It was another Mistletoebird – a juvenile this time, with plainer colouring than the adults.
We walked past the bridge that crosses over to Nineteenth Ave, and kept following the path that runs along the south end of the Park, following the creek line. Here was some confusion, as one of us saw a bird nesting and swore it was a Magpie-Lark, while I was adamant the bird in question was a Willie Wagtail. Not two birds you’d normally find hard to tell apart! It turned out there were two different nests in the same tree. The nests themselves were both very sturdy looking, with the Magpie-Lark’s having the “wet mud” look to it (that bird is also apparently called a “mudlark”).
The bush got a bit messier down in this southern end, but the bird sightings just kept coming, with a White-Headed Pigeon, and then a bird which looked like a cross between an Eastern Rosella and a Pale-Headed Rosella. Mainly because it was! Turns out that the Gold Coast is where these species hybridise, and we found three of these birds all with different and interesting colourings. Cool!
Time to slowly head back, but not before seeing another Olive-Backed Oriole, a Pied Currawong sitting placidly in the sun on a branch, and a cute-as-can-be White-Breasted Woodswallow doing the same.
Our route back to the carpark led back across a boardwalk-style bridge that crosses a narrow lagoon, and there were a few water birds on this patch of brown water. More exciting, however, was a group Welcome Swallows on a dead branch sticking out of the water right by the bridge in the bright sunshine. They were swooping out and returning, and we couldn’t help taking zillions of photos of their iridescent feathers shining. Incredible stuff.
Schuster Park is one of the best birding experiences you can have in a “suburban park” setting, at least on the Gold Coast. It amazes me that the eBird hotspot, at time of writing, only has around 200 checklists (compare that with, say, Minnippi Parklands in Brisbane with nearly 1700 checklists). We certainly picked up a decent haul of 37 species on our visit (and 38 when I returned in December, where I also spotted a Rose-Crowned Fruit Dove and a Channel-Billed Cuckoo). The park is quite large, has a good mix of dirt trail through dense bush as well as pleasant open areas with paved paths. The only downsides are that you will have to contend with many dog-walkers – the vast majority of the open grassed part is off-leash areas for dogs, and apparently the park is actually renowned for dog-lovers. Also, ideally it would be nice to have a few more paths – on the western side of the lagoon, and on the east side of the park near the creek. But these are minor quibbles.
Checklist for this visit (37 species)
Pluses and minuses:
+ Pleasant place to explore and see a variety of birds
+ Good mix of habitats – mangrove, dense and open bush, lagoon
– Very popular with dog walkers
– Not as many official trails as one might want